Grace Theological Journal 12.1 (1992) 21-50.

          Copyright © 1992 by Grace Theological Seminary.  Cited with permission.




                      AND NEW TESTAMENT

                       TEXTUAL CRITICISM


                                      DANIEL B. WALLACE*




THE Bible has always been of central importance to evangelicals. It

not only defines what we are to believe; it also tells us how we are

to behave. A clear and faithful exposition of the scriptures has, histori-

cally, been at the heart of any relevant pastoral ministry. In order for a

particular passage to be applied legitimately, it must first be understood

accurately. Before we ask "How does this text apply to me?" we must

ask "What does this text mean?" And even before we ask "What does

this text mean?" we must first ask, "What does this text say?" Determin-

ing what a text says is what textual criticism is all about. In other words,

textual criticism, as its prime objective, seeks to ascertain the very

wording of the original. This is necessary to do with the books of the

Bible--as with all literary documents of the ancient world-because the

originals are no longer extant. Not only this, but of the more than five

thousand manuscript copies of the Greek New Testament no two of

them agree completely. It is essential, therefore, that anyone who

expounds the Word of God be acquainted to some degree with the sci-

ence of textual criticism, if he or she is to expound that Word faithfully.

The relevance of textual criticism, however, is not shut up only to

those who have acquaintance with Greek, nor only to those in explic-

itly expository ministries. Textual criticism is relevant to every Chris-

tian, precisely because many of the textual differences in Greek can be

translated into another language. Thus the differences between the New



*Danie1 B. Wallace (B.A., Biola University; Th.M., Th.D. candidate, Dallas Theo-

logical Seminary) is Assistant Professor of New Testament Studies at Dallas Theological

Seminary, Dallas, Texas.

            This article is a reprint of the author's chapter by the same title in New Testament

Essays in Honor of Homer A. Kent, Jr., edited by Gary T. Meadors (Winona Lake, IN:

BMH, 1991). The Grace Theological Journal editorial committee felt that Professor

Wallace's article was worthy of wider circulation and that it would benefit the readership

of the Journal.


22                    GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL


Testament of the King James Version, for example, and that of the New

American Standard Version are not just differences in the English; there

are also differences in the Greek text behind the English-in fact, over

5,000 differences! And with the publication of the New King James New

Testament in 19791 (in which the KJV was rendered in modern English),

the translational differences are diminished while the textual differences

are heightened. The average modern American Christian who lacks the

requisite educational background to read Elizabethan English now has

no excuse for not reading the (new) King James Version. In light of the

heavy promotion by Thomas Nelson Publishers,2 that oft-asked ques-

tion, "What is the most accurate New Testament?," is increasingly a

question about a version's textual basis as much as it is of the transla-

tional philosophy behind it.

What is the textual difference, then, between the (new) KJV NT and

other modern translations? In a nutshell, most modern translations are

based on a few ancient manuscripts, while the (new) KJV NT is based on

a printed edition of the Greek New Testament (called the Textus Recep-

tus or TR) which, in turn, was derived from the majority of medieval

manuscripts (known collectively as the majority text [MT] or Byzantine

text). In one respect, then, the answer to the question "What is the most

accurate New Testament?" turns on the question, "Which manuscripts

are closest to the original-the few early ones or the many late ones?"

In this paper it is not my objective to answer that question.3

Rather, I wish to address an argument that has been used by TR/MT

advocates-an argument which is especially persuasive among lay-

men. The argument is unashamedly theological in nature: inspiration

and preservation are intrinsically linked to one another and both are

intrinsically linked to the TR/MT. That is to say, the doctrine of ver-

bal-plenary inspiration necessitates the doctrine of providential preser-

vation of the text, and the doctrine of providential preservation

necessarily implies that the majority text (or the TR)4 is the faithful


1 The New King James Bible, New Testament (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publish-

ers, 1979).

2 One of the promotional means of the publisher is the sponsoring of concerts. On

July 18, 1988, I attended one of these concerts at Reunion Arena in Dallas, Texas, where

approximately 18,000 people were in attendance. At the end of the concert, Dr. Arthur L.

Farstad, editor of the NKJV, promoted this Bible. His chief "sales pitch" was text-critical

in which he argued that Mark 16:9-20 was authentic and that modem translations, by de-

leting it (or at least by casting doubts on its authenticity), delete Christ's resurrection

from Mark's gospel. His statement, however, was not altogether accurate, for although

there is no resurrection appearance by Christ if the gospel ends at v 8, there is still a res-

urrection! Whether intentional or not, the impression left on the audience was that the

NKJV is a more orthodox translation than other modem versions.

3 For a discussion of this, see my article, "The Majority Text and the Original Text:

Are They Identical?," BSac 148 (1991) 151-69.

4 This statement is not meant to imply that MT = TR, but that within this school of

thought are two divisions-those who hold that the printed edition of Erasmus (TR) is

NEW TESTAMENT TEXTUAL CRITICISM                                  23


replica of the autographs. Inspiration (and inerrancy) is also used for

the Byzantine text's correctness in two other ways: (1) only in the Byz-

antine text do we have an inerrant New Testament; (2) if any portion

of the New Testament is lost (no matter how small, even if only one

word), then verbal-plenary inspiration is thereby falsified.

If inspiration and preservation can legitimately be linked to the

text of the New Testament in this way, then the (new) KJV NT is the

most accurate translation and those who engage in an expository min-

istry should use this text alone and encourage their audiences to do the

same. But if this theological argument is not legitimate, then New Tes-

tament textual criticism needs to be approached on other than a theo-

logical a priori basis. And if so, then perhaps most modern translations

do indeed have a more accurate textual basis after all.

Our approach will be to deal first with the arguments from preser-

vation, then to deal with the arguments related more directly to inspi-

ration and inerrancy.5




A. The Statement

On a popular level, the TR-advocating and "King James only" fun-

damentalist pamphleteers have waged a holy war on all who would use

any modern version of the New Testament, or any Greek text based on

the few ancient manuscripts rather than on the many late ones.6 Jasper

James Ray is a highly influential representative of this approach.7 In his


the original and those who hold that the reading of the majority of extant Greek wit-

nesses is the original.

5 This breakdown is somewhat artificial, since the arguments from inspiration and

inerrancy are closely tied to preservation as well. However, our organization is due

chiefly to the fact that the arguments from preservation are more traditional and univer-

sal among TR/MT advocates, while the arguments from inspiration/inerrancy are of

more recent vintage and are more idiosyncratic.

6 In passing, Peter Ruckman could be mentioned as the most extreme "King James

only" advocate, going so far as to argue that even the Greek and Hebrew text need to be

corrected by the KJV! Cf. his The Christian's Handbook of Manuscript Evidence (Pensa-

cola: Pensacola Bible Institute, 1970) 115-38; Problem Texts (Pensacola: Pensacola

Bible Institute, 1980) 46-48.

7 Not only has he influenced many laymen, but David Otis Fuller dedicated the

book, Counterfeit or Genuine[;] Mark 16? John 8?, of which he was the editor (2d ed.;

Grand Rapids: Grand Rapids International Publications, 1978), to "Jasper James Ray,

Missionary Scholar of Junction City, Oregon, whose book, God Wrote Only One Bible,

moved me to begin this fascinating faith-inspiring study" (p. v). Further, even Zane C.

Hodges, formerly professor of NT at Dallas Theological Seminary, and arguably the

prime mover in the modern revival of the "Traditional Text," "admits that it was the

reading of Ray which began his investigation of textual criticism" (David D. Shields,

"Recent Attempts to Defend the Byzantine Text of the Greek New Testament" [Ph.D.

24                    GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL


book, God Wrote Only One Bible,8 Ray says that no modern version

may properly be called the Bible,9 that salvation and spiritual growth

can only come through versions based on the TR,10 and that Satan is

the prime mover behind all versions based on the more ancient manu-

scripts.11 If Ray's view is correct, then those who use modern transla-

tions or a Greek New Testament based on the few ancient manuscripts

are, at best, dupes of the devil and, at worst, in danger of forfeiting

their immortal souls.

Ray's chief argument on behalf of the TR is based on preservation.

In the following statements, notice how closely inspiration and preser-

vation are linked-and how both are linked to the Textus Receptus.


dissertation, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Fort Worth, Texas; December,

1985] 26. This is based on an interview Shields had with Hodges on January 15, 1985).

8 Junction City, OR: Eye Opener Publishers, 1955.

9 " A multiplicity of differing Bible versions are in circulation today, resulting in a

state of bewildering confusion. Some versions omit words, verses, phrases, and even

chapter portions. ...Among these [versions] you'll not find the Bible God gave when

holy men spake as they were moved by the Holy Spirit. . ." (ibid., 1).

10 The following are representative statements: "... the TEXTUS RECEP-

TUS . . . is God's sure foundation on which to rest our eternal salvation" (32). "It is im-

possible to be saved without 'FAITH,' and perfect-saving-faith can only be produced by

the 'ONE' Bible God wrote, and that we find only in translations which agree with the

Greek Textus Receptus refused by Westcott and Hort" (122). "Put poison anywhere in

the blood stream and the whole becomes poisoned. Just so with the Word of God. When

words are added or subtracted, Bible inspiration is destroyed, and the spiritual blood

stream is poisoned. In this respect the revised Bibles in our day seem to have become

spiritual guinea pigs [sic], with multiple hypodermic shots-in-the-arm by so called Doc-

tors of Divinity, who have used the serum of scholasticism well mixed with modern free-

thinking textual criticism. When the Bible words are tampered with, and substitution is

made, the Bible becomes a dead thing with neither power to give or sustain life. Of

course, even under these conditions, it is possible to build up church membership, and

report many professions. But what about regeneration? Are they born again? No person

can be born again without the Holy Spirit, and it is evident the Holy Spirit is not going

to use a poisoned blood stream to produce healthy christians. Therefore, beware, beware,

lest your faith become marred through the reading of corrupted Revised Versions of the

Bible" (9).

11 In his introduction, Ray states that he "knows that the teaching of this book, re-

garding Textual Criticism, goes contrary to what is being taught in almost every college,

seminary, and Bible school. ...The reader may say, 'How can so many good, sincere ed-

ucated people be wrong?' Herein lies the 'mystery of iniquity' (2 Thess. 2:7)" (ii). Later

he argues: "Many of these men [who use modern versions] are true servants of the Lord,

and we should; with patience and love, try to reveal the truth to them. They have been

'brain-washed' by their teachers; who were 'brain-washed' by other teachers in a 'chain-

reaction' on back to Westcott and Hart who, in 1881, 'switched' most of our seminaries

and Bible schools from the dependable TEXTUS RECEPTUS to inferior manuscripts,

such as codex Sinaiticus and Codex Vaticanus. Of course this 'chain-reaction' could be

traced on back to its beginning in Genesis 3:1, where (Satan) the serpent said unto the

woman, 'Yea, hath God said?' In the humanistic theology of today we would hear some-

thing like this: 'These words are not in the best manuscripts'" (101).



Ray says, for example, that "the Textus Receptus . . . was given by the

inspiration of God, and has been providentially preserved for us

today.”12 He further adds that "the writing of the Word of God by

inspiration is no greater miracle than the miracle of its preservation in

the Textus Receptus.”13 Preservation, then, for Jasper James Ray, takes

place on the same level as inspiration--i.e., extending to the very


Even in works which are dressed in more scholarly garb, this

theological presupposition (along with the witch-hunting invectives15)

is still present. David Otis Fuller, for example, has edited several vol-

umes in which professors and Bible scholars have contributed-all for


12 Ibid., 102.

13 Ibid., 104.

14 Further, inspiration and preservation are linked to tradition-especially the tradi-

tion of the English Bible, for Ray argues: "The Bible God wrote has been providentially

preserved for us in the Greek Textus Receptus, from which the King James Bible was

translated in 1611. Any version of the Bible that does not agree with this text, is cer-

tainly founded upon corrupted manuscripts" (ibid., 106). j

15 David Otis Fuller, for example, in Counterfeit or Genuine, speaks of "bastard "

Bibles" (10) and echoes J. J. Ray in condemning virtually all evangelical institutes of

higher learning for using other than the Textus Receptus or the King James Version:

"This is a David and Goliath battle with practically all of the evangelical seminaries and

colleges, Bible institutes, and Bible schools slavishly following essentially the Westcott

and Hort Greek Text and the Westcott and Hort theory, both of which are fallacious in

every particular" (12). He adds further, as did Ray, that Satan is the mastermind behind

this defection from the King James and TR: "born-again Christians in this twentieth cen-

tury are facing the most malicious and vicious attack upon God's inspired Holy Word

since the Garden of Eden. And this attack began in its modern form in the publication of

the Revised Version of the Scriptures in 1881 in England" (9).

Donald A. Waite, a Dallas Seminary graduate, argues in his The Theological Here-

sies of Westcott and Hort (Collings wood, NJ: Bible for Today, 1979), that the two Cam-

bridge dons were unregenerate, unsaved, apostate, and heretical (39-42). David D.

Shields in his dissertation on "Recent Attempts to Defend the Byzantine Text of the

Greek New Testament," points out that "the evidence on which [Waite] bases these con-

clusions often would indict most evangelical Christians. Even in the author's perspective,

Westcott and Hort have theological problems, but the extreme severity of Waite's ap-

proach would declare anyone apostate and heretical who does not hold to his line" (55).

Wilbur Pickering, another alumnus of Dallas Seminary, and the president of the

Majority Text Society, although normally not as prone as many others to such language,

does sometimes imbibe in vitriolic speech. For example, in :his master's thesis, "An Eval-

uation of the Contribution of John William Burgon to New Testament Textual Criticism"

(Dallas Theological Seminary, 1968), he declares that the most ancient manuscripts

came from a "sewer pipe" (93). In his book, The Identity of the New Testament Text

(Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1977)-a book which has become the standard text in sup-

port of the majority text-Pickering states, for example, that "Aleph and B have lied"

and that "Aleph is clearly a bigger liar than B" (126), and that all the ancient manu-

scripts on which modern critical texts are based are "convicted liars all" (135). Pickering

has toned down his language in his second edition (1980), perhaps due to book reviews

such as R. A. Taylor's in JETS 20 (1977) 377-81, in which such "emotionally-loaded

language" is seen as clouding the issue (379). (In this second edition he says that "Aleph

26                                GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL


the purpose of proving that the TR or MT is the best Greek New Tes-

tament. In Which Bible? he declares:


Naturalistic New Testament critics seem at last to have reached the end

of the trail. Westcott and Hort's broad highway, which appeared to lead

so quickly and smoothly to the original New Testament text, has dwin-

dled down to a narrow foot path and terminated finally in a thicket of

trees. For those who have followed it, there is only one thing to do, and

that is to go back and begin the journey allover again from the consis-

tently Christian starting point; namely, the divine inspiration and provi-

dential preservation of Scripture.16


The sequel to Which Bible?, entitled True or False?, is "DEDI-

CATED TO All lovers of the Book; who believe in the Verbal, Plenary

Inspiration of the Scriptures; and who, of necessity [,] must believe in

the Providential Preservation of the Scriptures through the centuries;

and who hold that the Textus Receptus (Traditional Text) is nearest to

the Original Manuscripts."17

This theological refrain-the linking of inspiration to preservation,

and both to the majority text-got its major impetus from John William

Burgon. Burgon, a high Church Anglican, Dean of Chichester, toward

the end of the nineteenth century was both prolific and vituperative in

his attacks against Westcott and Hort (the Cambridge scholars who pro-

duced the Greek text which stands, more or less, behind all modern


and B have . . . mistakes, . . . Aleph is clearly worse than B" [135], and the ancient

manuscripts are "blind guides all" [145].)

Theodore P. Letis, editor of The Majority Text: Essays and Reviews in the Continu-

ing Debate (Fort Wayne, IN: Institute for Biblical Textual Studies, 1987), seems to use

fulminatory language against everybody, for he is in something of a theological no man's

land: his volleys are directed not only at modem textual criticism, but also at majority

text advocates (since he advocates the TR)-and even against inerrantists! He speaks, for

example, of "the idolatrous affair that evangelicals are having with the red herring of in-

errancy" (22); those who advocate using modem-language Bibles (including the transla-

tors of the New King James Version) are "in pragmatic league with the goddess of

modernity-Her Majesty, Vicissitude" (81); virtually all modem translations imbibe in

Arianism (203); ad hominem arguments are everywhere to be found in his book.

16Which Bible?, 5th ed. (Grand Rapids: Grand Rapids International Publications,

1975) 8-9.

17 True or False? The Westcott-Hort Textual Theory Examined, ed. D. O. Fuller

(Grand Rapids: Grand Rapids International Publications, 1973) 5. This linking of inspi-

ration and preservation is also seen most clearly in Fuller's statement that "The Scrip-

tures make it quite clear that He [God] is also well able to insure the providential

preservation of His own Word through the ages, and that He is the Author and Preserver

of the Divine Revelation. The Bible cannot be accounted for in any other way. It claims

to be 'Theopneustos,' 'God-breathed' (II Timothy 3:16)" (Which Bible?, 5). It is signifi-

cant that Fuller gives no proof-text for preservation here, for to him if the Bible is in-

spired it must be providentially preserved.



translations). There is no question that Burgon is the most influential

writer on behalf of the TR-indeed, that he is the father of the majority

text movement-for he is quoted with extreme approbation by virtually

every TR/MT advocate.18 He argued that "there exists no reason for

supposing that the Divine Agent, who in the first instance thus gave to

mankind the Scriptures of Truth, straightway abdicated His office; took

no further care of His work; abandoned those precious writings to their


Wilbur Pickering, president of the Majority Text Society, has con-

tinued this type of argument into the present debate. In his 1968 master's

thesis done at Dallas Seminary (" An Evaluation of the Contribution of

John William Burgon to New Testament Textual Criticism") he argued

that this doctrine is "most important" and "what one believes does make

a difference.”20 Further, he linked the two together in such a way that a

denial of one necessarily entails a denial of the other: "the doctrine of

Divine Preservation of the New Testament Text depends upon the inter-

pretation of the evidence which recognizes the Traditional Text to be the

continuation of the autographa.”21 In other words, Pickering seems to be

saying: "if we reject the majority text view, we reject the doctrine of


E. F. Hills, who wrote his doctoral dissertation on NT textual

criticism at Harvard Divinity School, argued:


If the doctrine of the Divine inspiration of the Old and New Testament

scriptures is a true doctrine, the doctrine of providential preservation of

the scriptures must also be a true doctrine. It must be that down through

the centuries God has exercised a special providential control over the


18 In Shields' dissertation ("Recent Attempts"), the first three chapters are entitled

"The Popular Defenders of the Textus Receptus," "The Scholarly Defenders of the Tex-

tus Receptus," and "The Defenders of the Majority Text." In each chapter there is a sec-

tion (or two) on Burgon and the impetus he provided for the various groups (there is

even a Dean Burgon Society which quite explicitly promotes his views). One may, with

some justification, feel that very little new has been said by MT/TR advocates after


19 J. W. Burgon, The Traditional Text of the Holy Gospels Vindicated and Estab-

lished (arranged, completed, and edited by E. Miller; London: George Bell and Sons,

1896) 12.

20 Pickering, "An Evaluation of the Contribution of John William Burgon to New

Testament Textual Criticism," 86.

21 Ibid., 91.

22 More recently, Pickering has linked inspiration and preservation so closely that

he argued that a denial of one was a denial of the other: "Are we to say that God was un-

able to protect the text of Mark or that He just couldn't be bothered? I see no other alter-

native-either He didn't care or He was helpless. And either option is fatal to the claim

that Mark's Gospel is 'God-breathed'" ("Mark 16:9-20 and the Doctrine of Inspiration"

[a paper circulated to members of the Majority Text Society, September, 1988] 1).

28                    GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL


copying of the scriptures and the preservation and use of the copies, so

that trustworthy representatives of the original text have been available

to God's people in every age.23

Hills adds that "all orthodox Christians, all Christians who show due

regard for the Divine inspiration and providential preservation of

Scripture, must agree with Burgon on this matter.”24

These writers are just the tip of the iceberg. Indeed, so universal is

the doctrinal underpinning of preservation found among MT/TR advo-

cates that Bart Ehrman could say:

One cannot read the literature produced by the various advocates of the

Majority text without being impressed by a remarkable theological con-

currence. To one degree or another, they all (to my knowledge, without

exception) affirm that God's inspiration of an inerrant Bible required His

preservation of its text.25

And even Theo Letis, a TR advocate himself, flatly states, "The only

reason that the Majority Text proponents even argue for the Byzantine

text is because theologically they have both a verbal view of inspira-

tion-and as a hidden agenda an unexpressed (at least as part of their

present method) belief in providential preservation.”26


23 E. F. Hills, The King James Version Defended! (4th ed.; Des Moines: Christian

Research, 1984) 2.

24 "The Magnificent Burgon," in Which Bible?, 90.

25 Bart D. Ehrman, "New Testament Textual Criticism: Quest for Methodology"

(M.Div. thesis, Princeton Theological Seminary, 1981) 40. Shields echoes the same

viewpoint in his dissertation ("Recent Attempts") where in each of his first three chapters

in which he interacts with various proponents of MT/TR, there is extensive material on

"theological perspective," including inspiration and providential preservation. He sum-

marizes that "the strong theological basis from which all advocates for primacy [of the

Byzantine text-type] argue is a poor starting-point for determining the text of the New

Testament and creates a history of the text which contradicts known facts" (p. 3 of ab-

stract). Since Ehrman wrote his thesis and Shields his dissertation, Theo Letis has altered

this picture to some degree: he is the first member of the MT/TR school (as far as I am

aware) who, though affirming providential preservation, denies inerrancy (see n. 15).

26 Letis, Continuing Debate, 9. One might argue that Zane Hodges does not have

such an agenda and that therefore he is an exception to the rule. At one point, in fact,

Hodges himself seems to say this. In his interaction with Gordon Fee over this issue,

Hodges states: "To speak of 'all modem advocates of the TR' as having a 'hidden agenda'

is an impermissible argumentum ad hominem. It also is not true. I, for one, would be

quite happy to accept the Westcott-Hort text as it stands if I thought that the grounds on

which it rested were adequate. . . . My agenda at least-and I speak here only for my-

self-is precisely what I have expressed it to be-namely, a call to re-examine the

claims of the majority text in the light of increasingly perceived deficiencies of the the-

ory that underlies today's editions. I happen to think that a man's theology can affect

his textual theories, but I am perfectly willing to entertain sensible arguments from any



To sum up: on a lay level, as well as on a pseudo-scholarly level,

and even on a scholarly level, inspiration, preservation and the TR/MT

are linked intrinsically. According to Byzantine text advocates, you

cannot have one without the other.


B. The Critique

There are a number of serious problems with the theological

premise of Byzantine text advocates. Generally speaking, however,

they all fall into one of three groups: (1) a question-begging approach,

(2) faulty assumptions, and (3) a non-biblical doctrinal basis. As will be

readily seen, there is a great deal of overlap between these three areas.


1. Question-Begging Approach

Majority text proponents beg the question for their view on at

least three fronts.

a. What do you count? First, they only count Greek manu-

scripts. Yet, there are almost twice as many Latin NT manuscripts as

there are Greek (over 10,000 to approximately 5,500). If the Latin


quarter no matter what theology they may be associated with" ("Modern Textual Criti-

cism and the Majority Text: A Response," JETS 21 [1978] 145-46).

As Ehrman points out, however, there are two objections to Hodges' alleged neutral

stance: (1) "While Hodges is right that some theological presuppositions may have no

effect on one's approach toward textual criticism, it is equally clear that others certainly

will. If one affirms as a theological 'given' that God would not allow a corrupted form of

the New Testament text to be widely accepted, then, despite disclaimers, any argument to

the contrary must be rejected out of hand. For the sake of personal integrity an individual

such as Hodges may adduce strictly historical arguments for his position; but if one as-

sumes this doctrine to be true and refuses to reconsider, then any textual method that

does violence to it will be automatically rejected. For this reason, Hodges cannot 'enter-

tain sensible arguments from any quarter no matter what theology they may be associated

with'" (49-50). (2) "The other problem with Hodges's position is that he himself does

not hold to it consistently. In another work ["A Defense of the Majority Text," Dallas

Seminary, n.d., p. 18], Hodges openly states that his historical (note, historical, not theo-

logical) arguments for the superiority of the Majority text will appeal only to those of

similar theological conviction. . . ." (50). Not only this, but elsewhere Hodges rejects

Hort's views because of their rationalistic presuppositions, arguing that the "New Testa-

ment text is not like any other ancient text" and that "the logic of faith demands that

documents so unique cannot have had a history wholly like that of secular writings"

(Hodges, "Rationalism and Contemporary New Testament Textual Criticism," BSac 128

[1971] 29-30). Ehrman concludes from this that "apart from the fact this amounts to

little more than rhetoric, a paradigmatic argumentum ad hominem, it is clear that Hodges

chooses to reject the principles of Wes[t]cott and Hort simply because they do not accept

his doctrine of revelation and preservation. Under such circumstances, to turn around and

say that all arguments for the contrary position will be given rational consideration is

nothing short of misleading" (51).

30                    GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL


manuscripts were to be counted, then modern translations would be

vindicated rather than the King James, because the early Greek manu-

scripts which stand behind the vast bulk of Latin manuscripts and

behind modern translations are quite similar.27 At one point, E. F.

Hills argued that "God must preserve this text, not secretly, not hidden

away in a box for hundreds of years or mouldering unnoticed on some

library shelf, but openly before the eyes of all men through the contin-

uous usage of His Church.”28 Preservation is therefore linked to public

accessibility. It is precisely at this point that the argument for counting

only Greek manuscripts begs the question. As Ehrman points out:

[According to Hills,] the subsequent preservation of the New Testament

text did not extend to guaranteeing the accuracy of its translation into

other languages, but only to protecting the relative purity of the Greek

text itself. Here, of course, his prior argument that God preserved the

text for the sake of His church becomes irrelevant-since only a select

minority in the church has ever known Greek.29

b. When do you count? Majority text advocates tacitly assume

that since most Greek manuscripts extant today belong to the Byzan-

tine text, most Greek manuscripts throughout church history have

belonged to the Byzantine text. But this assumption begs the question

in the extreme, since there is not one solid shred of evidence that the

Byzantine text even existed in the first three centuries of the Christian

era.30 Not only this, but as far as our extant witnesses reveal, the Byz-

antine text did not become the majority text until the ninth century.

Furthermore, for the letters of Paul, there is no majority text manu-

script before the ninth century. To embrace the MT/TR text for the

corpus Paulinum, then, requires an 800-year leap of faith. Not only is

this a severe instance of petitio principii, but it also is a cavalier treat-

ment of historical evidence unbecoming of those who boast a faith

which cannot be divorced from history. No majority text advocate

would tolerate such a fideistic leap regarding the person and work of

Christ;31 how then can they employ it when it comes to the text?

c. Where do you count? Suppose we were to assume that only

Greek manuscripts should be counted. And suppose further that public


27 B. M. Metzger, The Early Versions of the New Testament: Their Origin. Trans-

mission and Limitations (Oxford: Clarendon, 1977) 359.

28 E. F. Hills, The King James Version Defended!, 31.

29 Ehrman, "Quest for Methodology," 43.

30 See Wallace, "The Majority Text and the Original Text," 159-66.

31 Ironically, in this instance majority text advocates-all of whom are theologi-

cally conservative-share by analogy some similarities with Bultmann's separation of

the Christ of history and the Christ preached by the early church (i.e., the Christ of faith

or Kerygmatic Christ).



accessibility is a legitimate divine motive for preservation. Given these

two assumptions, one would expect the Byzantine text-type to be

readily accessible in all pockets of the ancient Greek-speaking world.

But that is demonstrably not true. For example, it was not readily

available to Christians in Egypt in the first four centuries. After care-

fully investigating the Gospel quotations of Didymus, a fourth-century

Egyptian writer, Ehrman concludes, "These findings indicate that no

'proto-Byzantine' text existed in Alexandria in Didymus' day or, at

least if it did, it made no impact on the mainstream of the textual tra-

dition there.”32 What confirms this further is that in several places Ori-

gen, the great Christian textual scholar, speaks of textual variants that

were in a majority of manuscripts in his day, yet today are in a minor-

ity, and vice versa.33 Granting every gratuitous concession to majority

text advocates, in the least this shows that no majority text was readily

available to Christians in Egypt. And if that is the case, then how can

they argue for a majority on the basis of public accessibility?


2. Faulty Assumptions

More serious than a question-begging approach are several decid-

edly faulty assumptions made by MT/TR advocates. These assumptions

are shown to be faulty either by the force of logic or empirical


a. Preservation is a necessary corollary of inspiration. E. F.

Hills argued:

If the doctrine of the divine inspiration of the Old and New Testament

Scriptures is a true doctrine the doctrine of the providential preservation

of these Scriptures must also be a true doctrine. It must be that down

through the centuries God has exercised a special providential con-

trol God must have done this. . . . 34

In other words, preservation proceeds from and is a necessary conse-

quence of inspiration. Or, in the words of Jasper James Ray, "the writ-

ing of the Word of God by inspiration is no greater miracle than the

miracle of its preservation. . . . “35 Ehrman has ably pointed out the

logical consequences of such linkage:

Any claim that God preserved the New Testament text intact, giving His

church actual, not theoretical, possession of it, must mean one of three

things-either 1) God preserved it in all the extant manuscripts so that


32 B. Ehrn1an, Didymus the Blind and the Text of the Gospels (Atlanta: Scholars

Press, 1986) 260 (italics added).

33 See Wallace, "The Majority Text and the Original Text," 166.

34 Hills, King James Version Defended!, 8.

35 Ray, God Wrote Only One Bible, 104.

32                    GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL


none of them contain any textual corruptions, or 2) He preserved it in a

group of manuscripts, none of which contain any corruptions, or 3) He pre-

served it in a solitary manuscript which alone contains no corruptions.36


The problem with these first and second possibilities is that neither one

of them is true: no two NT manuscripts agree completely-in fact,

there are between six and ten variations per chapter for the closest two


Is it possible that the NT text was preserved intact in a single

manuscript? No one argues this particular point, because it is easily

demonstrable that every manuscript has scribal errors in it. However,

one group does argue that a particular printed edition of the NT has

been providentially preserved. Proponents of the Textus Receptus (as

opposed to those who argue for the majority text37) believe that the TR

satisfies this third requirement. There are numerous problems with

such a view,38 but it should be noted that TR advocates are at least

consistent in putting preservation on the same level with inspiration.

Nevertheless, there seems to be one major flaw in their approach,

from a biblical standpoint: If the TR equals the original text, then the

editor must have been just as inspired as the original writers, for he not

only selected what readings were to go in this first published edition,

but he also created some of the readings. To be specific, the last leaf of

Erasmus' copy of Revelation was missing, so he "back-translated"

from Latin into Greek and thereby created numerous readings which

have never been found in any Greek manuscript. This should cause

some pause to those conservative Protestants who hail Erasmus' text as

identical with the original, for such a view implies that revelation con-

tinued into at least the sixteenth century. Not only this, but Erasmus

was a Roman Catholic who battled papists and Protestants alike-the

very man against whom Martin Luther wrote his famous Bondage of

the Will. Are conservative Protestants willing to say that this man was

just as inspired as the apostle Paul or John? What is especially ironic

about this is that most TR advocates reject the text of Westcott and


36 Ehrman, "Quest for Methodology," 44.

37 These two text deposits are not identical: there are almost 2,000 differences be-

tween them.

38 E.g., which TR? One of the editions of Erasmus, or Beza, or the Elzevir broth-

ers? The TR has gone through numerous changes, not the least because Erasmus did a

rather poor job of editing the text. Further, once one argues for the infallibility of the

TR, any arguments drawn from public accessibility must be limited to the time of the

Reformation and beyond, since the TR has scores of readings which not only were not in

the majority beforehand, but were also nonexistent.



Hort because (in Eart), as high church Anglicans, they had Roman

Catholic leanings!39

b. Preservation must be through "majority rule." To be sure,

most scholars who employ the doctrine of preservation as a text-critical

argument do not embrace the TR as equal to the original text. In this,

they are not as consistent about the corollary between inspiration and

preservation, but they are certainly more rational in other ways. Never-

theless, there are four serious objections to the argument that presera-

tion must be through majority rule." First, no where does the Bible

state how God would preserve the NT text. Thus their argument is based

squarely on silence.

Second, as Sturz points out,


. . . the Bible tself reveals that there have been occasions when there

has been a famine or dearth of the Word of God. One thinks, for ex-

ample, of the days of Josiah (II Kings 22:8ff.) when apparently the

Scriptures were reduced to one copy. Nevertheless, it still could be said

that God's Word was preserved.40


Third, in light of this biblical precedent of how God preserved a

portion of the Old Testament, can we not see the hand of God guiding a

man such as Constantin von Tischendorl to St. Catherine's monastery at

the base of Mount Sinai, only to discover codex Sinaiticus the oldest

complete NT known to exist--before it met an untimely demise as kin-

dling for the fumace?4l There are, in fact, countless stories of manuscript


39 Not infrequently MT/TR advocates quote from the Life and Letters of Fenton

John Anthony Hort, 2 vols. (London: Macmillan, 1896). A favorite passage is where Hort

writes to Westcott on October 17, 1865: "I have been persuaded for many years that

Mary-worship and 'Jesus'-worship have very much in common in their causes and their

results (2:50). Cf. B: C. Wilkinson,. "Our Authorized Bible Vindicated," in Which

Bible?, 279; D. A. Waite, The Theological Heresies of Westcott and Hort, 39-42.

In passing, it could, with equal justification, be mentioned that not only was Eras-

mus more Catholic than either Westcott or Hort, but even Burgon had a hidden agenda in

his vigorous defense of the longer ending of Mark: he held to baptismal regeneration and

Mark 16:16 seemed to him to be the strongest proof-text of this doctrine. E. F. Hills

writes that he was "strenuously upholding the doctrine of baptismal regeneration" ("The

Magnificent Burgon," in Which Bible?, 87). That this is not an argumentum ad hominem

is evident by the fact that his personal beliefs directly affected his text-critical approach.

(It is perhaps not insignificant that when Hills' essay was reproduced in True or False?

[in Fuller's introduction], this line about Burgon's beliefs was dropped.)

40 H. A. Sturz, The Byzantine Text-Type and New Testament Textual Criticism

(Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1984) 41-42.

41 Contrary to popular belief, although the monks were indeed burning old biblical

manuscripts to keep warm, codex Sinaiticus was not the next in line. (Cf. B. M. Metzger,

The Text of the New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration, 3d, enlarged


34                    GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL


discoveries which seem to speak quite eloquently for God's providential

preservation of the text.42 A more biblically based view of God's provi-

dential ways would not argue that God's hand is only seen or always seen

in "majority rule."

Fourth, theologically one may wish to argue against the majority:

usually it is the remnant, not the majority, that is right. If the history of

Christianity teaches us anything, it teaches us that the majority is

rarely right. Taylor points out a particularly cogent analogy:

. . . Hills' understanding of God's providential dealings in history fails

to account for greater problems than the comparatively minor differences

between the Textus Receptus and its modern rival. For example, God in

His providence allowed in the medieval ages the doctrine of justification

by faith to be almost eclipsed from public understanding until the Refor-

mation leaders again called attention to that doctrine. Would Hills have

God concerned that an exact form of the New Testament text be avail-

able but unconcerned about serious and widespread soteriological mis-


The weight of this argument is especially felt when one considers that

the variations between the majority text and modern critical texts are

qualitatively very minor; most would say that no doctrine is affected

by such differences.44 If God did not protect a major doctrine like jus-

tification, on what basis can we argue that he would protect one form

of the text over another when no doctrinal issues are at stake?45


ed. [Oxford: University Press, 1992] 42-45.) Nevertheless, one could not argue that this

manuscript was out of harm's way, in light of the midwinter practice at the monastery.

42 0ne thinks, for example, of C. H. Roberts rummaging through the basement of

the John Rylands Library of Manchester University in 1935, only to chance upon a small

scrap of papyrus which included portions of five verses from John's gospel (18:31-33,

37-38), and was dated in the first half of the second century. In light of the radical Ger-

man view of the date of John as c. A.D. 170 (harking back to F. C. Bauer a century ear-

lier), this small fragmentary copy of John's gospel, as one scholar put it, "sent two tons

of German scholarship to the flames."

43 R. A. Taylor, "The Modem Debate Concerning the Greek Textus Receptus: A

Critical Examination of the Textual Views of Edward F. Hills" (Ph.D. dissertation, Bob

Jones University, 1973) 156.

44 Cf., e.g., D. A. Carson, The King James Version Debate: A Plea for Realism

(Grand Rapids: Baker, 1979) 56.

45 Sturz gives some further helpful analogies (Byzantine Text-Type, 38): "Preserva-

tion of the Word of God is promised in Scripture, and inspiration af1d preservation are

related doctrines, but they are distinct from each other, and there is a danger in making

one the necessary corollary of the other. The Scriptures do not do this. God, having

given the perfect revelation by verbal inspiration, was under no special or logical obliga-

tion to see that man did not corrupt it. He created the first man perfect, but He was under

no obligation to keep him perfect. Or to use another illustration, having created all things

perfect, God was not obligated to see that the pristine perfection of the world was main-

tained. In His providence the world was allowed to suffer the Fall and to endure a de-

facement of its original condition."



c. Public accessibility of a pure text is a theological necessity. We

have touched on this to some degree already-at least by way of anal-

ogy. But the argument is also contradicted by direct evidence. Pickering

believes that "God has preserved the text of the New Testament in a very

pure form and it has been readily available to His followers in every

age throughout 1900 years.”46 There are two fundamental problems with

this view.

First, assuming that the majority text (as opposed to the TR) is the

original, then this pure form of text has become available only since

1982.47 The Textus Receptus differs from it in almost 2,000 places-

and in fact has several readings which have "never been found in any

known Greek manuscript," and scores, perhaps hundreds, of readings

which depend on only a handful of very late manuscripts.48 Many of

these passages are theologically significant texts.49 Yet virtually no

one had access to any other text from 1516 to 1881, a period of over

350 years. In light of this, it is difficult to understand what Pickering

means when he says that this pure text "has been readily available to

[God's] followers in every age throughout 1900 years.”50 Purity, it

seems, has to be a relative term-and, if so, it certainly cannot be mar-

shaled as a theological argument.

Second, again, assuming that the majority text is the original, and

that it has been readily available to Christians for 1900 years, then it

must have been readily available to Christians in Egypt in the first four

centuries. But this is demonstrably not true, as we have already

shown.51 Pickering speaks of our early Alexandrian witnesses as "pol-

luted" and as coming from a "sewer pipe.,,52 Now if these manuscripts


46 Pickering, "Burgon," 90.

47 Pickering states, "In terms of closeness to the original, the King James Version

and the Textus Receptus have been the best available up to now. In 1982 Thomas Nelson

Publishers brought out a critical edition of the Traditional Text (Majority, "Byzantine")

under the editorship of Zane C. Hodges, Arthur L. Farstad, and others which while not

definitive will prove to be very close to the final product, I believe. In it we have an ex-

cellent interim Greek Text to use until the full and final story can be told" (Identity, 150).

48 Metzger, The Text of the New Testament, 100.

49 Cf., in particular, 1 John 5:7-8 and Rev 22:19.

50 To be sure, Pickering was unaware that there would be that many differences be-

tween the TR and Majority Text when he wrote this note. Originally, his estimate was

between 500 and 1,000 differences ("Burgon," 120). But in light of the 2,000 differ-

ences, "purity" becomes such an elastic term that, in the least, it is removed from being

a doctrinal consideration.

51 Literally scores of studies have been done to prove this, none of which Pickering

seems to be aware. Gordon Fee speaks of Pickering's "neglect of literally scores of

scholarly studies that contravene his assertions" and "The overlooked bibliography here

is so large that it can hardly be given in a footnote. For example, I know eleven different

studies on Origen alone that contradict all of Pickering's discussion, and not one of them

is even recognized to have existed" ("A Critique of W. N. Pickering's The Identity of the

New Testament Text: A Review Article," WTJ 41 [1978-79] 415).

52 "Burgon," 93.

36                    GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL


are really that defective, and if this is all Egypt had in the first three or

four centuries, then this peculiar doctrine of preservation is in serious

jeopardy, for those ancient Egyptian Christians had no access to the pure

stream of the majority text. Therefore, if one were to define preservation

in terms of the majority text, he would end up with a view which speaks

very poorly of God's sovereign care of the text in ancient Egypt.53

d. Certainty is identical with truth. It seems that the underlying

motive behind MT/TR advocacy is the equation of certainty with truth.

For TR advocates, certainty is to be found in a printed edition of the New

Testament. Hills' despair of finding absolute textual certainty through the

standard means of textual criticism ultimately led him to abandon textual

criticism altogether and replace it with a settled text, the Textus Recep-

tus. Theo Letis, the self-proclaimed heir of Hills' mantle, argues that

"without a methodology that has for its agenda the determination of a

continuous, obviously providentially preserved text. . . we are, in prin-

ciple, left with maximum uncertainty, as Edward Hills characterizes it,

versus the maximum certainty afforded by the methodology that seeks a

providentially preserved text.”54

For MT advocates, certainty is found in the majority of manu-

scripts. Pickering argues, for example, that "If the Scriptures have not

been preserved then the doctrine of Inspiration is a purely academic

matter with no relevance for us today. If we do not have the inspired

Words or do not know precisely which they be, then the doctrine of

Inspiration is inapplicable."55 At one point Pickering even states that

uncertainty over the text also makes inspiration untrue.56

In response, several things can be mentioned. First, it should be

noted that in one respect TR advocates are much more consistent than

MT advocates: not only do they put preservation on exactly the same

level as inspiration, but they also can be more certain about the text,


53 We could add here an argument concerning the early versions. None of the ver-

sions produced in the first three centuries A.D. was based on the Byzantine text. But if the

majority text view is right, then each one of these versions was based on polluted Greek

manuscripts-a suggestion that does not augur well for God's providential care of the

NT text, as that care is understood by the majority text view. But if these versions were

based on polluted manuscripts, one would expect them to have come from (and be used

in) only one isolated region (for if only some Christians did not have access to the pure

text, God's sovereignty might be supposed still to be left intact). This, however, is not

the case: the Coptic, Ethiopic, Latin, and Syriac versions came from allover the Medi-

terranean region. In none of these locales was the Byzantine text apparently used. (For

further discussion and documentation, see Wallace, "The Majority Text and the Original

Text," 161-62.)

54 Letis, Continuing Debate, 200.

55 Pickering, "Burgon," 88.

56 W. N. Pickering, ."Mark 16:9-20 and the Doctrine of Inspiration" (unpublished

paper distributed to members of the Majority Text Society, September, 1988) 1.



since they advocate a printed edition. But their argumentation is so

palpably weak on other fronts that we will only make two observations

here: (a) since the TR itself went through several different editions by

Erasmus and others, TR advocates need to clarify which edition is the

inspired one; (b) one simply cannot argue for the theological necessity

of public accessibility throughout church history and for the TR in the

same breath-for the TR did not exist during the first 1500 years of the

Christian era. (Rather inconsistent, for example, is the logic of Theo

Letis when he, on the one hand, argues that God must have preserved

the pure text in an open, public, and accessible manner for Christians

in every generation57 and, on the other hand, he argues that "the Latin

and non-majority readings [of the TR] were indeed restorations of

ancient readings that fell out of the medieval Greek tradition"!58)

Second, regarding MT proponents, several criticisms can be lev-

eled, two of which are as follows. (a) Pragmatically, there is in reality

less certainty in their approach than there is among reasoned eclectics.

In the Byzantine text, there are hundreds of splits where no clear

majority emerges. One scholar recently found 52 variants within the

majority text in the spaces of two verses.59 In such places how are

majority text advocates to decide what is original? Since their method

is in essence purely external (i.e., counting manuscripts), in those

places the majority text view has no solution, and no certainty. At one

point, Pickering recognized this lack of certainty: "Not only are we

presently unable to specify the precise wording of the original text, but .

it will require considerable time and effort before we can be in a posi-

tion to do so.”60 Ironically, therefore, according to Pickering's own

theological construct, inspiration for him must be neither relevant nor

tnie. (b) Logically/theologically, the equation of inspiration with man's

recognition of what is inspired (in all its particulars) virtually puts God

at the mercy of man and requires omniscience of man. The burden is so

great that a text critical method of merely counting noses seems to be

the only way in which human beings can be "relatively omniscient." In


57 Letis, Continuing Debate, 192-94.

58 Ibid., 17,

59 K. Aland, "The Text of the Church?" (TrinJ 8 [1987] 136-37), commenting on

2 Cor 1:6-7a. To be fair, Aland does not state whether there is no clear majority 52

times or whether the Byzantine manuscripts have a few defectors 52 times. Nevertheless,

his point is that an assumption as to what really constitutes a majority is based on faulty

and partial evidence (e.g., von Soden's apparatus), not on an actual examination of the

majority of manuscripts. Until that is done, it is impossible to speak definitively about

what the majority of manuscripts actually read.

60 Identity of the New Testament Text, 150. In Pickering's theological construct,

then, the doctrine of inspiration has no significance, for elsewhere he argued "If we do

not have the inspired Words or do not know precisely which they be, then the doctrine of

Inspiration is inapplicable" ("Burgon," 88).

38                    GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL


what other area of Christian teaching is man's recognition required for

a doctrine to be true?

Finally, a general criticism against both the MT and TR positions:

the quest for certainty is not the same as a quest for truth. There is a

subtle but important distinction between the two. Truth is objective

reality; certainty is the level of subjective apprehension of something

perceived to be true. But in the recognition that truth is objective

reality, it is easy to confuse the fact of this reality with how one knows

what it is. Frequently the most black-and-white, dogmatic method of

arriving at truth is perceived to be truth itself. Indeed, people with

deep religious convictions are very often quite certain about an

untruth. For example, cultists often hold to their positions quite dog-

matically and with a fideistic fervor that shames evangelicals; first-

year Greek students want to speak of the aorist tense as meaning

"once-and-for-all" action; and almost everyone wants simple answers

to the complex questions of life. At bottom this quest for certainty,

though often masquerading as a legitimate epistemological inquiry, is

really a presuppositional stance, rooted in a psychological insecurity.61

To sum up so far: The TR/MT advocates get entangled in numer-

ous question-begging approaches and faulty-even contradictory--

assumptions in their arguments concerning the providential preserva-

tion of the text. That is not the worst of it, however. Their view also is



3. Non-Biblical Doctrinal Basis

We are often told that the consistently Christian view, or the only

orthodox view of the text is one which embraces the Byzantine text-

type, and that to embrace a different form of the text is to imbibe in

heresy. Although this charge is vigorously denied by non-MT/TR

evangelicals, the tables are rarely turned. It is our contention, however,

that to use the doctrine of preservation in support of the MT/TR is to

have a non-biblical view which cannot consistently be applied to both

testaments. The majority text-preservation connection is biblically

unfounded in four ways, two of which have already been touched on.

a. Biblical silence. As we have argued concerning the faulty

assumption that preservation must be through "majority rule," the

scriptures nowhere tell us how God would preserve the NT text. What


61 Along this line is a significant corollary: those Christians, who must have cer-

tainty in nonessential theological areas have a linear, or "domino," view of doctrine: if

one falls, all fall. A more mature Christian, in our view, has a concentric view of doc-

trine: the more essential a doctrine is for salvation (e.g., the person of Christ), the closer

it is to the center of his theological grid; the less essential a doctrine is (e.g., what he be-

lieves about eschatology), the more peripheral it is.



is ironic is that as much ink as MT/TR advocates spill on pressing the

point that theirs is the only biblical view, when it comes to the pre-

served text being found in the majority of witnesses, they never quote

one verse. Although they accuse other textual critics of rationalism,

their argument for preservation via the majority has only a rational

basis, not a biblical one. "God must have done this”62--not because

the Bible says so, but because logic dictates that this must be the case.

b. Old Testament examples of preservation. Again, as we have

already pointed out, the few OT examples of preservation of scripture

do not herald the majority, but only the mere existence of a written

witness. This fact leads to our third point-that the argument from

preservation actually involves bibliological contradictions.

c. A Marcionite view of the text. Marcion was a second century

heretic whose literary remains are found only in essays written against

him. Metzger points out that

The main points of Marcion's teaching were the rejection of the Old Tes-

tament and a distinction between the Supreme God of goodness and an

inferior God of justice, who was the Creator and the God of the Jews. He

regarded Christ as the messenger of the Supreme God. The Old and New

Testaments, Marcion argued, cannot be reconciled to each other.63


It is our contention that majority text advocates follow in Marcion's

train when it comes to their doctrine of preservation because their

theological argument does not work for the Old Testament. If our con-

tention is true, then the dogmatic basis for the majority text is biblio-

logically schizophrenic. The evidence is of two kinds.

First, the argument that the divine motive for preservation is pub-

lic availability-as poor an argument as it is for the Greek text-is

even worse for the Hebrew. Not only is it alleged that "God must do

more than merely preserve the inspired original New Testament text.

He must preserve it in a public way. . . through the continuous usage of

His Church",64 but that "down through the ages God's providential

preservation of the New Testament has operated only through believ-

ers . . . .“65 But the Hebrew scriptures were neither preserved pub-

licly-on display through the church as it were nor only through

Christians. In light of this, how can majority text advocates escape the

charge of Marcionism? In what way can they argue that a bibliological

doctrine is true for the NT but is not true for the OT?


62 Hills, King James Version Defended!, 8.

63 B. M. Metzger, The Canon of the New Testament: Its Origin. Development. and

Significance (Oxford: Clarendon, 1987) 91-92.

64 Hills, King James Version Defended!, 29.

65 Ibid., 26.

40                    GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL


Second, it is demonstrable that the OT text does not meet the cri-

teria of preservation by majority rule. Although the Masoretic textual

tradition (which represents almost the entirety of the extant Hebrew

manuscripts) is highly regarded among most OT textual critics, none

(to my knowledge) claim that it is errorless.66 Most OT scholars today

would agree with Klein that "Samuel MT is a poor text, marked by

extensive haplography and corruption-only the MT of Hosea and

Ezekiel is in worse condition.”67 In fact, a number of readings which

only occur in versions (i.e., not in the extant Hebrew manuscripts at

all), or are found only in one or two early Qumran manuscripts, have

indisputable claim to authenticity in the face of the errant majority.68

Furthermore, in many places, all the extant Hebrew manuscripts (as

well as versions) are so corrupt that, scholars have been forced to

emend the text on the basis of mere conjecture.69 Significantly, many


66 E. Wurthwein, The Text of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1979),

for example, argues that "an arbitrary procedure which hastily and unnecessarily dis-

misses the traditional te;xt . . . can lead only to a subjective form of the text which is un-

certain historically and without any claim to theological relevance" (Ill). He further

argues that the Masoretic text "has repeatedly been demonstrated to be the best witness

to the text. Any deviation from it therefore requires justification" (113). Yet, as conser-

vative as he is, he hastens to add, "But this does not mean that we should cling to [the

Masoretic text] under all circumstances, because it also has its undeniable faults. .."

(ibid.). For similar statements regarding the value, but not inerrancy, of the Masoretic

textual tradition, see F. E. Deist, Toward the Text of the Old Testament (Pretoria: Kerk-

boekhandel Transvaal, 1978) 247-49; R. W. Klein, Textual Criticism of the Old Testa-

ment: The Septuagint after Qumran (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1974) 62-63; F. F. Bruce,

Second Thoughts on the Dead Sea Scrolls (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1964) 61-69.

67 Klein, Textual Criticism of the Old Testament, 70. Cf. also F. M. Cross, The An-

cient Library of Qumran and Modern Biblical Studies (Garden City: Doubleday, 1958)

179-81; E. Tov, "The State of the Question: Problems and Proposed Solutions," in 1972

Proceedings: IOSCS and Pseudepigrapha, ed. R. A. Kraft (Missoula, MT: Scholars

Press, 1972) 3; and especially E. C. Ulrich, The Qumran Text of Samuel and Josephus

(Missoula, MT: Scholars Press, 1978) 193-221.

68 Cf. the discussions (and demonstrations) to this effect in D. Barthelemy, Critique

Textuelle de l'Ancien Testament: 2. Isai.e, Jeremie, Lamentations (Gottingen: Vanden-

hoeck & Ruprecht, 1986) 361-62 (Isa 49:12),403-7 (Is a 53:11); Wurthwein, Text of the

Old Testament, 106-10 (on 108 he argues that Qumran MS lQIsaa at Isa 2:20 is superior

to MT); J. A. Sanders, The Dead Sea Psalms Scroll (Ithaca: Cornell University, 1967)

17; E. Tov, The Text-Critical Use of the Septuagint in Biblical Research (Jerusalem: Si-

mor, 1981) 70-72, 288-306; W. H. Brownlee, The Meaning of the Qumran Scrolls for

the Bible (New York: Oxford University Press, 1964) 216-35; G. Vermes, The Dead Sea

Scrolls: Qumran in Perspective, rev. ed. (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1977) 203-9; Cross,

Ancient Library, 169, 189, 191; Bruce, Second Thoughts, 61-62, 66-69; Klein, Textual

Criticism of the Old Testament, 62, 71, 74-76; C. E. Pfeiffer, The Dead Sea Scrolls and

the Bible (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1969) 101-9.

69 Cf. especially J. Kennedy, An Aid to the Textual Amendment of the Old Testa-

ment (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1928). In the editorial note N. Levison comments that

"Dr. Kennedy was very conservative theologically. . . . [yet] he was possessed with an

intense passion for the correction of the Massoretic Text, and, as will be seen from the



such conjectures (but not all) have been vindicated by the discovery of

the Dead Sea scrolls.70 Majority text advocates simply do not grapple

with these OT textual phenomena. And if they were to do so and were

even to prove many minority text readings or conjectures false, our

point would still stand. Only if they could demonstrate that all minor-

ity text readings and all conjectures were inferior (or at least probably

so), could their argument hold water. The indisputable fact is that OT

textual criticism simply cannot be conducted on the basis of counting

noses. Since this is the case, either majority text advocates must aban-

don their theological premise altogether, or else be subject to the

charge of a bibliological double standard.

d. The biblical doctrine of preservation. In light of the occasional

necessity of conjectural emendation for the OT text, it is our contention

that not only is the majority text argument for preservation entirely

wrong-headed, but so is any doctrine of preservation which requires that

the exact wording of the text be preserved at all. In spite of the fact that

even opponents of the MT/TR view embrace such a doctrine,71 it simply

does not square with the evidence. Only three brief points will be made

here, in hopes of stimulating a dialogue on this issue.

First, the doctrine of preservation was not a doctrine of the ancient

church. In fact, it was not stated in any creed until the seventeenth


contents of this book, it was no mere speculation but considered and conscientious study

that led him to his conclusions" (p. vii). But note also Brownlee, Meaning of the Qumran

Scrolls, 231 (where he accepts an emendation by C. C. Torrey for Isa 53: 11, since "if the

verse is to be scanned as poetry at all, some such alteration is necessary"); Klein, Textual

Criticism of the Old Testament, 76 (on 1 Sam 14:47); Wurthwein, Text of the Old Testa-

ment, 108 (on Jer 2:21); Bruce, Second Thoughts, 69 (on Isa 21:8; 53:11; and Deut 32:8);

Deist, Towards the Text of the Old Testament, 247-49, 260; D. M. Fouts, "A Suggestion

for Isaiah XXVI 16," Vetus Testamentum 41 (1991) 472-74.

70 UIrich notes that Josephus preserved "at least four genuine Samuel readings

which were preserved by no other witness until 4QSama was recovered" (Samuel and Jo-

sephus, 2). Cf. also Cross, Ancient Library, 189 ("4QSama and I Chron. 21:16 preserve a

verse [2 Sam. 24:16b] which has dropped out of MT by haplography ..."); Wurthwein,

Text of the Old Testament, 142 (lQIsaa confirms conjectures at Isa 40:6 and 40:17); Bar-

thelemy, Critique Textuelle, 361-62 (IQlsaa at Isa 49:12) 403-7 (Isa 53:11); Brownlee,

Meaning of the Qumran Scrolls, 218-19 (Is a 11:6; 21:8) 225-26 (Isa 49:12) 226-33 (Isa


71Taylor's comments in "Modern Debate" are representative: "It is essential, then,

that this distinction be maintained between the concepts of inspiration, which insures the

reliability of the divine revelation, and preservation, which insures the availability of the

divine revelation" (148); "It is certain that if God took such pains to insure by inspira-

tion the accuracy of the original manuscripts, He would not leave to an undetermined

fate the future of those writings" (154); "Nothing of the inspired writings has been lost

as a result of the transmission of the text. This, too, is in keeping with God's preservation

of the Scripture" (163). Cf. also Sturz, Byzantine Text-Type, 37-49, et al.

42                    GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL


century (in the Westminster Confession of 1646). The recent arrival of

such a doctrine, of course, does not necessarily argue against it-but

neither does its youthfulness argue for it. Perhaps what needs to be

explored more fully is precisely what the framers of the Westminster

Confession and the Helvetic Consensus Formula (in 1675) really meant

by providential preservation.

Second, the major scriptural texts alleged to support the doctrine of

preservation need to be reexamined in a new light. I am aware of only

one substantial articulation of the biblical basis for this doctrine by a

majority text advocate. In Donald Brake's essay, "The Preservation of

the Scriptures," five major passages are adduced as proof that preserva-

tion refers to the written Word of God: Ps 119:89, Isa 40:8, Matt 5: 17-

18, John 10:35, and 1 Pet 1:23-25.72 One of the fundamental problems

with the use of these passages is that merely because "God's Word" is

mentioned in them it is assumed that the written, canonical, revelation

of God is meant.73 But 1 Pet 1:23-25, for example, in quoting Isa 40:8,

uses r[?ma (not lo<goj)-a term which typically refers to the spoken

word.74 Brake's interpretation of Ps 119:89 ("For ever, 0 Lord, your

word is settled in heaven") is, to put it mildly, improbable: "The Word

which is settled in heaven was placed there by a deliberate and purpose-

ful act of God Himself.”75 It seems that a better interpretation of all

these texts is that they are statements concerning either divine ethical

principles (i.e., moral laws which cannot be violated without some kind

of consequences) or the promise of fulfilled prophecy.76 The assump-

tions that most evangelicals make about the doctrine of preservation

need to be scrutinized in light of this exegetical construct.


72 Donald L. Brake, "The Preservation of the Scriptures," in Counterfeit or Genu-

ine?, 175-218, This essay is a modification of Brake's Th.M. thesis (Dallas Seminary,

1970), "The Doctrine of the Preservation of the Scriptures,"

73In passing, it should be noted that all these proof-texts, if they refer to the written

word at all, refer to the OT. The bibliological inconsistency is thus heightened, for MT/

TR advocates apply this doctrine only to the NT.

74 BAGD, 735 (1).

75 Brake, "Preservation," 181-82. Apparently Brake means by this that an exact

written copy of the originals was brought to heaven. Not only is this difficult to believe,

but it renders the "public accessibility" idea absolutely worthless.

76 "The scripture cannot be broken" (John 10:35), in its context, means "all will be

fulfilled" or "all of it is true" rather than "we must have every word preserved." "Not

one jot or tittle from the law will pass away until all is fulfilled" (Matt 5:18) plainly re-

fers either to the ethical principles of the law or the fulfillment of prophecy, or both,

(The validity of each of these options turns, to some degree, on how plhro<w is used else-

where in Matthew and the weight given to those texts-e.g., are Matthew's aT quotation

introductory formulae [i!na plhrwq^? in 1:23; 2:15; 4:14, etc., connecting the term toes-

chatological fulfillment] more significant or is Jesus' own use of plhro<w [in 3: 15, con-

necting it to ethical fulfillment] more significant?) Either way, the idea of preservation of

the written text is quite foreign to the context.



Third, if the doctrine of the preservation of scripture has neither

ancient historical roots, nor any direct biblical basis, what can we

legitimately say about the text of the New Testament? My own prefer-

ence is to speak of God's providential care of the text as can be seen

throughout church history, without elevating such to the level of doc-

trine. If this makes us theologically uncomfortable, it should at the

same time make us at ease historically, for the NT is the most remark-

ably preserved text of the ancient world-both in terms of the quantity

of manuscripts and in their temporal proximity to the originals. Not

only this, but the fact that no major doctrine is affected by any viable

textual variant surely speaks of God's providential care of the text. Just

because there is no verse to prove this does not make it any less true.77


C. Conclusion on the Arguments concerning Preservation

In conclusion, MT/TR advocates argue from a theological vantage

point which begs the question historically and logically. More serious


Occasionally Matt 24:35 ("Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not

pass away") is used in support of preservation. But once again, even though this text has

the advantage of now referring to Jesus' words (as opposed to the OT), the context is

clearly eschatological; thus the words of Jesus have certainty of fulfillment. That the text

does not here mean that his words will all be preserved in written form is absolutely cer-

tain because (I) this is not only foreign to the context, but implies that the written gos-

pels were conceived at this stage in Heilsgeschichte-decades before a need for them

was apparently felt; (2) we certainly do not have all of Jesus' words recorded-either in

scripture or elsewhere (cf. John 20:30 and 21:25).

77 A possible objection to this statement might be that, on the one hand, we criticize

MT advocates for their rational leap of linking preservation to the majority, while on the

other hand, here we argue for providential care without having a biblical basis. Is this

not the same thing? No. That preservation is to be seen in the majority is an a priori as-

sumption turned into a doctrine; that the doctrinal content of the Bible is not affected by

the variants is an a posteriori demonstration which stops short of dogma. Thus if a via-

ble variant were to turn up that affected a major doctrine, our view of God's providential

care would not be in jeopardy, though it would be reworded. An analogy might be seen

in two twentieth century wars: One could say that God's hand was seen in the Allies' de-

feat of the Axis in World War II, as well as the Coalition's defeat of Iraq in the Persian

Gulf War. But on occasion, a given battle in which the weather conditions had previ-

ously been reported as quite favorable to the Allies'/Coalition's cause turned out to be

unfavorable, this would not alter our overall picture of God's sovereignty. Rather, we

simply could not appeal to that battle in support of our view. Similarly, our view of

God's providential care of the text does not depend on the nonexistence of viable vari-

ants which teach heresy precisely because we are not affirming such on a doctrinal level.

Our statement is made solely on the basis of the evidence. And just as historical investi-

gation might uncover certain environmental conditions, or mechanical failures, etc.,

which were unfavorable to the Coalition forces for a given battle, still the outcome of the

Persian Gulf War is not at all altered by such evidence-even so any new discoveries of

manuscripts may cause us to reshape how we speak of God's providential care of the

text, but the overall fact derived from empirical evidence is still the same.

44                    GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL


than petitio principii, they make several faulty assumptions which not

only run aground on rational and empirical rocks, but ultimately backfire.

The most telling assumption is that certainty equals truth. This is an

evangelical disease: for most of us, at some point, the quest for certainty

has replaced the quest for truth. But even for majority text advocates, this

quest must, in the last analysis, remain unfulfilled. The worst feature of

their agenda, however, is not the faulty assumptions. It is that their view

of preservation not only is non-biblical, it is also bibliologically schizo-

phrenic in that it cannot work for both testaments. And that, to a majority

text or Textus Receptus advocate-as it would be to any conservative

Christian--is the most damaging aspect of their theological agenda.



Under the general topic of inspiration are two arguments: (1) if

any portion of the NT is lost, then verbal-plenary inspiration is thereby

falsified; and (2) only in the Byzantine text-type do we have an inerrant

NT. This first argument is really the converse of the argument from

preservation, while the second argument is a corollary of a corollary.


A. Does Loss of Text Falsify Inspiration?

In his paper, "Mark 16:9-20 and the Doctrine of Inspiration",78

Wilbur Pickering argues that if any portion of the NT is lost, then

inspiration is not only irrelevant-it also is not true:

Among those who wish to believe or claim that Mark's Gospel was

inspired by the Holy Spirit, that it is God's Word, I am not aware of any

who are prepared to believe that it could have been God's intention to ter-

minate the book with efobount gar.79

Are we to say that God was unable to protect the text of Mark or that

He just couldn't be bothered? I see no other alternative-either He didn't

care or He was helpless. And either option is fatal to the claim that

Mark's Gospel is "God-breathed."80 . . . if God was powerless to protect

His Word then He wouldn't really be God and it wouldn't make all that

much difference what He said.81 . . . If God permitted the original ending

of Mark to be lost then in fact we do not have an inspired text.82

Anyone who denies the authenticity of Mark 16:9-20 cannot consis-

tently affirm the Divine Inspiration of Mark 1:1-16:8. I now submit the

question to the reader: have I not demonstrated that to reject Mark 16:9-

20 is to relinquish the doctrine of Divine Inspiration-for Mark, cer-

tainly, -but by extension for the rest of the Bible?83


78 A paper circulated to members of the Majority Text Society, September, 1988.

79 Pickering, "Mark 16:9-20 and the Doctrine of Inspiration," 1.

80 Ibid.

81 Ibid.

82 Ibid.

83 Ibid., 4.



Majority text advocates, as we have seen, argue that if there is

uncertainty over the wording of the text, inspiration becomes irrele-

vant. Pickering's argument goes one step beyond: if part of the text is

lost, then "we do not have an inspired text."

This argument seems flawed on five fronts. First, it is special

pleading. One has to accept Pickering's (incomplete) syllogism for this

to be true: if God was not able or did not care to protect the text, then

inspiration is not true. Why is it not possible for the text to be origi-

nally inspired but now lost? Apparently, once again, inspiration neces-

sitates preservation. Further, why is it necessary to impugn either

God's power or his goodness if part of the NT is lost? Analogously,

would anyone argue that if Christians-who are born of God-sin,

then God is either powerless or not good enough to prevent them from


Second, as we have already mentioned in the first section of this

paper, Pickering assumes that inspiration necessitates preservation.

Yet, if our arguments against this supposition are correct, then this new

argument (viz., lack of preservation implies non-inspiration) carries no


Third, this approach is also Marcionite if there is ever a need for

conjectural emendation for the Old Testament. Since that is .the case,

the loss of text. (whether it. be one word or a whole chapter) in prin-

ciple cannot be used as a theological argument for a text critical view-

point-otherwise proponents of such a view have to say that the OT is

not inspired.

Fourth, there is a tacit assumption on the part of Pickering that

everything a biblical author writes is inspired. But this is almost cer-

tainly not true, as can be seen by the lost epistles of Paul and the

agrapha of Jesus. The argument is this: there seem to be a few, fairly

well-attested (in patristic literature), authentic sayings of Jesus which

are not found in the Gospels or the rest of the New Testament. Of

course, evangelicals would claim that they are inerrant. But they would

not be inspired because inspiration refers strictly to what is inscriptur-

ated within the canon. Further, Paul seems to have written three or four

letters to the Corinthians, perhaps a now-lost letter to the Laodiceans,84

and apparently more than a few letters before 2 Thessalonians.85 If

some NT epistles could be lost, and even some authentic sayings of


84 Col 4:15-16 speaks of a letter coming to the Colossians from the Laodiceans.

This is either now lost (the known "Letter to the Laodiceans" is forged) or is the letter to

the Ephesians which circulated counterclockwise through Asia Minor, going from Ephe-

sus, to Laodicea, to Colossae.

85 The statement in 3: 17 ("this greeting is in my own hand, Paul's, which is a sign

in every letter [of mine]") seems to imply a well-known practice. Yet, most NT scholars

would date only Galatians and 1 Thessalonians as coming prior to this letter-i.e.,

among the known letters of Paul.

46                    GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL


Jesus could show up outside the NT, then either they were not inspired

or else they were inspired but not preserved. Assuming the former to be

true, then the question facing us in Mark's Gospel is whether an

inspired writer can author non-inspired material within the same docu-

ment-material which is now lost. Such a possibility admittedly opens

up a Pandora's box for evangelicals, and certainly deserves critical

thought and dialogue. Nevertheless, the analogies with the lost epistles

of Paul and the authentic, non-canonical agrapha of Jesus seem to dam-

age Pickering's contention that if the last portion of Mark's Gospel is

lost, then inspiration is defeated.

Finally, although Pickering is unaware of any evangelical who

thinks Mark ended his Gospel at verse 8, there does indeed seem to be

an increasing number of scholars who believe this, evangelicals

included among them.86 Ernest Best states, for example, that "It is in

keeping with other parts of his Gospel that Mark should not give an

explicit account of a conclusion where this is already well known to

his readers.”87 Further, he argues that "it is not a story which has been

rounded off but an open story intended to draw us on further.”88 At

one point he makes a rather intriguing suggestion:

Finally it is from the point of view of drama that we can appreciate most

easily the conclusion to the Gospel. By its very nature the conclusion

forces us to think out for ourselves the Gospel's challenge. It would have

been easy to finish with Jesus' victorious appearances to comfort the dis-

ciples: they all lived happily ever after. Instead the end is difficult. . . .


86 So much so that W. R. Telford could argue, "While a number of scholars would

still adhere to the view that the Gospel originally extended beyond 16:8, more and more

are coming to the opinion that it was intended to end at 16:8, and that it does so indeed,

in literary terms, with dramatic appositeness" ("Introduction: The Gospel of Mark," in

The Interpretation of Mark, ed. W. R. Telford [Philadelphia: Fortress, 1985] 26). Cf.

also C. S. Mann, Mark: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary, Vol. 27

in the Anchor Bible (Garden City: Doubleday, 1986) 659 ("Mark did indeed finish his

gospel at v. 8, and . . .he had a specific and well-defined purpose in doing so"); R. P.

Meye, "Mark 16:8-The Ending of Mark's Gospel," BibRes 14 (1969) 33-43; H. Ander-

son, The Gospel of Mark, in the New Century Bible Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerd-

mans, 1976) 351-54; H. Paulsen, "Mark xvi. 1-8," NovT 22 (1980) 138-70; N. R.

Petersen, "When Is the End Not the End? Literary Reflections on the Ending of Mark's

Narrative," Interp 34 (1980) 151-66; T. E. Boomershine and G. L. Bartholomew, "The

Narrative Technique of Mark 16:8," JBL 100 (1981) 213-23. Among those who are

evangelicals (in the strictest sense of the word-i.e., inerrantists) , a number of authors

antedating Pickering's essay held to this view: cf., e.g., N. B. Stonehouse, The Witness of

Matthew and Mark to Christ (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1944) 86-118; W. L. Lane,

The Gospel of Mark in the New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand

Rapids: Eerdmans, 1974) 582-92; J. D. Grassmick also seems to lean toward this view

(Mark in the Bible Knowledge Commentary [Wheaton: Victor Books, 1983] 193-94).

87 E. Best, Mark: The Gospel as Story (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1983) 73.

88 Ibid., 74.



The readers or hearers of Mark know the disciples did see Jesus. . . . Lis-

ten to the story as a believer and work it out for yourself. It is like one of

Jesus' own parables: the hearer is forced to go on thinking.89


Although one would not say that Ernest Best is an arch-conserva-

tive, his overall interpretation of the reason for the shorter ending

should cause no offense to evangelicals, as is evident by the fact that a

number of evangelicals do believe that the Gospel was intended to end

at verse 8.90

The argument that loss of text invalidates inspiration is, therefore,

seen to be logically fallacious, bibliologically inconsistent, and irrele-

vant for those evangelicals who believe that Mark intended to end his

Gospel at the eighth verse of chapter sixteen.


B. Does the Byzantine Text-type Have Sole Claim to Inerrancy?

Occasionally, MT/TR advocates appeal to inerrancy in support of

the Byzantine text-type's superiority. The argument is not new,91 but it

has received a clear articulation recently by James A. Borland. In his

article, "Re-examining New Testament Textual-Critical Principles and

Practices Used to Negate Inerrancy",92 Borland argues that the Alex-

andrian readings of    ]Asa<f in Matt 1:7,  ]Amw?j in 1: 10, and tou? h[li<ou

e]klipo<ntoj; in Luke 23:45 are errors and must, for this reason, be

rejected (for otherwise they impugn the character of the biblical

authors and thereby falsify inerrancy). The reason such are errors,

according to Borland, is that, with regard to the Matthean passage,

Asaph and Amos were not kings (thus, spelling errors on the part of

early Alexandrian scribes); and with regard to the Lukan passage, since

"a solar eclipse is impossible astronomically during the full moon of

the Passover when sun and moon are 180 degrees apart in relation to

the earth”93 and since the verb e]klei<pw, when used with h!lioj,


89 Ibid., 132.

90 See n. 86. Besides literary criticism, another argument could be used to support

the view that the gospel ended here: only if Mark's Gospel were originally published in

codex form (in which case the last leaf could have possibly fallen off) could one argue

that the ending of Mark was lost. But if, as extrabiblical parallels are increasingly show-

ing to be more likely, the Gospel was originally written on a scroll, then the last portion

of the book, being at the center of the scroll, would be the least likely portion of the

book to be lost.

91 Cf., e.g., G. Salmon, Some Thoughts on the Textual Criticism of the New Testa-

ment (London: John Murray, 1897) 26; H. C. Hoskier, "Codex Vaticanus and Its Allies,"

in Which Bible?, 143.

92 J. A. Borland, "Re-examining New Testament Textual-Critical Principles and

Practices Used to Negate Inerrancy," JETS 25 (1982) 499-506; reprinted in Letis, Con-

tinuing Debate, 46-57. All references in this paper are to the original article in JETS.

93 Borland, "Negate Inerrancy," 504.

48                    GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL


normally indicated an eclipse,94 Luke would err if he had written this.

In both the Matthean texts and the Lukan passage, the Byzantine text-

type has readings which do not involve such errors (respectively,  ]Asa<,

 ]Amw?n, kai> e]skoti<sqh o[  h!lioj ["and the sun was darkened"]). Borland's

conclusion is that (1) only in the Byzantine text-type do we have an

inerrant Bible and (2) we must pour our text-critical methodology

through the doctrinal grid of inerrancy.95

Our critique of Borland's linking of inerrancy to the Byzantine

text-type is fourfold. First, his argument seems to question either the

intelligence or the doctrinal conviction of virtually all members of the

Evangelical Theological Society as well as any other non-MT/TR iner-

rantists-stretching from B. B. Warfield to D. A. Carson. Carson goes

so far as to say: "I cannot think of a single great theological writer

who has given his energies to defend a high view of Scripture and who

has adopted the TR, since the discovery of the great uncials and, later,

the papyri and other finds.”96

Second, Borland's view suffers from historical myopia. That is to

say, he is superimposing his modem-day, twentieth-century definition

of inerrancy on the text. But should not our definition of inerrancy be

shaped by both the biblical statements which imply this doctrine as

well as the phenomena which indicate how the biblical authors under-

stood it? One is reminded of a typical layman's understanding of iner-

rancy: the events of the Gospels must be in strict chronological

sequence, the red letters in the Bible refer to the ipsissima verba (exact

words) of Jesus, etc. Faced with the contrary evidence, would it be

appropriate to change the text to suit one's doctrine? More analogous

still is the Purist controversy in the seventh century.

The beginning of the seventeenth century was marked by the rise of the

Purist controversy. The Purists maintained that to deny that God gave

the New Testament in anything but pure classical Greek was to imperil

the doctrine of inspiration. The Wittemberg Faculty, in 1638, decreed

that to speak of barbarisms or solecisms in the New Testament was blas-

phemy against the Holy Ghost. Hence, a correct conception of the pecu-

liar idiom of the Apostles was impossible, and the estimate of different

readings was seriously affected by this cause. Readings of existing edi-

tions were arbitrarily mingled, the manuscripts employed and the

sources of variants adopted were not properly specified, and a full sur-

vey of the apparatus was impossible.97


94 Ibid., 505, n. 22.

95 Ibid., 506.

96 D. A. Carson, The King James Version Debate: A Plea for Realism (Grand Rap-

ids: Baker, 1979) 71.

97 M. R. Vincent, A History of the Textual Criticism of the New Testament (New

York: Macmillan, 1899) 94. Timothy J. Ralston of Dallas Seminary is to be credited with

pointing out this quotation to me.



In other words, in the seventeenth century many evangelicals argued

that the Textus Receptus was not inspired and that many of its readings

were even "blasphemy against the Holy Ghost." They too had a myo-

pic view of inerrancy, and they too poured their text-critical method

through a dogmatic grid-but their conclusions were exactly the oppo-

site of Borland's!

Third, in letting his doctrinal position dictate the outcome of his

textual criticism, Borland proves his own position wrong. There are

plenty of passages far more troublesome to inerrancy than Matt l:7 or

Luke 23:45. In fact, these passages hardly constitute a serious

difficulty.98 To be consistent, Borland ought to advocate conjectural

emendation wherever inerrancy seems to be in jeopardy. Who would

not like a clean harmony between the two records of Judas' demise,

uniform parallel accounts of Peter's threefold denial of Jesus, or an

outright excision of the census by Quirinius? If Borland is unwilling to

perform such radical surgery to the text under the guise of inerrancy,

then why does he wave this doctrinal stick at significantly lesser prob-

lems? One can only suspect that inerrancy is not driving his decisions;

rather, a preservation-majority connection is.99

Finally, we question whether it is an epistemologically sound

principle to allow one's presuppositions to dictate his text-critical

methodology. It is our conviction that this is neither honest to a his-

torical investigation nor fair to one's evangelical heritage. If our faith

cannot stand up to the scrutiny of rigorous investigation, then our

beliefs need to be adjusted. But if we always jerk back the fideistic

reins when the empirical horse goes too fast for us, then the charges of

obscurantism, scholasticism, even pietistic dribble are well deserved.

Borland believes that "unhappily our widely accepted textual-critical

principles and practices may help to accommodate them in their jesting

against the inerrancy of Scripture."100 But surely the jesting will be

louder and stronger if we change the rules of the game because the

other team is winning!


98 All that needs to be noted is that variant spellings of proper names were in exis-

tence in the first century, as well as in the LXX (thus, "Asaph" and "Amos," though un-

usual spelling, are hardly to be classified as errors); and, as Borland himself admits,

e]klei<pw with h!lioj, though usually meaning "to eclIpse, does not always have this tech-

nical nuance. Nevertheless, Borland is quite right that both passages strike one as a bit pe-

culiar. But if they strike us a little odd, then surely they did the same for the ancient

scribes-who would have changed the text out of their own pietistic motives. What Bor-

land simply cannot explain is how the Alexandrian readings arose in the first place, ren-

dering them more probably original.

99 Throughout his article Borland speaks of "the vast numerical superiority" of his

.preferred reading ("Negate Inerrancy," 504). He concludes the article by saying, "In our

quest for the true reading we must not confine ourselves to a few early MSS while forget-

ting the thousands of MSS that each bear an independent testimony to the text" (ibid., 506).

l00 Ibid., 506.

50                    GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL



In many respects, the theological premise of the TR/MT propo-

nents is commendable. Too many evangelicals have abandoned an

aspect of the faith when the going gets tough. That certain students of

the NT have held tenaciously to a theological argument concerning the

text of the NT speaks highly of their piety and conviction. If their view

were biblically founded, it would also speak highly of their orthodoxy.

But, as we have seen, their theological a priori is neither biblically,

nor logically, nor historically sound.

Concerning preservation, their underlying motive that the quest

for certainty is identical with the quest for truth speaks volumes about

their method. Their most self-defeating argument is that truth must be

found in the majority--for not only does this contradict God's normal

modus operandi, but it does not at all work for the Old Testament.

Thus those who practice textual criticism by "majority rule" end up

with a doctrine which promotes a bibliological double standard. At

precisely this point they are out of step with orthodoxy, resembling

more the ancient heretic Marcion in their view of the text.

Byzantine text advocates' arguments which are related more

directly to inspiration and inerrancy also falter. Pickering's argument

that loss of text falsifies inspiration is, once again, Marcionite (for

there is loss of text in the OT), and his lone example-the longer end-

ing of Mark-is irrelevant to anyone who thinks that the evangelist

intentionally ended his Gospel at 16:8. Borland's argument is that the

presuppositions of inerrancy must drive our text-critical methodology

and that, consequently, only in the Byzantine text-type do we hav_e an

inerrant text. This view was found to be not only isolationist (in which

inerrancy is defined only in twentieth century terms which are, more-

over, not shared by the vast bulk of twentieth century inerrantists), not

only inconsistent (otherwise he would have to appeal to conjectures

wherever he felt the text erred), but also epistemologically, histori-

cally, and evangelically unsound.

In sum, there is no valid doctrinal argument for either the Textus

Receptus or the majority text. A theological a priori has no place in

textual criticism. That is not to say that the majority text is to be

rejected outright. There may, in fact, be good arguments for the major-

ity text which are not theologically motivated. But until TR/MT advo-

cates make converts of those who do not share with them their peculiar

views of preservation and inspiration, their theory must remain highly suspect.


This material is cited with gracious permission from:

            Grace Theological Seminary

            200 Seminary Dr.

            Winona Lake,  IN   46590

Please report any errors to Ted Hildebrandt at: