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Doctrinal Writings
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Yes, But...

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Dr. Richard Flanders
Juniata Baptist Church
Vassar, Michigan
In 1999 a distinguished group of respected fundamentalists produced a book to calm the storm of controversy over Bible versions that has disturbed unity in our movement. From the Mind of God to the Mind of Man: A Layman's Guide to How We Got Our Bible is the long title of the moderate-length book they wrote, and it has had real success in reaching the fundamentalist public. Many important facts about Biblical manuscripts and translations are given, and a number of misconceptions are corrected. In many ways, this is a good and useful book. However, it does not leave the reader with a completely fair understanding of the facts and issues involved in the controversy. A bias against the traditional-text viewpoint is evident in the overall teaching of the book in spite of the effort several writers made to be neutral. Facts are given; falsehoods are exposed; but the whole picture is not presented. Some of us kept finding ourselves responding as we read with statements that begin, "Yes, but. . ." Yes, what they say is true, but there certainly is more that can be said in favor of traditional Bible texts and the old King James Version.

1. The authors point out the fact that "vilification of character, personal attacks, and a generally unchristian spirit" have characterized some of the writing on this subject (p. ix). We are promised that this book will be "filled with light and little heat" and "without attacks on the character of. . .opponents." Yes, the rhetoric used in the translation debate has often been unnecessarily harsh. There are those who imply that their opponents are either heretics or lunatics! But the unnecessary harshness has not come from only one side, and this book has not completely avoided it. In the Introduction, Dr. David Otis Fuller is called a "disseminator of misinformation" (p. 6). Then (on p. 7) a whole set of traditional-text writers is called a "parade of misinformers." Among them are Drs. D.A.Waite and Wally Beebe, fundamentalists loved and respected by many. On the same page, the movement to defend the K.J.V. is called a "cancerous sore" promoting "enormous errors." Since names are given, it would have been good if specific errors had been attached to specific names so that the condemnation would not have been so general. In this early section, the book displays some of the same harshness of language that the writers decry. Yes, the spirit of the text-and-translation debate has been uncharitable, but the fault is on both sides. Recently fundamentalist missionaries have been losing church support because they fail to answer questions on this issue in the exact terms demanded by some of their supporters, both traditional-text and critical-text men. It is a shame, but the shame is spread wider than these writers admit.

2. The viewpoint that defends the traditional text of the Bible is criticized in subtle and not-so- subtle ways throughout the book. We are told in the Introduction that "the writers of these articles. . .acknowledge the sincerity and honesty of those who hold to either the Majority Text, the Textus Receptus, or Critical Text view, even though they may arrive at different conclusions." From this statement, one might conclude that none of these three views is specifically advocated, but clearly the Critical Text position is. Dr. Oats of Maranatha Baptist Bible College, who holds the Majority Text view, is on the committee that sponsored the book's publication, and others who endorse the book are known to be Textus Receptus advocates, but none of these wrote any of the chapters. Whenever a viewpoint is favored it is always the Critical Text view.

Bro. Ashbrook's chapter on "The History of the Textus Receptus" presents a rather full argument in favor of modern textual criticism. The article cannot be construed to maintain any neutrality on the text issue. "The limitations of the Textus Receptus cannot be ignored," the writer tells us. "The textual question that faces God's people today is whether or not we should stop with the Received Text of 1633. To use an illustration, the Textus Receptus is the Model T Ford of the New Testament text." He goes on to say that it would be a shame to stop all automotive progress with the Model T. In other words, the T.R. was a good beginning, even a milestone, but "further textual criticism" has been needed to get us closer to the original text.

This argument carries weight until all the facts are considered. The so-called "TextusReceptus" Greek testaments published in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries represented the culmination of work by scholars to present the text of the Bible as it had been passed on and "received" by the churches through the centuries. Those scholars assumed that the correct wording of scripture had been preserved over the years in the prevailing text. In the few cases where the identity of the pre-eminent traditional text was in dispute, these men sought to ascertain the best readings. The reason this series of improving Greek texts ended was that the work had been virtually perfected. Scholars with the same philosophy and assumptions would arrive at basically the same text today! The textual critics of the Enlightenment era, however, approached the Bible with different assumptions. They did not continue in the path of the Reformation scholars. The testaments they produced were assembled upon the idea that the original text had to a significant degree been lost to the traditional text. Whole verses and even larger passages had been wrongfully added over the years, as well as thousands of words, they believed. To restore the original text, critics believed they must favor readings found only in a tiny minority of the manuscripts, long rejected and hidden away. The work of Griesbach, Tischendorf, Wescott, and Hort was not a continuation of the work of Erasmus, Stephanus, Beza, and the Elzevirs. Modern text criticism represents a whole new approach, based on a different theory.

The belief that God has preserved the correct wording of the scriptures for His people over the years is not a strange new concept. As a matter of fact, page 191 of the book we are examining contains a portion of the Westminster Confession of 1647 which addresses the issue of preservation. It says that the scriptures in Hebrew and Greek "being immediately inspired by God, and by his singular care and providence kept pure in all ages, are therefore authentical," and cites Matthew 5:18.

"For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled."

The Baptist Confession of 1688 affirms the same belief, and is also cited. Modern textual theories deny this faith. It is not unreasonable or unorthodox to challenge the new text on the basis of the old view of Biblical preservation.

The book, however, consistently sides with the new theory and against the old. Yes, many competent and orthodox scholars endorse the revised text, but also there are many reasonable and godly voices that speak in defense of the traditional text. (See the quotations of Robert Dabney on pages 90, 91, and 92, given to prove a different point). Let the whole truth be told.

3. The book regularly implies that those who have decided to defend the King James Bible do so out of ignorance. Dr. Gephart's concluding chapter admonishes us to "do our homework" (p. 213) before we speak on the text/translation issue, implying that many (in the context, on the K.J.V. side) have not. In his introductory chapter, Dr. Williams speaks of the need for people to get "reliable historic information" in regard to the issue so as not to be misled by "the misinformation that is being circulated" (vs. 8-9). Without a doubt, some misleading statements have been published in this debate, but not only by advocates of the traditional text. On page 182 of this very book, Dr. Smallman includes a strange and inaccurate reference to Dr. Edward Hills as a "colleague and literary heir of Dean [John] Burgon." Of course, Edwards was the author of The King James Version Defended and perhaps the founder of the latest movement to defend the traditional text. John Burgon, Dean of Chichester, was a leading nineteenth-century scholar who opposed the revision of the Biblical text and of the English Bible. Certainly Burgon's writings influenced Hills, but the latter was certainly not a "colleague" of the former. Edward Hills was born some 24 years after the Dean's death! Of course, this misstatement was simply a mistake, but it also indicates not doing one's homework!

Some of the authors speak in defense of the orthodoxy of Wescott and Hort, indicating that the charges of heresy made against them by K.J.V.-defenders are examples of the misinformation being disseminated (pp. 4 and 212-213). However, the extensive research done by Dr. James Sightler and published in the book entitled A Testimony Founded Forever certainly seems to establish what false doctrines both of the great critics held without repentance. Of course, the theological weaknesses of the exponents of a textual theory do not disprove the value of their theory, but they do play a legitimate role in the discussion of the theory. The blemishes of Erasmus are used on page 102 to cast reflection on his role in the development of the Textus Receptus. Wescott and Hort were indeed caught up in the heterodox trends of their day, and reference to their heresies are not illegitimate.

A whole chapter in the book is given to the misleading but often-repeated assertion that the King James Version of the Bible had undergone seven "revisions" before the Revised Version appeared in 1881. But none of the changes made in succeeding editions of the old Bible could legitimately classify those editions as revisions. Nearly all of the differences are spelling changes, and the very few substantive changes are highly insignificant. To compare the Revision of 1881 with any of the improvements made in the K.J.V. over the years is misleading and inaccurate.

The book also includes the statement that "no two New Testament manuscripts are exactly alike." Those familiar with the literature on this subject have seen this statement repeatedly used to undermine the idea that a traditional text of the Bible even exists! However, the fact is that the great majority of New Testament manuscripts are amazingly consistent. While technically true, the statement that no two manuscripts are "exactly" the same is also misleading. Many of the manuscripts are the same except for small details like spelling inconsistencies. The fact is that a traditional text does exist, and this confusing statement does not change that fact.

Yes, people have juggled history to make points in this discussion, and errors of fact have been published, but the problem has not been only on one side, and preference for the traditional text of the Bible is not a product of ignorance!

4. Like other books that advocate modern text criticism, From the Mind of God. . . makes confusing statements about the differences between the Textus Receptus and the Critical Text.

"While there are two main text families, most of their 5,940 specific variations are very minor differences. None of the differences change any Christian doctrines, though some believe that about one-tenth of them have some doctrinal bias." (page 182)

The writer of these statements says that there are "two main text families," although among the thousands of extant manuscripts of the Greek New Testament, one of those "families" is supported nearly 9-to-1. There is only one main text family of New Testament manuscripts, and a small minority family advocated by a majority of the critics! Then, in an attempt to minimize the differences between the two texts, the writer admits to "5,940 specific variations." He says that 10% of these variations "have some doctrinal bias." Of course, that means that there are nearly six hundred changes from the traditional text that make doctrinal differences! Does anyone really think that the difference the new Greek text makes is minor?

Yes, the Critical Text still gives us a basically orthodox New Testament, but it is a different New Testament that teaches a different slant on the truth. In the nineteenth century, scholars accepted a revised text of the Bible based on the belief that the traditional text had given the church a flawed testimony to what had been originally written. The changed text received scholarly and, to some degree, ecclesiastical acceptance, but it did not receive the acceptance of Christians at large. The Revised Version and the American Standard Version, which put the revised text into English, never received popular support. The King James Version was the Bible of the people for more than a century after the Critical Text was first published. It has only been in the last twenty years that the traditional text has received real competition among common Bible-believers. The reason the battle has been loud and hot is because it is a serious matter for the churches to throw out the Biblical text they have accepted as the Word of God for at least 1500 (and many of us believe 1900) years! For believers in Christ to accept the idea that God's written Word was not preserved pure for His people over the centuries would be one of the most significant alterations of belief in church history. Yes, we must get the facts straight, but, no, the facts do not require such a major shift in the Christian faith.

Monthly Article
Tue, 18 Jul 2000
by Dr. Rick Flanders
currently Pastor of
Juniata Baptist Church
Juniata Baptist Church
5656 Washburn Road
Vassar, MI 48768
(517) 823-7848

Dr. Rick Flanders Biographical Data

Converted in 1963 through a radio ministry.
Earned B.A. and M.A. degrees from Bob Jones University.
Honorary D.D. from Pensacola Christian College.
Pastor at Juniata Baptist Church since 1973.
On BCPM Board, (Baptist Church Planting Ministry)
and also MACS. (Michigan Association of Christian School)

Articles published in the;
Sword of the Lord
Baptist Preacher,
Christian View of the News,
Pulpit Helps,
Maranatha Watchman
Church Bus News,
and other national periodicals.

His Majesty's Service
In His Service,
Teaching the Word
To Glorify Our Lord
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Doctrinal Writings

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