I’ve never blogged about this issue explicitly since I’m still learning about textual criticism and the like, but attending the annual Keach Conference this past weekend shook up my thinking quite a bit. And that’s as it ought to be. The Christian life is not about staying in our comfort zones. At sundry times and divers manners, God sends things our way which help to shape our thinking. Those of us who came out of Arminianism into accepting the doctrines of grace know this very well.
The conference topic was the doctrine of providence (chapter 5 of the Confession) and part of this included a discussion on the providential preservation of the holy Scriptures. Prior to this conference, I was a typical 20-something Calvinist who used the ESV. I try not to be overly dogmatic when it comes to different translations, but I really liked the ESV. Such is not the case anymore, for textual bombshell was thrown in my lap which made me rethink my stance.
One of the speakers, Rev. Malcolm Watts, addressed the issue of God preserving His word over time. It was immediately apparent that he was an advocate of the Majority (or Byzantine) Text. He explained much of the history behind the competing Critical (or Alexandrian) Text and why he believes this text to be inferior–indeed, utterly corrupt. I had only a minimal understanding of these issues prior to the conference, but his presentation really popped some breakers in my mind.
Apparently only three English translations still in use are translated from the Textus Receptus (a collection of texts which comes from the spectrum of the Majority Text): the Geneva Bible, KJV, and the NKJV. There are historical and theological reasons why I’m leery of the KJV, but I own a copy of it nonetheless. Despite my reservations, I’ve always respected it. I also own a copy of the Geneva Bible, of which I’m very fond. Pretty soon I’m going to obtain the NKJV, something I’ve previously considered anyway since our pastor at CRBC preaches out of this version.
With the exception of the aforementioned NKJV, all of the modern versions (e.g., ESV, NIV, NASB, and so forth) are translated from the Critical Text. I don’t want to make any rash statements or decisions, but how should I treat these versions if what Rev. Watts said is true? I might be convinced that the Majority Text is the better platform for translation, but I don’t want to get into the “cage stage” where I’m proverbially throwing my ESV out the window. So how should I treat the modern versions? Should I keep them on the shelf at all?
As it was pointed out at the conference, the fanatical (and heretical) KJV-only advocates have muddied the waters on this issue. Those who advocate strict adherence to the Majority Text are mistakenly accused of holding KJV-only position. This is certainly unfortunate and I confess that at least several of us thought that Rev. Watts was heading in this direction during his lecture on the subject. As in any discussion, there needs to be clarity and everyone ought to be on the same page.
To be sure, there are good brothers on both sides of this debate. Dr. James White, for example, is a proponent of the Critical Text. Even if I’m persuaded of the Majority Text position, I’m not going to stop listening to what Dr. White has to say. He has an excellent ministry worthy of support which defends biblical Christianity from cults and false teaching. This debate is very serious and at times can get emotional. It’s a pretty fundamental question to ask what is and is not Scripture. As such, we ought to take extra care to discuss and debate this with Christian love and charity.
I pray that God will bless me with wisdom and discernment as I continue to explore these issues. In terms of reading materials, what I’m looking for right now is a good article which accurately explains each respective position and properly defines the terminology. Yesterday I came across this article courtesy of Monergism’s search engine. It’s decent and not heavy-handed. If any of my readers have any recommendations to share, then by all means leave some comments. I appreciate it.