Different Theological Perspectives on the Text of Holy Scripture


In the modern church, there is an abundance of theological views on the text of Holy Scripture. These include higher critical perspectives, neo-orthodoxy, continued revelation, providential preservation, and modern criticism. All of these views understand the essence and purpose of Scripture in different ways. In order to examine these theologically, I will assume a popular definition of inerrancy – that the original manuscripts were without error, and that the text as it is available today is without error in all that it teaches. In this article, I will examine each of these views against the doctrine of inerrancy and the effort of modern text criticism. In examining these perspectives, it should be apparent the similarities and differences between them. 

Higher Critical Perspectives 

There are a wide range of higher critical perspectives of the Scriptures, and typically those that adopt this view reject inerrancy outright, because it involves understanding the Bible as a human product – though many modern views adopt higher critical principles without calling it higher criticism. From this perspective, the study of New Testament scholarship is not concerned with what God has said, but rather, how different faith communities experienced their historical context and expressed that experience in writing. Modern text criticism is friendly to this perspective because the effort of modern text criticism is to detail the history of the manuscript tradition. Higher critical perspectives make a distinction between actual history and how faith communities experienced history. Thus, the Bible is a record of how Christians experienced history, which is said to be different than what actually happened in history.   

Neo-Orthodox Perspectives

There are also a wide range of neo-orthodox perspectives on the text of Holy Scripture, and those that adopt this view typically reject inerrancy, as the Bible is said to contain historical errors from this perspective. In some more extreme views in this camp, the definition of “Scripture” is not set in stone, as anything can become Scripture when the Holy Spirit works in it (Brunner). More common within this view is something closer to Karl Barth, which attempts to remove any human attempt to make God less sovereign or infallible by saying that the Scriptures, as they exist in the Bible, become the Word of God when the Holy Spirit bears witness in the believer’s heart as he reads. In this way, even if the Scriptures are not inerrant, God still speaks infallibly in the Word. The Bible is not the Word of God, Jesus is the Word of God, and the Bible is the artifact of revelation, which testifies to the Word of God, Jesus Christ. This artifact becomes the Word of God when the Holy Spirit works in the believer’s heart. This view is compatible with the modern critical text, because God speaking is not tied to an ontological text, but rather is tied to an ontological God. 

Continued Revelation Perspectives 

This group may affirm inerrancy, but rejects the sufficiency of the Scriptures by affirming that God is still speaking through prophetic words, visions, dreams, and tongues. In other words, God did not speak sufficiently in His Word, because His Word does not contain everything necessary for Christian faith and practice. So while the Scriptures may be without error in everything they teach, the Scriptures do not contain everything needed for faith and practice. In this way, inerrancy is not necessary to affirm, as God is still communicating through other means. This is compatible with modern text criticism because God speaking is not tied to an ontological text, but the experience of a person through various other mediums. People in this camp say that all ongoing revelation must align with Scripture, but that standard rests upon exegesis, not an ontological text. Changes to the text of Scripture are not problematic in this view, because God is still speaking new revelation. That does not mean that everybody who affirms ongoing revelation is fine with a changing text, but the theological foundation does not demand that the text be stable. 

Providential Preservation Perspectives 

This group believes that an ontological text exists, and that the people of God know what it is today (John 10:17). Due to God speaking sufficiently in His Word (2 Tim. 3:16), that word necessarily needs to be available completely. If God immediately inspired His Word, and His Word is not completely available, then God is not speaking infallibly today. This group may affirm inerrancy in theory, but rejects the necessity of an ongoing text-critical effort to reconstruct a lost text. The Bible has been kept pure, and never fell away, and therefore doesn’t need to be reconstructed. Since the means God uses to save and teach men is the Holy Scriptures (2 Tim. 3:15-17; Heb. 1:1), if men are to be saved and taught, those Scriptures must be available today to the degree of “all.” If all Scriptures are not available today, then the church does not have all they need for “instruction in righteousness.” This perspective rejects the view that because men are fallible, the Scriptures must therefore be fallible as well. Those that adhere to providential preservation also reject critical perspectives of the Scriptures. The text was inspired by the Holy Spirit, and thus could not have originally been grammatically harsh, choppy, or abrupt (2 Peter 1:19-21). This camp believes that Christians would have been able to identify changes to the text, and rejected those changes as inauthentic. Text criticism from this perspective excludes any higher critical principles, and thus the first major effort of collating and editing manuscripts is seen as a part of God’s providential process to preserve His Word. Those in this camp believe the text is to be received, not reconstructed. 

Modern Critical Perspectives 

Most people in this group believe that the Scriptures were inerrant in the original manuscripts. Others say that it is impossible to determine if the originals were inerrant, as the apostolic writers could have made a mistake (DC Parker). There is nothing in this method that necessitates Christianity as a foundation. Some in this camp believe that the Scriptures are without error in all they teach today, and others believe that they are without error in what they teach, insofar as we have access to them. Evangelical modern critical perspectives do not perceive that any changes to the text can affect doctrine, though this is often contested by scholars working in the discipline and others who do not adhere to this view.

In this camp, “all Scripture” is not required to be available for Christians to “have what they need.” This perspective believes that orthodox faith communities either engaged in a major recension (Lucian), or a gradual recension over hundreds of years (Wachtel) to conform the Scriptures to Christian orthodoxy and create a stable text platform (Byzantine). This perspective necessitates that by the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th centuries, the text of Scripture was grammatically crude as it was produced originally by a community who was largely uneducated and illiterate. Various Christian faith communities inserted pericopes, updated the text to amplify Christ’s divinity, smoothed out grammar, and added verses to solidify the orthodox perspective on controversial doctrines. In this way it is a close friend to higher critical perspectives of Scripture.

Modern critical perspectives also assert that God did not promise to preserve His Word, so Christians should be grateful that they have what they have, all things considered. Inerrancy is a doctrine that was developed to affirm the historical protestant view of Scripture in light of this perspective, which developed in the 19th century and has been overwhelmingly adopted by the conservative evangelical church today. Exegetical models have also been formed around this perspective, which assert that in order to properly understand Scripture, one must first understand the perspective of the faith communities that produced it. This has resulted in various reinterpretations of Pauline theology and different translational choices in modern Old Testaments, which prefer readings that are more compatible with modern interpretations of Hebrew faith communities. 


The greatest challenge facing the Christian church today is the shifting perspectives on the text of Holy Scripture. The modern critical perspective has actually made room for various heterodox views which attempt to make theological sense of how Christians are to view the Bible as it is defined by critical perspectives. If the Bible is not preserved, or we do not have access to that preserved Bible, how are Christians supposed to hear the voice of their Shepherd? Neo-orthodoxy is actually a great theological response to this, ironically enough. The issue in this discussion is that Christians are unwilling to admit that what is called “modern text criticism” is actually a function of higher critical principles. The text criticism done today is not simply a process of comparing manuscripts and selecting the original readings, the selection of readings is driven largely by critical theories. 

Many people assume that those in the Received Text camp have an issue with “text-criticism.” This is false. Text-criticism does not always mean reconstruction. Scribes who created copies from multiple exemplars were “text-critics” of sorts. The theologians and scholars of the 16th century were “text-critics” because they created editions of the New Testament from various manuscripts. The problem is not “text-criticism,” the problem is with modern text-criticism. In its first premise, it assumes that God has let His Word fall away, and that we do not have it today. In its second premise, it assumes that in order to have God’s Word at all, scholars need to reconstruct the text using critical principles, which do not take into consideration inspiration, preservation, or the Holy Spirit. In its third premise, it asserts that the text of the Reformation is errant, and must be rejected. There is nothing inherently Christian at all about the axioms of modern text-criticism.  

The assumption of the proponents of modern text criticism is that the 16th century effort of text criticism was one in kind with the modern effort, and therefore justified. The plain reality is that it is not. The “lower criticism” of the modern critical text is heavily driven by higher critical principles, which are demonstrated in its axioms. Until Christians admit this, the modern critical perspective of the Scriptures will continue to dominate the academy and the church. The theological dilemma introduced by modern text criticism necessitates external methods of authentication. Ironically, the method chosen as the foundation for the “great accuracy” of the modern critical text, opens the door for ongoing revelation, neo-orthodoxy, and other heterodox views of Holy Scripture.

What We Believe About Holy Scripture

Recently, I wrote an article entitled, “Yes, The Bible Teaches Preservation,” to address the reality that modern evangelical scholars have abandoned the historical protestant doctrine that says that we have the Bible today in its original form. This doctrine is enabled by the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, which only speaks to inerrancy in the original autographs of the Scriptures. In this blog, I have set forth that the most faithful position on the Holy Scriptures is that of providential preservation, not inerrancy. The modern doctrine of inerrancy only affirms that the Scriptures we have today can be ascertained with “great accuracy” according to what the modern text-critical scholars determine. An article from Ligonier puts it this way:

“In sum, the Bible is entirely truthful and has no errors at all in the original manuscripts that the prophets and Apostles actually wrote. We do not today possess these manuscripts, but through the process of textual criticism, we can recover the original wording of the manuscripts with a high degree of certainty.”

So then, the inerrancy of the Bibles we have today in our possession are entirely determinant on the text-criticism of modern scholars, who uniformly say, 

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

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

The important part of that statement is the last sentence, “Even if we did, we would not know it.” This is an honest admission, and it is completely accurate, if the method of authentication is the text critical principles employed to make modern critical Greek texts. Since the doctrine of inerrancy sets forth that the Bible’s accuracy is determined by textual criticism, it is really saying that “greatly accurate” means, “we’re not actually sure how accurate it is.” I reject this model of authentication, as it is not Scriptural. The methods of text-criticism are entirely bound to the extant manuscript data, which does not date back to the time of the Apostles. It assumes that the only evidence that matters is what has survived, even though the stationary the Biblical writers used, in most cases, had a maximum shelf life of 500 years. It further assumes that the previous generations were not given the “best” data to receive the Scriptures from the generation before it, which puts the modern church in a terrible predicament.

Even though we do have 2nd and 3rd century manuscripts, none of these are complete enough to make an entire Greek New Testament. The most complete New Testament manuscripts come from the fourth century and later, and so there is no way to determine, according to text-critical principles, what the text looked like prior to that point. There is no way to tell which verses were added, removed, and changed in the two or three hundred year gap between the Apostles and the earliest complete copies. In fact, nearly all of the evangelical scholars say that the text evolved due to Christian tampering. 

Further, the earliest copies look quite different than later copies, so any chance of knowing what the Bible originally said is impossible, according to modern critical principles. Text-critics could reconstruct a Bible that is completely original, and have no idea that they’ve done so, because there is nothing to compare their work against. Critics could just as easily determine an original reading a “later interpolation” as they could a later copyist insertion an “original reading.” Even though the scholars readily admit that,

“It is therefore inadvisable to assume without qualification that earlier is always better, more accurate, or less likely to contain “corruptions” when one of the earliest manuscripts of 1-2 Peter and Jude looks as thought it was written by a copyist who changed the text in places to make a stronger case that Jesus is God”

(Gurry & Hixson, Myths and Mistakes in New Testament Textual Criticism, 92).

In short, the mechanism that gives inerrancy its value to the modern reader of the Bible says nothing meaningful, because it cannot responsibly say that it has delivered the reconstructed Scriptures to the world with “great accuracy.” All it can say is that it has delivered a later version of the Scriptures with great accuracy. Whether or not that version represents the original, nobody can say, if the methods of authentication are the critical principles of men. Scholars may assert that they know some of the places where well meaning Christians “corrupted” the Bible to make it more Christian, but they’ll never know all of the places. The Bible they have reconstructed could just as easily be a gnostic or unitarian version of the Scriptures that was produced during the time when, “The whole world groaned, and was astonished to find itself Arian” (Jerome). When somebody says, “We have what we need,” they are really saying, “I feel that I have all that I need, and you should too.” 

More importantly, does God, the author of the Scriptures, set forth that this is how the Scriptures are to be authenticated? Is the modern articulation of quasi-preservation Biblical? Are we to believe that the Scriptures were corrupted over time by people trying to make them seem more Christian? In the first place, providence declares this not to be the case. The modern critical methods have been employed for almost 200 years now, and the only fruit to show for it is hundreds of new Bibles, none of which are said to be original, and more uncertainty in the text than the orthodox Christian church has ever seen in its 2,000 year history. The theological battle over Scripture is really not all that different than the 16th century, only instead of the church saying it gives the Scriptures weight, conservative Christians are now saying that text criticism gives the Scriptures weight. The only difference is that the textual scholars are not saying they can give the Scriptures the necessary weight, whereas the Roman magisterium did. John Calvin’s words ring especially true today, 

“As if the eternal and inviolable truth of God depended upon the decision of men! For they mock the Holy Spirit when they ask: Who can convince us that these writings came from God? Who can assure us that Scripture has come down whole and intact even to our very day?

Yet, if this is so, what will happen to miserable consciences seeking firm assurance of eternal life if all promises of it consist in and depend solely upon the judgment of men? Will they cease to vacillate and tremble when they receive such an answer? Again, to what mockeries of the impious is our faith subjected, into what suspicion has it fallen among all men, if we believe that it has a precarious authority dependent solely upon the good pleasure of men!”

John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion & 2, ed. John T. McNeill, trans. Ford Lewis Battles, vol. 1, The Library of Christian Classics (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011), 75.

More important than what textual scholars say about Holy Scripture, is what God says about Holy Scripture. Here is list of truths from Scripture, about Scripture:

  1. God is the author of His Word, which was written by men (1 Peter 1:19-21; 2 Tim. 3:16)
  2. It is the way He speaks to His people now (Heb. 1:1; Isa. 54:13; John 6:45)
  3. It is the means by which men are saved and sanctified (John 5:39;2 Tim. 3:15-17; Rom. 10:17)
  4. It is to be received by men as truth, over and above the witness of men (1 Thess 2:13; 1 John 5:9)
  5. It is what the church is built upon (Eph. 2:20; Acts 15:15)
  6. God’s Word is pure and perfect (Ps. 12:6; 19:7)
  7. God’s Word will not fall away so as long as He is fulfilling His purpose for this world (Matt. 5:18, 24:35; Rom. 3:2)
  8. Man’s inability to understand more difficult teachings of Scripture does not make it less pure (2 Peter 3:16)
  9. God’s people hear God’s voice through the Scriptures by the power of the Holy Spirit (John 10:27; 1 Cor. 2:10-12)

Nowhere in Scripture do we find a warrant to believe that God’s words are only “greatly accurate,” or that they would fall away and need to be reconstructed. Nowhere do we find that God would only speak in the original texts perfectly, and let His Word be played with by His people to amplify what He said. God’s Word is intimately connected with His covenant purpose to save a people unto Himself, and what we say about His Word is what we say about His purpose, work, and character. What we say about the preservation of the Scriptures is what we say about His continued work in history, because the Scriptures are how He accomplishes that work. What we say about the Scriptures, we say about God Himself, because the Scriptures are how He has spoken. Many Christians have adopted these perspectives without considering the implications. The fact is, if you’re an average Christian, unfamiliar to this conversation, you likely are not comfortable acknowledging what the scholars accept as cold, hard truth. You read your Bible as you should, with certainty that God is speaking to you in His preserved Word.

If we say that God has only preserved “some of His Word,” well, then perhaps He’s only preserved some of His people. It’s completely reasonable to believe, if we take the methods of the modern scholars as true, that the whole idea of Jesus returning on the Last Day is a later invention. If God did not continuously preserve His Word, even the scribes our earliest manuscripts could have added these details. There is nothing that Christians can possibly say to this, if our hope is placed on the evaluation of manuscripts by textual scholars. The fact is, modern evangelical scholars, pastors, and theologians fundamentally agree with Bart Ehrman on the text of Holy Scripture. The only difference is their conclusion, that, “It really doesn’t matter that the Scriptures are corrupt.” In other words, Christians would rather have faith that the Scriptures are still powerful to “get the job done,” despite being corrupted, rather than believe that they have been kept pure in all ages.

Why is it the case that Christians believe God is big enough to preserve the orbit of the planets but not His Word? Rather than assuming on behalf of God that He is not under any obligation to preserve the Scriptures (Jongkind, An Introduction to the Greek New Testament. 90), Christians should believe that He has lovingly and graciously given His people an infallible rule of faith! If you say that God simply didn’t want to preserve the Scriptures, the means that God uses to make men wise unto salvation (2 Tim. 3:15), you should be just as comfortable saying that God simply didn’t want to save man. Christians act like rejecting the preservation of the Holy Scriptures is some benign theological opinion. I have heard, on countless occasions, that this is simply not a fight worth fighting because there are other “more important issues.” What could possibly be more important than fighting for the truth that God has given His church an infallible rule to be saved by? What despair do we subject the people of God to for the sake of having a few star pupils in the lion’s den? Universities and churches invite men like Bart Ehrman into the sanctuary to evangelize this dangerous doctrine, and act like it is honorable to do so.

If the Scriptures have fallen away, what exactly are we doing here, Christian? What does it matter that we fight tooth and nail against liberal Christianity if the standard we use to rule doctrines “liberal” is just a fourth century iteration of Christianity that cannot be shown to represent the Apostolic iteration of Christianity? If the text of Holy Scripture fell away, even in part, who is to say that what we consider the “fundamentals” of Christianity weren’t the machinations of some early Christians trying to “emphasize the deity of Jesus” (Myths and Mistakes in New Testament Textual Criticism, 91). What right do we have to sanctimoniously stand on “God’s inerrant word” if we believe that it was only inerrant in the originals, which we do not have and cannot know? The answer is none. We have no reason to responsibly judge any other version of Christianity, because we’ve simply selected the version that we like the best. If it is our job to “reconstruct” the New Testament, then there is nothing wrong with others reconstructing Christianity. 


Modern Christians suffer from serious amnesia when it comes to the Reformation. They forget what the Roman Catholic church was saying, and the Protestant response. If Christians are to have any claim to an absolute standard of truth, that standard must be self-authenticating. The Scriptures were not developed according to the fancies of Christian faith communities over 2,000 years, as the “lower critics” assert. They were faithfully transmitted by the people of God by the sure hand of God’s providence. The historic Christian belief is that they were “kept pure in all ages.” Rejecting the purity of the Scriptures is one of the most grave theological errors in the modern period because it upsets the whole of the Gospel. How can one say that “This is the message that ye heard from the beginning” if we do not know what that beginning message said? It is completely useless to say that the message from the beginning was perfect if we do not have that message now. I’m afraid that our need to be apologetically relevant to the atheists, higher critics, and muslims has caused Christians to reject that only sound standard of truth that can stand against the gates of hell. 

Calvinists love to appeal to the doctrines of the Reformation, especially Sola Scriptura, while inconsistently affirming the theological axioms of the modern critical text. The two are at odds with each other. The rise of historical criticism and neo-orthodoxy sent the world spinning, and instead of fighting the same fight as the Reformers, theologians of the 19th and 20th centuries reinterpreted the Westminster Confession and retreated back to the doctrine of inerrancy – a doctrine which stands and falls on the determinations of textual scholars. And the methods of textual scholars include “lower” critical theories such as “expansion of piety” and that the text evolved according to Christian faith communities. The culture of celebrity pastors and theologians has made it such that the average Christian cannot even have an opinion on the matter. “My favorite pastor believes this, are you saying you have better insight than them? Are you saying you have perfect discernment?” Apparently you have to be omniscient to know that this is not Scriptural. While Christians sit around exalting their favorite theologians, the people of God are “destroyed for lack of knowledge.” 

In all of my conversations on this topic with the average Christian, 99% of them do not know what the scholars are saying. When I quote them directly, they point me to a James White video, wherein he sets forth the same principles as the scholars, with more mention of bike riding, travel destinations, and debates. Ultimately it comes down to two major theological positions:

  1. The Old Testament in Hebrew, and the New Testament in Greek, being immediately inspired by God, and by His singular care and providence kept pure in all ages, and therefore authentic
  2. The Bible was entirely truthful and had no errors in the original manuscripts, but we do not today possess those manuscripts, and we cannot determine what they originally said. Even if we could, we would not know it. 

The conversation of “Which text did God keep pure?” is completely irrelevant until Christians actually believe that He has kept them pure and do not need reconstruction. Discussions regarding textual variants are meaningless if the method that authenticates a variant has nothing to say about the originality of it. The Bible version you read is irrelevant if you do not believe that any of them are the inspired Word of God handed down through the ages. The common belief in the modern Christian church is that “no Bible is perfect.” If this is the case, what exactly must we do to access God’s inerrant Word? What exactly are we reading when we open our Bibles? Christians must first believe that God has inspired His Word, preserved it, and delivered it. Only then can a meaningful conversation take place over “text type” and translation.

Providential Preservation and the Modern Critical Texts


There are many cases that I have seen where somebody who advocates for the modern critical text uses the theological language, “Providential Preservation.” This is typically due to the person not understanding the current state of modern textual criticism. There have been many developments that have been adopted in the mainstream of textual scholarship that disallow this language from being used responsibly. This problem demonstrates a major fork in the road for those in the confessionally Reformed camp because the confession teaches that the Word of God has been “kept pure in all ages” by God’s “singular care and providence.” This is problematic because the axioms of modern textual criticism do not recognize providence, inspiration, or the Holy Spirit. In fact, the axioms of modern textual criticism assume that the manuscript evidence is no different than any other work of antiquity. Evangelical textual scholars may personally believe that the text has been preserved, but there is nothing in the axioms of their method that even come close to incorporating these truths about Scripture. That means that the modern critical texts have readings that stand against the theological reality that God has preserved His Word providentially. In other words, the modern critical texts have readings that are unique to a smattering of manuscripts, often times just one or two manuscripts, that were rejected by the church through the ages. These readings were rejected by way of fixing them as the manuscripts were copied en masse, excluded from printed editions after the printing press, or directly condemned as corruptions in theological commentary on these readings. 

This is due to the modern critical texts being derived from various textual theories that do not assume a supernatural preservation process, or consider the Holy Spirit speaking to His church in time. The readings used for hundreds of years by the people of God can be wrong, because the axioms of modern textual criticism do not consider the internal witness of the Holy Spirit, or inspiration, or infallibility, or even inerrancy for that matter. These readings are now adopted, not because of providence, but because of textual theories and mythology that overvalue certain manuscripts of suspect origin and low quality. What Christians need to understand, is that these textual theories in some cases have been utterly refuted (like Hort’s theory on Vaticanus), and others (like genealogical models and the initial text), are unproven at best and a fool’s errand at worst. The reality is, if a textual methodology is based on the assumption that the extant manuscripts formerly called the “Alexandrian Family” are standing in any sort of mainstream textual tradition of the church, that textual methodology is flawed and not based on providence. Further, any textual methodology that assumes a reconstruction of the text needs to be done is not based on providence. 

Controversy Surrounding the Continued Use of the Term “Providence”

The Reformed church cannot escape the doctrine of Scripture as set forth in the Puritan era confessions. The language used was written carefully and precisely. This makes reinterpretations of the confessions difficult, though in the case of the modern doctrine of Scripture, this has been done. Fortunately, the authors of the 17th century Puritan confessions were so precise, that this sort of reinterpretation is near impossible without adding new terms and definitions, like inerrancy. What the church needs to know is that the text-critical context of Warfield is much different than the text critical context of today. What Warfield said about Scripture in the 19th and 20th century is out of its scope now, and can no longer be responsibly applied to the current state of affairs in modern textual criticism. The conversation has clearly evolved, and in Warfield’s day, terms like “the original” meant something completely different than they do today. Even doctrinal statements like the Chicago Statement on Biblical inerrancy is outdated due to the introduction of new terms and evolution of old terms. That means that theologians, scholars, and pastors can employ terms like providence, inerrancy, and infallibility while operating on stale definitions and be none the wiser. The problem with this is that somebody can make the same statement regarding Scripture as Warfield or even R.C. Sproul, and that statement will mean something entirely different than it did in their context.

During Warfield’s time, the term “original” was clear. It meant the autographic text. This definition continued to be employed in this way until very recently within the bounds of textual scholarship. The effort of modern textual criticism was geared towards reconstructing this original, and so while the same problems still existed within modern critical methods, it was still based on clear, definite terms. Due to the introduction of the “Initial Text,” the doctrinal formulations of the 20th century are plainly outdated. The reason for this is due to the fact that the Initial Text is not the same, by definition, as the original text or autographs. If we define this conservatively, it is the earliest text within the extant manuscript tradition. If we define this less conservatively, it is a hypothetical text that represents no extant manuscripts from which all manuscripts are derived. The latter definition of the Initial Text is often equated with the “original” text by optimistic scholars, but this is clearly on overreach. The axioms which are producing the Initial Text simply cannot speak to whether it is equitous with the original or autographic text. In short, the effort to find the original text as it has been defined historically has been abandoned. The modern critical methods simply cannot reach back farther than the evidence allows. 

This article is not about the efficacy of genealogical text-critical methods, however, it is about providence. The very use of the term “Initial Text” demonstrates that the modern critical methodologies are not compatible with providence. The need for scholars to shift the goal post from “original” to “initial” demonstrates the vacuous nature of modern text-critical methods. They have not produced the original with text-critical methods because they cannot produce the original with text-critical methods. Since the only way to say that modern textual criticism can produce an original is to first introduce new terms which redefine what “original” means, it should abundantly clear that we are standing on different theological grounds than Warfield and even R.C. Sproul. If they were alive today, they may have agreed with the introduction of such terms, but the fact is, they are not around to reevaluate their doctrinal statements according to these developments. What this practically means is that the doctrinal statements developed in the 20th century are inadequate to speak to the texts that are being produced by modern critical methods as they have developed in the last 10 years. They are stale. This being the case, it is irresponsible to continue using historical protestant language which were formulated upon different definitions. In the light of new developments, these doctrinal statements simply do not mean the same thing any longer. There is a need for those in the modern critical text camp to draft new doctrinal statements, because the old simply do not apply to the developments of their discipline. Interestingly enough, the doctrinal statements that have been produced in the recent literature simply articulate that “God didn’t desire us to have the whole thing.”  

The Modern Critical Text is Not a Providential Text and is Not Justified for Use by the Church

The WCF and LBCF both appeal to God’s providence and apply it to the original texts of Holy Scripture in Greek and Hebrew, stating that they have been “kept pure in all ages.” If a text has been kept pure, it has been kept in such a state that it does not need to be reconstructed. This was the belief of the majority of the Protestant church until the end of the 19th century and even into the 20th century by many. So in order to appeal to providence while talking about the Holy Scriptures, one has to believe that the text has been “kept pure” by providence. That does not mean that one manuscript came down pure through the line of textual transmission. It means that the original text of Holy Scripture came down and was used in faithful churches “in all ages.” In order to recognize providence in this process, one must recognize that this preservation took place in time, by people who used these manuscripts.  

In order to recognize providence as a function of preservation, one has to first believe that despite corruptions entering into manuscripts early on in transmission, the original text maintained its purity through the whole of the textual transmission process. That means that no local corruption could contaminate the transmission process as a whole “in all ages.” We should not be so ignorant to believe that there were no corrupt manuscripts created during this process. The quotations of Augustine and Jerome and other theologians of the church prove as much. If God truly preserved His Word, then all transmission narratives must be within the walls of God’s providential hand guiding the process, and the corruptions of “unfaithful men” should be recognized as corruptions, not adopted into the history of textual transmission.

Secondly, in order to recognize God’s providence in transmission, one has to believe that historical events are a function of that providence. Just like God did not use evolution to create man, he did not use an evolutionary process to create His Word. The text did not develop, it was “kept.” Just like mutations arise in creatures over time, mutations arose in the Biblical manuscripts. Just because mutations occur in humans, that does not mean that those mutations arise in all humans. That means that by the time the printing press was introduced into Europe, the textual tradition was still being “kept pure” by God’s providence, and by God’s providence, that technological innovation allowed the church to collect, compare, and print texts which by God’s providence, had been “kept pure.” A survey of commentary on this Reformation effort reveals a lively discussion about the various printed texts during this time, and the readings they did and did not contain. It was not an effort of one man in a closet, despite what some would have you believe. 

That does not mean that the first editions printed represented that text which had been “kept pure.” It was a process, and by God’s providence, it was a process that occurred in a place where the height of language learning was taking also happening. The humanist renaissance sparked a revival of language learning and a return to studying the original Biblical texts and ancient fathers of the church. Many of the Reformers were humanists, such as Luther, Melanchton, Zwingli, and Calvin. Erasmus, “the smartest man alive,” though not theologically in line with the Reformers, was one of the chief satirists and polemicists against the papacy and one of the most brilliant language scholars alive. There has never been, even to this day, a time where so many scholars, with such an in depth knowledge of Biblical  languages, were in the same place at the same time. Never was there a time in history where the church was so united in pursuing the same cause. Never was there a time in history where the effort of creating an edited Greek text was so pure and theologically united. Never will there be another time in history where the church had the perspective on the manuscripts available, because those manuscripts were still being used in churches. If that is not providential, I dare say that nothing is providential. 


The point is this – if one wants to argue that a text is providential, they must argue for the text that was produced providentially, and completed and used in time. The modern critical text is produced with axioms that scorn God’s providence. These axioms say that the only thing God has providentially done in time is let the Scriptures evolve from their original form, and then let the people of God believe that those evolved Scriptures were the true Biblical text. These axioms are the same that say with confidence that the Reformation text is wrong, but also cannot produce the original text, even with all of the “new and better” data. In fact, these axioms are so ineffective that a new term had to be derived, the “Initial Text,” because these axioms say that the original is so far from being providentially preserved that we simply will never have it. According to the axioms of modern textual criticism, “we simply do not have now what the prophets and apostles wrote, and even if we did, we would not know it.” The question for those that still wish to maintain the doctrine of providential preservation is this: Why are we trusting scholars when they say the Reformation text is not original, when they can’t even determine if their own text is original? Would you trust a mechanic who had never fixed a car? Would you trust a surgeon who had never successfully done surgery? Why are we trusting scholars who say that we cannot know what the New Testament originally said to produce Bibles for the church? 

It is time that Christians stop giving lip service to providential preservation, and actually consider what those words mean together. Providential preservation does not mean that “the Bible has been preserved, it’s just been lost.” The text of the church was not preserved in a barrel or a questionable monastery or the Vatican or the sand – it was preserved by churches that actually used that text “in all ages.” It does not mean that God has ordained a wild goose chase for the last 150 years to recover a lost text. The continued effort of reconstructing the Bible is simply not warranted, if we want to continue using the words “providential” and “preservation” together. Those two words, when put together, mean that God actually preserved the text in time. It is attainable, and we have it. Modern critical textual methods do not consider what God has done in time, because they reject the text that was actually used by the people of God in time. In fact, the axioms of modern textual criticism say the opposite, that the text used in time by the people of God is in error. In other words, they reject providence altogether because they say that all providence has produced is an evolved text. We have to go back and find the original Bible because it has been providentially corrupted. The modern critical text is not justified for use among the people of God for this reason. It is a text foreign to the church in time, and it is produced by axioms that say that “we do not have, and never will have, the text.” 

Yes, Doctrine Is Affected


Many Christians have become disarmed by the claim that there are no doctrinal differences between the Reformation Era and modern era texts of the New Testament. This may sound comforting, but it does not accurately represent the reality that doctrine is affected, and will continue to be affected as changes are made in further editions of the Greek New Testament. One reason somebody can say that “doctrine is not affected” is because of the centuries of theological work that has been done. People read the modern texts through the lens of the theology of the Reformation text. Sound theology is never done in a bubble, and many fail to recognize how influenced they are by historical theology. 

In fact, it is most often that those who come up with false doctrines are the same that have not studied historical theology. Most, if not all, modern heresies are just reiterations and adaptations of a false doctrine from the past. This makes it near impossible to accurately claim that modern Greek Texts and translations do not impact doctrine, because anybody who is making this sort of determination has been influenced by the theology of the past. It would take a completely blank-slate-human to even conduct such an experiment. It is possible, however, to determine if doctrine has been changed, because of the wealth of theological works that utilized the Reformation era text. There is a point of comparison. There are two major areas that modern translations and Greek texts effect doctrine, the first being the actual doctrine of inspiration, and the second being the doctrines affected by passages that have been deemed “unoriginal” and removed.

The Doctrine of Inspiration Dismantled and Reassembled 

The doctrine of inspiration laid out by the theologians of the Reformation and post-Reformation is that the Bible has been kept pure in all ages. In accepting a modern text, which is a very different text from the text of the Reformation, one has to accept one of two realities. The first is that one must accept a Bible that has been kept in two text streams. This theory requires the belief that there were two Bibles used in the early church, and that one of them fell out of use. The one that fell out of use, of course, is the one the modern text represents and is said to be “earliest and best”. This poses a conundrum to the doctrine of preservation. The first option is that both forms of the text are equally authoritative and there are two Bibles. The second option is that the Alexandrian text is the Bible and the Word of God was corrupt for centuries, only to be recovered in the 19th century. The only way one could arrive to either of these conclusions is to shift the definition of inspiration and preservation. 

In order to hold onto the doctrine of preservation while accepting the modern text, one has to define preservation differently. Rather than God preserving every word, He preserved most of the words. Many will claim that doctrine is not affected by this, but as I stated in the introduction of this article, it is difficult to determine this. It is much easier to demonstrate that doctrine has been affected, rather than proving that is has not. That is because everybody takes their theological system into the text, whether they want to admit it or not. What can be easily demonstrated to be different is modern interpretations of the doctrines of inspiration and preservation. 

There is a difference between every word being preserved and most of the words being preserved. There is a difference between the Westminster and London Baptist Confessions of Faith and the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy. If the Chicago Statement affirmed the same standard of preservation, they would have utilized certain language such as “pure in all ages” as opposed to the arbitrary standard of “with great accuracy”. The former affirms preservation through time, and the latter affirms that the scope of preservation must be retroactively determined, and only to the degree of “great accuracy”. Many are fine with this reinterpretation of the doctrine of preservation, claiming that the standard of “pure in all ages” is too meticulous. Rather than accepting that these are two different doctrines, many have attempted to reinterpret the confessional language, or even try to prove that the drafters of the confession had the same view as the modern interpretation of preservation. This is demonstrably false. Garnet Howard Milne’s book Has the Bible Been Kept Pure? Handles this quite well. 

It may be the case that the doctrine of preservation as described in the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy is more accurate than the Confessional doctrine of preservation, but the fact remains that these are two different standards. So in a very real sense, the rise of the modern texts resulted in a fresh interpretation of the doctrine of preservation. Doctrine has changed in order to accommodate the modern texts. 

Affected Doctrines

I will not make a case for how each update and revision to the text of Scripture has tarnished doctrine. There are many theologians, scholars, and laypersons who have already done as much. Instead, I will focus on how any update to a word, phrase, or an entire passage does affect doctrine by its revision, and supply two examples demonstrating this fact. The first point to note is that doctrines cannot be developed without words. A doctrine is developed from a text. So when that text changes, the doctrine is liable to change as well. A common modern thought is that a doctrine, idea, or message can be preserved without the underlying text itself being preserved. There are many ways to say the same thing, after all. This is demonstrated in the common opinion that “all the important doctrines” are preserved, when dismissing the importance of variants between the Reformation and Modern text. 

The only reason this claim can be made is due to the fact that theological systems are extremely stable in the 21st century. That is not to say that the proponents of these systems are stable, but the systems themselves have been fleshed out extensively in the last four hundred (or more) years. As much as people dislike admitting it, the majority of exegesis done today is done primarily through a theological lens. Much of the time, when somebody says that doctrine is not affected, they are really saying that “My doctrine will not be affected by changes to the text”. This is the case because the changes between the texts should result in doctrinal change due to the significance in difference. So if the change in the text has not resulted in a change in theology, the reason for that is not that the text is saying the same thing, it is because the person is making the text say the same thing based on their theological commitments. 

A perfect example of this is John 1:18. In the modern text, it says that Jesus is “the unique God” or the “only begotten God” or the “only God”. If the modern reading is taken, one must rely on their existing understanding of the trinity to properly ascertain a trinitarian doctrine from this text. The text itself declares the uniqueness of the Son, which is to say that the Son is unique in essence from the Father. This must result in tritheism or social trinitarianism or unitarianism, if a plain reading of the text is allowed. Many speculate that this is the reason for the original corruption of the text from “Only begotten Son” to “only begotten God”  by Valentinus during the second century. At best the modern reading obfuscates the clear trinitarian nature of God, and at worst it clearly articulates anti-trinitarian doctrine. Many theologians, scholars, pastors, and laypersons abuse the hermeneutical principle of letting scripture interpret scripture to justify this corruption, but that principle is only properly applied when a passage is not abundantly clear. In this case, the modern reading is as clear as it gets. In fact, it should be the interpretive lens that all other claims regarding the Son are made in the Bible if the modern reading is correct. It distinctly teaches that the Son of God is unique, not begotten of the Father. By affecting this one place, the rest of the trinitarian passages of Scripture are compromised, which was probably the intention of the person who originally corrupted the text. 

The claim that “doctrine is not affected”  might be true if the difference in variations between the Reformation era text and Modern text were just spelling errors, word order, and other scribal errors. This is not the case. There are countless places where the text is demonstrably different between the two texts in message, vocabulary, and substance (See Hoskier’s work for details). The reason so many Christians are willing to accept these corruptions is because they tend to look at variants from a modern perspective. Today, the Bible is accessible to anybody with the internet. Modern Christians in the west do not know what it is like to not have a complete Bible. So it is anachronistic to look at a variant, as if every Christian throughout the ages had access to the 75 translations and countless books and articles explaining each variant. It is easy to write off the significance of a variant when one has access to 2,000 years of textual scholarship. 

A great example of this is how readily modern Christians pass over the ending of Mark. They take for granted the fact that they have the ending of the Gospel account in Matthew, Luke, and John. If one accepts that Matthew is the first Gospel (which is the historic perspective), the early church also would not have been doctrinally rocked by the ending of Mark being lost as well. Yet, much of modern scholarship has adopted the theory that Mark is the earliest Gospel, and that Matthew and Luke expanded on Mark’s account, embellishing the story and adding in important phrases that clearly demonstrate the divinity of Christ. This culminated in the Gospel of John, which is the most clear expression of the development of Christianity and the divinity of Christ. The story of the Gospels is more aptly a story of how Jesus became God than a true narrative of Jesus’ ministry. 

If this modern theory is the case, and the Alexandrian version of Mark is the “earliest and best”, then the earliest gospel did not have an appearance account. It simply ends with two scared women and the word γαρ in Greek, which occurs nowhere else in Greek literature. If Mark ends at verse 8, than the earliest Christians did not believe in a literal resurrected Christ. The other alternative is that the ending was lost to time or Mark was a poor writer that didn’t know Greek very well (which some assert). The only fact conveyed is that the tomb was empty, and that the women were scared. 

This is the kind of variant that allows Bart Ehrman to have a wildly successful career. Because Christians are willing to throw out the ending of Mark, they give license to men like Walter Bauer and Richard Price who have spun wild tales of the invention of Christianity. Further, if the ending of Mark does not contain an appearance account, then the apostle Paul did not consider Mark to be a gospel (1 Cor. 15:1-11). And if Mark is not a proper gospel, what is it doing in our Bibles? Did the Holy Spirit make a mistake? The only reason Christians need to defend against Bart Erhman is because they opened the door and let him sit at the table. The theory of Alexandrian Priority, the underpinning of “earliest and best”, has given a robe and a ring to agnostic scholars who wish to critique God’s Word. 


It may be the case that I have not convinced anybody that the two texts I cited affect doctrine. It may hold true that John 1:18 and Mark 16:9-20 truly do not affect doctrine. Yet this determination can only be made while standing on the shoulders of the men of old while receiving beatings by Bart Ehrman and co. Christians are standing in the middle of a field being shelled by artillery, plugging their ears and shouting “No doctrine is affected!” Christians have been pacified for too long by these empty assertions while men like Bart Ehrman have built their entire career on the very fact that variants affect the authenticity and doctrines of the Bible. 

Even if a handful of variants do not affect the corpus of the New Testament text and the doctrines contained within, they impact the doctrines of inspiration and preservation by standing in opposition to the text that the people of God have received throughout the ages. In proposing a genuine corruption of the Biblical text (not just a scribal error, but a total corruption), one has to shift the definition of preservation. Preservation cannot be talking about words, but ideas and doctrines (Or words to the degree of “great accuracy”). So as long as the sum total of doctrines are preserved, the Bible can be considered preserved. While this may be practically true due to the wealth of theological works available, it is not true as it pertains to the actual text of the New Testament. The text of the New Testament is a relatively small corpus of literature, and when a small collection is altered, there are grave consequences to the whole ecosystem of the text. 

A single variant can indeed change the message of the Trinity that the Bible puts forth. Another can “prove” that there was no resurrected Christ. The only reason most Christians do not consider the gravity of just two variants is because they assume the system developed from theological works of the past which rely on the texts they reject. If anything, the Christian needs to realize that it does not follow to say that a doctrine can be unaffected if the words the doctrines are built on are affected. Changed words mean changed doctrines. One might be fine with this reality, but it does not bode well with a conservative doctrine of preservation. It is impossible to overstate the importance of the text of the New Testament being preserved in the words, and not just the “original message”. Without the original words, there is no original message. So when discussing variants, the conversation should not be framed in the question, “Well, does it affect doctrine?” The obvious truth is that yes, it does. The real question one should ask is, “Does this affect doctrine enough for me to say something about it?” The obvious truth is that yes, it does. 

Evaluating the Modern Claim of Better Data


It is often said that modern textual scholars know more than any other scholar in history because of new data and fresh methodologies. This is somewhat perplexing, because one would expect that the New Testament manuscript data available today would actually be less abundant due to the fact that hand copying ceased somewhere around the 1600’s. In fact, a number of manuscripts have been destroyed since they were first catalogued at the turn of the 20th century due to fires, poor storage, and other negligent causes. Additionally, this assumption of “new” data often fails to recognize that there is nothing new about these manuscripts. These manuscripts are certainly new to modern scholarship, but at one point in history, they were available to the people of God for consumption and use. 

Which raises the question, “Why did these manuscripts fall out of use?” Why do the manuscript discoveries of the 19th and 20th century vary so heavily from the massive amount of manuscripts that were being copied all throughout history? One theory is that the abandonment of these manuscripts allowed for the proper preservation of these texts. That God, knowing the foolishness and general illiteracy of scribes, providentially tucked away His Word in the sands of Egypt to protect His Word from corruption. This aligns well with the 20th century theory that scribes smoothed out the readings of the New Testament, developed the Christology, added in beloved pericopes, and generally altered the text to better defend the orthodoxy that developed after the Ancient period. If these texts, hidden away in caves and monasteries, represent the original, then scholars should be able to explain how each of the massive amount of variations developed over time. 

The Alleged Kaleidoscopic Nature of the Text

Theologically speaking, this is an atrocious theory. This idea essentially says that the original text was available only to the Egyptian Christians for a couple hundred years, and that the rest of the copying done was simply in error. Even within this time period, the copying of these manuscripts was so varied that these manuscripts have trouble agreeing with each other in a wealth of places. The majority of the extant data available lives on in less-ancient manuscripts. Due to the high evaluation of these Egyptian texts, the rest of the manuscript tradition is typically evaluated to be in error in one way or another. 

Sure, the later copyists may have retained the general idea of every verse, but if the Egyptian texts are truly original, then the majority of the 5000+ extant manuscripts are the product of revision gone wild. It is to say that scribes had no respect for accurate copying, or that they knew they were even supposed to be copying at all. Copying the exact text had to have been more of a suggestion than a rule. What about those Egyptian texts were so special, that essentially nobody copied them going into the early middle period? Well, one theory is that these manuscripts were so exquisite, that God decided to hide them from His church, so that when a chosen generation of scholars arose in the 1800’s, they could find them, and restore His Word to His people once and for all. 

Obviously this theory is problematic. Why would the closest form of the text to the original be found in a region where there were no apostolic missions, where the people did not speak Greek? Does it stand to reason that scribes, who did not know Greek, would do the best copying of the Greek language? Some have actually made the assertion that not knowing the language helped them copy accurately! If you’ve ever copied something in a language you don’t know, you know this is patently absurd. It actually makes sense that the most corrupt manuscripts might arise in an area that was constantly battling for orthodoxy, far from the center of apostolic Christianity. It may truly be that the Alexandrian scribes were the most careful, but the data seems to point in the opposite direction. In fact, if one were to take the majority of manuscripts, which continued to be copied outside of Egypt, and compare the Egyptian manuscripts against those, it seems reasonable to assume that something was awry in Alexandria at the time of the production of the beloved early manuscripts. 

I can speculate for days as to what might have influenced the unique text form of the Egyptian manuscripts, but that is not the point of this article. What most people forget to consider in data analysis, are events that might skew the data in one direction or another. In the case of early, extant New Testament manuscripts, many scholars and non-scholars alike fall into the trap of thinking that because something is extant, it must be more valuable, or the only representative data point from that time period. In this case, hyper-empiricism has influenced modern textual scholarship for the worst. If we don’t have the manuscript, we cannot verify that it ever existed. 

The Impossibility of Original Egyptian Texts

Yet it is impossible that manuscripts earlier than the Egyptian papyri and uncials simply did not exist at one point or another. And since the only New Testament author to make it to Egypt was Mark at the end of his life, it stands to reason that the Egyptian manuscripts were copied from imported texts. Which means that the Alexandrian text was more likely shortened than the majority text expanded. The importation of texts explains why there were two versions of the Gospel of Mark circulating in Egypt early on – one with the ending, and one without. Yet while all this is going on, the rest of the people of God continued copying the New Testament, outside of the petri dish that is Alexandria. Much of that data has been lost to persecution, fires, and other natural causes, but the fact stands, that the data existed at one point in time. What did those manuscripts look like, I wonder? Were they short, choppy, abrupt, and filled with large empty interruptions? I suspect not. 

Since the original text of the New Testament was inspired by the Holy Spirit, these other manuscripts were probably of remarkable quality, despite scribal errors and mishaps. In terms of the actual content, a consistent doctrine of inspiration would point to the reality that the original texts were not a crude human invention. The point is this, that the Egyptian manuscripts are not the oldest manuscripts. They are simply the oldest surviving manuscripts. They do not, and cannot, speak for the larger textual tradition which existed outside of Alexandria. The majority of the extant New Testament manuscripts had to come from somewhere, and that somewhere was certainly not Alexandria. So how do we explain this textual anomaly? Well you have probably heard the common theory which is filled with stories about scribal revision and smoothing, but that does not work with a conservative doctrine of preservation. If the majority of extant manuscripts are a lofty revision of the original, they must be rejected in total. The amount of revision that can be done in a thousand years would prevent the original from ever being found. And if these manuscripts are rejected, the only other option is a smattering of Alexandrian manuscripts that stopped being copied sometime after the fourth or fifth century for the most part, hidden away by God until the time came when the chosen scholars of the 19th century would rescue the blunder-filled efforts of scribes throughout church history. 

An unfortunate reality exists, if this is the case. The first being that God decided to preserve His Word by way of hide-and-seek. The second being that the corpus of early manuscripts is not deep enough to provide a meaningful text. And when I say meaningful text, I mean a printed text that scholars can point to and say, “this is the one!” And before somebody says “that is unreasonable!” Remember, that the scholars are allegedly attempting to reconstruct the original text of the New Testament. Either they will arrive at a product, or they won’t, but the fact stands that they should be trying. To balk at the idea of one text is to admit that the original cannot be found. The fact remains that there is not a single, agreed upon text in the majority of modern scholarship. 

The reason for that is because the Alexandrian manuscripts do not agree with each other enough to even demonstrate that they are directly related to each other. At best they are cousins. Which is why, when the Egyptian manuscripts are taken as a base text, a wealth of verses are left to speculation and uncertainty. There is simply not enough data in the Egyptian manuscript corpus to come to a conclusion on what text is the earliest and best in every case. One might consider himself to have found the text with “great accuracy”, but not without many places of uncertainty. The most complete copies of the New Testament from this locality and time period disagree with each other so greatly that they cannot even be properly called a manuscript family. If it were possible to arrive at a text that is original to Alexandria, it would have been completed a long time ago. 

That brings us back to the discussion of data, and how in the modern period, it is highly unlikely that our data is more valuable than the data that has been historically available. This is due to the fact that most of the ancient data has been destroyed. It is possible that it is equally valuable, but certainly not better. Considering the unfortunate reality that people tend to treat manuscripts in such a way that tends to their loss and destruction, it is a common fact of history that the number of manuscripts available today is a drop in a bucket of manuscripts that have been lost or destroyed. If one takes the number of manuscripts that have been lost or destroyed in the modern period, and applies that same logic to every generation in history, it is safe to say that a great number of manuscripts were lost and destroyed. It is possible that not a single manuscript has been erased from history, but that is highly unlikely, and even demonstrably false.


The purpose of this article is to call into question the assumption that modern scholars have better data than those of the past. Regardless of how one views the Egyptian manuscripts against the majority of manuscripts, the fact stands that the high evaluation of the minority of manuscripts is highly suspect. This conclusion can be arrived at without looking at all of the scholars of the Reformation period, who consistently reference “ancient approved copies” that support readings tossed out by modern scholars. As a result of this hyper-empiricist epistemology, the constant conversation of textual criticism is centered around, “How did this reading get added?” or “How did that reading develop?” 

This seems to be a confused effort from a theological perspective that says that God has preserved His Word. The word preservation itself means to be kept safe from evolution, change, and development. Yet the assumption of modern methods is that the general testimony of the thousands of manuscripts is one that has developed from some unknown original text. This is why these modern methods need a fresh understanding of what it means for something to be preserved in order to justify the effort.  And in the case that preservation simply means all the ideas are there, there really is no need for protest from the modern camp when a Christian wants to adhere to the traditional text of the Bible. It has all the right ideas and doctrines, and is therefore preserved. Such is the conundrum of the effort of modern textual criticism on the text of the New Testament. 

Providential Exposure as it Relates to Preservation

The Theological Method and Preservation

The Theological Method for determining the text of Scripture heavily relies upon understanding the text that has been received by Christians, which is commonly called “exposure”. The text of Scripture is that which has been exposed to the people of God throughout the ages. John 10:27 says, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me” (KJV). Michael Kruger, in his book Canon Revisited, says this,

“When people’s eyes are opened, they are struck by the divine qualities of Scripture – it’s beauty and efficacy – and recognize and embrace Scripture for what it is, the word of God. They realize that the voice of Scripture is the voice of the Shepherd” (101). 

This might seem like subjectivism, but this is the historic doctrine that has been recognized throughout the ages by the theologians of the faith, most notably John Calvin and Herman Bavinck. This doctrine is not to be confused with the Mormon doctrine of “burning in the bosom”, which has been done by men like James White. Many false doctrines are based on truth, and here the Christian must recognize that God’s Word is the means that He is speaking to His people in these last days, regardless of how that doctrine has been twisted by other systems. 

What distinguishes this doctrine from its Mormon counterpart is that this reception of the Scriptures by the people of God is not purely individualistic. The text of Scripture, as it has been handed down, exists ontologically, not just subjectively. There is a concrete shape of God’s Word that exists, and the people of God have had that Word in every generation. The text of Scripture must primarily be viewed as a covenantal document given to the covenant people of God for their use in all matters of faith and practice (LBCF 1.1). That does not mean that all those professing Christianity throughout the ages have agreed upon what belongs in Scripture, or that every Christian has had access to the whole of Scripture in every generation. In fact, there are a multitude of Christians that do not have access to God’s Word, either by circumstance, or by choice. 

It is important to take note of how the Apostolic church received the text of Holy Scripture to understand the doctrine of exposure as it relates to preservation. In the New Testament, there is never a case where Scripture is said to be a gift delivered to individual people. The Scriptures were always a corporate blessing to the covenant people of God (Acts 15:14; Titus 2:14; 1 Peter 2:9). In the testimony of Scripture itself, we can see that God delivers His Word to the people of God, not individual people of God. So the doctrine of exposure does not crumble due to certain individuals not having a copy of the Bible at all times. If this were the case, the fact that there are Christians who simply do not own a Bible would discredit this doctrine altogether. 

Despite the fact that the Canon is recognized in part by its corporate reception, this doctrine of providential exposure does not rest on ecclesiastical authority, as the papists might claim. There is no one single church which is responsible for giving authority to the text of Holy Scripture. In fact, no church could give authority to the Scriptures, they are authoritative in themselves (αυτοπιστος). Kruger explains this well, “The books received by the church inform our understanding of which books are canonical not because the church is infallible o because it created or constituted the canon, but because the church’s reception of these books is a natural and inevitable outworking of the self-authenticating nature of Scripture” (106).

It must be stated, that Kruger makes the distinction between the canon, and the text of the canon, which is the common thought amongst conservative scholarship. Upon examination of the theological method  however, there does not seem to be good reason to separate the two. If the doctrinal foundation of providential exposure demonstrates the “efficacy of the Shepherd’s voice to call”(106), then it follows that there must be a definitive voice that does the calling. The name of a canonical book is simply not efficacious to call sinners to repentance and faith. Simply listing off the canonical list is not the Gospel call. So the material that is providentially exposed to the people of God must also contain the substance which is effective unto life by the power of the Holy Spirit. God has not just preserved the book sleeves of the Bible, He has also preserved the words within those book sleeves. 

Since the Bible is self-authenticating, Christians cannot look to the totality or purity of its reception to determine which books or texts of the Bible should be received today. That is to say that because the majority of the Christian people do not accept one passage as authentic today, does not mean that it has not been properly received in the past, or that it is not ontologically a part of the canon. A passage of Scripture may not have been accepted as canonical by various groups throughout history, and this has indeed been the case, usually due to theological controversy. 

It is antithetical to the Theological method to say that the Scriptures are self-authenticating, but then also say that people must authenticate those Scriptures by a standard outside of the Scriptures themselves. Either the Scriptures are self-authenticating, or they are not. Which is why evidence are great tools to defend the Scriptures, but those evidences can never authenticate those Scriptures in themselves. It is problematic to say that God’s Word has been preserved, and kept pure in all ages, and then to immediately say that He has done so imperfectly, or has not fully exposed that Word to His people yet. 

The Theological method provides a framework that actually gives more weight to historical thought as opposed to modern thought. It disallows for a perspective that believes that the people of God had lost or added passages of Scripture, and that these texts need to be recovered or removed. It prevents certain theories that the text evolved, or that Christ’s divinity was developed over time. It especially rejects the idea that the original text of the New Testament was choppy, crude, and in places incoherent, and that scribes smoothed out the readings to make the text readable. In fact, it exposes those manuscripts that are choppy and missing parts to be of poor quality by assuming that the Holy Scriptures were inspired by the Holy Spirit rather than invented by ostensibly literate first century Jews. 

There may have been localities that corrupted the text (usually intentionally), but this does not represent the providential preservation that was taking place universally. The vast majority of textual variants are due to Scribal errors, but the significant variants were certainly an effort of revision. A Scribe simply wouldn’t have removed or added 12 verses by accident. A great example is the idiosyncratic Egyptian manuscripts uncovered in the 19th and 20th centuries, which tend to disagree with the general manuscript tradition in important variant units. These manuscripts have been given tremendous weight in the modern period due to shifting views of inspiration and preservation. 

If the Scriptures truly were inspired and preserved, then one should expect that the text did not evolve, or that the closest representative of those originals would be riddled with short, abrupt readings. One would expect that in every stage of copying, Scribal errors would be purged out, and that the true readings would persevere. In fact, this phenomenon can be observed in the vast majority of the extant New Testament manuscripts, which has unfortunately been described as Scribal interference, or smoothing out the text. When the transmission of the New Testament manuscripts are viewed Theologically, an entirely different story is told by the manuscripts which largely disagrees with the modern narrative which favors those choppy manuscripts which existed in one locality of the Christian world. 

The preservation of God’s Word can be demonstrated evidentially, but not without the proper Theological lens. Evidential arguments can be a powerful tool in all disciplines, but they often are not effective in themselves to change anybody’s mind. That is why the Theology of scholars will ultimately determine the manuscripts they deem to be earliest and best. Simply counting manuscripts, or weighing manuscripts, is simply not consistent with the conservative doctrine of preservation. In both cases, these methods attempt to take an external authority, such as manuscript count, or the age of the manuscript, and use that to authenticate the Word of God. Yet both of these are at odds with the doctrinal standard that is laid forth in Scriptures themselves, that the Word of God is self-authenticating. That is why the language of “the text that has been received” is warranted in this conversation, because it recognizes God’s providential preservation and exposure of the ontological canon to the people of God in every age. 


The doctrine of exposure is often misunderstood as being too similar to the Mormon doctrine of “burning of the bosom” or the papal doctrine which states that Rome has the authority to authenticate the Bible. Despite these abuses of Scripture, the fact remains that the Scriptures are self-authenticating. It is easy to fall back onto empirical approaches, because they seem to be the most logical. Yet these empirical approaches do not do what they claim they can do, and this is becoming increasingly evident with each passing year. The number of Bibles has only increased, and exponentially at that. Modern methodology has not narrowed the text of the New Testament to fewer legitimate readings, but has expanded greatly the number of readings that “could be” original or early. 

The efforts of modern textual scholarship has only increased the uncertainty of the text of the New Testament. This has culminated in the abandonment of the search for the original text of the Bible for the Ausgangstext, or the earliest text scholars can get back to (which is 3rd or 4th century). Practically speaking, this pursuit will simply result in arriving at some hypothetical form of the text that may have existed in Egypt in the third century. Since this seems to be the direction of most current New Testament text-critical scholarship, it seems that it is time to return to the old paths. The Theological method has been expressed by countless Theologians of the Christian faith, and it should not be abandoned for the sake of adopting the modern critical scientific method. The Scriptures should always be handled as self-authenticating, and a shift to this way of thinking would result in a massive change in the direction of modern New Testament scholarship.