On The King James Only Movement, The Majority Text, And Text Criticism


As a young Christian, as I was beginning to study Greek and to learn the Reformed theology, piety, and practice, I could see the textual apparatus in the footnotes of my copy of the Greek New Testament but I could not decipher it. I understood that there were different manuscripts and papyri of the New Testament which contained discrepancies but it was not until I began to read about textual criticism that I began to be able to sort these things out. I began my studies by reading Bruce M. Metzger, The Text of the New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration. 2nd ed. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1968). This is a marvelous work, which continues to be updated and revised. Far from creating doubt, the study of the history of the text of the New Testament and learning about how scholars evaluate texts, and about how to evaluate the claims of the various schools of thought helped me to resolve doubts and thus was most helpful to my faith. From the study of textual criticism I gained confidence about the number and quality of the textual witnesses to the New Testament. The Lord truly has preserved his Word but not perhaps in the way that some think.

Two other remarks are in order.

First, text criticism is not to be confused with higher criticism, where unbelieving scholars sit in judgment over the Word of God. Faithful Christians have long done textual criticism.

Second, none of the differences between the ancient copies of the New Testament touches any biblical truth or any cardinal Christian doctrine nor even Christian practice. Nevertheless, there are some notable places in the New Testament where different manuscripts, papyri, and the like differ.



Recently I have been getting questions about the text criticism of the New Testament, about the so-called “King James Only” movement, and related questions about the text of the Greek New Testament. What are we discussing? First, we are discussing English translations of the Bible. Probabilities are, dear reader, that you have an English Bible to hand, in print and perhaps on your phone (or tablet), and that it is one of several translations. Among more conservative evangelicals in the last couple of decades the English Standard Version has been very popular. Before that it was the New International Version. In some circles some version of the New American Standard Version (e.g., 1995) remains popular. In some quarters the New King James Version (1982) has been a popular replacement for the King James Version. Behind them were the Revised Standard Version and before that was the American Standard Version (1901), and before that the Revised Version (1881), and the King James Bible (1611), and before that the Geneva Bible. These are all worthy translations for which we should be thankful. The Bible in the language of the people is one of the many benefits of the Reformation. The Westminster Assembly spoke for the consensus of the Reformed churches when they confessed:

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 into 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 (WCF 1.8).

Behind all those worthy translations, however, lies the text of Scripture in the original languages, Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. It is to the original languages that the Reformed Churches go to resolve controversies: “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.” So, we confess that God has preserved his Word and that, in controversies, we go back to the original languages but to which text?

The Necessity of Textual Criticism

The Bible is the Word of God. It is inspired by the Holy Spirit and therefore infallible, i.e., incapable of error. This is, without question, the historic Christian view of holy Scripture. In the modern period, during and because of the Enlightenment rejection of external divine authority (whether Scripture or church), because of its dogmatic belief in human autonomy relative to God and church, there arose the “higher critical” approach to Scripture in which theologically skeptical and liberal critics placed themselves in judgment over God’s Word. They denied the Mosaic authorship of the first five books of the Old Testament, divine inspiration, and the truthfulness of Scripture generally. They sought to strip out any supernaturalism from the Bible, so they denied a priori possibility of the  fulfillment of prophecy and re-dated various books of the Old Testament accordingly. This approach rested on dogmatic naturalist assumptions and poor methods, which have come under severe criticism from both theological conservatives and liberals. Against the naturalist critics, orthodox Christians have rightly asserted the inerrancy of Scripture, i.e., the claim that Scripture does not err.

These truths (infallibility and inerrancy), however, do not hold that God does not use humans and ordinary processes to deliver and preserve his Word. The prophets and apostles spoke as they were “carried along” by the Holy Spirit (2 Pet 1:21) but they wrote in ordinary language (not a special “Holy Spirit” Greek). They used ordinary materials. They used secretaries (scribes) as they dictated letters. They used copyists. Those copies were copied. The Lord has preserved his Word but we may not excuse ourselves from history, the study of the ordinary providence of God. We know that, in the providence of God, some differences between some copies of Scripture arose. Using tested and true methods of text criticism, it is possible to determine which readings are more likely than others.

There are some, however, who, rather than seeking to consider the whole history of the transmission (e.g., copying) of the New Testament, how copyists introduced errors, or how marginal notes were incorporated into the body of the text, or how some copyists sought to include their own views into the text of Scripture and the like, seek more or less to avoid the work of textual criticism by settling on one textual tradition and rejecting all others as inferior. For some, it is the Textus Receptus (the Received Text; TR), which is the text behind the King James Version. Typically, it is adherents of the King James Version who advocate that we should only consult this text of the Greek New Testament. There are others who favor the Majority Text (MT) or the Byzantine Text, which influenced the New King James Version. In the modern version of this text the apparatus refers only to variants within the Byzantine text type and not to copies that have been discovered since. In the 19th century, however, there were discovered papyri and other materials containing copies of parts of the New Testament which are older than the TR and the MT. Most scholars of textual criticism seek to incorporate these discoveries into their understanding of the history and transmission of the text of the New Testament. The resulting text is known as the Ecleectic Text (e.g., the UBS Greek New Testament or the Nestle-Aland Novum Testamentum Grace), inasmuch as it consults all of the textual families. This is the text behind most modern Bible translations since the Revised Version (1881) including the NASB and the ESV.

Textual criticism, however, is necessary and it is something that Reformed pastors and scholars have always done. For example, John Calvin was a scholar of the classics, a humanist, before he became a Reformed Protestant. Part of the work of a humanist was to account for the activity of humans, in the providence of God, in the copying and transmission of the text of Scripture. He was aware that there were textual variants, i.e., copies of the Greek New Testament that said slightly different things. E.g., in his commentary on John, discusses the problems associated with the Pericope Adulterae (John 7:53–8:11)—more on this below. Theodore Beza (1519–1605), also a humanist scholar who became a Reformed theologian, was also a scholar of the history of the text of the New Testament.  Robert Estienne (Stephanus) learned of some of the variants of a text, which we now know as D (5th–6th century) or the principal representative of the Western Text Type, and reported them to Beza, who, as the story goes, rescued the text from a burning monastery in Lyons. In 1581 he donated the text to Cambridge so it is is known as Cantabrigiensis (the Latin name for Cambridge) or Codex Bezae (Beza’s Book). Stephanus and later, the Elzevir Brothers, incorporated readings from Codex Bezae into their versions. Even as he made use of this copy, Beza himself had to notice the remarkable ways in which it varied from other texts. The comparison of those variations is part of textual criticism. Even in the 16th and 17th centuries, as we discovered copies of the New Testament (or portions thereof, as in the case of D), we did not shun them but studied them, evaluated them, and incorporated them in the light of all we knew at the time.

Some infer, however, from the language of the Westminster Confession (as quoted above) that there must be a single text of the New Testament, at one place, at one time (in one work, to use Warfield’s language), preserved by God. Like Calvin and Beza before them, the scholars gathered at Westminster, however, were aware that there are places in the New Testament where ancient copies of the Greek text vary from each other. They did not have access to all of the copies that we do today but they knew that students of the New Testament have long had to choose between them.

B. B. Warfield (1851–1921) was a scholar and professor of New Testament before he became a systematic theologian in Princeton Theological Seminary. He was one of the stoutest defenders of the doctrine of biblical inerrancy at the turn of the 20th century and thoroughly rejected the claims and methods of the theologically liberal higher critics. In 1886 he published An Introduction to the Textual Criticism of the New Testament.1 This volume went through several editions. In it Warfield defended the necessity of textual criticism: “…a work may exist in several copies, each of which has its own ipsissima verba, which may, or may not, tally with one another.”2 He explained further,

We cannot choose any one edition, and say that it is the text of Hamlet; it is one text of Hamlet, but not necessarily the text of Hamlet. We cannot choose one manuscript of Homer, and say that it is the text of Homer. It is a text of Homer, but the text of Homer may be something very different. We note, then, that the text of a document and the text of a work may be very different matters.3

Textual criticism has to consider two great questions: (1) what are the internal probabilities? and (2) what are the external probabilities? The latter has to do with the history of the transmission of the text. From where and when did it arise? In what condition is it? Is there evidence that of errors by copyists etc. So, a reading that only exists in later copies or a reading that was obviously translated from Latin into Greek and then inserted into the text is less likely to be authentic than other readings. A reading that is obviously an attempt by a copyist to resolve a difficulty is less likely to be authentic than a reading that is more difficult. This latter principle says that the more difficult reading (lectio difficilior) is more likely since copyists were  tempted to correct a difficult passage to make it clearer for the reader. We will see an example of this below. The former, internal probabilities, are a little more difficult but unavoidable. Here we are asking, does this passage belong to the style of the author? Are these words the author uses elsewhere? Do they belong to the author’s era? These are important questions. It was by asking and answering such questions that humanist scholars discovered that so-called “Donation of Constantine,” ostensibly a grant by Constantine to Pope Sylvester I of secular authority over W. Europe, was fraudulent. In the 15th century, Nicholas of Cusa, Reginald Pecock, and Lorenzo Valla, each showed that it was a fraud since it used words that did not exist in the 4th century. There is, of course, unavoidable subjectivity here. As we will see, Metzger was certain (and most agree) that the Pericope Adulterae is not Johannine. Part of his ground for this judgment is that the style is not Johannine but Hodges and Farstad, who published the Majority Text, reached the exact opposite conclusion, arguing that it is properly placed and has “marks of Johannine style” and “the idea that the passage is not authentically Johannine just finally be dismissed.” Though they appeal to alleged Johannine parallels the bedrock of their argument is the number of copies of the passage, hence the designation, “Majority Text.”

Before we consider three of the great examples illustrating the need for textual criticism, there is one more preliminary consideration, the so-called “Textus Receptus.” As Metzger notes, the first published Greek New Testament was produced by the great Dutch humanist, Erasmus (1469–1536).5 In 1514 and 1515 he was at work on the project, which he finished in October. It appeared in 1516. It was seen as a faulty, rushed work in its own time. Erasmus relied on “two rather inferior manuscripts from a monastic library in Basle” which dated from “about the twelfth century.”6 His text of the Revelation was particularly problematic since it “lacked the final leaf, which had contained the last six verses of the book. For these and other passages Erasmus relied on the Latin Vulgate and translated it back into Greek.7 “Subsequent editors, though making a number of alterations in Erasmus text, essentially reproduced this debased form of the Greek Testament. Having secured an undeserved pre-eminence, what came to be called the Textus Receptus of the New Testament resisted for 400 years all scholar efforts to displace it in favor of an earlier and more accurate text.”7 The first text to be marketed as the “Textus Receptus” was published by the Elzevir Brothers in Leiden.8 This Greek text remained the basis for English translations until 1881 (the Revised Version). In other words, the Textus Receptus, is a fairly arbitrary designation. It is certainly not the case that there was a universally received text that was suddenly overthrown by Modern, critical (unbelieving) scholars.

Three Examples Of The Necessity Of NT Text Criticism

Among the most famous (or notorious) places that illustrate the necessity of text criticism are the woman taken in adultery (John 7:53–8:11; the Pericope Adulterae), which most agree is not authentically Johannine. Metzger writes, the “evidence for the non-Johannine origin of the pericope [extract from a text] is overwhelming.”He goes on to list a wide variety of witnesses, portions of the New Testament, from which the narrative is absent.

When one adds to this impressive and diversified list of external evidence the consideration that the style and vocabulary of the pericope differ noticeably from the rest of the Fourth Gospel (see any critical commentary), and that it interrupts the sequence of 7.52 and 8.12ff., the case against it being of Johannine authorship appears to be conclusive.9

Still, he adds, “[a]t the same time the account has all the earmarks of historical veracity. So, scholars have placed the passage, in most modern publications of the Greek New Testament in brackets to signal to the reader that there are questions about the passage. Most modern English translations signal these issues by putting the passage in bracket or by adding a footnote to the effect that “this passage is not in the earliest copies of the New Testament.”

Second is the so-called “Johannine Comma” of 1 John 5:7–8. In the most ancient copies of the passage, it reads “…witnesses, the Spirit and the water and the blood.” In the Textus Receptus (Received Text) the following words are added after witnesses, “in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit. And these three are one. And there are three witnesses on the earth.” About these words Metzger writes, “[t]hat these words are spurious and have not right to stand in the New Testament is certain…”.10 Almost all modern New Testament translations do not include these words and for good reason. As Metzger explains, “[t]he passage is absent from every known Greek manuscript except eight, and these contain the passage  in what appears to be a translation from a late recension [revision] of the Latin Vulgate. Four of the eight manuscripts have the words in the margin and are from the 10th, 14th, and 16th centuries. Further, the passage is quoted by none of the Greek church fathers.11 The words are absent from all the manuscripts of the ancient versions. It did not appear in Greek until the 4th Lateran Council (1215). It is not quoted “as part of the actual text of the Epistle” until a fourth-century Latin work, Liber apologeticus.12

Finally, under this heading, we come to the longer ending of the gospel of Mark (Mark 16:9–20). In most modern translations the longer ending of Mark is in brackets with some note indicating that “some ancient manuscripts do not include 16:9–20.” The longer ending is absent from the two oldest Greek manuscripts.13 Important early fathers (Clement of Alexandria and Origen) are unaware of the longer ending. Eusebius and Jerome were aware of it and also that it was absent “from almost all Greek copies of Mark known to them.”14 Nevertheless, the longer ending is in “vast majority of witnesses.”15 There is evidence in Irenaeus (c. AD 170) and elsewhere (e.g., Justin Martyr, c. AD 150) for at least part of the longer ending.16 After considering all the evidence, most scholars agree with Metzger: the longer ending “has no claim to be original.”17 The external evidence is “extremely limited” and includes several “non-Markan words and expressions.” Metzger argues, [t]he whole expansion has about it an unmistakable apocryphal flavor. It is probably the work of a second or third century scribe …”.18 The longer ending is ancient but probably not authentic. Considering the internal evidence, the connection between v. 8 and vv. 9–20 is awkward. For my part, after translating (for my own purposes) and preaching through the gospel of Mark twice I cannot imagine him writing the longer ending. It is completely uncharacteristic of Mark.

The QIRC, KJV-Only, The Rejection Of Textual Criticism

The question of whether to practice textual criticism (and how) is closely related to matter of Bible translations. Just as some are promoting the Byzantine Text Type only or the TR only, so some are likewise promoting the King James Version as the only reliable translation. In Recovering the Reformed Confession I argue that there is, in fundamentalism and in some quarters of the conservative Reformed world, a phenomenon that I call the Quest for Illegitimate Religious Certainty (QIRC). This is the desire to have a kind on matters about which certainty is either not possible (e.g., to know what God knows, the way he knows it) or not necessary. The KJV Only Movement is a prime example of this desire.

So far in this essay I have used the word probability and synonyms several times. I used the word deliberately. On some of these questions probability is the best we can do right now. There are many papyri still to be studied and compared with existing documents. Within the vast number of excellent copies we have—itself an evidence of the supernatural preservation of the Word of God—the autographa, the original text, but not in any one text family. This view is unacceptable to the KJV-only movement (e.g., E. F. Hills) and to some proponents of the Byzantine Text Type . Their rejection of any uncertainty in text criticism is prima facie evidence of the QIRC.

Further, the notion that the King James or Authorized Version should be the only translation or that it is the only true translation is without foundation in the history of the Reformed Churches. Just as we saw that Calvin and Beza practiced text criticism, so too we should know their English-speaking students and contemporaries produced their own English-language Bible, the Geneva Bible. Before that Tyndale and his associates made their own translation of Scripture from the original languages, from which the translators involved in the KJV borrowed liberally. In between Tyndale and the Geneva Bible there were others. As great as the KJV was, a matter of literature, and as faithful as it was in its time, the Reformed did not think that there should only be one translation or that only one translation was faithful to the original languages. Further, the KJV has its own history. It has been revised over the centuries and is, finally, just a translation. The prophets and apostles were inspired when God the Spirit gave us the Scriptures but the translators of the KJV were not inspired as they translated Scripture. Some defenses of the KJV Only view remind me of the Romanist defense of the Vulgate. I wonder if these defenders have read Luther’s letter on translating? As readers of Greek and Hebrew, the early Reformed understood that translation is a difficult work and that good people are going disagree about how to express a truth or an idea, from the original languages of Scripture, in another language.

The great number of excellent Bible translations, even those whose translation philosophy I have ultimately come to reject (e.g., the NIV and the New King James, for different reasons) are fine works from whom we can learn and in which we are reading faithful translations of God’s Word. We are blessed in the 21st century to have many resources for biblical scholarship and to be the recipients of diligent work in the 19th and 20th centuries. I am confident that, when we make use of those resources, we are following in the footsteps of our Reformation forebears, who were great scholars and who, when faced with challenges, did not shy away from them but faced them squarely. So should we. To do in our time what they did in theirs, we must embrace (and not reject) the difficult work of New Testament text criticism. Counting noses (e.g., the number of copies) from one family of texts is not text criticism but the avoidance of text criticism. To impugn the motives of scholars who advocate the Eclectic Text is unworthy of our heritage and our principles. As the spiritual children of Calvin, Beza, Warfield, and Machen, we should shun “know-nothing” fundamentalism and embrace the humanism of Calvin, Beza et al. who sought diligently to compare the texts they had, to work in the original languages, and to produce a translation that can be widely used and understood by the church.

© R. Scott Clark 2020. All Rights Reserved.


Select Bibliography

NB: This bibliography is not comprehensive but meant to represent the various points of view on textual transmission and criticism. E.g., Burgon  was a defender of the TR, Hills, is a defender of the KJV-Only position, and Sturz is an able defender of the Byzantine Text Type. The others listed here explain, defend, or an example of the Eclectic approach to text criticism.

  • Aland, Kurt, and Barbara Aland. The Text of the New Testament : An Introduction to the Critical Editions and to the Theory and Practice of Modern Textual Criticism. 2Nd ed., pbk.ed. Grand Rapids: W.B. Eerdmans, 1995.
  • Bruce, F. F. The English Bible: A History of Translations from the Earliest English Versions to the New English Bible. New York: Oxford University Press, 1970.
  • Burgon, John William. The Causes of the Corruption of the Traditional Text of the Holy Gospels: Being the Sequel to the Traditional Text of the Holy Gospels. Edited by Edward Miller. London: G. Bell, 1896.
  • Burgon, John William. The Traditional Text of the Holy Gospels Vindicated and Established. Edited by Edward Miller. London: G. Bell, 1896.
  • Burgon, John William. The Last Twelve Verses of the Gospel According to S. Mark. Ann Arbor, Mich.: Sovereign Grace Book Club, 1959.
  • Carson, D. A. The King James Version Debate: A Plea for Realism. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1979.
  • Comfort, Philip Wesley. The Origin of the Bible. Wheaton, Ill.: Tyndale House, 1992.
  • Comfort, Philip Wesley, and David P Barrett. The Text of the Earliest New Testament Greek Manuscripts. A corr., enl. ed. of The complete text of the earliest New Testament manuscriptsed. Wheaton, Ill.: Tyndale House, 2001.
  • Comfort, Philip Wesley. Early Manuscripts & Modern Translations of the New Testament. Wheaton, Ill.: Tyndale House, 1990.
  • Hill, Charles E.  and Michael J. Kruger, eds. The Early Text of the New Testament. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012.
  • Hills, Edward F. The King James Version Defended!: A Space-Age Defense of the Historic Christian Faith. The New Space Age Christian Library. Des Moines, Iowa: Christian Research Press, 1973.
  • Jongkind, Dirk et al., The Greek New Testament. Wheaton and Cambridge, UK: Crossway and Cambridge University Press, 2017.
  • Hodges, Zane C. and Arthur L. Farstad eds., The Greek New Testament According to the Majority Text. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1982.
  • Metzger, Bruce M. A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, 2nd ed. (Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft/United Bible Societies, 1994)
  • Metzger, Bruce, M. The Text of the New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration, 2nd ed. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1968.
  • Aland, Barbara and Kurt, et al., eds. Novum Testamentum Graece. 28th rev. ed. Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 2012.
  • Reeves, Ryan M, and Charles E Hill. Know How We Got Our Bible. Know Series. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2018.
  • Sturz, Harry A. The Byzantine Text-Type and New Testament Textual Criticism. Nashville: T. Nelson, 1984.


  1. B. B. Warfield,  An Introduction to the Textual Criticism of the New Testament. The Theological Educator (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1886).
  2. Warfield, ibid., 2.
  3. Warfield, ibid., 3.
  4. Zane C. Hodges and Arthur Farstad, eds. The Greek New Testament According to the Majority Text (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1982), xii, xiii.
  5. Bruce M. Metzger, The Text of the New Testament, 2nd ed. (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press), 99.
  6. Metzger, The Text of the New Testament, 98.
  7. Metzger, The Text, 100.
  8. Metzger, The Text, 103.
  9. Metzger, The Text, 105–06.
  10. Bruce M. Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, 2nd ed. (Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft/United Bible Societies, 1994), 187.
  11. Metzger, ibid., 647.
  12. Metzger, ibid., 648.
  13. Metzger, ibid. 648.
  14. Metzger, ibid., 102–03.
  15. Metzger, ibid., 103.
  16. Metzger, ibid., 103.
  17. Metzger, ibid., 103–04.
  18. Metzger, ibid., 104.
  19. Metzger, ibid., 104


  1. Good stuff here, for sure. But I have to ask why someone like Bart Ehrman who is said to have walked the aisle at a YCC revival, studied at Wheaton and Moody Bible Institute, and then studied textual criticism under Metzger at Princeton, following which he began to question the validity of any translation (supposedly based on the myriad of differing manuscripts, etc.) would go off the rails so easily (into at least agnosticism or even outright atheism) when faced this kind of dilemma (as he is said to have viewed it). It’s great that we live in a time when translators have produced such excellent work as the NASB(V), which I find very useful and we lay people have to stop someplace. I’m not sure how the QIRC’y KJV-only types come to the conclusion that their translation is the uniquely singular place to stop, though.

    • George,

      Bart Ehrman’s apostasy can hardly be laid at the feet of textual criticism. I don’t think he would link the two. Metzger was an an evangelical in the mainline and, given his setting, had a relatively high view of Scripture.

      The issues are important but they are not enough to shake one’s faith. Again, nothing about the essentials of the faith is at stake in any textual-critical question.

  2. Good essay, RSC. I recently read a series of lectures on the history of the English language. One chapter was on the KJV and he pointed out a couple of translation issues due to the fact that in the early 17th century our language was quickly moving from middle English to modern English and much was in flux. The translators had to make some decisions because they ran into a few lexical problems. I regret that I don’t have the examples at hand but can find them. It was an issue I had never considered.

  3. Highly recommend Dr. Mark Ward’s book Authorized: The Use and Misuse of the King James Bible.

    “The KJV beautifully rendered the Scriptures into the language of turn-of-the-seventeenth-century England. Even today the King James is the most widely read Bible in the United States. The rich cadence of its Elizabethan English is recognized even by non-Christians. But English has changed a great deal over the last 400 years–and in subtle ways that very few modern readers will recognize. In Authorized Mark L. Ward, Jr. shows what exclusive readers of the KJV are missing as they read God’s word. In their introduction to the King James Bible, the translators tell us that Christians must ‘heare CHRIST speaking unto them in their mother tongue.” In Authorized Mark Ward builds a case for the KJV translators’ view that English Bible translations should be readable by what they called “the very vulgar”–and what we would call “the man on the street.””

  4. Generally in agreement, and by no means KJVO–although the KJV is the version I usually read. You’ll get no argument from me over those great humanists-cum-Reformed theologians. However, I think that John Burgon made a necessary point that Patristic quotations should not be ignored. Irenaeus, for example, is a witness to at least part of the longer ending of Mark, and that the opening of Mark should read “as it is written in the prophets” rather than “as it is written in Isaiah the prophet”. It should aso be noted that Irenaeus is perhaps a century and a half before the great uncial manuscripts. It could also be the case that the great uncials survived because people in the 4th century recognized them as faulty, and thus did not subject them to the use that would’ve worn out other copies.
    We probably need some newer approaches to textual criticism that long a bit longer at the “Byzantine” text type.

    • Peter,

      1. The Eclectic approach doesn’t ignore the church fathers.
      2. I noted that Irenaeus has a portion of the longer ending of Mark but the problems remain.

  5. I wonder if you could comment on the Coherence Based Genealogical Method. It seems that this is the latest thing in NT Textual Criticism and its results are…interesting. I think future editions of UBS/NA are going to work with CBGM.

  6. I have found in many of the KJVO laypeople, there is a subtle mysticism at work in the defense of their preferred text. I remember once in a college Bible class a woman who was auditing the class stood up and announced she would definitively prove the KJV is the one true Bible. The professor welcomed her to the whiteboard where she wrote KING and then JAMES under it, then drew a triangle around the I and the AM and stated: “There. The name of God.” We all just stared at her.

  7. Thanks for the reply. I suppose that an important starting point would be to recognize that the NT has more manuscript evidence than any ancient literature.

  8. Dr. Clark, the NKJV uses the Received Text although I think the Executive Editor, Arthur Farstad, would have preferred to use the Majority Text.

    The footnotes do reference earlier manuscripts. This is from his book “The New King James Version: In the Great Tradition:”

    “1. The text of the New King James New Testament itself is the traditional one used by Luther and Calvin, as well as by such Catholic scholars as Erasmus, who produced it. Later (1633) it was called the Textus Receptus, or “TR.” Very few scholars would today support this text exactly as it stands, but it certainly is not the corrupt and “villainous” thing that F. J. A. Hort vowed to destroy when he was twenty-three years old.11 2. “NU” in the NKJV notes stands for the critical text, based on Westcott-Hort, but with other selected readings as well. NU stands for Nestle-Aland and United Bible Societies, whose Greek texts are virtually identical. However, their “apparatuses” (sets of footnotes detailing variant readings) are different. This is the preference of a majority of present-day scholars, but not of the majority of the manuscripts.”

    I believe one issue that KJV-only advocates have with the NKJV is that it uses different OT manuscripts from the KJV.

    • Hi Justin,

      Thanks for this. I’m looking at the Preface to the NKJV edition of the New Geneva Study Bible (1995). You’re technically correct, so I will correct my broad statement but it’s clear that the NKJV wants to be seen as related to the MT that the KJV was not. They recognize the limitations of the TR but then defend it on the basis that it’s mostly composed of MT readings. “The Majority Text is similar to the Textus Receptus, but it corrects those readings which have little or know support in the Greek manuscript tradition.” They continue, “Finally, a small but growing number of scholars prefer the Majority Text, which is close to the traditional text except in the Revelation.”

      Their distinction between “Critical Text” and “Majority Text” is telling and one of the motivations for this essay.

  9. Thanks for this, Dr. Clark. One thing I haven’t seen discussed is what we should do with a reading that isn’t original. Textual criticism doesn’t actually answer this question. If we don’t believe in a dictation theory of inspiration but believe that what the authors claim is true, that often their work is the result of investigation, relies on other sources and eyewitness testimony, then why does it have to be the work of one author? Why can’t an editor insert a passage and the work still be the word of God? “Did John write this?” is a different question than “did God inspire this?”. I guess this touches on issues of canon, just on a smaller level.

    • Scott,

      Consider the Pericope Adulterae. I agree with those who say that the objective evidence leads us to think that it is not Johannine and thus dislocated. If we don’t know the original author or location, then should it be regarded as canonical? Who imposed it upon us as canon? Warfield, in his little work on canon says that a text is canonical not merely because it is inspired or apostolic but because it was imposed upon the church as canon. The Pericope Adulterae may well be authentic (there are stray logia attributed to our Lord in some of the Apostolic Fathers but we don’t regard them as canonical for this very reason. They are dislocated and not imposed upon us. We cannot determine with certainty that they are genuine and intended to function as canon, as the rule for the Christian faith and the Christian life. Until we know more about the origins and authorship of the Pericope Adulterae, should we not set it aside because of the ambiguity?

      We should be very cautious indeed about extending inspiration to post-canonical and non-canonical editors/redactors. An inspired editor adding the Pericope Adulterae? Well, if we found the missing Corinthian correspondence, do we recognize it as canonical? I think not. God may well have inspired those missing letters (2nd and 4th or 1st and 3rd) but he didn’t preserve them and didn’t impose them on the churches.

      We reasonably believe that more than one NT epistle was written by a secretary, under the supervision of an apostle. There is a form of multiple authorship. I don’t know anyone who thinks that is a problem but I resist strongly a 2nd-century or 3rd-century editor being treated as apostolic or as an author of Scripture–I guess that’s not what what you’re suggesting, right?

      Ditto re Hebrews. We all accept Hebrews as canonical but we don’t all hold to Pauline authorship—it’s almost impossible for me to see Hebrews as Pauline. I know that a number of Greek fathers did but their explanation is not very compelling.

  10. It’s interesting to learn and then consider that there are differing definitions of what the goal of textual criticism should be. In summary, there is discussion of the original text “as issued by its author” and “as received by his audience,” reflecting the two major competing definitions of the goal. In the end, everybody agrees that the text to be identified should always be the original text, whether it’s conceived as the one the author issued, or as the one his audience received, or both. Brevard Childs has a provocative essay, entitled “The Hermeneutical Problem of New Testament Text Criticism,” on this topic in an excursus in his book *The New Testament as Canon: An Introduction.*

    • Hi Fowler,

      My point here is to try to inform and perhaps forestall a “MT-only” or TR-only, and a KJV-only (or related) movement within NAPARC and especially within the URCs. Thus far, we have been blessedly free of controversy over these issues but my inbox suggests that something may be brewing.

      Thanks for the lead re Childs. He is always worth reading. His commentary on Exodus is still one of the best modern commentaries I have read.

      On your point, “as issued” v “as received” should we not be biased toward “as issued?” Isn’t that a major intent behind doing text criticism? One of my concerns is that there should not be a renewed push against text criticism as though all such is liberal or somehow beneath us orthodox Christians.

  11. I am quite familiar with the “Textus Receptus Only” environment from my upbringing in Landmark Baptist circles. In those cases it was always linked to King-James-Only doctrine. I am sorry to say it was not uncommon to hear preachers deliver sermons missing the entire point of the biblical passage, not because of errors in the KJV, but because the preacher had not worked through the original-language text and had simply misunderstood the archaic English. But there are also more sophisticated folks among the Particular Baptists that hold to similar views, though they are a small minority. I have observed three main arguments for their position: (1) the universal acceptance of the TR among churches during the Reformation era serves as God’s stamp of approval on the text; (2) questioning any particular aspect of the biblical text removes the ability to speak of the Bible in whole as inspired and infallible; and (3) doing textual criticism undermines Christian epistemology because it is exalting man’s rationality above the Scriptures as the ultimate source of truth.

    The response to (1) would simply be, what is the biblical basis for looking to one period in church history for an “approved” text? And on top of that, what criteria would one use to determine which text was approved if there was a biblical basis for looking for one? As soon as arguments or criteria external to Scripture are brought forward, we are dealing with a mere historical or traditional argument and not a biblical one.

    Regarding (2), it has always struck me as amusing that someone would make this claim, then proceed to read from an English translation in public worship while exhorting the people to listen to the infallible and inspired Word of God.

    Besides the difficult belief that we should solve the evil of textual criticism by using a text compiled by means of textual criticism, argument (3) is I think a rather sad perversion of biblical epistemology. It is true that we look to the Word of God as the ultimate source of all truth, but not in the way implied by the argument. We do not place epistemological faith in a bare text, but rather in the Word who gave the text. If my faith is in a text, I have no way of knowing whether the text has been accurately reproduced in my understanding. Have my eyes discerned the ink on the page correctly? Have my ears heard the preacher correctly? Has my mind processed the meaning of the language correctly? How do I know without placing faith in my own faculties prior to placing faith in the Scriptures? But this is not how the Christian operates. Our faith is in the person of the Word to communicate to us, and to do so using the sensory and intellectual means he has created in us expressly for the receipt of his words. Scripture is both self-authenticating and supported by external evidences, but our ultimate epistemological faith (not to mention saving faith) is in its author; and we can be brought to that faith equally by a modern critical text, a Byzantine Priority text, or the TR because the minor differences among them have no effect on this process. With that foundation, it is perfectly reasonable for believers to exercise discernment in peripheral questions about this or that particular variant.

  12. RSC,
    Sorry to be slow in responding to your question above. You’ve made your point clearly, and I’m following you, agreeing with your goal to inform and perhaps forestall a “MT-only” or TR-only, and a KJV-only (or related) movement within NAPARC. Since I was so brief in summarizing competing definitions of the goal of TC, the options “as issued” vs. “as received” may be misleading. I meant to use those expressions as Childs uses them. His interest is nuanced by saying that the issues of canon and text-critical theory and method belong together, since the latter has focused on the written text [IOW what the author wrote as canonical] and the former has focused on the received text [IOW what the church received as canonical]. Since I may not have captured the nuance clearly enough here, it would be best to read Child’s essay and then to find out if and how others have responded to his thesis.

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