Textual Criticism - Lesson 21

Textus Receptus and the Doctrine of Preservation (Part 2)

This lecture describes the major problems of TR-only people, who subscribe to an unbiblical Doctrine of Preservation, which as defined, effectively emerges as a Marcionite view of the Bible. Wallace claims that while there is no biblical, exegetical, or empirical basis to argue for the doctrine of preservation, God has overwhelmingly preserved Scripture in a way that is not true of any other ancient literature.

Daniel Wallace
Textual Criticism
Lesson 21
Watching Now
Textus Receptus and the Doctrine of Preservation (Part 2)

Erasmus and the Textus Receptus

Textus Receptus and the Doctrine of Preservation (2 parts)




A. Question-begging approach

B. Faulty assumptions

C. Non-biblical doctrinal basis (Marcionite)

1. Heretic who believed the God of the OT was evil

2. Preservation must treat the OT and NT differently

a) E.F. Hill (The King James Version Defended!) argued for the TR on the basis of public accessibility through the church

b) What about the OT and the possible of corrupt Hebrew mss?

3. This doctrine not taught in the Bible

a) Not a doctrine of the ancient church

b) First articulated in Westminster Confession (1646) and the Helvetic Consensus (1675)

c) The usefulness of the doctrine is also not an argument for it.

d) Proof-texts falsely used (Psalm 119:89; Isaiah 40:8; Matt 5:18; 24:35; John 21:25)

4. Conclusion

a) There is no biblical, exegetical, or empirical basis to argue for the doctrine of preservation

b) To argue for this doctrine is Marcionite

c) What can we say about preservation then?

Class Resources
  • Since the original autographs of the Bible no longer exist, the primary goal of Biblical Textual Criticism is to determine the exact wording of the original inspired text dispatched from the author with as much accuracy as possible. As a secondary goal, we desire to trace changes to the text and get a window into ancient Christianity.

  • Contrary to popular textual critics, the wrong way to record textual variants is to count each unique variant and multiply by the number of existing manuscripts, rendering millions of variants. On the contrary, the correct method is to count the same variant that occurs across all manuscripts as one variant, rendering not millions but hundreds of thousands of predominantly minor variants.

  • Compared to other ancient literature, the field of Biblical textual criticism possesses “an embarrassment of riches.” New Testament TC absolutely dwarfs the resources of other ancient literature, not only in number of manuscripts and the recent time in which they were produced, but also confirming quotations by extra-biblical writings.

  • The vast majority of NT Variants are minor, easily explained scribal errors that don’t affect the meaning of the text. Among 400,000 textual variants of the NT, over 99% make no difference to the meaning, and less than 1% are both meaningful and viable.

  • Recent attempts to change the goals of NTTC such that critics no longer seek to obtain the original autographs in favor of understanding a writer’s historical contexts undermine the original goal of NTTC. However, faithful textual critics must not subscribe to the notion of a “multivalence” of the original text, but instead pursue the primary goal: to get as close as possible to the original autographs.

  • The vast majority of all copies of the New Testament were probably recorded on scrolls, but copied in codex format. This may lend to the theory that Christians used cutting-edge, easier-to-use media technologies to further the word-based faith.

  • Various materials were used in creating NT manuscripts. Wallace discusses papyrus, parchments, and paper, each with advantages and disadvantages for transmitting the text faithfully.

  • There are three fundamental issues that significantly affect the transmission of the NT Text: early copies and causes of corruption, the role of canon in shaping the text, and the emergence of localized text forms.

  • Because of the radical nature of Christianity, it took some time for OT-based Jews to accept the NT as canonical. But over time, coinciding with the progressive development of a certain “canon-consciousness,” scribes were compelled to modify texts in various ways, not for malicious reasons, but in efforts to clarify, preserve, and revere the sacred scriptures.

  • Although questioned by some critics, most TCs acknowledge four major localized forms of the NT text: Alexandrian, Western, Byzantine, and (questionably) Caesarian. These “cross-pollinated” text families have arisen from diverse historical, cultural and socio-political factors, but all serve to strengthen, and not weaken the integrity of the NT text.

  • While it is undeniable that NT scribes made mistakes of various types in copying the inspired text, understanding the often simple reason for these mistakes renders much reward in understanding the sacred text. The fundamental principle of textual criticism is this: select the reading that best explains the rise of the other readings.

  • Contrary to popular belief, intentional scribal changes were not malicious in nature, but rather displayed pious intentions and a high view of scripture. Scribal corruptions for the most part, did not reflect a desire to obfuscate, but to clarify the scripture.

  • This lecture introduces papyri, critically important as the earliest witnesses of New Testament text. Papyri are some of the most important documents of NT MSS.

  • Since papyri are the earliest records of NT text (containing 50% of NT) they are critical in revealing the original text shape of the NT text. Even Codex Sinaticus and Vaticanus, the two most important NT MSS in the world, are confirmed by Papyri.

  • This lecture describes the most important new Testament manuscripts: the Majuscules, formerly known as uncials. These documents contain the full text of the NT written many times over, on parchment, written in all caps.

  • This lecture continues the discussion about the most important New Testament manuscripts: the Majuscules, formerly known as uncials. This lecture describes Codex Alexandrinus - A, Codex Ephraemi Rescriptus - C, Codex Sinaiticus (Aleph), and Codex Washingtonianus - W - 1906.

  • Since the field of TC is so small, obtaining resources are very expensive. However the internet is still a great place to conduct free TC research. In this lecture, major internet resources for studying NT manuscripts are compared and contrasted.

  • Founded 2002 by Daniel Wallace, the mission of the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts (CSNTM) is to be a premiere resource in the great and noble task of determining the wording of the autographa of the New Testament. This is facilitated through high-resolution digital photography of extant Greek New Testament manuscripts so that such images can be preserved, duplicated without deterioration, and accessed by scholars doing textual research.

  • The KJV has been rightfully called “the single greatest monument to the English language,” but this is more from a literary rather than a translation standpoint. This is because the Greek MSS behind the KJV text is far inferior to that of modern translations in terms of textual basis, late MSS dates, and a less than perfect process of creation.

  • The arguments used to position the Textus Receptus as the sole textual basis for the true word of God range from questionable to downright irrational. Proponents of this position rely on view of the so-called “doctrine of preservation,” which illegitimately uses certain Bible texts to argue its dubious claims.

  • This lecture describes the major problems of TR-only people, who subscribe to an unbiblical Doctrine of Preservation, which as defined, effectively emerges as a Marcionite view of the Bible. Wallace claims that while there is no biblical, exegetical, or empirical basis to argue for the doctrine of preservation, God has overwhelmingly preserved Scripture in a way that is not true of any other ancient literature.

  • In this lecture, Daniel Wallace describes the discovery of Sinaiaticus, and its importance to the field of textual criticism. He recounts fascinating details about his visits to St. Catherine’s, the oldest Christian monastery, at the base of Mount Sinai, Egypt.

  • This lecture summarizes the life of Constantine von Tischendorf [1815-1874], and his very important discovery of Codex Sinaiticus.

  • This lecture describes highlights of the history of NT TC since the TR. Describing the formation of the textus receptus, Wallace also characterizes major players in the process of arriving at the modern text.

  • This lecture describes Westcott and Hort, and how they dethroned the Textus Receptus by proving that the Textus Receptus was late, inferior, and secondary.

  • This lecture is 1 of 3 lectures on reasoned eclecticism. Eclecticism is the process of compiling a text from multiple sources, while reasoned eclecticism consists of rectifying the differences and evaluating variants based on both their attestation and intrinsic merit.

  • This lecture is 2 of 3 lectures on reasoned eclecticism.

  • This lecture illustrates the principles of reasoned eclecticism.

  • Was Jesus "moved with compassion" or "indignant" when he saw that his disciples could not heal the man with leprosy?

  • Why was the man waiting for so many years at the pool of Bethesda? Was there really an angel stirring up the waters and healing the first one in?

  • Do these two passages call Jesus “God”? Thankfully, the Bible affirms the divinity of Christ many other ways and in many other passages than these two.

  • This lecture presents some very technical arguments for why Daniel Wallace believes that the phrase “ουδεουιός” (nor the Son) is not an authentic part of Matthew 24:36.

  • This lesson teaches you to appreciate the rigorous historical research required in biblical studies and the importance of respecting dual authorship. It sharpens your understanding of external and internal textual evidence and their implications for a passage's authenticity.
  • The text of Mark 16:9-20 is most likely not part of the original inspired text of scripture, and v 8 is Mark's intended ending.

  • This lecture evaluates popular translations of the Bible in terms of their textual basis. The bottom line is that while all translations are interpretations, The Spirit of God has ensured that the truth of the scriptures can be found in any one of them, and reading widely among different versions is good to promote understanding about different concerns of TC.

  • As time progresses in the field of Textual Criticism, we continue to get razor-thin closer to the original manuscripts. The good news is that with all the known variants, no essential doctrine of the Christian faith is jeopardized by any viable variant, so we can have great confidence in the text of our Bibles to provide us all we need for life and godliness.

Dr. Daniel Wallace is one of the world's leading textual critics. His ministry, the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts (CSNTM.org) is currently the most prolific organization for discovering, photographing, and cataloging ancient Greek manuscripts of the New Testament. In this class, he discusses the issues of textual variants, how ancient manuscripts were made, the types of errors that we can see in the manuscripts, the issue of the Textus Receptus and its role in the King James translation of the Bible, the historic work of Westcott and Hort, and ends with discussions of the most famous textual problems.

Dr. Wallace gives a three hour summary of this class in our Academy program. The first of the lectures is here.

Please visit Dr. Wallace's ministry, Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts and support them financially. 

Thank you to our friends at Credo House for sharing this class with us. You can purchase their workbook or the DVDs for the class from them.



I. Methods of Doing NTTC

A. The Textus Receptus and the Doctrine of Preservation

The First Argument: We are considering now the Doctrine of Preservation in relation to the Textus Receptus. It has a non-biblical doctrinal basis which is the second major point I want to make. Fundamentally, the doctrine of preservation, in as much as the TR people are using it, ends up being a Marcionite view (Marcionists believe that the Hebrew God was a separate and lower entity than the all-forgiving God of the New Testament; in some ways similar to Gnostic Christian theology, both being dualistic.) of the text. The reason here is that it doesn’t work for the Old Testament. Marcion was a mid-second century heretic who had a dualistic world view of light and darkness, good and evil but more importantly, there is a material world and a Spirit world where the material world is evil and the spiritual world was good. So Marcion came to believe that the God of the Old Testament was an evil deity and wasn’t the same as the God of the New Testament. So Marcion came up with the first Canon list of New Testament books; he had ten of Paul’s letters and a rather truncated Gospel of Luke. His theology in reference to the theology of God said that the Old Testament God was different than the New Testament God and I can’t harmonize the two as being the same deity. This view of Biblical preservation is a view that ends up having to treat the Old Testament differently than the New Testament. Edward F Hill in his book, The King James Version Defended! God must do more than merely preserve the inspired original New Testament text. He must preserve it in a public way which has to do with accessibility and majority through the continued usage within his church. He has certain demands on which God must do, not on the basis of what Scriptures says but from his own logic.

A scholar by the name of Hill was the only scholar of the 20th century who was a textual critic that defended the Textus Receptus. He got his Ph.D. in Textual Criticism at Harvard University. He was dropped from the Ph.D. program at Chicago University but Harvard was unaware of this. In Harvard, he
actually changed his views in terms of what he presented and what he believed. He did a fairly good dissertation on the Cesarean text and had some articles published in the Journal of Biblical Literature. Once he got his Ph.D., he then revealed that he was a Textus Receptus advocate. I thought that in the
Textus Receptus, like in the King James Bible, thy shall not lie, but apparently that only applies in other contexts than at Harvard. There is nobody alive today that is a bonafide textual scholar who holds that the TR is the best text to follow. There are two or three majority text advocates but no TR advocates. Hill was really the last one and perhaps the only one. So what about the Old Testament? Has the Hebrew Bible been preserved by Christians? No, they preserved the Greek translation; you had Jewish scribes copying the Hebrew Bible. How can we say that the church was the ones that preserved the text of the Bible which doesn’t include the Old Testament? If you can’t talk about the Old Testament that way, then by definition you are a Marcionite when it comes to the two testaments. You don’t have the same doctrine of the New Testament as you do of the Old Testament. There are several readings in the Old Testament that are found only in the versions that have been considered authentic. There are some authentic texts that weren’t known until the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in the 1940s. Until that time, those readings were conjecture; they were readings that scholars said were probably what the text said but we have lost the data in the manuscripts. The Dead Sea scrolls are the earliest Hebrews manuscripts going back to about 150 BC. But this Marcionite view of the text is also found in some places in the Old Testament where none of them are correct. 2nd Chronicles 36:9 verses 2nd Kings 24:8 tells us when Jehoiakim ascent to the throne. Was he eight years old or was he eighteen? 2nd Chronicles says eight but 2nd Kings says eighteen. This is a contradiction in the Manuscripts; so is this a contradiction in the original Old Testament text? Scholars say that at some point in the transmission of the text, somebody made a mistake in one of these two books and that became the progenitor of the copies from that point on.

The Jewish scribes would not change either of the texts to get rid of the contradiction as they might bury the authentic text. It was better to leave a contradiction in the manuscripts believing that the contradiction didn’t exist in the original document. So we don’t have the original wording preserved. Frankly, we don’t have this problem in the New Testament. There are differences of only a single letter at most. This does not mean that the doctrine of inerrancy isn’t true. Inerrancy applies to the original manuscripts, not to the copies. Liberals are moving in the direction of changing the text to get rid of the contradictions.

The Second Argument: The second argument is that this doctrine is not taught in the Bible. This is probably the most controversial thing that I will be saying in this lecture. Bruce Metsker once said, ‘I think the wisest course of action is to embrace only those doctrines that we can find in Scripture. We only believe in doctrines that we can only support biblically. The doctrine of the preservation of Scripture is not a doctrine of the ancient church. We can’t find it in ancient church documents. The first time that is seemed to be articulated was in 1646 in the Westminster Confession and in 1675 in the Helvetic Consensus. The Westminster Confession is a beloved doctrinal statement. But it is better to say that there is an error in the Westminster Confession than in the Bible. The youthfulness of the doctrinal statement is not necessarily an argument against it. A doctrinal statement could be true if it invented in some future year. Just because no one has made the doctrinal statement, doesn’t mean that it isn’t true. And the youthfulness is not an argument for it either. Evidence that it isn’t taught in the Bible are many, if not most evangelicals believe that the doctrine of preservation is indeed true. Some of the principle proof texts include Psalm 119:89; Isaiah 40:8; Matthew 5:18 and 24:35. Psalm 119:89 says ‘your word, Lord, is eternal; it stands firm in the heavens.’ Textus Receptus folks will say that the Word of God is permanently found in heaven. But how does that make it accessible on earth? This text is still irrelevant to the idea of accessibility and majority text. I don’t think that is what the text is saying. It means that this is either God’s ethical principles or prophecy or both; they cannot be broken. Isaiah 40:8 reads ‘the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God endures forever.’ This is also quoted in 1st Peter 1 but when Peter quotes it, the word for Word is actually Rama in Greek which has to do with the oracles of what God says not the written text. The Net Bible for Isaiah 40:8, it reads that the grass dries up, the flowers wither, but the decree of our God is forever reliable.’ The verse isn’t saying magically somehow the Bible is going to be inscripturated and consequently, it going to be preserved that we will have every word of Scripture that has always been written is still going to be available to us. This is putting too much into the text since it isn’t even talking about the written word.

One of the problems is that when we read the Word of God in some of these passages, this must equate to the Bible. That is not necessarily true here. For example, the oracles of God consist of the message of God; it is what he is telling us right now. In Matthew 5:18, we have, for verily I say unto you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. The Lord is saying the prophecy that is taught in the Old Testament is going to be fulfilled; not one will just pass away; it will all happen. The final one is Matthew 24:35 says that heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away. Does this mean that all the words Jesus spoke will be recorded in Scripture? If you were to take a red-letter Bible and read out what Jesus has to say in the red letter versions of the Gospels. It would take you no more than two hours and that includes a lot of overlap. So, it is more likely closer to an hour of reading. The last one is John 21:25 which says, ‘and there are also many other things that Jesus did, which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written. The point here is that there could be volumes written about Jesus. So what he is actually saying is, ‘anything that I predict is going to happen.’ He is saying that his prophecy is more certain than heaven and earth. It is a statement about the certainty and reliability of what he teaches.

Conclusion: There is no biblical, exegetical or empirical basis to argue for the doctrine of preservation. Biblically the passages don’t mean that; exegetically you can’t use it that way and it doesn’t work for the Old Testament where we have these gaps, conjectures that we have to follow for the Old Testament. To
argue for this doctrine is bibliological schizophrenic marsionite. You end up having a different view of the Old Testament than you do with the New Testament. The Old Testament hasn’t been quite preserved as the new has been; yet these verses are talking about the Old Testament. So what can we say about preservation then; I don’t personally believe that there is such a thing as a doctrine of the preservation of Scripture, but I do believe this: I can speak historically about how God has preserved the text and I think we can demonstrate this empirically for both testaments, especially for the New Testament. God has overwhelmingly preserved Scripture in a way that is not true of any other ancient document and it’s amazing how much he has done that. We need to remember that creating a doctrine to protect Scripture doesn’t actually protect Scripture. Just because you believe something doesn’t make it so. And we should recognize that the incarnation of Jesus Christ gives methodological imperative for historical research. Our faith is not a leap but it is a step of faith. It is not blind faith and we have very good evidence for it. Don’t replace the pursuit of truth with pursuit of certainty.