Critical Text vs. Majority Text

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.

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6 Responses to Critical Text vs. Majority Text

  1. Adam says:

    Friend I would understand where you are coming from. I grew up i. thn arminian, kjv only circles. I too, came to a reformed postion in my mid 20’s. I too, have had to learn about textual criticism. I have been six years in study on the issue and realize the more I know the less I know. Take your time. The majority position doesn’t have all the answers. Give yourself five years in research on this and then evaluate the issue again. Personally, I use the ESV, which I preach from, next to the NKJV. Shearch out the whole matter. Blessings

  2. Just posted about this, too. Thought I’d give you the link in case you were interested:

  3. Jared says:

    You stated above that the KJV is a translation from the majority text, this is untrue. It was based only on about 7 greek texts, not consisting fully of what we now call the majority text.

    I don’t want to go beyond the reaches of my knowledge in trying to explain what I think of this issue, so I will point you these presentations on the majority text that I found very informative:

    First, in support of the majority text position:

    Second, critical of the majority text position:

    Now, if you are interested in a resource for an extremely literal translation of the Majority Text, I can recommend the Analytical-Literal Translation of the New Testament by Gary F. Zeolla. I use this right along side both my ESV and KJV.

    and his companion volume

    Part of the Preface to the ALT:

    “The Analytical-Literal Translation of the New Testament: Third Edition (ALT3) is dedicated to the glory of God and the spiritual growth of His people. It is translated by Gary F. Zeolla of Darkness to Light ministry (               The purpose of ALT3 is to provide a translation of the Greek New Testament that will enable the reader to come as close to the Greek text as possible without having to be proficient in Greek. And the name of ALT3 reflects this purpose.               “Literal” refers to the fact that ALT3 is a word for word translation. All words in the original text are translated— nothing is omitted. The original grammar of the text is retained as much as possible. Any words added for clarity are bracketed, so nothing is added without it being indicated as such.               “Analytical” refers to the detailed “analysis” done on the grammar of the text. The grammar is then translated in a way which brings out “nuances” of the original text that are often missed in traditional translations.               In addition, “analytical” refers to the aids that are included within the text which enable the reader to “analyze” and understand the text. Such information is bracketed. It includes the following:   1. Alternative translations for words and phrases. 2. Possible figurative meanings or paraphrases of words and phrases. 3. Modern-day equivalents for measurement and monetary units and time designations. 4. Explanatory notes. 5. References for Old Testament quotations and other cross-references.                The Greek text used for ALT3 is the second edition of the Byzantine Majority Text. 1 The ALT is the first translation of the New Testament to utilize this newest and most accurate Greek text.               So ALT3 is the ideal Bible version for studying the Bible. No other Bible version includes all of the above features, and no other Bible version provides the accuracy and attention to detail ALT3 provides.               This Third Edition of the Analytical-Literal Translation is being presented to the Christian public in the belief that the Scriptures are “God-breathed” and that EVERY word of God is important to our salvation and Christian life.”

    • Jared, thanks for your reply. I apologize for taking so long to respond. I went ahead and made the necessary correction and cited the TR as the textual basis for those aforementioned translations. I wrote this post at a time when I was still learning about the issue and have since been better educated on the matter. Thanks again for your correction and for the sources you’ve provided!

  4. willjkinney says:

    Hi guys. Why don’t we just settle this issue once and for all and lay all your cards on the table? Just be honest about it. Do you (any of you) believe that any Bible in any language (translated or untranslated) IS now or ever was the complete (66 books in one volume) and inerrant words of God? Yes or No?

    If Yes, can you show us a copy? Or give us a link to where we can see it? Or tell us exactly which one it is, so we too can go out and get one for ourselves?

    If No, you do not believe that any Bible in any language is the inerrant words of God, are you honest enough to simply admit it? Yes or No?

    What do you say, guys? Are you willing to be honest and upfront about what you REALLY believe about the inerrancy of the Bible?

    I will tell you where I stand. I believe the English text of the King James Bible is the complete and infallible words of the living God and The Standard by which all others are to be measured. You don’t have to agree with me, but at least you know where I stand on this issue.

    If you are not KJB Only, then you ARE a bible agnostic and an unbeliever in the inerrancy of any REAL Bible. It is just that simple.

    You might be interested in reading my article called “Stop Lying About It!”

    You can see it here at my KJB website.

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