Dane K. Jöhannsson
Lead Pastor, Agros Reformed Baptist Church
*Originally Published by Pulpit & Pen "More Questions Answered About The KJV or Textus Receptus Only Position"*
Once again, I would like to thank Pulpit & Pen for hosting this discussion on the text of the Holy Scriptures. I am appreciative of the charitable dialogue that I have seen spurred on by the articles that myself and other authors have published on this subject and I am pleased to see another one put forward by Michael Remus. I hope to see more of this kind of discussion continued, both in published form and in between other brethren in more casual platforms.
Brother Remus has put forward a couple more good questions for those of us who hold to the Confessional Text Position and I hope to provide helpful answers in return. Brother Remus states in the preface to his article that he believes his two questions get at “the heart of the matter.” While I think they are helpful questions that deserve a response, I still suggest that since they are not questions pertaining to methodology, they do not get at the heart of the conversation. Nevertheless, since they are important questions, let us take a look at them.
Brother Remus’ first question is, “Did the TR editors hold to a Confessional Text View?” In my original article I defined the Confessional Text Position as: “the position that accepts the underlying Hebrew and Greek texts used by the framers of the major post-reformation confessions, which they called ‘authentic’ and ‘pure’, as the preserved texts of the Bible.” The major editors of what came to be known as the “TR” were Cardinal Jimenez, Desiderius Erasmus, Simon de Colines, Robert Estienne (Stephanus), Theodore Beza, and the Elzevir brothers (who first published their edition of the Greek New Testament in 1624, eleven years after the KJV was published). All these editors published their Greek Testaments long before the English Puritan confessional documents, namely the Westminster Standards and the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith (which undergird the Confessional Text Position and from whence it derives its name), were penned; so to say that the editors of the various TR’s held to this specific view of the text based on the confessions of faith would be anachronistic. However, these confessions of faith fleshed out the doctrine of Scripture based upon the work of the reformers, and thus we can say that some of the editors certainly shared the same position as the framers of the confessions regarding the inspiration and preservation of the Scriptures.
It is important to point out that both Cardinal Jimenez and Erasmus were Roman Catholic priests and would not share the same view of the authority of Scripture as the reformed. Beza and Stephanus on the other hand were reformed scholars who would have held a similar view of the Scriptures as the reformers and post-reformation divines. Let’s look at a few examples.
Jan Krans comments on Beza’s view of the Scriptures in his book “Beyond What is Written”,
“In Beza’s view of the text, the Holy Spirit speaks through the biblical authors. He even regards the same Spirit’s speaking through the mouth of the prophets and the evangelist as a guarantee of the agreement between both…If the Spirit speaks in and through the Bible, the translator and critic works within the Church. Beza clearly places all his text critical and translational work in an ecclesiastical setting. When he proposes the conjecture (‘wild pears’) for (‘locusts’) in Matt 3:4, he invokes ‘the kind permission of the Church’.” (328,329).
John Calvin (who utilized editions of de Colines, Stephanus and Beza) received the readings that God had preserved and given to the people of God. On his comments on 1 John 5:7 he writes,
“The whole of this verse has been by some omitted. Jerome thinks that this has happened through design rather than through mistake, and that indeed only on the part of the Latins. But as even the Greek copies do not agree, I dare not assert any thing on the subject. Since, however, the passage flows better when this clause is added, and as I see that it is found in the best and most approved copies, I am inclined to receive it as the true reading.” (John Calvin, Commentaries on the Catholic Epistles, 257)
Calvin states that he received the reading as original based on the work of the editors of the Greek Testaments of his day, who considered it to be original (minus the first two editions of Erasmus). The French post-reformation divine David Martin wrote a dissertation upon the veracity and originality of this verse that you can read in its entirety here.
As I mentioned in my original article, the Puritan John Owen stated that the Greek and Hebrew editions, then in his possession (the TR), was “by [God’s] good and merciful providential dispensation … preserved unto us entire in the original languages.” (Works 16, pg.352)
The reformers and post-reformation divines did not hold to Warfield’s idea that the Scriptures were inerrant and preserved only in the original autographs, but had been preserved entire (even down to the very letter) in the apographs, or copies. This is clearly seen in the work of Francis Turretin in his “Institutes of Elenctic Theology”. In answering the papists, who contended that the Greek and Hebrew editions of the Scriptures had been corrupted and thus the Roman Catholic Church and the Latin Vulgate were authoritative, Turretin wrote, “Have the original texts of the Old and New Testaments come down to us pure and uncorrupted? We affirm against the papists.” (Institutes, Vol.1, pg.106) He clarified what he meant by original texts, writing,
“By the original texts, we do not mean the autographs written by the hand of Moses, of the prophets and apostles, which certainly do not now exist. We mean their apographs which are so called because they set forth to us the word of God in the very words of those who wrote under the immediate inspiration of the Holy Spirit.” (pg.106 Emphasis mine)
Though there is some legitimacy to the question which brother Remus has posed, I think it misses the heart of the discussion. The reformers and post-reformation divines viewed the printed editions of the Greek and Hebrew Scriptures then in their possession as authoritative and as preserved even down to the very words and letters; and it is upon this assertion that the Confessional Text Position builds its argument. This does not mean that the editors of the TRs or the divines who pointed to them as pure and authentic were unaware of variants or that they in reality had access to less information concerning the validity of the variant readings. The papists of the counter-reformation were constantly bringing before them lists and collations of variant readings (in large part, the same variant readings that are still being discussed today) which they argued proved the corruption of the Greek and Hebrew Scriptures. This flows nicely into brother Remus’ second question.
The second question which brother Remus puts forward is, “Would the TR editors have changed their text if they had access to today’s data … Would the TR look different today if the TR editors had’ve had the data we currently do?” I assume that brother Remus is referring to the access which we have today to collations and catalogues of extant manuscripts that were unavailable to the editors of the TR and the reformers. This question assumes two things.
1.) That this question can be answered, which it cannot, as we do not have a time machine.
2.) That the editors of the TR and the reformers were unaware of all the major textual variants that are being discussed today.
My answer to the question: I do not believe that the TR would look any different had the editors had access to the same data which we have today. Why do I say this? I make this assertion because we know that Erasmus, Beza, Stephanus et.al. had access to and/or were aware of the variant readings that are still being discussed today. Erasmus himself had access to Codex Vaticanus via correspondence with his friend Bombasius in Rome, and we know that he generally did not trust it. Furthermore, Beza’s annotations reveal that he was well aware of the major textual variants, and yet he rejected them. The same is true of Calvin and the post-reformation divines. In fact, John Owen’s works “The Divine Original” and “Of The Integrity and Purity of the Hebrew and Greek Text of the Scripture” (Works, vol.16, pp.281-421) were written in response to the London polyglot, which went into great detail on variant readings and manuscript evidence.
Turretin was also well aware of the major textual variants and wrote the following,
“There is no truth in the assertion that the Hebrew edition of the Old Testament and the Greek edition of the New Testament are said to be mutilated; nor can the arguments used by our opponents prove it. Not the history of the adulteress (Jn. 8:1-11), for although it is lacking in the Syriac version, it is found in all the Greek manuscripts. Not 1Jn. 5:7; for although some formerly called it into question and heretics now do, yet all the Greek copies have it … Not Mk. 16 which may have been wanting in several copies in the time of Jerome (as he asserts); but now it occurs in all, even in the Syriac version, and is clearly necessary to complete the history of the resurrection of Christ.” (Institutes, pg.115)
When Turretin states that John 8:1-11 is found in all the Greek manuscripts he is making reference to all of the manuscripts which the orthodox reformed held as authentic, since we know that the men who came before him made mention of its absence in certain manuscripts. Calvin himself accepted as authentic (as can be seen in his commentaries) the TR readings of Mark 16:9-20; John 7:53-811; 1Tim. 3:16; John 5:4; Matt. 6:13 and 1 John 5:7 (see above), as did all of the framers of the English Puritan confessions of faith.
The underpinnings of the reformed in matters of textual criticism was epistemologically and theologically different than that of the modern critical text proponents. They started with faith in God’s promise to preserve His word (as can be seen in their constant appeal to Matt. 5:18 as a proof text) and affirmed against the papacy that the Scriptures were uncorrupted. To place man over the Scriptures in constant examination and reexamination of the evidence in order to reconstruct the original was seen as completely untenable and against the rule of faith for the reformed. Turretin stated that making alterations to the Scripture (by means of “the great and bold presumption of the human intellect”) based upon constant recourse to new or existing evidence was not only unnecessary, but also “highly dangerous and destructive to the Scriptures” (pg.120). He made allowance for textual criticism to continually be used upon profane (non-scriptural) books, but not for the Holy Scriptures which God had inspired and preserved.
“As if sacred and profane criticism hold an equal rank, and as if there is not the greatest difference between human writings (liable to error) and the divine (God-inspired, theopneuston) whose majesty should be sacred, which were received with so great reverence, have been preserved with so much care and approved by so general a consent as to deserve the title of authoritative truth” (pg.120).
Turretin goes on to further comment on the danger of such a view that requires a constant reconstruction of the Bible, “But what will become of this sacred book, if everyone is allowed to wield a censorious pen and play the critic over it, just as over any profane book?” (pg.120)
He also acknowledged that although there does exist various corruptions, or variant readings, within the manuscripts, they can and have been resolved by comparison with the more faithful copies (pg.114) and only exist in “things of small importance and not pertaining to faith and practice” (pg.108), nor are they “universal in all the manuscripts” (pg.109). If any variant reading be found in any copy, it should “be discarded as spurious and adulterated, the discordance [with doctrine] itself being a sufficient reason for its rejection.” (pg.113) An epistemological foundation of doctrine and not of human reason is the means by which we are to examine various readings within the manuscript tradition. (pg.121)
For the orthodox reformed, a manuscript is to be received as faithful upon two grounds;
1.) It is not riddled with grammatical mistakes and strange, or harder, readings (as demonstrated by Beza’s rejection of Codex Bezae)
2.) That its readings are doctrinally sound.
So by comparing variant readings against the approved copies, the true reading could be easily ascertained.
In conclusion, based upon the theology of the reformers and post-reformation divines, I do not think that the TR, even if its editors had access to the papyri and other uncial manuscripts (Sinaiticus and Alexandrinus), would have looked any different, since they were already aware of the major variants that these manuscripts contained and rejected them. I believe the most faithful position in safeguarding the authority and inspiration of the Scriptures is by returning to the views of the reformers and post-reformation divines who were not sullied by unbelieving methodologies propagated in the 1700’s and 1800’s.
I hope that this brief article is of some help in answering brother Remus’ questions and it is my prayer that we will all continue to submit ourselves to God’s inspired Word as it stands over us in judgement as saved sinners.
Dane K. Johannsson
Lead Pastor, Agros Reformed Baptist Church
Calvin, John, and John Owen. Commentaries on the Catholic Epistles. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010.
Owen, John. The Works of John Owen. Edited by William H. Goold. Vol. 16. Edinburgh: T&T Clark, n.d.
Turretin, Francis. Institutes of Elenctic Theology Vol.1. Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P&R Publishing, 1992
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