Book Review: The King James Version Debate – Preface

Introduction

Recently I was asked what I thought of DA Carson’s The King James Version Debate in a comment on my blog. I have not read it, so I thought I would purchase a copy and do a chapter by chapter review like I did for Mark Ward’s Authorized. The reason I initially did not read this small book was largely due to the fact that it was written in 1978 and in many ways cannot represent the current thought of New Testament Textual Criticism. Despite this reality, this book is still used as a resource and many people’s understanding of the conversation is comprised of the material in this book. For that reason, this series should serve not only as an analysis, but also demonstrate to my reader the ways that trends in New Testament Textual Criticism have changed in 40 years. All quotations in this series will be taken from the Kindle edition. In this introductory article I will be giving an overview of the occasion, audience, goal, and organization of The King James Version Debate.

Occasion for Writing This Volume

Carson begins his work by explaining the occasion for his writing it.

“This little book is not the sort of thing I like to write. Yet for a variety of reasons I have been called upon again and again to say something about English versions of the Bible; and it has therefore been impressed on me repeatedly that a short volume on the subject, written at an easy level, was sorely needed.”

Carson, D. A.. The King James Version Debate (p. 7). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

The purpose of this volume is to address growing concerns over modern Bible versions, specifically in the context of the “sizable and vocal body of opinion that defends the King James Version (KJV) as the best English version now extant” (9).

Scope and Audience of This Volume

According to Carson, this book is not meant to be an exhaustive treatise on textual criticism, but rather an accessible look at the discussion at large.

“The present slender volume is not an exhaustive treatise. It is not even a rapid survey of modern English translations of the Bible. That sort of book has already been written. Rather, these pages are given over to an easy introduction to two things: biblical textual criticism, that branch of biblical study which examines and correlates the manuscripts from which our English Bibles are translated; and some of the principles upon which translations are made. Moreover, with the possible exception of the appendix, this book aims at being minimally technical.”

Carson, D. A.. The King James Version Debate (p. 10). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

This volume should be treated as an entry point into the discussion aimed at Christians who perhaps haven’t had any exposure to textual criticism or the Bible version discussion.

Stated Goal of This Work

After identifying his intended audience, Carson goes on to state his goal for writing The King James Version Debate.

“It is designed for students, pastors, and laymen who have no personal knowledge of the primary literature, but who find themselves influenced by the writings of the Trinitarian Bible Society and parallel groups, and do not know where to turn to find a popular rebuttal.”

Carson, D. A.. The King James Version Debate (p. 10). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

So then we can take this book to be an a) entry level look at textual criticism and translation methodology b) aimed at students, pastors, and laymen who haven’t studied textual criticism c) with the goal of providing a popular rebuttal to groups such as the Trinitarian Bible Society.

Organization of This Work

Carson organizes this work into two parts made up of 9 chapters which I will list below.

Part 1

  1. The Early Circulation of the New Testament
  2. Kinds of Errors in the New Testament Manuscripts
  3. Text-Types
  4. Some Criteria for Making Textual Choices
  5. Origins of the Textus Receptus
  6. Modern Defense of the Byzantine Text-Type
  7. Fourteen Theses

Part 2

8. Preliminary Considerations

9. Some Thoughts on Translating Scripture

10. Conclusion

Conclusion

I have not provided any analysis of Carson’s book in this introductory article because I will be doing a chapter-by-chapter review in the upcoming days. Initially, I can say that much of what Carson says in this work is dated and likely should not be used today. That being said, his approach is far more respectable than that of James White and Mark Ward and I look forward to handling Carson’s work in the same manner that he handles the subject. DA Carson is a well respected scholar within conservative Evangelicalism, which means there are many out there who still understand the topic in the same way as he did at the time of writing this book. Overall, it may not be worth the time to do such an in depth review of a book that is over 40 years old, but it is still sold in Church book stores, so I’m sure somebody will benefit from it.

No, The KJV Translators Would Not Be Okay With the ESV

Framing the Argument

One of the most common pieces of misinformation is the belief that the KJV translators would be okay with the form of our modern bibles. I see this claim made all the time on the internet, so I figured I’d address it here. The argument is first framed in terms of “KJV Onlyism,” by which is meant people who only use the KJV. This includes everybody who reads a KJV regardless of the reason they do so. Then it moves on to quote the KJV translators, who do indeed praise the work of other translations that they consulted when creating the KJV. The argument concludes by saying that because the KJV recognized other translations as valid, they would not be KJV Onlyists. So far, the argument is valid. It is a low-tier argument against people who think the KJV translators believed they were re-inspired while creating the KJV. The problem is that this argument, as I have seen it, is used to then say that the KJV translators and Christians during that time would have accepted modern translations such as the ESV, NIV, or NASB.

If you read the above argument, you will notice a serious flaw once it is applied to justify the use of modern translations from the words of the KJV translators. Just because the KJV translators were fine with other translations available to them at the time, does not at all mean they would be fine with an ESV, or any other modern translation for that matter. That would require actually understanding what these men believed about Scripture and applying that to translations such as the ESV, NASB, and NIV. It is illogical, a non-sequitur, to say that because the KJV translators appreciated other translations, which they did, that they would then appreciate the translations that were made well after their time. All the argument has set forth is that they were not “KJV Onlyists,” which as far as I’m concerned isn’t exactly controversial or in any way compelling against the use of the KJV. Most “KJV Onlyists” fall into the category of believing that the KJV is simply made from the correct text, and is the best translation of that text. I’m sure the KJV translators were happy with their work as well, for what it’s worth. The whole world certainly was, and in large part still is.

The Argument and its Refutation

You may disagree with the claim that the KJV is the best available translation, but the argument that the KJV translators weren’t “KJV Onlyists” is utterly irrelevant to the claim that the KJV is the best available translation today or that the KJV translators and those that came after would have read a modern translation.

This is why I severely dislike the arguments produced by the Critical Text crowd. In the first place, the argument smuggles in an overly broad and intentionally vague term – “KJV Onlyism.” Then it asserts that the KJV translators would not fit into this category of “KJV Onlyist.” At this point, there hasn’t been anything particularly controversial set forth. The problem is what comes next.

This same argument, which has already started and ended, is miraculously applied to assert that because the translators were not “KJV Onlyists,” they would be perfectly happy reading an ESV, NASB, NIV, MSG, etc. This simply does not follow and is by no means a refutation of any form of “KJV Onlyism.” One could easily say, “The KJV translators didn’t know and couldn’t have known at the time what they were doing.” There, argument refuted. Even if we assume that we are talking to somebody that follows after Ruckman or Gipp, you have still produced a bad argument.

The Hidden Argument and its Refutation

In order to make the leap that because the KJV translators weren’t “KJV Onlyists” they would read modern translations, you would actually have to present a separate argument that supports the premise that the KJV translators would be happy with the text and translation of modern Bibles. This argument has not been made and cannot be made, because they wouldn’t.

They would not read a Bible without the ending of Mark or the Pericope Adulterae. They would not read a Bible that pulls from the Vatican manuscript every time it disagrees with the Received Text. In what world would men read such texts, who wrote that only the “enemies of the faith” performed such surgery on the text of Scripture? The argument is so remarkably absurd and anachronistic it bewilders me. This argument supposes that men who would battle for the authenticity of 1 John 5:7 would adopt Bibles that excluded far less controversial passages such as Acts 8:37 and Mark 16:9-20.

Unlike what is chronicled in the textual-criticism-fan-fiction that is The King James Only Controversy, the reason Erasmus included the Comma Johanneum is that he feared nobody would read it if he excluded it. It is likely that the only reason they are making such an argument is due to the fact that scholars also make this argument, not by any supporting evidence from the historical record.

As we commented on before, the argument that the KJV translators would not be “KJVO” is irrelevant and bad. The issue is the severe logical disconnect that happens afterwards when respectable men make the ridiculous claim that not only would the ESV last more than five minutes in the halls of Westminster in the 17th century, but that they would put down their King James for it. I challenge anybody to try and substantiate that claim. What most people do not realize is that the Reformed and Post Reformation divines would have written treatises against the ESV, because they did so for far less error than the ESV contains. The argument the Critical Text advocates are looking for is that they believe the translators of the KJV, the Reformed, and the Post-Reformed were wrong about their Scriptural convictions. That is a perfectly acceptable argument that one could try and substantiate. But to say that these men, who wrote treatises over far less, would actually adopt a modern translation is incredibly obtuse.

Conclusion

One might argue that with “newer and better” data the King James translators, Reformed, and those who came after wouldn’t hold such convictions, but that again is another argument, and a hypothetical one at that. What we have is solid historical evidence that the KJV translators, the Reformed, and the Post Reformed would not have accepted a Bible that excludes the passages that modern Bibles exclude. They even comment on the lack of quality of the manuscript, Codex Vaticanus, that the modern Bibles are generally based off of! Not only that, but the general opinion that these men held was that manuscripts that excluded such passages as Mark 16:9-20 were produced by enemies of the faith or perhaps careless copyists. So the argument that our data would have impressed them enough to change their mind is based on a smattering of incomplete manuscripts that looked just like the ones they often critiqued quite harshly.

I’ll end by quoting John Owen, who I think can be said to represent the orthodox view of the time well.

“(9.)Let them also be removed from the pretense, which carry their own convictions along with them that they are spurious, either,[…] Arise out of copies apparently corrupted, like that of Beza in Luke, and that in the Vatican boasted of by Huntley the Jesuit, which Lucas Brugensis affirms to have been changed by the Vulgar Latin, and which was written and corrected, as Erasmus says, about the [time of the] council of Florence, when an agreement was patched up between the Greeks and Latins; or, (10.) Are notoriously corrupted by the old heretics, as 1 John 5:7.”

] John Owen, The Works of John Owen, ed. William H. Goold, vol. 16 (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, n.d.), 366–367.

Sure, let’s set forth the absurd opinion that men who considered the form of modern bibles akin to those “notoriously corrupted by the old heretics” would have been just fine reading an ESV because they were fine with reading multiple Bibles. This is not a serious argument, and nobody that takes themselves seriously should make it.

The problem for most “KJV Onlyists” is not that Bibles exist other than the KJV. Sure, there is definitely a subset of people who we can all agree are in error that fall into the category of “KJVO,” but this argument isn’t just directed at them. The problem that the average KJV reader has is that modern translations have issues first with the underlying text. A modern translator could produce a translation that is as beautiful as the King James and the problem would still be there. That is not to mention that there are many translations that are simply not worth the paper they are printed on, even if you accept the base text as valid. There is a reason modern scholars advocate for reading all the translations, because none of them get it 100% right.

The only reason I can possibly imagine for this argument becoming so widespread is a long pattern of men intentionally misrepresenting the views of the Christian people during and after the time the KJV was produced. If you take anybody as your source for textual criticism and translation who makes this argument seriously, I would consider finding a new source of information, because people who make such claims are severely underinformed. The historical record shows, that even if the KJV had not attained such uniform adoption and perhaps some other translation rose to the top, the people of God at the time the KJV was translated would still reject modern translations. So if you wish to make the argument that the KJV translators weren’t “KJVO,” continue doing so I suppose. Just know it’s not particularly convincing and it certainly doesn’t support the use of modern translations.

Ruckman & the Critical Text: Theological Cousins

Introduction

When people hear the term “King James Onlyism,” there are a number of definitions that might come to mind. Some think of the version of King James Onlyism which believes that the Bible didn’t exist until 1611 and that the English King James was immediately inspired. This is often called “Ruckmanite” KJVO, or something similar. Others might think of somebody who only reads the KJV due to the lack of quality of modern translations or somebody who simply prefers the KJV. On my blog I rarely address Ruckmanite King James Onlyism because I personally have never talked to somebody who believes after Ruckman or Gipp. If people weren’t constantly bringing him up, I probably would not have even heard of it from anybody in real life.

Recently I was talking to a brother who lives in Tennessee, who told me that it is a pretty serious problem where he lives, which made me realize I’ve never really addressed it. In this article, I’d like to examine the theology of this position and critique it by comparing it theologically to the Critical Text position. One of the major issues with this discussion is that the Modern Critical Text apologists cannot seem to bring themselves to make the proper category distinction between the Traditional Text position and Ruckmanite KJVO, so I will demonstrate in this article that it is actually the Critical Text position and Ruckmanite KJVO that are similar, not the TR position. Perhaps this will even demonstrate to the Ruckmanite that their theology is quite liberal in reality. In this article, I am using the term “Ruckmanite” to describe those who believe that the Bible was re-inspired in the English King James Version (double inspiration) and who reject the authority of the Hebrew and Greek texts over the KJV as a result of that doctrine.

The Similarities between the Modern Critical Text and Ruckmanite KJVO

Interestingly enough, the only thing that Ruckmanite KJVO and Traditional Text advocates share is their use of the King James Bible, and even then, some Traditional Text guys read the NKJV, MEV, or Geneva Bible. The Ruckmanite and the Modern Critical Text (CT) advocate actually have a lot more in common than a Ruckmanite and Traditional Text advocate. I am not saying that the theology of the CT and Ruckman are exactly the same, just that they share a serious overlap in the doctrinal core of their respective positions.

First, both the CT proponent and the Ruckmanite reject that the Bible was providentially preserved in the Hebrew and Greek. The CT proponent says that the Bible has fallen away, or perhaps was stashed in the desert in Egypt and needs to be reconstructed. There is no way to adhere to the WCF or LBCF 1.8 as a Critical Text advocate unless we redefine 1.8 in a Warfieldian way. Alternatively, the Ruckmanite will say that the Bible didn’t officially exist until 1611. While each camp arrives at extremely different conclusions, both accept the premise that the Bible was not handed down perfectly in the original manuscripts. See this quote from Dr. Andrew Naselli in his widely read How to Understand and Apply the New Testament.

“The Bible’s inerrancy does not mean that copies of the original writings or translations of those copies are inerrant. Copies and translations are inerrant only to the extent that they accurately represent the original.”

Andrew Naselli. How to Understand and Apply the New Testament. 43.

The Ruckmanite would agree that the the copies and translations of the copies of the original are not inerrant. They disagree with Naselli in the fact that they believe the KJV is the only inerrant Bible, whereas Naselli believes the Bible is only inerrant where it can be proven to be original (which is the standard view of inerrancy set forth by the Chicago Statement, article X). So both camps say that the copies that were handed down are not providentially preserved, whereas the Traditional Text advocate believes as Turretin did, that the original writings are represented by the apographs, or copies.

“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.

Second, both the CT proponent and the Ruckmanite are okay with treating translations as authoritative. The CT scholars use the Septuagint as authoritative above the original Hebrew, whereas the Ruckmanite views the KJV to be authoritative over the Hebrew and Greek. Even though the extant versions of the Septuagint cannot be proven to represent the original, these versions are used to correct the Hebrew of the Old Testament. Both, due to the first belief that God did not providentially preserve His Word in the original Greek and Hebrew, are perfectly fine treating a translation as authoritative over the original text.

While the doctrine of inerrancy as set forth by the CT advocate may sound different than the view of Ruckman, it really is quite similar. Since there is no mechanism of textual criticism that can demonstrate an extant copy or translation of a copy to “accurately represent the original,” the only thing that remains is the belief that the translation is more authoritative than the Hebrew original. The CT does this in many places in the Old Testament. If you were to inspect the footnotes of the Old Testament in a 2016 ESV for example, there are readings on nearly every page that are taken from translations such as the Latin, Syriac, and Greek over and above the Hebrew. This again is quite different from the Traditional Text view, which aligns with the Westminster Confession of Faith and the London Baptist Confession of Faith 1689.

“The Old Testament in Hebrew (which was the native language of the people of God of old), and the New Testament in Greek (which, at the time of the writing of it, was most generally known to the nations), being immediately inspired by God, and, by His singular care and providence, kept pure in all ages, are therefore authentical; so as, in all controversies of religion, the Church is finally to appeal unto them. But, because these original tongues are not known to all the people of God, who have right unto, and interest in the Scriptures, and are commanded, in the fear of God, to read and search them, therefore they are to be translated in to the vulgar language of every nation unto which they come, that, the Word of God dwelling plentifully in all, they may worship Him in an acceptable manner; and, through patience and comfort of the Scriptures, may have hope.”

The Westminster Confession of Faith. 1.8.

The Traditional Text view is that the authentic Scriptures are the Hebrew and Greek, which have been providentially kept pure in all ages, so the concept of taking a translation over the original does not exist in the TR view. Both the CT proponent and Ruckmanite appeal to translations as authoritative over the original. While the CT advocate may offer lip service to the Reformed doctrine above, they contradict themselves when they take the LXX or any other translation as more authoritative than the Hebrew or even Greek (2 Peter 3:10). The Ruckmanite is simply more transparent about the practice. At face value, the CT advocate and the TR advocate may sound like they are saying the same thing about translations being authoritative insofar as they represent the original, but there isn’t a concept of an available original in the CT position. In order for Article X of the Chicago Statement to actually mean something, there needs to be a defined original that can be used as a final authority. Further, the CT scholars reject this in practice when they place readings in the text over the original languages from other translations such as the Latin, Syriac, and LXX. In this sense, they share far more in common with the Ruckmanite when it comes to Bibliology than the TR proponent.

Conclusion

In both the case of the CT proponent and the Ruckmanite, the core belief is that the Bible was not providentially preserved in the original Greek and Hebrew. The CT advocate applies this doctrine by enthusiastically supporting the ongoing effort to reconstruct the Bible, whereas the Ruckmanite applies the very same doctrine by saying that the Bible was finally inspired in the KJV in 1611. It is the same doctrine with two different conclusions. It is the same problem answered in two very different ways. The tactic that the CT camp employs is to focus on the the fact that both the Ruckmanite and the TR believer read the KJV and not the theological core and practical application of that doctrine. The CT believer looks at the Traditional Text advocate and the Ruckmanite, sees that they both use the KJV, and concludes they are the same. This is a massive blunder.

The important distinction occurs in the doctrinal substance of both positions, and when considered, the CT advocate and the Ruckmanite have much more in common than the Traditional Text proponent. Both the CT supporter and Ruckmanite believe that the inerrant text was not transmitted in the copies. Both the CT supporter and the Ruckmanite believe that translations can be more authoritative than the original language texts as a result of the first belief. The Traditional Text advocate affirms against both. The only similarity between the Ruckmanite and the TR advocate is that they use the KJV, and this isn’t even true in every case as many TR believers read the NKJV, MEV, or perhaps the Geneva Bible.

There is a reason some have appropriately labeled the CT position as “Reformed Ruckmanism,” because there is serious overlap in the theology of both positions. The overlap is so significant, that it is perplexing that the CT apologist even takes issue with Ruckmanite KJVO at all. They slam the Ruckmanite for viewing a translation as more authoritative than the original language texts, but they do the very same thing with the Latin, Syriac, and LXX. There is no theological reason for a CT advocate to object to Ruckman. The only place they really disagree is in the severely incorrect answer Ruckman has to their shared problem.

Ultimately, the CT proponent has a playground tier argument against the Ruckmanite. They called “dibs” on correcting the original with a translation, and don’t like that the Ruckmanites aren’t respecting the authority of “dibs.” Ironically, the Traditional Text camp is the only position that consistently critiques both positions, despite being labeled as “KJVO” by CT apologists. As I have noted before on this blog, the Modern Critical Text position has yet to explain how their practices can be consistent theologically with Scripture. That is what happens when you focus on textual data and variants all day and fail to stop for a second to think about doctrine.

The Absurdity of Anti-KJV Rhetoric

Introduction

There are a number of reasons people choose a Bible translation. For those in the Modern Critical Text crowd, it’s often the same logic that caused many people to vote for Joe Biden – because he wasn’t the other guy. In the same way, the modern axiom seems to be, “So as long as it’s not the KJV it’s fine.” In fact, this is exactly the logic found in mainstream, “Reformed” New Testament exegesis textbooks such as How to Understand and Apply the New Testament authored by Andrew Naselli. All translations are permissible, even the Message, so as long as it’s not the KJV. The Living Bible even has more to offer than the King James, according to Naselli!

This, in my opinion, is astronomically stupid. There are plenty of reasons to believe that the King James is the best available translation without believing that the English of the King James was re-inspired. This is true, even if the modern scholars and armchair warriors disagree. In this article, I will examine two common arguments made by anti-KJV Christians to see if what they say actually makes any sense.

Reading One Bible Version is Bad

This is a rather common complaint from the Modern Critical Text crowd. They suppose that being an “onlyist” is a bad thing. Yet when we look at this claim simply, it doesn’t make all that much sense. There are plenty of people who read the NIV and only the NIV. Same goes with the ESV and the NASB. They do this because they prefer one translation over another. Despite this being quite common, I’ve never seen a Gospel Coalition article condemning people for preferring the ESV or people writing books about people who only read the ESV. What this reveals is that the issue, at least when considered broadly, is not with people only reading one translation, the problem is with the KJV itself. So when somebody says, “I just have an issue with people who only read the KJV because they believe all of the other translations are bad,” they are really saying that they just don’t like that people read the KJV. It’s okay if somebody only reads the ESV, just not the KJV.

The problem is not with the “Onlyist” part of KJVO, it’s the “KJV” part of KJVO. Ironically, when I was in the critical text crowd, I constantly saw people bickering, especially on behalf of the NASB, about how their choice translation is the BEST translation. This may be news for some people, but it’s okay to have an opinion about which translation is best. It demonstrates that somebody cares about the words on the page of their Bible. It’s actually more concerning, in my opinion, when people give so little concern about the words in their Bible that they actually think all Bibles are made equal. This is drawn to its absurd end when respectable scholars such as Andrew Naselli defend the MSG in a textbook marketed to Reformed Christians. If somebody says it is more profitable to read the MSG than the KJV, what would you say the real issue is? If Naselli and the critical text advocate’s only issue is “Onlyism,” I’d like to see a chapter dedicated in the next “Reformed” textbook about why “ESV Onlyism” is heresy. Of course they won’t because the issue isn’t with “Onlyism,” it’s with the KJV.

KJV Onlyism is Bad Because it Rejects Modern Translations

The premise of this argument assumes that modern translations are not bad, or that somebody is not allowed to believe that modern translations are bad. This again, is absurd. The scholars who claim to specialize in this topic, such as Mark Ward and Dan Wallace, admit as much when they say there are no perfectly accurate modern translations. They write this off as the inevitability of sinners having produced them, but secular scholars accurately translate things all the time. Modern Scholars talk about modern translations like a mother talks lovingly about her child who got held back two years in grade school. “He’s gets the answers wrong a lot, but he has a huge heart and has a lot to offer in other areas.”

If the modern Bible translations, by admission of the scholars, get it wrong a lot, why is it so absurd when people choose something else? If the top scholars tell Christians that reading all modern translations is profitable because none of them get it 100% right, is it possible that the “KJVO” crowd might be onto something? Who am I kidding though, it might pain a modern critical text advocate to be overly charitable to people who read the KJV or admit that a gap-toothed KJVO might be correct about something. This again highlights that the real issue that the modern critical text advocate has is with the KJV and nothing else.

Further, people that don’t read the KJV reject modern translations all the time. There is a reason John MacArthur made his own translation rather than subjecting himself to the NASB 2020. Is John MacArthur now a Legacy Bible onlyist? Should somebody write treatises against him too? I’d like to see Mark Ward issue a “sincere” offer to John MacArthur like he did to Trinitarian Bible Society to convince him to change his ways. Since rejecting translations is common in the modern critical text crowd, it seems reasonable to say that rejecting Bible translations isn’t the unforgiveable sin of somebody who reads the KJV. As one would expect, reading the KJV is the unforgiveable sin of the person who reads the KJV.

Conclusion

Whenever I interact with people who think they doing the world a service by eradicating “KJV Onlyists” from the face of the earth, it always comes to light that they aren’t actually talking about “KJV Onlyism.” I run a somewhat-popular blog in the “KJV Only” world and I have only ever had one person in support of Peter Ruckman comment on my blog or YouTube. Ultimately, the term “KJVO” is just another tool for people to bludgeon people on the internet. If you actually make somebody define what they mean by “KJVO,” they are simply talking about people who read the King James. The great sin of only reading one translation, despite being something that many people do, is only wrong when that one translation is the KJV.

I have pointed this out before on this blog, but the “KJV Onlyists” seem to be the only people that are actually paying attention to what the scholars are saying. Scholars are praised for saying the same exact thing that “King James Onlyists” are saying. The “KJV Onlyist” will say that all modern translations have error, and that is why they read the KJV. Dan Wallace will say the same thing and he gets invited to speak in your churches and seminaries. So what makes the “KJV Onlyist” different than Dan Wallace? Dan Wallace doesn’t read the KJV. The problem that modern critical text advocates have is not with “KJV Onlyism,” it is with the KJV.



“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.

The real problem is when somebody believes that the theology behind the above Dan Wallace quote is less dangerous than believing than God has preserved His Word and the KJV is an accurate translation of it. Perhaps we will see some scholars writing treatises about that in the future, but I won’t hold my breath.

1 John 5:7 and Unbelief

Introduction

I recently read a thorough and fair defense of the Johannine Comma (1 John 5:7) which reminded me of how the approach of many Christians in the modern church is absolutely backwards when it comes to Scripture. In today’s world of Modern Textual Criticism, Christians seem to take a backwards approach when seeking to determine if they should accept a textual variant as authentic. The method employed by the author of the linked article demonstrates, in my opinion, how textual data should be viewed, so please read the article prior to this one. In this article, I will comment on the two approaches to textual variation and conclude by explaining why I believe the approach taken by the exemplar author is correct.

Method 1: Modern Textual Criticism

I have spent a great deal of time and word count (222,197 words to be exact) on this blog explaining the methods and theology of the Modern Textual Critics and advocates. I have pointed out, using the words of the textual scholars, that there is no Modern Critical Text, there is no end in sight to the current effort, and adopting the Modern Critical Text means also to reject providential preservation. In all these words, I have yet to describe the approach of the Modern Textual Critic and advocate.

When a defender, advocate, or scholar of the Modern Critical Text approaches a place of textual variation, they do so by first questioning its authenticity. Practically speaking, a variant is to only be questioned if the scholars who produced the NA/UBS platforms have called it into question. That is not to say that others in history haven’t called such texts into question prior to the 20th century, just that these questions are exemplified in the modern critical texts. The reason this is problematic is that there is no consistent application of this skepticism applied to every line of Scripture.

See, the epistemological foundation for the Modern Textual Critic, according to Dan Wallace and his colleagues, is that we don’t have what the authors originally wrote, and even if we did, we wouldn’t know it.

“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.”

Dan Wallace. Myths and Mistakes in New Testament Textual Criticism. xii.

This kind of foundation cannot conveniently stop at our favorite three passages. It must apply uniformly across the whole text of the New Testament. If 200 years of textual transmission which saw such a great change to the text from the “Alexandrian” text form to the “Byzantine” text form, then the first 200 years of textual transmission, of which we have basically zero extant evidence for, could also be equally or more significant. That is to say, our 200 year gap in the manuscript data in the first 200 years of the church is enough of a gap to call into question every single passage of the New Testament. This is the logical end of the Critical Text position. There isn’t a single line of Scripture that can be said to be 100% authentic to the pen of the apostolic writers, according to the Modern Critical Text advocate. This is further evidenced by the fact that there is not a single textual scholar or apologist that will lay claim to any specific percentage or list of authentic passages.

So when an advocate of the Modern Critical Text challenges a textual variant, they do so selectively and arbitrarily. Once they have identified a passage, verse, or word that they do not believe original, the goal is to then “disprove” that the reading was authentic. The text is on trial, and the Modern Critical Text advocate is the prosecutor. It is not a question of “Is this text authentic?”, it is a question of, “Why is this text inauthentic and how did it get there?” If they were consistent, they would apply this same approach to every line of Holy Scripture, and have no evidential reason to accept one reading or another. The evidential foundation for their approach is based upon manuscripts that are dated 200 years or more after the New Testament was written without any supporting evidence that those texts date back to the Apostles. This is the fatal flaw in Modern Textual Criticism – there is nothing that ties their text back to the original, and there never will be. That is why approach matters.

Method 2: Preservationist

In contrast to the first method, the Preservationist perspective approaches places of textual variation with the assumption that the original has been preserved, and it can be easily discerned. The preservation of Scripture did not stop with Codex Vaticanus, it carried on through the middle ages and into the Reformation when the world could finally print and mass distribute texts. There is a reason the vast majority of extant manuscripts do not look like Vaticanus or the Modern Critical Text. The church, through transmission and by God’s providence, kept the text pure. Therefore, if a text made it to the mass distribution era of the church, it had been passed along by the era that came before it. Since the church was by and large divided into two represented by the East and West, the combination of these texts yielded the original. That is why the advent of the printing press, the fall of Constantinople, and the Protestant Reformation is such a significant time in church history. It was the first time the church had authentic texts that were being used in one place with the ability to combine them and distribute them church-wide.

So then, to the Preservationist, the question is not, “Is this text authentic?”, it is, “Why did the people of God understand this to be authentic in time and space?” Thus, the burden of proof is not placed on a smattering of early manuscripts that have been in favor for the last 200 years. The Preservationist’s chief effort then is to support the text that has been handed down, rather than question its validity at every place disagreeable to the Vatican Codex. The assumption is that God preserved the text, and we have it. It is a matter of defending what is in our hands, rather than reconstructing what is not in our hands. Once you accept the premise that the Bible has fallen into such disarray that it must be reconstructed, there is not a single passage of Scripture that cannot be called into question. Further, there is no way to validate that any conclusion on a given text speaks conclusively about the original text itself. That is why the current effort is focused on the initial text, not the original. What can be proved is limited to hundreds of years after the Apostles, and even then, “proved” is much stronger language than textual scholars are comfortable with.

1 John 5:7 is a perfect example where the two approaches come to two separate conclusions. Since 1 John 5:7 is thinly represented in the extant manuscript data, the difference in conclusion on the text is really a matter of approach. The Modern Critical Text crowd has already admitted that even if 1 John 5:7 was original, they wouldn’t know it, so any conclusion jumping off from that point is irrelevant. Nothing they determine can actually be concluded by textual data, and so they engage in story telling. “The passage was brought up from a footnote. It was added to bolster the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity.” Yet they do so without any direct evidence claiming this is what happened. Strangely enough, these critics also conveniently reject any evidence offering explanation as to why a passage is not in certain manuscripts. The bias in Modern Textual Criticism to favor manuscripts that have been historically rejected is strong.

If we approach this text from a preservationist perspective, we see that the wording is referenced by Tertullian (2nd century), Origen (3rd Century), Athanasius (4th Century), Priscillian (4th Century), Augustine (4th Century), and directly quoted by Cyprian (3rd Century). The direct quotations can be found in this article. This is not the only support for the passage, but it is enough for the preservationist to support 1 John 5:7 as original. It is enough to defend the text we have in hand, and the text handed down to us from the Reformation era. Accepting the Johannine Comma is not an issue of evidence, because the evidence exists. It is a matter of Bibliology and approach.

Just because a manuscript is surviving today does not mean it is the only manuscript to ever have existed. Textual scholars and apologists carry on about how many Bibles were destroyed during times of persecution and war and fail to acknowledge that those destroyed manuscripts could very well have contained the passages they reject today. The abundance of quotes and references to the passage, along with the reception of the text by our Protestant forefathers informs us that manuscripts with the passage existed, we just don’t have them today. Paradoxically, this is not enough for Modern Critical Text advocates to adjust how they approach textual data. The fact that we do not have an abundance of handwritten manuscripts in 2021 should not be a surprise, seeing as handwritten manuscripts of the Bible haven’t been produced or used in over 400 years. The Protestants and those that came after believed 1 John 5:7 to be original, and even claimed that authentic copies in their day had the passage. They even recognize that there was a time where manuscripts did not have the passage. See Francis Turretin commenting on the three major variants still debated today.

“There is no truth in the assertion that the Hebrew edition of the Old Testament and the Greek edition of the New Testament are said to be mutilated; nor can the arguments used by our opponents prove it. Not the history of the adulteress, for although it is lacking in he Syriac version, it is found in all the Greek Manuscripts. Not 1 John 5:7, for although some formerly called it into question and heretics now do, yet all the Greek copies have it…Not Mark 16, which may have been wanted in several copies in the time of Jerome (as he asserts); but now it occurs in all, even in the Syriac version, and is clearly necessary to complete the history of the resurrection of Christ”

Francis Turretin. Institutes of Elenctic Theology. Volume 1. 115.

See, an honest scholar would admit that the position of the Protestant and Post-Reformation church was that of the Preservationist. It was that of the TR advocate. Behind closed doors, many prominent modern scholars admit this, they just don’t like it. For more quotations on the passage from historical Protestant theologians, see this article here.

Conclusion

So I argue here in this article that there is a stark difference in approach between the Modern Critical Text advocate and the Preservationist and that the difference in approach is far more significant than the textual data itself. Those in the Modern Critical Text camp are determined to answer “Why is this not Scripture and how did it get in the text?”, whereas the Preservationist says, “This is in our text, how do we support it?” The interesting thing is, that if the Critical Text advocate took the approach of a Preservationist, they would find that the burden of proof they accept for many passages would be enough to accept John 7:53-8:11, Mark 16:9-20, and 1 John 5:7. The issue is not evidence, it is approach.

If you approach a text with the belief that it is not Scripture as the Modern Critical Text crowd does, you will find that it is not Scripture in your eyes. Yet, as with all claims based on extant textual data, there is no warrant to come to any conclusion. That is why the scholars never do. If you approach the text with the belief that it is Scripture, you will find the the evidence to support that claim. Since the belief of the Preservationist is not based on extant data, the extant data is merely a support, not a foundation. The Preservationist recognizes that extant data will never “prove” the Bible. It is a theological position similar to the resurrected Christ. The most important question is not “what evidence do you have?”, it is, “What does the Bible say?” If it is preserved, than the conclusion is that 1 John 5:7 is original. If Scripture is not preserved and needs to be reconstructed, than the conclusion is not only that 1 John 5:7 is inauthentic, but so is all the rest of Scripture. There is nothing conclusive against 1 John 5:7 that cannot also be conclusive against all of the rest of Scripture. This is inevitable considering the significant gap in our extant manuscript data from the apostolic period to the 3rd century.

This is the reality that those who continue to advocate for Modern Textual Criticism do not understand. The Papyri do not give us a complete look at the first 200 years of textual transmission. Not even close. If we use the argument against John 7:53-8:11 from the Papyri against the rest of Scripture, then we lose everything that’s not in the Papyri. For those that do not know much of the Papyri, we essentially wouldn’t have a Bible. If we apply the same approach that the Modern Critical Text advocate applies to 1 John 5:7, there are no texts in the Bible that are safe. If you are tuned into the textual discussion, you know that this is absolutely the case among the elite textual scholars. See this quote from a recent book by Tommy Wasserman and Jennifer Knust on the Pericope Adulterae.

“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 meanings of texts also change”

Knust & Wasserman. To Cast the First Stone. 15,16.

Do not be mistaken, Christian, the scholars of the Modern Critical Text cannot “prove” any passage, verse, or word of Scripture authentic. Not only that, they openly say they cannot. So then it is a matter of approach, which is determined by theology. What you believe about Scripture will determine what Bible you have in your hands. Do you believe the Bible needs to be reconstructed? You will have in your hands a text that nobody believes represents the original text. Do you believe that the Bible is preserved? You will have in your hands a Bible that was produced by men who believed it was the original text. It is that simple.



Arguments Against John 7:53-8:11 That Prove a Man a Fool

Introduction

It is certainly in vogue to reject portions of Scripture, especially within what might be called “conservative” or “reformed” Christianity. I use quotes because there is nothing conservative or reformed about this practice. By definition this is quintessential progressivism. The defining qualities of conservatism as it pertains to any discipline is that it is averse to change. It seeks to conserve that which has come before it. Additionally, the Reformed Protestant movement was defined by its protest against the Papacy. As it pertains to textual criticism, those that advocate for the modern critical text are quite literally advocating for a text platform that is essentially the Vatican manuscript. So the popular effort of deconstructing the Bible is not only progressive as it seeks to change the text of Scripture based on every new idea, it also establishes its text base from the Vatican manuscript, Codex B. I say this to remind my reader that the apologists for the Critical Text cannot be conservative, and they cannot be Reformed, at least in this area of their theology and practice. It is no surprise then that these same apologists frequently attempt to claim that reconstructionist textual criticism is “conservative” and “it’s what the Reformers would believe if they were alive today!” This is not only unconvincing, but it demonstrates the lack of intellectual integrity of those who make such arguments.

Now, it should be evident that the effort of reconstructing the text of Scripture is a progressive movement, which at face value dismantles much of the credibility of those who seek to defend the critical text. That is to say, that at its premise, those Christians who consider themselves to be orthodox should reject it outright. In this article, I want to further demonstrate the foolishness of this progressive effort by weighing popular arguments against John 7:53-8:11 against what the Pericope Adulterae scholars actually say about the passage.

Show Me the Evidence

Since the chief claim of modern critical text advocates is that the science – or the textual data – supports their claims, I want to begin by providing my reader with what the experts on the Pericope Adulterae actually say. I will use To Cast the First Stone by Dr. Tommy Wasserman and Dr. Jennifer Knust as my source, as that is the most recent and comprehensive look at the current academic consensus on the passage.

“We are therefore left with a conundrum, wanting to know something that cannot be known on the basis of surviving evidence. Still, of this we can be sure: By the fourth century, two different Gospels of John were circulating, one with the pericope adulterae and one without it.”

Knust & Wasserman. To Cast the First Stone. 50. Emphasis mine.

The scholarly opinion then, is that by 301AD, the church had this passage in their manuscripts. Codex Vaticanus is dated between 300-325AD, for reference. The most important point to notice from this quote is that the scholars of the Pericope Adulterae plainly state that the textual evidence is simply inconclusive in terms of determining the originality of John 7:53-8:11. At best, the scholars are left in a paradox in which they can see that the church accepted this pericope as a part of John’s Gospel, but do not know if it was originally there or added later. What they can say is that references to the passage are found in the 3rd century text called the Didascalia.

“In the Didascalia, church leaders are reminded to receive the repentant back into the fold in imitation of Jesus, who did not condemn “she who had sinned” when “elders” brought her before Jesus for judgement. Jesus’s saying, “Go, neither do I condemn you” is quoted, and the circumstances of the episode (men bring a sinning woman before Jesus and ask his opinion on the matter) are identical to what is found in the later Johannine pericope adulterae.”

Ibid. 63

The argument from the papyri is equally thin. P45 (3rd Century), which is a fragmentary copy of John, only retains two pages from John 11. P66 (3rd Century) omits the passage but the scholars note that it is “evident from the scribe’s own attempts at correction, he or she was quite careless when copying” (Ibid. 67). P75 (2nd Century) omits the passage but again the scholars note that the scribe was “preoccupied in communicating the significance of the text over and against an exact fidelity to the exemplar being copied” (Ibid. 68). Dr. Jim Royse notes that, “As a result, the text of this manuscript does not align clearly with any codices of later centuries” (Ibid. 69, footnote 60). The poor quality of these papyri is further demonstrated when compared to other manuscripts using the textual clusters tool on the INTF website. P75 does not share more than 79.1% coherence with any other manuscript, which is lower than the bottom end of what is required to be considered significant in the CBGM. Even so, the scholars conclude that the scribes of P66 and P75 “were wholly unaware of a Johannine pericope adulterae” based on the manuscript witness.

I provided this analysis to my reader for the simple purpose of demonstrating that the textual scholars are unwilling to come to a conclusion on the authenticity of John 7:53-8:11 based on the textual evidence. The official position of the academy is that the story may be a historical fact of history, but the textual evidence is not conclusive to its originality in John and it was likely added at a later date(8). There were manuscripts with it and without it as early as the fourth century, and that is the end of the story as told by textual data.

“It is impossible to pinpoint the moment – or even the century – when the pericope adulterae first became Johannine. Perhaps the writer of the Didascalia knew the passage from John…The lesson of the pericope adulterae as it was circulating in the second and third centuries is not that a foolish interpolator corrupted a previously unspoiled text of John but that sacred texts are preserved by human actors who apply their historically and culturally situated points of view to the texts they copy and interpret…In this sense, the pericope adulterae was always “gospel,” whether or not it was present in the first copies of John.”

Ibid. 95

That is all to say that any person making claims rejecting the authenticity of John on the basis of textual data is out of step with the textual scholars and reaching above their pay grade. What we have from the highest echelon of pericope adulterae scholars is educated speculation when it comes to the originality of this passage to John.

Conclusion

It is evident now that making any sort of conclusive argument against the Pericope Adulterae based on the textual data is a fool’s errand. If the scholars won’t do it, than neither should the theologians, pastors, and apologists of the critical text. To do so is foolish, because only a fool would make such claims based on a handful of shredded papyri. Anybody who attempts to state with certainty that there is any sort of conclusive textual evidence for such a claim has disqualified themselves from honest dialogue. Even if the scholarly consensus is that it the passage is not original to John, it is imperative that we contrast that conclusion with their own words when they say, “We are therefore left with a conundrum, wanting to know something that cannot be known on the basis of surviving evidence.”

In fact, all claims made by the apologists for the critical text should be compared against their foundational statements.

“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.”

Dan Wallace. Myths and Mistakes in New Testament Textual Criticism. xii.

“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 meanings of texts also change”

Knust & Wasserman. To Cast the First Stone. 15,16.

Only a fool would take their cues from such a framework. What Dan Wallace has said is an admission that any claim regarding a passage is simply speculation. The authors of To Cast the First Stone affirm the reality that textual scholars cannot make the conclusive claims that are propagated by the apologists for the critical text. The obvious conclusion that all Christians should come to is that faith is not based in extant evidence. Nobody believes that Christ has died for them because somebody made a convincing case for a literal bodily resurrection. In the same way, nobody believes the Bible to be the Word of God because of a tattered manuscript dated 200 years after Christ died.

If there is anything that my critical text friends need to realize, it’s that the champions of the discipline simply do not know what was original, and have no way of knowing. They have said it in their own words – directly and indirectly. So to carry on acting like there is any sort of certain argument against passages like the Pericope Adulterae is to consent to being a fool. What benefit is it to your soul, and to the health of the church, to continue attacking this passage, when the chief scholars themselves admit that no such conclusion is possible based on their methodology? There is no reason I can think of for such an effort. It is a fool’s errand, and as a Christian, there are better and more noble things to do than to strip God’s Word of a passage based on inconclusive extant evidence.

The Practical Theology of the Two Textual Positions

Introduction

I have been a Calvinist for about as long as I have been a Christian. At that time, I did not know about Reformed Theology, nor did I call myself Reformed. When I entered the “Reformed” space on the internet via the Reformed Pub, I was introduced to a number of Theological debates. The first two years of my time as a “Reformed” Christian was spent debating various topics that internet Reformedom deems most important. This debate culture led me to believe that being Reformed was mostly an exercise of having a fully developed Theological menu. In essence, you picked out your stance on a list of ten issues, and then debated them online.

This of course is an unfortunate meme of Reformed Theology. When I began reading the English and Dutch Puritans, I realized that the way the divines of old discussed Theology was entirely different than the way modern Reformed Christians discussed Theology. In the first place, many of the pet issues of Internet Reformedom were not even a concern for the post-Reformation and Puritan divines, such as Theonomy. As I got off the internet and onto the writings of the Reformed, I realized one important emphasis that I had completely neglected – practical Theology. In this article, I will be discussing the practical Theology of the Critical Text and Traditional Text. It is important to clarify that I am not talking about the text itself, but the Theology of each text.

The Purpose of Scripture and Theology

Theology is the study of living unto God. In 2 Timothy 3:15-16, God tells His people exactly what Scripture is to be purposed for, “to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Jesus Christ” and to be “profitable for doctrine, reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.” He finishes this thought by saying that this is so “that the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.” In other words, the study of doctrine is to have direct application in every way to practical Christianity. Every line of Theology in the brain of a Christian should also have a place in the heart.

This is the greatest difference between Internet Reformedom and actual Reformed Christianity. Internet Reformedom almost never discusses practical, experiential Christianity. It never emphasizes the practical impact and use of believing various doctrines. According to Internet Reformedom, doctrine is something to be debated and that’s it. This is the case in the discussion of textual criticism as well. Christians spend hours upon hours debating variants without considering what it means to reject a variant. The reality is that the practical application of the Critical Text dogma to the common Christian is absolutely detrimental to Christian practice.

The practice of the Critical Text doctrine diminishes Christian experiential religion in every way imaginable. In private devotion, it teaches that Christians ought to question the text underneath what is written in their translation. It encourages its users to “go back to the Greek” to determine what the Bible “really says.” The English translation must be flawed, and it is up to the reader to find out what the translators “really should have said.” It teaches that somebody who does not know anything about the original languages of the Bible can actually correct those who do know the languages by simply using an online tool. In Theological study, it teaches Christians that textual criticism is the first step to understanding God’s Word. In order to exegete the text you have to decide what the text says first. Christians have to stand over God’s Word first in order to sit under it. This leads to every Christian having a different text, and those that are really learned to have no text at all. In Evangelism, it teaches that Christians must learn textual criticism to have an apologetic to the unbeliever rather than just preaching the Gospel, which is the power of God unto salvation (Romans 1:16). In Ecclesiology, it teaches that every Christian should rejoice in using a different Bible than the person next to them in the pew. Churches are to dance in the chaos that is produced by the “embarrassment of riches” that is our modern Bible situation. Practically, it misdirects and distracts Christians from every aspect of practical, experiential, religion.

The Theology of the Traditional Text is much different than that of the Critical Text. It teaches believers that they can trust what is on the page of their Bible, which is what you would expect from a book that is said to be the “very Word of God.” Learning Greek and Hebrew is not a requirement for the layperson because the languages can and have been translated accurately. It encourages its readers to sit under the Word as a student rather than over it as a critic. It is not up to the person who doesn’t know Greek and Hebrew to determine what the words “really mean” because they couldn’t do it even if they tried. It assumes that a Christian does not need to learn, or pretend to know the original languages in order to access the Scriptures. It allows for churches to share a common Theological vocabulary because they all have the same text. In matters of controversy within the church, the discussion of “which Bible is correct” isn’t relevant because the church is unified on that matter. In Evangelism, there is no call to convince the mind of man that the Bible is the Word of God, because that is not the requirement of Scripture, and is impossible for the unregenerate man in the first place. In preaching the Gospel, the Gospel is preached without any other requirement, as the Scriptures say. The Word of God is accessible, easy to use, and straight forward. The point of reading it is to be taught and refined. The point of studying is not to judge the text, but to be judged by the text. In short, it teaches Christians to trust their Bible, not question it. In every single place, the Traditional Text brings harmony to a church, whereas the Critical Text brings chaos, confusion, and division.

Conclusion

The difference between the practical Theology of the Critical Text and Traditional Text could not be more dramatic. The Critical Text methodology trains skeptics and puffs up the individual while the Traditional Text encourages humility and a teachable spirit. The average Christian does not know Greek and Hebrew, and finding an online lexicon does not change that or give a Christian the ability to provide a “correct” translation. In every case I have a seen a layperson “go back to the Greek,” they are horribly mistaken as to what the Greek actually says and further, incredibly ignorant as to how language works in general. They confuse the text of the Bible rather than providing clarity.

Despite the fact that Critical Text apologists are desperately trying to reframe the modern Bible embarrassment as an “embarrassment of riches,” it constantly causes division. If you’ve ever been in a small group with somebody who reads the NASB you know exactly what I’m talking about. Christians who have actually gone out and preached the Gospel on the street know that the massive number of Bible translations is a common reason people do not trust the Bible. If you’ve ever carried a KJV into a New Calvinist church you know that you will not leave that church without being told to watch the Dividing Line and to buy an ESV. Carrying a KJV into a modern “Reformed” church is as taboo as wearing a Trump hat onto a college campus. Scholars and apologists have made textual criticism a requirement for the average Christian without actually equipping them to answer the difficult questions. They leave them with the apologetic of Dan Wallace, which is to agree with Bart Ehrman and then say, “But that’s not a good reason to be skeptical!”

When a scholar or a pastor imposes the Critical Text methodology on the layperson, they are really just peddling skepticism and chaos. When a scholar or pastor argues against the Traditional text, they are arguing against unity and putting the believer on the same ground as the unbeliever. Every flaw that Critical Text apologists offer as a critique to the Traditional Text is actually a deficiency of the Critical Text. There is no practical application to Christian life and practice within the Critical Text methodology. The scholars admit that they approach the text agnostically, without the input of their Christianity. This is how they teach Christians to approach the Bible as well. Yet, we are supposed to be unabashedly Christian in how we read our Bible. I have spent many words discussing the Theological problems with the Critical Text on this blog, but it is also important to highlight the practical problems as well. Any methodology that teaches Christians to be “scientific” about how they read their Bible has unequivocally missed the mark. As with any area of Theological study, there must be practical application. The practical application of the Critical Text and Traditional Text could not be more different. One methodology teaches Christians to be critics of the Bible, and the other teaches Christians to be students.

The Critical Text Is Never Finished: Why You Should Not Support Textual Criticism

Introduction

There are few facts that should cause Christians to be as skeptical of the critical text as the fact that it will never be finished. In a recent article written by Dr. Jan Krans, he plainly states that this is the case.

“An immediate consequence of this position is that in principle the text-critical task is never finished. Methods can be refined and fresh manuscripts finds can be made. Readers of the New Testament – just as for instance readers of Plato’s works – will have to live with a degree of uncertainty, even more so since there are cases that the available evidence does not allow for firm conclusions.”

I want to make three observations from this quote above which should cause my reader to sincerely question the validity of the effort of modern New Testament textual criticism.

Three Observations

Those in the TR camp have been called many names and have been misrepresented greatly for saying exactly what this Evangelical textual scholar has said in this article, posted October 22, 2020. I have written before that TR advocates listen to the scholars much more closely than those in the critical text camp, because if those in the critical text camp were actually listening, they might be raising the alarm along side of the TR advocates.

If you take the time to listen to the textual scholars, you will realize that they do not have the ability to scrutinize the TR because they do not believe that their methods are even capable of allowing for “firm conclusions” on the text. If their methods cannot do this for their espoused text, why would their methods be able to do so for any other text, such as the TR? The reality is, these scholars can have no more certainty in their conclusions on the readings of the TR as they have for the readings of the critical texts. And it is abundantly clear that they do not have the level of certainty in their own text as they have against the TR.

The first thing to note is that the effort of creating critical texts “will never be finished.” Dr. Krans states that this is the case because “methods can be refined and fresh manuscript finds can be made.” What this means is that the critical text is subject to change based on updated methodologies and new manuscript finds. Pastor Jeff Riddle asked this very question to James White in a recent debate, and White proceeded to insinuate that Riddle was mischaracterizing and misunderstanding the discussion entirely.

The second note is that Dr. Krans compares the work of textual criticism of the New Testament to Plato. TR advocates have been saying that the work of Evangelical text criticism is no different than text criticism of any other ancient body of work for years.

“Textual criticism of the New Testament does not fundamentally differ from that of any other text from Antiquity.”

For those of us that believe in God’s providence and sovereignty over the text of Holy Scripture, this is clearly problematic. The Bible is not the same as any ancient text, and should be treated as such. This is a clear admission that modern textual scholars are not engaging in the same effort as Beza, because Beza treated the effort of textual criticism within the bounds of his Christianity and Theology.

The third and final note is that Dr. Krans states plainly that “the evidence does not allow for firm conclusions.” Once again, those in the TR camp have been saying this for years, and have been met with ridicule and scorn. I have written on this topic at length. Similar to the first two notes, this claim made by TR advocates has been repeatedly and aggressively dismissed by critical text adherents for as long as the claim has been made. Yet here we have it being plainly stated by an Evangelical textual scholar. How many scholars need to say this before Christians wake up to the dangers of this ongoing effort? Here is Dan Wallace stating the same thing, in no uncertain terms.

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

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

How long will conservative Christians, who claim to stand on the doctrine of inerrancy, settle for this incredibly low view of Scripture?

Conclusion

The critical text is not finished, and never will be. It is subject to the ebbs and flows of modern critical methods as well as new manuscript finds. It is created by methods that do not treat the Bible any differently than any other ancient text. The methods these scholars employ are not capable of arriving at any “firm conclusion” in any place. These facts simply cannot be disputed at this point. The question is, are you comfortable having an unfinished Bible in your hands? Does this align with your view of Scripture? What would it take for you to admit that this is an incredibly dangerous and volatile view God’s Word? Most importantly, is this what the Bible teaches about itself?

If you consider yourself to have a high view of Scripture, it is time that you start listening to the Evangelical textual scholars. Scholars will continue to say that you should not be worried about the reality of modern text-criticism and that the uncertainties they have about Scripture shouldn’t concern you. What every Christian needs to realize is that their uncertainty does not need to be your uncertainty. You do not need to adopt this incredibly skeptical view of the Bible. This is clearly not a “high view” of Scripture. It is not noble. These scholars are not doing what Tyndale or Beza did. As James White often says, studying church history will protect you against a number of errors. This is probably the most clear example of our time. I will say this again, my dear reader, listen to the scholars.

An Honest Admission from the Scholars

Introduction

Every so often we are gifted with the words of a textual scholar that confirm my belief that those in the Textus Receptus camp listen to the scholars more than those in the Critical Text camp. In an article hosted on Dr. Peter Gurry’s blog, Dr. Jan Krans offers his insight into the discussion of the Textus Receptus and the Critical Text. As we would expect, Dr. Krans is not in favor of the Textus Receptus, but he does offer some valuable insight to be submitted into the marketplace of ideas. As a staunch “fundamentalist” TR advocate, I can appreciate the straightforward, scholarly, communication style of Dr. Krans.

His thesis is basically that the Textus Receptus cannot be accepted on the grounds that its production was void of any scholarly standard, and any retention of the TR is due to some form of nostalgia. While I think that this conclusion is lacking nuance and rather reductionistic, I won’t devote time in this article attempting to ‘refute’ his claims. Rather, I’d like to highlight some of his main points and offer commentary which should help my reader understand the effort of Modern Textual Scholarship better.

A Scholarly Admission That the Textus Receptus Was the Text of the Reformation

The first point that I’d like to highlight is one that has strangely been contested recently by a number of advocates for the Critical Text, James White being one of them. Dr. Krans writes when describing the TR position, “Historically speaking, the Textus Receptus was the Greek New Testament of the Reformation.” He later affirms this historical reality by saying that the TR view, “Concludes from a historical phenomenon (the Reformation) to actions that God must have taken.” Now I wouldn’t argue so strongly that this is the main argument for the Textus Receptus, but it is certainly a part of the framework. The point I want to highlight is that Dr. Krans dispels any notions that the TR wasn’t the text of the Reformation. In order for Dr. Krans to make his argument, he is not only assuming but plainly stating the historical premise that the TR was in fact the text of the Reformation. He goes on to say that it was merely a default text, but that does not dismiss the fact that it was the default text of the Reformation.

A Scholarly Admission That the Methods That Produced the TR Are Different Than That of the Critical Text

The second point I want to draw your attention to is that Dr. Krans clearly states that the scholars of the Reformation were not doing Textual Criticism in the same way as scholars do today. For those that are not familiar with Dr. Krans, he wrote what I consider to be the definitive work on the methods of Erasmus and Beza, so his input is quite valuable as it pertains to this topic. He argues what I argued in this article, which I wrote after reading his book in the New Testament Tools and Studies Brill series , that Beza in fact was not doing ‘Modern Textual Criticism’. In fact, this is his chief argument against using the TR. He writes,

“Historically speaking the Textus Receptus is undoubtedly outdated, as said, resting as it does upon far fewer sources and a far less developed method than known today. Moreover its editors did use the manuscripts available to them in a very irregular way, and did not follow consistently any method they had, whereas the demands of present-day scholarship guarantee that all evidence is taken into account and that methods are made explicit and subjected to scrutiny.”

Here we have an analysis from whom I would consider the most authoritative scholarly source on the topic, stating without ambiguity that their method was “far less developed” and even that they “did not follow consistently any method they had.” He then continues to contrast this with Modern Textual methodology, which highlights that these two methods, and the scholars who employed them, were engaging in distinct methods. Those that claim that “Beza was doing the same thing as we’re doing today,” like James White, seem to have been refuted by one of highest caliber scholars alive today. Either that, or this would be a strange admission that the Modern Critical method, like the TR, does “not follow consistently any method they” have.

Conclusion

Now it may be the case that Dr. Krans has irrefutably destroyed the TR position, though I don’t think his case is all that strong. The TR does not argue from product to evidence, it argues from Scripture to product. When TR advocates argue evidence, it is always to demonstrate that a reading has some evidential foundation, not that the evidence is the foundation. This is the same way evidence works in Apologetics as well. We all begin a Priori with something and interpret evidence through that lens.

His argument has been made by James White and everybody else before, though Dr. Krans does it much more intelligently. If you’d like to see my response to his basic argument, I can point you to this article and this article for further reading. Most importantly, Dr. Krans has definitively settled the matter on whether the TR was the text of the Reformation and whether or not Beza was doing Modern Textual Criticism. Hopefully we will see these arguments filter out of the mainstream, but I am not confident they will, as proponents of such arguments are not typically willing to correct themselves.

The Skepticism of the TR Position

Introduction

Recently James White made the claim that he was astonished at the skepticism of the TR position, comparing it to that of Bart Ehrman. What men like James White do not seem to understand is that this skepticism is not a skepticism of the Scriptures, it is in the modern critical text, which isn’t even finished. What is actually astonishing is the lack of skepticism from people who know this system inside and out. It demonstrates a complete lack of discernment and a troubling adherence to the axioms of modern textual criticism. Now, I can see White now, reading the first four sentences of this article and talking about how wrong I am (with props and all!), but for the discerning reader, I want to present my case as to why it’s not astonishing at all to be extremely skeptical of the Modern Critical Text.

Three Reasons Christians Should Practice Discernment When Approaching the Critical Text

1 – Modern Critical Text Advocates and Bart Ehrman Agree in Almost Everything

While White loves to level the claim that TR advocates are the real skeptics by comparing them to Bart Ehrman, he fails to highlight the fact that him and Bart Ehrman essentially agree on everything. Here is a video of Bart Ehrman saying as much. The only thing that these two men disagree upon is the conclusion that God has anything to do with the Bible. So when White comments that TR advocates are skeptical like Bart Ehrman, he’s really just saying that TR advocates are better students than he is.

We listen to what the scholars have to say about the critical text, and believe them, because they created it. It should not be surprising that Reformed Christians who take church history seriously might reject something new to the church from the 20th century and on. What is really going on when White and others make this argument is that they are distracting from the reality that it is actually their system that agrees with Bart Ehrman.

Not only does the textbook that the critical text advocates use have Ehrman’s name on the front, the main academic book series that is putting out the latest scholarly writing on the topic also has his name on it! In fact, pretty much any book you want to read that represents the critical text position has Bart Ehrman’s name on it or in it. As White loves to point out, this is a clear, and intentional, confusion of categories. TR advocates are skeptical of the critical text, not the Scriptures which they have received. Even if none of this was reality, in order to make this argument consistently, critical text apologists should first retract any claims that those in the TR camp are adhering to blind faith fundamentalism. The fact is that the TR methodology is fundamentally not skeptical, which is a common critique of the position.

2 – What Is Said About the Critical Text is Often Not True of the Critical Text

This is probably the biggest grievance I have with those that advocate for the critical text – they either are ignorant of what the critical text is, or are simply misrepresenting what it is they are advocating for. The critical text is not a Bible in the way that most people think it is. It is a lot of bibles packaged together or perhaps a compendium of manuscript readings. Scholars that produce these texts do not advertise them as “the very Word of God.” These printed volumes simply represent a reconstructed snapshot of the transmitted text at a certain point in time in the transmission history of the New Testament. The readings in each of these texts are simply the editors’ opinions on which reading is the earliest. In the case of the Modern Critical Text, all versions of it represent closely one or two manuscripts from a single geographical location dated around the fourth century. There is not a single scholar or apologist for the Critical Text that would say that any Bible translation is translated from the full record of the original, inspired text. James White touched on this in his recent debate with Pastor Jeff Riddle when being questioned about the authenticity of the ending of Mark, which just confirms he lines up with Dan Wallace and the rest of the intelligentsia on the topic.

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

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

I recognize that people have different perspectives on a wide array of theological topics, but it would be nice for the men who advocate for the Modern Critical Text to at least be straight forward about what their text actually is. TR advocates are skeptical of this text because the scholars that created it are skeptical of it. There is no wide spread conspiracy theory, because the scholars themselves believe what the TR advocates are saying.

3 – Modern Critical Text Advocates Pretend That A Healthy Dose of Skepticism is Outlandish

No matter how loudly somebody denies this reality, there is a good reason people are skeptical of the Modern Critical Text(s). In the first place, it’s not finished. In the second place, the goal of Modern Textual Criticism isn’t to find the autographic readings, it’s to find the earliest possible readings. In the third place, the scholars themselves admit that their text is not verifiable. If you aren’t skeptical of this, you probably should be.

If somebody was trying to sell you a car, and they told you that they weren’t sure if it had all the parts, that they had no way of knowing if it had all the parts, and that another model was coming out soon that also didn’t have all the parts, would you buy that car? Would you let your kids drive it? Probably not, I hope. You would hopefully go and buy a car that at least advertises itself as being a full car. It is time that Modern Critical Text advocates stop pretending that it is absurd for TR advocates to be skeptical of a product that quite literally describes itself as something to be skeptical about.

Conclusion

At this point in the discussion of New Testament Textual Criticism, there is more than enough information available to at least make a determination on whether or not the array of critical texts should be trusted. Shifting the argument and projecting doesn’t change the reality of what textual scholars are actually saying. As it pertains to this argument, you don’t need to know anything about the TR to know that the Critical Text(s) is not what apologists claim that it is. If the claim is that TR advocates are too skeptical, the person making the claim is either misinformed or intentionally conflating categories.

It is revealing that in one breath, a Critical Text apologist can claim that TR advocates have “The same view as Mormons” on Scripture while also asserting that they are “Skeptical like Bart Erhman.” Instead of conflating categories so irresponsibly, it’s important to recognize that when TR advocates are called skeptical, the thing they are skeptical about is the Modern Critical Text. If you aren’t skeptical of the Modern Critical Text, read what the scholars are saying about it before blindly listening to the shock and awe arguments of James White and co. Believe it or not, there are really great reasons to believe that the scholars who created the various Critical Texts are accurate in describing what they created. What the TR advocates are actually setting forth is that Christians have every reason to believe that God has preserved His Word, and that we have that very text today. We simply disagree upon which text that is.