Nostalgically Hopping Down the Rabbit Trails of Days Long Gone in Search of the Text of the New Testament
I entered Providence College, formerly Winnipeg Bible College, now Providence University College, in Otterburne, Manitoba, where young Christians from all over the province, the Dominion, and even abroad assembled to learn about the Bible, theology, Church history, missiology and other subjects in between episodes of The Simpsons and foosball games in the fall of 1994. At the time, a new translation/paraphrase of the Bible named The Message was all the rage, although only the New Testament was then available, having been released the previous year. The Message was the work of the late Dr. Eugene H. Peterson, a former Presbyterian pastor from the United States who, just prior to the release of the first installment of his paraphrase, had become Professor of Spiritual Theology at Regent College, in Vancouver, British Columbia. While a lot of my fellow students – and more than one of the professors – were raving about The Message, I was less than impressed.
What were my objections to The Message?
First, here is how Peterson rendered the most beloved verse in all of Holy Scripture:
This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life. (John 3:16)
There are a lot of things I could pick at in this but I will merely point out the most glaring problem – “a whole and lasting life” is considerably less than what this verse promises to all who believe in Jesus Christ in both the original Greek, and all accurate translations, namely “everlasting life.”
Second, here is Peterson’s rendition of John 1:12:
But whoever did want him, who believed he was who he claimed and would do what he said,
He made to be their true selves, their child-of-God selves.
The wording “made to be their true selves, their child-of-God selves”, which caters to the contemporary cult of the self, makes my skin crawl every time I read it. I had read Dave Hunt’s The Seduction of Christianity shortly before I encountered this paraphrase which is a book that does an excellent job of exposing the inroads this cult, among other popular but anti-Christian fads, has made into churches that profess Christianity.
My third objection was stylistic, that by his excessive use of hyphenation, Peterson had invented an artificial way of speaking that nobody actually uses, thus defeating the entire purpose of a paraphrase.
In my sophomore year, Jesse Carlson, the editor of the student newspaper, asked me to contribute. I should point out that while Jesse, who is now Assistant Professor of Sociology at Acadia University, by encouraging me to take up writing, undoubtedly set me on the path that led to the forming of this website, he is by no means to be blamed for the opinions expressed here. One of my first contributions – I think it was my very first, but I am not 100% certain on this point – was a piece in which I made the above criticisms of The Message. Needless to say, when this article appeared it received mixed feedback. No specific example of a negative response stands out in my memory, but one example of positive feedback does. Travis Trost, either in the old library or in the hot tub in the basement of Bergen Hall, the men’s residence which was lamentably lost in flame two and a half years ago, congratulated me on the article and suggested that I tackle the NIV next. The New International Version, which by this point in time was just under twenty years old and had undergone its first revision about a decade previously, had already become the translation of choice for the majority of churches that identified as evangelical. I had already started to study New Testament Greek and by the time we have moved on from Dr. Larry Dixon’s first year class into Dr. David Johnson's second year course the members of my class, between calling each other friendly names such as ὁ πονηρός κύριος τοῦ Θᾰνᾰ́του (the evil lord of death), had learned enough Greek to form what was pretty much a universal consensus that the NIV just wasn’t what it was cracked up to be. I regret not have followed up on Travis’ suggestion.
Perhaps you are wondering what has inspired all of this reminiscing. In a recent blog entry, Dr. Robert N. Wilkin, the executive director of the Grace Evangelical Society, responded to an article from the December 27, 2019 issue of The Sword of the Lord by Dr. Shelton Smith, the editor of the fundamentalist newspaper, on the subject of Bible versions. Dr. Wilkin in this post expresses both agreement and disagreement with Dr. Smith. Their disagreements amount to a sort of "in house" disagreement between people who are basically on the same side in the fundamental theological controversy that lies beneath the surface controversy with regards to translations. I will have more to say on that and will also have a few things to say about Dr. Wilkin's post a bit later, but I mention it here because it was reading his post that sent me on this trip down memory lane which we shall now resume.
The mid 1990s was a time in which the Bible versions controversy was raging hot. This was in part due to the publication of Gail A. Riplinger’s book New Age Bible Versions in 1993. This was hardly the first book to issue a wholesale condemnation of the newer translations, nor was it anywhere close to being the best book supporting the Authorized Version against the newer versions that was available on the market, but it attracted a lot of attention because of its rather novel approach of treating the modern versions as part of a massive conspiracy aimed at uniting the religions of the world under the aegis of the New Age movement. Lest you think that is exaggerated here is the second sentence of her introduction:
Much digging in libraries and manuscripts from around the world has uncovered an alliance between the new versions of the bible (NIV, NASB, Living Bible and others) and the chief conspirators in the New Age movement's push for a One World Religion.
Also unlike previous critiques of the modern versions, Riplinger tied hers to prophecies of end times apostasy, and released it in the decade when we were counting down, not just the end of a century, but of a millennium when contemplation and speculation regarding the Second Coming was at a predictable high. Also, Christians had finally begun to sound the alarm about the increasing inroads that Eastern paganism, in the form of the New Age movement, were making into Western societies, and even the Christian churches. Russian Orthodox hieromonk Fr. Seraphim Rose had been ahead of the game on this with his Orthodoxy and the Religion of the Future, which came out in 1975 and also linked the New Age phenomenon with prophecies of the Antichrist’s final deception. Constance Cumbey’s The Hidden Dangers of the Rainbow: The New Age Movement and Our Coming Age of Barbarism had followed about eight years after that. Dave Hunt’s aforementioned book, co-authored with T. A. MacMahon, came out two years after that. Two years later Texe Marrs, a retired United States Air Force officer who had taught at the University of Texas and authored a number of books on robotics before entering his final career as a celebrity Christian author, conspiracy theorist, and radio host, released his Dark Secrets of the New Age: Satan’s Plan for a One World Religion. Riplinger’s book was released at just the right moment to ensure that it would become a sensational best-seller.
It is worth pointing out that of the authors mentioned in the previous paragraph only one actually endorsed Riplinger's book. That was Texe Marrs who promoted it quite heavily on his radio show and in his newsletter. Marrs, who passed away a little under two months ago, I met in my very first month at Providence. He came to Winnipeg to speak at an annual conference held every fall on the subject of Bible prophecy. At the time the conference was located at Calvary Temple, the large downtown Pentecostal Assemblies church which was then still pastored by the legendary local preacher H. H. Barber. At this point in time Marrs' most recent book was Big Sister is Watching You, which is still, in my opinion, the best book about Hilary Clinton ever written. I went to hear him speak and, after one of his talks, spent the next session discussing all sorts of issues with him. Marrs was never invited back to the conference, which probably had something to do with the fact that it grew increasingly more Zionist whereas he shortly thereafter became increasingly anti-Zionist. While I am down this rabbit trail I will also mention that another of the authors from the previous paragraph, Dave Hunt of the Berean Call who passed away seven years ago, was a perennial favourite at these conferences where I got to hear him and speak with him several times over the years.
The modern Bible versions controversy did not begin with Riplinger, of course. It started in the Church of England in the 1880s and was revived in evangelical and fundamentalist circles within the non-conformist and dissenting Protestant sects in the 1950s. It is not without antecedents surrounding earlier translations of the Scriptures much further back in Church history. It is a complex controversy. Several different factors must be taken into consideration when weighing the merits of a translation, such as the degree of accuracy with which it represents the original meaning and the comprehensibility and beauty of its language. My criticism of The Message is based upon these factors. In the larger Bible versions controversy, however, these factors have taken a backseat to the question of the text that is to be translated. This is as it should be because this question has to be settled before any of these other factors can be considered. It also has ramifications for theological orthodoxy.
By the question of text I mean the question of what words comprise the text that is to be translated. The reason this is an issue is because the Holy Scriptures are thousands of years old, the last book in the New Testament canon having been written in the first century AD, and until the invention of the printing press in the fifteenth century, they had to be copied by hand. Which means that the first step in preparing a printed edition of the Greek New Testament is to look at the manuscripts (from the Latin manus, hand, and scriptus-a-um, past perfect participle of scribo, write, therefore: hand written copies) and decide, in places where they disagree, which was the original and which the copyist’s error. The Dutch Christian humanist Desiderius Erasmus was the first to do this. His edition of the Greek New Testament was printed by Johann Froben in 1516, and went through four subsequent revisions prior to Erasmus’ death in 1536, after which a French scholar-printer called Stephanus and Theodore Beza, John Calvin's right hand, would carry on his work in several further sixteenth century editions. These were the Greek New Testaments that were the basis of Dr. Martin Luther’s original German Bible in 1522. In England, William Tyndale produced an English translation in 1526 based on this same Greek text. Tyndale’s translation underwent several revisions over the course of a century, including such official Church of England revisions as the Great Bible (1539) and Bishop’s Bible (1568, 1572), as well as the Puritan Geneva Bible (1557, 1560). The process of revising Tyndale came to its culmination with the production of the official Church of England translation, authorized by King James VI of Scotland and I of England at the Hampton Court Conference in 1604 and completed by the 47 scholars appointed to the task in 1611. All of the Bibles in this tradition from Tyndale to the Authorized Bible, were based upon Erasmus’ Greek New Testament.
The Authorized Bible became the official Bible of the Church of England and for two and a half centuries was the de facto “official Bible” of all of English-speaking Christendom, including the non-conformists and dissenters. It underwent several revisions in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, mostly stylistic as the English language became much more standardized. The last such revision took place in 1769 and most Bibles printed as “King James Version” or “Authorized Version” are based upon this revision. In 1870, the Church of England commissioned a further such revision. What they ended up getting, however, was something rather different, and this gave birth to the controversy.
When the New Testament of the Revised Version came out in 1881 it was evident that it was based upon a different Greek text than the earlier English translations. An edition of the Greek Text used by the revisers was prepared by Edwin Palmer, Archdeacon of Oxford. The same year another edition of the Greek New Testament appeared, edited by Brooke Foss Westcott, Regius Professor of Divinity at Cambridge University, later consecrated Bishop of Durham, and Fenton John Anthony Hort, Hulsean Professor of Divinity, also at Cambridge, both of whom had been on the translation committee of the Revision. The Westcott-Hort text departed from the text underlying the Authorized Bible in the same direction but going even further than the text underlying the Revised Version. Westcott and Hort also published their principles of textual criticism. The Revised Version, Westcott and Hort Greek New Testament, and the Westcott and Hort theory of textual criticism, were all then torn apart by the Dean of Chichester Cathedral, John William Burgon, an Oxford man, who had studied at Worcester, been elected a fellow of Oriel, and prior to his posting at Chichester had served as vicar at the University Church of St. Mary the Virgin, the same church that John Henry Newman had pastored prior to his “crossing the Tiber.”
Dean Burgon had a well-established reputation as a champion of Anglican orthodoxy. His Inspiration and Interpretation: Seven Sermons Affirming the Unique Nature of the Bible and Its Own Method of Interpretation had come out twenty years before the Revised Version. These sermons, which he had given before Oxford University, were an answer to the sadly influential Essays and Reviews that had appeared a year prior to his rebuttal and which promoted the ideas of German so-called “higher criticism.” Burgon was one of a number of prominent Orthodox Churchmen – the Right Reverend Samuel Wilberforce, Bishop of Oxford and third son of the famous abolitionist and the Reverend Christopher Wordsworth, later to become the Right Reverend Bishop of Lincoln and nephew of the famous poet were among the others – who sounded the alarm against the perversion and dilution of the faith with rationalistic notions derived from presuppositions based on materialistic unbelief, taking up the scholarly cudgels on behalf of Anglican orthodoxy that had been wielded by Bishop George Bull and Dr. Daniel Waterland a century before them. Unfortunately, valiant as their efforts were, they were hampered by the legacy of the century long prorogation of Convocation – the Church of England’s General Synod – that began in order to protect Benjamin Hoadley, Bishop of Bangor from censure over his heretical views and was a direct consequence of the triumph of the Whiggish concept of Parliamentary supremacy in 1688. Royalism is the only form of politics consistent with Christian orthodoxy. Water it down, and you get a watered down Christianity with a watered down orthodoxy.
Ten years before the Revised Version Burgon had published his The Last Twelve Verses of Mark Vindicated Against Recent Critical Objectors and Established arguing for the authenticity of these verses which are one of the two largest passages in dispute, the other being the Pericope de Adultera (John 7:53-8:11). He wrote a series of devastating critiques of the Revised Version for the nineteenth century Tory journal Quarterly Review which were collected and published as The Revision Revised. He devoted much of the last years of his life to work on a magnus opus explaining the principles of textual criticism that he saw as being consistent with orthodoxy. Incomplete at his death, his manuscript was edited by Edward Miller and published posthumously in two volumes as The Traditional Text of the Holy Gospels Vindicated and Established and The Causes of Corruption of the Traditional Text of the Holy Gospels. Edward Miller also took charge of Burgon’s huge contribution to the fieldwork of textual criticism, his voluminous catalogue and collation of Scriptural citations in the Patristic writings – which included almost 90 000 by the time of the Dean’s death - and made use of them in his own A Guide to the Textual Criticism of the New Testament (1886), showing that contrary to Hort’s assertions, pre-Chrysostom Patristic testimony favours the Byzantine text type by a ratio of about 3 to 2 which drastically increases if you narrow the field to the earliest Fathers. Herman C. Hoskier also built upon Burgon’s foundation in his 2 volume Codex B and Its Allies, a Study and Indictment (1914) which completely debunked, for anyone who could be bothered to read it, the idea that Vaticanus is anywhere close to being “the best manuscript.”
So the line was drawn between the “Critical School” and the “Traditional School”. To understand the distinction it is important to know that among the 5000 plus manuscripts extant, the variant readings which affect approximately two to five per cent of the text, the remainder being beyond dispute are associated in such a way that textual scholars have classified the manuscripts into families according to text type, although within the representatives of each family there are internal variations. The most important of these families are the Alexandrian, Byzantine, and Western. The Alexandrian family contains manuscripts from the second to fourth centuries and derives its name from the fact that these mostly came from Egypt where it appears to have been the dominant text type in that era. The Byzantine family contains between eighty to ninety percent of all the manuscripts and derives its name from its being unquestionably the dominant text type in the Greek speaking Church of the Byzantine Empire. The Western text type contains a few old manuscripts which influenced a number of the pre-Vulgate Latin translations.
The Critical School has produced several theories of criticism but has consistently been characterized by its underlying belief that the most accurate text of the New Testament is to be reconstructed in accordance with “scientific” principles that are independent of whatever faith and doctrine, orthodox or heretical, might be held by the textual critic. It began with Westcott and Hort, although the preliminary groundwork was laid for it by Karl Lachmann, Johann Jakob Griesbach, Constantin von Tischendorf, Samuel P. Tragelles and Henry Alford. Most of the leading textual scholars since Westcott and Hort – Eberhard and Erwin Nestle, Baron Hermann von Soden, Sir Frederic G. Kenyon, Kurt and Barbara Aland, Kirsopp Lake, E. C. Colwell, G. D. Kilpatrick, Günther Zuntz, Eldon Jay Epp, and Bruce M. Metzger to name but a few – have belonged to the Critical School. Their theories have evolved considerably over a century and a half. In Westcott and Hort’s day the predominant theory of this School could be summarized – over simplistically but not inaccurately – as “the oldest manuscripts have the best readings.” Note that Hort, the principal author of the Westcott-Hort Theory, argued for the existence of a “neutral text” to be found in Codex Aleph (Sinaiticus) and especially Codex B (Vaticanus), the two oldest (almost) complete uncial vellum parchments. After Hort, the Critical School abandoned the idea that these manuscripts were neutral as distinct from Alexandrian. Indeed, many of the post-Hort members of the Critical School named above devoted a great deal of space in their writings to debunking Hort’s theories. More recently they have favoured various forms of eclecticism, which can be summarized – again simplistically but not inaccurately – as the idea that the readings should be selected, not on the basis of their text family, but upon which is the best in accordance with “internal evidence”, which, if you think about it, is far worse than the theory they started out with as it essentially makes the critic's personal judgement authoritative. In practice, however, despite their abandoning of his theories they have largely retained Hort’s prejudice against the Byzantine family of manuscripts and for the Alexandrian.
The Traditional School, by contrast, starts with the orthodox belief that the Scriptures are the written Word of God, inspired not just in the sense that all great literature can be said to be “inspired” but in the sense that the words were “breathed out by God”, and thus inerrant, infallible and authoritative. The same God Who inspired the Bible, undertakes to preserve His Word, and the preserved text of His Word is that which has been in use throughout His Church where it has been read, taught, studied and sung for two thousand years. It, therefore, favours the Byzantine family.
If it is not already evident, I very much side with the Traditional School. There are several different variants of the Traditional School, which I will discuss briefly in a moment. First, I will say that I became persuaded of the Traditional School’s perspective before I had ever heard of let alone laid eyes on Riplinger’s book. The arguments that first persuaded me are those that Zane C. Hodges’ laid out in an article entitled “The Greek Text of the King James Version” that had appeared in Bibliotheca Sacra in 1968. It was reprinted as the second chapter, if we consider the editor’s “Why This Book?” to be an introduction rather than a chapter, of Which Bible? the first of three anthologies of the most scholarly representatives of the Traditional School that were compiled and edited by Dr. David Otis Fuller and which I had read by the time I completed grade 12. I am sure that is the sort of thing you were all reading in high school too.
I never had the pleasure of meeting Zane Clark Hodges, who passed away twelve years ago, although I would have liked to have done so. Hodges was Assistant Professor of New Testament Literature and Exegesis at Dallas Theological Seminary from 1959 to 1986. When I served at Turtle Mountain Bible Camp in the summer between high school and college, one of the camp speakers, whose name, I regret to say I have forgotten, was a Dallas graduate who could not praise sufficiently his favourite professor, Zane Hodges for his thorough learning. I needed little convincing on the subject, which, if I remember correctly, came up because I was reading one of Hodges’ books. When, about a decade later I lent a copy of another of his books to the late Bill McNairn, he also concurred, making the remark that “Hodges is no slouch.” Hodges has been accused of Antinomianism by Nestorians who appear to have no problem with the implicit Sabellianism in the Incarnational Sonship heresy (which denies the Eternal Sonship of Christ as affirmed in the Nicene Creed) when taught by those who deny the efficacy of the blood of the Lamb of God slain from the foundation of the world, because he strongly affirmed and defended the view of faith/assurance taught by Dr. Martin Luther (and which has been upheld faithfully, at least in the Missouri Synod, by such Lutherans as John M. Drickamer, Herman Otten, Kurt Marquart, Robert Preuss, and Francis Pieper), the Reformed doctrine of uninterrupted perpetual justification, and the Catholic view of repentance (i.e. that it follows the new birth as the avenue to forgiveness and within-covenant reconciliation and thus is characteristic of the entire new life experience of struggle with sin in the flesh rather than being a one-time decision at the beginning of the new life) but it has been my experience that when someone accuses someone else of Antinomianism, 99.99% of the time it is because he himself is a Legalist.
In the article mentioned above, Hodges addressed the three main arguments from the Critical School against the Majority Text – that it does not have the support of the oldest manuscripts available, that its dominance of the later manuscripts can be explained by its being the product of an official recension or revision of the text conflating the readings in earlier text types, and that its readings are intrinsically inferior to those of the other text types. He provided reasons for regarding each of these arguments with suspicion – for example, against the “oldest manuscripts” argument he observes that these “derive basically from Egypt”, the climate of which “favors the preservation of ancient texts in a way that the climate of the rest of the Mediterranean world does not” and that thus these manuscripts can really only tell us what the text looked like in Egypt in the second to fourth centuries, not what it looked like in other provinces of the Church. In his concluding remarks, after addressing these arguments, Hodges wrote the following:
The present writer would like to suggest that the impasse to which we are driven when the arguments of modern criticism are carefully weighed and sifted is due almost wholly to a refusal to acknowledge the obvious. The manuscript tradition of an ancient book will, under any but the most exceptional conditions, multiply in a reasonably regular fashion with the result that the copies nearest the autograph will normally have the largest number of descendants. The further removed in the history of transmission a text becomes from its source the less time it has to leave behind a large family of offspring. Hence, in a large tradition where a pronounced unity is observed between, let us say, eighty per cent of the evidence, a very strong presumption is raised that this numerical preponderance is due to direct derivation from the very oldest sources. In the absence of any convincing contrary explanation, this presumption is raised to a very high level of probability indeed. Thus the Majority text, upon which the King James Version is based, has in reality the strongest claim possible to be regarded as an authentic representation of the original text.
This is the argument which initially convinced me and I am even more firmly persuaded of it today. Consider the question of what happened to the original autographs of the New Testament. I do not mean what ultimately happened to them – that they are no longer extent everyone agrees. I mean the question of where they were originally sent.
The New Testament itself – regardless of which text type you use – tells us the answer to this, for the most part. The second and third chapters of the Book of Revelation contain letters to the “angels” – understood since ancient times to be referring to the local bishops – of seven Churches in Asia Minor. Since the Apostle John himself based his late ministry out of Ephesus and consecrated his disciple Polycarp as bishop of Smyrna – two of the seven Churches – it stands to reason that the autographs of the entire corpus of Johannine literature ended up in Asia Minor, i.e., Anatolia in present day Turkey. As for the Pauline literature – obviously the autographs of the two epistles to the Corinthians were sent to Corinth in the Peloponnesus, that of the epistle to the Philippians to the city named after Philip of Macedon in the Thracian region of Greece at pretty much the northernmost part of the Aegean Sea, the two epistles to the Thessalonians were sent to the Macedonian city of Thessalonika, those of the epistles to the Galatians, Ephesians and Colossians were sent to Asia Minor as was the epistle to Philemon, who lived in Colossae and the two epistles to Timothy, who was bishop of Ephesus. The epistle to Titus was sent to Crete, where its addressee was bishop. Romans was the only signed Pauline epistle that was not sent to somewhere in Greece or Turkey and it obviously went to Italy.
There is a general consensus that except for Romans, all of the autographs, even of books which don’t internally identify their original destination, were sent to either Asia Minor or Syria, that is to say, the first two regions outside of the Holy Land into which the Church had expanded.
My point, if it is not clear by now, is that none of the autographs of the New Testament were sent to Egypt. The vast majority of them were sent to the same region from which the majority of post fourth century manuscripts come and from which the term Byzantine for the text type found in these manuscripts is derived. The remainder, with one exception, were sent to Syria, the other region most associated with the Byzantine text type for which reason Hort designated it the “Syrian” text. If, therefore, the autographs were sent to Syria and the Greek-speaking regions of south-eastern Europe, and over 80% of manuscripts, most of which come from these regions contain a particular text type which is also witnessed to by manuscripts and versions from throughout the Christian world, then surely the most reasonable conclusion if it is not the only reasonable conclusion is that the text of the autographs was faithfully transmitted in the Byzantine family and the alternative text type that is found in a much smaller number of very old manuscripts, virtually all from Egypt, is a regional variation that departed from the text of the autographs at a very early point in the transmission of the text, perhaps when it first arrived in Egypt.
What I have just presented you with is an argument for the Traditional or Byzantine Text that can be made based upon evidence and logical reasoning. It is, I believe, sounder reasoning and a sounder interpretation of the evidence, than what the Critical School has to offer. Since Burgon, there has never been a lack of scholars willing to argue this case, although they have been in the minority. The article by Zane Hodges that I referred to earlier was but one of many from his pen that appeared in places such as Bibliotheca Sacra and the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society in the 1960s and 1970s, and in 1982 an edition of the Greek New Testament According to the Majority Text that he had worked on with Dr. Arthur L. Farstad, who was also the Executive Editor of the committee of translators for the New King James Version was released. Like the Textus Receptus, i.e., the sixteenth century editions of the Greek New Testament edited by Erasmus, Stephanus and Beza, and unlike the Westcott-Hort, Nestle, Nestle-Aland, UBS and other critical editions, this is based upon the Traditional Text, in this case following the majority reading principle. In 1975, Dr. Jakob van Bruggen the Professor of New Testament at the Dutch Reformed Theological University in Broederwig gave a lecture that was published the following year as The Ancient Text of the New Testament which briefly made the case for the Traditional Text. The English edition was published here in Winnipeg by Premier Printing. In 1977, and again in revised edition in 1980, Thomas Nelson published The Identity of the New Testament Text by Wilbur Norman Pickering, expanded from his 1968 Dallas Theological Seminary Master’s Thesis and arguing for the Traditional/Byzantine/Majority Text as best representing the autographs. In 1984 the same publisher released The Byzantine Text Type and New Testament Textual Criticism by Dr. Harry A. Sturz, who had been Chairman of the Greek and Theology Departments at Biola University. This work had begun as Sturz’s doctoral dissertation for Grace Theological Seminary and had been made available to his students at Biola for about twelve years prior to its public release. Sturz did not go so far as to argue that the Traditional Text was the best – what he would call the Byzantine priority position – but he argued from an extensive look at the early papyrii, that the Byzantine readings were at least as old as the rival Alexandrian and Western readings, and thus were not a secondary conflagration derived from the latter text types. More recently the case for the Byzantine Text has been argued by Dr. Maurice A. Robinson of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. Robinson is the co-editor with William G. Pierpont of a 2005 edition of the Greek New Testament according to the Byzantine Text and has made the case for the Traditional Text in a 2001 essay entitled “New Testament Textual Criticism: The Case for Byzantine Priority.”
It is not, however, the superiority of its logical interpretation of the manuscript evidence, that the Traditional School rests upon but the fact that its underlying premise is consistent with orthodox Christianity whereas that of the opposing school claims a neutrality that is not in fact available and is thus to that extent inconsistent with orthodox Christianity. If the Bible is the written Word of God, which all orthodox Christians believe, then God did not merely inspire the original autographs, as all orthodox Christians affirm, but has promised to preserve the words so inspired. Nor is God the only supernatural entity with an interest in the transmission of His Word. The very first words, the Enemy of God and man spoke, to deceive our first parents to the ruin of our species were “Yea, hath God said.” Casting doubt on God’s words has been his modus operandi ever since. If God has undertaken to preserve His words, and Satan has been constantly working to hinder men from hearing and believing God’s words, then any approach to the text of Scripture based upon “scientific” principles that treat these facts as irrelevant is guaranteed to go astray and, indeed, to be an instrument of the Enemy.
Orthodox Christians cannot be consistent to their faith and regard the application of supposedly neutral “scientific” principles that are used on other ancient texts to the Holy Scriptures as being valid and reliable. Many, however, fail to recognize that this applies to lower (textual) criticism as much as to higher criticism. Even with regards to the latter, there has been a tendency, since the 1950s, among those orthodox Protestants who in that decade abandoned the label “fundamentalist” and rebranded themselves with the older label “evangelical”, to treat its methods, concepts, and conclusions with much more respect than they deserve. The “new evangelicalism” was partly about repudiating schismatism and partly about seeking academic respectability. The former goal was consistent with historical/traditional orthodoxy but the manner in which they pursued the latter goal was not. In the end they failed to achieve the goal and abandoned part of their orthodoxy in the process. The year that I entered Providence, Dr. Mark A. Noll, then of Wheaton College now of the University of Notre Dame, published his The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind which took evangelicalism to task for a lack of academic and scholarly vigor that he attributed to an anti-intellectualism inherited from fundamentalism. The previous year Dr. David F. Wells of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary had made related points in his No Place for Truth, or, Whatever Happened to Evangelical Theology. Both books were published by Eerdmans. Ten years prior to Noll’s book, Dr. Francis Schaeffer had released his last book, The Great Evangelical Disaster, discussing the crisis of orthodoxy in the evangelical movement. Eight years before that Dr. Harold Lindsell had tried to warn evangelicals about the same thing in The Battle for the Bible. These internal critiques of evangelicalism could and probably should have been complementary but the way they handled the matter created a dilemma instead. Has evangelicalism lost its academic respectability by holding on to too much of the fundamentalist rejection of higher criticism or has evangelicalism sacrificed part of its orthodoxy by not holding on to enough of that same rejection?
This is neither here nor there, but anybody who ever took a class with him would remember that the late Dr. Chuck Nichols loved to pose questions like that and answer them with “yes.”
The tension produced by evangelicalism’s efforts to retain orthodoxy while attaining respectability in an academia dominated by the worldview of those who reject the foundational principles of orthodoxy and, indeed, accept foundational principles of their own that are inimical to orthodoxy, was very evident at Providence during the years I attended. One of the first things alert students would have noticed in their first semester was the tension between “Biblical Studies” and “Theology” although technically they were part of the same Department. It is a truism that good theology is based upon the teachings of the Bible rather than imposed upon the teachings of the Bible but the flipside to this is that good Biblical studies must be based upon the orthodox view that the Bible is not like any other book but is a set of writings, with a supernatural origin, that are under supernatural promises of preservation against supernatural attack. In Biblical Studies courses at Providence, at least at the undergraduate level, they sought a partial resolution of this tension through the ideas of the Sheffield School, so named after David J. A. Clines who taught Biblical Studies at the University of Sheffield. This school emphasized canonical criticism – that is to say, looking at the Scriptures in their “final form” as a canon – a collection of texts received as sacred by the community of faith.
Some would regard the development of this form of criticism as a major step towards orthodoxy and away from the historical-critical method that had previously dominated, and indeed been essentially identical with, the higher criticism. The historical-critical method was the attempt to reconstruct the pre-history of the sacred texts, identifying oral and written sources that they were drawn from. Classical examples of this include the Documentary Hypothesis regarding the Pentateuch, which began with Jean Astruc and Johann Eichhorn in the eighteenth century, but became most widespread in the form associated with Karl Graf and Julius Welhaussen in the nineteenth century, the Deutero-Isaiah Hypothesis, and the theory that says that Mark was the first of the Synoptic Gospels to be written and used as a source by Matthew and Luke who both also drew material from another source named “Q.” These are theories that deserve high marks for creativity and originality and extremely low marks for having any real evidence to back them up. There is not a single example anywhere on the planet of a document that might have been a pre-Torah “J” “E” “P” or “D” source or the pre-Synoptics “Q” collection of Jesus’ sayings. These hypotheses are entirely conjectures based upon the opinions of scholars of how the Biblical books came about, which opinions in turn are based upon those scholars having adopted a rationalistic bias against the traditional, orthodox, explanation of the origins of the sacred texts.
Given the nature of this earlier higher criticism, it is not surprising that some evangelicals were looking with favour upon the Sheffield School of canon criticism which dealt with the text as it is rather than speculations about how it came to be. In my first semester at Providence Cameron McKenzie, the professor of Old Testament, assigned us Old Testament Theology in a Canonical Context to read. This book, published by the liberal academic Lutheran publishing house Fortress in 1985, was written by Dr. Brevard S. Childs, who was professor of Old Testament at Yale University and essentially the founder of canonical criticism. Here is the second paragraph of his Introduction:
It should come as no surprise to learn that great differences of opinion exist among contemporary scholars as to how the task of writing an Old Testament theology should proceed. Not least of the disagreement turns on how theological reflection on the Old Testament relates to the prior, analytical study of the biblical text which is generally subsumed under the rubric of the historical-critical study of the Bible. It is my thesis that a canonical approach to the scriptures of the Old Testament opens up a fruitful avenue along which to explore the theological dimensions of the biblical text. Especially in the light of the widespread uncertainty at present as to how best to pursue the discipline, to try a different approach to the material would seem to be appropriate.
Note that this is basically saying that the historical-critical method has gotten stuck in a rut and is going nowhere – a “stalemate” is the term he uses a few pages later - and until that changes it its best to try another angle. Which is not the same thing as a repudiation of the contra-orthodoxy presuppositions that lay beneath that method. Which, of course, brings us back to the reason I brought this up, that by attempting to resolve the tension between orthodoxy and academic respectability by shining light on theories that avoid the speculative fiction of the earlier higher criticism this kind of evangelical scholarship has fallen short of what full orthodoxy requires, the building of the entire citadel of Biblical studies on the orthodox view of Scriptures.
This is as true of the lower criticism as it is of the higher criticism. Which is why evangelical scholars seeking a solution to both the crisis of orthodoxy that Lindsell and Schaeffer wrote about and the crisis of intellectual respectability that Wells and Noll wrote about, might do well to consider a sadly neglected work by the late Theodore P. Letis, The Ecclesiastical Text: Criticism, Biblical Authority and the Popular Mind published by the Institute of Renaissance and Reformation Studies in 1997. Letis, who admired Childs’ canonical approach, took it to an entirely new level by incorporating the question of text into it. No sound and satisfactory answer can be found to Tertullian’s ancient question of “What has Jerusalem to do with Athens?” by subjecting the Church’s sacred texts to any sort of academic praxis that puts into effect theories derived from presuppositions of doubt rather than presuppositions of faith.
The underlying premise of the Traditional School, in all of its internal variations, is that the text of God’s Word is not something that has been lost in the sands of Egypt, waiting for scholars to recover it, but has been preserved by God in the Scriptures that have been available to His Church, in all regions, at all times. This is, if you will, the translation into textual scholarship, of the famous canon of St. Vincent of Lerins who in his fifth century Commonitorium, defined as truly catholic “quod ubique, quod semper, quod ab omnibus creditum est” which means “that which has been believed everywhere, always and by all.” The text which, as Sturz has shown, dates back to the earliest times, and which is found in the majority of manuscripts by far, from all regions of the Christian world, is the text which this principle points us to. David Chilton was quite right when he wrote in The Days of Vengeance, his commentary on the Book of Revelation (1987):
I do wish to stress, however, that the issue is not really one of majority (i.e., simply counting manuscripts) but catholicity: The point of the "Majority Text" is that it is the Catholic Text, the New Testament used by the universal Church of all ages' - in contrast to the so-called "critical text" of most modern translations, representing a tiny, variant tradition produced in Egypt.
There are, as noted earlier, variations in the Traditional School. Wilbur N. Pickering and Maurice A. Robinson represent one such variation, the Majority Text position. There is also the Textus Receptus position, which would argue that from the Byzantine manuscripts, the most authentic readings are those which ended up in the editions prepared by Erasmus, Stephanus and Beza which were the basis of the Reformation Bibles, such as the Authorized and Luther’s German Bible. John William Burgon was closer to this position than the Majority Text position, and its most scholarly proponent in the twentieth century was probably Dr. Edward Freer Hills author of The King James Version Defended and Believing Bible Study. A variation of the Textus Receptus position, the one most people would be familiar with, is King James Onlyism of which Gail Riplinger mentioned above is a representative. It too comes in a number of variations.
Bob Wilkin, in the blog post already referred to, was, as mentioned, responding to an article by the current editor of the Sword of the Lord. I have not read the article, which does not appear to be available online, but if I understand Dr. Wilkin’s representation of it correctly, it sounds like Dr. Smith has moved to a different form of King James Onlyism than that of his predecessor Dr. Curtis Hutson. If this is, in fact, the case, it is the second time in the fundamentalist newspaper’s history that it has shifted position. It’s founding editor, the much loved, grandfatherly old evangelist, Dr. John R. Rice, used the Authorized Bible primarily, but not exclusively, was very critical of translations made by liberals and biased towards liberalism – such as the Revised Standard Version (the New of which is much worse in this regards) – but regarded these text debates as something to be left to scholars, and controversy over them to be avoided as much as possible. His successor, Dr. Curtis Hutson, used the Authorized Bible exclusively and was critical of all modern translations, taking the position, similar to that of D. A. Waite and David W. Cloud, that it is the best English translation of the best Greek text (Textus Receptus) and no other is needed.
Here I feel compelled to inject yet another diversionary note. During “reading week” – this is what is called “revision week” in the rest of the Commonwealth and roughly corresponds to what Americans call “spring break” although it would be morbidly inappropriate to apply the latter term up here, at least in this region of Canada where this week is typically colder than the icy heart of Greta – in 1995, my friend Jonathan Meisner and I took a trip to the United States. Jon, the son of a representative of a mission that specializes in Bible translations, was, the last I heard word of him, living and, I think, teaching in Her Majesty’s realm of Australia down under. I hope and pray that he and his family are safe from the wildfires that jihadist terrorists have been setting but which are being blamed on the chimerical bugbear of “climate change.” After a couple of days of travel, in which we discovered that there was such a thing as a peanut butter “Snickers” bar – at this point unknown in Canada – and otherwise subsisted on cheap burritos, we arrived in Chicago. We spent most of the week at Moody Bible Institute. We saw, although we did not enter, to the best of my recollection, the famous Moody Memorial Church, that had known such pastors as R. A. Torrey, Harry A. Ironside, Alan Redpath, and Warren Wiersbe and which at the time was pastored by Dr. Erwin W. Lutzer, himself a graduate of what would become Providence in its earliest phase as Winnipeg Bible Institute. Earlier that year we had heard Dr. Lutzer speak at Providence as he was the lecturer for that year’s “Staley Lectures.” I have, however, gotten really sidetracked this time. The point of this diversion was that prior to arriving at MBI, our first destination had been Hammond, a suburb of Chicago across the Indiana border. There, on Sunday we attended the First Baptist Church where we got to hear the late Dr. Jack Hyles preach. Jack Hyles and his church had been closely associated with the Sword since the days of John R. Rice. The day we were there was the day the news arrived that Dr. Curtis Hutson had passed away. Dr. Shelton Smith would shortly thereafter take up the reins.
If I understand correctly what Dr. Smith was asserting in his article – and again, I have not seen the article, only Dr. Wilkin’s response and I may very well be reading too much into the latter’s sentence “But the idea that the KJV is perfect and that we can correct the Greek manuscripts of the NT based on what the KJV says is going beyond Scripture and reason” which could be an example of making one’s point by taking one’s opponents arguments to their extreme – it sounds like he has moved to a different form of KJV-Onlyism, the one that is known as “Ruckmanism” after its most noted proponent, the late Dr. Peter Sturges Ruckman, who was pastor of Bible Baptist Church in Pensacola, Florida and president of Pensacola Bible Institute until his passing about three years ago. Ruckman did indeed take the position that one could correct the Greek with the Authorized Bible – chapter eight of his The Christian’s Handbooks of Manuscript Evidence (1970) is entitled “Correcting the Greek With the English” although one has to have read all the chapters leading up to this, including the endnotes, to really understand what he was saying. Contrary to what one is likely to conclude who is familiar with his position but not his arguments, Ruckman was no idiot – far from it. He was, in fact, a man of genius level intelligence, who was extremely well acquainted with all sides of this controversy. This does not, of course, mean that he was right. Unfortunately, he was also the very embodiment of everything that the one word in the title of the hit single from Denis Leary’s 1993 No Cure For Cancer denotes, and the exceptionally rude manner in which he spoke of everyone who disagreed with him on this and any number of other matters – for he had a number of extremely singular interpretations – tended to alienate even those on the same side, although I suspect that the late Auberon Waugh would have awarded Ruckman high marks in what he called the “vituperative arts” for precisely this had someone ever bothered to draw him to his attention. About the only widely-known Christian leader of whom I am aware who comes even close to being comparable to Ruckman in his level of acerbity is Bob Larson, the “shock jock” of Christian talk radio, whose show was still being aired on a Winnipeg station during the early years of my studies at Providence where I recall hearing it on a couple of evenings with Adam Atkinson, now a missionary but who was then the roommate of the aforementioned Jon Meisner and who, Larson I mean, at the end of my freshman year, came to the University of Winnipeg to speak, but was prevented by the alphabet soup gang in a very early example of the despicable and disgusting, Stalinist, phenomenon of cancel culture that is all but ubiquitous in academia today. But I have digressed yet again. If the Sword is now teaching Ruckmanism it has certainly departed greatly from where it started out.
Ruckman, by making the Authorized Version superior even to the text from which it was translated, did us the service, by taking an absurd and ridiculous opposite extreme, of exposing the most vulnerable point of the standard conservative evangelical/fundamentalist view of Scriptural authority which is expressed in its fullest in the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy (1986). That point is the insistence that all of the lofty terms which we use to express aspects of the authority of the Scriptures as God’s Word – inspiration, infallibility, inerrancy, etc., - apply only to the original autographs. Ruckman argued – and he did have a case here – that to limit these descriptions to the autographs when the autographs are not themselves extant adds up to a practical denial of these descriptions with regards to any Bible we actually have. His answer, of making the Authorized Version into the standard by which literally everything before and after it is judged, is not the solution to the problem but it requires a better response than simply doubling down on the “original autographs” position. At the very least it requires that we distinguish between what the “original autographs” construction was designed to guard against and what it was not. Obviously, as the entire discussion of manuscript variants above demonstrates, God in His providence did not make scribes and copyists, individually or as a whole, inerrant. Nor, although this point evidently eluded Ruckman, did he guarantee inerrancy to those tasked with bridging the language gap made necessary due to the fallout after the world’s first Bob Dylan fan, King Nimrod I of Babylon, decided go knock-knock-knock-knock-knocking on heaven’s door (or, perhaps, since he constructed a ziggurat, a stepped pyramid, it was Led Zeppelin he was anticipating). Thus the insistence upon the autographs. When this insistence is turned against providential preservation of the text it becomes problematic. Indeed, at this point it becomes a superstition – an ascription of all the qualities of Scriptural authority to the papyrus, platypus, or whatever the original autograph happened to be written on, instead of the words. It was the text of the original autographs that was inspired, and that text what God has undertaken to preserve, despite the human fallibility of scribes and translators.
With regards to English translations, I, if asked would probably describe myself as a “non-practicing King James Onlyist.” Or “a King James Onlyist in the same sense that Alan Clark was a vegetarian”. Alan Clark, who served as junior minister in the ministries of employment, trade and defence in the UK under Margaret Thatcher, was frequently reported to be a vegetarian and loved to tell people he was so, at one point bringing it up in a dispute with the Iron Lady herself. This incident, along with several others of a similar nature, are recorded in his famous Diaries, along with accounts of his eating such things as bacon, chicken livers, etc. He was a non-practicing vegetarian, in other words, which if you are going to be a vegetarian, is the best kind to be. The Authorized Version is the Bible I read in my private devotions, and the translation that I use when quoting the Bible as an authority in my writings. When with other Christians who use other translations I take a “when in Rome” approach and don’t argue the point unless somebody else is foolish enough to raise it. This is because I consider such argument to be largely unproductive, not because I would consider it to be divisive. With every contentious issue that has arisen in the Church in the last century or so the accusation of divisiveness has always been made against those who argue for the old traditions, the old ways, the status quo ante on the part of those pushing an agenda of change, whether it be for the ordination of women or same-sex marriage or some such thing. In reality, it is those pressing for change, who are creating division.
I have no problem with Bob Wilkin’s position as he explains it in his blog post. Wilkin, who is very close to Zane Hodges in most if not all of his views, belongs to what I have called here the Traditional School in which he advocates the Majority Text position. I would position myself in the Traditional School somewhere between this and the Textus Receptus position advocated by the Trinitarian Bible Society. Wilkin uses the New King James Version. I have nothing against the NKJV, which was translated from the same text at the Authorized Version, by conservative scholars one of whom I knew personally – Dr. William K. “Bill” Eichhorst who was Chancellor of Providence while I was there. I gave my copy away to my dear friend St. Reaksa of Himm decades ago, however. I don’t particularly see the need for updating the language of the Authorized Version, the beauty of which is a huge part of its charm. I know full well that “prevent” in 1611 still meant what its Latin roots suggest rather than “to hinder” and that “rereward” is a military term meaning a rearguard not rewarding someone a second time. As for the old objection to the “thees and thous”, I can only scoff at it in derision. Anyone who does not know that these mean “you” should still be reading a Picture Bible. Ultimately, what it boils down to for me is “If it was good enough for King Charles I it is good enough for me”.
I began with a memory of Providence and will close with one that relates to the Authorized Version albeit in a completely different way. In my freshman year our New Testament professor, whom I did not bring up in the earlier discussion of the Biblical Studies v. Theology tension simply because most of the issues with the New Testament department at that time had to do with the Professor’s being in what appeared to be the first stages of a transition to Judaism and thus, obviously, could hardly be said to be typical of larger trends in evangelical scholarship, repeated a meme that was circulating at the time as to the Authorized Version, namely that the reason the name Ἰάκωβος is rendered “James” rather than “Jacob” when referring to New Testament figures of this name, rather than the Old Testament patriarch, is because the King wanted his name put in the translation.
There were several students who took everything this man had to say as Gospel truth. By contrast with Peter Ruckman, whose crass and caustic manner expressed an attitude of complete disrespect for all the pretensions of scholarship these students went to the opposite extreme of forming an almost cult-like adoration of their favourite scholar. Consequently, they never bothered to do the simple research that would have been necessary to debunk the aforementioned meme.
Thus when, three or four years later, in a class taught by Dr. August H. Konkel this subject came up – exactly why, I do not remember – one of these students, parroted the answer he had been given in our freshman year. Gus told him that he was wrong and asked if anyone knew the real answer. I raised my hand and pointed out that long before the Authorized Version Ἰάκωβος had been rendered by the precursor to James in Latin. James and Jacob are both etymologically derived from the same Hebrew original. This was the correct answer. Gus acknowledged this and then asked me if I had studied Latin. At that point in time I had to say no, although I have since rectified that. Here is how I knew the answer: while not all versions of the Vulgate show this – the change had not taken place by St. Jerome’s day – the edition that was sitting in the Providence library for anybody to check, as I had done, after simply looking up the etymology of the name James, certainly did.
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