Friday, April 19, 2024

WM 306: Rejoinder to Decker on Perkins and (Modern) Textual Criticism


Here are my notes from this episode:

In recent months the blog of the Covenant Baptist Seminary of Owensboro, Kentucky has posted three articles by Timothy Decker, a pastor at Trinity RBC in Roanoke, Virginia, offering various criticisms of the Confessional Text position. The first of these articles was titled “Does our confession require a printed text or indicate the need for a text critical methodology?” (posted on July 17, 2023). I offered a rejoinder to this article in my WM 286 podcast, accompanied by an article with notes posted to my blog ( In my rejoinder I pointed out several ways in which I believe Decker had fundamentally misunderstood and misrepresented the Confessional Text position.

Not long after my rejoinder was posted I received an email from the Manager of Media and Communications at Covenant Baptist Seminary, which began, “Dr. Riddle, With great appreciation for you and your ministry, I wanted to reach out to you concerning your rejoinder to Dr. Timothy Decker….” That note ended with the following, “Although we are promoting a certain perspective of textual criticism, we have no ‘axe to grind’ with you personally or the view you promote. We hope that future discussions on this issue will remain fraternal and that we can continue to sharpen one another.” Taking this note at face value, I offered to contribute an article for use on the Covenant Seminary blog that would present the Confessional Text position from someone who actually holds to this position. I offered either to write such an article myself or to send an article written by the man who was then serving as the Chairman of the Board of Trustees of Covenant Baptist Seminary. This (former) trustee holds to the Confessional Text position and had contributed an article to the book I co-edited, titled Why I Preach From the Received Text (2022). I soon afterward sent a copy of that article to Covenant, but received a quick reply that they had no interest in publishing it. No other requests have been received from them.

In January 2024 two more blog articles appeared on the Covenant Baptist Seminary site also written by Timothy Decker, which were again critical of the Confessional Text position. Though I am not eager to take time to respond to these articles, I will nonetheless attempt to do so, given my sense that clarification and correction is needed. I will begin by responding here to Decker’s now second article, posted on January 16, 2024, titled “How the Reformers, Protestant Orthodox, & Puritans Approached Textual Criticism: Part 1.”

Three Preliminary Points:

Before responding to Decker’s article, I want to preface my comments with three preliminary points, borrowed from a similar rejoinder I recently offered to an online article by Stephen Steele on the Bibliology of Thomas Goodwin (WM 305).

Here are the three preliminary points:

First, the men of the Reformation era and the Protestant orthodox held to the traditional Protestant Text (MT of Hebrew OT; TR of Greek NT) (see Muller’s entry on the “Textus Receptus” in his Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms).

Second, however, the men of the Reformation era and the Protestant orthodox were not monolithic in their views. They did not always hold the same views on various areas of theology and interpretation.

Third, the Protestant men were not ignorant of textual variants among manuscripts or differences in various printed editions of the Bible. They sometimes discussed and analyzed such variants and difference in their writings, while at the same time holding a general commitment to the traditional Protestant text (a “common text”).

To suggest that those who hold to the Confessional Text are ignorant of these three points or that we deny them, as our critics sometimes suggest, would be both unfair and misleading. It also leads to the logical fallacy of “straw man” arguments.

With this said, let us move to review and analysis of Decker’s article.

Decker on (Modern) Textual Criticism:

In his opening paragraph, Decker first offers an introduction that, IMHO, both lacks clarity and sows confusion on several levels.

He begins with a question: “Did the reformers (sic), Protestant Orthodox (sic), and Puritans participate and practice in (sic) the discipline we now call textual criticism?”

The problem with this question is that Decker offers no explanation of what he means by the term “textual criticism”? If he is asking whether these men were aware of textual variants among manuscripts or minor differences in printed editions and sometimes offered discussion and analysis of them in their writings, or whether they produced printed editions of the text of the Bible in which they demonstrate awareness of and offer annotations upon such variants and differences, the answer, of course, is “yes.” We have affirmed this in preliminary point three above.

If, however, Decker is asking whether the men of the Reformation and Post-Reformation era were practicing modern textual criticism, or even post-modern textual criticism, the answer is plainly, “No.” Yet, in fact, this seems to be the very thing that Decker is suggesting. Apparently, he holds that the men of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries were doing the same kind of “(modern) textual criticism” as that done in the post-Enlightenment era.

In fact, Decker proceeds to state the following, “While we generally think of the field of NT textual criticism developing in the 19th and 20th centuries, it may well be observed that there was not as much methodological innovation in the 19th and 20th centuries as some might lead you to believe.”

No footnotes are provided to support the sweeping assertions he makes in this statement, and for good reason, because it is hard to imagine that Decker would be able to find reliable authorities who would agree with him.

The standard historical interpretation suggests a significant divide between pre-critical Protestant interpreters of the Bible (including in matters related to its text and translation) who embraced a consensus traditional or received text of the Bible, and modern critical interpretation, which arose primarily in the post-Enlightenment West, and attempted to undermine and topple this Protestant consensus text.

In his survey of textual criticism, Eldon Jay Epp  wrote, “The period from Lachmann to Westcott-Hort, 1831-1881, undoubtedly constitutes the single most significant fifty-year period in the history of NT textual criticism, for important new materials appeared and significant new methodologies were implemented.”[1] According to Epp, “D-Day” was accomplished by Lachman’s 1834 Greek NT and “V-Day” was accomplished by the “undisputed ‘general of the army’” F. J. A. Hort and his “first officer” B. F. Westcott in their 1881 Greek NT.[2] Epp concludes, that using “a skillful plan of attack and a sophisticated strategy for undermining the validity of the textus receptus,” they were able to topple the old Protestant standard.[3]

Bruce Metzger and Bart Ehrman in their survey of the history of textual criticism, titled chapter 3 of that work, “The Precritical Period: The Origin and Dominance of the Textus Receptus”; whereas, chapter 4 is titled, “The Modern Critical Period: From Griesback to the Present.”[4] For Metzger and Erhman, J. J. Griesbach “laid the foundations for all subsequent work on the Greek text of the New Testament” (165).[5] It was Griesbach who articulated “15 canons of textual criticism” including preferences for the “shorter reading” and the “more difficult reading.”[6] They add, “The importance of Griesbach for New Testament textual criticism can scarcely be overestimated. For the first time in Germany a scholar ventured to abandon the Textus Receptus at many places and to print the text of the New Testament in the form to which his investigation had brought him.”[7]

In Robert J. Hull’s survey of the history of textual criticism he makes a distinction between “The Precritical Age,” as he puts it, and the modern age (which he calls “The Age of Optimism”).[8] Of the latter, Hull says, “the period from the late eighteenth to the late nineteenth century introduced a new era in textual criticism of the Greek New Testament, marked by fundamental advances in methodology as well as strengthened determination to break free from the Textus Receptus.”[9]

All these interpreters (and others) recognize a fundamental historical distinction between a pre-critical era which embraced the Received Text and a modern-critical era which rejected and replaced it. Men from these two eras were not making use of the same methods, as is made clear by the fact that they embraced different texts.

Decker would have us believe that the men of the pre-critical era were approaching the text of the Scripture in essentially the same way that persons did in the modern critical era (i.e., before the development of “text types,” the establishment of the 19th century “canons” of textual criticism, the Westcott and Hort introduction of  the evaluation of “Internal Evidence” on the basis of “Intrinsic Probabilities” and “Transcriptional Probabilities,”[10]  the 19th century publication of the “uncial” manuscripts, the 20th century publication of the papyri, etc.).

What is more, Decker makes no reference to the sea changes that have taken place in the 21st century in the field of academic textual criticism, including the abandonment of the goal of the reconstruction of the original autograph, the emphasis on “texts” (plural) of the NT rather than any singular “text” (see D. C. Parker), the idea that the transmission of the text provides a “window” into the history of early Christianity (B. Erhman), the proposal of the reconstruction of the Ausgangstext or Initial Text and not the authorial text as the goal of textual criticism, the introduction of the Coherence-Based Genealogical Method and the Editio Critica Maior, the abandonment of “text types” (except for the Byzantine), etc.

I suppose one might well suggest a trajectory within Protestant scholasticism that would eventually, under the influence of secularism, rationalism, and the Enlightenment, produce modern textual criticism as a subset of the modern historical-critical method, but to suggest that the Protestant men of the pre-critical era were approaching the text of Scripture in the same way as men of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and beyond is historically uninformed and naïve. 

Decker next states, “Those who were reforming the church and maintaining the conviction of sola Scriptura did not assert a frozen text in time.”

What point is Decker attempting to make here? He seems to be suggesting that those who hold to the Confessional Text “assert a frozen text in time” and that the men of the early Protestant era did not “assert a frozen text in time.” Of course, Decker makes use of a term here (“a frozen text in time”) that was used neither in the early Protestant era nor is used by contemporary advocates of the Confessional Text.

The question, however, is a fundamental one of Bibliology: What is the Bible? Are there many Bibles with many texts or is there just one Bible with one text that was inspired by God? Has this Bible been kept pure in all ages by God’s singular care and providence (WCF/2LBCF 1:8)? If one holds that he has that inspired and preserved Bible, then there is no reason to abandon it in an attempt to reconstruct some other Bible.

As Richard F. Brash made clear in his survey of the Bibliology of four influential men of the early Protestant era (William Whitaker, William Ames, Francis Turretin, and John Owen), “while some of the Reformed orthodox did make the conceptual, heuristic distinction between the autographa and apographa, they typically posited a practical univocity between these two.”[11] They were not reconstructing the autographic text, because they believed that they possessed it already in the faithful copies. They did not believe in a “frozen text” but a “pure text.”

Decker next states,

They certainly confessed the doctrine of “providential preservation of Scripture,” but they believed that such preservation was in the Hebrew and Greek tradition of extant Mss.

Decker essentially offers here an understanding of the “providential preservation” of Scripture that is based on a nineteenth century Warfieldian re-definition of WCF 1:8 to accommodate the reconstruction method of modern textual criticism. According to this view, God has supposedly preserved the true text somewhere in the mass of extant manuscripts which credentialed scholars must now sift through in order to reconstruct some approximation of what they think the autographic text might be.


Decker can cite no early Protestant authors that reflect this sort of position. What we find in Protestant men of this era is, instead, a confidence that God himself had providentially preserved his Word in the text which they possessed in their day. John Owen, for example, wrote:


        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…. 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.[12]


Men like Owen trusted in God himself to preserve the text in the providential circumstances of history, and not in the work of scholars using the “art and science” of modern textual criticism to reconstruct the text in their studies.

To his credit, modern evangelical scholar Daniel B. Wallace has readily admitted that modern textual criticism is not based on the Westminster understanding of providential preservation as outlined in WCF 1:8. In fact, Wallace declared, “I don’t hold to the doctrine of preservation.  That doctrine, first formulated in the Westminster Confession (1646), has a poor Biblical base.  I do not think that the doctrine is defensible—either exegetically or empirically.”[13]


Decker adds:


In producing the first printed editions of the Greek NT, they had to do the work of collating, studying, and comparing Mss. They had to do the work of textual criticism and make textual decisions.

To which we reply, “Yes, mature Protestant scholars like Stephanus, Beza, and the Elzevirs were aware of variants in the extant witnesses to the text which they studied, edited, and printed.” But also, “No, they were not doing the work of modern textual criticism.” They were pre-critical men who approached the text of Scripture as the Word of God, with reverence and awe, seeking to acknowledge a sacred text both perfectly conforming with the analogy of faith and accurately conveying the written revelation inspired and preserved in history by God Himself.

This is very different from modern evangelical textual critics like Tommy Wasserman who wrote in a 2019 comment  posted to the Evangelical Textual Criticism blog: “I have no intention of trying to prove this or that textual variant is the original word of God. I would like to work as a text critic as if God didn’t exist, so to speak.”

Or, Daniel Wallace who in a recent foreword to a book famously wrote, “We do not have now—in our critical Greek texts or any translations—exactly what the authors of the New Testament wrote. Even if we did, we would not know it.”[14]

Clearly Wasserman and Wallace are not approaching the text of Scripture as Perkins and Owen did. Yet, Decker would have us believe that men like Perkins and Owen were practicing the same kind of modern textual criticism.

Decker on Perkins:

Decker next offers a section with the heading, “Who Said It?” BTW, I am not a fan of this type of rhetoric (i.e., The reader having to “guess” who said a quote). Just give a straightforward presentation of your views and the evidence to substantiate it.

He introduces this “longer quote” by saying, “you might think it was written in the recent era of post-modernity and neo-orthodoxy,” obviously hoping to influence the reader’s assessment of it along these lines.

He then shares this quotation from William Perkins, regarding his discussion of a textual variant in Matthew 6:1:

Which must not seem strange, that in God’s book there should be divers readings, for in former ages, before printing was invented, the Scriptures of God were conveyed from hand to hand by means of writing. Now they that wrote out the copies of Scripture did now and then mistake some words and letters by negligence or ignorance, and put one thing for another, whereupon do come these divers readings. Yet we must not think that the Word of God is hereby maimed or made imperfect, for the true sense of the Holy Ghost remains sound and perfect, that it may be we cannot discern of the right reading. And the sense of Scripture is rather to be judged the Word of God than the words and letters thereof. Now it being here uncertain, which reading to follow (for either of them contains a sense convenient to the place), therefore I will exclude neither, but from them both propound this instruction.[15]

Decker then offers his analysis of this passage’s significance. He begins by asking if there are “shades of Karl Barth” in Perkins’ statement. This is not a thought that would have come to my mind, since I do not typically associate twentieth century Neo-Orthodox dialectical theology with relativism. He then asks if the author is a “relativist/pluralist,” and whether he is conveying “a sense of textual instability or uncertainty.” Decker implies that this seems to be the case.

Decker then offers his ‘big reveal,’ telling us it may come as a “shock” to many to find that this quotation comes from “the father of puritanism (sic) himself, William Perkins (1558-1602).” Decker then tells his reader that Perkins “was just being honest with the textual data and cautious with his textual certainty.” At the least, Decker says, this shows that for the early Protestant men “dealing with textual variants” was “a regular part of pastoral work.”

Let me present at least five problems with Decker’s anachronistic effort to shoe-horn Perkins into the mold of modern textual criticism by means of this quotation.

First, this citation only demonstrates what we acknowledged above in our third preliminary point. Perkins, like other men of his era, while generally holding to a common text, was well aware of the existence of some textual variants, like this one at Matthew 6:1. So, as Perkins says, one should not think it strange that the text has “divers readings.”

Second, in this passage, Perkins, in fact, acknowledges the technological innovation of printing which he sees as an improvement upon “hand to hand” copying.

Third, Perkins’ main point is his insistence that this textual variation is minor and harmless, neither maiming nor making “imperfect” the text. This is a question of one word in the text.  Should it read “alms” or “deeds”? Perkins even uses the compound term “alms-deeds.” When Perkins introduces the passage, however, he uses the consensus term which appears uniformly in the English Protestant translation tradition, writing (bold added), “Take heed that you give not your alms before men, to be seen by them” (cf. Tyndale [1534], Coverdale [1535], Matthew’s [1537], Great [1539], Geneva [1560], Bishops [1568]).[16]

In fact, the sentence just before the passage quoted by Decker indicates that Perkins clearly accepted and used the consensus reading of “alms.” He writes (emphasis added):

Before we come to the rule [the interpretation of the teaching content in the passage], the words are somewhat to be scanned, for whereas we read them thus, Give not your alms before men, etc.,” some ancient churches, after other copies and translations read them thus, “Do not your righteousness or justice before men.”[17]

Perkins here states that the reading of the common English translation is “alms,” while acknowledging that some other traditions read “righteousness” or “justice.” His primary point again, however, is to defend the purity of the original text despite the appearance of this variant. Can you imagine a modern academic textual critic announcing this as his goal?

Fourth, in his discussion of this variation, Perkins’ primary purpose is an apologetic defense of the integrity of Scripture. In this case, he makes a distinction between the material and formal content of the text, according to the Reformation principle of the Authoritas Divina Duplex of Scripture, and its distinction between the matter (content) and form (words) of the text.[18] The form of the text is either one word or the other.  Note: Perkins is not, therefore, suggesting there is absolute uncertainty about this text. It is most likely the text he receives (alms) or, less likely, it is the other (deeds), but, in any case, the two terms (alms and deeds) are semantically the same. So, he can even speak of them as one term, “alms-deeds.”

Even, in this unusual case, the form is one word or the other, while the meaning is materially the same. Contrary to Decker’s suggestion, this is not a modern textual critical way of approaching a textual variant, but a distinctly pre-critical way. The modern critical method suggests it harbors no presuppositions about the text. The modern text critic would be open to at least the possibility that the entire verse (even the entire passage, book, and the entire Bible itself) and every word within it might be subject to removal or change based on empirical evidence and methods. Perkins, however, while open to the text reading “alms” or “deeds,” is not open to any material change whatsoever in the verse. His is a distinctly pre-critical approach.

Fifth, one of the failures of Decker’s analysis is that he offers no other passages from the writings of Perkins to shed light on Perkins’ general approach to the text of Scriptures. Decker mentions in a footnote that someone shared this citation with him (f.n. 3), but he offers no references to other primary sources from Perkins with which to compare or contrast his comments on this passage, or any secondary literature on Perkins’ bibliology, which might offer a more expansive understanding of Perkins’ views on the text. Had he done so, it might well have tempered some of the conclusions Decker announces based on his analysis of this isolated citation.

Below is a sample of a few passages from Perkins Decker might have consulted in order to shed needed light on Parkins’ Bibliology:

First, Perkins on the purity and preservation of Scripture:

Commentary on Galatians [Works, Vol. 2]:

They [Scriptures] being of such perfection, that nothing may be added unto them, nor any thing taken from them [Deut. 4:2]; of such infallible certainty, that heaven and earth shall sooner pass away, than one tittle fall to the ground [Matt. 5:18]; so pleasant and delightful, that they exceed honey and the honeycomb; and so profitable, that no treasures may be compared unto them [Ps. 19:10], seeing they are able to make us wiser than our enemies, than the aged, than our teachers [Ps. 119:98, etc.]; to make us wise unto salvation [2 Tim. 3:15]; to give us an inheritance among them that are sanctified [Acts 20:32]; nay able to save our souls [James 1:21] (3-4).

Perkins on a few contested passages (John 7:53—8:11; Acts 8:37; 1 John 5:7)

Commentary on Hebrews 11 [Works, Vol. 4]:

“Hence it was that he [Christ] refused to give sentence of the adulterous woman [John 8:11]” (567).

Commentary on Galatians [Works, Vol. 2]:

Regarding Peter’s confession (Matt 16:16), Perkins says, “the eunuch’s faith was of the same kind, ‘I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God’ (Acts 8:37) (118).

An Exposition of the Creed [Works, Vol. 5]:

“When he eunuch was converted by Philip, he said, ‘If thou dost believe with all thine heart, thou mayest.’ [Acts 8:37]. Then he answered, ‘I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God’” (8).

Exposition of Jude [Works, Vol. 4]:

“…there are three in heaven: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, and these three are one God (1 John 5:7)” (50).

Finally, Perkins on the purity and preservation of the Old and New Testaments:

            The Problem of the Forged Catholicism [Works Vol. 7]:

The ancient fathers, and the most learned of their successors, do hold the Hebrew and Greek text of the Scriptures to be uncorrupted and pure. This not one denies…. Arias Montanus says plainly that the Jews never corrupted the Hebrew book which we now have, and if there were any change, yet was there not one word, one letter, one tittle, which was not kept in the treasury called Mazzoreth and therefore he calls that Mazzoreth a faithful custody (226).

Do these statements from Perkins lead us to believe that he held to the same views of the text of the Bible as modern textual critics? Of course not. Perkins had a view much closer to someone of his own pre-critical age like Thomas Goodwin. That is, he embraced a “common text” that he held to be inspired and preserved by God, while also acknowledging the existence of some textual variants brought about mainly by scribal errors, while holding that a faithful manuscript would likely not differ three words from the “common text.”

Those who delight in finding isolated references to textual variants in the writings of the early Protestants are prone to misread such passages, apart from comparison with others.

Decker continues:

Yet we are told… “Those godly men maintained that the Lord had not only immediately inspired the Scriptures in the original Hebrew and Greek, but that he had also kept them pure in all ages. This led them to affirm the classic Protestant printed editions of the Masoretic Text of the Hebrew Old Testament and the Textus Receptus of the Greek New Testament as the standard text of the Christian Bible.”

This is a quotation from Why I Preach from the Received Text, and Decker really does not like it. He cites the last sentence of this quote again at the end of the article. Here he asks, “Does this hold up to historical evidence?” Decker thinks not. My answer, of course, is, “Yes, it does.”

            Decker proceeds to say that Perkins would have affirmed the WCF 1:8 had it been written in his lifetime. I agree completely. Just look at the quotes I shared from Perkins above. The problem for Decker is there is nothing in Perkins’ writing to offer support for the nineteenth century reinterpretation of preservation, a la Warfield.

            Decker then claims that contemporary historian Richard A. Muller would contradict the statement cited from Why I Preach from the Received Text. Here is the statement from Muller cited by Decker in this article which supposedly invalidates our statement:

The phrase “textus receptus” or “received text” comes from the Elzevir New Testament of 1633 – and as the context of the phrase itself and the use of the Greek New Testament in the seventeenth century both testify, there was no claim, in the era of orthodoxy, of a sacrosanct text in this particular edition. Nor did it, in the era of orthodoxy, provide some sort of terminus ad quem for the editing of the text of the Bible.[19]

This quote is indeed an addition or expansion to Muller’s discussion of text in the Protestant orthodox era that was added to the second edition of Volume 2 of the PRRD (2003).

This quotation, however, in no way contradicts what was affirmed in Why I Preach from the Received Text.

Note the following:

First, Decker omits the sentence that precedes the quotation. Muller states, “It  needs to be noted here that the so-called textus receptus, was merely a part of the sixteenth and seventeenth century process of establishing a normative or definitive text of the New Testament.”[20] Decker, no doubt, preferred to mute Muller’s assertion that the Protestant orthodox were committed to “establishing a normative or definitive text of the New Testament.”

Second, as regards the part of the text which Decker does cite, he seems to miss Muller’s point. Muller is saying there was no claim that the Elzevir edition of 1633, or any other printed edition of the Received Text in this era, was considered the “sacrosanct text,” nor were any considered the final edition (a terminus ad quem). Indeed, the Confessional Text position does not claim any single printed edition from the mature Protestant era as authoritative. The Trinitarian Bible Society’s “Statement of Doctrine of Holy Scripture,” likewise, lists no single printed edition as solely authoritative but affirms the standard text of the Greek NT as found “in a group of printed texts” of the early Protestant era.

Third, just as Decker omitted the opening sentence of Muller’s citation, he also omitted the remainder of the sentence at the end. The final word in Decker’s quotation from Muller, “Bible,” does not end with a period but a colon, as it continues to read, “…Bible: the statement that this was the ‘text now received by all’ simply meant that this was the text, produced by Stephanus and Beza, and slightly reedited by the Elzevir, that was then regarded (by Protestants!) as the best available text of the Bible: namely, the critically examined combination of the Masoretic text of the Old Testament and the so-called Byzantine text of the New Testament.”[21]

Indeed, the Protestant orthodox looked to the printed editions (plural!) of the Masoretic Text of the Hebrew Old Testament and the Textus Receptus of the Greek New Testament as the standard text of the Christian Bible (cf. Muller: “the best available text of the Bible”).

Richard A. Muller likewise offers this definition of the term “Textus Receptus” in his Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms:

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.[22]

Muller’s statements are clearly in keeping with the citation from Why I Preach from the Received Text, which Decker claims is in error. In answer to his question as to whether or not this statement holds up to the historical evidence, the answer is a resounding and unequivocal, “Yes!”

Decker offers another citation from Muller that is also supposedly aimed at defeating the Confessional Text, but it too, like a rubber cigar, also seems to explode in his face. He cites Muller’s reference to “the Protestant orthodox approach to textual criticism.” The problem, however, is that Decker apparently assumes once again the presence of the absent adjective “modern” as a pre-fix to the term “textual criticism.” As we noted from the start the Protestant orthodox were aware of textual variants, and their study and analysis of the text might well be called “textual criticism” (as Muller, for example, uses this term;[23] although the term itself was likely not coined until the modern era).

Muller, in fact, does note distinctions between the pre-critical perspective of the early Protestants and modern textual criticism. In his discussion of the Old Testament, for example, he notes that the Protestant orthodox held that “the ancient versions” (like the Septuagint) were not to be used “for the emendation of the text.”[24] This is certainly not the outlook found in modern textual criticism. In the New Testament Muller says, “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.”[25] Unlike Hodges and Warfield, the early Protestants were not seeking to reconstruct the original autograph, because they believed they already possessed it.

Conclusion to Part One:

With that we will bring to an end the first part of this review.

Here is a recap of the main problems I found with Decker’s presentation and analysis:

First, he confuses the pre-critical Protestant approach to the text with modern textual criticism. He does not take into consideration the significant impact of the Enlightenment and the development of the modern historical critical method.

Second, he draws upon one isolated quotation from Perkins without providing a nuanced understanding of Perkins’ analysis or providing comparative analysis of other passages in Perkins.

Third, he wrongly suggests that a statement from Why I Preach from the Received Text is historically inaccurate. If that statement is wrong, and if men of the early Protestant era did not “affirm the classic Protestant printed editions of the Masoretic Text of the Hebrew Old Testament and the Textus Receptus of the Greek New Testament as the standard text of the Christian Bible” then all the analysis of Epp, Metzger, Erhman, Hull, and Muller are in error.

[1] Eldon Jay Epp, “Textual Criticism,” in The New Testament and Its Modern Interpreters (Atlanta: Scholar’s Press, 1989): 80.

[3] Epp, “Textual Criticism, 81.

[4] Bruce M. Metzger and Bart D. Ehrman, The Text of the New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration, Fourth Edition (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005): 137-164, 165-194. 

[6] Metzger and Erhman, The Text of the New Testament, 166-167.

[8] Robert J. Hull, The Story of the New Testament Text: Movers, Materials, Motives, Methods, and Models (Atlanta: SBL, 2010: 23-38, 71-85.

[9] Hull, The Story of the New Testament Text, 71.

[10] See Metzger and Erhman, The Text of the New Testament, 175-176.

[11] Richard F. Brash, “Ad Fontes!—The Concept of the ‘Originals’ or Scripture in Seventeenth Century Reformed Orthodoxy,” Westminster Journal of Theology, 81 (2019): 124.

[12] John Owen, “The Reason of Faith,” Collected Works, 4: 24.

[13] Daniel B. Wallace, “Mark 16:8 as the Conclusion to the Second Gospel,” in David Alan Black, Ed., Perspectives on the Ending of Mark: 4 Views (Nashville: B & H Academic, 2008): 7.

[14] Daniel B. Wallace, “Foreword,” in Elijah Hixson and Peter J. Gurry, Eds., Myths and Mistakes of New Testament Textual Criticism (Downers Grove, Ill: IVP Academic, 2019): xii.

[15] William Perkins, Collected Works, 1: 392-393.

[17] Perkins, Works, 392.

[18] See Richard A. Muller, Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms Drawn Principally from Protestant Scholastic Theology, Second Edition (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic,1985): 46-47.

[19] Richard A. Muller, Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics, Volume 2, Second Edition (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic): 399.

[20] Muller, PRRD, Vol. 2, 399.

[21] Muller, PRRD, Vol. 2, 399.

[22] Muller, Dictionary, 357.

[23] See Muller, PRRD, Vol. 2, Second Ed., 398, where Muller rightly says it would be “a major historical error” to suggest that the Reformers or their successors had no interest in “textual criticism.” Again, they well knew of textual variants, studied, and wrote about them. It would also be a major historical error, however, to say that this was the same as modern textual criticism.

[24] Muller, PRRD, Vol. 2, 400.

[25] Muller, PRRD, Vol. 2, 414, n. 192.

1 comment:

Phil Brown said...

Until Lockman, Wescott, and Hort, Vatacanus wasn't even considered. Vatacanus was known by some before them and still was dismissed until the discovery of Sinaiticus. It's my understanding that Erasmus thought Vatacanus as a "Latinized text." He saw it as a dubious document from what I gathered. I think he was right. The location where those manuscripts were discovered are near where the Nag Hammadi (Gnostic) texts were found, but there is no link that can be made that I am aware of at the present time. Even if one could be made, I suspect it would be suppressed. Personally, I have a suspicion, but it isn't worth much. There is no doubt in my mind the promotion of the new views on the New Testament text that arrived in the 19th century brought about more confusion and heresy than anything previously. Arianism (Jehovah's Witnesses) has revived, Scientism, and a host of other groups arose from this view. Over the years, Textual Criticism has (d)evolved and gotten worse due to the militant march of secularism. Many evangelical scholars are frantically working hard to stop the bleeding by making conservative translations like the ESV and the LSB, but I am afraid their efforts are in vain. It's tough because many of my friends and some good evangelical pastors and scholars seem to have one hand on the Protestant traditions (They love Luther, Calvin, Spurgeon, and the Puritans) and the other on the ever changing doctrines of the postmodern age (They see it as being realistic). There are some cases that the tension of trying to mesh such views together has caused some men to fall into Fundamentalism as they lose their grip on the new doctrines of textual criticism, or they plunge into liberalism and lose what vestiges of sound Christian doctrine remain. Sometimes, the tension of these two tear one apart and they fall headlong into raw unbelief. While I know and know of many godly men and women who embrace the 20th century views of textual criticism (They aren't aware of the new stuff), if they dig deeper I'm afraid they will find confusion and frustration. I did for sure. I think much of it depends on one's view of God if they consider the doctrines they hold so dear. While inerrancy is fine regarding the original manuscripts, it doesn't do us much good today. If God hasn't preserved His written words, then we are simply estimating to get to the most probable result based upon what we know today. I think that God being one of order and love wants us to possess a clear revelation. That is based upon what I know the Scriptures teach. You can even get that from an ESV translation. What if I told my son two different sets of instructions and then said: "Figure it out! and Good luck!" I don't think I would be seen as a good father. I'm certain God has provided for us a clear picture of what was, and is, and is to come. Sure there's mysteries of doctrine in the Bible, but I think the revelation itself is clear and God has preserved His written word. Thank you for your ministry and attention to these issues.