The Battle Against Onlyism

Introduction

One of the biggest victories of postmodernism in the church is the demonization of objectivity. Subjectivity is celebrated and put on a pedestal so often that Christianity has all but lost its identity. This is abundantly clear if you have been following the SBC in recent years or have had a conversation with the average person about Christianity recently. There are as many forms of Christianity in 2021 as there are Bible translations. New translations and paraphrases have flooded the market with essentially no real pushback. So called “reformed” men have written textbooks endorsing the MSG.

Rather than fighting against the absurdity of having over 500 English Bible translations, “Conservatives” have labeled this an “embarrassment of riches” and encourage believers to read a smattering of translations. The problem, according to the modern church, is not that there are four different versions of the ESV, or that the MSG exists. The issue, they say, is against the people who decide to read one translation – the “Onlyists”.

It is clear that the battle that mainstream conservative wants to fight is onlyism rather than pluralism in Bible translations. This being the case, I want to examine what is being set forth by a pluralistic view on Bible translations. I have summarized it in a list below.

  1. There should not be unity over Bible translation
  2. There is not one translation that is better than the other
  3. Bible translations should be viewed as tools to access the Word of God, not the Word of God itself
  4. Changes to translations or new translations demonstrate that the words themselves do not matter

Unity in Bible Translation

The battle against the “Onlyists” is launched from the place that there is not one translation that is better than another, and that unity should not be had in one translation.. This points to the reality that the pluralists understand translations as a tool to access the Word of God, not the Word of God itself. This of course is stated plainly in the theological statement, “There are no perfect translations.” What this actually means is that there are no perfectly accurate translations. Every translation has errors, and therefore all must be used as a tool to understand Scripture. They claim that this is because language cannot be translated perfectly into another. In other words, translations are tools that imperfectly point to the Word of God.

Now this raises an important questions then, if translations are tools, what exactly is Scripture? What exactly are we looking at when we open up an English bible translation? Since a translation cannot be perfectly accurate, the translation itself is not “the very Word of God,” it is something that estimates or perhaps approximates the very Word of God. This must be true, seeing as the pluralists take no issue with any of the four versions of the ESV that exist. Using just one translation as an example, we can clearly see that the exact material of the translation does not matter.

That means that theologically speaking, the modern view understands the original language texts as “The Word of God,” and that translations are tools that point to it. Since there are no translations that accurately set forth the original, we must then look to what they say about the original language texts. According to them, we do not have the original in any original language texts or in any translations. In summary, not only does the original not exist today, if it did, we wouldn’t know we had it, and further, we couldn’t translate it accurately. That is to say that if you are at a church that holds to the modern doctrine of Scripture, your doctrinal statements mean absolutely nothing.

What is peculiar is that this is not seen as an issue, despite it clearly contradicting even the most simple orthodox statement of faith on Scripture which says, “The Bible is the very Word of God.” If by “the Bible” these statements mean “The Bible we use here at this church,” then the statement itself is actually contradictory because that Bible is just an imperfect approximation of texts that are not original. Despite the fact that this view voids the majority of doctrinal statements found in Church charters and doctrinal statements, the real problem is seen to be the “Onlyists.” That is the fight the modern church wants to take in the 21st century.

Conclusion

As much as conservatives in 2021 want to think that they have a sturdy theology of Scripture, the reality is that they do not. Recently, a pastor stated in a sermon that, “We can get back to what the autographa or original documents said via the transmitted text; it’s truly incredible.” This is quite common, even though there is not a single textual scholar who believes that or says that. If any pastor has done this, he should probably produce that original so that the textual scholars can close shop. The above quote demonstrates the disconnect between what the textual scholars are actually saying and what the average pastor thinks has been said. The problem is that these very same pastors can listen to a Dan Wallace lecture, hear him say that we do not have the original, and somehow come away from the lecture believing that we have the original.

Now the truly paradoxical thing about all this is that the very same people who advocate for this view present the discussion as though the “onlyists” are the problem. Further, the average pastor believes that we have truly found the original while appealing to men who adamantly state the opposite. I invite my reader to come to a conclusion. Does the person who upholds the pluralistic view have any ground to object to any other view of Scripture? Is the battle against the “onlyists” warranted? I will suggest, in conclusion, that the pluralists are sailing in a burning boat, shouting at a boat that is not on fire.

Mark Ward Proves That Defending Inerrancy Means Nothing

Many Christians believe that it is fundamental to defend the modern doctrine of Inerrancy. This would be true, if the doctrine of Inerrancy actually set forth anything meaningful. According to Mark Ward, Inerrancy means that “The Bible speaks truly in everything it affirms” (Ward. Bibliology for Beginners. 29.) Inerrancy is the doctrine that affirms the inspiration and authority of the Bible, but only in the original texts, which are no longer extant. This effectively makes it an utterly useless doctrine. Despite this fact, Ward gives four Scripture proofs to support this doctrine (I will use Ward’s translation from the book):

  1. “Your Word is truth” (John 17:17)
  2. “God is not a man, that He should lie” (Num. 23:19)
  3. “God, who cannot lie” (Titus 1:2)
  4. “The Scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:35)

Ward continues his thought by saying something quite interesting.

“It is sin to doubt God’s words, and like all sin it is a slippery slope…But how do we know what we have in our hands is really the Bible?”

(Ward. Bibliology for Beginners: What Does the Bible Say About the Bible? 33. Ellipses represent a break.)

So here Ward has to answer the most important question possible. If he does not answer this question adequately, the entirety of his book is useless. The answer to this question informs what is actually substantiated by the doctrine of Inerrancy. It is one thing to say that the Bible is inerrant, and another to be able to point to a Bible and say, “This is inerrant.” So how does Ward answer this question? Well, we know, according to Ward, based on “a work called ‘textual criticism'” (49). This is where I need my reader to pay attention. See how he finishes this thought.

“Here’s where I need to say very directly, don’t be alarmed. Yes, there are differences among Greek New Testament manuscripts. Yes, I sometimes wish they weren’t there, that we knew with precise certainty what every last syllable of the Greek New Testament was. It may even seem like that’s what Jesus promised us.”

(Ward. Bibliology for Beginners: What Does the Bible Say About the Bible? 50.

Ward has used a clever use of words to obfuscate what he is actually saying, so I will translate for you. Surrounding this statement are explanations of the various kinds of scribal errors which do not amount to any serious variants. In this statement, he leads his reader to believe that these are the kinds of variants that we do not know “With precise certainty,” or that we are actually after “every last syllable.” What Ward is actually saying here is that we do not know with precise certainty what the original text said. At that point, whether we are talking about syllables or words does not matter, because there is no amount of granularity that can be determined with his standard. The entire purpose of this chapter is to lower the guard of the Christian’s that read this book. He concludes with this statement:

“The fact is that every available edition of the Greek New Testament gives the same law – and the same grace. They all teach the same Christian faith.”

(Ward. Bibliology for Beginners: What Does the Bible Say About the Bible? 50.

The first thing my reader should notice is that if this is what Ward actually believes, he has no right to attack the TR. In fact, he has no reason to write this book at all because all bibles are basically the same. The TR falls into the category of “every available edition of the Greek New Testament.” So either Ward doesn’t actually believe what he wrote here, or a good portion of his ministry is folly, according to his own standard. Not only is it folly, it is actually sin, again, according to his standard.

Secondly, my reader should notice that Ward introduces his own standard for how you should view the Bible. This is common among the Critical Text crowd. They almost always avoid exegeting the entirely of 2 Timothy 3:15-16. The Scriptures are “able to make thee wise unto salvation” in addition to being profitable for “doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.” The Bible is not just a bare bones document that is only to be used for bringing people to Christ. It also informs the Christian’s entire life as it pertains to faith and practice. According to Ward, the “textual critics have weeded them (variants) out with a high degree of confidence” (Ibid. 58). That is to say that Ward has a low degree of uncertainty.

So let’s put this all together. According to Ward, “it is sin to doubt God’s words.” According to Ward, “every available edition of the Greek New Testament gives the same law – and the same Grace. They all teach the same Christian faith.” According to Ward, we can have “a high degree of confidence” in our Bible. So not only is Ward in sin for doubting the TR, he is also in sin for not having full confidence in his own Bible. He is further in sin for teaching people to sin by doubting God’s words. Keep in mind that this is all according to Ward’s own standard that he set in his book.

Lastly, I want my reader to note that nowhere has Ward actually answered the question, “how do we know that what we have in our hands is really the Bible?” He never identifies a particular text or translation and he never says anything other than that “we have a high degree of confidence” that what we have is a Bible. Which is to say, “we have a low degree of doubt.” Which again, according to Ward, is sin. The most important thing to recognize about this “high degree of confidence,” is that it is entirely arbitrary. There is no metric or component of the critical text methodology that actually allows for such a determination, which is apparent in the fact that Ward doesn’t actually substantiate anything he says in this book regarding his levels of confidence. This is the fatal flaw of the Critical Text, and everybody knows it. Mark Ward wrote an entire book about the Bible, and couldn’t even tell his reader what the Bible was, or that they could be fully confident in said Bible. According to Ward, that makes him “in sin.”

My reader needs to recognize that while this theology is actually foolish, but it is also a blessing. It is a blessing because men like Mark Ward very confidently state that they don’t actually believe in a Bible. They believe in a reconstructed text that bears witness to the Bible with a high degree of confidence. That is not the Protestant view, which allows people like you and me to mark and avoid teachers like Ward, Wallace, and White. It is the dividing line. It is the fight of this generation. People have stopped believing in the Bible and the authority of the Bible, and the aforementioned men are leading the charge to convince conservative Christians to do the same.

Modern Critical Text Advocates Cannot Say Anything About Originality or Authenticity

Introduction

There are a number of ways the textual criticism discussion goes awry. Sometimes the conversation is hyper focused on textual variants and “textual data,” other times the topic of discussion is Erasmus or the Reformed. What is almost always ignored is what the Scriptures say. There is a reason the Critical Text advocates do not ever wish to talk about theology, and it is because the theology of the modern critical text system is completely bankrupt. It has strayed so far from Protestant orthodoxy that it shares similarities with Rome.

In this article, I will discuss why the Critical Text Advocate cannot justifiably debate variants in relation to the Divine Original.

The Methodological Gap

The Modern Critical Text methodology, which is allegedly the only “meaningful” and “consistent” apologetic, has what the scholars call a “methodological gap.”

“The reason is that there is a methodological gap between the start of the textual tradition as we have it and the text of the autograph itself. Any developments between these two points are outside the remit of textual criticism proper. Where there is “no trace [of the original text] in the manuscript tradition” the text critic must, on Mink’s terms, remain silent.” 

Peter Gurry. A Critical Examination of the Coherence based Genealogical Method. 93.

“There still remains a gap between the form of the text from which we conclude by critical examination that the extant witnesses must be descended and the yet older forms from which that oldest recoverable text must be descended…Recognizing that there is a gap between the oldest recoverable forms of the text and the creation of the work requires us to address one final topic…The New Testament philologist’s task is not to recover the original authorial text, not only because we cannot at present know on philological grounds what the original text might have been, nor even because there may have been several forms of the tradition, but because philology is not able to make a pronouncement as to whether or not there was such an authorial text”  

(DC Parker. Textual Scholarship and the Making of the New Testament. Kindle Edition. 26-27).

This means that the text critical methodologies employed by modern scholars and apologists cannot speak to the authenticity of any variant in relation to the original because modern textual criticism isn’t designed to deal with the concept of the original.

The scholars and apologists are quick to brag about the “scientific” nature of textual criticism, but in doing this, they give up the ground necessary to actually defend any singular textual variant as “authentic”, or the whole of Scripture for that matter. When such a methodological gap is recognized, so too is recognized the reality that this gap prevents advocates of the Modern Critical Text from speaking to the authorial text of Scripture based on the “textual data.” The textual data does is limited by the reality that there is nothing that connects the “earliest and most reliable manuscripts” with the autographic text. There is no way to verify that the reconstructed text is the original text, hence the methodological gap.

This is where the discussion of textual variants is extremely misleading and even deceitful. When Critical Text advocates make claims about the “authenticity” of a variant reading, they have stepped away from their “consistent methodology” to argue from a totally different epistemic starting point which assumes the concept of the Divine Original. As noted above by DC Parker, even the concept of one authorial tradition is not certain because of this methodological gap.

The concept of an “authorial” or “original” text is something that is theological in nature. It is something that is assumed a priori from Scripture. If the Scriptures were inspired by God(2 Tim. 3:16), there is one text that was inspired, and therefore Christians argue for one inspired text. This concept is not something that can be demonstrated from the textual data and is something that has been increasingly called into question in today’s world of textual scholarship.

“Books and the texts they preserve are human products, bound in innumerable ways to the circumstances and communities that produce them. This is also true of the New Testament, despite its status as a uniquely transcendent, sacred text, held by some to be inspired by God…Even if the text of the Gospels could be fixed – and, when viewed at the level of object and material artifact, this goal has never been achieved – the purported meaning of texts also change…Paradoxically, attempts to edit and preserve these important books multiplies rather than settles the many forms in which they appear, as each generation revises both the New Testament and the Gospels in concert with its own aspirations, assumptions, theological perspectives, and available technologies.”

Jennifer Knust & Tommy Wasserman. To Cast the First Stone. 15-16.

The Bible, according to these so called “Evangelical” textual scholars, is nothing more than a human product which reflects the communities of faith that produced it.

The methodological gap is the death of defending the Scriptures for Christians. It is an admission that any conclusion that scholars and apologists arrive to cannot be said about the authenticity or originality of any given verse or word in Scripture.

Conclusion

Think about this methodological gap the next time you engage with a Modern Critical Text advocate. They will vigorously debate passages such as Mark 16:9-20 and 1 John 5:7, despite the fact that they have no “consistent” reason to do so. What they actually can debate is whether or not those verses or passages should be printed in our Modern Critical Texts, but that’s it. The nature of this modern text has no credentials, no progeny. All that we know about these manuscripts is that they were created, and that a small number of them survived. We have no clue who created them or used them or if they were even a part of the manuscripts used by actual Christians. The methodological gap proves that modern critical text advocates have surrendered the ground necessary to defend any place of Scripture as authentic. It is simply inconsistent to do so, because the methodological and axiomatic foundation of the Modern Critical Text has nothing to say about the original, let alone if there ever was one original.

When a Critical Text advocate tries to argue for authenticity, they are borrowing a concept that does not exist in their system from another system, one that is theological. They borrow from a system that asserts the concept of an original from Scripture, which some would call an “a priori” assumption. This a priori assumption is one which is not consistent with the modern critical methodology. As some popular apologists point out, this is the sign of a failed argument. It proves that if the point of the discussion is the Divine Original, the Modern Critical Text advocate has no consistent reason to contribute. While the goal of some Evangelical textual scholars may be the original, there is certainly nothing in the methodology that can actually make that happen.

That is why those in the Received Text camp say that there are no modern critical textual scholars trying to find the original, because a desire to find the original doesn’t and cannot actually translate to anything tangible due to the methodological gap. Instead of rejecting the Modern Critical Text, scholars instead say, “No doctrines are affected” and hope that Christians don’t think too hard about it. It is a failed system if the goal is the Divine Original, and scholars know it. So when a Modern Critical Text advocate tries to say that a passage or verse is not original, the simple response is, “What does your system have anything to do with the original?” They cannot argue such claims from their system, and that is the brutal reality that Modern Critical Text advocates continue to ignore.

The Defense of the TR is Not the Same as the Vulgate

Introduction

Recently, Dr. Peter Gurry posted an article called “Cardinal Bellarmine, Trent’s Major Apologist, On Important Variants” on the Evangelical Textual Criticism blog. The article is a continued effort to conflate the TR with the Vulgate. Gurry ends the article with this conclusion:

“One last observation about Bellarmine’s discussion. I notice a similarity, mutatis mutandis, between Trent’s view of the Vulgate and some present-day Protestant defenses of the TR. Both believe that usage has a key role in confirming authority. For Trent, the Vulgate’s authority is confirmed “by the lengthened usage of so many years.” For TR proponents, the TR’s authority is confirmed by the usage of such great theologians (the Reformers). Neither view convinces me, but it remains instructive to see how Bellarmine argues for his case.

Peter Gurry. Cardinal Bellarmine, Trent’s Major Apologist, On Important Variants. March 11, 2021.

In the first place, Gurry is incorrect that “present-day Protestant defenses of the TR” are confirmed by “the usage of such great theologians.” I have written over 250,000 words describing and defending the “present-day” Protestant TR position without having once argued for authority of the TR by virtue of Reformed Theologians who used it. In all of my correspondence with Dr. Jeff Riddle, Pastor Truelove, and many other defenders of the TR, I have never once heard this argument presented as it is in the article. We of course utilize Protestant theologians in our defense of the Received Text, but we appeal to the doctrines they espoused, not the authority of the Protestants themselves.

The unfortunate reality is that Gurry’s audience will continue to believe that the defense of the TR is based on what some called “Reformationolatry” or something similar as a result of this kind of argumentation. This of course is a not-so-subtle polemic which is intended to reduce the TR position to simple adherence to tradition or perhaps an appeal to the authority of the Reformed. To be fair to Dr. Gurry, his portrayal of the TR position is far less disingenuous than that of James White, but still deserves some clarification nonetheless. In this article, I will clarify the argument that is made by present-day Protestant defenders of the TR, and my reader can decide if the TR position has a mutatis mutandis with Rome.

The Argument from Providence

The argument made by the present-day Protestants in defense of the TR is that the authority of the text is vindicated by usage by the people of God. That is to say that the average person can look into history and see the text that was actually used. The argument is not, “As Reformed theologians used the TR, so do we.” When a person opened up a Bible post-Reformation, it was a TR or translation of it. The appeal to Calvin, Turretin, Ussher, or Owen is done due to the fact that these theologians represented the orthodoxy of the day. I would find it peculiar if anybody studied in Reformation and post-Reformation history would take issue describing Turretin and Owen as accurate representations of Protestant Orthodoxy. To give some context, Turretin’s Institutes of Elenctic Theology was the standard textbook at Princeton Theological Seminary until the late 19th century when it was replaced by Charles Hodge’s Systematic Theology. This points to the historical reality that Turretin not only represented the orthodoxy of his day, but orthodoxy well after he died.

Assuming that my reader is willing to accept simple facts of history, the argument as presented by Gurry should be recognized as a poorly articulated simplification of the actual position presented as defended by present-day Protestants. There are two important components to the argument for the authority of Scripture that I will present to my reader. The first is that the authority of the Bible as presented by the TR position is given by God. The Scriptures are self-authenticating, not authenticated by the people or theologians that have used them. The second is the argument from Providence which simply points to historical record to vindicate this theological reality. The reason this has become such a controversial topic is possibly due to the fact that some Critical Text apologists have taken up the opinion that the TR didn’t even exist during the Reformation.

The important distinction that I want to make sure my reader understands is the difference between something that gives authority to the Scriptures vs. something that vindicates the authority of the Scriptures. The average person can look into history, see that the text of the Protestants was the TR, and note the historical record vindicates the theological position presented by present day Protestant defenders of the Received Text. The TR is said to be a providential text because it was the one that was used. That is how providence works. This has been a difficult thing for Critical Text advocates to admit. For example, in an unguarded moment, James White recently asserted that The Vulgate was the text of the Protestant Reformation in a video made with Stephen Boyce.

Interestingly enough, Apologists for the Critical Text also try to make the argument from Providence about their “earliest and best” texts, so it seems that they have no issue with the form of the argument. They claim that the existence of their manuscripts proves they were used and therefore by God’s providence, their text is vindicated, not recognizing that the record of history shows that their darling manuscripts were not propagated forth in transmission. They argue that their text evolved to some degree or another, which again refutes their argument from providence even further. The average person can inspect the analysis of the textual scholars, see that the manuscripts which form the textual basis for the Critical Text do not have a singular extant common ancestor and are not copied forth unmaimed into the manuscript tradition. In other words, Providence rules against their text.

Actual Similarities between the Critical Text and the Papacy

Now what is interesting is the Critical Text advocate’s failure to see the similarities between their own position and Bellarmine’s. Bellarmine set forth clearly the doctrine of the Magisterium.

“When we say the Church cannot err, we understand this both of the entire body of the faithful and the entire body of the bishops, so that the meaning of the proposition that the Church cannot err is this: that what all the faithful hold as of faith is necessarily true and of faith; and likewise what all the bishops teach as of faith, is necessarily true and of faith.”

Robert Bellarmine. De Ecclesia militante, III: 14

Both Bellarmine and the Critical Text methodology establish the authority of the Bible in the interpretation of the text. In the case of the Papists, it is the Magisterium, the interpretation of the Church. In the case of the Critical Text, doctrine cannot be affected by changes to the text and therefore the authority is not in the words of the text but rather in the interpretation of the text by the church. The difference is only in how “church” is defined. This is the necessary conclusion of the doctrine that the Bible is preserved in its doctrines and ideas and not the words. If the words themselves cannot change the meaning of the text, then the authority is not in the matter, but rather in the sense – the interpretation of those words. This is a theological necessity as a result of rejecting the doctrine of providential preservation.

For example, if a Christological doctrine is less clear in the Critical Text than the TR, such as in 1 Tim. 3:16, they say that the overall doctrine is not affected because it can be interpreted elsewhere. This is an admission that the textual variant indeed says something materially different, though they maintain that the sense remains the same by way of interpretation. The material has changed, and the meaning has not. Since the meaning is gathered by way of interpretation, the authority of the text is not in the material, but rather the interpretation of the material. The Critical Text advocate would not agree with the interpretation of this passage by the Unitarian, so therefore has bestowed the authority of the text in the Trinitarian interpretation of the passage. That is to say that the orthodox interpretation of the church is the thing that cannot err.

The Difference between Rome’s Usage Argument and the TR

Now that I have offered a comparison between the Critical Text doctrine and Rome, I will describe the difference in the “usage” argument of Rome and the Protestants. The argument from usage is quite different between Rome and the Reformed. Bellarmine’s argument for usage is based on the doctrine of the Magisterium, which is the opposite of the argument made by the Received Text position. It is important to remember the historical fact that the Council of Trent was a Counter-Reformation effort. This means that they espoused doctrines in opposition to the Protestants, not the same as the Protestants. The appeal to Protestant theologians by present-day Protestant defenders of the Received Text is an appeal to the Counter-Papacy doctrines they espoused. I want to ensure that my reader understands completely what I am saying here: The Reformation doctrine of Scripture was established in opposition to the Papist doctrine of Scripture. There seems to be a lot of confusion on this point recently, so I want to make sure that people know that the Protestants were not Papists.

The Papist doctrine proposed that the Vulgate must be authoritative because the Church has used it, and the Church cannot err. The response to the Papists by the Protestants was that the Scriptures were self-authenticating and therefore authoritative by virtue of God who inspired them. This was articulated in what we now call Sola Scriptura. In order for Scripture to be authoritative in itself, it has to be materially preserved. The text that was available to the people of God during the time of the Reformation was the text that was used by God’s providence. The Protestants recognized this very clearly and defended this very boldly. The modern day defense of the TR is an appeal to that doctrine, not the theologians themselves. Put very simply, adopting the Received Text is a position that is established on two principles: the adoption of Protestant Bibliology and the rejection of Modern Textual Criticism. It is not a modern day Protestant spin of the doctrine of the Magisterium. The argument against the Magisterium is founded on the reality that the Church can err. This was kind of the point of the Protestant Reformation.

Conclusion

The recent conflations with the Received Text position and the Papist doctrine of Scripture is befuddling. The doctrinal position of the Received Text is explicitly the doctrine of the Protestants’, which is why present day Protestant defenders of the TR quote Protestant theologians (gasp!). It is also likely the reason Critical Text apologists so desperately try to brand what they believe as that of the Protestants. I will provide yet another reminder to my reader that the Protestants were protesting…Rome. The argument that the defense of the TR is the same as the defense of the Vulgate completely ignores the doctrinal foundation for both, seeing as the Protestant defense of the Scriptures was actually in opposition to the Vulgate.

As I have demonstrated in this article, the argument from “usage” is different between the Papists and the Protestants. Those in the Critical Text camp may very well take issue with the Received Text position, but it does not make sense to conflate it with the position it opposes. The Received Text position is still explicitly a Reformation doctrine. It affirms against the Papacy the same today as it did in the 16th century. Ironically, it is the Critical Text position that now has no ground to stand on with Rome – though it appears the scholars of the Critical Text are more interested in comradery with the Papacy than protestation. It is difficult to understand why a position that has housed and eulogized Jesuits such as Cardinal Martini would be so bold as to compare the Received Text position with Popery.

I’ll leave my reader with this definition of projection from Sigmund Freud:

Psychological projection is a defense mechanism in which the ego defends itself against unconscious impulses or qualities (both positive and negative) by denying their existence in themselves by attributing them to others.[1] For example, a bully may project their own feelings of vulnerability onto the target, or a person who is confused will project their own feelings of confusion and inadequacy onto other people.

Providential Preservation

This article is a part of the series called Foundations of Protestant Bibliology. In this series, I will examine the core theological foundations of the Protestant view of Scripture.

Introduction

The foundation of the Protestant Reformation was Sola Scriptura – Scripture alone. It was the doctrine that usurped the Papist view that the Magisterium gave the Scriptures authority in both word and interpretation. Many modern Calvinists and Reformed boldly proclaim this doctrine, yet it in this generation it has lost much of its substance. The men who give the Seminaries their doctrine on Scripture have increasingly departed from the Reformation definition of Sola Scriptura. See the following thoughts of leading evangelical scholars on the topic of Scripture:

“I am not convinced that the Bible speaks of its own preservation. That doctrine was first introduced in the Westminster Confession, but it is not something that can be found in scripture.”

Dan Wallace. Interview with Dan Wallace. 2006.

“I do not believe that God is under any obligation to preserve every detail of Scripture for us, even though he granted us good access to the text of the New Testament.”

Dirk Jongkind. An Introduction to the Greek New Testament. 90.

“It’s true that human beings need ‘every word that comes from the mouth of God’ (Matt. 4:4), but we don’t necessarily need every word all at once.”

Richard Brash. A Christian’s Pocket Guide to How God Preserved the Bible. 62.

“We are trying to piece together a puzzle with only some of the pieces.”

Peter Gurry. A New Approach to Textual Criticism: An Introduction to the Coherence Based Genealogical Method. 112.

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

Elijah Hixson & Peter Gurry. Myths & Mistakes in New Testament Textual Criticism. xii. Quote by Dan Wallace.

What sets apart the above thoughts from the Reformation theology of Sola Scriptura is the doctrine of Providential Preservation. It is the missing link that connects the original to what is available today. Without this doctrine, there is never a final text because there is no way to validate the texts we have today, seeing as there is no original to use as a guide. The scholars recognize this as a “methodological gap.”

“The reason is that there is a methodological gap between the start of the textual tradition as we have it and the text of the autograph itself. Any developments between these two points are outside the remit of textual criticism proper. Where there is “no trace [of the original text] in the manuscript tradition” the text critic must, on Mink’s terms, remain silent.” 

Peter Gurry. A Critical Examination of the Coherence based Genealogical Method. 93.

This methodological gap is the fatal flaw in any view of Scripture that requires reconstructing the text from extant manuscripts. Even if the scholars can say with a high degree of certainty that a text is original or at the very least early, there is nothing axiomatically that connects the reconstructed text with the original. As noted above by Dr. Mink, the methods of textual criticism cannot speak regarding the original. This means that the textual scholar who wishes to make the connection between the reconstructed text and the original must do so, not on text-critical grounds, but on theological grounds.

The Theology of the Modern Critical Text

Many scholars and apologists for the Modern Critical Text are adamant that text-criticism is a scientific process.

“In practice New Testament textual critics today tend to be Christians themselves, but not always. It does not matter, for the quality of their work does not depend on their faith but on their adherence to academic standards.”

Jan Krans. http://evangelicaltextualcriticism.blogspot.com/2020/10/why-textus-receptus-cannot-be-accepted.html. October 22, 2020.

This is stated as a net-positive, as this supposedly protects the process of creating Bibles from the bias of the scholars themselves. While it is rather foolish to believe that scientists and scholars are unbiased, in adopting such a methodology, the Protestant theology of Scripture is excluded from the modern efforts of text-criticism. This is generally viewed as a positive trait of the methodology, but it introduces a serious theological error: The goal of text-criticism, which is to reconstruct the original, is outside of the stated capabilities of the current methodology. The Church is faced with a serious conundrum as a result of this reality. The modern doctrine of Scripture is one that works from evidence to doctrine, rather than doctrine to evidence.

In doctrine, modern Christians proclaim the following:

2. Holy Scripture, being God’s own Word, written by men prepared and superintended by His Spirit, is of infallible divine authority in all matters upon which it touches: it is to be believed, as God’s instruction, in all that it affirms, obeyed, as God’s command, in all that it requires; embraced, as God’s pledge, in all that it promises

4. Being wholly and verbally God-given, Scripture is without error or fault in all its teaching, no less in what it states about God’s acts in creation, about the events of world history, and about its own literary origins under God, than in its witness to God’s saving grace in individual lives.

Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy. A Short Statement, 2,4.

“We affirm that inspiration, strictly speaking, applies only to the autographic text of Scripture, which in the providence of God can be ascertained from available manuscripts with great accuracy. We further affirm that copies and translations of Scripture are the Word of God to the extent that they faithfully represent the original.


We deny that any essential element of the Christian faith is affected by the absence of the autographs. We further deny that this absence renders the assertion of Biblical inerrancy invalid or irrelevant.”

Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy. Article X.

There are two major doctrines that support the Modern Critical Text. The first is that the Scriptures are preserved in all that they teach, and the second is that doctrines cannot be affected by the efforts of textual criticism. This sounds orthodox at first, but it exposes itself as a heterodox doctrine when examined carefully. If it is the case that “Scripture is without error or fault in all its teaching” and that there isn’t “any essential element of the Christian faith [that] is affected,” then the modern theology of Scripture is severely departed from the historical Protestant doctrine of Sola Scriptura. I will examine this claim in the next section.

More importantly, this doctrine allows textual scholars to do whatever to the text of Scripture without any suspicion from the modern church because the effort is founded upon the principle that doctrines cannot be affected, even if the words change. This is the necessary formulation that must be adopted if Providential Preservation is rejected. Since the effort of the Critical Text is justified by the belief that the previous generation’s text is an erroneous development, the text that was used cannot be considered providential or preserved. In adopting the Critical Text methodology, one must necessarily reject Providential Preservation. This is demonstrated as reality by the quotes above.

Since necessary conclusion of the Critical Text requires the rejection of Providential Preservation, the modern doctrine of Scripture is forced to confront the fatal methodological flaw in its system: the lack of an authentication principle. Since the Modern Critical Text methodology has no concept of Providential Preservation and no authentication principle, the text itself is not verifiable nor can it be established as a preserved text. This is evidenced in the way that evangelical text-critics describe the text itself as one which is not the original, but grants “good access” to the original. That is to say that the Bible is not the exact Word of God, but rather is an access point to the Word of God.

This leaves the modern doctrine of Scripture in a precarious place. The former generation had the wrong Bible, but even so, that Bible is infallible in all that it teaches. The modern effort of textual criticism seeks to find the original, yet methodologically it cannot. Despite the modern text being different than the former text, it too is considered infallible in all that it teaches, or inerrant. This is the Modern Critical Conundrum. In the first place, the Bible of the Protestant Reformation has errors, but not in what it teaches. Further, the Modern Critical Text has many places of uncertainty, but not in what it teaches. Differences between the two text forms cannot affect doctrine, yet the modern text form is better to some unquantifiable degree.

The conclusion of such a doctrine is that the actual words of Scripture are not what give the authority to Scripture. The modern doctrine of Scripture does not contain any mechanism to validate the reconstructed text against the original, and the changes between editions and manuscripts cannot affect doctrine. This presents a second fatal flaw which I will pose as a question: If the words in the Bible are not the vehicle of doctrines and teachings in Scripture, what is? This is yet another methodological gap in the modern doctrine of Scripture. Since the words can change while the meaning stays the same, there is some other delivery mechanism for the doctrines. The only conclusion is that interpretation of Scripture is the authority giving mechanism. This is the substance of the Papist argument for the magisterium, and reflects the same battle between the Protestants and Rome.

“The question betwixt us and the Papists, now cometh to be considered, which of these editions is authentical, that is, which of it self hath credit and authority, being sufficient of it self to prove and commend itself, without the help of any other edition, because it is the first exemplar or Copy of the divine truth delivered from God by the Prophets and Apostles.”

Edward Leigh. A Systeme or Body of Divinity. 78. Emphasis mine.

What the modern doctrine of Scripture should demonstrate to my reader is that it requires external validation. Since the modern doctrine of Scripture insists that “doctrine cannot be affected,” the only mechanism that allows for this to be possible is that of interpretation. In other words, the “doctrines cannot be affected” doctrine is really just, “Our interpretation cannot be affected.”

The Theology of Protestant Orthodoxy

There are a number of distinctives that are contained within the Sola Scriptura doctrine of the Protestant Reformation. The modern doctrine sounds a lot like the Protestant doctrine, but does not share the substance. The major distinctions are in authentication and preservation, which give authority to the doctrine. In the first place, the Protestant doctrine teaches that the Scriptures are self-authenticating. This is the case that the Reformed made against the Popish doctrine of the magisterium. Man cannot authenticate the Scriptures, God authenticates the Scriptures.

“It is a most dangerous adventure to examine, or regulate Divine Truths by human wisdome”

Thomas Thorowgood. Moderation Justified. 8.

Second, the Scriptures are Providentially Preserved, or kept pure in all ages. This is the practical function of self-authentication as it relates to the manuscripts. Before defining this further, I will examine the modern response to this doctrine.

The Modern Critical Text view proposes that the Bible was not preserved providentially in the continuous transmission of the Scriptures, rather it was preserved in the totality of the manuscript tradition. So manuscripts that fell out of use and were not propagated forward are included in this body of extant evidence. In the case of the Modern Critical Text, these texts which were not propagated forward are considered the most valuable.

This means that all extant copies of New Testament manuscripts are considered to be preserved texts, which include texts that do not preserve the original. Despite some of these texts not preserving the original wording, the Critical Text theology states that the doctrines are still preserved in the two most different manuscripts. See this popular level explanation by James White:

“The reality is that the amount of variation between the two most extremely different New Testament manuscripts would not fundamentally alter the message of the Scriptures…The simple fact of the matter is that no textual variants in either the Old or New Testament in any way, shape, or form materially disrupt or destroy any essential doctrine of the Christian faith.”

James White. The King James Only Controversy. 67.

This can be said because the determining factor for this is not the text itself, it is the interpretation of the text, as demonstrated in the previous section.

This modern doctrine stands in opposition to the historical Protestant doctrine of self-authentication and Providential Preservation. If my reader wishes to examine the Biblical merits of Providential Preservation, see this paper. Historically speaking, the Protestants affirmed the doctrine of Providential Preservation.

“Nay, not only the main Doctrine of the Scripture hath been continued, but no part of it is falsified, corrupted, or destroyed…But the Scriptures are wonderfully preserved, as the three Children in the Furnace, not an Hair was singed; not a jot or tittle of the Truth is perish or corrupted…Christ hath promised not a tittle shall fall to the ground. The Word hath been in danger of being lost, but the Miracle of Preservation is therefore greater.”

Thomas Manton. A Second Volume of Sermons. 254.

“The marvelous preservation of the Scriptures. Though none in time be so ancient, no none so much oppugned: yet God hath still by his providence preserved them and every part of them”

James Ussher. A Body of Divinity. 11.

“By the original texts, we do not mean the autographs written by the hand of Moses, of the prophets and of the apostles, which certainly do not now exist. We mean their apographs which are so called because they set forth to us the word of God in the very words of those who wrote under the immediate inspiration of the Holy Spirit”

Francis Turretin. Institutes of Elenctic Theology, Vol. I, 106.

It should be clear now that there are two definitions of original at play here. The original doctrines or the original text. There are two definitions of preservation being discussed. Preservation in the totality of extant manuscripts or preservation in the continuing propagation of manuscripts. There are even two different definitions of the Bible. The very Word of God or the means by which we access the Word of God. The Protestant doctrine of Scripture affirms that the original text was propagated forth in transmission, that God providentially kept the original text pure in the apographs, and that this original text is self-authenticating and therefore we have the exact Word of God today. This means that the text that arrived via transmission to the 14th century was as pure as that which arrived to the 16th century. Thus the Reformed held the view that the efforts of “text-criticism” during the 16th century were conducted using such authentic texts as a method of ongoing propagation, not reconstruction.

There is a reason that the Protestants held this view. They recognized that Rome must be correct about needing a magisterium if the Scriptures were not providentially preserved. In order to examine this topic more thoroughly, I will conduct a thought experiment before concluding this paper. I will begin by asking, “What must I believe if I reject Providential Preservation?”

First, I must believe that the exact original wording of Scripture is lost and cannot be recovered by any available methodology. Second, I must believe that the corrupted Protestant text contains no doctrinal differences than the reconstructed text set forth by modern scholars. Third, I must believe that despite there being no doctrinal differences between the two most different manuscripts, that the modern effort which changes my Bible is necessary. Finally, I must believe that the authority of Scripture is determined by my interpretation of it.

When examined in such a way, the proposition set forth in the modern doctrine is abjectly absurd.

Conclusion

The discussion of textual criticism becomes simple when examined at a doctrinal level. Without Providential Preservation, the modern doctrine of Scripture leaves the church without any discernable Bible, just a product that gives the people of God “good access” to the Bible. This is reconciled by proposing that “doctrines cannot be affected” regardless of textual variation. As a result, the method of authentication for Scripture shifts from Scripture itself to man’s interpretation of Scripture. This is clearly not the historic Protestant view, and when examined in substance, bears remarkable resemblance to that of the Papists.

There is a reason this doctrine is defined in the first chapter of the Westminster Confession of Faith and London Baptist Confession of Faith. It is the fundamental component of Sola Scriptura that all doctrines are established upon. If the Scriptures are not Providentially Preserved, than the church is left to her interpretation of the Scriptures alone, which inevitably produces infinite variations of what Christianity even is. If one were to survey the state of the modern church, they will indeed find that this is exactly the case. The doctrine of inerrancy, in rejecting Providential Preservation of the words of Scripture, has created the semblance of an orthodox doctrine without any of the substance. It outsources the Bible’s authority to man over and above the Scriptures themselves. There is one simple conclusion that must be drawn from the theology of Scripture and also plain observation – without Providential Preservation and self-authentication, there is no discernable Bible and thus no discernable Christ and thus no discernable Christianity. Any claims to the authority of Scripture completely fall flat without these doctrines.

Review: The King James Version Discussion – Chapter 7

Introduction

Chapter 7, entitled “Fourteen Theses,” makes up over 25% of the page count in this work, so I will try my best to handle each thesis in as little words as possible. As I commented in a previous article, this chapter would have likely been sufficient as the sum of the whole book to accomplish Carson’s objective. He begins the chapter by stating that he is not going to argue that defenders of the TR are “knaves or fools,” yet all throughout chapter 7 he uses language that is essentially synonymous. He harshly critiques defenders of the Byzantine tradition such as Zane Hodges and Edward F. Hills, and John Burgon, despite all three being a far more careful, studied, and respected scholars than himself, especially on this topic. Keep in mind that Carson is not a text-critic so his hostile analysis of these scholars is rather peculiar, considering he accuses people of blindly following and repeating their claims – which is the exact thing he seems to be doing throughout this work, only with Metzger. In order to keep this article at a manageable length, I will respond with very simple counter-arguments.

Thesis 1: There is no unambiguous evidence that the Byzantine text-type was known before the middle of the fourth century

I’ll just quote Carson in response:

I do not deny that readings found in the Byzantine text-type are found in the ante-Nicene period;

Carson, D. A.. The King James Version Debate (p. 44). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

He of course follows this statement with a “but,” but that is irrelevant if the claim is that “The Byzantine text-type didn’t exist.” You can’t say, “The Byzantine text didn’t exist, except where it did exist, I just don’t count that.” He further buries himself when he says,

It has not been proved conclusively that the Byzantine text-type did not exist before the fourth century.

Carson, D. A.. The King James Version Debate (p. 44). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

In his first thesis, Carson has seemingly undone the whole foundation of his argument.

Thesis 2: The argument that defends the Byzantine tradition by appealing to the fact that most extant manuscripts of the Greek New Testament attest to this Byzantine text-type, is logically fallacious and historically naïve

Here Carson demonstrates that he does not understand what the term “logically fallacious” means. The fallaciousness of a statement is determined by the coherence of an argument from premise to conclusion, not by whether or not you have a counter premise. Something can be logically coherent and still false. He could have just offered his counter argument rather than insulting Zane Hodges’ ability to think, but I suspect that Carson knows his argument is not that strong without poisoning the well first. Carson’s actual argument is as follows,

“It is quite possible to conceive that the best manuscripts of the New Testament were removed to some relatively quiet corner of the Mediterranean world while inferior manuscripts dominated in publishing centers.”

Carson, D. A.. The King James Version Debate (p. 48). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

So Carson’s response to what he calls “logically fallacious” and “historically naïve” is that God stashed the Bible away for over a thousand years in the Mediterranean rather than preserving it in the transmitted copies of the New Testament. In the rest of the chapter, Carson goes on to argue that “it is not asking to much” to reject that historical tradition of the church based on “the type of text found in B and Aleph” (50), engaging in what appears to be special pleading on behalf of two manuscripts over the majority tradition.

Thesis 3: The Byzantine text-type is demonstrably a secondary text

Carson bases the premise of his next thesis upon conjecture of what scribes may have done. Here is one example:

“One might argue that particularly heterodox scribes might well make a text more complicated.”

Carson, D. A.. The King James Version Debate (p. 52). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

He then makes the argument that the Byzantine text is “given to harmonization” (52). I’ve always found this argument rather strange, as it requires the belief that the original New Testament was lacking harmony and “abrupt.” Ultimately, the Scriptures being “given to harmonization” is not an argument against originality unless you are supposing the original text was not harmonious.

Thesis 4: The Alexandrian text-type has better credentials than any other text-type now available

Carson here uses a double standard to support his fourth thesis. In thesis 1, he argues that ante-nicene father quotations and versional evidence are not enough to defend the existence of the text type, yet here he uses it as a primary example of a credential for the Alexandrian text.

“Not only is the Alexandrian text-type found in some biblical quotations by ante-Nicene fathers, but the text-type is also attested by some of the early version witnesses.”

Carson, D. A.. The King James Version Debate (p. 53). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

“I do not deny that readings found in the Byzantine text-type are found in the ante-Nicene period; but almost all of these readings are also found in other text-types (mostly Western).”

Carson, D. A.. The King James Version Debate (p. 44). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

One would think that Carson’s own analysis would support an earlier Byzantine text, seeing as it is shared among multiple traditions, as if other traditions adapted the Byzantine text, but he arrives at the opposite conclusion. According to Carson, since there isn’t a complete record of the Byzantine text, the individual witnesses must be discarded. The important point to note here is not my own theory, it is the fact that Carson uses the same standard to reject the Byzantine text as he does to support the “better credentials” of the Alexandrian text. As a side note, I would expect the use of the word “credentials” to mean that we know who created Aleph and B and who used them, which we do not know.

Thesis 5: The argument to the effect that what the majority of believers in the history of the church have believed is true, is ambiguous at best and theologically dangerous at worst; and as applied to textual criticism, the argument proves nothing very helpful anyway

Here Carson argues that because Christians are fallible, the texts they produced also can be fallible, and therefore the argument is moot. I would argue that Carson has misunderstood the argument, either intentionally or unintentionally. However, if we apply the same argument to his position, could the Byzantine defender not argue that the text of Aleph and B were also subject to the same error as those who produced the Byzantine text? Carson has not yet made any case for the quality of the two flagship manuscripts, other than they meet his arbitrary criteria of being as early as 350AD.

Thesis 6: The argument that defends the Byzantine text by appealing to the providence of God is logically and theologically fallacious

Carson argues that if God has providentially preserved the Byzantine text, he has also preserved the others.

“God, it is argued, has providentially preserved the Byzantine tradition. That is true; but He has also providentially preserved the Western, Caesarean, and Alexandrian traditions.”

Carson, D. A.. The King James Version Debate (p. 56). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Interestingly enough, the Byzantine text is the only former text-type that is considered to be a text group still. He ends this argument by misunderstanding the difference between corruptions and variations, and closes with this statement:

The interpretation of individual passages may well be called in question; but never is a doctrine affected.

Carson, D. A.. The King James Version Debate (p. 56). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Here Carson unintentionally refutes the whole point of his book. If the manuscript tradition is all providentially preserved, that includes the Byzantine. And if doctrine is never effected, there is no doctrinal difference between the providentially preserved traditions. Therefore, Carson has no purpose for writing this book, and has refuted himself.

Thesis 7: The argument that appeals to fourth century writing practices to deny the possibility that the Byzantine text is a conflation, is fallacious

Carson’s argument in this thesis is so incredibly misleading that I would go as far to say that he has slandered Edward F. Hills, broken the 9th commandment, and shown himself to be a juvenile scholar not worthy to mention Hills’ name.

“Hills, in his book The King James Version Defended! argues that the Byzantine text could not be a fourth-century compilation from other texts because editors of that period did not have desks to write on.”

Carson, D. A.. The King James Version Debate (p. 57). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

The only word I have to describe this interpretation of Hills is “stupid.” DA Carson is stupid for what he has just told his reader. In the first place, this is Hills’ secondary argument, in which he is making the point that no scholar or scribe could have possibly had the resources such as a textual apparatus in a standard printed volume, and yes, a desk and chairs. Hills does this, appealing to Metzger, ironically enough. Hills’ point is that there is no evidence that such a blending of textual traditions could have been possible with the available resources and scribal practices, and thus the traditional text had to have occurred organically.


“Hence, the kind of mixture would be sporadic and unsystematic and not at all of the kind that would be required to produce the Traditional (Byzantine) New Testament text. Thus the theory that the Traditional Text was created by editors breaks down when carefully considered.”

Hills, Edward F. The King James Version Defended. 177.

Thesis 8: Textual arguments that depend on adopting the TR and comparing other text-types with it are guilty, methodologically speaking, of begging the issue; and in any case they present less than the whole truth

DA Carson unashamedly says that TR defenders “present less than the whole truth” after claiming Hills rejects the “recension” theory on the basis of lack of desks. He ends this point by saying that “slanted arguments in these issues ought to be rejected by lovers of truth” (61). At this point, Carson’s argumentation has devolved into misrepresenting other scholars and appealing to the emotions of his reader. In this section, his problem is with using the TR or KJV as a base text for comparison of other texts. This would be a valid point, if he didn’t do the same exact thing with Aleph and B. Rather than starting with the TR, he starts with the Critical Text. His disagreement is not in methodology, it is in the form of the text that is to be used as the standard for comparison.

Thesis 9: The charge that non-Byzantine text-types are theologically aberrant is fallacious

His argument in this thesis is that doctrine cannot be effected by the differences in the manuscript tradition.

However, I would argue that none of the text-types distinguished by contemporary textual criticism is theologically heretical in the way that defenders of the KJV sometimes suggest.

Carson, D. A.. The King James Version Debate (p. 62). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

This doctrine says that even if a passage is not supposed to be in the text, the doctrine can be found elsewhere. This is standard fare for the “doctrine cannot be effected crowd.” One interesting thing to note is that Carson constantly uses the term “fallacious,” confusing it with the words, “I disagree.”

Therefore the charge that the non-Byzantine text-types are theologically aberrant is fallacious.

Carson, D. A.. The King James Version Debate (p. 66). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Again, something being fallacious entirely depends on the structure of an argument. Carson’s structure is that a difference in words in the Bible does not change the meaning of the Bible. According to his premise, the claim he is interacting with is fallacious – but that’s not the premise of the argument he is opposing. The argument that he is opposing goes like this:

The meaning of the Bible is communicated through words. If the words change, then the meaning changes. The words are changed between the traditional and critical text. Therefore, the meaning is different between the traditional and critical text.

Carson has not interacted with that argument other than to disagree with the premise and then call it fallacious, by which he means “I disagree.”

Thesis 10: The KJV was not accepted without a struggle, and some outstanding believers soon wanted to replace it

This argument is rather straight forward, the KJV wasn’t immediately accepted. Defenders of the KJV may have argued that in Carson’s day, but I have not seen that argument before, so I’ll leave it as is. In any case, I don’t think the reception argument hinges on the KJV being immediately adopted by every single Christian in the 17th century.

Thesis 11: The Byzantine text-type must not be thought to be the precise equivalent of the TR

This point is one of clarity that I think everybody is aware of, that the TR isn’t a pure majority text. There are minority readings in it.

Thesis 12: The argument that ties the adoption of the TR to verbal inspiration is logically and theologically fallacious

Carson correctly identifies what Scripture teaches about itself in this thesis.

The argument, briefly, is this: Since God inspired the Scriptures verbally, therefore He must have preserved them even to the details of their words; and these passages presuppose that God has done just that.

Carson, D. A.. The King James Version Debate (p. 69). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

His argument is essentially that it is impossible to say that the TR or Byzantine tradition is the verbally inspired text. The Bible doesn’t promise “an infallible text-type” (72). He continues by saying,

“Third, to concede that total inerrancy or verbal inspiration is restricted to the autographs does not mean we have no sure word from God.”

Carson, D. A.. The King James Version Debate (p. 73). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

The way he deals with this doctrinal issue is the same way scholars and apologists deal with the problem today.

“In like fashion the vast majority of the New Testament is textually certain. (3) Even where the text is less than certain, high probability of this reading or that exists. (4) No doctrine and no ethical command is affected by the “probability” passages, but only the precise meaning of specific passages. (5) In my judgment the degree of uncertainty raised by textual questions is a great deal less than the degree of uncertainty raised by hermeneutical questions.”

Carson, D. A.. The King James Version Debate (p. 73). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

He ends by stating what I wish more Critical Text advocates knew:

“Fourth, the purpose and goal of textual criticism is to get as close to the original text as possible. To fail to recognize this is to misapprehend what textual criticism is all about.”

Carson, D. A.. The King James Version Debate (p. 74). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

In short, textual criticism is not about getting to the exact original, it is about getting “as close to the original text as possible.” Carson, while being necessarily constrained by his understanding of text-types, is quite accurate when discussing the purpose and goal of text-criticism.

Thesis 13: Arguments that attempt to draw textual conclusions from a prejudicial selection of not immediately relevant data, or from a slanted use of terms, or by a slurring appeal to guilt by association, or by repeated appeal to false evidence, are not only misleading, but ought to be categorically rejected by Christians, who, above all others, profess to love truth and to love their brothers in Christ

It seems that if Carson was slightly more self aware he might see the glaring problem with this thesis.

Thesis 14: Adoption of the TR should not be made a criterion of orthodoxy

I agree. I would also argue that believing that God gave His people the verbally inspired text, in its words, should be. The issue the TR advocate has with the Critical Text is first one of doctrine, and second that of the actual text. If we can agree that God actually preserved His whole word, we can have a conversation. The fundamental difference is that, as Carson has stated many times, the Critical Text advocate does not believe we have the exact inspired text today, and that the words of our Bibles can change and not effect doctrine. The TR is the logical end of having the correct Bibliology.

Conclusion

This chapter is the substance of this entire work so far. I think it would have been adequate just to publish this chapter. In Carson’s fierce attempt to defend the Critical Text, he refuted many of his own claims in the process. Overall, this chapter is again a rehashing of Metzger with a lot harsher language than the previous chapters. The main take away I will leave my reader with is this:

If the Bible is preserved in the whole manuscript tradition, and doctrine isn’t changed between manuscripts, why this book? Why attempt to discredit a textual tradition that Carson claims is correct doctrinally? This is a question I have not seen answered yet. According to the “no doctrine is affected” doctrine, I would expect Critical Text advocates to actually defend the Byzantine text, which they claim is doctrinally complete.

Review: The King James Version Debate – Chapter 6

Introduction

In Chapter 6 of The King James Version Debate, Carson addresses the “Modern Defense of the Byzantine Text-Type.” I will take the liberty of interacting more heavily with the material in this chapter and the next, offering more of a critical review than a summary.

After some introduction, Carson describes the defenders of the TR as those who are critical of modern textual criticism starting with Westcott & Hort.

“In the opinion of the defenders of the TR, the textual-critical theories advanced by B. F. Westcott and F. J. A. Hort toward the end of the last century are both bad theology and bad textual criticism.”

Carson, D. A.. The King James Version Debate (p. 40). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

This is most certainly still true. He continues to detail Westcott & Hort’s theory that is the foundation for the supremacy of the Alexandrian texts.

They argued that the Byzantine textual tradition (which includes the TR) did not originate before the mid-fourth century, and that it was the result of a conflation of earlier texts. This text was taken to Constantinople, where it became popular, spreading throughout the Byzantine Empire. This text-type, which I have designated Byzantine, Hort referred to as Syrian. Because, in their view, it was a conflation of the Western and Alexandrian texts, it is the fullest; but for the same reason it is the furthest removed from the autographs. Westcott and Hort gave much weight to the Alexandrian tradition; but preeminent emphasis was laid on B and א (Vaticanus and Sinaiticus), considered to be a parallel development of the Alexandrian tradition and designated by them the “Neutral text.” Subsequent textual-critical work accepted the theories of Westcott and Hort, although with modifications.

Carson, D. A.. The King James Version Debate (pp. 40-41). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

While Wescott & Hort’s theory, as far as I know, isn’t held to anymore, the general principle that Aleph and B are witnesses to the earliest text still seems to drive the Critical Text in its methodology and shape, despite the concept of text-types no longer being the driving framework for textual criticism. Carson’s analysis may show itself to be dated here as a result of being produced over 40 years ago, but I imagine many of the arguments he presents are still used today and therefore relevant to review.

Carson’s Presentation of the Byzantine Priority Position

After giving a very brief history of Westcott & Hort, Carson details what he understands to be the argument against the Alexandrian texts in favor of the Byzantine. This is my summary of his presentation which I have organized into 10 points (pp. 39-41):

  1. The Byzantine tradition stands closer to the original
  2. The other text types were rejected by the early church
  3. The Alexandrian text type omits material rather than the Byzantine adding
  4. These omissions were due to heretics such as Arians attempting to remove doctrines
  5. Codex Aleph and B are products of fourth century heresy and careless scholarship
  6. The Byzantine tradition was used from at least the fourth century and therefore cannot be ignored
  7. Westcott & Hort were heretics whose bias prevented them from engaging in objective text-criticism
  8. All modern versions based on the Critical Text deny verbal inspiration
  9. The reason there are no early Byzantine mss is due to heavy use
  10. Westcott & Hort’s theory demands circular reasoning
  11. The Alexandrian text is a revision of the Byzantine, not the other way around

Carson’s summary of the arguments still represent much of the argumentation we see today. I will write a brief analysis of each argument here:

Points 1-3 are essentially the foundation for rejecting the Alexandrian text, and represents the alternative argument to Alexandrian priority. Point 4 is a common observation of commentators throughout history on texts such as John 7:53-8:11, Mark 16:9-20, and 1 John 5:7 being removed, and it is more of an explanation of how the Alexandrian texts came to be rather than a foundational premise for the defense of the Byzantine text.

Point 5 and point 7 are arguments still made, mostly when defending the KJV and critiquing the Revised Version 1881. Aleph and B were indeed produced during a time in which Jerome writes about how Arianism nearly overtook the church, and Westcott & Hort did indeed deny verbal plenary inspiration along with substitutionary atonement and reportedly engaged in some strange practices including “communion with the saints,” so the argument against Westcott & Hort may be of interest to some. These arguments are often dismissed or even mocked, despite the Critical Text crowd heavily criticizing Erasmus as an objection to the Received Text. It’s okay to mock Erasmus, but definitely not Westcott & Hort!

I’ve never heard point 8 phrased in that way, but I have seen similar arguments. I will critique Carson’s formulation of the argument and provide what I think is a more legitimate form here:

If the creators of a text reject verbal plenary inspiration, and they deny that the text itself is the exact authorial, verbally inspired text, then it seems fair to make an argument similar to point 8 with proper nuance. As far as I have read, there aren’t any scholars who would say the NA28 for example, represents the exact verbally inspired text, though most would say that “we have good access to the text of the New Testament.” Though Westcott denied verbal plenary inspiration, many Critical Text scholars today hold to the doctrine, though it is not included in their text-critical methodology as set forth by volumes that describe the methodologies of modern textual criticism. The main problem with the structure of the argument as presented by Carson is that it would be a personification fallacy since an inanimate object cannot deny anything. So if you’re a TR advocate, it’s probably wise not to use this argument, lest you find yourself as an example in a book describing TR argumentation.

It would be better stated that the Critical Text is based off of a methodology that does not consider the doctrine of verbal plenary inspiration in its axioms and the scholars who create critical texts do not claim that they have created an exact representation of the verbally inspired text, and therefore the Critical Text is not exactly what the prophets and apostles wrote by way of inspiration. I’m sure many have made this argument, I hope my tangential commentary provides some clarity for my reader.

Point 9, like point 4, is explanatory rather than foundational. Both the Critical Text and other text-critical positions start with a foundational premise and use the extant data to try and explain that data. There is a lot of data that is difficult to explain through the lens of Alexandrian priority, such as Byzantine readings in the Papyri and in the Alexandrian text. This points to the reality that the story we tell to explain the earliest manuscripts is ultimately informed by what we think of God’s providential care over the text and the way God preserved the Scriptures. Defenders on each side of the discussion present explanations for the manuscript data in the absence of extant meta-data of our manuscripts.

Point 10 is actually quite a good observation and I still think is valid today. There doesn’t seem to be any foundation for the argument that Aleph and B are “best” other than that they are the earliest extant we have. Even Carson has stated that late manuscripts can represent early readings, so the argument that I have seen in favor of the Alexandrian mss is simply that they are the “best because we think they are the best.” If you withdraw this assumption, in my opinion, the data actually points quite strongly to an early Byzantine text, and I don’t exactly see any data that can necessarily disprove that. This list demonstrates that the general arguments have not changed all that much, though in my opinion the CBGM data really adds a layer of intrigue into the Alexandrian vs. Byzantine discussion and seems to give a lot of validity to an early Byzantine text.

Conclusion

Carson ends the chapter by saying that pastors and laypersons are caught off guard by the Byzantine argument, and in many cases have no ability to refute such arguments. This has changed in the last 40 years, as most seminaries teach the Alexandrian priority argument from Metzger & Erhman’s textbook. The current climate seems to be that pastors trained at mainstream seminaries typically believe in some version of Alexandrian priority, though there are Byzantine movements throughout. In my opinion, the Byzantine argument is still quite strong in comparison to the Alexandrian priority theory.

If anything, we can learn that the Byzantine argument is sturdy, especially considering the fact that seminaries typically do not teach its merits alongside of Metzger and Ehrman, and if they do, it is often framed in the context of “King James Onlyism,” as we see in Dr. Andrew Naselli’s textbook which is endorsed by many seminaries and Bible translators. One piece of data that is hard to ignore is the fact that Byzantine readings are present in the Papyri, which really makes the case for Alexandrian priority much more difficult to defend as a “text-type” that predates the Byzantine tradition. Carson employs this chapter to frame the main thrust of his book, which is to offer a refutation to those who believe in the superiority of the TR and KJV, which we will see in Chapter 7.

Review: The King James Version Debate – Chapter 5

Introduction

The fifth chapter of The King James Version Debate might as well be titled, “Erasmian Myths as Presented by Bruce Metzger.” Carson does what most Critical Text scholars do, frame the TR in light of Erasmus, even though Erasmus’ editions were not used by the translators of the KJV, and then attempt to discredit Erasmus’ text. That, among other reasons we will get to, should cause the reader to question the seriousness with which they should approach this chapter.

Irrelevant Details and Storytelling

Telling the story of Erasmus is the most popular approach to discrediting the Received Text and thus the KJV. This chapter includes the “Rush to Print” story, “The Missing 6 Verses at the End of Revelation,” the “TR is a Latin Backtranslation,” and the “Rash Wager” myth. The most egregious error in this chapter is his retelling of Metzger’s “Rash Wager” myth, which proposes that Erasmus included 1 John 5:7 after losing a bet. This has been debunked by Erasmus scholar HJ Dejong and the reason Erasmus included the passage can be found in his own annotations. According to Erasmus himself, he included the passage due to his belief that Christians would not read his text if he excluded it.

Thus far, Carson has been quite objective in his presentation, though in this chapter he devolves into storytelling and biased interpretation of the data. For example, he only considers the first 3 editions of Erasmus’ text relevant to describing what the Received Text is, despite the Beza’s edition being a better representation of the TR.

“Although Erasmus published a fourth and fifth edition, we need say no more about them here. Erasmus’s Greek Testament stands in line behind the King James Version; yet it rests upon a half dozen minuscule manuscripts, none of which is earlier than the tenth century.”

Carson, D. A.. The King James Version Debate (pp. 35-36). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

He does go on to explain the significance of Stephanus’ editions, which he does admit were based on “fourteen codices and from the Complutensian Polyglot,” but it is clear that Carson is trying very hard to say that the Received Text is just Erasmus’ edition. That is the substance of Carson’s argument in this chapter, that while the KJV translators, as he admits, “largely relied on Beza’s editions,” Stephanus’ and Beza’s editions are really no different than that of Erasmus. This of course is true in that the basic text form of all editions from the 16th century were very similar, but Carson engages in a smear campaign against Erasmus in order to frame the discussion in an uncharacteristically biased manner. He concludes his opinion on the TR by saying that it is a shoddy product with very little textual basis.

“Nevertheless the textual basis of the TR is a small number of haphazardly collected and relatively late minuscule manuscripts.”

Carson, D. A.. The King James Version Debate (p. 36). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

The reason I say that Carson is biased here is due to the way he has framed the discussion. He has already made the point that counting manuscripts isn’t how textual criticism is done, yet he critiques the TR for being based on the manuscripts Erasmus had, despite those manuscripts being majority text representatives. Strangely enough, he makes sure to mention the 14 manuscripts used by Stephanus, but only considers the ones Erasmus is said to have used as relevant. He also fails to mention that the Critical Text is largely based off of only two manuscripts where it disagrees with the Majority Text. Carson admits that the TR is largely representative of the Majority Text shortly after, seemingly disproving his own point.

“The dominant manuscripts of the TR were taken from the Byzantine tradition.”

Carson, D. A.. The King James Version Debate (p. 38). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

If we examine the form of Carson’s argument, we find that it is blatantly contradictory. On one hand, the TR should not be taken seriously because it was based on “a small number of haphazardly collected and relatively late manuscripts,” and on the other hand, “the dominant manuscripts of the TR were taken from the Byzantine tradition.” The major argument Carson seems to set forth is that even though the TR largely represents the Majority Text, since Erasmus, Stephanus, and Beza did not have every manuscript that represents the Majority Text, it doesn’t matter. They only had a handful of the thousands of manuscripts that their text represents in most places, so therefore their text is only based off a handful of manuscripts. Just several pages prior, Carson accepts this as perfectly fine.

“The relationship of the witness to the text-types is extremely important, because if all the witnesses that support a particular reading are from one text-type, then they may all be copies of copies that spring from one manuscript. Manuscripts must therefore be weighed, and not just counted. Of course, if all those manuscripts came from one textual tradition, that tradition may in fact preserve the original reading; but this cannot be presumed from the number of manuscript witnesses per se.”

Carson, D. A.. The King James Version Debate (p. 33). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

The contradiction in Carson’s argument is so severe here that it is really difficult to understand what point he’s trying to make. If a text being based off of a handful of manuscripts makes is a bad text, Carson’s own text is far worse than the TR. He has deviated from the rules that he previously sets forth in order to make an argument against the TR, and damages his own argument as a result. Most frightening is his claim that the manuscripts used to create the TR were “haphazardly collected.” This is blatantly false, Erasmus had an exceedingly broad correspondence and is well documented in his knowledge of manuscripts, even if he only had a dozen in his possession. He even consulted Codex Vaticanus, though he evaluated it as a shoddy attempt to combine the Latin tradition with the Greek.

Conclusion

This chapter is the first time we see Carson show his hand as simply following in the line of Metzger. Not only does he include stories that in some cases are just factually incorrect such as the “Rash Wager,” he also contradicts himself according to the rules he sets forth in previous chapters. He judges the TR by a standard separate than he judges his own text, and for that this chapter cannot be taken seriously. He criticizes the TR for being based off a handful of manuscripts, even though the number of manuscripts Erasmus had is still more than the Critical Text is based off of (2). Further, the manuscripts Erasmus had represent a textual tradition that is represented by the vast majority of extant manuscripts.

This chapter typifies the inconsistent argumentation that is propagated by Critical Text advocates, and I imagine we will see more of the same in upcoming chapters. In my opinion, Carson should have saved his word count and simply started his book with this chapter.

Review: The King James Version Debate – Chapter 4

Introduction

In the fourth chapter entitled, “Some Criteria for Making Textual Choices,” Carson provides a brief summary of some of the axioms of Modern Textual Criticism as presented by Metzger. I will highlight again Carson’s use of “most likely” in the opening paragraph.

“Before turning to the nub of the debate, I propose now to sketch in some of the criteria scholars use to determine what reading is most likely closest to the original.”

Carson, D. A.. The King James Version Debate (p. 29). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

In other words, this criteria is by no means a definitive standard for determining an original text.

The Criteria for Making Textual Decisions

Carson sorts the criteria into two categories: External and internal. He lists manuscript date, geographical location, and text type as the three external criteria. As far as the value that external evidence can offer, Carson clarifies that these categories are not decisive.

“None of these considerations is considered decisive; all have to be weighed.”

Carson, D. A.. The King James Version Debate (p. 29,30). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

One major point that Carson makes demonstrates the age of this book. He states that “the date of the text-type is more important than the date of a particular witness.” In today’s model, the date of a witness is considered more important and the concept of text-type has been mostly retired.

Under internal evidence Carson lists the preference for the shorter reading (or perhaps the longer reading), the preference for the most difficult reading, the preference for readings with similar vocabulary choices, and the preference for the reading that best explains the other variants.

One thing that I will note here is that the assumptions of this model are not conducive with an inerrant original text, as Carson believes. If the original texts are as Carson describes, they are short and grammatically difficult. This seems to be in conflict with the doctrine of inerrancy and either the original was not perfect, or in these rules the scholars admit that the closest to the original we can get is a choppy, short, grammatically difficult version of it.

Carson ends the chapter by stating that most of the lines in the New Testament are certain.

“Nevertheless, the vast majority of the lines of the Greek New Testament may be regarded as textually certain. A number of others are certain to a high degree of probability. A relative handful constitute famous problems that are debated constantly in books and in journal literature.”

Carson, D. A.. The King James Version Debate (p. 33). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

This is still the argument from Modern Critical Text apologists, though I have not seen this claim substantiated anywhere. The trend, according to scholars such as Dr. Peter Gurry, is towards more uncertainty as the effort of Modern Textual Criticism progresses, not less. According to Dr. Daniel Wallace, “There are many, many places in which the text of the New Testament is uncertain.”

Conclusion

In Chapter 4, we again see a summarization of Metzger with some interesting commentary from Carson. He acknowledges that the criteria set forth by textual scholars are not a definitive method for finding the original, so in that sense he is still quite relevant. This chapter is probably the most dated of the book so far, as Carson leans heavily on the text-type framework for his understanding of textual criticism. This is not unusual, however, seeing as the book was first published in 1978. The real substance of this book is in the upcoming chapters, but I will review every chapter for the sake of being thorough.

Review: The King James Version Debate – Chapter 2

Introduction

This next chapter titled, “Kinds of Errors in New Testament Manuscripts” is a summary of the various types of scribal errors that can be observed in extant manuscripts, so this article will likely be short. Carson employs this chapter to give his reader context to the actual decision making process that is practiced by textual critics.

The Kinds of Errors in Manuscripts

Carson categorizes scribal errors into two categories: Intentional and unintentional. The study of scribes has been improved upon in the last decade and is most thoroughly examined by Dr. Jim Royse in his book entitled Scribal Habits in Early Greek New Testament Papyri published by Brill in the New Testament Tools, Studies and Documents series edited by Bart Ehrman. This book can be had for $436.00. Despite the further development of scribal habits, much of what Carson says in this chapter is still relevant today.

I will make one note on the study of scribal habits overall. While there are many things that can be discerned by the habits of scribes, some practices will never be understood fully. Take for example Carson’s commentary on marginal notes.

“Occasionally, honest errors of judgment have led to the introduction of an error. For example, if a scribe accidentally left out a line or a few words, the corrector might put them in the margin. The next scribe who came along and copied this manuscript might reinsert the words into the text at the wrong place. Alternatively, the marginal note may have been a scribe’s comment rather than an integral part of the text; but the scribe who copied that manuscript might well have inserted the note into the new copy he was writing, thus adding something to the text of Scripture that should not be there.”

Carson, D. A.. The King James Version Debate (p. 22). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Notice how Carson employs the words “may” and “might.” This is very important for the layperson to understand if they are not familiar with the way scholars interpret data. What these types of words should signal to everybody is that any statement that is prefaced with “may,” “might,” “probably,” etc. is that the statement is not some established record of fact. That does not mean that using such language is wrong or bad, just that it should be interpreted as what is likely, not what is certain. Scribes did not leave definitive guides to interpreting their annotations and much of what scholars come up with are educated guesses. Again, this practice is not wrong, it is just important to note as it is relevant when discussing with certainty what is in the text of Scripture.

The reason I take note of this is due to the fact that the average person will read this statement and others like it, and take it as a statement of certainty as to what is occurring. Because the scribes who inserted words in to margins do not offer explanation as to what the marginal note is or why it is there, the scholars must use “may haves” and “might bes” to speculate what exactly those marginal notes are. This is an accepted practice in every discipline of scholarship where the data does not offer certainty. It is a responsible practice, though Christians should be aware that any statement of certainty issued on top of the premise of a “might be” is severely irresponsible from a scholarly perspective. This practice is quite common among Critical Text apologists, so I wanted to make note of it here. If the goal is determining the text of Scripture with certainty, then statements prefaced by “may bes” and “might bes” are not adequate to do furnish that goal.

What Carson does practically in this chapter is assure his reader that despite the errors that he is describing, there is no cause for worry.

“Before taking the discussion further, I should pause and set at rest the troubled concern of anyone who, on the basis of what I have written so far, concludes that the manuscript tradition is entirely unreliable, or that we can not really be certain of any of it. There is no need for such rigorous pessimism.”

Carson, D. A.. The King James Version Debate (p. 24). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Based on what Carson has said, he is correct in making this statement. The problem with this statement is with the scholarship that informs this statement. If the situation were as simple as correcting errors with a complete set of manuscripts, then there is no issue at all with what Carson says here. The problem is that there is not a complete extant record to draw from and ultimately much of, if not all of the conclusions made by textual scholars end up being prefaced with “may,” “might,” “likely, ” and “probably.” Dan Wallace makes a nearly identical argument when he presents the scenario as a spectrum between radical skepticism and absolute certainty. I address this topic in further depth frequently on my blog, but this brief survey of quotations should help my reader understand the thin foundation Carson’s statement is built upon.

The last note I will make on this chapter is regarding Carson’s sources. In this chapter, Carson quotes Metzger on the topic, which should inform us that what we are going to find is essentially the condensed thoughts of Metzger. This is an important observation as it gives the reader an idea of the school of thinking Carson is drawing from.

Conclusion

This chapter is essentially a brief summary of the types of scribal errors described by Metzger. There isn’t a lot to comment on here, other than the references to Metzger inform the reader the school of thought behind Carson’s thinking. If the reader wanted to do further studies on the material in this chapter, they could pick up a copy of The Text of the New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration which is the text referenced by Carson and the standard textbook in most seminaries on the topic. Bart Ehrman co-edited this textbook, which might be an important detail for some readers. This book is still recommended as introductory material on textual criticism by current scholars such as Dr. Peter Gurry and Dr. Elijah Hixson.