Recently, James White debated Bart Ehrman, a former evangelical textual scholar turned agnostic on the reliability of the New Testament. I am not necessarily a White fan, and I am not going to speculate as to who really won the debate. What interests me has to do with White’s fielding some criticism from proponents of the Textus Receptus at his blog. (The Textus Receptus (Received Text), is the Greek basis for the King James Version.)
White raised four questions regarding what actually constitutes the Textus Receptus. I think those questions are spot on, and I’d like to hone in on the last one, for a few posts. As an aside, I should mention I had someone provide some KJV Only answers to White’s questions over at my King James Only Debate Research Center‘s forums. (Feel free to go over there and interact if you’d like.)
Here are White’s questions:
1) When did “the church” “received” this text?
2) What council engaged in a study of the respective texts and determined that this is the “one” text that most closely represents the original?
3) Which text IS the “TR”? Can you identify a single text as THE TR? If not, why not?
4) Please explain why I should use the TR’s readings of Luke 2:22, Revelation 16:5, and the final six verses of Revelation.
What White is doing here is testing the premise of Textus Receptus Onlyism. How is it that the Textus Receptus was received by the Church? What does that reception entail? Which text was received? How can we know which readings are correct based on this textual position?
He and others (like myself) are not splitting straws when they bring up difficult passages and possible errors in the Textus Receptus. We are testing the claims of TR Onlyism. If the Textus Receptus is truly the only Scripturally warranted text, then questions like these should not be stumpers. In fact, there should be a systematic approach to textual questions which is controlled, consistent, and guided by Scripture or in some way authoritative. Should we really expect the TR to be inerrant? If so, how do we deal with these kinds of questions.
For those who haven’t heard the term Textus Receptus Only, I should give a brief sketch of what that position entails. I used to claim the title as my own, so I am not going to try to misrepresent that view. This view holds that the Textus Receptus (TR) is the best Greek text today. It is not corrupted and full of errors as are the most commonly used text (Nestl- Aland 27 / UBS 4th edition) and even the new Majority text (ca. 1980). These other texts are critical texts, but the TR was handed down from the Reformation era. It was not pieced together by textual critics but by men who cherished Scripture. They simply collated the existing manuscripts they were aware of, and rejected incorrect readings and provided us a printed text.
After several years of editing, correcting printer’s errors, and the like, the text became stabilized with the printing of the King James Version. The text of the King James Version can be considered as a variety of the Textus Receptus, because the translators did not follow one specific text. Sometimes they sided with Stephanus’ 1550 edition, other times with Beza’s 1598. The text behind the King James translator’s choices was eventually compiled by Frederick Scrivener in the late 1800s and is available today from the Trinitarian Bible Society.
This view distances itself from a KJV Only view which claims the English corrects the Greek, or that there was some kind of second inspiration for the KJV, where its every translation choice was inerrant. The TR Only view holds that the inspired Word of God was preserved perfectly in the Textus Receptus (for the New Testament, Hebrew Masoretic Text for the Old). You will notice however, that almost every proponent of this view will claim that the Trinitarian Bible Society edition of the TR is actually inerrant (or some other edition is), and that there are no textual errors (or even serious translational mistakes) in the King James Version.
In at least 3 future posts (1 for each of the passages White mentions), I will put this position to test. In the future I may explore other problem areas for the Textus Receptus. I should make clear that I understand there are problems with my text of choice (the NA 27) too. But I am not claiming inerrancy for my text. I believe that essentially I have the Word of God in my English Standard Version, and that although in some few places there is some uncertainty as to which reading is the correct one, this does not shake my faith. That uncertainty does not mean the Bible was not verbally inspired, and it does not mean I cannot be reasonably certain as to which reading is correct, nor does it bring any major Bible doctrine into question. It does mean I’m being honest with the evidence, and should cause me to wrestle with the text in prayer as I seek to understand its meaning for my life.