Critical Textual Criticism and Missionary Work

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Ordinary Guy (TM)
How the Textual critics hurt missionary work:

I am a missionary and focus on tribal peoples, but have discipled former mslms as well. Right now I am just strugglign to get healthy.

Here is a story that may be profitable regarding textual criticism and missionary work:

One former Mslm that I discipled came to me distressed one day after I bought him a bible commentary.

What was the problem?

The commentary mentioned that it was uncertain whether a particular passage was in the originals or not. Humanly speaking, I thought I had lost him right there back to Islam.

I had bought him a tool to study Scripture and it led him to doubt Scripture.

He asked me, "Is the Bible not certain?" and "Do people not know what exactly is in the Bible?"

This bible commentary had cast doubt on a number of passafges such as the endign of Mark, the adultery passage, and the Comma. "How can I be sure that the Bible is really the Word of God, then?" He asked. I felt as if the "Christian" resources I had given him were undoing his faith.

It is ironic that there are men who debate Muslims and yet their views on textual criticism fall right into the propaganda of the Muslims. They vigorously debate Mslms and yet their view of textual criticism gives the mslm the victory over our faith.

After all, the Qur'an is fairly settled; after the Battle of Yamama and 70 men who had memorized the Qur'an fully were killed the Caliph Abu Bakr compiled the Qur'an and the 3rd Caliph Uthman copied it ( and all old copies were destroyed). Because of this, and because of the reluctance to translate the Qur'an out of Arabic (the Mother Book in Heaven is in Arabic, after all), the Qur'ans that circulate today are all uniform whereas our bibles are not.

What is more, even in public schools in the country where I serve, the teachers tell the students that while the Christians are, indeed, The People of the Book as well, they cannot trust their Injil because the Jews have corrupted their text. Meanwhile, Christian scholars say pretty much the same thing - that many manuscript readings cannot be trusted.

If the lie is the same, perhaps the source of the lie is the same as well.

I have concluded that the most vile enemies of the Scripture are not the followers of Muhammad, but the professors and textual critics sitting in many Christian seminaries, and those who hurt the faith of these "little ones" on the mission field by making them doubt the Scriptures.

----Follow-up on this family:

In this particular case, the man was persecuted. The Mosque loudspeaker told his neighbors not to associate with him. He had trouble finding work. His wife considered divorcing him. But over many months, she too believed. She wore her mslm veil for a time to church (ha ha, a bit awkward but nobody said anything, thankfully).

He is now in Bible school and their 2 kids are enrolled in a Christian school.

I will try in the future to do better as a missionary. Please pray for me and any failings that I may have.
So, what are we supposed to do with the real variants that really exist in real history (even in the so-called “Received” tradition, by the way)? Just pretend they’re not there? Textual criticism didn’t create these variants, after all. So, whether we do textual criticism or not, they are there, and they are public knowledge. I’m not saying all manner textual criticism is good (some is patently wicked), but textual criticism is an ancient tradition in the Christian Church, having its first practitioner in Origen.

Furthermore, I get very uneasy with the apologetic method that says, “If anything ever causes offense, the fault is with it, not with the person.” It’s pure pragmatism, in my opinion. Are we supposed to reject the doctrine of election because it has caused many people, even supposed Christians, to stumble and reject the Faith (which it has)?

I'm not qualified to talk at length on this subject, but here is how it did create a real issue for me, an everday Christian, just three years ago.

I am big on memory, and I am firmly convinced that it should be part of our spiritual exercises to commit the Scriptures to memory.

Textual criticism was a huge discouragement to me. I would look at my Nestle Aland Greek text and ask myself, "Should I memorize all these variants too? What if the text as laid out is not correct?" So, a big memorization project--getting the Scriptures in memory--probably doubles in size if you are concerned to make sure you have the real thing.

Of course you can say, "Just go with what is likely the best reading." That opinion can change. What if what's accepted as original is considered inauthentic tomorrow? I felt like my Bible could change at a moment! If every jot and tittle abides forever, what do you do when you are not certain what the jots and tittles really are?

I don't miss the turmoil the issue created in my Bible reading.

It's certainly not academic. It's a real issue for an everyday Christian.
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@Pergamum Thank you for sharing this experience. This is so disheartening. As you know, I've been reading up on the issue myself after having the presentation in favor of critical text criticism so positively pushed at Moody.

I'm seeing doubt of the text and finding the "true" text to be more and more of a problem. Modern text criticism doesn't have roots in the Church.

As @Taylor Sexton has pointed out, the cat is out of the bag, so to speak. How do we stand on the Word of God and believe that He has kept pure in all ages this infallible Word? How do we do this in a world that is eager to see more and more variations (taken at their word so easily) advocate for an inauthentic faith?
While I do understand the tension people are pointing to, it's really important that we realize that the discussion here isn't over whether or not textual criticism is valid or not, rather the discussion is really about what faithful textual criticism looks like.

This is a similar issue to the debate over creeds. The "no-creed-but-the-Bible" folks actually have a creed - the question is simply whether or not that creed is consciously worked out and biblically faithful. In the same way, every time you pick up a Bible you are doing textual criticism (and that's true whether we're talking about the ESV & the KJV or the TR & NA28). You can't get away from making choices about which manuscript readings best reflect the original autographs.

So the real discussion centers around the best and most biblical way of doing that task.
And this is not just a post-enlightenment discipline driven by godless secular "scholars." Theadore Beza (along with other Reformers) was quite involved in textual criticism in his day. Textual criticism is neither good nor bad on its own. It's how it's done that's so important.
I think it is also important to point out that—in my view, at least—this "problem" is actually a great apologetic for Christianity rather than a polemic against it.

Here is what I mean. How is "revealed truth" preserved in pagan religions? In Islam, it is a supposedly in a pristine copy of the Qur'an. How is this "truth" to be accessed? Well, you must come to them for the "truth"; it is controlled by them. Even in Roman Catholicism, although the Scriptures have recently been permitted to be translated into the vernacular, it is still Rome who holds the only right to interpret them. Again, the truth and divine authority reside with them.

This is not the case with the Christian Scriptures. Sure, there are variants in the text. But the Christian Scriptures, from day one, have been intended for the world. They were never hidden. No one person or institution could claim exclusive right to them. Sure, there are variants, mostly in minor points of mere grammar and spelling. But is it not a testimony to the goodness of God that he decreed such a widespread and rapid promulgation and reproduction of his Word throughout the entire world, in many languages, and yet has kept it pure from corruption?

Unlike all these other religions, God has nothing to hide or conceal. Sure, it takes illumination by the Spirit to understand these things, but God has published his Word for worldwide consumption by anyone who desires it. Nothing holds them back from it. And yet he has done so, all the while preserving it as the most attested ancient document in history. Even if the Qur'an could claim uniformity in preservation (it can't, by the way), it was only accomplished by careful and secluded protection by a small and exclusive group of like-minded people. That God accomplished the same thing without any of these human protections, I could hardly imagine a stronger apologetic.
WCF 1:8: " his singular care and providence, kept pure in all ages...."

-If my "discipleship" materials state that the last verses of Mark, the Adultery passage, and the Comma don't actually belong in the bible how can I teach a convert that WCF 1:8 is true? Sounds pretty impure to me.
WCF 1:8: " his singular care and providence, kept pure in all ages...."

-If my "discipleship" materials state that the last verses of Mark, the Adultery passage, and the Comma don't actually belong in the bible how can I teach a convert that WCF 1:8 is true? Sounds pretty impure to me.

The point is that regardless of whether you recognize textual criticism, regardless of whether you think it's valid, and regardless of whether you yourself do it or not (you do, I promise), the variants are there for everyone to see. So, you have two choices: 1) deal with them, or 2) shrug and walk away.
Pergy, could you maybe offer us a definition of what you mean when you talk about textual criticism? I suspect that we're not all using the term in the same way here.
Pergy, could you maybe offer us a definition of what you mean when you talk about textual criticism? I suspect that we're not all using the term in the same way here.

I would say that higher textual criticism is the belief that we have lost the bible and need scholars to reconstruct the text for us. Scholars stand in judgment of the bible. My view is that we've always had the bible and the Church has always possesses it and recognized it for what it is.

How would you define it?
I would say that higher textual criticism is the belief that we have lost the bible and need scholars to reconstruct the text for us. Scholars stand in judgment of the bible. My view is that we've always had the bible and the Church has always possesses it and recognized it for what it is.

This definition is problematic because it excludes a significant middle. Your comment appears to say that there are only two positions—higher critical thought (which I and everyone here rejects, by the way), and the "Received Text" position. You do realize there are conservative textual scholars—many are very Reformed—doing the exact same work that Erasmus did, the text-critical work which gave the "Received Text" folks the "Received Text"? They are what you have excluded.
I would say that higher textual criticism is the belief that we have lost the bible and need scholars to reconstruct the text for us. Scholars stand in judgment of the bible. My view is that we've always had the bible and the Church has always possesses it and recognized it for what it is.

How would you define it?

I would define it this way: textual criticism is the work of studying textual variants to discover the original text of the Bible.

Now that work can be done by liberal scholars who place themselves above the Bible (as you describe so well) but it is also done by faithful evangelical scholars who pursue textual criticism to demonstrate the very truth laid out in WCF 1.8, that God has kept His word "pure in all ages."

I think Don Stewart walks through the major issues well in this article:

And if I can just add one point to clarify as well. I'm currently a student at PRTS which, as many of you know, uses the KJV and holds to the Majority Text. They would not endorse the genealogical textual tradition used by most modern versions (ESV, NIV, etc...). However, even with that being said, we take a class on textual criticism here and Dr. Barrett (who holds firmly to the Majority Text) goes out of his way to argue that textual criticism is not only valid but also necessary.

In other words: to pursue textual criticism doesn't mean that you automatically use NA28 or follow a critical text. You can pursue textual criticism and still hold to the longer ending of Mark and use the KJV. I think some here are assuming conclusions which don't necessarily follow.
@Pergamum I thank you for this also. I see the issue as being no different from the issue of evolution and age of the earth. There is data and then there is interpretation of the data. It’s a theological and faith issue, not a scientific one; the data will be interpreted according to what one believes about the Bible’s own testimony.
Can we not distinguish between the legitimacy of the discipline of textual criticism and the conclusion of many textual critics?
Matthew 24:35
Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will never pass away.

Luke 16:17
But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for a single stroke of a pen to drop out of the Law.

Luke 21:33
Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will never pass away.

How many variants do we allow so as not to enter the "passed away" stage? Where is the line drawn? And who drew it?
The textual variants are a real issue. I have to deal with it in Sunday school class, too. Kids tend to be troubled to learn that in some cases we can't be sure exactly what Moses or Isaiah or Paul wrote. My response begins with something similar to what Taylor said in post #8 above:

It is so good of God that he has given his Word to his people and caused it to spread out into the whole world. There is no secret place where someone keeps a perfect Bible but the rest of us can't see it. Instead, we all have the Bible! We should be glad God has done this.

But people make mistakes and are sinful. So there are a few places where we can tell that someone has made a mistake when they copied the Bible and we can't be sure which way was the way Moses or Isaiah or Paul wrote it. At the same time, we can tell that people have mostly been very careful when they copied the Bible. God has helped people be careful so that most of the time we do know exactly what Moses or Isaiah or Paul wrote, and the places where we aren't sure don't change the Bible's main message about Jesus and how he saves us. So God has made it so we can still be sure we are studying his Word when we study the Bible.

Sometimes people might make mistakes too when they translate the Bible into a different language, or they might not be sure of the best way to take what Moses or Isaiah or Paul wrote and say it in English (or some other language), and in a few cases sinful people have translated parts of the Bible wrongly on purpose. So, we should be careful to pick a good translation when we study the Bible. But here again, God has been kind to us and he has given us many good Bible translations in English. He wants his people to have his Word, and this is great!

Some people don't believe this. Even though they have no proof, they like to say that there are big mistakes and changes from what Moses and Isaiah and Paul wrote that affect the Bible's meaning. But they are just guessing. They don't actually have any old copies of the Bible where you can tell that there are those kinds of big changes—because there aren't any! God hasn't let that happen. He wants his people to have his Word.​
What I have seen tending to happen today when people look at textual criticism and are shocked to find that there are variants, is that they take an almost computer-based idea of "kept pure" and apply an anachronistic standard back on to the biblical texts. If there is the slightest deviance from an already assumed standard, then "corruption" rears its ugly head, with all the negative connotations that the word "corruption" has. However, this word does not mean (in textual criticism) what most modern people think it means. It does not mean, "Some scribe gleefully changed the meaning of a text to suit his own diabolical theology." It means "an error in transmission." When the Westminster divines used the words "kept pure," they did not have computer based models of how to keep something pure. Nor did they imply "100% pure with no manuscripts having any differences whatsoever." So, for starters, we absolutely must stop comparing (in our minds, whether consciously or unconsciously) the differences in manuscripts through the ages with the idea of modern computer-based printing procedures, where a thousand copies printed can all be precisely the same with absolutely zero divergence. Printing procedures in the time of the Westminster divines had errors creep in (maybe the most amusing example being the so-called Wicked Bible in 1631, which read "Thou shalt commit adultery"). Copying by hand, of course, represents many more opportunities for errors to creep in. Having the unfair comparison in mind allows many people to imitate Chicken Little and think the sky is falling in when people seek to do responsible textual criticism. There is very little grace on the part of some, and accusations of diabolically changing the text of Scripture are leveled at people who have no business being accused of such.

The fact is that we all want to know what God's Word says. Therefore we must compare manuscripts to seek to eliminate the scribal errors that crept in. Sometimes those errors are obvious, and can be easily explained. Sometimes the issues are incredibly complex and difficult. The desire to over-simplify the issues is understandable, but wrong-headed. It is an immensely complex field, with many factors to weigh, and each individual case of variants has its own set of evidence.

Can we say that we have God's Word? Certainly we can. IF we don't apply anachronistic standards to the evidence and require a degree of certainty consistent with the modern age, but NOT with other ages of the world.
The other issue here is that merely quoting Luke 16:17 or some such passage is actually question begging. It begs the very question that is being discussed here: What texts are genuine? After all, it is those passages that shall not pass away. If, for example, 1 John 5:7 is not original (I am not here making a judgment either way), then the fact that it has been "deleted" in most modern Bibles is actually a fulfillment of Luke 16:17 rather than a violation of it. So, someone who believes that 1 John 5:7, for example, is not original can most certainly affirm Luke 16:17 without the slightest unsoundness in logical integrity.

Presuppositions matter.
Sorry for the double post. I just want to approach this one more time from a Christian charity perspective.

The primary reason I get passionately involved in this debate is not because I have a firm opinion about it. To be honest, I probably lean more Majority Text in my textual views. But, even then, I don't know. I waffle on it. No, the reason I get involved in this debate is because, frankly, I am so tried of getting painted as something of an unbeliever simply because I do not hold to a certain position on the manuscript tradition of Scripture, and how that tradition must be dealt with.

I have also witnessed a good deal of smugness, and just down-right hatred, on this board and in other places on this issue. And, to be even more frank, most of that I have seen coming from the "Received Text" crowd. I am not saying the the "Critical Text" side is innocent, but I have seen it far more from the other side. Just take this very thread as an example. It began by calling "professors and textual critics" "vile enemies of the Scripture." Brothers and sisters, this rhetoric about fellow believers—people with whom we share a common union in our Lord Jesus Christ—ought not be found in our mouths, our keyboards, or anywhere about us. I sat under several of these very professors for years. I know them personally, and their families, and to call them "vile enemies of the Scripture" is, without qualification, disgusting and filthy, and it ought to be repented of. (Call that an appeal to emotion if you wish. These men are neither vile nor enemies.)

I just want to make a strong appeal, brothers and sisters, that we do not engage in such talk. Sure, let's debate this issue. Let's debate it with every bit of scholarly fiber in our beings. But let's not resort to tactics like these. They are unbecoming of all of us.

Just to piggy-back off Taylor's excellent comments, I would issue this solemn warning to those who would read motivations into people's minds on this issue (from either side): if you feel that strongly about the other side that you think they are deliberately corrupting God's Word, then this forum (or ANY online place of discussion) is the 100% WRONG, WRONG, and WRONG place to deal with it. You need to write to that person's governing ecclesiastical body and ask that they press charges. No one could deny that tampering with God's Word is a fully chargeable offense in the ecclesiastical courts. But to charge people with tampering with God's Word on a discussion board is divisive and probably libelous.
Copy a dictionary. See how many errors you make. That's how the transmission process works. Unless, of course, you want to apply inerrancy to the transmission process as well.
And what is the Bible's own testimony regarding the variants in its transmission history?
Taylor, I think it's just very simple. The Scripture is God's very word to us. His words to us, plural. That's the claim of Scripture. God hasn't failed in preserving for his church that word, every word of it. He hasn't added to or taken away from his word. I don't know that the Bible speaks to variants, just as it doesn't speak to the data that compels Christians to accept evolution. But it does speak positively to the integrity of the Scriptures.
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