In previous articles, we’ve hit some of the major topics of the Textus Receptus debate. We now go on to consider some additional objections that frequently come up in this discussion.

Aren’t German liberals changing the Bible?

To the contrary! The scholars behind the modern Critical Text are not creating new readings in the text. They are looking at the manuscript tradition and showing the historical support for the various possible readings, and ultimately going with the one that they believe has the best overall evidence. In the process, they provide a critical apparatus at the bottom of each page that shows what manuscripts support the reading they’ve chosen, as well as the manuscript support for alternative readings — something that the modern TR movement has failed to do.1 There are no secret changes or artificial readings. The critical apparatus is an open book. It’s all right in the open, ready for you to verify each supporting manuscript for yourself if you’re in doubt. Being afraid of people learning the evidential history of their Bible is a sign of a failed argument. This manifests itself when the TR Only group expresses discomfort with the variants being recognized and discussed. As we’ve previously shown from the specific examples of Calvin and Spurgeon, Christians have historically always had to deal with variants and had the freedom to dissent from the “received” reading where the evidence allows for good men to differ.

Weren’t Westcott and Hort liberals who had a low view of Scripture?

Ideally, textual scholars have a more conservative view of Scripture than Westcott and Hort. But when did ideal conditions exist? Erasmus' philosophy, as outlined in his annotations, had similar perspectives, especially on the book of Revelation, which he didn’t consider to be an inspired text. When Erasmus is brought up, with all his dubious issues,2 the TR Only movement invariably replies, “What Erasmus believed didn’t matter, and has no bearing on the discussion. He was simply a tool, regardless of what he personally thought, to preserve God’s Word.” This begs the question: why does this argument get to be used for Erasmus, but not Westcott and Hort?

Another response to the Erasmus argument we often hear is this: “Yes, Erasmus indeed had a low view of Scripture often, but the scholars who came after him sanctified his text — namely Stephanus and Beza.” But again, this begs a question. The Critical Text platform has had many godly scholars involved since the days of Westcott and Hort — men such as Dr. Daniel Wallace and Dr. William Mounce. If Stephanus and Beza can “sanctify” the work of Erasmus, why can’t these men “sanctify” the work of Westcott and Hort?

These sorts of criticisms of the Critical Text go full circle and can be used just as easy to attack the TR. But neither attacks are profitable nor necessary. Instead, the Critical Text takes the philosophy and work of the men who made the TR and honors it by continuing it. If Erasmus and Stephanus and Beza were alive today, they’d be involved in the so-called Critical Text, as we’ve shown.

Don’t modern Bibles dumb down the English?

The English of modern Bibles isn’t any more “dumbed down” than the Koine Greek of the New Testament is dumbed down compared to Classical Greek. God could have given his New Testament in Classical Greek and he chose not to. He also didn’t give his people a Greek that was stilted, wooden, and deliberately out-of-date. He gave them the Scriptures in their spoken language. Modern Bibles achieve this, in a way that the Elizabethan-era English of the King James Version no longer does. If the Bible translation you’re reading causes you to think that you’re reading people from an ancient era saying things in an ancient way, you’re not experiencing God the way that the original audience did, and you’re not experiencing God the way He intended.

Don’t modern Bibles have major portions missing?

They don’t. For example, the longer ending of Mark and the Pericope Adulterae — the two longest contested sections — are there, albeit in brackets. There’s room for good men to differ with these passages. Their support is questionable but their readings go back to antiquity. For Christians in the early church, some New Testament Bibles contained these passages, and some did not. Generations have had to deal with these variants for centuries, and there should be room within the fellowship to disagree as to their authenticity, just as there was back then. For this reason, including the passages in brackets is a good compromise and one we can be comfortable with.

Don’t modern Bibles undermine the reliability of Scripture?

The reality is the exact opposite: nobody has done more to undermine the reliability of Scripture than the KJVO and TR Only movements. If their arguments against the Critical Text are applied consistently, the Word of God has not been “kept pure in all ages” in the era of the Septuagint and the Vulgate, both of which flagrantly fail to satisfy their definition of Matthew 5:18. Moreover, the TR’s insistence on the authenticity of the Johannine Comma means that a reading can utterly absent from the Greek manuscript tradition for more than a thousand years, and then suddenly appear and be accepted.3 The TR Only movement is constantly trying to cast doubt in the minds of Christians as to the reliability of their ESVs and NASBs. This undermining of the reliability of Scripture is unwarranted and should be rescinded.

Don’t alternate readings create unnecessary confusion?

First, the Bible itself contains alternate readings. We’ve already looked at the Hebrews 8:9 alternate reading of Jeremiah 31:32. If the God-breathed Word itself does it, then that should satisfactorily stop this argument mid-air.

A little-known fact is that the original King James Version of 1611 contained no fewer than 37 alternate readings in the margin from different Greek manuscripts. If alternate readings create unnecessary confusion, English Bible translations have been guilty of this for more than 400 years. On the contrary, it is far better for Bible students to be aware of how their Bible came to be, than for them to have a revisionist history ideology tied to Scripture that a well-argued atheist could debunk in five minutes. Exchanging truth for certainty will result in the possession of neither. Pastors and teachers should be equipping their people to defend the preservation and authenticity of Scripture in the context of these alternate readings, rather than trying to hide from the conflict. The original 1611 didn’t try to hide, and neither should the modern TR Only movement.

Doesn’t the Critical Text have all the same problems as the TR?

Sometimes when bringing up the problems with the TR’s uncertainty and unreliability in its readings, the TR Only response is, “Well, you have that problem a thousandfold with your Critical Text position.” Here’s why that objection doesn’t work. By its definition, the TR Only position begins to break down if a single verse of the TR warrants revision. The Critical Text position does not; to the contrary, it welcomes scrutiny and careful reexamination, and the willingness to improve the text, as Stephanus and Beza did theirs. For the TR Only position to win the debate of ideas, it must stand head and shoulders above the alternatives. It loses the moment it allows for the possibility of the Critical Text position to have a seat at the table. In other words, the burden of proof for the TR Only position is much higher. Saying, “You have problems too,” is not good enough for the exclusive truth claims of the TR Onlyist.

When a TR Only person brings up this objection, he is acknowledging that the TR position does have its problems, which means that the TR’s special status as being identical to the autographs no longer holds water. If both platforms share these problems, the measure to which these problems can be weaponized against each other is limited. The moment someone says that the Critical Text has all the same problems as the TR, he’s confessing that neither can be jettisoned as a fraudulent text. Both need to be treated with respect as the preserved Word of God, problems notwithstanding, opportunities for improvement notwithstanding. The TR Only movement is vehemently opposed to doing this, sadly.

Why reject the Greek text used by the Reformers?

Any proposed change to the TR is, in the eyes of the TR Only movement, an attack on preservation, and a rejection of the TR. The debate in recent years over the correct reading in Ephesians 3:9 is proof of this. The problem with this approach is that Stephanus had no scruples about changing the TR. Neither did Beza. Neither did the KJV translators, effectively, as the Scrivener edition illustrates. But of course, the TR Only movement would never claim that these godly men were rejecting the TR in its “received” form. Instead, they were standing on the shoulders of giants, and improving upon it. This begs the question — if it was ok then, why isn’t it ok now? Why did Beza get to make changes in light of new evidence, but nobody gets to do that today?

Like practically every other objection, this one can be rhetorically returned with equal force to the TR Onlyist: Why reject the Greek text used by the First Council of Nicaea? In AD 325, the New Testament of the average orthodox Christian looked much more Alexandrian than it did TR. The point is this: we could enshrine any moment or period of church history as the standard for our text, but by what standard would we do that? Who is to say that the era of the Reformation is the standard, rather than Nicaea, or perhaps the ministries of modern evangelical heroes such as R.C. Sproul and John MacArthur, whose Bibles once again look more Alexandrian? But this isn’t how you want to do textual criticism. Instead, you want a New Testament that has its readings derived from the best overall support; not based upon any one specific event in history, or based on what they thought, from their limited vantage point, the best reading was. At that point, it becomes a completely arbitrary stalemate. It’s a failed argument and doesn’t move the discussion forward.

  1. The Scrivener Edition of the TR, as it originally appeared (though not as appears in the TBS edition) contains in its appendices an explanation of where the King James Translation derived its various readings. This is helpful since it allows us to know where the translators derived their text from Beza versus Stephanus versus elsewhere, but it doesn’t let us know where those printed Greek texts determined their readings. Even without that, what we do know is that they used a handful of late Byzantine texts that are not representative in broad strokes of the Greek New Testament in use for the first millennium of church history. ↩︎

  2. Including the fact that he fundamentally disagreed with Martin Luther on the basis of justification. Erasmus was a Roman Catholic who vehemently denied Sola Fide. Luther’s book On the Bondage of the Will brings this out vividly. ↩︎

  3. This is a denial of true preservation. Granted, men of yore who had a tiny (badly sampled) spectrum of the manuscript tradition thought that the Comma had better support than it does. But they were operating off limited information and would change their perspective today, in the same way that Beza modified Stephanus' TR based on new information. ↩︎