Monday, August 28, 2023

McGrath on the Personality of Calvin


Note: This post is taken from my Twitter (X): @Riddle1689:

I've been reading through Alister E. McGrath, A Life of John Calvin (Baker, 1990).

Though McGrath is very much admiring of Calvin's achievement, this work is not hagiography. Here are some of his observations on Calvin's personality:

“… a curious silence resonates through history concerning the personality of Calvin” (14).

“Calvin…. appears to have been reticent to introduce any self-reference in his writings” (16).

“Nevertheless, it is probably fair to suggest that Calvin was not a particularly attractive person, lacking the wit, humour, and warmth which made Luther so entertaining at dinner parties. Calvin’s persona, as it emerges from his writings, is that of a somewhat cold and detached individual, increasingly inclined towards tetchiness and irritability as his health declined, and prone to launch into abusive personal attacks on those with whom he disagreed, rather than dealing primarily with their ideas” (17).

“…it is clear that he was an unhappy man, with whom it is difficult for the modern reader to feel any great bond of sympathy” (17).

“A timid and withdrawn character, he was nonetheless capable of a courage bordering on intransigence, a refusal to compromise, when he believed the will of God to be at stake” (18).

“Calvin was a remarkably private individual…” (18).

“…he emerges as something of a colourless figure, a man whose innermost thoughts, attitudes, and ambitions are largely denied to us” (19).


Friday, August 25, 2023

The Vision (8.25.23): The Standard For Faithful Christian Preaching


Image: Rembrandt, St. Paul in Prison, 1627, Staatsgaleri Stuttgart, Germany

Note: Devotion taken from last Sunday's sermon on Acts 17:17-31.

And when they had appointed him a day, there came many to him into his lodging; to whom he expounded and testified the kingdom of God, persuading them concerning Jesus, both out of the law of Moses, and out of the prophets, from morning till evening (Acts 28:23).

As Paul was under house arrest in Rome, a day was appointed for the Jews of that city to come and hear him speak to them concerning Christianity, which they knew only as a “sect” which everywhere was “spoken against” (v. 22).

In v. 23b we have a summary of Paul’s preaching on this occasion. It is both descriptive, telling us what Paul said that day, and prescriptive, telling us what should always be the content of Christian preaching. Luke tells us here that Paul addressed two related subjects from one source (Scripture):

First, he “expounded and testified the kingdom of God.” Matthew summarized the preaching of the Lord Jesus himself in Matthew 4:17b as, “Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” The kingdom of God is the rule and reign of God. With the coming of Christ in the flesh, God’s rule broke into this world. When he comes again with power and glory that kingdom will triumph over all.

Second, he was “persuading them concerning Jesus, both out of the law of Moses, and out of the prophets.”

What did he have to say about the Lord Jesus? No doubt, he proclaimed the gospel (Good News) about Christ. What is the core of gospel proclamation? Christ’s death, burial, resurrection, and resurrection appearances (1 Corinthians 15:3-5).

This is consistent with what Paul preached at Pisidian Antioch (Acts 13:27-30), and it is consistent with what Paul preached before Agrippa in Acts 26, “that Christ should suffer, and that he should be the first that should rise from the dead” (26:23).

The standard for faithful Christian preaching has not changed in 2,000 years: Proclaim from the Scriptures the death of Christ on the cross for sinners and his glorious resurrection so that all who trust in him might walk in newness of life.

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Book Review Article: Steve McVey, Grace Walk


I have posted audio version of my 2004 review of Steve McVey's Grace Walk book above.


Tuesday, August 22, 2023

Jots & Tittles 22: Is Mark 16:12-13 another account of the road to Emmaus?


This episode was stirred by my reading and review of Jakob Van Bruggen’s discussion of Mark 16:12-13 in his book Christ on Earth: The Gospel Narratives as History (Dutch original, 1987; English translation, Baker Books, 1998).

JVB on Mark 16:12-13:

JVB argues against the assumption that Mark 16:12-13 is another account of Christ’s appearance to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus in Luke 24:13-35. See Christ on Earth, pp. 284-286.

He sees two contrasts between the narratives:

First, the destination:

In Mark 16:12 the two disciples are going eis agron (AV: “into the country”).

In Luke 24:13 two disciples (Cleopas and unnamed disciple) are going eis kōmēn (AV: “to a village”).

Second, the return to Jerusalem:

In Luke the two disciples are told that Christ has already appeared to Simon (Luke 24:34). JVB sees Mark 16:12-13 as describing an earlier appearance.

In Mark 16:13 the focus is on the unbelief of the disciples. There is no direct mention of this in Luke 24:33-35.

JTR response:

First, regarding the destination:

The phrases “into the country” (Mark) and “to a village” (Luke) are not necessarily so different. Luke stresses that the distances from Jerusalem to Emmaus was “three-score furlongs” (Greek: 60 stadia, with a stadia being c. 1/8 of the Roman mile). The NKJV gives the distance as “seven miles.” The travel from Jerusalem to Emmaus would have taken the travelers into the “country.”

Second, regarding the return to Jerusalem:

Mark’s description of unbelief does not necessarily contradict an appearance to the disciples after Christ’s appearance to Peter. Compare Matthew 28:17, “but some doubted.” It makes sense for Mark to give emphasis to unbelief, since this is a theme in his Gospel and in his resurrection narrative.

Arguments in favor of harmonizing Mark 16:12-13 and Luke 24:13-35:

First, both describe Christ’s appearance to two disciples in a remote location, before these two go to the Eleven.

Second, Mark’s mention of Jesus appearing to the two en hetera morphē (AV: “in another form”; i.e., in this resurrection body) likely parallels Luke’s mention that the two did not immediately recognize the risen Jesus (cf. Luke 24:16, “their eyes were holden”).

Conclusions if JVB is correct and the two are not the same event:

First, this would show the value of Mark 16:9-20 as offering an independent resurrection appearance narrative. Contra modern critics it would show that the traditional ending is NOT a “pastiche” of accounts drawn from the other Gospels.

Second, it would mean that each of the four canonical Gospels has a unique resurrection appearance narrative:

Matthew: Appearance at a mountain in Galilee (Matthew 28:16 ff.).

Mark: Early appearance to two disciples (Mark 16:12-13).

Luke: Appearance on the Emmaus Road to Cleopas and another disciples (Luke 24:13-35).

John: Appearance to seven disciples at the Sea of Tiberias (John 21)

Overall assessment:

In the end, I am not convinced by JVB’s suggestion. Mark 16:12-13 and Luke 24:13-35 describe the same event and Mark abbreviates the longer account as found in Luke.


Friday, August 18, 2023

The Vision (8.18.23): The Almost Persuaded Hearer


Image: Knock-out rose, North Garden, Virginia, August 2023.

Note: Devotion taken from last Sunday's sermon on Acts 26.

Then Agrippa said unto Paul, Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian (Acts 26:28).

Paul began his apologetic sermon before the Jewish king Agrippa by saying “wherefore I beseech thee to hear me patiently” (Acts 26:3b). This is a plea with which every Christian preacher should begin his sermon.

Paul noted that before his Damascus Road conversion he too “thought with myself, that I ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth” (v. 9). He then preached to the king from Scripture that “Christ should suffer, and that he should be the first to rise from the dead, and that he should show light unto the people [his fellow Jews], and to the Gentiles” (v. 23).

The Roman governor Festus, however, interrupted “with a loud voice” (v. 24a), and said, “Paul thou art beside thyself; much learning doth make thee mad” (v. 24b).

We should note that Paul had used the same language of “madness” to describe his irrational hated of Christ and his followers while he was yet unconverted. He had been “exceedingly mad” against Christians (v. 11). To the Christian, his old life seems mad and his new life in Christ sane, but unbelievers will often see it the other way around.

Paul responds by saying, “I am not mad… but speak forth the words of truth and soberness” (v. 25).

Paul then turns again to the Jewish king Agrippa, appealing to his knowledge of these things (v. 26). Paul begins spiritually to examine the king, probing his conscience, “believest thou the prophets? I know that thou believest” (v. 27).

Agrippa’s response, however, is one of the saddest in Scripture, akin to the rich young ruler who went away “sorrowful” from Christ, “for he had great possessions” (Matthew 19:22).

Agrippa responds, “Almost thou persuadeth me to be a Christian” (v. 28). The term “Christian” had first been used at Antioch to describe the followers of the Lord Jesus (11:26).

Agrippa declares himself to be an almost persuaded hearer of the gospel.

Paul’s response in v. 29, in turn, is truly astounding. He declares that he wishes that not only Agrippa but all who heard him that day would become as he was, that is, indeed, a Christian, a follower of Christ, a believer in him, except for his chains.

The irony is that spiritually speaking, the prisoner was free, and his wardens were imprisoned.

There are, no doubt, some who regularly attend upon the preaching of the gospel who are still what we might call “almost persuaded hearers.” Let such ones not perpetuate the error of Agrippa, but let them, by grace, be sanctified by faith, repent of their sin, and turn to Christ, producing the works meet or fitting for repentance (cf. vv. 18, 20).

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Thursday, August 17, 2023

WM 286: Rejoinder to Timothy Decker on the Confession and the Text of Scripture



On July 17, 2023 an article was posted to the blog of the Covenant Baptist Theological Seminary website under the title, “Does our confession require a printed text or indicate the need for a text critical methodology?” The article was written by Timothy Decker, an elder at Trinity Baptist Church outside Roanoke, Virginia.

            Decker’s article came on the heels of another article by Geoff Thomas posted to the same site just a few days earlier (on July 12, 2023) presenting ten points in opposition to hyper-Calvinism. The tenth point, oddly enough, associated hyper-Calvinism with “the exclusive use of the King James translation of the Word of God, the finality of the Textus Receptus Greek text, women wearing hats, a rejection of modern hymn tunes and writers.” I’m still trying to figure out how the author made those connections.

Perhaps the placement of these two articles by Thomas and Decker in such close proximity to one another was just a matter of happenstance. Or perhaps it reflects alarm or discomfort by those associated with Covenant seminary regarding the ongoing retrieval of Confessional or traditional Protestant Bibliology, as reflected in the Second London Baptist Confession (1689) and the Baptist Catechism (1693).

Though Decker’s article might appear less acerbic, it is nonetheless problematic in that it does not accurately or fairly represent the Confessional Text position.

The problem with Decker’s article begins with the first question posed in its title, “Does our confession require a printed text?” This question implies that those of us in the Confessional Text camp believe that the Confession is doing this very thing (“requiring a printed text”). Decker uses the phrase “printed edition” or “printed text” at least fourteen times in this brief article. It is his main focus. Decker goes even further and implies that we teach what is essentially the “immediate inspiration” of printed editions of the TR. These views, however, are not the position we teach, so Decker’s entire article is largely premised upon a “straw man” fallacy.

Let me now turn and offer a more thorough review and response to Decker’s article to demonstrate his use of this fallacy. I will do this by following the five sections in Decker’s article:

First: Introduction: Decker begins with an inaccurate presentation of the Confessional Text position:

He begins the article with this sentence:

There are some fellow laborers in the gospel, some who I personally know and consider friends, men who are solidly confessional and faithful ministers, who advocate for a “Confessional Text” for the New Testament identified to be the Textus Receptus.

That might sound like a broad-minded opening statement, but in an added footnote, Decker provides a reference, supposedly to explain our position to the unfamiliar, to a 2020 article by Mark Ward titled “Which Textus Receptus? A Critique of Confessional Bibliology.” The problem with this citation is that Ward is not an accurate interpreter of the Confessional Text position. In this cited article and in other works, Mark Ward has, in fact, falsely described our position as a variety of King James Version Onlyism. Those of us who hold to the Confessional Text position cannot be affirmed as “solidly confessional and faithful ministers” in one moment, and then labelled as KJVO (which we are not) in the next.

In addition, the Ward article is also riddled with basic factual errors, including stating that there were 28 printed editions of the TR prior to Scrivener’s which was the 29th edition. Ward fudges the facts in a misguided attempt to draw a parallel with the 28 previous editions of the Nestle-Aland Novum Testamentum Graece. His article is neither a trustworthy account of general facts relating to the Textus Receptus nor of our position.

If Decker desired fairly and accurately to represent the Confessional Text position he might well have cited references in this opening footnote to works, articles, or websites produced by men who actually hold to our position and not to those who not only do not hold it but who also have misrepresented it. It would have made natural sense, for example, to have cited the book I co-edited just last year under the title Why I Preach from the Received Text which includes essays from Presbyterian and Reformed Baptist church officers (elders and one deacon) from Canada, the US, the UK, and Australia. The anthology even includes an article by a pastor who serves as a trustee at Covenant Baptist Theological Seminary (!).

The failure to footnote from the outset actual men who hold to the Confessional Text position and instead to footnote an inaccurate and controversial interpreter of our position not only represents a poor standard of academic rigor but also undermines a sense of fair-minded assessment.

Decker then proceeds to offer a citation from a Confessional Text advocate (myself) as follows:

One such pastor explained this position to teach that “the authoritative text of the Bible is found in the Masoretic text of the Hebrew Old Testament and the Textus Receptus of the Greek New Testament… This view does not hold that it is our task to reconstruct the elusive original autograph or autographs, but it contends that the true text has been faithfully kept pure in all ages by God’s singular care and Providence.

The footnote cited here reveals that this citation comes from comments made in a podcast. The footnote also makes reference to an article I wrote under the title, “A Defence of the Traditional Text of Scripture” (Sword & Trowel, 2022), but it offers no direct citations from the written article. I find this particularly curious, because this article at several points does indeed address directly a Confessional Text position on the immediate inspiration of the text in the original autographs and their divine preservation in the faithful apographs (copies). It then describes the transmission of this text and its appearance in printed editions during the Reformation and post-Reformation eras. This material has direct relevance for the focus of this article, but it is never cited.

Rather than rely on primary written sources which accurately explain and represent our position, Decker seems to rely instead on his own misconceptions of it. Thus, he sets up a straw man, arguing against positions which we do not hold. In my opinion, the “fatal flaw” of Decker’s analysis is that he confuses the Confessional Text position’s emphasis on the inspiration and preservation of the words of Scripture in Hebrew and Greek (the form of Scripture) with a providential and historically important medium of its transmission (printed editions).

He builds his argument primarily on only one quotation, taken out of context, from a brief online article posted to the Pulpit and Pen website which was written by Dane Johannsson in 2019. Decker cites the author as saying, “For the framers of the confessions, the ‘authentic’, ‘pure’ and ‘perfectly preserved’ texts are [sic; it should read “were”] the printed editions of the Hebrew OT and the Greek NT then in their possession.” From this one statement, taken out of context, Decker proceeds to make an assertion that will become the linchpin of the rest of his argument. Namely, he contends that when Confessional Text advocates speak of the “preserved texts” of Scripture we exclusively mean “printed editions” per se.

Aside from the problem of Decker building an argument on one out-of-context statement made, no less, in a blog article, I believe he fundamentally misunderstands and misrepresents this particular statement and the position held by advocates of the Confessional Text overall. He does this by failing to recognize an inherent distinction between the formal content of Scripture (i.e., the immediately inspired words in Hebrew and Greek, preserved down to the jot and tittle) and the media through which it has been transmitted. The blog author’s point was that the framers of the Confession believed that the form of Scripture (its words) were to be found in their day in faithful printed editions of the Hebrew and Greek text, not that the printed editions themselves, as a medium of transmission, were immediately inspired.

Decker’s fundamental confusion on this point is the fatal flaw of his intended critique of the Confessional Text. This mistake having been made, almost everything else Decker says in this article is tainted by this foundational error.

Second: Decker continues to construct his straw man in the next section titled, “What is ‘Authentic” Scripture?”

Decker accuses advocates of the Confessional Text of misunderstanding and placing undue emphasis upon the proper definitions of the terms “authentic” (the original term is actually “authentical”) and “pure” as they appear in Confession 1:8.

As noted, he erroneously implies that the Confessional Text position teaches something like the “immediate inspiration” of printed editions of the Bible, or, as he puts it, that our view “demands” a “printed text.”

Contrary to Decker’s assertion, however, the Confessional Text view holds that the “authentical” text is indeed only that which has been immediately inspired by God in the original Hebrew of the OT and the Greek of the NT and that these words have been kept pure in all ages by God’s singular care and providence through the means of various historical media (including handwritten manuscripts, printed editions, and, in the modern era, even digital editions).

What Decker describes as supposedly representing our view (i.e., immediate inspiration of printed editions) simply is not an argument anyone in our camp is advocating.

Simply put, the Confessional Text position does not argue that the term “authentical” refers exclusively to “printed editions” (a mere medium of transmission) rather than to the immediately inspired and preserved words of Scripture (i.e., its written form) in the original languages.

Decker next offers several citations related to the Council of Trent that offer no clear relevance to this discussion. The Confessional Text view, with its emphasis on the immediately inspired and preserved words of Scripture in the Hebrew and Greek original as “authentical”, according to Confession 1:8, is clearly in keeping with the Protestant critique of Tridentine Bibliology.

Decker then proceeds to make another kind of error (this time a historical one) when he suggests that the framers of the confession held there to be no “historical connection” between the immediately inspired words of Scripture and the media through which these words (the form of Scripture) have been preserved by God.

Simply put, it makes no sense to say that the framers of the Confession believed the Scriptures had been immediately inspired and preserved by God if they could not also point to the media through which it had been or was being transmitted (whether in apographic manuscripts or in printed editions).

In the end, Decker makes much of the fact that the term “authentical” refers to the original Hebrew and Greek words, but he overlooks another key aspect of this term; namely, it refers to the Hebrew and Greek words that are true and accurate to the original.

Edward Leigh (1602-1671) provided this definition of “authentical”:

The question betwixt us and the Papists, now cometh to be considered, which of these Editions is authentical, that is, which of it self hath credit and authority, being sufficient of it self to prove and commend it self, without the help of any other Edition, because it is the first exemplar or Copy of divine truth, delivered by the Prophets and Apostles (A System or Body of Divinity, as cited by G. H, Milne, Has the Bible been kept pure?, 133).

By “Edition” or “Copy” Leigh is referring to the media of transmission. Such media can only be judged “authentical” if it accurately relays what the prophets and apostles wrote. G. H. Milne explains: “In other words, the authentical edition is the correct copy of an author’s work” (133).

Third, Decker continues to build on his confusion of the Confessional Text position in his next section titled “What is ‘kept pure.’”

In the opening paragraph of this section, Decker begins:

The Confession specifically states that it is the “Old Testament in Hebrew… and the New Testament in Greek” which is kept pure in all ages. But does the reference to the OT in Hebrew and the NT in Greek equate to a specific printed text? Or is there an historical rootedness to this kind of language, just as “authentic” was anchored to a particular doctrinal matter?

Once again, Decker confuses the immediate inspiration of the form of Scripture (the words) with the medium of printed editions, while, at the same time, putting aside the historical reality of how the framers of the Confession would have identified the means by which those immediately inspired words had been preserved.

Decker offers several citations from William Whitaker on “the authentic edition of Scripture,” inaccurately assuming that these statements somehow contradict the Confessional Text position. They do not. Decker concludes by stating that Whitaker’s “emphasis was never on a certain printed edition but the original language itself.” This, again, is a straw man argument which confuses the inspiration of the words of Scripture (in written form) with a medium of their preservation.

Decker next cites historian Richard Muller’s observation that the Protestant orthodox made a distinction between the autographa (the no longer extant original manuscripts written by the Biblical authors) and the apographa (faithful copies of them), and the fact that these men received as original and authentical “the legitimate tradition of Hebrew and Greek apographa.” Decker then offers this conclusion, “This is not an appeal to a printed edition. It was an appeal to the original languages of the OT and NT and the manuscript tradition from which they disseminated.” Once again, however, this is a straw man argument. No one I know has ever suggested that Muller was saying the Protestant orthodox believed in the “immediate inspiration” of printed editions per se.

Decker apparently assumes Muller is saying that the Protestant orthodox believed the original and authentic text was only somewhere in the “manuscript tradition” and their goal was then to reconstruct this elusive text, much as modern textual critics did. This, however, is a serious misreading of Muller’s analysis of Protestant orthodox Bibliology.

Just after the passage cited by Decker regarding the Protestant orthodox adherence to “the legitimate tradition of Hebrew and Greek apographa”, Muller makes clear that the Protestant orthodox were NOT committed to a modern reconstruction method, a la Warfield. He writes (bold added):

This case for Scripture as an infallible rule for faith and practice and the separate arguments for a received text free from major (i.e., non-scribal) errors rests on an examination of the apographa and does not seek infinite regress of the lost autographa as a prop for textual infallibility” (PRRD, Vol. 2, 433).

In a footnote, Muller adds:

A rather sharp contrast must be drawn, therefore, between the Protestant orthodox arguments concerning the autographa and the views of Alexander Hodge and Benjamin Breckenridge Warfield…. The point made by Hodge and Warfield is a logical trap, a rhetorical flourish, a conundrum designed to confound the critics—who can only prove their case for genuine errancy by recourse to a text they do not (and surely cannot) have (433, n. 165).

According to Muller, to suggest that the Protestant orthodox were seeking reconstruction of the text by examining the extant manuscript tradition, as Decker would suggests, is an anachronistic error.

One need only examine Muller’s definition of the term “Textus Receptus” in his Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms to discover his view on how Protestant orthodoxy viewed the printed editions of the Received Text. He writes (bold added):

Textus Receptus: the Received Text; i.e., the standard Greek text of the New Testament published by Erasmus (1516), and virtually contemporaneously by Ximenes (the Complutension Polyglot, printed in 1514 but not circulated [i.e., published] until 1522), and subsequently reissued with only slight emendation by Stephanus (1550), Beza (1565), and Elzevir (1633). The term Textus Receptus comes from Elzevir’s Preface: Textum ergo habes, nunc ab omnibus receptum, “Therefore you have the text now received by all.” The term was adopted as standard usage only after the period of orthodoxy, although it does refer to the text supported by the Protestant scholastics as the authentic text quoad verba, with respect to the words of the text (357).

This entry explains and sheds light on Muller’s previously cited comments. According to Muller, later Protestants would come to see the printed editions of the Textus Receptus as representing “the legitimate tradition of Hebrew and Greek apographa.”  It was, to use Muller’s words, “the standard Greek text of the New Testament” and “the text supported by the Protestant scholastics.”

Notice especially the distinction Muller makes between the printed editions of the TR (what I have called a medium of transmission) and the Protestant view of “the authentic text quoad verba, with respect to the words of the text.” This is the essential distinction which Decker repeatedly confuses or ignores in his analysis.

The hand copied manuscripts and the printed editions are only the media for conveying the immediately inspired and providentially preserved words of Scripture.

Along these lines, it would also be helpful to review Muller’s entry in his dictionary on the authoritas divina duplex or “twofold divine authority” of Scripture. In that entry he makes a distinction between “(1) the authoritas rerum, authority of the things of Scripture, the substantia doctrinae (substance of doctrine); and (2) the authoritas verborum, or authority of the words of Scripture, arising from the accidens scriptionis, the accident of writing” (46).

This double divine authority of the Scriptural originals is evidenced in Turretin’s discussion of the “Authentic Version” of Scripture when he makes this same distinction (bold added): “Finally, authenticity may be regarded in two ways: either materially as to the things announced or formally as to the words and mode of annunciation” (Institutes, 1:113).

The Protestant orthodox tradition held that the formal words of Scripture in the accident of writing were conveyed first in the medium of the faithful apographa and later in the medium of printed editions.

Decker concludes his section on the purity of the originals by offering a quotation of John Owen stating that the Scriptures have been preserved “in the copies of the originals” and that they serve as “the rule, standard, and touchstone of all translations.”

John Owen was, of course, a chief author of the Congregationalist Savoy Declaration (1658) and a man much admired by early Particular Baptists. This is indeed an important quote from Owen which Decker cites. I have appealed to it myself many times. This citation, however, in no way supports Decker’s critique of the Confessional Text position. Yes, Owen held that the Bible had been carefully preserved in faithful copies, but he was not advocating a reconstruction method like that found in modern textual criticism. If anything, the main thrust of this quotation has more to do with Owen’s advocacy of the original Hebrew text of the OT as the standard for translation of the OT, over against those who were suggesting the Hebrew text be corrected by the Septuagint, the Syriac, Aramaic Targums, etc.. This point is totally missed by Decker.

If addition, one should also give attention to another quotation from Owen, which I cited in my aforementioned 2022 Sword & Trowel article, but which is left uncited by Decker. This citation makes clear Owen’s view that the invention of printing provided a medium through which this faithful, preserved apographic text might be faithfully conveyed in his own day. He wrote:

Let it be remembered that the vulgar copy we use was the public possession of many generations, that upon the invention of printing it was the actual authority throughout the world… let that then pass for the standard, which is confessedly its right and due…. (Collected Works, 16: 366).

What we find in Owen, in fact, fits hand in glove with the analysis provided by Muller in his definition of the Textus Receptus.

D. A. Thompson, a former bishop in the Free Church of England and editor of the Bible League Quarterly from 1961-1970 likewise observed:

Until about one hundred years ago most evangelical Protestants… felt that in the Textus Receptus they had substantially the reproductions of the autographs of the New Testament writers….

These Protestants considered that the Reformation was the greatest blessing the Lord had sent to the Visible Church since Pentecost, and that it largely centered around the works of Erasmus, Ximenes, Stephens, and Beza, whose labors led to the printing of the text common to the great majority of the Greek manuscripts. In all this they could see nothing less than the “singular care and providence of God” giving them substantially the text of the autographs (Valiant for the Truth, 268).

The significance of the printed editions of the TR rest not in themselves per se, but in the fact that they served as a means or medium for conveying that which had been received by confessional Protestants as the immediately inspired and preserved autographic text.

Fourth: In the next section titled “Textual Criticism and Our Confession” Decker wrongly suggests that the framers of the Confession were actually just modern reconstruction/restorationist textual critics all along.

He begins:

If the above is historically accurate, then the demand for a “confessional text” or to read the Confession as requiring a printed text is anachronistic and incorrect. Rather, it seems to be assuming a manuscript tradition from which the church should draw.

By now, one can clearly see that Decker’s analysis is simply not, in fact, historically accurate. He foundationally misreads the Confessional Text position, confuses the distinction between the words (form) of the text and the media through which it is conveyed, and fundamentally misunderstands both the primary writings of theologians like Turretin and Owen, as well as Muller’s historical analysis of Bibliology in the Protestant orthodox era.

It is, in fact, Decker’s assertion that the Confession teaches that the church should “draw” upon the “manuscript tradition” to reconstruct the text of the Bible that is anachronistic and misguided.

Decker offers citations from Turretin and Owen which show their awareness of variants that appear in the handwritten manuscript tradition, as if this somehow invalidates the Confessional Text position. Of course, the Protestant orthodox well knew of variants within the handwritten manuscript tradition, but they also affirmed, contra Roman Catholic and Free-thinking critics of their day, that such variants in no way invalidated the meticulous divine preservation of Scripture.

They certainly were not promoting a modern text critical methodology that sought to reconstruct the autograph, nor were they interpreting “preservation” as some kind of vague assurance that the true text was somewhere to be “drawn from” (read “restored” or “reconstructed from”)” the mass of extant manuscripts.

In his essay “The Reason of Faith” John Owen offers an extended defense of the meticulous preservation of God’s Word. He writes:

God’s perpetual care over the Scriptures for so many ages, that not a letter of it should be utterly lost, nothing that hath the least tendency towards its end should perish, is evidence of his sufficient regard unto it.

He then cinches his point:          

For my part, I cannot but judge that he that seeth not an hand of divine Providence stretched out in the preservation of this book and all that is in it, its words and its syllables, for thousands of years, through all the overthrows and deluges of calamities that have befallen the world… doth not believe there is any such thing as divine providence at all (Collected Works, Vol. 4, 24).

Note that Owen upheld not some vague sense of the general preservation of Scripture, but what could rightly be called its meticulous verbal preservation. Furthermore, he maintained that to deny such preservation is to deny the doctrine of God’s providence altogether.

Turretin, likewise, in his Institutes of Elenctic Theology, repeatedly affirms a similar view of the doctrine of the divine preservation. He writes, for example:

Unless unimpaired integrity characterize the Scriptures, they could not be regarded as the sole rule of faith and practice, and the door would be thrown wide open to atheists, libertines, enthusiasts and other profane persons like them for destroying its authenticity (authentian) and overthrowing the foundation of salvation…. It will not do to say that divine providence wished to keep it free from serious corruptions, but not from minor.

He then adds:

Nor can we readily believe that God, who dictated and inspired each and every word… would not take care of their entire preservation. If men use the utmost care diligently to preserve their words… in order that it may not be corrupted, how much more, must we suppose God would take care of his word which he intended as a testament and seal of his covenant with us, so that it might not be corrupted…. (Institutes, 1:71).

The godly men of old affirmed as a vital necessity both the inspiration and the meticulous preservation of the Scriptures, not merely their general and indistinct preservation in an amorphous “manuscript tradition.”

At the close of this section, Decker offers a final citation from William Bridge. Unfortunately, Decker completely misunderstands the point being made by Bridge in the citation. Bridge is arguing that though there are minor variations in the handwritten manuscripts of the NT this does not mean there are what he calls “material differences” between them.

He uses the word “material” here as a technical term, referring to the content of Scripture aside from its “form” or the accident of its writing. This is the distinction Muller points out in his dictionary article between the autoritas rerum (substance of doctrine) and the autoritas verborum (authority of the words in the accident of writing). This distinction is also made in the passage I previously cited from Turretin between the material (content) and formal (words) authenticity of Scripture. Bridge’s point might be taken as something like this: If some manuscripts spell a word in one way and some manuscripts spell it in a different way, this minor formal difference between these manuscripts does not affect the major material content of Scripture.

Decker’s conclusion that Bridge’s discussion of “material differences” means “that he placed the authority not to a printed edition but to a textual tradition of Greek manuscripts,” is, simply put, a complete misreading of the primary point Bridge is actually making.

Fifth: Conclusion:

At the end of his article Decker draws this conclusion:

If we compile all this information, can we truly say that our Confession is demanding a “confessional text” such as the Textus Receptus for the New Testament? We must admit a resounding “no” to such a claim. The historical reality is, the Confession appeals to the Hebrew and Greek textual tradition of Scripture. And as this textual tradition has within it, admitted by all, variations among them; the necessary result demands we engage in textual criticism. What the Confession should do for us is inform a text critical methodology.

As previously noted, Decker’s analysis throughout this article is fraught with serious misunderstandings, misinterpretations, and straw men.

Decker closes by shifting the first of the two questions posed in the title of his article. The title asks, “Does our confession require a printed text?” In this conclusion, however, Decker shifts the question to, “Can we truly say that our Confession is demanding a “confessional text” such as the Textus Receptus for the New Testament? He then “admits” (declares?) what he calls a “resounding ‘no’” to this substitute question.

It seems impossible, however, to ignore the fact that the Confession does, in fact, “assume” (rather than “demand”) a received text. Historically speaking, according to no less an expert than respected historian Richard Muller, the Textus Receptus was “the standard Greek text of the New Testament.” It represents the text “supported by the Protestant scholastics as the authentic text, quoad verba, with respect to the words of the text.” What Muller affirms about the classic Protestant view of the Greek TR, can no doubt also be said of the Masoretic Hebrew text of the OT. The burden rests with Decker to demonstrate to us how Richard Muller’s conclusion is wrong. This article offers no such convincing demonstrations.

When one reviews the Baptist Confession (1689) and the Baptist Catechism (1693), he sees that the language and content within the works themselves reflect the usage of the traditional text (cf. the statement “the Son is eternally begotten of the Father” in Confession 2:3 with reference to John 1:18’s “the only-begotten Son”; or Catechism Q. 114’s exposition of the doxology of the Lord’s Prayer, Matthew 6:13b). The prooftexts used in the Confession are likewise drawn from the traditional (confessional) text (cf., e.g., the citation of Mark 16:16; Acts 8:37 at Confession 29:2).

A person might choose to depart from the Bibliology inherent in the Confession, or propose that this Bibliology should be fundamentally updated or re-imagined, but it seems irrational to ignore the Bibliology that was and remains present within it.

Decker, however, suggests that the Confession “demands we engage in textual criticism.” He then teases the reader with the promise that he will soon present to us a “confessional text critical methodology.”

From what I have seen and read from Decker thus far, and given his closing quotation from Warfield, it seems likely that the methodology he will propose will be something with which we are already well familiar. That is, it will be an approach to textual criticism largely akin to the modern reconstruction/restoration method.

If one posits such a method he must assume, however, that the text of Scripture has been corrupted. Decker would then be proposing the study of the mass of extant manuscripts in order to restore the proper text. Simply put, this does not represent the classic view of the text, especially its preservation, among the Protestant orthodox.

It will be interesting to see what Decker does with Muller’s contention that the approach of the Protestant orthodox to the text of Scripture was, in fact, at wide variance to the Hodges/Warfield method of an “infinite regress” to the autograph.

In the end, a proposal to embrace a reconstruction text method is hardly anything new. Most mainstream Protestants and evangelicals long ago embraced the spirit of Wescott, Hort, and Warfield. The result is that they have spent the last 150 years wandering about in the modern textual criticism wilderness.

The contemporary consensus of those who have embraced modern textual criticism is that actually getting back to the autograph is an “impossible possibility” (Robert Grant) and that the best we can do is to approximate an early Ausgangstext (“initial text”) but never the “authorial text” (Gerd Mink). It will be interesting to see how Decker proposes he can succeed where the last several generations of the best and brightest in the top universities and institutes around the world have failed.

I also noticed in Decker’s article that there are no specific references made to any particular texts of Scripture, which he is willing publicly either to deny or defend.

When the rubber meets the road the ability to have a text of Scripture which one can unreservedly identify as the Word of God is crucial, especially for confessional Protestants, given that our epistemology is based primarily on the authority of Scripture.

Though Decker denies that the Confession affirms the traditional Protestant text as authoritative, it is clear that the framers of the Confession had no difficulty in making such affirmations. To demonstrate this point, we need only look at the introduction to Thomas Manton’s Commentary on James (1693). Manton had been one of three clerks appointed to the Westminster Assembly.

In a discussion of questions raised by some against the canonicity of James, Manton wrote the following:

Now it would exceedingly furnish the triumphs of hell if we should think their private cavils to be warrant sufficient to weaken our faith, and besides disadvantage the church by the considerable loss of a most considerable part of the canon;

He continued:

For the case doth not only concern this epistle, but diverse others, as the Second of Peter, the Second and Third Epistles of John, the Book of Revelation.

He then proceeded to address not only contested books but also disputed texts:

The last chapter of Mark, some passages in the 22nd of Luke, the beginning of the 8th of John, some passages in the 5th chapter of the First Epistle of John.

Finally, Manton asks these probing questions:

Where would profaneness stay? And if this liberty should be allowed, the flood of atheism stop its course?

Manton here defends some of the most contentious passages found in the Received Text: the traditional ending of Mark (16:9-20); the ministering angel and the sweat like drops of blood (Luke 22:43-44); the Woman Taken in Adultery Passage or Pericope Adulterae (John 7:53—8:11); and the Three Heavenly Witnesses or Comma Johanneum (1 John 5:7-8). Notice that he does not suggest that the reader examine the “manuscript tradition” for each of these variants, but, instead, he simply dogmatically affirms them to be part of the rightly received text.

Manton’s approach to the text of Scripture is generally indicative of that taken by men of this age and especially those who served as the framers of the classic Protestant Confessions. It is this position we are suggesting as worthy of retrieval in our day.

Final Thoughts:

Let me return again to the two questions which Decker posed in the title to this article:

First, Does our confession require a printed text?

The answer to that question is “No.” The printed text is merely a medium of transmission. If you ask instead, Does our confession require an immediately inspired and providentially preserved text of the Word of God in the original Hebrew and Greek which has been kept pure in all ages? The answer is emphatically “Yes.”

Second, Does our confession indicate the need for a text critical methodology?

The answer to that question is “No.” The Confession does not promote in any manner anything like a reconstruction or restoration method of textual criticism. It has no need for this, because it already has a Received Text.

I hope this rejoinder helps to tidy up some of the misrepresentations of the Confessional Text position inherent in Decker’s article and to provide a clearer and more accurate perception of it.