The “Earliest and Best”

This is the first article in the series commenting on brother Robert Paul Wieland’s YouTube channel.

Introduction

Greetings and felicitations! In this first article I will be reviewing Robert Paul Wieland’s video, A Partial Answer to Dr. White, which happens to be the first video he posted on his YouTube in 2012. Amazingly, his commentary is still relevant today. Wieland opens his video by graciously offering a “handshake across the internet” and points out that he was simply commenting on White’s view, and not White himself. If we can learn anything in addition to Wieland’s actual arguments, it is how he approached the discussion with grace. I have not found any posts where White interacts with Wieland’s videos, so if you have any posts where James White interacts with Wieland, please link them in the comments so I can add them to this series.

In this 15 minute video, Wieland presents an argument that is hardly considered by those in the critical text camp: that the Byzantine text tradition can be dated as early as the Alexandrian text tradition.

The “Earliest and Best” Myth Addressed

James White has commonly made the claim that the early Papyri and Uncials are “all Alexandrian in form.” This may be hyperbolic, but it is inaccurate nonetheless. This is highly problematic, as there are Byzantine readings in both the Papyri and the Uncials. Wieland brings this fact to the forefront of his response to White by highlighting that this means Byzantine readings pre-date the Lucian recension.

The Lucian Recension Theory (hypothesis) was proposed by Westcott and Hort in part to prop up the supremacy of their new text. They argued that the Byzantine text emerged as a result of a text-critical effort led by Lucian which birthed the Byzantine Text, which was then propagated forth by way of Constantinople. That means that the Byzantine Text could not have been as early as the Alexandrian Text, and further was an adaptation or evolution from the earliest text types. At the time, this was a strong case for exchanging Westcott and Hort’s text for the previous standard, the Textus Receptus. While this is widely rejected within the text critical community now, the residual has stuck within the mainstream orthodoxy of text critical dogma.

Wieland addresses the claim that the Alexandrian Text is “earliest and best” by quoting scholars that are hostile to the Textus Receptus, Bruce Metzger and Gunther Zuntz. It is possible that the reason so few have interacted with Wieland is due to the fact that he uses scholars critical of the Textus Receptus to support his arguments. The quotes are quite lengthy so I’ll post partial quotes here. If you wish to see Wieland’s full presentation, I provided the link to the video in the introduction.

“During the past decades several papyri have come to light which tend to increase one’s uneasiness over Hort’s reluctance to acknowledge the possibility, though it be absent from all great uncial manuscripts. Since the discovery of the Chester Beatty Papyri (P45 and P46) and the Bodmer papyrus II (P66), proof is available that occasionally the later Byzantine text preserves a reading that dates from the second or third century for which there had been no other early witness.”

Metzger, Bruce. New Testament Studies, 189-203.

“To sum up, a number of Byzantine readings, most of them genuine, which previously were discarded as “late,” are anticipated by P46. Our inquiry confirmed what was anyhow probable enough: The Byzantines did not hit upon these readings by conjecture or independent error. They reproduced an older tradition.”

Zuntz, Gunther. The Text of the Epistles, 55-56.

It may come as a surprise to many people, but the Papyri are actually quite powerful in contesting Alexandrian priority, which is in large part responsible for the footnotes, asterisks, and brackets in modern bibles. I imagine this is why White continues to say that the Papyri overwhelmingly prove his point, because if people found out the Papyri actually do not support his claims, they would begin to be skeptical of his presentation overall. He assumes his audience will not look into it, and for the most part, they don’t.

Wieland notes that the “testimony of a hostile witness” carries more weight than that of a friendly witness, and he’s right. If the scholars critical of the TR are saying that the textual data shows the antiquity of the Byzantine tradition, there is credibility in what those in the TR camp are saying, even if the scholars and apologists for the critical text won’t admit it or mitigate the importance of this reality.

He makes another great observation when he points out that manuscript age is not all that important, it is the age of the reading is what matters. Seeing as this was made in 2012 it shows that Wieland was far more up to date in his knowledge of textual scholarship than White, or at least that White was not willing to discuss the challenges to his position. Having been on the receiving end of White’s critiques many times, I can attest to this personally. The point is, that it doesn’t matter how old the paper of the manuscript is if the readings can be shown to be ancient. In the case of Alexandrian vs. Byzantine, this is extremely important.

Conclusion

Wieland concludes by making the point that it is not responsible to say that Alexandrian readings are necessarily more ancient than Byzantine readings. In his first video on his YouTube channel, he delivers a powerful blow to the common orthodoxy of the critical text dogma. If the Alexandrian readings are not necessarily earliest, what ground is left for the modern critical text apologists to stand on? The two positions might as well be on the same playing field as it pertains to antiquity.

The problem is that modern critical text apologists commonly conflate the antiquity of a manuscript with the antiquity of a reading when they present their argument at a layman’s level. Most honest scholars will admit that the point Wieland made is valid, while arguing that the later date of the Byzantine manuscripts implies that the readings are late as well. It is possible that critical text advocates and scholars tend to avoid this fact because it is extremely problematic to the entire structure of the critical text methodology. If the Byzantine Text is as old as the Alexandrian Text, the case for the modern critical text becomes much less relevant. I’ll conclude with this: if the Byzantine tradition, which is commonly labeled as a later evolution of the Alexandrian Text, is actually as old as the readings which make up the modern critical text, the case for using modern bibles in the church all but falls apart.

One thing that you will not get from reading my analysis of Wieland’s videos is his tone and charitable demeanor. I highly recommend for my reader, if you haven’t, to watch his videos and see what I’m talking about. Wieland had the amazing ability to deliver powerful arguments in such a way that disallowed critics to go after his character. I hope you have enjoyed the first article in this series, and I look forward to what lies ahead.

Ever Learning, Never Able

This is the eighth and final article in the series, “Faith Seeking Understanding”.

Introduction

In the last installation of this series, I’d like to highlight possibly the number one reason people seek answers outside of the critical text, which inevitably leads people to either the Majority Text or the Traditional Text. What is likely the number one reason people abandon the critical text is the fact that it is incomplete, and has no function built into it that sets parameters on the scope of the work. In other words, it is not finished, and never will be. This is a challenging reality if you take into consideration even the standard view of Scripture held to by the majority of Bible believing Christians, let alone the Reformed view found in 1.8 of the Westminster and London Baptist confessions of faith.

When a pastor encourages his congregation that they have in their hands the very Word of God, it is objectively a false statement according to the critical text methodology. In the first place, textual scholars wouldn’t have a job if that were true. Secondly, the same scholars wouldn’t be working on new editions of the Greek New Testament if it were true that the church has in the critical text some sort of final product. In fact, the 2016 ESV was marketed initially as the “Permanent Text Edition”, which Crossway rolled back shortly after its release. While this reality is actually exciting for those that work in the field, this is the last thing that the majority of Christians want to hear. Most Christians don’t even know this about the modern critical texts. The changing nature of the modern critical texts can be broken into the categories of text and translation, which I will discuss in the final article of this series.

Text & Translation

There are very few realities other than this that should raise red flags to Christians when it comes to the modern critical texts. The general assumption made by most Christians is that we have over 5,000 manuscript copies of the Bible and those manuscripts give us enough information to know exactly what the Bible contains. This is probably due to the fact that most defenses of the Bible begin with, “We have 5,400 manuscripts!” Anybody who knows anything about textual criticism knows that this argument simply proves that a bible was written, not what that bible actually said. To many secular scholars, the manuscript tradition simply proves that there were multiple bibles that represent multiple Christianities that developed over time. The argument is completely bankrupt and should really not be used – especially to a textual scholar.

That point aside, the most problematic thing about the modern critical texts is that they are not finished and ever changing. Not a single scholar that I am aware of, Evangelical or not, will say that any edition currently available represents the original as it was penned, or that the versions we do have will not be revised in upcoming editions. In fact, the Evangelical scholars say the opposite! Here are several quotes just to give you a general idea of what I am talking about:

“We do not have now – in our critical Greek texts or any translations – exactly what the authors of the New Testament wrote. Even if we did, we would not know it. There are many, many places in which the text of the New Testament is uncertain.”

Gurry & Hixson, Myths & Mistakes in New Testament Textual Criticism, xii. Quote Dan Wallace.

“The text is changing. Every time that I make an edition of the Greek New Testament, or anybody does, we change the wording. We are maybe trying to get back to the oldest possible form but, paradoxically, we are creating a new one. Every translation is different, every reading is different, and although there’s been a tradition in parts of Protestant Christianity to say there is a definitive single form of the text, the fact is you can never find it. There is never ever a final form of the text”

DC Parker, BBC Radio Program “The Oldest Bible”. Editor of the Gospel of John in the ECM.

“Clearly, these changes will affect not only modern Bible translations and commentaries but possibly even theology and preaching”

Gurry, Peter, A New Approach to Textual Criticism, 6. Discussing the changes that will be made by the CBGM.

It is easily established that the scholarly guild believes that the modern text is not finished, and is expected to change. As I stated in previous articles, TR advocates take these words very seriously. That is the first component of the discussion. The second is that modern translations are also changing.

Not only are the underlying texts from which bibles are translated changing, the translation methodology itself is adapting with the culture of the American church. There is a reason MacArthur has endeavored to adapt the NASB into the Legacy Standard Bible to avoid politically correct translation methodology being applied to his favorite translation. This has been a long standing critique of modern bibles that even the most staunch advocate can recognize is a problem. Most bible believing Christians do not want a their translation to go “woke”. Further, the bible industrial complex is a real thing. There is a lot of money in bible sales. Changing up a few words every few years is good for business. Groups that want to create a study bible do this all the time to avoid paying loyalties to an existing publishing house. The changing nature of the critical text is actually quite good for the companies that make money selling bibles.

Conclusion

The fact that modern bibles are constantly in flux is a major draw to the TR for most people. You don’t need to be a fundamentalist to want to read one translation your whole life. As somebody who has gone from the NIV to the NKJV to the HCSB to the NASB to the ESV to the KJV, I have Scripture memorized in all of these translations and it’s obnoxious. I wish I would have just had one translation from the start. It is especially concerning when three different editions of the same translation differ from each other, like the ESV. You don’t need to know anything about textual criticism to be turned off by this reality.

If you add to this problem the issue of the actual underlying Greek changing every few years, you begin to see how the average Christian might take issue. So this is the final reason I will give in this series why somebody might be drawn to the TR for reasons other than Fundamentalism, Textual Traditionalism, or Emotionalism. A changing and incomplete bible is no bible at all, and most Christians recognize that. The problem is, the vast majority of Christians don’t even know that this is the reality of modern textual criticism, in large part due to irresponsible apologists who give Christians false comfort with poor argumentation.

Fundamentalism, Traditionalism, Emotionalism

This is the fifth article in the series, “Faith Seeking Understanding”

Introduction

Many people have the perception that those in the TR camp are driven by rabid fundamentalism and tradition, or are swept up in an emotional frenzy. This perception is largely due to James White, who frequently pushes this argument as often as he talks about the TR. “The TR is bad because of fundamentalism!” Before we get into the article, let’s remember what Bart Ehrman has to say about James White.


“James White is that kind of fundamentalist who gets under my skin. To be fair, he would probably not call himself a fundamentalist. Then again, in my experience, very few fundamentalists *do* call themselves fundamentalists. Usually a “fundamentalist” is that guy who is far to the right of *you* — wherever you are! Someone on the blog can correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe White does hold to the absolute inerrancy of the Bible. If so, given what else I know about him, I’d call him a fundamentalist.”

https://ehrmanblog.org/tag/james-white/

It appears this is just another case of James White borrowing arguments from Bart Ehrman, but it should be helpful to actually look at this claim and try to understand it.

The Fundamentalist Boogie Man

The term “Fundamentalist” has certain connotations that come from a 20th century movement within broader evangelicalism. In the 20th century, the term “Fundamentalist” was associated with a movement that read the Bible “literally” and were dispensational and somewhat separatist. Fundamentalism was a response to the increasingly liberal evangelical church with a large dash of Scofield and Hal Lindsey thrown on top. In today’s world, the term fundamentalist as it existed in the 20th century has become somewhat of an irrelevant title, perhaps due to the shift in the Overton window, failed second coming predictions, or something else entirely. In any case, the term “Fundamentalist” could mean a wide range of things, as we see clearly from Bart Ehrman’s definition.

If you want to understand those in the TR camp better, it is helpful to recognize that being a “fundamentalist” or a “traditionalist” isn’t exactly a bad thing, depending on how you define it. According to Ehrman, simply being a Christian who believes the Bible is the Word of God makes one a fundie. I myself have a strong tradition founded in the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith. Does that make me a traditionalist? Does simply having a tradition make one a traditionalist? I’ll take that title any day over somebody who is convinced he has no tradition. So why exactly does White believe this argument to be so damning to those in the TR camp? Well, it seems that it polls well among his audience, despite the fact that most people in White’s camp would just as easily be called a “Fundamentalist”, depending on who is doing the analysis.

The reason this has been one of White’s go to arguments over the years is because of the negative sentiments that people feel when they hear these terms. Typically, nobody wants to be referred to as a “Fundamentalist” or a “Traditionalist” or an “Emotionalist”. So the weight of the argument is actually an appeal to the emotions of his audience. We don’t really use those terms to describe one group of beliefs anymore in 21st century Christianity, so White can appropriate them for his purpose and craft it into one the platforms of his textual position. “The other guys are fundies taken up by emotion, whereas we are sensible and scientific!”

Yet, anybody who has taken a survey of the available scholarship knows that modern textual scholarship is far from scientific, and it is quite often the textual scholars who wind up losing their head and demanding that TR pastors be defrocked or disciplined by their Presbytery. I can name three prominent scholars who have done this in the last year to a TR advocate. In any case, those in the critical text camp should really take a moment and evaluate the absurd reality in which everybody that holds to a TR position is just taken up by effeminate sentiments or dogmatic fundamentalism. As I’ve pointed out in previous articles in this series, if you actually take modern textual scholars seriously, there really is no need to have some sort of fundamentalist blindfold to see that the critical text position isn’t exactly the strongest theological position on Scripture.

Ironically, it is those in the critical text camp who seem to be more driven by blind fundamentals when it comes to the text. They openly admit that there is no complete Bible, agreeing with the intelligentsia, while simultaneously holding onto historical orthodox theological statements regarding the nature of Scripture. When challenged on their doctrinal inconsistencies, they tend to double down and reinterpret history, like one would if they were blindly defending a tradition. If you get the chance, observe how a typical exchange between a CT and TR advocate goes. One side ends up throwing a fit and it’s typically not the TR advocate. It’s almost impossible to get through a critical text presentation without hearing some diatribe about how the papist Erasmus was an ignoramus or how the text of the Reformation was actually the Latin Vulgate.

Conclusion

All that said, the point is that any argument claiming that those in the TR camp are just blind fundamentalists can easily be turned around on those in the CT camp. They have their traditions and fundamentals, and so do TR advocates. At the end of the argument, calling somebody a fundie isn’t a case for or against either position. Pointing out somebody’s emotions is irrelevant to the merits of a theological position, and often times is simply the result of making an argument in bad faith. Slamming somebody for having a tradition isn’t the worst possible critique in 2020, and again, isn’t an argument for or against the CT or TR.

It may be true that TR advocates are “traditionalists”, but the important thing to investigate is whether or not the tradition is Biblical. The title traditionalist could actually be a badge of honor in our evangelical church, because as we have seen, the modern church looks more like the world than it does the body of Christ. A church without a tradition is susceptible to less virtuous traditions. As the church has abandoned its historical traditions, it has readily adopted every new tradition under the sun. Everybody is a traditionalist when it comes down to it, the question is whether or not that tradition is Scriptural.

If you want to step further into the mind of the TR advocate, you need to realize that we don’t consider being called names a devastating critique of our position. In fact, it might even be a badge of honor, considering that some of the most respected up and coming modern textual scholars are off marching in #BLM rallies and rambling about their white privilege when not giving accolades to feminist studies professors at prestigious universities. The traditions and fundamentals of the TR camp are that of the old paths, unstained by postmodernism and critical scholarship. The fundamental principles of the TR position affirm nothing more than what the Bible affirms: that we have God’s Word, providentially preserved and totally delivered to His people, even today.

The Issue of Certainty

This is the fourth article in the series, “Faith Seeking Understanding”.

Introduction

A common discussion point within the textual discussion is the issue of certainty. How much certainty is allowable when it comes to our Bible? When we say, “I believe I am reading the very Word of God when I open my Bible”, what exactly does that mean? The average Christian understands that doctrine to mean that what is on the page is a translation of what God had written down. The critical text platform does not affirm this without disqualifying nuance. The TR platform affirms this wholeheartedly, without reservation.

One major critique of the critical text methodology is that it demands, to one degree or another, a level of analysis prior to reading the Bible. Those that educate the Christian church practically encourage this by advising readers to inspect the critical footnotes in their Bible to understand the textual data provided on the page. The average Christian does not know what to do with this information, and those that do often do not realize that the sparse critical footnotes never tell the entire story of the text-critical discussion as it pertains to one passage or another. This is an exhausting practice for the average Christian because this reading methodology requires the reader to add an additional, non-Biblical step in order to access God’s Word. More importantly, it requires that the Christian approaches their bible with a certain level of scrutiny.

How Do We Read Our Bible?

From a critical perspective, the Christian is advised to read multiple translations in order to understand the Bible. This is particularly complicated, because each Bible may use different texts to translate from, and even render words inaccurately or imprecisely. This forces the reader to use some sort of lexicon dictionary just to read their bible(s). Since most Christians do not understand translation methodology or have the training to use a lexicon responsibly, this method leads people into wild word studies which often obfuscate the text. Further, it teaches Christians to be decoders, not receivers.

Now, the larger issue here is the reason why many Christians are flocking to Rome, Greek Orthodox, Neo-Orthodoxy, and Word of Faith movements. Since the foundation of critical methodology is empirical, and that empirical standard doesn’t claim to have produced the original text at any given place, the question of certainty is at the forefront of this discussion. It isn’t just the fundies who recognize that the foundation offered by the various critical methodologies is three feet off the ground. Now, if the espoused method of the critical texts doesn’t claim to offer certainty, yet all Christians are required to use it just to read their bible, the effect is that many people flock to a system that offers what the critical texts do not.

Take Their Word for It

Modern scholars recognize this issue of certainty and foundation and have presented a view that Christians are not to have absolute certainty that what they are reading is God’s Word, but they also should not have radical skepticism over each passage. This is essentially Dan Wallace’s response to the issue of an ever-changing, never settled text. We have to ask ourselves, “Is this an adequate theological framework that explains how we should read our Bible?” Most Christians become so enamored with the humility, niceness, and scholarliness of the critical text presentation that they don’t stop and think what exactly is being said.

What is actually being said here, is that there is no reason to believe that we have the original in our modern texts, and despite this, it should not concern us. It is reasonable to be skeptical, and it is reasonable to be relatively certain in reference to that skepticism, but it is not reasonable to be absolutely certain or absolutely skeptical. Practically, this tells men like Bart Ehrman that he is wrong for being so skeptical, and it tells Christians that they are wrong for being so certain. Christians, according to modern scholars, are to compromise somewhere in the middle and be grateful that we have as much as we do.

It doesn’t take a genius to recognize that this view is problematic. It isn’t just the fundamental emotionalists who take issue with this framework. That is because there is a logical reason to challenge this balance between skepticism and certainty. See, if we do not have exactly the original today, and even if we did we wouldn’t really know that we did, there is no reason to have any level of certainty at all in the available bibles. The modern evangelical scholars scoff at this, but without cause. The argument that men like Dan Wallace sets forth is easily defeated by men like DC Parker and other scholars. The Living Text view is quite compatible with this spectrum between radical skepticism and absolute certainty.

In admitting that there is no valid means of verification of a given passage, evangelical scholars have quite literally given up the case for an inspired, preserved bible. As much as they argue that the text we have is “good enough”, this isn’t based on any definitive empirical analysis. If it were, Bart Ehrman would likely still be sitting in a pew on Sundays. It’s a faith claim. It is a claim that says, “Yes, we know we don’t have the Bible, but I believe in God, so therefore we have something”. It is a claim that says, “Bart Ehrman is right in his analysis, and wrong in his conclusion”.

The support for this argument is simply to make the case that the amount of evidence is proof of some level of accuracy. That may be true, but there is a significant lapse in the manuscript tradition from the 1st century to the first complete manuscripts, and there is no way of proving that what we have from the 3rd and 4th century represents what existed in the 1st century. Therefore, any claim that proposes such a view extends beyond textual criticism and into the realm of faith.

Conclusion

Again, the discussion of certainty is another topic where those in the TR camp listen to the scholars far more closely than those in the critical text camp. All of the scholars, both evangelical and secular, agree that we do not have the original Bible (yet). Most of them will admit that we will never have the original pending some miraculous discovery. That is to say, that empiricism cannot produce certainty, and never can produce certainty. If you are among the group of Bible believing Christians that say the Bible is the “very Word of God”, the scholars are telling you that you have no reason to actually believe that based on text-critical scholarship. In other words, you must suspend your trust in textual scholarship and take on a “fideist” view of the Scriptures. You have to do the very thing that the critical text camp accuses the TR camp of doing. The only difference is that the critical text camp must do so in spite of their Bibliology, whereas the TR camp does it as a fundamental component of their Bibliology.

Because those in the TR camp listen to the scholars, they recognize that textual data cannot produce the certainty the Bible requires. That is why the TR position isn’t an empirical framework, it is a theological one. It isn’t just blind fundamentalism, it actually takes very seriously the claims of textual scholars. TR advocates recognize that empirical proofs can bolster a theological position, but they cannot “prove” that what we have is original. It is the exact same case for creationism vs. naturalistic origin stories. Because the thing being examined cannot be replicated, scientific methods are an inadequate tool. So why is it the case that people who listen to the scholars, recognize the self-proclaimed flaws in the methodology, and reject the conclusions are portrayed as wide eyed fundamentalists bound to tradition? There is no good reason.

The reason the apologists in the critical text camp must paint people in the TR camp as fundies driven by emotion is because it distracts and diminishes what those in the TR camp are saying. It is the same kind of rhetoric that is used by propaganda media outlets. If you can’t answer the intellectual question, discredit the opposition. When Christians start seeing that this is happening, the TR position becomes attractive simply because propagandist arguments typically indicate that the position itself cannot be defended from a theological or intellectual standpoint.

“When the debate is lost, slander becomes the tool of the loser”

Socrates

If you want to understand why people adopt the TR over the critical text, take a look at the core arguments. While it is true that both sides engage in ad hominem, the core methodology of the critical text is often founded on ad hominem. The Reformation scholars didn’t know Greek. They actually loved the Vulgate. They didn’t know they were wrong. Erasmus was a papist. TR folks are fundamentalists, traditionalists, and emotionalists. Those in the TR camp are dangerous, divisive, and combative. All of those things may be true, but none of them defend the critical text or discredit the TR. When Christians start to see this, they begin investigating the TR position more carefully, and often times see that the theological merits of the TR are far more sturdy than that of the critical texts.

The Scholars Don’t Agree With You

This is the second article in the series, “Faith Seeking Understanding”.

Introduction

In the last article, I discussed the reality that those in the TR camp tend to take critical scholarship far more seriously than those in the critical text camp itself. Bible believing Christians say their Bible is preserved, and the scholars uniformly say that it is preserved enough. Reasonable Christians take that seriously. In my opinion, this basic reality is enough to definitively end the discussion over which bible is acceptable for use in public and private. If you don’t have the original, and you can’t know if you have the original, you might as well pack up the church and go home. Yet well meaning conservative Christians will state that every word in their bible is Scripture, and in doing that, contradict the scholars they claim to agree with.

Shining a Light Through the Fog

This is one of the most fundamental concepts to understand for those that are genuinely trying to get in the mind of a TR advocate. Despite the common talking point which says that TR Onlyism is a symptom of fundamentalism, emotionalism, or some other “ism”, this is simply not the case for many who read a Traditional bible. Before I continue on in this series, I have to hammer home one very important point:

If you believe that the Bible is preserved and you have it today, every single New Testament scholar fundamentally disagrees with you.

Take for example this quote by John Piper from Desiring God:

Evangelicals believe — indeed most Christians through history have believed — that since the original writings of the Bible in Greek and Hebrew have been faithfully preserved, and the translation faithfully rendered, we hold in our hands the very word of God. It is a breathtaking affirmation, and an infinitely important reality.

https://www.desiringgod.org/messages/the-infinite-worth-of-the-word-of-god


The above quote is readily affirmed by all Bible believing Christians, yet it is incompatible with modern scholarship. This quote, rendered according to the scholarship of Evangelical text critics, might read:

Evangelicals believe – indeed most Christians through history have believed – that since we have good reason to believe that the original writings of the Bible in Greek and Hebrew have been adequately preserved, and the translations faithfully rendered, we may hold in our hands the Word of God.

This is a sore spot for those that identify as “Evangelical text critics” and apologists. I have seen reasonable discussions end in Presbyteries being contacted when this is pointed out. It is for this reason that most arguments for the critical text don’t actually answer any of the important questions. Many “defenses” of the critical texts are simply arguments against Erasmus, the people use a TR translation, or perhaps that a translation is too difficult to read. They attack the scholars of the Reformation, often times using the same arguments the papists did in the 16th century. They rarely offer a comprehensive theological defense of their own text, and when they do, it does not come out sounding like what most Christians believe.

When you actually press an honest scholar (which most scholars are honest, it’s the apologists that tend to bend the rules) or advocate of the critical text who is current on the scholarship, they will respond that their view of preservation is something along the lines of “Quasi-Preservation”. Others will simply lower the bar and state something along the lines of, “We have what we need. If what we have is good enough for the Holy Spirit, it’s good enough for me.” This response is a thinly veiled rejection of preservation. Anybody who simultaneously argues for the critical texts and also that “we have the very word of God” is likely misinformed on the current scholarship.

Conclusion

I would argue that the number one reason people claim the critical texts is due to simply not being informed on the current scholarship. In other cases, Christians focus so much on the rhetorical devices of critical text apologists and don’t realize that points made in a debate don’t adequately answer the important theological questions that are necessary to have a stable view of Scripture. In other words, being able to effectively communicate does not mean that what is being communicated is correct. Often times the arguments of critical text apologists do not even comport with the scholarship that they claim to be advocating for.

Most Christians want to know one thing when it comes to their Bible. They want to know that what they are reading is the original Word of God, or a translation thereof. The scholars do not affirm this without caveats and nuance. Within that nuance you will find a view that says that we do not have the whole bible, just enough of it to get by. Those in the TR camp are not satisfied with that view of Scripture, and that is typically the catalyst that leads people to explore views outside of the academic mainstream. If you find yourself perplexed as to why somebody might turn to the TR, it is vital to understand exactly what the textual scholars are actually saying about the bibles they produce. It may be beneficial for all critical text advocates to turn down the volume on the apologists, and turn up the volume on the scholars.

Faith Seeking Understanding

This is the first article in the series, “Faith Seeking Understanding”.

Introduction

I have been thinking a lot recently about what sort of content would be the most helpful to people at this point. There are many hard hitting content creators that engage in the public discussion surrounding Bibliology and textual issues, so I want to do something different than those that are tackling variants or participating in public discussion. This article is the first in a series that I’ve titled, “Faith Seeking Understanding.” The audience of this series is the people who genuinely wish to understand a TR position on Scripture, not those that wish to enter into the debate arena. While many of my articles are quite informal, this series will be especially casual. I hope that it will be a helpful addition to what is already available on this topic. In this introductory article, I will answer the question, “What exactly is the appeal of a TR position?”

What is the Appeal of the TR?

Many people have a misinformed answer to this question due to the well-poisoning that occurs in this discussion. You have probably heard that TR Only/KJVO people are clinging to tradition, or are exchanging truth for safety, or perhaps are simply ignorant of the available text-critical data. The inevitable outcome is that a vast swathe of people have a shallow perception of the people who use translations made from the Masoretic Hebrew and Received Greek Text.

So why do so many people still read the KJV and in some cases the other translations made from the Traditional text? If you are coming from the modern evangelical or neo-Calvinist church, you have likely heard for years that the Traditional text has added verses or is outdated for a modern context. I’m sure you have listened to John MacArthur or John Piper presenting cases against certain passages of Scripture. Many well respected men repeat the same talking points that effectively give the impression that those who still read TR translations are unlearned, unfaithful, unthinking men and women.

Rather than rehash what I have already covered in over 200,000 words on this blog so far, I will give a more human reason. At the core of conservative Christian Orthodoxy is the belief that God will speak clearly to His people until He returns. The method in which God communicates in the church age is the Holy Spirit working with Scripture in the heart of the believer. When Christians who believe the Bible want to hear God’s voice, they open their Bible and believe that God has something to offer in every line for matters of faith and practice. This is not controversial, and I would bet that those who describe themselves as Bible believing Christians would agree with this basic doctrine.

The appeal to the TR is so strong for the average, conservative, Bible believing, Christian because the scholars who produce the critical text do not offer a product that aligns with the standard, orthodox, doctrine of Scripture. The leading scholars within all corners of the text-criticism community frequently renounce the idea that the Bible is preserved, or that the bibles we have today represent the original text that was inspired in the Hebrew and Greek. So if you are perplexed as to why so many people still read Traditional Text Bibles or have ditched their ESV, perhaps take this reality into more serious consideration. This is not a blind appeal to tradition, or a naive exchange of truth for comfort. It is a reasonable response from folks who listen to what the text-critics are saying, and take them seriously. When prominent scholars, all in unison, say “The Bible we’ve given to you is not entirely original that we know of,” you should probably believe them.

Conclusion

It is easy to believe that the appeal to the TR is only for those not brave enough to weather the scholarly storm. This is a rather shallow reading of what those in the TR camp are actually saying, however. When scholars say very clearly that none of the bibles produced represent the original text, and that the quest for the original is all but impossible, it is quite reasonable to head another direction with your doctrine of Scripture. Many get caught up debating individual variants when, as the scholars admit, the critical methodology cannot be used to make any sort of definitive conclusion on those variants. This is one of the most interesting bits of commentary about those in the TR camp that often goes overlooked – in many cases, those in the TR camp seem to take the critical scholars far more seriously than those that claim the critical methodology for themselves.

When a high-caliber textual scholar like DC Parker argues that the text is changing and will always change, TR folks take his word for it. When well established critics like Tommy Wasserman claim that he does textual criticism as though God does not exist and that he doesn’t want to be put in the box of his white privileged perspective, TR folks take his word for it. When Dan Wallace, a champion of the critical text, claims that we don’t have the original, inerrant Scripture and that we never will have it, TR folks take his word for it. When Peter Gurry, a rising star in the text-critical world, states that the upcoming changes will affect doctrine, theology, commentary, and preaching, TR folks take his word for it.

It does not take rabid fundamentalism to want to distance from this kind of Bibliology, and if you are truly attempting to understand the TR position, you will see that. That is not to say there are not academic and historical defenses of the TR, there are plenty. What I am saying, from the perspective of the average Christian, it is not unreasonable to listen to the scholars, take what they are saying seriously, and find that what they are saying is utterly wanting. This is not fundamentalism, or traditionalism, or emotionalism. It is a perfectly logical conclusion drawn from actually listening to what the scholars are saying in very clear terms about modern bibles.

The Diversity Within the TR Camp

Introduction

Many people are introduced to the TR position through its critics. This is often unhelpful in understanding just exactly what “the” TR position is, and what those that adhere to some form of it actually believe. It may be shocking to men like James White and Mark Ward, but the TR position, while mostly uniform, has subsets of people who differ in various ways. As a point of clarity, I will not be discussing the topic of translation here. In this article, I want to highlight two major camps within “the” TR position as it pertains to the underlying Greek and Hebrew. It may be helpful for those that are new to the discussion, or perhaps to those who want to see an inside perspective that isn’t tainted with the aggressive argumentation of modern apologists.

The Two Kinds of TR Adherents

The Corpus TR View

This is a very common view within the TR community. Due to minor variations between editions of the TR and the translations thereof, those in this camp believe that the TR is the collection of readings contained within Reformation era Greek texts and translations. Some in this camp rightfully argue that Erasmus’ editions do not properly represent what has been come to be known as the TR, and others accept Erasmus with open arms. This group is more open to accepting various readings at certain places like Rev. 16:5. As with all people that fall in the TR camp, they reject the critical text and versions made from it.

The KJV as a TR View

This is also a very common view within the TR community. This camp recognizes the variations within the TR corpus, but believes that there is not sufficient evidence to make any ruling on one variant or another based on the extant evidence. This skepticism towards the authority of the available manuscript evidence in 2020 necessitates that this group validates readings by measuring the reception of a reading by the church rather then the preponderance of extant evidence for or against a reading.

The basic argument justifying this view is that, due to how many manuscripts have been lost or destroyed and the lack of documentation detailing which manuscripts were available in the 16th century, there is no way to tell with confidence which manuscripts were available throughout time. A common practice within the modern camp is to simply assume that we know everything there is to know regarding the availability of manuscripts during the 16th century, when we clearly don’t. As a result of recognizing this reality, the editorial decisions made by the KJV translation team using Greek and Hebrew manuscripts and editions effectively becomes a definitive TR, as these readings have been received and used more than any other edition in the last 400 years.

Critiques

The Corpus TR View

One of the major critiques of those in the corpus view group is that they are essentially engaging in the same kind of text criticism as the modern camp, only with a smaller subset of data. The difference is said to be in “number and not in kind”. This group is still faced with the reality that we do not have a clear perspective on the sum total of manuscripts that were available to those producing the TR corpus. Despite this critique, this position more readily recognizes some of the difficulties of the variants that exist within the TR corpus, and leaves some room for discussion as to what exactly is “the” TR.

The KJV as a TR View

The most common critique of this position is that it is no different than Ruckmanite King James Onlyism. This is often set forth by men like Mark Ward and James White. The argument is essentially that, because the basic reality is that this group only reads the KJV, it doesn’t matter how they arrived to this position, as the end result is the same. This is a rather uncharitable interpretation of the position, and unhelpful if you are actually trying to understand what is being set forth. All adherents of this position vehemently deny any association to the methodology of Ruckman or Gipp. A fair reading of this position easily reveals that this group does not view the KJV as “reinspired” or esteem an English translation more highly than the inspired original texts.

The basic objection to this critique is that the position is far more nuanced than a blind adherence to the KJV. Often times, those in this camp begin with the corpus view, and through careful study and application of a faith-based criteria, end up adopting all the readings chosen by the KJV editors. Though this is actually quite common, there are still many people within this camp who adopt the KJV as a TR due to how widely and consistently the church has used the KJV for faith and practice. It is important to remember that the reception of Scripture is a theological issue, not an issue of modern criticism.

Conclusion

While both the Corpus view and the KJV as a TR view are practically the same, there are careful nuances within the two camps that deserve recognition. The TR camp should not be swept into one monolithic tribe, as there are differing opinions that may change how one person approaches the debate compared to the next. For example, somebody in the corpus view may be more willing to discuss manuscript evidence in certain places, whereas somebody in the KJV as a TR group might not due to skepticism about the progeny of the manuscripts being discussed.

In both cases, those within the TR camp recognize the absurdity of making hard claims regarding the early surviving manuscripts, often called “Alexandrian”, which make up the critical text. The TR camp finds unity in understanding that we simply do not know enough about the transmission history of the text until we see relative uniformity in the manuscripts leading up to the Reformation period. In the end, both groups agree that the best text is a TR type, as it is the text that God has providentially and unquestionably used most powerfully since the time Bibles began being mass produced via the printing press.

Having Discernment in the Age of Unreason

Introduction

We live in the age of unreason, where many people are uncertain if this world is real, or simply a simulation. Scholars with the highest level of credentialing are advocating for silly nonsense like “2+2=5”. The 24 hour news cycle is wrong more than it is right, and people’s discernment is at an all time low. You can literally watch a video of a person throwing an explosive into a building and thousands of people will call that “peaceful protesting”. You can blame the schools and universities or perhaps parents failing to bring up their children in nurture and admonition of the Lord and you’d be right on both accounts. If you have ever had an argument with somebody in the last four years, you have likely experienced what I call “The Post-Modern Zeitgeist”.

The Post-Modern Zeitgeist is the inability for somebody to fairly assess an argument or be persuaded from their current position no matter how strong the evidence is against their current position. Instead, those overcome with this spirit of the age will ignore sound reasoning and engage in projection, pejoratives, and ad hominem attacks. They will accuse you of doing exactly what they are doing, and then claim victory after offering character attacks and saying nothing of substance. If you’ve ever talked with somebody who believes they are correct simply because they said their point emphatically and repeatedly without considering any objections, you likely know what I’m talking about. This zeitgeist has infected the minds of Americans in every sphere whether it be politics, medicine, and for the purpose of this blog, Bibliology. This post-modern zeitgeist prevents many well meaning, good-hearted Christians from seeing the legitimate flaws in modern text critical methodology.

Discernment in the Age of Unreason

There are certain arguments, realities, or facts that are so compelling that they can discredit the validity of an argument simply by being true. 2 + 2 cannot be 5, because it is 4. These kinds of arguments should be able to at least get you to question whether your view is incomplete, or perhaps needs work. For example, in the text critical world, otherwise faithful men continue to defend the modern critical text, despite its methodology being completely empty and devoid of anything sound enough to adopt its various theories. Most people who adopt a modern bible assume that they have the word of God. They defend their bible assuming this same premise, despite having absolutely no ground to do so. It is not the case that the Word of God isn’t preserved and available, it is that the scholars who produce these modern texts literally say that the bible isn’t perfectly preserved or available in any of their texts. This is what one of the most trusted authorities, Dan Wallace, has to say regarding the authenticity and originality of modern bibles:



“We do not have now – in our critical Greek texts or any translations – exactly what the authors of the New Testament wrote. Even if we did, we would not know it. There are many, many places in which the text of the New Testament is uncertain.”

Gurry & Hixson, Myths & Mistakes in New Testament Textual Criticism, xii

This quote is contained within one of the newest works in Evangelical Textual Criticism. This view, espoused by Wallace, is lock-step with the greater Evangelical community as it pertains to Bibliology. This quote is important, because it says plainly what I have been saying on this blog since I started it last year – the methods of textual criticism are not adequate to arrive at a final product, and are not adequate to claim any amount of certainty in a given passage. This is not some theory of mine, these scholars and advocates readily admit it. Let me explain by breaking down this quote:

We do not have now – in our critical Greek texts or any translations – exactly what the authors of the New Testament wrote.”

This is an admission that there is no product that the modern Evangelical community believes to be the original Word of God. Even if some people within this camp are willing to say they are certain enough in their bible to read it, if pressed on which passages they believe to be original, they will not answer directly. This is a necessary conclusion of the methodology. Wallace continues:

“Even if we did, we would not know it.”

This is an admission that there is no text-critical methodology that can validate the product of any current text-critical effort. In other words, even if modern textual critics produced something final, they could not say, “This is the original bible” according to the methods they used to produce it. Because modern textual criticism is completely empirical, it can never arrive at a final answer because we do not have the required empirical data to validate the end product. Dan Wallace admits it along with all of his peers.

Conclusion

The necessary conclusion and argument I want to present now is this: The modern critical text does not represent the original Word of God, and the scholars that produced it and advocate for it do not claim that it does represent the original Word of God. Therefore, any and all claims that those who advocate for the originality of a verse by way of this methodology do so erroneously. Further, any claims made regarding other texts not produced by this method are likewise hollow because the evidence is evaluated by the same methodology that does not claim to have a way to know if a text is original. Thus, any and all claims made by a method which says, “Even if we did, we would not know it”, is bound to the methodological fact that it does not have any authority to make claims regarding the originality of any text.

The plain reality of this argument is that those that defend the modern critical text do so on shifting sand. Apologists may make compelling arguments for one text or against another, but these apologists are bound to the axiomatic reality that their method cannot make such claims responsibly. It is the same paradox that a moral relativist encounters when he is outraged at a perceived injustice. No matter how angry this injustice makes him, he does not have the proper framework to argue for the logical coherence of his anger. In the same way, the advocate of the modern critical text(s) has no basis by which they can responsibly make any claims regarding the authenticity, or lack of authenticity of a given text. Like the moral relativist, his defense or attack is simply arbitrary. To say that the modern critical text(s) is the original Word of God, you are saying that 2 + 2 = 5. You must ignore what all of the scholars are saying along with what the methodology and theology they are using to produce such texts. Such argumentation should be marked and avoided. If you claim that your view aligns with Dan Wallace as some popular internet apologists claim, or any of these other evangelical scholars, you must necessarily reject WCF 1.8, LBCF 1.8, and any idea of a preserved and available bible.

“KJV Onlyism” is a Christian Virtue

Introduction

There is a common line of thinking that says that the KJV is a fine translation, but it should not be read in exclusivity. Those that do are foolish or ignorant, according to many. Such has become the default layperson’s opinion within what might be considered “conservative” evangelicalism. The scholars who contribute to this discussion are typically more extreme, often times advocating that the KJV should not be read by anybody (See Andrew Naselli). Such opinions are extremely uncharitable, and quite frankly, ignorant. The two common threads that run through those in the critical text crowd is that they refuse to hear any legitimate critiques of their own position on the text, and they refuse to see the virtues of the positions that are in conflict with their own. Instead, they focus only on the critiques of “KJV Onlyism”, which is defined as anybody who simply reads the KJV. As a former critical text die hard, I tried to see the virtues in the critical text, and found none.

“He that answereth a matter before he heareth it, it is folly and shame unto him”

Proverbs 18:13

The KJV Only Boogeyman

When people talk about KJV Onlyism as a “heresy” or “foolishness”, one might think they are referring to Ruckman or Gipp and those who follow in that school. While this would be charitable to assume, this is almost never the case. When people use the phrase “KJV Onlyism”, they are referring to people who do not choose to make use of the modern critical translations of the Bible. The reasons do not matter. This is not only the case at a popular level, but also the case within available academic literature (See Naselli). That is to say, that if you as a 21st century Christian do not read a 21st century Bible, you are a “fool” or in Naselli’s words, “ignorant”.

What many people who advocate against “KJV Onlyism” fail to see is the growing list of criticisms of their own position that have caused many, many people to return to the King James Bible. Since most “defenses” of the critical text involve attacking the TR, it’s near impossible to find an actual presentation as to why one should read a modern critical bible other than “You don’t want to be a kooky KJVO”. In fact, when critical scholars attempt to defend their bibles, they end up advocating against historical protestant orthodoxy. The best that modern scholars can do at this point is to say, “We know we don’t have every word that was originally written, but what we have is good enough for me”. I have yet to see a single argument at the scholarly or popular level that can explain how the Bible can be pure, and also be changing and uncertain without abandoning the historic protestant view of the Scriptures.

In order to justify the use of critical bibles, critical apologists must reinterpret historical theology to say, “They were actually saying what we’re saying”. Most Christians who use this line have no idea what it is that modern scholars are actually saying, unfortunately. You would think that somebody who is calling other Christians “ignorant”, “foolish”, and “cult-like”would know a little bit about the position they are saying is the better position, but most of the time they have no idea. Nine times out of ten they are woefully ignorant on the state of modern textual criticism. So let’s take a look at what the modern scholars all agree upon from the mouth of Dan Wallace.

“We do not have now – in our critical Greek texts or any translations – exactly what the authors of the New Testament wrote. Even if we did, we would not know it. There are many, many places in which the text of the New Testament is uncertain”.

Gurry & Hixson, Myths & Mistakes, xii. Quote Dan Wallace.

Now, if the average Christian were to just evaluate this quote, which represents the doctrinal core of the modern critical text, they likely would not find themselves in full agreement. In fact, it might even cause them to question their undying support of the bibles that are produced with this theological core in mind. Yet, the mind of modern Christian is seldom convinced of a new position, because the modern Christian is trained to believe their favorite authority. Even if their favorite authority is dead wrong.

Conclusion

What many Christians who vehemently defend modern bibles fail to recognize is that there is nothing tangible that they are actually defending when they take up the cause of modern bibles. There is no “modern critical text”. There is no “modern bible”. There are only modern critical texts, and modern critical bibles. If you listen carefully to the scholars, notice how they will not ever defend the notion of a single bible. All bibles are good in their own way, and they all should be read and used, even if they disagree in text and translation – and they do. This is because modern Bibliology does not believe there is a single bible. If you don’t believe me, ask a scholar or proponent of critical bibles to identify one.

So when a defender of the modern critical text calls “KJV Onlyism” “foolish” and “ignorant”, they are actually saying that it is foolish and ignorant to believe that there could possibly be one text of the New Testament. In other words, it is foolish to believe that God kept His Word pure in all ages. You may believe that Erasmus was a papist idiot, or that Beza copied from the Vulgate, but at the end of the day, “KJV Onlyists” believe that God preserved His Word, and that it’s available today. This is doctrinally accurate and virtuous, not “foolish”. Before you scoff at the conclusion of the “KJV Onlyists”, think of what you have to affirm to do so. You have to affirm that there is no bible, and that God did not preserve and deliver His Word in the 21st century. Even if He did accomplish such a feat, you wouldn’t know it. What we have is “good enough” and you just need to deal with it. So before you go calling your brother in Christ a fool for reading the KJV, realize that many who read the KJV have adequate reasons for doing so. It may be wise to hear them out, and attempt to understand why men like Joel Beeke are among those who you call a “KJV Onlyist” and a “fool”.

The Big Lie of Critical Bibliology

The United States, and many other countries, are seeing the fruit of critical scholarship. Statues are coming down, cities are being vandalized and burnt, and people are being assaulted and even killed in what the media is reporting as “mostly peaceful protests”. Many of us are wise to what’s actually going on – the Frankfurt school had children and those children are living out their revolutionary fantasies. What we are seeing right now is the epitome of what critical theories are designed to do, deconstruct and rebuild.

Critical theories begin with the premise that there is something inherently wrong with whatever was formerly considered “traditional”. Scholars then come along assuming this premise and attempt to deconstruct the traditional perspective and reform the narrative in a way that aligns with whatever the academic orthodoxy is at the time. This deconstructing/reconstructing dynamic is done by assuming that all things must be described through psychological, cultural, and social constructs. It is axiomatically and necessarily godless. The world cannot be explained by what can be learned from divine revelation, it must be explained by way of the experience of individuals and communities.

All forms of critical scholarship share these fundamentals. It is deeply dogmatic, and ironically, a form of fundamentalism. Scripture describes the first principle of critical theories in 2 Timothy 3:

“Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of truth”

2 Timothy 3:6

Conservative Christians are seeing the fruit of critical ideology in its extreme form right now, yet many are reluctant to admit that critical textual scholarship does the same exact thing as the ideology that invented “White Fragility”. Students, professors, and pastors have weaponized terms like “fundamentalist” towards “textual traditionalists” just like they weaponized the term against those that believed in inspiration and inerrancy in the 20th century. These same people engage in what can only be called “the big lie” of Bibliology.

The Big Lie of Bibliology is that Higher and Lower criticism are agnostic towards each other. Yet, as we have so plainly seen, the higher and lower critics have been engaged in a ritual dance for decades. Behind every discussion of textual data is a story of how that textual data came to be. A textual variant “came into the text” by way of a sentimental, well meaning scribe, or something like that. Stories and passages were omitted or added depending on the perspective of the communities that copied manuscripts. The history of the text is described not by way of divine revelation, but rather in a manner that adopts the axiomatic foundation of every other critical school.

Big Lies are fundamental to critical ideologies, because they challenge the narrative that has always been told. These ideologies are necessarily destructive, and if you don’t believe me, turn on the news. The traditional narrative must be usurped or critical methodologies die. So what can we learn from what we are seeing on the news right now? Look at the streets of Seattle, Portland, and New York, and look at your modern Bible. They are the same picture, produced by the same kind of ideology.

In the 21st century, Christians must reject critical theories and methodologies of all kinds. They are godless and destructive no matter which discipline they touch.