Monday, September 26, 2022

WM 253: Rejoinder to Lane Keister (aka Green Baggins)


My Notes from this episode:


Lane Keister (known by the online moniker, “Green Baggins”) recently posted a long (over 5,500 word), rambling, chapter-by-chapter review of the book Why I Preach From the Received Text to the Puritan Board Discussion Forum.

He begins by noting that though he has “vast areas of agreement” with the authors of the book, it nevertheless has “many problems.” He describes the authors as “either extreme or strong TR advocates.”

He even claims that at least two statements in the book are “lies.” That’s a pretty strong charge publicly to make against the authors (all 25 of whom are church officers, and 24/25 of whom are elders). Note that LK does not say that he disagrees with a writer’s opinion, or that a writer misunderstood or lacked clarity, or that a writer misapplied some factual information, but that the writer intentionally “lied” about something. Such language is, of course, exceedingly pejorative and unhealthy.

Interestingly enough, as I will point out, his charge of “lying” is unfounded, and it is, in fact, LK himself who is guilty of several significant misrepresentations and misunderstandings in this review.

LK’s stream of consciousness review and his comments on my article:

LK’s review, though it addresses the book’s 25 chapters in sequential order, often takes on more of a stream of consciousness quality, with many inchoate observations offered, undeveloped and unargued, but nevertheless definitively asserted.

His review of my chapter, for example, consists of one sentence: “I have no comment on this chapter, except that I found it unconvincing.” That’s the sort of review to which it is difficult to respond. What point did he perceive my essay was trying to make? Why did he find it unconvincing?

I close my article by writing, “Why do I preach from the Received Text? I find it satisfying and winsome on many levels, aesthetically, intellectually, spiritually, theologically. It has given me a sure foundation upon which to exercise my ministry, and it has increased my faith” (203). Is he unconvinced that this has been my experience? If so, how or why did he reach this conclusion? Does he believe that he understands my experience better than I do myself? That would be rather odd. Given that no specifics are provided, I find it hard to offer any response to his review of my article.

LK on the book’s introduction:

Maybe, it will be best to begin with LK’s comments on the book’s introduction which I co-wrote with Christian McShaffrey, since several specifics, in fact, are here provided.

Here are several of his arguments regarding our introduction and some responses to them.

First, he suggests that we offer a “caricature” of modern textual critics, failing to distinguish between what might be true of “liberal” textual critics, but what is not supposedly true of “conservative” ones.

Response: LK seems to have missed a point that many were making in the book. Namely, that supposedly “conservative” and “evangelical” textual critics offer very little that is different in practice, approach, and results from “liberal” academics.

Several authors, for example, cite Dan Wallace’s now infamous statement in his Foreword to Myths and Mistakes in New Testament Textual Criticism, “We do not have  now—in our critical Greek texts or any translations—exactly what the authors of the NT wrote. Even if we did, we would not know it (xii).”

Our point is that contemporary evangelical textual critics sound little different from academic scholars like D. C. Parker or even Bart Ehrman.

Second, he asserts that it is “ambiguous” for us to claim that the Protestant fathers affirmed the TR. He says, “They affirmed readings that were in the TR. That is not the same as affirming the TR itself, let alone confessionally.”

Response: I would call LK’s attention to the writings of John Owen and his explicit statement that it was “upon the invention of printing” that the “vulgar copy” was “in actual authority” (Works, 16: 366). The TR was edited by Protestant men like Stephanus and Beza. As the Elzevirs put it, it was the text “received by all.” I would also call his attention to the writings of other historical theologians on this topic, like R. Muller (PRRD, Vol. 2), Richard Brash (see WM 128), and Garnet Howard Milne (see my review article). Clearly the men of the Reformation and the Protestant orthodox who followed embraced not some amorphous view of “texts” of the Bible but the standard printed editions of it in their age, the TR. This is evidenced by the classic Protestant translations they produced from the TR and a perusal of the prooftexts they attached to their confessional documents.

Third, LK argues that it is “overstated” for us to suggest that the 19th century critics wanted to “set out to undermine the authority of the traditional text and replace it.”

Response: This point is not overstated at all, but has, in fact, been articulated by mainstream scholars who are by no means TR advocates. This has been stated by Eldon Jay Epp in his survey of the modern history of textual criticism (in The NT and Its Modern Interpreters, SBL, 1989) and more recently by Robert F. Hull, Jr. who noted that “the overriding motive” for 19th century text critics was “the overthrow of the Textus Receptus” (The Story of the NT Text, SBL, 2010: p. 95).

Fourth, LK suggests that we, the editors, “misstated” the purpose of the book when we said its primary goal was to defend the traditional Hebrew and Greek text (a la WCF 1:8). He and other negative reviewers of our book (i. e., Ward, Everhard), however, have seemed reluctant to quote what we actually wrote in the introduction regarding the book’s purpose. We wrote:

We gave each contributor the same topic to consider, “Why I preach from the Received Text.” In reading these essays it will become clear that all the contributors have high respect for the Authorized or King James Version of the Bible in English, as many make mention of this venerable translation in their respective essays. The reader should not, however, be confused about this book’s primary focus. Critics of the traditional text, in fact, often confuse our position, whether intentionally or unintentionally, with “King James Version Onlyism,” a position which is inconsistent with WCF and LBCF 1.8. We did not ask our authors to address, “Why I Preach from the King James Version,” but “Why I Preach from the Received Text.” The primary purpose of this book is a defense of the traditional original Hebrew and Greek text of the Bible (16-17).

I think one can see why these reviewers do not desire to provide this extended quotation, because it does not fit the narrative they would like to promote about this book.

LK says our stated purpose is not genuine. He says this is the case on two points:

First, he criticizes our book for not offering an in-depth defense of the traditional Hebrew text. Indeed, most, but not all, attention is given to the New Testament.

This criticism, however, represents a major problem with LK’s review. Namely, he does not accept the book on its own basis, but he tries to criticize it for not being what it was never intended to be. This book is not an in-depth or technical work regarding textual criticism. It is a theological and pastoral work.

He is right; there are no references to the “Aleppo Codex” in the book, and neither are there any references to “‘Non-Western’ interpolations.” There are instead 25 testimonies from church officers who have embraced the traditional text in their ministries. It is unfair to criticize the book for not addressing matters it never set out to discuss.

Second, he claims the hidden purpose of the book is to promote the KJV. As proof he notes there are 160 references in the book to the TR and 149 to the KJV. But what exactly does this prove? We noted in the introduction that every author had high esteem for the KJV, but this was not the book’s primary focus. There are at least four or five chapters in the book that make NO or only incidental reference to the KJV. That’s c. 20% of the book, but every single chapter clearly defends the traditional original text.

Many of those references to the KJV were, in fact, to make points like these:

Some might even think we are “King James Only”, but we consider that a dangerous position to hold (de Gier, 70).

The Bible is immediately inspired in the original Hebrew and Greek, however, not in translations. With that distinction firmly in place, we can also trust the accuracy and authority of the King James Version (Mullins, 184).

Would LK consider statements like these (and more could be piled up from the book) to be an “extremist” promotion of the KJV? Why is he so suspicious of the book’s stated purpose and so hostile to the KJV?

LK’s reviews of three chapters:

From LK’s treatment of the introduction, let’s move on to a selection of some of his more controversial comments on individual chapters (having already noted his minimal review of my chapter). We’ll look at three with which he seems to have taken particular exception, the chapters by Rob McCurley, Pooyan Mehrshahi, and Christopher Sheffield. In these reviews he offers what appear to me to be especially harsh, unjust and unfair criticism.

Rob McCurley’s chapter:

LK’s comments on McCurley’s chapter were particularly (and even breathtakingly) uncharitable and misguided in my opinion. Let me cite LK’s review here of McCurley in full:

Overblown rhetoric characterizes this chapter as well. Saying “Likewise, the believer does not depend upon unbelieving methodology, nor may he employ the world's depraved assumptions in grappling with textual questions” (p. 145). It's obviously a bad thing modern confessionally Reformed text critics of any non-TR position employ the “world's depraved assumptions” in doing their work. I question this statement's charity, truthfulness, and even sanity. His quotation of Matthew 5:18 in support of his position is a gross twisting of Scripture. Jesus is talking about the law. The Old Testament is the plain referrent, as nothing in the New Testament had been written down at the time when Jesus spoke these words. It is in the context of hypothetical abrogation of OT law, not textual preservation. He also seems to think that any deviation from the TR constitutes “purposeful alteration of the text of Scripture” (p. 147). He uses the poisoned well fallacy of “a region rife with Arian heresy.” It doesn't seem to occur to him that Alexandria is actually the place where Athanasius opposed the Arian heresy. He was bishop of Alexandria! It was everywhere else where the Arian heresy was making inroads, including the entire Byzantine empire! So he gets this history 100% wrong. The presence or absence of the Arian heresy is neither here nor there with regard to the copying of manuscripts. This was one of the very worst essays in the book, full of lies and twisting of Scripture.

For the author of this review to accuse anyone of “overblown rhetoric” would appear to be an effort to remove the mote from a brother’s eye while ignoring the beam in one’s own. McCurley’s essay is, in fact, one of the most measured and winsome in the whole book. One might not agree with his principled stand that those who reject the traditional text have succumbed to worldly assumptions, but one cannot deny him the right to form and articulate his own conclusions (just as LK can by posting his review), especially when McCurely does so in such a firm and yet winsome manner.

LK’s charge that McCurley’s interpretation of Matthew 5:18 as relating to meticulous preservation of the very words of Scripture is a “gross twisting of Scripture” is particularly appalling. McCurley’s view of Matthew 5:18 is, in fact, precisely the same interpretation of the verse given by John Owen (see Works, 4: 24). Would LK say that Owen also is a “Scripture twister”?

As for McCurley’s stress on the significance of Christological controversy upon the text, especially in Alexandria, and its possible impact on the transmission of Scripture, such a view is in no way preposterous but is, in fact, highly plausible. Yes, Alexandria was the home of Athanasius, as LK states, but the great orthodox leader also sent 17 years of banishment in five separate exiles during seasons the Arians held the upper hand!

LK’s concluding sentence is simply outrageous, “This was one of the very worst essays in the book, full of lies and twisting of Scripture.

Pooyan Mehrshahi’s chapter:

LK first claims that Mehrshahi’s assumption that the proof-texts play a significant role in the Westminster Standards and in one’s adherence to them is a “bizarre position.” If the proof texts are not important, however, why were they even added, and why is it still considered standard to print the prooftexts along with the confessions and catechism? Does LK want to downplay the prooftexts, because they make such frequent reference to and are clearly dependent upon the traditional text?

Second, he accuses Mehrshahi of an “outright lie” and takes one sentence from p. 75 from his article out of context. Here, however, is that sentence cited by LK as being an “outright lie,” along with the two sentences that precede it. Mehrshahi wrote:

The Received Text is mainly based on a vast majority of extant readings. It is the fullest and most authentic text, which has been preserved by God and used by the people of God. The critical text is generally based on a minority of available texts, which differ at significant points with the TR (75).

Since it is generally acknowledged that the critical text is indeed shorter than the TR (lacking long passages like Mark 16:9-20 and John 7:53—8:11, as well as thousands of other shorter passage in the NT alone, which are supported by the Majority Text), and that it very often distinctively appeals to readings primarily supported by two uncials (Aleph and B), Mehrshahi’s statement is, in fact, accurate. It is not a “gross exaggeration” to say that the TR and the modern critical text are significantly different. If they were the same, there would be no conflict over the matter!

Christopher Sheffield’s chapter:

In this review, LK’s rhetoric is again extremely hostile and caustic. Sheffield takes up a very serious and reasonable concern regarding the modern critical text. Namely, many of the changes it makes to the traditional text tend to downplay explicit references to the deity of Christ. According to LK, such a charge is “ridiculous.” Sheffield’s point, however, is well taken, and the influence of unitarianism in modern higher criticism has been made by many critics of it (see, for example, Michael Horton’s assessment in The Christian Faith, where he notes, “The liberal trajectory … is essentially Arian (or Adoptionist)” [464-465]).

LK takes special exception to Sheffield’s discussion of Romans 9:5 on p. 209, where he says that this discussion “is so highly misleading as to transgress into the ‘lie’ territory.” Sheffield’s discussion of changes to the traditional translation of this verse relate specifically to how it was translated in the RSV, influenced by the modern critical texts of that era and says nothing of how that verse is treated in modern editions of the critical text.

I recently did a podcast on this passage (see WM 249: The “New Perspective” on Romans 9:5) that readers, including LK, might want to examine). Challenges to the traditional translation/punctuation of Romans 9:5, one of the clearest affirmations of the deity of Christ in the Pauline corpus, is not a dead issue. Translations of Romans 9:5 that mute the deity of Christ continue to be perpetuated in the main body of translations that remain in print and usage, like the RSV, the Good News Bible, the NLV, and the CEV, and well as in the marginal notes of popular translations, like the NIV, ESV, and NRSVUE.

All conservative Christian readers should be alarmed at the rationale provided by Bruce Metzger speaking for the majority of critical text revision committee when he claimed in his Textual Commentary, “In fact, on the basis of the general tenor of his theology it was considered tantamount to impossible that Paul would have expressed Christ’s greatness by calling him God blessed forever” (522).

Here is how LK chose to end his review of Sheffield:

He argues that “The changes introduced by the Critical Text strike at the very core of the Christian faith—the person of Jesus Christ.” That is ridiculous. First of all, I have answered all his specious arguments, including the lie. Secondly, this rhetoric is so overblown as to be ridiculous. The Critical Text affirms the deity of Christ every bit as much as the TR does. This essay was terribly argued.

In my opinion, however, it is LK’s ad hominem dismissal of Sheffield’s legitimate concerns that, if anything, should be categorized as “ridiculous.”

Inaccuracies, charges of “lying,” and inconsistencies:

As noted above, one of the ironies of LK’s review is that he charges several authors not merely with making unclear or mistaken claims but of being “liars.” He attacks not their ideas but their character. At the same time, he does not always appear to be careful or consistent in the claims he himself makes in the review.

I’ve already pointed out how his charges against McCurley, Mehrshahi, and Sheffield misrepresent their positions. Let me offer just two more examples (of what could be many others) to illustrate this.

First, in his review of Myers’ chapter LK takes exception to Myers’ suggestion that men like Warfield and Hodge were influenced in their view of text by the advent of evolutionary methodology. Again, LK makes a familiar charge: “This is a lie, as has been shown in the responsible secondary literature (particularly Fred Zaspel).” He even makes the unsolicited suggestion, “This essay should never have been included in this book at all.”

If one examines Zaspel’s discussion of Warfield and evolution in The Theology of B. B. Warfield (see 369-386), however, one finds that although Zaspel thinks some (like Livingstone and Noll) take it too far, he does not think it is unreasonable to ponder the influence of evolution on Warfield. Myers’ brief reference certainly takes it no farther than that. LK is completely unjustified to categorize Myers’ passing reference to Warfield and evolution as a “lie” and, in fact, it is LK who might well be charged with misrepresenting the truth here.

Second, LK makes an interesting claim about my response to another unfavorable review of our book from Everhard. LK writes:

Jeffrey Riddle has already responded by saying, functionally, that any critique of this book at all is toxic (he used this label over Everhard's critique, which was, in my opinion, an extremely gracious and fair critique).

LK’s statement here is, however, a blatant falsehood. I have never stated (even functionally) that any critique of this book is necessarily toxic. What is more, I NEVER labeled Everhard’s critique (though I believe it misguided) as “toxic.” It was Mark Ward’s rushed review I described as “toxic,” citing a third person response to his review on Goodreads which so labelled it.

In fact, I explicitly told Everhard on twitter that I did not think his review was “toxic.”

It was his unfunny and boorish follow up Labor Day video in which he accused me personally of holding “wacky conspiracy theories” to which I took exception. I was not alone in my criticism of that video, and Everhard removed it within a few days and replaced it with another.

Again, I do not mind fair reviews of the book, even those which challenge its ideas. There is a difference between what LK writes and someone saying something like, “The editors of the book claim that its goal is defense of the traditional Hebrew and Greek text, but the frequent references to the KJV tends to overshadow that claim.” Such would be a fair critique, with which I would disagree, but I would acknowledge it was fairly stated. There is a world of difference between that kind of statement and charging our book, as LK does, with being a “bait and switch” flim-flam operation. I’ve learned that evangelicals may be charitable to ideas that come from the left, but they punch right. And when they punch right the blows can be coarse, defamatory, and mean-spirited. As one friend who read LK's review observed: It is he who sounds like an unhinged KJV-Onlyist in this review.

In the end, it does not seem to me that LK’s review is so much attempting to address the ideas in the book fairly and justly, as it is aiming to impugn the character of its contributors. Such a review would never be accepted in any respected scholarly journal, and it might well be described in the end not as a review at all, but as a screed.

Backhanded compliment:

In the end, I’m not really discombobulated by LK’s review. I think it does not reflect so poorly on our book or its contributors as it does on LK himself. I don’t know this man, but the review tells me a lot about him. Back when the “Orange Man” was in office some of his most unhinged critics were described as having “Trump derangement syndrome.” Sometimes it seems that there are those who have “Received Text derangement syndrome.”

If anything, I take this review as a kind of backhanded compliment to the book, because LK and other “conservative” Reformed evangelicals who have embraced the modern critical text or who make some claim to a Majority text (or even “Sturzian”) position seem to be highly threatened by our book.

LK even says, “I will do everything in my power to prevent anyone from my church even knowing about its existence. We just put the ESV in our pews last year. This book would function to undermine the confidence of anyone whose Bible is not already the KJV. That is the fundamental problem here.” Wow, he comes across here like a counter-Reformation priest who doesn’t want anyone in his parish exposed to any of that vile Protestant literature. Or, maybe like a social media executive in 2020 who does not want any “misinformation” about the virus or the jab posted online.

Yes, LK is partially right. This book is dangerous. You might want to keep it in a brown paper bag to sneak it past your erudite seminary trained pastor. If you read it, you might just find it makes a lot of sense. You might just decide that it’s time for confessional men and churches to leave the ever-changing modern critical text behind and return to the traditional Protestant text.

And that’s no lie.


1 comment:

R. L. Vaughn said...

Wow, what a review! I must say I can have little confidence in a priestly preacher who "will do everything in [his] power to prevent anyone from [his] church even knowing about [this book's] existence."

I think the great problem of this book (at least to Reformed critical text proponents) is, whereas they may have successfully convinced their wider Reformed circles that IFB King James Onlyists are kooks, it has now "grieved them exceedingly that there was come [men] to seek the welfare of the children of Israel" by pressing the textual issue in a Reformed manner on Reformed principles.