Lecture 21: Textus Receptus and the Doctrine of Preservation
Course: Textual Criticism
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.