Textual Traditionalism, TR Onlyism, and KJV Onlyism


The use of pejoratives in debate is a time tested tactic that works. I imagine that is why people use them. In the case of the Textual Discussion, many employ pejoratives to associate adherence to a particular Greek and Hebrew text with positions that have negative connotations. This has been effective in steering people away from, in particular, the Confessional Text position. Two examples are “Textual Traditionalism” and “TR Onlyism”. Another similar tactic is employed by simply conflating adherence to the Reformation era text to King James Onlyism, as it is defined by Peter Ruckman and Sam Gipp. In any case, for those actually interested in understanding this position and representing it fairly, these terms are unhelpful because they are clear and intentional misrepresentations. The term, “misrepresentation” is often used, but rarely explained. It is important that Christians turn on their brains when they hear the word “misrepresentation” and investigate if somebody is actually being truthful when they say they are being misrepresented. It is often the case that opponents of the Reformation era texts readily employ this language without explaining how they are being misrepresented. Typically, somebody who cries “misrepresentation!” every time somebody disagrees with them is fond of playing victim.

When those in the Confessional Text camp claim that pejoratives such as “Textual Traditionalist” and “TR Onlyist” and “KJV Onlyist” are blatant and uncharitable misrepresentations, those who rabidly attack the Received Text are prone to mock and issue scorn. This may be warranted if there were no justification for the claim of misrepresentation, but the continued use of such pejoratives after ample explanation is a chief example of biting and devouring (Gal. 5:15) and prideful contention (Prov. 13:10). Despite the assertion that we should treat Christian brothers with the least amount of charity as possible if they disagree on a point of doctrine, the Biblical testimony is abundantly clear here – we should endeavor to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Eph. 4:3). The Bible does not call us to be doctrinal vigilantes, but to exhort with all patience and humility (Col. 3:12-17).

That is not to say that Christians are not called to battle (1 Pet. 1:13), but the way that Christians should do battle should be, well, distinctly Christian (John 13:35). The chief battle Christians fight is against their sin, not each other. So when Christians continue to unabashedly and proudly employ pejoratives in their critique of other Christians, it is clear that something is off. I am not opposed to strong language and rhetoric, so as long as that language and rhetoric is justified. In any case, I thought that I would provide a helpful review of the uncharitable pejoratives which are used as debate tactics against those who adhere to the historical text of the Protestant religion. It doesn’t matter how long these pejoratives have been in use, every Christian has the responsibility to be better than those that came before them and determine if such terms accurately describe the person they are talking about. It is especially condemning if Christians, after seeing how these terms misrepresent brothers and sisters in Christ, continue to use these terms.

Textual Traditionalism

In the first place, Christians should seek to be accurate when describing a theological or perhaps traditional perspective. When the term “Anabaptist” is employed for example, it is not appropriately applied to Particular Baptists, as that is simply historically imprecise. The only reason you would call a Reformed Baptist an “Anabaptist” is if you were trying to bite and sting. Misuse of terminology introduces more confusion into a conversation, which Christians should generally be opposed to in principle (1 Cor. 14:33). If a term is employed that introduces more confusion and chaos than order and structure, it should generally be avoided. So does the term “Textual Traditionalist” introduce more clarity? Does it provide insight to what is being discussed? The answer is clearly no.

The term is unfortunately vague and imprecise. Anybody who is claiming to be a scholar, or make a scholarly argument, would avoid such ambiguity. To use database language, there is nothing that uniquely identifies this term with any particular position. It could just as easily be applied to “red letter Christians” or the “unhitchers” whose textual tradition is offensive to Reformed believers. This term only serves a polemic purpose aimed at the inclinations of the modern church who recoil at the term “tradition.” Traditionalism implies that people adhere to a tradition for the sake of the tradition itself. This is not the case for the Confessional Text camp.

Yet, if you’re Reformed, the term “tradition” should not scare you. It is famously said, “He who says he has no tradition is blind to his tradition.” This holds true to those who employ this kind of language, typically. Everybody has a tradition, and those traditions have specific names. This highlights an important reality as it pertains to this pejorative – it plays to an audience who associates negativity to tradition while also appealing to an audience who supposedly has a great deal of pride in their Protestant heritage. In making use of such a term, one simultaneously appeals to the soft, “tradition is bad” version of Christianity, while also seemingly arguing for an alternative form of “textual traditionalism.”  If our definition of traditionalism is that one only accepts their own tradition as valid, then those who aggressively advocate for the modern critical text are also traditionalists, so it seems. The term is so vague that it might as well apply to anybody who has any thought out tradition on the text of Holy Scripture. It is wise to avoid using terminology that is so imprecise that it practically means nothing at all, if the goal is to be “scholarly.” If the intention is to prevent people from actually understanding the position itself and to paint a brother in Christ as a rabid fundamentalist, then it is quite apt. In any case, it is better to use a precise term than an imprecise term, if a precise term exists. That seems like a simple principle to follow.

TR Onlyism

This is probably the most commonly used pejorative for the Confessional Text position. It dates back at least to 1990, and typically is used to describe those that only accept Bibles which are translated from the Received Greek Text of the Protestant Reformation era. Typically, opponents of this text will misrepresent this position by saying that advocates of the TR “believe it to be inspired” specially in some sort of re-inspiration event. I don’t know a single person in the Confessional Text camp who believes the TR to be re-inspired.

Similar to the first term, it is unfortunately vague, and obviously meant for use in debate, not to provide clarity. In every case that it is used, it is used to conflate the Confessional Text position with King James Onlyism, which is typically defined by way of Peter Ruckman. This is problematic for several reasons. The first is that the Confessional Text position is demonstrably not Ruckmanite KJV Onlyism. The Ruckmanite view of the Bible is dangerously false and it is embarrassing and shameful to apply such a view to a supposed brother in the Lord. The second is that it is far too vague of a title to be used in any way that can be considered scholarly. Scholars are constantly priding themselves on being precise, not intentionally dull. Since those who read Bibles made from the Received Text also read the Old Testament, a more precise title would be “Masoretic Text and Received Text Onlyists”, or “MTRT Onlyists” for short. It is true that those in the Confessional Text camp read translations made from these texts, so the title is adequately descriptive. Though if we’re in the business of calling anybody who has a distinct view on a topic an “onlyist”, I encourage those who rail against the Received Text to adopt the title, “Modern Critical Text Onlyist,” or perhaps, “Historical Critical Text Onlyist.” Whichever suits your fancy.

The major problem with calling every disagreement a controversy and every person who holds a distinct position an “onlyist” is that it is lacking in Christian charity and scholarly candor. Those in the Confessional Text camp do not adhere to these texts by virtue of these texts themselves, but primarily because they are the texts that the framers of the Confessions received. Thus, those in the Confessional Text camp adopt the reasons and logic which caused the Reformed to adopt those texts as well. The reasons and logic for receiving such a text are laid out in chapter 1 of the WCF and LBCF. All of the proof texts for the doctrines within the Reformed confessions are based on the Traditional Text of Scripture. They rejected the readings which have made their way wholesale into the modern Bible versions. This may come as a shock to people, but the framers of the Reformed confessions built their body of divinity on many texts that have been thrown out of modern Bibles. This is not a matter of opinion, but fact. The Reformed Confessions, in their original form, were reliant upon having the text form of the Traditional Text. People can think this was due to their ignorance of the text, or that they were just wrong in establishing doctrine on 1 John 5:7, Mark 16:9-20, etc., but the fact is that they did. You can’t change history simply because you don’t like it. Ironically, this is the charge leveled by those who advocate for the use of the Modern Critical Text against those who adhere to the Received Text. In any case, the name “Confessional Text” is used simply because it describes a position which adheres to the same text as the framers of the Reformed Protestant confessions for the same reasons.

King James Version Onlyism

Maybe it is time that somebody writes a book called the “Onlyist Controversy” where somebody catalogs every Christian position which makes them an “Onlyist.” Some examples might be Psalmody Onlyists, Presbyterian Onlyists, Credobaptist Onlyists, and so on. When I first heard of the term KJV Onlyist, I thought it meant that somebody thinks the KJV, in English, is literally immediately inspired by the pens of the translators. Due to popular works such as the King James Only Controversy and critically acclaimed textbooks such as How to Interpret and Apply the New Testament, the definition of KJV Onlyist has been extended to everybody who doesn’t read a modern Bible, even majority text advocates and people who read the NKJV. If the meaning of KJV Onlyist applies to people who think that somebody has to learn English to read the Bible, then it has a whole lot of meaning. It is a distinct category set apart from all other categories that is applied appropriately to one specific subset of people. If it means everybody who doesn’t read a modern Bible, then the standard becomes extremely arbitrary and vague. It loses its meaning and its specificity, thus transforming it from a scalpel to a bludgeoning rod. 

One of the things that Christians, especially within the Calvnistic apologetic realm, value, is consistency. If the goal is consistency, I’d like to apply the “onlyist” standard equally across the board. If you are a Christian that only reads an ESV, you are an ESV onlyist. If you are a Christian who only reads a Bible based on the modern critical text, you are a Modern Critical Text onlyist. Note that when this standard is applied equally across the board, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Thousands of Christians only read one translation. Simply adding the term “Onlyist” to the end of something somebody believes is simply useless in terms of conveying meaning. It has nothing to say about why the person only reads that version. What it does convey is the idea of “badness” or “wrongness” by ironically appealing to modern idea that exclusivity is bad. The term KJV Onlyist has actually lost all meaning because it has been applied so broadly, and doesn’t make sense at all when the same standard is applied to everybody else. If we were to apply that term to only Ruckmanites, then perhaps it would have meaning. Due to the broad application of the term, it’s difficult to determine if being an “onlyist” is even a bad thing. It’s just a thing. Is being an ESV Onlyist bad? Well I suppose that is dependent on why you only read an ESV. Is being a KJV Onlyist bad? Well I suppose that is dependent on why you only read the KJV. Ironically, the grossly wide application of the term “KJV Onlyist” to quite literally everybody who doesn’t read a modern Bible has resulted in the term becoming ambiguous. This is what happens when we aren’t consistent, things stop making sense. So if the goal is specificity, the term KJV Onlyist simply means that somebody only reads the KJV. In the same way, an ESV Onlyist is somebody who only reads the ESV.

So I propose a solution. If the only qualifier for being a translational onlyist is that you only read one Bible, then I say we apply the onlyist standard across the board. In any case, the terminology in itself does not explain the why so it is simply a synonym for KJV reader or ESV reader. That is not to say that the term “KJV Onlyist” doesn’t have certain negative connotations, but according to the books on the matter, there are four or five different kinds of KJV Onlyists, and they all are very different. Since these different groups are so radically different, it seems appropriate to use more specific terms. In fact, in every case, there are terms that can be used for these different types of “KJV Onlyists”. Here they are:

1. “I like the KJV the best” – KJV Preferred

2. “The Textual Argument” – Majority Text Advocate or Confessional Text Advocate

3. “Received Text Only” – Nobody holds this position as it is defined in the literature, as nobody believes the TR was “re-inspired”

4. “The KJV as New Revelation” – Ruckmanite KJV Onlyism

It is not that hard to define these distinct groups, and it takes very little effort to do so. Some people proudly tote the KJVO title, but are not Ruckmanites. In any case, believe it or not, people have legitimate reasons for reading the KJV other than by the reasoning of Sam Gipp or Peter Ruckman.


Relying on pejoratives to apply the “boogeyman effect” on a group of people is an effective tactic, I’ll grant that. It becomes a problem when there are more specific terms that adequately describe a position that actually convey meaning. This of course is assuming that we are all Christians here. If the goal is rational, Christlike discussion, then perhaps let’s be rational and Christlike. Mark Ward was able to do it when he employed the term Confessional Bibliology to describe the Confessional Text position. The term is concise, accurate, and not a pejorative. Simply making up nicknames for people or groups you don’t like may be popular on the playground, but as Ward has shown, it’s not the way things are done in the scholarly world. Dirk Jongkind shows the same scholarly care when he employs the term “Textus Receptus proponents” in his book. It’s amazing how readily scholars use terminology that actually conveys meaning. Both Ward and Jongkind use terminology that is recognizable, specific, and descriptive. Perhaps they are not fans of wasting words, or perhaps they are actually concerned with representing their brothers in Christ fairly. In any case, it seems that it is possible to discuss the issue without being pedantic. 

So what will you say, Christian? Will you employ the terminology used by scholars, or continue using pejoratives which convey very little meaning and add confusion to the conversation? At least, for the sake of consistency, pick something meaningful and specific.   

A Summary of the Confessional Text Position


In this article, I will provide a shotgun blast summary of the Confessional Text Position, as well as some further commentary which will help those trying to understand the position better. In this short article, I do not expect that I have articulated every nuance of the position perfectly, but I hope that I have communicated it clearly enough for people to understand it as a whole. My goal is the reader can at least see why I adhere to the Traditional Hebrew and Greek text and translations thereof.

In 15 Points

1. God has voluntarily condescended to man by way of speaking to man (Deus Dixit) and making covenants with him (Gen. 2:17; 3:15)

2. In the time of the people of God of old, He spoke by way of the prophets (Heb. 1:1)

3. In these last days, He has spoken to His people by His Son, Jesus Christ (Heb. 1:1)

4. The way that God has spoken by Jesus Christ is in Scripture through the inspiration of Biblical writers by the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:21; 2 Tim. 3:16). The Bible is the Word of God, and in these last days, is the way that Christians hear the voice of their Shepherd by the power of the Holy Spirit (John 10:27). The Bible does not contain the Word of God, or become the Word of God, it is the Word of God.

5. The purpose of this speaking is to make man “wise unto salvation” and “furnished unto all good works” (2 Tim. 3:15;17; Rom. 1:16; 10:17)

6. Jesus promised that His Word would never fall away, as it is the means of accomplishing His covenant purpose (Mat. 5:18; 24:35)

7. Since God has promised that His words would not fall away, the words of Scripture have been kept pure in all ages, or in every generation (WCF 1.8; Mat. 5:18; 24:35) until the last day

8. Up until the 15th century with the invention of the printing press in Europe, books were hand copied. This hand copying resulted in thousands of manuscripts being circulated and used in churches for all matters of faith and practice. These manuscripts are generally uniform, except for a handful of manuscripts formerly known as the “Alexandrian Text Family”, which were not really copied or circulated. When Constantinople fell in 1453, just 14 years after the invention of the printing press in Europe, Greek Christians fled to Italy, bringing with them their Bibles and language.

9. The printing press was put to use in the creation of printed Bibles, in many different languages, specifically Greek and Latin

10. If it is true that the Bible has been kept pure, it was kept pure up to the 16th century. Thus, the manuscripts that were used in the first effort of creating printed text was the same text used by the people of God up to that point. Text-critics such as Theodore Beza would appeal to the “consent of the church” as a part of his textual methodology, which demonstrates that the reception of readings by the church were an integral part of the compilation of this text

11. The text produced over the course of a century during the Reformation period was universally accepted by the protestants, even to the point of other texts being rejected. It is historically documented that this is the “text received by all” (Received Text), which is abundantly made clear in the commentaries, confessions (see proof texts), translations, and theological works up until the 19th century.

12. This Greek text, along with the Masoretic Hebrew text, remained the main text for translation, commentary, theological works, etc. until the 19th century when Hort’s Greek text, based on Codex Vaticanus was adopted by many. At the time, many believed that Hort’s text was the true original, which caused many people to adopt readings from this text over and above the Received Text. This text was rejected by Erasmus and the Reformers, and has no surviving contemporary ancestor copies, meaning it was simply not copied or used by the church at large.

13. This Greek text was adopted based on Hort’s theory that Vaticanus was “earliest and best” and the text of modern Bibles all generally reflect this text form, even today. Due to the Papyri and the CBGM, Hort’s theory has been rejected by all in the scholarly community. Not to mention Hoskier’s devastating analysis of Codex B (Vaticanus).

14. Thus, the Confessional Text position adopts the Greek and Hebrew text, and translations thereof, that were “received by all” in the age of printed Bibles, and used universally by the orthodox for 300 years practically uncontested, except by Roman Catholics and other heretical groups (Anabaptists, Socinians, etc.).

15. The most popular of these translations, the Authorized Version (KJV), is still used by at least 55% of people who read their Bible daily as of 2014, and at least 6,200 churches. Additionally, Bibles made from these Greek and Hebrew texts into other languages remain widely popular across the world. Other English Bibles are based on this text, such as the MEV, NKJV, GNV, and KJ3, but they are relatively unused compared to the AV.

Further Commentary

The adoption of the Greek Received Text and the Hebrew Masoretic text is one based on what God has done providentially in time. Many assert that the history of the New Testament can only be traced by extant manuscript copies, but those copies do not tell the whole story. The readings in the Bible are vindicated, not on the smattering of early surviving manuscripts, but rather by the people that have used those readings in history (John 10:27), which are preserved in the texts actually used by those people. Since we will never have all of the manuscripts due to war, fire, etc., it is impossible to verify genuine readings by the data available today, as there is no “Master Copy” to compare them against. That is why the current effort of text-criticism is pursuing a hypothetical Initial Text, which relies on constructing a text based on the first 1,000 years of manuscript transmission.

The product of this is called the Editio Critica Maior (ECM), and it will not be finished until 2030. The methodology used (CBGM) to construct this text has already introduced uncertainty to the editors of those making Greek texts as to whether or not they can even find the Initial Text, or if they will even find one Initial Text. That is to say, that from the time of Hort’s text in the 19th century, the modern effort of textual criticism has yet to produce a single stable text. The printed editions of the modern critical text contain a great wealth of textual data, but none of these are a stable text that will not change in the next ten years. That is to say, that translations built on these printed editions are merely a representation of what the editors think the best readings are, not necessarily what the best readings are in reality.

Rather than placing hope in the ability of scholars to prove this Initial Text to be original, Christians in the Confessional Text camp look back to the time when hand copied manuscripts were still being used in churches and circulated in the world. The first effort of “textual criticism” if you will, is unique because it is the only effort of textual criticism that took place when hand copied codices were still being used as a part of the church’s practice. That means that the quality and value of such codices could be validated by the “consent of the church”, because the church would have only adopted a text that was familiar to the one they had been using up to that point. This kind of perspective is not achievable to a modern audience. During the time of the first printed editions, the corruption of the Latin Vulgate was exposed, and the printed editions created during that time were in themselves a protest against the Vulgate and the Roman Catholic church, who had in their possession a corrupted translation of the Scriptures. It was during this time, and because of these printed texts, that Protestantism was born.

Any denomination claiming to be protestant has direct ties back to this text, and the theology built upon it. The case for the Confessional Text is really quite simple, when you think about it. God preserved His Word in every generation in hand copied manuscripts until the form of Bibles transitioned to printed texts. Then He preserved His Word in printed Greek texts based on the circulating and approved manuscripts. This method of transmission was much more efficient, cheap, and easily distributed than the former method of hand copying. This text was received, commented on, preached from, and translated for centuries, and is still used by the majority of Bible reading Christians today. The argument for this text is not one based in tradition, it is one based on simply looking back into history and seeing which text the people of God have used in time. Not simply the story that the choice manuscripts of the modern scholars tells.

Any theories on other text forms are typically based on a handful of ancient manuscripts that were not copied or used widely, and the idea that this smattering of early manuscripts represents the original text form is simply speculation. What history tells us is that the text vindicated in time is the text the people of God used, copied, printed, and translated. This does not mean that every Christian at all times has used this text, just the overwhelming testimony of the people of God as a whole. The fact is, that we know very little about the transmission and form of the text in the ancient church in comparison to what we know about the text after the ancient period. The critical text, while generally looking like the Received Text, is different than the historical text of the protestants, which is why those in the Confessional Text camp do not use them. The few Papyri we have even demonstrate that later manuscripts known as the Byzantine text family were circulating in the ancient church.


So why is there a discussion regarding which text is better? Up until this point in history, the alternative text, the critical text, has been thought to be much more stable and certain than it is now. Currently, the modern critical text is unfinished, and will remain that way until at least 2030 when the ECM is finished. Those in the Confessional Text position might ask two very important questions regarding this text: Does a text that represents the text form of a handful of the thousands of manuscripts, a text which is incomplete, sound like a text that is vindicated in time? Does a changing, uncertain, unfinished text speak to a text that has been preserved, or one that has yet to be found? I suppose these questions aren’t answerable until 2030 when it is complete. This alone is a powerful consideration for those investigating the issue earnestly. Most people in the Confessional Text camp do not anathematize those who read Bibles from the critical text, or break fellowship over it, but we do encourage and advocate for the use of Traditional Text Bibles, as it the historical text of the Protestant church.

For More Information on Why I Prefer the Received Text, Click Here

For Interactions with Arguments Against the Received Text, Click Here