Friday, March 18, 2022

Article: R. L. Vaughn, Why "Which Textus Receptus"?



In 2020, Detroit Baptist Seminary Journal published Mark Ward’s “Which Textus Receptus? A Critique of Confessional Bibliology.” [i] Two years later, Mark Ward believes this has not been answered. Two years later, I have found about a half-dozen answers to “Which Textus Receptus.”[ii] The discrepancy, apparently, is that the writers believe they have answered Ward, and Ward believes they have not. This addition to the pot is not my “answer to’ but some “thoughts on” Mark Ward’s “Which Textus Receptus.”

“Which TR” is not a question of fact.

Why does Mark Ward ask “Which Textus Receptus?” The question is not a question of inquiry about a fact. By that, I mean Mark does not actually want or need to know whether Robert Vaughn uses the 1881/1894 Scrivener, Doug Wilson uses the 1550 Stephanus, and so on. He is already aware, for example, that “There is one edition of the Greek New Testament that [the mainstream KJV-Only movement, rlv] consistently uses in its various educational institutions: Scrivener’s TR, particularly the edition put out by the Trinitarian Bible Society.”[iii] He further notes, “This 29th and final TR is the one used today by basically all who prefer the TR.”[iv] In addition, “Various influential defenders of the TR have pointed to Scrivener (Riddle, Truelove, the Trinitarian Bible Society, and many others), Stephanus (Douglas Wilson), and Beza (Chuck Surrett, who later pointed to Scrivener instead), as the best—or, in some cases, the perfect—exemplar of the TR tradition.”[v]

That “Which TR” is not a question of fact can be seen when Mark answers his own question. Regarding the group discussed first, he says, “the answer of mainstream KJV-Onlyism to the question, ‘Which TR?’ is: ‘The KJV’.”[vi] Regarding the second group, he summarizes, “Confessional Bibliology’s answer to the question, ‘Which TR?’ is ‘The KJV’.”[vii]

So there you have it. Mark Ward is not inquiring of us who use the Textus Receptus to find out which TR we use, or what we believe about it. He inquires for a different purpose – a reason that is set out in his “Abstract.” His idea is to demonstrate that TR proponents should not divide from evangelical textual critics over bibliology, since the views of TR proponents “differ only in degree and not in kind from the majority view of textual criticism.”[viii]

Ostensibly, the basic argument of his paper is “meant to build a bridge between TR defenders and that majority evangelical position.” Apparently, he thinks that bridge can be built by convincing TR advocates that we all “are in the same boat” – that is, the TR is just as much a critical text as the Critical Text (“our views differ only in degree and not in kind”). On the other hand, in my opinion, he shoots his entire premise in the foot by concluding that all TR advocates are simply covert KJV-Onlyists.

“Which TR” is a stratagem of debate.

By stratagem here, I mean a skillful plan or maneuver used to gain an advantage over the opposing disputant. Knocked off balance, perhaps the TR supporters will be confused, unable to answer, and begin to see the “error” of their ways.[ix]

Mark delicately crafts a list that totals “in fact, twenty-eight TRs,” strikingly equivalent in quantity to the numbering of Nestle-Aland editions of the Greek New Testament. Additionally, he speaks of the Scrivener-created TR as the 29th, which will be the number of the next published NA.[x] I question the equivalency beyond a numerical coincidence, and even that coincidence. In a blog post, Mark makes a comparison between the number of TRs and NAs, writing, “But by my count, Scrivener’s TR was actually the 29th major TR.”[xi] However, for example, in “Which Textus Receptus? A Critique of Confessional Bibliology” he wrote, “Theodore Beza produced five major and five minor editions of the TR between 1565 and 1604.”  Minor editions are not major editions and therefore not counted as such.[xii]

I think others have pushed back on the differences in kind between the TR and NA. I do not intend to go there. Let others do so. I merely point out that we are settled with what we have. We do not rush to correct and change the Textus Receptus in light of every new discovery. All must acknowledge that it true, because that is one of the continual complaints of modern textual critics to TR advocates. It is old, outdated, untouched by the oldest, latest, biggest, and best. As Mark writes, there is a “final TR.” There will never be a “final NA,” and I perceive Christians will be no better off for that fact.

This coincidence of numbering, however, is not Mark’s main point, but more of an accidental one. The “nuts and bolts” of “Which Textus Receptus” is this:

…I demonstrate that two particular TR editions carry all but one of the same kinds of differences that occur between the TRs and the critical texts of the GNT. I argue that neither mainstream KJV-Onlyism nor Confessional Bibliology can justify dividing from the majority of evangelical biblical scholars over its doctrines: their views differ only in degree and not in kind from the majority view of textual criticism.[xiii]

The basic argument of this paper, then, is meant to build a bridge between TR defenders and that majority evangelical position. It is meant, to use another image, to reveal that they—we—are in the same boat. The Lord in his good providence has not given any Christian warrant to claim exhaustive and perfect certainty in our textual criticism of the New Testament. TR defenders must stop claiming to have a “pure” and “absolute” text; that claim is, quite simply, causing brothers and sisters to divide unnecessarily.[xiv]

I ask, “Who is dividing from whom?” I sit where I have always.

We Traditional Text and KJV advocates are not all agreed on all the details about the KJV. No, all TR proponents are not rabid KJV-Onlyists.[xv] However, I think we are all agreed on this – we are not interested in modernizing the King James Bible. No lasting good can come of it. It will only further divide a consistent group of Christians (the KJV is still the Bible more English Christians read than any other) who, in the face of hundreds of Bible translations available to English-speaking people, continue to share a continuum, community, and commitment to one Bible, the Authorized or King James Bible. We do not wish to give that up.


I was raised in a church made up of people who  believed they possessed the Bible, the words that God gave. The inspired Bible. They were not KJV-Onlyists of the modern kind, but they only used the KJV. They never talked about being KJV biblicists, KJV believers, KJV-Only, or any such talk. They mentioned nothing about other translations beyond the occasional talk of the RSV, such as the “young woman” vs. “virgin” issue.[xvi] The average members knew the Bible, what it said, what they should believe, how they should live. They knew no Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek, not much of the history of Bible transmission, and nothing about textual criticism. Yet, their lives proved they knew and believed their Bibles. Somehow, I cannot help but believe that they were better off in their world than the morass in which we now live.[xvii]

I am reminded of a story I heard long ago when I was young. Now I am old. The story tells of an old man and old woman, husband and wife, who were riding along in their old Chevrolet pickup truck.[xviii] Sitting by the passenger door, she looked out the window and began to reminisce about old times. Remember going here. Remember going there. Remember doing this. Remember doing that. Then she waxed a bit wistful, “Remember how we used to sit so close in this old truck?” He looked at her affectionately, with a bit of a wry grin, and replied, “I haven’t moved.

[i] Detroit Baptist Seminary Journal, Volume 25, 2020, 51-77.
[ii] By this, I mean I have found their existence by Google searching. I do not mean I have read them all.
[iii] “Which Textus Receptus? A Critique of Confessional Bibliology,” page 56.
[iv] Ibid., page 53.
[v] Ibid., page 60.
[vi] Ibid., pp. 56-57.
[vii] Ibid., page 54.
[viii] Ibid., page 51.
[ix] This is neither a charge nor a complaint, but merely a simple assessment. Debaters use strategy to make their points.
[x] “An international and interconfessional editorial board is currently preparing the 29th edition. It will bring many changes, especially in the Gospel of Mark and the Acts of the Apostles.” “The Novum Testamentum Graece (Nestle-Aland) and its history
[xi] Bold emphasis mine. “Is the Textus Receptus Perfect in Every Jot and Tittle? Ambrose vs. Scrivener” Accessed 2021,
[xii] I suppose one might also discuss whether all the NAs are “major” editions.
[xiii] “Which Textus Receptus? A Critique of Confessional Bibliology,” page 51.
[xiv] Ibid., page 77. “Causing brothers and sisters to divide” could encompass actively splitting churches or simply something keeping us from working together. In The History of the King James Only Controversy within the Independent Baptist Churches: Its Effect and Importance, 1964-2000, Frederick Widdowson wrote, “As a controversy it split churches apart” (p. 9). However, neither his thesis shows nor my own research indicates that such individual church splits have occurred in abundance. It is my opinion this is greatly exaggerated. As far as the other, I suspect the Bible versions issue seldom is the sole cause of keeping us separated. While Mark chides us as separationists (i.e., the reason for division), he is actively engaged in a speaking and writing war that will divide the Christians who agree on using the Authorised or King James Version of the Bible (and will not unite those who disagree on the TR vs. CT).
[xv] For example, I believe there could be changes introduced, but do not believe they can be profitably agreed upon by the aggregate of King James Bible readers. Therefore, leave it alone. In the late 19th century Westcott, Hort, and company broke the stable thread of progressively minor updates to the King James translation of the Bible and ruined the possibility of effectively doing so in the future.
[xvi] Which might be brought up in Sunday School literature.
[xvii] That said, I realize we are not going back to simpler times.
[xviii] Our old pickups had bench seats way back when.

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