When discussing the Textus Receptus controversy, the subject of Scriptural authority invariably becomes comes up. We address a myriad of concerns and objections in the next article, but this one is so important that it deserves dedicated treatment.

The central question boils down to this: what is the source of the authority of God’s word? The TR Perfect position maintains that it comes from knowing that we have a perfect Greek text; a text that is identical to the original autographs. Anything short of that, they maintain, fails the test and undermines the authority of Scripture. If we have any doubt in our mind whatsoever that a single penstroke (Matthew 5:18) is off, that would ruin our feeling of authority, and we would be mired in the muck of uncertain modernity. We might as well close the book and go home.

As we’ve seen earlier, however, no TR is identical to the penstroke with the autographs. As we’ve also seen, this view is itself a modernistic development that could only exist in a vacuum that lives in denial of what the Reformers thought and wrote.

Let Scripture Define Its Own Authority

Every doctrine we espouse should come from Scripture. This is what it means to affirm Sola Scriptura. The doctrine of the authority of Scripture should itself come from Scripture.

As we turn to Scripture to find the answer, what do we see by example? When Jesus and the Apostles quoted the Septuagint, variants and all, they did so with full confidence, even though they were using a translation that differed appreciably from the autographs, as we’ve previously seen.

In other words, Jesus and the Apostles did not base the authority of their Old Testament Scripture quotations on their having a translation that was based on exact autographs. They granted the Septuagint full authority despite its variants. If they didn’t need a “perfect” Bible to derive their authority, neither should we. The example of Scripture should inform our understanding of authority.

The reality is that God’s ways are “messier” (by man’s definition) than man’s wisdom sometimes wishes. Naaman was cured of his leprosy in the muddy river Jordan. Jesus’ family lineage includes Rahab the harlot and Solomon, the offspring of an initially adulterous relationship. Jesus cured a man of blindness by smearing his eyelids with spit-made mud and instructing him to wash in Siloam. Christ crucified — the epitome of a weak fool’s way of death — is the very power and wisdom of God (1 Cor 1:24). The church — in all of its splintered factions and impurities and sometimes unclear messaging — is the administration by which “the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known” (Eph 3:10).

TR Only movement has seemingly forgotten this aspect of God’s Providence as it relates to the doctrine of Scriptural preservation and authority. The TR movement wants a nice, sophisticated, clean-cut, perfect text. It wants to bathe in Abanah and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, rather than in the Jordan. The problem is that this perfect text doesn’t actually exist today,1 and even if it did, having exactly that text wouldn’t be the litmus test of authority anyway. The existence and utilization of the Septuagint are proof of this.

The King James Translators Had It Right

When it comes to understanding the basis of authority, the King James translation committee had it right. In The Translators to the Reader, they wrote this:

An Answer to the Imputations of Our Adversaries

Now to the latter we answer; that we do not deny, nay we affirm and avow, that the very meanest translation of the Bible in English, set forth by men of our profession, (for we have seen none of theirs of the whole Bible as yet) containeth the word of God, nay, is the word of God. As the King’s speech, which he uttereth in Parliament, being translated into French, Dutch, Italian, and Latin, is still the King’s speech, though it be not interpreted by every Translator with the like grace, nor peradventure so fitly for phrase, nor so expressly for sense, everywhere.

Notice that. The “very meanest translation” is the Word of God, and therefore carries with it the authority of the Word of God.


We do not rob a true definition of Scriptural authority when we acknowledge the reality of our Scripture’s “messy” (by man’s wisdom’s standards) history. We must be careful to not go beyond what is written by creating a false standard for the authority of God’s Word. If the Septuagint can be treated with the authority as being the Word of God, so can faithful translations from the Critical Text.2

  1. To reiterate what we’ve said earlier, we believed that the autographs do exist within the manuscript tradition. What we deny is that the original autographs are preserved to the last penstroke in a single volume’s primary text block (outside the critical apparatus and elsewhere). Whether they want to admit it or not, the TR Only movement doesn’t believe this existed either, before the Scrivener edition of 1881, if their “penstroke” exegesis of Matthew 5:18 is applied consistently. ↩︎

  2. Our line of argumentation is taking a defensive position, granting temporarily for the sake of argument that the CT is inferior to the TR, in the same way that LXX was inferior to the Masoretic. That isn’t the case per se, but there can be grace to differ over this. What cannot be allowed is a false standard being made that, when applied consistently, results in the Septuagint and the Vulgate losing their authority as being the Word of God. ↩︎