A Christian View of the Biblical Text
Excerpted from The King James Version Defended by Dr. Edward F. Hills.
Outline of this article:
- A Christian View of the Biblical Text
- The Principles Of Believing Bible Study
- The Infallible Inspiration of the Scriptures
- The Eternal Origin of the Scriptures
- The Providential Presentation of the Scriptures
- How The Old Testament Text Was Preserved
- How the Priests Preserved the Old Testament Text
- The Traditional (Masoretic) Hebrew Text of the Old Testament
- The Greek Old Testament (Septuagint)
- The Latin Old Testament (Vulgate)—The Apocrypha
- The Pseudepigrapha—Enoch, Michael the Archangel, Jannes and Jambres
- Manuscripts of the Hebrew Old Testament — The Dead Sea Scrolls
- How The New Testament Text Was Preserved
- The Universal Priesthood of Believers
- The Writing of the New Testament Books
- The Formation of the New Testament Canon
- The Preservation of the New Testament Text
- Alternative Views of the Providential Preservation of the New Testament
- The Principles of Consistently Christian New Testament Textual Criticism
- New Testament Textual Criticism and Evangelism
- Believing Bible Study on the Graduate Level — Christ and Grammar
- The Principles Of Believing Bible Study
A Christian View of the Biblical Text
by Dr. Edward F. Hills
In the Bible God reveals Himself in three ways: First, He reveals Himself as the God of creation, the almighty Creator God. In revealing Himself in this way, God not only repeats the revelation which He has already made of Himself in nature but also amplifies this revelation and makes it clearer. Hence the Scriptures are the God-given eyeglasses which correct our faulty spiritual vision and enable our sin-darkened minds to see aright the revelation which God makes of Himself in the world which He has created. Second, God reveals Himself as the God of history, the faithful Covenant God. In the Bible God gives a full account of His dealings with men by way of covenant. Third, God reveals Himself as the God of salvation. In the Gospel of Christ He offers Himself to sinners as the triune Saviour God.
But even this is not all that God does for sinners. In addition to revelation there is regeneration. Because of Adam's first transgression all men are sinners (Rom. 5:19). They hate God (Rom. 8:7) and reject His revelation of Himself as foolishness (1 Cor. 2:14). Therefore when God saves sinners, He regenerates them through the power of the Holy Spirit. He raises them up out of their death in sin and gives them the gift of faith (Eph. 2:1,8). Through the Spirit they are born again (John 3:5). They are saved through the renewing of the Holy Ghost (Titus 3:5). They believe in God as He reveals Himself in the holy Bible and trust their souls to Jesus Christ His Son.
When the Holy Spirit gives us the gift of faith, we immediately receive from God three benefits of Christ's redeeming grace. The first of these is justification. We are justified by faith (Rom. 3:28). When we believe in Christ His death is reckoned ours (Gal. 2:20), and we receive the gift of His righteousness (2 Cor. 5:21). The second is adoption. By faith we become the children of God (John 1:12) and joint heirs with Jesus Christ (Rom. 8:17). The third is sanctification. God begins to work within us by His Holy Spirit to will and to do of His good pleasure (Phil. 2:13) and to make us more and more like Christ our Lord (Eph. 4:13).
We are saved by faith! This is a mystery which we cannot fully understand, but it means that there are three things which we can and must do to obtain these benefits which Christ purchased by His atoning sacrifice and to know that we have been born again. In the first place, we must repent. Saving faith is a repentant faith. Jesus Christ Himself commands us to repent of our sins and believe the Gospel (Mark 1:15). In the second place, we must receive Christ as our only Lord and Saviour (John 1:12). How do we do this? By believing that He died for us upon the cross. He loved me and gave Himself for me (Gal.2:20). And in the third place, having so received Christ, we must rest in Him as He bids us do (Matt.11:28). When we thus rest in Christ, then we have assurance of faith. Then we know that we have truly received Him as Lord and Saviour.
Does this mean that our assurance comes from ourselves? Do we create our own assurance by our own will power, by our own repenting, receiving, and resting? Not at all! For if our assurance depended on ourselves, we would always be in doubt. We would never know certainly whether we were saved or not. We would never be sure that we had really repented or that we had actually received Christ and were truly resting in Him. Our assurance therefore comes from God. As we continue to trust in Christ, the Holy Spirit bears witness in our hearts that we are truly God's children. The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God (Rom. 8:16).
But how does the Holy Spirit testify to us that we are God's children? Does He do this in some private way apart from Scripture? Not at all! For this would dishonor the Scriptures. Then everyone would be seeking these private revelations of the Spirit and ignoring the revelation which He has given once for all in the holy Bible. The Holy Spirit therefore bears witness not apart from the Word but by and with the Word. He guides believers in their study of the Scriptures, and as He guides them, He persuades them that this blessed Book is truly God's Word and leads them more and more to trust the Saviour who reveals Himself in it. But the anointing which ye have received of Him abideth in you, and ye need not that any man teach you: but as the same anointing teacheth you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie, and even as it hath taught you, ye shall abide in Him (1 John 2:27).
1. The Principles Of Believing Bible Study
Three principles of believing Bible study are included in this conviction which we receive from the Holy Spirit that the Bible is truly God's Word. These are as follows: first, the infallible inspiration of the Scriptures; second, the eternal origin of the Scriptures; third, the providential preservation of the Scriptures.
- The Infallible Inspiration of the Scriptures
The Holy Spirit persuades us to adopt the same view of the Scriptures that Jesus believed and taught during the days of His earthly ministry. Jesus denied explicitly the theories of the higher critics. He recognized Moses (Mark 12:26), David (Luke 20:42), and Daniel (Matt. 24:15) by name as the authors of the writings assigned to them by the Old Testament believers. Moreover, according to Jesus, all these individual Old Testament writings combined together to form one divine and infallible Book which He called "the Scriptures." Jesus believed that these Scriptures were inspired by the Holy Spirit (Mark 12:36), that not one word of them could be denied (John 10:35), that not one particle of them could perish (Matt. 5: 18), and that everything written in them was divinely authoritative (Matt. 4:4, 7, 10).
This same high view of the Old Testament Scriptures was held and taught by Christ's Apostles. All Scripture, Paul tells us, is given by inspiration of God (2 Tim. 3:16). And Peter adds, No prophecy of the Scripture is of any private interpretation. For prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost (2 Peter 1:20-21). The Scriptures were the living oracles through which God spoke (Acts. 7:38), which had been committed to the Jews for safekeeping (Rom. 3:2) which contained the principles of divine knowledge (Heb. 5:12), and according to which Christians were to pattern their own speech (1 Peter 4:11). To the Apostles, "It is written," was equivalent to, ``God says.''
Jesus also promised that the New Testament would be infallibly inspired just as the Old had been. I have yet many things to say unto you, He told His Apostles, but ye cannot bear them now. Howbeit when He, the Spirit of truth, is come He will guide you into all truth: for He shall not speak of Himself; but whatsoever He shall hear, that shall He speak: and He will shew you things to come (John 16:12-13). The Holy Spirit, Jesus pledged, would enable the Apostles to remember their Lord's teaching and understand its meaning (John 14:26). And these promises began to be fulfilled on the day of Pentecost when Peter was inspired to declare for the first time the meaning of Christ's death and resurrection (Acts 2:14-36). Paul also was conscious of this same divine inspiration. If any man think himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord (1 Cor. 14:37). And in the last chapter of Revelation John the Apostle asserts the actuality of his inspiration in the strongest possible terms (Rev. 22: 18-19).
Jesus, therefore and His Apostles regarded both the Old and the New Testaments as the infallibly inspired Word of God, and the Holy Spirit, bearing witness in our hearts, assures us that this view was not mistaken.
- The Eternal Origin of the Scriptures
When He was on earth Jesus constantly affirmed that His message was eternal, that the very words which He spoke had been given to Him by God the Father before the creation of the world. For I have not spoken of Myself, He told the unbelieving multitude, but the Father which sent Me, He gave Me a commandment, what I should say, and what I should speak. And I know that His commandment is life everlasting: whatsoever I speak therefore, even as the Father said unto Me, so I speak (John 12:49-50). And in His "high-priestly" prayer Jesus also states emphatically that the words which He had spoken to His Apostles had been given to Him in eternity by God the Father. For I have given unto them the words which Thou gavest Me (John 17 8). The Scriptures, therefore, are eternal. When God established His-Covenant of Grace in eternity, He gave to Jesus Christ His Son the words of eternal life (John 6:68). These are the words that Christ brought down from heaven for the salvation of His people and now remain inscribed in holy Writ.
The Scriptures are eternal. Does this mean that there is an eternal Bible in heaven, or that the Hebrew and Greek languages in which the Bible is written are eternal? No, but it does mean that Jesus Christ, the divine Word, worked providentially to develop the Hebrew and Greek tongues into fit vehicles for the conveyance of His saving message. Hence in the writing of the Scriptures the Holy Spirit did not have to struggle, as modernists insist, with the limitations of human language. The languages in which the writing was done were perfectly adapted to the expression of His divine thoughts.
For ever, O LORD, Thy Word is settled in heaven ( Ps. 119: 89) . Although the Scriptures were written during a definite historical period, they are not the product of that period but of the eternal plan of God. When God designed the holy Scriptures in eternity, He had the whole sweep of human history in view. Hence the Scriptures are forever relevant. Their message can never be outgrown. The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the Word of our God shall stand for ever (Isa. 40:8). In the Scriptures God speaks to every age, including our own. For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope (Rom. 15:4).
- The Providential Presentation of the Scriptures
Because the Scriptures are forever relevant, they have been preserved down through the ages by God's special providence. The reality of this providential preservation of the Scriptures was proclaimed by the Lord Himself during His life on earth. Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled (Matt. 5:18). And it is easier for heaven and earth to pass, than one tittle of the law to fail (Luke 16:17). Here our Lord assures us that the Old Testament text in common use among the Jews during His earthly ministry was an absolutely trustworthy reproduction of the original text written by Moses and the other inspired authors. Nothing had been lost from that text, and nothing ever would be lost. It would be easier for heaven and earth to pass than for such a loss to take place.
Jesus also taught that the same divine providence which had preserved the Old Testament would preserve the New Testament too. In the concluding verses of the Gospel of Matthew we find His "Great Commission" not only to the twelve Apostles but also to His Church throughout all ages, go ye therefore and teach all nations. Implied in this solemn charge is the promise that through the working of God's providence the Church will always be kept in possession of an infallible record of Jesus' words and works. And, similarly, in His discourse on the last things He assures His disciples that His promises not only shall certainly be fulfilled but also shall remain available for the comfort of His people during that troubled period which shall precede His second coming. In other words, that they shall be preserved until that time. Heaven and earth shall pass away, but My words shall not pass away (Matt. 24:35; Mark 13:31; Luke 21:33).
2. How The Old Testament Text Was Preserved
In discussing the providential preservation of the holy Scriptures we must notice first a very important principle which accounts for the difference between Old Testament textual criticism and New Testament textual criticism. The Old Testament Church was under the care of the divinely appointed Aaronic priesthood, and for this reason the Holy Spirit preserved the Old Testament through this priesthood and the scholars that grouped themselves around it. The Holy Spirit guided these priests and scholars to gather the separate parts of the Old Testament into one Old Testament canon and to maintain the purity of the Old Testament text. In the New Testament Church, on the other hand, this special priesthood has been abolished through the sacrifice of Christ. Every believer is a priest before God, and for this reason the Holy Spirit has preserved the New Testament text not through any special priesthood but through the universal priesthood of believers, that is, through the usage of God's people, the rank and file of all those that truly trust in Christ.
With this distinction in mind let us consider briefly the history of the Old Testament text and then pass on to a discussion of the problems of New Testament textual criticism.
- How the Priests Preserved the Old Testament Text
The Hebrew Scriptures were written by Moses and the prophets and other inspired men to whom God had given prophetic gifts. But the duty of preserving this written revelation was assigned not to the prophets but to the priests. The priests were the divinely appointed guardians and teachers of the law. And it came to pass, when Moses had made an end of writing the words of this law in a book, until they were finished, that Moses commanded the Levites, which bare the ark of the covenant of the LORD. saying, Take this book of the law, and put it in the side of the ark of the covenant of the LORD your God, that it may be there for a witness against thee (Deut.31:24-26). Thus the law "was placed in the charge of the priests to be kept by them along side of the most sacred vessel of the sanctuary, and in its innermost and holiest apartment." (1) Also the priests were commanded, as part of their teaching function, to read the law to the people every seven years (Deut. 31:12). Evidently also the priests were given the task of making correct copies of the law for the use of kings and rulers, or at least of supervising the scribes to whom the king would delegate this work (Deut. 17:18).
Not only the Law of Moses but also the Psalms were preserved in the Temple by the priests, and it was probably the priests who divided the Hebrew psalter into five books corresponding to the five books of Moses. It was David, the sweet singer of Israel who taught the priests to sing psalms as part of their public worship service (1 Chron. 15:16,17). Like David, Heman, Asaph and Ethan were not only singers but also inspired authors, and some of the psalms were written by them. We are told that the priests sang these psalms on various joyful occasions, such as the dedication of the Temple by Solomon (2 Chron. 7:6), the coronation of Joash (2 Chron. 23:18), and the cleansing of the Temple by Hezekiah (2 Chron. 29:30).
How the other Old Testament books were preserved during the reigns of the kings of Israel and Judah we are not told explicitly, but it is likely that the books of Solomon were collected together and carefully kept at Jerusalem. Some of Solomon's proverbs, we are told, were copied out by the men of Hezekiah king of Judah (Prov. 25:1).
Except for periodic revivals under godly rulers, such as Asa, Jehoshaphat, Hezekiah, and Josiah, the days of the kings were times of apostasy and spiritual darkness in which the priests neglected almost entirely their God-given task of guarding and teaching God's holy law. This had been the case during the reigns of the ungodly rulers who had preceded the good king Asa. Now for a long season Israel hath been without the true God, and without a teaching priest and without law (2 Chron. 15:3). And during the reign of Manasseh the original copy of the Law had been mislaid and was not found again until Josiah's time (2 Kings 22:8). Because the priests were thus unfaithful in their office as teachers, Jerusalem was finally destroyed, and the Jews were carried away captive to Babylon (Mic.3:11-12). But in spite of everything, God was still watching over His holy Word and preserving it by His special providence. Thus when Daniel and Ezekiel and other true believers were led away to Babylon, they took with them copies of all the Old Testament Scriptures which had been written up to that time.
The Traditional (Masoretic) Hebrew Text of the Old Testament
After the Jews returned from the Babylonian exile, there was a great revival among the priesthood through the power of the Holy Spirit Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit, saith the LORD of hosts (Zech. 4:6). The Law was taught again in Jerusalem by Ezra the priest who had prepared his heart to seek the law of the LORD, and to do it, and to teach in Israel statutes and judgments (Ezra 7:10). By Ezra and his successors, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, all the Old Testament books were gathered together into one Old Testament canon, and their texts were purged of errors and preserved until the days of our Lord's earthly ministry. By that time the Old Testament text was so firmly established that even the Jews' rejection of Christ could not disturb it. Unbelieving Jewish scribes transmitted this traditional Hebrew Old Testament text blindly but faithfully, until the dawn of the Protestant Reformation. As Augustine said long ago, these Jewish scribes were the librarians of the Christian Church. (2) In the providence of Gad they took care of the Hebrew Old Testament Scriptures until at length the time was ripe for Christians to make general use of them.
According to G. F. Moore (1927), the earliest of these scribes were called Tannaim (Teachers). These scribes not only copied the text of the Old Testament with great accuracy but also committed to writing their oral tradition, called Mishna. These were followed by another group of scribes called Amoraim (Expositors). These were the scholars who in addition to their work as copyists of the Old Testament also produced the Talmud, which is a commentary on the Mishna. (3)
The Amoraim were followed in the sixth century by the Masoretes (Traditionalists) to whom the Masoretic (Traditional) Old Testament text is due. These Masoretes took extraordinary pains to transmit without error the Old Testament text which they had received from their predecessors. Many complicated safeguards against scribal slips were devised, such as counting the number of times each letter of the alphabet occurs in each book. Also critical material previously perpetuated only by oral instruction was put into writing. It is generally believed that vowel points and other written signs to aid in pronunciation were introduced into the text by the Masoretes. (4)
It was this Traditional (Masoretic) text which was printed at the end of the medieval period. The first portion of the Hebrew Old Testament ever to issue from the press was the Psalms in 1477. In 1488 the entire Hebrew Bible was printed for the first time. A second edition was printed in 1491 and a third in 1494. This third edition was used by Luther in translating the Old Testament into German. Other faithful Protestant translations followed, including in due time the King James Version. Thus it was that the Hebrew Old Testament text, divinely inspired and providentially preserved, was restored to the Church, to the circle of true believers. (5)
The Greek Old Testament (Septuagint)
Although the unbelief of the Jews and their consequent hostility deprived the Church for a time of the Hebrew Old Testament and of the benefits of Hebrew scholarship, still the providence of God did not permit that the Old Testament Scriptures should ever be taken away wholly from His believing people. Even before the coming of Christ God had brought into being the Septuagint, the Greek Old Testament translation which was to serve the Church as a temporary substitute until such a time as the ancient Hebrew Bible could be restored to her. According to tradition, this translation was made at Alexandria for the library of Ptolemy Philadelphus, king of Egypt, by a delegation of seventy Jewish elders, hence the name Septuagint (Seventy). According to Irwin (1949), however, and other modern scholars, the Septuagint was not produced in any such official way but arose out of the needs of the Alexandrian Jews. (6) The Pentateuch, it is said, was translated first in the 3rd century B. C., the other Old Testament books following later. From Alexandria the use of the Septuagint rapidly spread until in the days of the Apostles it was read everywhere in the synagogues of the Greek-speaking Jews outside of Palestine. Then, at length, converts from these Greek-speaking synagogues brought their Septuagint with them into the Christian Church.
When one studies the Old Testament quotations in the New Testament, one is struck by the inspired wisdom which the Apostles exhibited in their attitude toward the Septuagint. On the one hand, they did not invariably set this version aside and make new translations from the Hebrew. Such an emphasis on the Hebrew would have been harmful to the gentile churches which had just been formed. It would have brought these gentile Christians into a position of dependence upon the unbelieving Jewish rabbis, on whose learning they would have been obliged to rely for an understanding of the Hebrew Old Testament. But on the other hand, the Apostles did not quote from the Septuagint invariably and thus encourage the notion that this Creek translation was equal to the Hebrew Old Testament in authority. Instead, they walked the middle way between these two extremes. Sometimes they cited the Septuagint verbatim, even when it departed from the Hebrew in non-essential ways, and sometimes they made their own translation directly from the Hebrew or used their knowledge of Hebrew to improve the rendering of the Septuagint.
In the Epistle to the Hebrews there are three Old Testament quotations which have been the subject of much discussion. The first of these is Heb. 1:6, And let all the angels of God worship Him. This clause is found in Manuscript B of the Septuagint as an addition to Deut. 32:43. On this basis the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews has often been accused of citing as Scripture a verse not found in the Hebrew Bible. The text of the Septuagint, however, is not certain at this point. Manuscript A reads, And let all the angels of God give them (Him) strength, and this is the reading adopted by Rahlfs (1935), one of the most recent editors of the Septuagint. If the reading of A is correct, then the text of B must have been changed at this point to agree with Heb. 1:6, and the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews could not be quoting it. He may have had Deut. 32:43 in mind, but the passage which he was actually citing was Psalm 97:7, which is found both in the Hebrew Old Testament and in the Septuagint and which reads (in the Septuagint), worship Him all ye His angels.
The second Old Testament quotation causing difficulty is Heb. 10:5, Sacrifice and offering Thou wouldest not, but a body hast Thou prepared Me. This is a quotation from Psalm 40:6 and is found in this form in the majority of the manuscripts of the Septuagint. The Hebrew text, however, reads Mine ears hast Thou opened instead of but a body hast Thou prepared Me. Because of this the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews has been accused also of using a mistranslation of the Hebrew text as a support for the Christian doctrine of Christ's atoning death. But this is not a necessary conclusion. For in Psalm 40 and in Heb. 10 the emphasis is not so much on the sacrifice of Christ's body as on Christ's willing obedience which made the sacrifice of His body effective. Because of this emphasis the inspired author of Hebrews was justified in regarding the Septuagint as sufficiently accurate to express this central meaning of the passage. The opening of Christ's ears to make Him an obedient servant he considered to be the first step in the preparation of Christ's body for His obedient sacrifice.
The third Old Testament quotation to present a problem is Heb. 11:21. By faith Jacob, when he was a dying, blessed both the sons of Joseph; and worshiped, leaning upon the top of his staff. This is usually thought to be a reference to Gen. 47:31, where the Hebrew text and the Septuagint differ, the former stating that Jacob bowed himself upon the bed's head, the latter that he bowed himself on the top of his staff. This difference is attributable to the fact that in Hebrew the words bed and staff are the same except for their vowel points, so that bed could easily be mistaken for staff and vice versa. It is usually said that Heb. 11:21 follows the Septuagint reading of Gen. 47:31, but this too is not a necessary conclusion, since actually Heb. 11:21 refers not to Gen. 47:31 but to Gen. 48:1-22. Here Jacob sat apparently, on the edge of his bed and may very well have had a staff in his hand.
The Latin Old Testament (Vulgate)—The Apocrypha
The earliest Latin version of the Old Testament was a translation of the Septuagint. Scholars think that this translating was probably done at Carthage during the 2nd century. Many other such translations were made during the years that followed. In the fourth century Augustine reported that there was "an infinite variety of Latin translations," (7) and Jerome that there were as many texts of this version as there were manuscripts. (8) Jerome at first attempted to revise the Latin Old Testament, but in 390 he undertook the labor of producing a new translation directly from the Hebrew. This version, which Jerome completed in 405, later became known as the Latin Vulgate and is the official Bible of the Roman Catholic Church, having been so proclaimed at the Council of Trent (1546).
In his prologue to his translation of the Old Testament Jerome gave an account of the canonical Scriptures of the Hebrew Bible and enumerated them exactly. Then he added: "This prologue to the Scriptures may suit as a helmed preface to all the books which we have rendered from Hebrew into Latin, that we may know that whatever book is beyond these must be reckoned among the Apocrypha." (9) Thus Jerome was one of the first to use the term Apocrypha (noncanonical) to designate certain books which were included in the Septuagint and the Latin Old Testament versions but had never been part of the Hebrew Scriptures. The names of these apocryphal books are as follows: Tobit, Judith, Wisdom, Ecclesiasticus, Baruch, First and Second Maccabees, certain additions to the books of Esther and Daniel, First and Second Esdras, and the Prayer of Manasses. These books were written by Jewish authors between 200 B.C. and 100 A.D. Some of them were written in Hebrew or Aramaic and then translated into Greek. Others were written in Greek originally.
The Roman Catholic Church rejects First and Second Esdras and the Prayer of Manasses. Hence in the printed Latin Vulgate they are placed after the New Testament as an appendix and in small type. The other apocryphal books are mentioned by name in the decrees of the Council of Trent, where they are declared sacred and canonical and a solemn curse is pronounced against all those who will not receive them as such. Accordingly, in the printed Latin Vulgate they are interspersed without distinction among the other books of the Latin Old Testament.
Protestants have always opposed this attempt of the Roman Catholic Church to canonize the Apocrypha for several reasons. In the first place, it is contrary to the example of Christ and His Apostles. Never in the New Testament is any passage from the Apocrypha quoted as Scripture or referred to as such. This is admitted by all students of this subject, including present-day scholars such as B. M. Metzger (1957). (10) This fact is decisive for all those who acknowledge the divine authority and infallible inspiration of the New Testament writers. And all the more is this so if it be true, as Metzger and many other scholars have contended, that Paul was familiar with Wisdom, James with Ecclesiasticus, John with Tobit, and the author of Hebrews (who may have been Paul) with 2 Maccabees. (11) For if these Apostles knew these apocryphal books this well and still refrained from quoting or mentioning them as Scripture, then it is doubly certain that they did not accord these books a place in the Old Testament canon. According to C. C. Torrey (1945), however, only in the Epistle to the Hebrews is there clear evidence of a literary allusion to the Apocrypha. (12)
A second reason why the books of the Apocrypha cannot be regarded as canonical is that the Jews, the divinely appointed guardians of the Old Testament Scriptures, never esteemed them such. This fact is freely admitted by contemporary scholars. According to Torrey, the Jews not only rejected the Apocrypha, but after the overthrow of Jerusalem in 70 A.D., they went so far as to "destroy, systematically and thoroughly, the Semitic originals of all extra-canonical literature," including the Apocryphal, "The feeling of the leaders at that time," Torrey tells us, "is echoed in a later Palestinian writing (Midrash Qoheleth, 12,12): 'Whosoever brings together in his house more than twenty-four books (the canonical scriptures) brings confusion.' " (13) And additional evidence that the Jews did not recognize the Apocrypha as canonical is supplied by the Talmudic tract Baba Bathra (2nd century) and by the famous Jewish historian Josephus (c. 93 A.D.) in his treatise Against Apion. Neither of these sources make any mention of the Apocrypha in the lists which they give of the Old Testament books. For, as Torrey observes, the Jews had but one standard, acknowledged everywhere. Only such books as were believed to have been composed in either Hebrew or Aramaic before the end of the Persian period were received into the Old Testament canon. (14)
There is reason to believe, however, that the Greek-speaking Jews of Alexandria were not so strict as the Palestinian rabbis about the duty of shunning apocryphal books. Although these Alexandrian Jews did not recognize the Apocrypha as Scripture in the highest sense, nevertheless they read these books in Greek translation and included them in their Septuagint. And it was in this expanded form that the Septuagint was transmitted to the early gentile Christians. It is not surprising therefore that those early Church Fathers especially who were ignorant of Hebrew would be misled into placing these apocryphal books on the same plane with the other books of the Septuagint, regarding them all as Scripture. Schuerer (1908) mentions Irenaeus, Tertullian, Clement of Alexandria, Cyprian, and others as having made this mistake. (15) And later investigators, such as Torrey, (16) Metzger, (17) and Brockington (1961), (18) have pointed out another factor which may have led numerous Christians into this error of regarding the Apocrypha as part of the Old Testament. This was the practice which Christians had, and are believed to have initiated, of writing their literature in codex (book) form rather than on rolls. A codex of the Septuagint would contain the Apocrypha bound together indiscriminately with the canonical Old Testament books, and this would induce many gentile Christians to put them all on the same level. Such at least appears to have been the popular tendency in the early and medieval Church.
But whenever early Christians set themselves seriously to consider what books belonged to the Old Testament and what did not the answer was always in favor of the Hebrew Old Testament. (19) This was the case with Melito (?-172), Julius Africanus (160-240), Origen (182-251), Eusebius (275-340), Athanasius (293-373) and many later Fathers of the Greek Church. In the Latin Church greater favor was shown toward the Apochrypha, but even here, as we have seen, the Apocrypha were rejected by Jerome (340-420). And in his preface to the books of Solomon Jerome further defined his position. "As the Church reads the books of Judith and Tobit and Maccabees but does not receive them among the canonical Scriptures, so also it reads Wisdom and Ecclesiasticus for the edification of the people, not for the authoritative confirmation of doctrine." (20) Augustine (354-430) at first defended the canonicity of the Apocrypha but later came to a position not much different from Jerome's. There should be a distinction, he came to feel, between the books of the Hebrew canon and the "deuterocanonical" books accepted and read by the churches. Pope Gregory the Great (540-604) also adopted Jerome's position in regard to the Apocrypha, and so did Cardinal Ximenes and Cardinal Cajetan at the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. (21) Hence, the decree of the Council of Trent canonizing the Apocrypha is contrary to the informed conviction of the early and medieval Church. And this is the third reason why Protestants reject it.
But although all Protestants rejected the Apocrypha as canonical Old Testament Scripture, there was still considerable disagreement among them as to what to do with these controversial books. Luther rejected 1 and 2 Esdras, and placed the other apocryphal books in an appendix at the close of the Old Testament, prefacing it with the statement: "Apocrypha — that is, books which are not regarded as equal to the holy Scriptures, and yet are profitable and good to read." (22) The early English Bibles, including finally the King James Version, placed the Apocrypha in the same location, and in addition the Church of England retained the custom of reading from the Apocrypha in its public worship services during certain seasons of the year. In opposition to this practice Puritans and Presbyterians agitated for the complete removal of the Apocrypha from the Bible. In 1825 the British and Foreign Bible Society agreed to this, and since this time the Apocrypha has been eliminated almost entirely from English Bibles (except pulpit Bibles).
The Pseudepigrapha—Enoch, Michael the Archangel, Jannes and Jambres
In addition to the Apocrypha there are also the Pseudepigrapha. These are other non-canonical books which were held in high esteem by many early Christians but which, unlike the Apocrypha, were never included in the manuscripts of the Greek Septuagint or of the Latin Vulgate. Because of this circumstance the texts of many of these Pseudepigrapha were lost during the middle-ages and have been found again only in comparatively recent times. They are called Pseudepigrapha because most of them falsely claim to have been written by various Old Testament patriarchs. Actually, however, they were composed between 200 B.C. and 100 A.D., mostly by Jewish authors but in some cases perhaps by Christians. (23)
One of the best known of the Pseudepigrapha is the Book of Enoch, an Ethiopic version of which was discovered in Abyssinia by James Bruce (c. 1770). This Book is of special interest because Jude is commonly thought to have quoted it in his Epistle. And Enoch also, the seventh from Adam, prophesied of these, saying, Behold, the Lord cometh with ten thousands of His saints to execute judgment upon all, and to convince all that are ungodly among them of all their ungodly deeds which they have ungodly committed, and of all their hard speeches which ungodly sinners have spoken against Him. (Jude 14-15; Enoch 1:9). Among early Christians there were three reactions to this seeming quotation of the Book of Enoch on the part of Jude. (24) First there were those like Tertullian, who accepted both the Epistle of Jude and the Book of Enoch as canonical. Second, there were those (mentioned by Jerome) who rejected both the Epistle of Jude and the Book of Enoch. Third, there were those like Origen and Augustine, who accepted the Epistle of Jude as canonical but rejected the Book of Enoch. This third position was adopted by the Church at large and is undoubtedly the true one. For it is not certain that Jude actually did quote from the Book of Enoch. He may have been quoting a common source, a traditional saying handed down from remote antiquity. And even if he were quoting from the Book of Enoch, this would not necessarily mean that he was endorsing this book as a whole or vouching for its canonicity.
Jude 9 is another verse which is often attributed to the Pseudepigrapha. Yet Michael the archangel, when contending with the devil he disputed about the body of Moses, durst not bring against him a railing accusation, but said, the Lord rebuke thee. According to Origen and Didymus of Alexandria, Jude is here quoting from a non-canonical book called The Assumption of Moses. This book was lost for many centuries until in 1861 Ceriani published about a third of it from a manuscript in the Ambrosian Library at Milan. This manuscript comes to an end, however, before reaching the account of the death of Moses, and so there is no way of verifying the statements of Origen and Didymus concerning Jude's use of this book. (25) But even if the manuscript were complete and did contain the desired incident, it would still be preferable to suppose that Jude was quoting not The Assumption of Moses but a common source, probably an ancient oral tradition. For a similar instance is related by the prophet Zechariah (Zech. 3:1-3), and this indicates that encounters such as these between the good and evil angels were not fabulous but actual events.
There are also several verses of the Apostle Paul in which he has been accused of citing passages from lost non-canonical books as Scripture. In 1 Cor. 2:9, for example, Paul says, but as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love Him. According to Origen, Paul quoted this verse from the Apocalypse of Elijah. Jerome denied this allegation but admitted that the verse occurred not only in the Apocalypse of Elijah but also in another non-canonical book entitled the Ascension of Isaiah. It is probable however, that Paul is here quoting freely from Isaiah 64:4. Such, at any rate, was the opinion of Clement of Rome (c. 90) and of Jerome. And the same may be said concerning Eph. 5:14, where Paul writes, Wherefore he saith, Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light. Here again Paul seems to be quoting freely, this time from Isaiah 60:1, in spite of the statement of Epiphanius (c. 390) that these words were also found in the Apocalypse of Elijah. For, as Robertson and Plummer (1911) observe, it is more reasonable to suppose that the author or editor of this lost book quoted from Paul than that Paul quoted from him. For if Paul and the other New Testament writers refrained from quoting even the Apocrypha as Scripture, why would they quote other non-canonical books of much lower status in this way. (26)
In 2 Timothy 3:8 Paul refers by name to the magicians who contended with Moses at Pharaoh's court. Now as Jannes and Jambres withstood Moses, so do these also resist the truth. Origen asserts that here Paul is quoting from the Book of Jannes and Jambres. But there is no need to suppose this. For in the days of Paul the names of these two magicians were well known everywhere both in Jewish and in gentile circles—to Pliny (d. 79), for example, and to Apuleius (c. 130). Hence when Paul identifies these two adversaries of Moses by employing these familiar appellations, we need not conclude that he is quoting from a book. (27)
Manuscripts of the Hebrew Old Testament — The Dead Sea Scrolls
The Jewish rabbis venerated their copies of the Old Testament so much that they did not allow them to be read to pieces. As soon as their Old Testament manuscripts became too old and worn for ordinary use, they stored them in their synagogues and later buried them. Hence, until rather recently no ancient Hebrew Old Testament manuscripts were available to scholars, the oldest known manuscript dating from no earlier than the 9th century A.D. All the available manuscripts, however, were found to contain the Masoretic (Traditional) text and to agree with one another very closely. The first critic to demonstrate this was Bishop Kennicott, who published at Oxford in 1776-80 the readings of 634 Hebrew manuscripts. He was followed in 1784-88 by De Rossi, who published collations of 825 more manuscripts. No substantial variation among the manuscripts was detected by either of these two scholars. (28)
The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls has altered this situation. These scrolls had been placed in earthen jars and deposited in caves near Wadi Qumran by the Dead Sea. They were first brought to light in 1947 by an Arab who was looking for a goat which had wandered away. After a few months some of the scrolls from this first cave were sold by the Arabs to the Syrian Orthodox Monastery of St. Mark and others to the Hebrew University. In 1955 the Monastery of St. Mark sold its share of the Dead Sea Scrolls to the State of Israel. Thus these two lots of ancient writings were finally reunited under the same owners. (29)
This collection includes the following documents: (1) Isaiah A, an almost complete copy of Isaiah in Hebrew; (2) Isaiah B, another copy of Isaiah in Hebrew, reasonably complete from chapter 41 onwards but containing only fragments of earlier chapters; (3) a copy in Hebrew of the first two chapters of Habakkuk with a verse-by-verse commentary also in Hebrew; (4) the Rule of the Community, a code of rules of a community written in Hebrew; (5) a collection of hymns in Hebrew; (6) the Rule of War, a description in Hebrew of ancient warfare; (7) an Aramaic paraphrase of chapter 5 to 15 of Genesis. (30) Of these seven manuscripts Isaiah A is regarded as the oldest. One expert sets its date at 175-150 B.C.; another expert makes it 50 years younger. The other manuscripts are thought to have been written from 50 to 150 years later than Isaiah A. (31)
After these manuscripts had been discovered in the first cave, ten other caves in the same vicinity were found to contain similar treasures. Of these Cave 4 has proved the most productive. Thousands of fragments, once constituting about 330 separate books, have been taken from this location. These fragments include portions of every Old Testament book except Esther. (32) Rather recently (1972) O'Callaghan has claimed that certain fragments found in Cave 7 are from New Testament manuscripts. This discovery, however, has been rejected by most other scholars. (33)
The discovery of the first Dead Sea Scroll, Isaiah A, was generally regarded by scholars as a victory for the Masoretic (Traditional) Hebrew text of the Old Testament. According to Burrows (1948), this manuscript agreed with the Masoretic text to a remarkable degree in wording. (34) And according to Albright (1955), the second Isaiah scroll (Isaiah B) agreed even more closely with the Masoretic text. (35) But the discovery in 1952 of Cave 4 with its vast store of manuscripts altered the picture considerably. It became apparent that the Proto-Masoretic text of the Isaiah scrolls was not the only type of Old Testament text that had been preserved at Qumran. In the manuscripts from Cave 4 many other text-types have been distinguished. Accordingly, in 1964 F. M. Cross presented some of the conclusions which he had drawn from his Qumran studies. He believed that three distinct ancient texts of Samuel can be identified, namely, ( 1 ) an Egyptian text represented by the Septuagint, (2) a Palestinian text represented by manuscript 4Q from Cave 4, and (3) a Proto-Masoretic text represented by a Greek text of Samuel also from Cave 4. And in the Pentateuch also Cross divides the text into the Egyptian, Palestinian, and Proto-Masoretic varieties. (36) G. R. Driver (1965), however, disagreed with Burrows, Albright, and Cross. According to him, the Dead Sea Scrolls were written in the first and early second centuries A.D. (37)
Thus we see that, despite the new discoveries, our confidence in the trustworthiness of the Old Testament text must rest on some more solid foundation than the opinions of naturalistic scholars. For as the Qumran studies demonstrate, these scholars disagree with one another. What one scholar grants another takes away. Instead of depending on such inconstant allies, Bible-believing Christians should develop their own type of Old Testament textual criticism, a textual criticism which takes its stand on the teachings of the Old Testament itself and views the evidence in the light of these teachings. Such a believing textual criticism leads us to full confidence in the Masoretic (Traditional) Hebrew text which was preserved by the divinely appointed Old Testament priesthood and the scribes and scholars grouped around it.
3. How The New Testament Text Was Preserved
At the Council of Trent the Roman Catholic Church not only added the Apocrypha to the Old Testament but also claimed to be in possession of certain unwritten traditions "which," the Council asserted, "received by the Apostles from the mouth of Christ Himself, or from the Apostles themselves, the Holy Ghost dictating, have come down even unto us, transmitted as it were from hand to hand." A solemn curse was pronounced against anyone who should "knowingly and deliberately" despise these traditions and also against anyone who, "in matters of faith and morals," should "presume to interpret the said sacred Scripture contrary to that sense which holy mother Church hath held and doth hold." (38) According to Roman Catholicism, therefore, a knowledge of the unwritten traditions of the Church is necessary in order to interpret the Scriptures properly. But who has the power to determine what these unwritten traditions are? In 1870 the Vatican Council of bishops answered this question. The Pope, they declared, is infallible when he "defines a doctrine regarding faith or morals to be held by the universal Church." This, however was a most illogical procedure, for if only the Pope was infallible, then where did the other bishops get the infallibility with which to declare the Pope infallible?
According to Roman Catholic doctrine, then, the authority of the Bible depends upon the authority of the Roman Catholic Church and ultimately of the Pope. But this line of reasoning leads to an endless regression. Why do we believe that the Bible is infallible? Because, Roman Catholics answer, the infallible Pope says that the Bible is infallible and interprets it for us infallibly in accordance with ecclesiastical traditions which only he can define with certainty. But how do Roman Catholics know that the Pope is infallible? To be sure of this they would need an angel to certify that the Pope was truly infallible and then a second angel to establish that the first angel was truly an angel and not the devil in disguise and then a third angel to authenticate the two previous angels, and so on ad infinitum.
True Protestants have always rejected these false claims of Roman Catholicism and maintained the very opposite. The true Church derives its authority from the Bible and not the Bible from the Church. In the Bible God reveals Himself, first, as the almighty Creator God, second, as the faithful Covenant God, and third, as the triune Saviour God. And since God thus reveals Himself in the holy Scriptures, we need no human priest to stand between us and Jesus Christ, the great High Priest. Nor do we need an allegedly infallible Pope to assure us that these Scriptures are truly God's Word, for the Holy Ghost Himself gives us this assurance, bearing witness by and with the Word in our hearts.
In order, therefore, to discover the true principles of New Testament textual criticism we must turn neither to the dogmas of the Roman Catholic Church nor to the equally arbitrary dicta of the naturalistic critics but to the teaching of the New Testament itself. The following is a brief outline of this teaching which will be developed more fully in the chapters that follow.
- The Universal Priesthood of Believers
As we have seen, the study of the Old Testament indicates that the Old Testament Scriptures were preserved through the divinely appointed Old Testament priesthood. The Holy Spirit guided the priests to gather the separate parts of the Old Testament into one Old Testament canon and to maintain the purity of the Old Testament text. Have the New Testament Scriptures been preserved in this official manner? In the New Testament Church has there ever been a special, divinely appointed organization of priests with authority to make decisions concerning the New Testament text or the books that should belong to the New Testament canon? No! Not at all! When Christ died upon the cross, the veil of the Temple was rent in sunder, and the Old Testament priesthood was done away forever There has never been a special order of priests in the New Testament Church. Every believer is a priest under Christ, the great High Priest. (1 Peter 2: 9, Rev. 1: 5-6).
Just as the divine glories of the New Testament are brighter far than the glories of the Old Testament, so the manner in which God has preserved the New Testament text is far more wonderful than the manner in which He preserved the Old Testament text. God preserved the Old Testament text by means of something physical and external, namely, the Aaronic priesthood. God has preserved the New Testament text by means of something inward and spiritual, namely, the universal priesthood of believers, through the leading, that is to say, of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of individual Christians of every walk of life.
- The Writing of the New Testament Books
The writing of the New Testament as well as the preservation of it was a fulfillment of the promises of Christ that His Word should be forever preserved. Heaven and earth shall pass away, but My words shall not pass away (Matt. 24:35; Mark 13:31; Luke 21-33). As the Saviour was about to return to His heavenly Father, He left His Apostles this blessed assurance: These things have I spoken unto you being yet present with you. But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, He shall teach you all things and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you (John 14:25-26). Here we see that both the agreements of the Four Gospels with one another and their differences are due to the inspiration which the Apostles received from the Holy Spirit and the control which He exercised over their minds and memories.
In the Gospels, therefore, Jesus reveals Himself through the story of His earthly ministry. The rest of the New Testament books are His divine commentary on the meaning of that ministry, and in these books also Jesus reveals Himself. These remaining books were written in accordance with His promise to His Apostles: I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now. Howbeit, when He, the Spirit of truth is come, He will guide you into all truth; for He shall not speak of Himself: but whatsoever He shall hear that shall He speak: and He will shew you things to come (John 16:12-13). It was in fulfillment of this promise that the Holy Spirit descended upon the Apostles at Pentecost, filled their minds and hearts with the message of the risen, exalted Lord, and sent them out to preach this message, first to the Jews at Jerusalem and then to all the world. Then followed the conversion of the Apostle Paul and the Epistles which he wrote under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Then James, Peter, John, and Jude were inspired to write their Epistles, and Luke to tell the story of the Acts of the Apostles. Finally, the Revelation proceeded from the inspired pen of John on Patmos, announcing those things that were yet to come. Volumes, of course, could be filled with a discussion of these sacred developments, but here a bare statement of the essential facts must suffice.
- The Formation of the New Testament Canon
After the New Testament books had been written, the next step in the divine program for the New Testament Scriptures was the gathering of these individual books into one New Testament canon in order that thus they might take their place beside the books of the Old Testament canon as the concluding portion of God's holy Word. Let us now consider how this was accomplished under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. (39)
The first New Testament books to be assembled together were the Epistles of Paul. The Apostle Peter, shortly before he died, referred to Paul's Epistles as Scripture and in such a way as to indicate that at least the beginning of such a collection had already been made (2 Peter 3:15-16). Even radical scholars, such as E. J. Goodspeed (1926), (40) agree that a collection of Paul's Epistles was in circulation in the beginning of the 2nd century and that Ignatius (117) referred to it. When the Four Gospels were collected together is unknown, but it is generally agreed that this must have taken place before 170 A.D. because at that time Tatian made his Harmony of the Gospels (Diatessaron), which included all four of the canonical Gospels and only these four. Before 200 A.D. Paul, the Gospels, Acts, 1 Peter and 1 John were recognized as Scripture by Christians everywhere (as the writings of Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, and Tertullian prove) and accorded an authority equal to that of the Old Testament Scriptures. It was Tertullian, moreover, who first applied the name New Testament to this collection of apostolic writings. (41)
The seven remaining books, 2 and 3 John, 2 Peter, Hebrews, James, Jude, and Revelation, were not yet unanimously accepted as Scripture. By the time the 4th century had arrived, however, few Christians seem to have questioned the right of these disputed books to a place in the New Testament canon. Eminent Church Fathers of that era, such as Athanasius, Augustine, and Jerome, include them in their lists of New Testament books. Thus through the Holy Spirit's guidance of individual believers, silently and gradually—but nevertheless surely, the Church as a whole was led to a recognition of the fact that the twenty-seven books of the New Testament, and only these books, form the canon which God gave to be placed beside the Old Testament Scriptures as the authoritative and final revelation of His will.
This guidance of the Holy Spirit was negative as well as positive. It involved not only the selection of canonical New Testament books but also the rejection of many non-canonical books which were mistakenly regarded as canonical by some of the early Christians. Thus the Shepherd of Hermas was used as holy Scripture by Irenaeus and Clement of Alexandria, and the same status was wrongly given to the Teaching of the Twelve Apostles by Clement and Origen. Clement likewise commented on the Apocalypse of Peter and the Epistle of Barnabas, to which Origen also accorded the title "catholic." And in addition, there were many false Gospels in circulation, as well as numerous false Acts ascribed to various Apostles. But although some of these non-canonical writings gained temporary acceptance in certain quarters, this state of affairs lasted for but a short time. Soon all Christians everywhere were led by the Holy Spirit to repudiate these spurious works and to receive only the canonical books as their New Testament Scriptures.
- The Preservation of the New Testament Text
Thus the Holy Spirit guided the early Christians to gather the individual New Testament books into one New Testament canon and to reject all non-canonical books. In the same manner also the Holy Spirit guided the early Christians to preserve the New Testament text by receiving the true readings and rejecting the false. Certainly it would be strange if it were otherwise. It would have been passing strange if God had guided His people in regard to the New Testament canon but had withheld from them His divine assistance in the matter of the New Testament text. This would mean that Bible believing Christians today could have no certainty concerning the New Testament text but would be obliged to rely on the hypotheses of modern, naturalistic critics.
But God in His mercy did not leave His people to grope after the True New Testament Text. Through the leading of the Holy Spirit He guided them to preserve it during the manuscript period. God brought this to pass through the working of His preserving and governing providence. First, many trustworthy copies of the original New Testament manuscripts were produced by faithful scribes. Second, these trustworthy copies were read and recopied by true believers down through the centuries. Third, untrustworthy copies were not so generally read or so frequently recopied. Although they enjoyed some popularity for a time, yet in the long run they were laid aside and consigned to oblivion. Thus as a result of this special providential guidance the True Text won out in the end, and today we may be sure that the text found in the vast majority of the Greek New Testament manuscripts is a trustworthy reproduction of the divinely inspired Original Text. This is the text which was preserved by the God-guided usage of the Greek Church. Critics have called it the Byzantine text, thereby acknowledging that it was the text in use in the Greek Church during the greater part of the Byzantine period (452-1453). It is much better, however, to call this text the Traditional Text. When we call the text found in the majority of the Greek New Testament manuscripts the Traditional Text, we signify that this is the text which has been handed down by the God-guided tradition of the Church from the time of the Apostles unto the present day.
A further step in the providential preservation of the New Testament was the printing of it in 1516 and the dissemination of it through the whole of Western Europe during the Protestant Reformation. In the first printing of the Greek New Testament we see God's preserving providence working hiddenly and, to the outward eye, accidentally. The editor, Erasmus, performed his task in great haste in order to meet the deadline set by the printer, Froben of Basle. Hence this first edition contained a number of errors of a minor sort, some of which persisted in later editions. But in all essentials the New Testament text first printed by Erasmus and later by Stephanus (1550) and Elzevir (1633) is in full agreement with the Traditional Text providentially preserved in the vast majority of the Greek New Testament manuscripts. This printed text is commonly called the Textus Receptus (Received Text). It is the text which was used by the Protestant Reformers during the Reformation and by all Protestants everywhere for three hundred years thereafter. Hence the printing of it was, after all, no accident but the work of God's special providence.
The special providence of God is particularly evident in the fact that the text of the Greek New Testament was first printed and published not in the East but in Western Europe where the influence of the Latin usage and of the Latin Vulgate was very strong. Through the influence of the Latin-speaking Church Erasmus and his successors were providentially guided to follow the Latin Vulgate here and there in those few places in which the Latin Church usage rather than the Greek Church usage had preserved the genuine reading. Hence the Textus Receptus was a further step in the providential preservation of the New Testament. In it the few errors of any consequence occurring in the Traditional Greek Text were corrected by the providence of God operating through the usage of the Latin speaking Church of Western Europe.
Thus God by His special providence has preserved the New Testament text in a three-fold way through the universal priesthood of believers. In the first place, during the fourteen centuries in which the New Testament circulated in manuscript form God worked providentially through the usage of the Greek-speaking Church to preserve the New Testament text in the majority of the Greek New Testament manuscripts. In this way the True New Testament Text became the prevailing Traditional Text. In the second place, during the 16th century when the New Testament text was being printed for the first time, God worked providentially through the usage of the Latin-speaking Church to influence Erasmus and the other editors and printers of that period to follow the Latin Vulgate in those few places in which the Latin Church usage rather than the Greek Church usage had preserved the genuine reading. Then in the third place, during the 450 years which have elapsed since the first printing of the New Testament, God has been working providentially through the usage of Bible-believing Protestants to place and keep the stamp of His approval upon this God-guided printed text. It is upon this Textus Receptus that the King James Version and the other classic Protestant translations are based.
- Alternative Views of the Providential Preservation of the New Testament
We see now how Christ has fulfilled His promise always to preserve in His Church the True New Testament Text, namely, through the universal priesthood of believers. In the special providence of God believers down through the ages have been guided to reject false readings and preserve the true, so that today the True New Testament Text is found in the majority of the Greek New Testament manuscripts, in the Textus Receptus, and in the King James Version and the other classic Protestant translations. But because of the opposition of unbelievers conservative Christian scholars have become increasingly reluctant to adopt this view and have offered various alternatives in place of it. Let us therefore consider briefly these alternative views of God's providential preservation of the New Testament text.
1. The alleged agreement of all the New Testament manuscripts in matters of doctrine. In dealing with the problems of the New Testament text most conservatives place great stress on the amount of agreement alleged to exist among the extant New Testament manuscripts. These manuscripts, it is said, agree so closely with one another in matters of doctrine that it does not make much difference which manuscript you follow. The same essential teaching is preserved in them all. This reputed agreement of all the extant New Testament manuscripts in doctrinal matters is ascribed to divine providence and regarded as the fulfillment of the promise of Christ always to preserve in His Church a trustworthy New Testament text.
This is the thought that was emphasized by Richard Bentley (1713) in his celebrated reply to the free-thinker, Anthony Collins, who asserted that New Testament textual criticism had made the sacred text uncertain. This charge, Bentley rejoined, was baseless. "The real text of the sacred writers does not now (since the originals have been so long lost) lie in any single manuscript or edition, but is dispersed in them all. 'Tis competently exact indeed even in the worst manuscript now extant; choose as awkwardly as you can, choose the worst by design, out of the whole lump of readings.... Make your 30,000 (variant readings) as many more, if numbers of copies can ever reach that sum: all the better to a knowing and serious reader, who is thereby more richly furnished to select what he sees genuine. But even put them into the hands of a knave or a fool, and yet with the most sinistrous and absurd choice, he shall not extinguish the light of any one chapter, nor so disguise Christianity but that every feature of it will still be the same." (42)
Since the days of Bentley countless conservative scholars have adopted this same apologetic approach to the study of the New Testament text. New Testament textual criticism, they have affirmed, can do no harm to the Christian faith, because the special providence of God has brought it to pass that the differences which exist among the extant New Testament manuscripts do not affect any essential point of doctrine. This theory, however, presupposes an extremely mechanical and unhistorical conception of the providential preservation of Scripture. According to this theory, God in some mechanical way must have prevented heretical scribes from inserting into the New Testament manuscripts which they were copying readings that favored their false views. Or, if God did now and then allow an heretical reading to creep into a manuscript, He must have quickly brought about the destruction of that manuscript before the false reading could be transferred to another manuscript and thus propagated. But the testimony of history indicates that God's providential preservation of Scripture did not function in any such mechanical fashion but organically through the Church. Heretical readings were invented and did circulate for a time, but they were rejected by the universal priesthood of believers under the guidance of God.
2. The true reading preserved in at least one of the extant manuscripts. Many conservative scholars seem to feel that God's providential care over the New Testament text is adequately defined by the saying that the true reading has been preserved in at least one of the extant New Testament manuscripts. Theodor Zahn (1909) gave expression to this point of view in the following words: "Though the New Testament text can be shown to have met with varying treatment, it has never as yet been established from ancient citations, nor made really probable on internal grounds, that a single sentence of the original text has disappeared altogether from the text transmitted in the Church, that is, of all the manuscripts of the original and of the ancient translations." (43) In other words, the true reading is always to be found in some one or other of the extant manuscripts. The only question is, which one.
Zahn's doctrine seems to be comforting at first glance, but on closer analysis this comfort soon disappears. Has the special providence of God over the New Testament text done no more than to preserve the true readings somewhere, that is to say, in some one or other of the great variety of New Testament manuscripts now existing in the world? If Christ has done no more than this, how can it be said that He has fulfilled His promise always to preserve in His Church the True New Testament Text? How can His people ever be certain that they have the True New Testament Text? For not all the extant New Testament manuscripts have yet been discovered. No doubt many of them still remain in the obscurity into which they were plunged centuries ago, concealed in holes, ruins, and other unknown places. How can we be sure that many true readings are not hiding in these undiscovered manuscripts? And even if this is not the case, how can we be certain which of the known manuscripts contain the true reading in places in which these manuscripts differ? For Christians troubled with doubts like these Zahn's theory is no help at all.
3. Are naturalistic New Testament textual critics providentially guided? Many conservatives have adopted the theory that it is through textual criticism, and especially through the textual criticism of Westcott and Hort, that Christ has fulfilled His promise always to preserve in His Church the True New Testament Text. In regard to this matter J. H. Skilton (1946) writes as follows: "Textual Criticism, in God's providence, is the means provided for ascertaining the true text of the Bible." (44) And half a century earlier Dr. B. B. Warfield (1893) expressed himself in a very similar manner. "In the sense of the Westminster Confession, therefore, the multiplication of copies of the Scriptures, the several early efforts towards the revision of the text, the raising up of scholars in our own day to collect and collate manuscripts, and to reform them on scientific principles— of our Tischendorfs and Tregelleses, and Westcotts and Horts—are all parts of God's singular care and providence in preserving His inspired Word pure." (45)
Dr. B. B. Warfield was an outstanding defender of the orthodox Christian faith, so much so that one hesitates to criticize him in any way. Certainly no Bible-believing Christian would wish to say anything disrespectful concerning so venerable a Christian scholar. But nevertheless it is a fact that Dr. Warfield's thinking was not entirely unified. Through his mind ran two separate trains of thought which not even he could join together. The one train of thought was dogmatic, going back to the Protestant Reformation. When following this train of thought Dr. Warfield regarded Christianity as true. The other train of thought was apologetic, going back to the rationalistic viewpoint of the 18th century. When following this train of thought Dr. Warfield regarded Christianity as merely probable. And this same divided outlook was shared by Dr. Warfield's colleagues at Princeton Seminary and by conservative theologians and scholars generally throughout the 19th and early 20th century. Even today this split-level thinking is still a factor to be reckoned with in conservative circles, although in far too many instances it has passed over into modernism.
Dr. Warfield's treatment of the New Testament text illustrates this cleavage in his thinking. In the realm of dogmatics he agreed with the Westminster Confession that the New Testament text had been "kept pure in all ages" by God's "singular care and providence," but in the realm of New Testament textual criticism he agreed with Westcott and Hort in ignoring God's providence and even went so far as to assert that the same methods were to be applied to the text of the New Testament that would be applied to the text of a morning newspaper. It was to bridge the gap between his dogmatics and his New Testament textual criticism that he suggested that God had worked providentially through Tischendorf, Tregelles, and Westcott and Hort to preserve the New Testament text. But this suggestion leads to conclusions which are extremely bizarre and inconsistent. It would have us believe that during the manuscript period orthodox Christians corrupted the New Testament text, that the text used by the Protestant Reformers was the worst of all, and that the True Text was not restored until the 19th century, when Tregelles brought it forth out of the Pope's library, when Tischendorf rescued it from a waste basket on Mt. Sinai, and when Westcott and Hort were providentially guided to construct a theory of it which ignores God's special providence and treats the text of the New Testament like the text of any other ancient book. But if the True New Testament Text was lost for 1500 years, how can we be sure that it has ever been found again?
- The Principles of Consistently Christian New Testament Textual Criticism
Bentley, Zahn, Warfield, and countless others have tried to devise a theory of the special providential preservation of the Scriptures which leaves room for naturalistic New Testament textual criticism. But this is impossible, for the two concepts are mutually exclusive. Naturalistic New Testament textual criticism requires us to treat the text of the New Testament like the text of any other ancient book, in other words, to ignore or deny the special providential preservation of the Scriptures. Hence if we really believe in the special providential preservation of the Scriptures, then we cannot follow the naturalistic method of New Testament textual criticism.
For a believer, then, the only alternative is to follow a consistently Christian method of New Testament textual criticism in which all the principles are derived from the Bible itself and none is borrowed from the textual criticism of other ancient books. In the preceding pages we have striven to present such a consistently Christian New Testament textual criticism, and now we will recapitulate and summarize its principles briefly:
Principle One: The Old Testament text was preserved by the Old Testament priesthood and the scribes and scholars that grouped themselves around that priesthood.
Principle Two: When Christ died upon the cross, the Old Testament priesthood was abolished. In the New Testament dispensation every believer is a priest under Christ the great High Priest. Hence the New Testament text has been preserved by the universal priesthood of believers, by faithful Christians in every walk of life.
Principle Three: The Traditional Text, found in the vast majority of the Greek New Testament manuscripts, is the True Text because it represents the God-guided usage of this universal priesthood of believers.
Principle Four: The first printed text of the Greek New Testament represents a forward step in the providential preservation of the New Testament. In it the few errors of any consequence occurring in the Traditional Greek Text were corrected by the providence of God operating through the usage of the Latin-speaking Church of Western Europe. In other words, the editors and printers who produced this first printed Greek New Testament text were providentially guided by the usage of the Latin-speaking Church to follow the Latin Vulgate in those few places in which the Latin Church usage rather than the Greek Church usage had preserved the genuine reading.
Principle Five: Through the usage of Bible-believing Protestants God placed the stamp of His approval on this first printed text, and it became the Textus Receptus (Received Text). It is the printed form of the Traditional Text found in the vast majority of the Greek New Testament manuscripts.
Principle Six: The King James (Authorized) Version is an accurate translation of the Textus Receptus. On it God has placed the stamp of His approval through the long continued usage of English-speaking believers. Hence it should be used and defended today by Bible-believing Christians.
- New Testament Textual Criticism and Evangelism
Why should we Christians study the New Testament text from a neutral point of view rather than from a believing point of view? The answer usually given is that we should do this for the sake of unbelievers. We must start with the neutral point of view in order that later we may convert unbelievers to the orthodox, believing point of view. Sir Frederic Kenyon expressed himself to this effect as follows: "It is important to recognize from the first that the problem is essentially the same, whether we are dealing with sacred or secular literature, although the difficulty of solving it, and likewise the issues depending on it are very different. It is important, if for no other reason, because it is only in this way that we can meet the hostile critics of the New Testament with arguments, the force of which they admit. If we assume from the first the supernatural character of these books and maintain that this affects the manner in which their text has come down to us, we can never convince those who start with a denial of that supernatural character. We treat them at first like any other books, in order to show at last that they are above and beyond all other books." (46)
Although Kenyon probably advised this oblique approach with the best of intentions, still the course which he advocated is very wrong. Orthodox Christians must not stoop to conquer. We must not first adopt a neutral position toward the Bible in order that later we may persuade unbelievers to receive the Bible as God's Word. There are several reasons why we must not do this. In the first place if we should take this step, we would be inconsistent. We would be denying the conclusion that we were seeking to establish. In the second place, we would be ineffective. In taking up this neutral position we would not be doing anything to convert unbelievers to the orthodox Christian faith. On the contrary, we would be confirming them in their confidence in the essential rightness of their unbelieving presuppositions. And in the third place, we would be sinning. To approach unbelievers from this neutral point of view would be not only allowing them to ignore the divine inspiration and providential preservation of the Scriptures but even doing so ourselves. In other words, we would be seeking to convert unbelievers by the strange method of participating in their unbelief.
If we truly believe in Christ, then God is real to us, more real even than our faith in Him. Otherwise we are not believing but doubting. Therefore we must begin all our thinking with that which is most real, namely, God and His three-fold revelation of Himself in nature, in the holy Scriptures, and in the Gospel of Christ. This is the system of truth which we must proclaim to others, both to unbelievers and to our fellow Christians. And in this system of truth, as we have seen, the principles of consistently Christian New Testament textual criticism occupy a very necessary and important place.
- Believing Bible Study on the Graduate Level — Christ and Grammar
We must make God and Jesus Christ His Son the starting point of all our thinking. But how can we do this on the graduate level at a theological seminary or a university? How can we know for example whether the King James Version is a correct translation or not? Don't we have to rely on dictionaries, such as Brown-Driver-Briggs, Thayer, Kittel, and Liddel-Scott? And for grammar don't we have to go to the great authorities in this field, such as Gesenius, Bauer, and Blass-Debrunner? And how, really, do we know that the Textus Receptus is a trustworthy reproduction of the majority New Testament text? For our knowledge of the New Testament manuscripts are we not obliged to depend almost entirely on the writings of experts, such as Gregory, Kenyon, Colwell, Metzger, and Aland? When we study the Bible on the graduate level, therefore, how can we begin with God? Must we not rather begin with men? With the information provided by scholars, most of whom are unbelievers?
Questions like these cause many conservative seminary students to panic and become virtual unbelievers in their biblical studies. In order therefore, to prevent such catastrophes, we must always emphasize the Christian starting point that all our thinking ought to have. If we are Christians, then we must begin our thinking not with the assertions of unbelieving scholars and their naturalistic human logic, but with Christ and the logic of faith.
For example, how do we know that the Textus Receptus is the true New Testament text? We know this through the logic of faith. Because the Gospel is true, the Bible which contains this Gospel was infallibly inspired by the Holy Spirit. And because the Bible was infallibly inspired it has been preserved by God's special providence. Moreover, this providential preservation was not done privately in secret holes and caves but publicly in the usage of God's Church. Hence the true New Testament text is found in the majority of the New Testament manuscripts. And this providential preservation did not cease with the invention of printing. Hence the formation of the Textus Receptus was God-guided.
And how do we know that the King James Version is a faithful translation of the true New Testament text? We know this also through the logic of faith. Since the formation of the Textus Receptus was God-guided the translation of it was God-guided also. For as the Textus Receptus was being formed, it was also being translated. The two processes were simultaneous. Hence the early Protestant versions, such as Luther's, Tyndale's, the Geneva, and the King James, were actually varieties of the Textus Receptus. And this was necessarily so according to the principles of God's preserving providence. For the Textus Receptus had to be translated in order that the universal priesthood of believers, the rank and file, might give it their God-guided approval.
In biblical studies, in philosophy, in science, and in every other learned field we must begin with Christ and then work out our basic principles according to the logic of faith. This procedure will show us how to utilize the learning of non-Christian scholars in such a way as to profit by their instruction. Undeniably these unbelievers know a great many facts by virtue of God's common grace. They misinterpret these facts however, because they ignore and deny God's revelation of Himself in and through the facts. Hence our task is to point out the inconsistencies and absurdities of unbelieving thought and then to take the facts which learned unbelievers have assembled and place them in their proper framework of biblical truth.
For example, if we begin with Christ, then we will understand what language is, namely, the medium by which God reveals the facts unto men and also Himself in and through the facts And if we adopt this basic position, then the study of Greek grammar, and especially the history of it, will prove immensely profitable to us and will strengthen our faith, for then we will see how God in His providence has preserved the knowledge of Greek grammar from the days of the ancient Alexandrian grammarians down to the time of Erasmus and the Protestant Reformers and even up until now. Such a survey certainly increases our confidence in the King James translators. Judged even by modern standards, their knowledge of the biblical languages was second to none.
Begin with Christ and the Gospel and follow the logic of faith. This is the principle that must guide us in our graduate studies, especially in the biblical field. If we adhere to it, then everything we learn will fit beautifully into its place in the Christian thought-system. But if we ignore Christ and adopt a neutral approach to knowledge, we will soon lose ourselves in a wilderness of details and grow more and more chaotic in our thinking.
(For further discussion see Believing Bible Study, pp. 51-52, 214-225. See also A History of Classical Scholarship, by J. E. Sandys, vols. 1 & 2.)