“The Superiority of the Majority Text” by Brian Schwertley

Recently, a reader sent me a link to the following lecture by Presbyterian pastor Brain Schwertley. It was forwarded to me under the heading of “Challenging Sermon from a TR-only Perspective.” I appreciate that forward; it gives us something to talk about. In listening to the sermon, I found it to be wanting: he used typical arguments, he confused terminology, and he does not answer each objections as well as he says he does. On the positive note, I found it refreshing to hear a sermon from a TR supporter that is not full of conspiracy theories and ad-hominem attack. Granted, he isn’t thrilled with those who support modern versions, but his passion seems sincere. What do you think?

Link to Sermon

25 thoughts on ““The Superiority of the Majority Text” by Brian Schwertley

  1. Paul Anderson September 27, 2011 / 5:12 pm


    I have listened to this sermon and have forwarded this to our Board. Before I give my assessment on it which I will gladly offer, could you please give us more detail on the following short comings of the sermon you found wanting?

    1. “He used typical arguments”.

    2. “He confused terminology”.

    3. “He does not answer each objections as well as he says he does”.

    Thank you.

    In Christ,

    Paul Anderson

    Paul Anderson
    Wash., D.C.

    • Damien T Garofalo September 28, 2011 / 9:51 pm

      Hi Paul. Thanks for holding me accountable. I’m going to get to the specifics but I need time to go back and listen for actual statements so I do not misrepresent him. I was only giving my initial impressions. I will get back to you, but James Snapp does point out below a few things I noticed that led me to say those things.

  2. Walter September 27, 2011 / 10:57 pm

    Just as a point of clarification, the title seems to infer that the sermon is about the superiority of the Byzantine/Majority Text position, but from your description of the sermon it appears it is about the superiority of the TR. I know that many KJVO’s and TR O’s as well refer to the TR Position as the Majority Text position, but just wanted to ask for clarification sake.

    • Damien T Garofalo September 28, 2011 / 9:51 pm

      It’s not my description of the sermon – it’s his title.

  3. James Snapp, Jr. September 28, 2011 / 4:12 pm

    Dear Damien,

    Well, first, let’s get the man’s name right: the preacher is Brian Schwertley. After a brief investigation of his background, it looks to me like the church where he preaches is not your everyday Presbyterian church; it seems to be rather meticulous in its standards of worship, going so far as to insist upon a-cappella Psalm-singing in the services. Now about his statements about the KJV and the Majority Text and so forth:

    (1) He did not differentiate between the TR and the Byzantine Text. Every time he promotes the idea that God providentially preserved the Majority Text, and advocates the Majority Text on that basis, he is arguing against all the variants in the TR that disagree with the Byzantine Text. I suspect that he did not realize that he was doing that. So in a way, his sermon is a better case for the use of the World English Bible than it is for the use of the KJV and NKJV.

    (2) Around 7 minutes and 40 second into the sermon, he describes the Majority Text’s manuscript-support as if it consists entirely of minuscule MSS – “Written in non-capital letters,” as he put it. But in real life there are uncial MSS that support the Byzantine Text.

    (3) He refers to Vaticanus a couple of times as if it was “discovered” in the Vatican Library. It was not “discovered” in the 1800’s; its New Testament text was published in a more thorough and reliable way.

    (4) He took to task the RSV Preface on account of its statement that the KJV’s base-text was marred by mistakes, but if he is going to advocate the Byzantine Text, he must concede that that statement is true to some extent, since the TR and Byz disagree in translatable ways many times (although with far less frequency than, say, Aleph and B disagree).

    (5) He is correct that if the WH/NA text is correct, then this would imply that “The church of Jesus Christ has been functioning with defective Greek texts for around 16 centuries or so.” But he did not follow up by explaining why this would pose a theological problem, especially since he seemed to concede, earlier in the sermon, that the critical text and the Majority Text teach the same doctrines.

    (6) He stated, “All the modernist critics have a bias against the divinity of Christ, the Trinity, predestination, and hell, and so on. Yet evangelicals follow their lead in textual criticism.” That is an overgeneralization. What about Tregelles? He was no modernist!

    (7) Sometime after 12 minutes into the sermon, he stated, in a by-the-way comment, “The ‘Western’ Text, I believe, is Vaticanus.” Whaaaaa???

    (8) In his critique of WH, he objected that Hort, after tracing the “Neutral” Text and the “Western” Text to the mid-100’s, declared the “Neutral” Text to be superior, and to be the best representative of the original text, on the basis of internal evidence. But if Hort’s other premises are granted (especially his assumption that the Byzantine Text = essentially an amalgamation of earlier text-types), what else did Hort have to go on, besides internal evidence, to guide him from the text of the mid-100’s to the text of the autographs? It’s not like there are a lot of substantial papyri from the mid-100’s to compare.

    (9) He proposed that readings of the Majority Text are found in the church father way more than critical-text readings (He mentioned this around 23:00, and then floated around this point as he explained Hort’s approach, and then he began to get back to it around 39:00.) But he does not seem to perceive or anticipate the auto-response that this sort of observation is bound to get. He repeated Kenyon’s description of Miller’s citation-categorization as if that alone settles things: there are 2,630 patristic citations of Byzantine readings, and 1,753 patristic citations of non-Byzantine readings; in the earliest substantial layer of patristic writings, the ratio (according to Miller) is 151 Byzantine readings and 84 non-Byzantine readings.

    The immediate response that advocates of the critical text will give to those results, though, is that this merely shows that the building-blocks of the Byzantine Text were used by those patristic writers because those patristic writers, and the developers of the Byzantine Text, both used the Alexandrian and Western text-types. Those 2,630 readings, and those 151 readings, are not *distinctly* Byzantine; they are either Byzantine *and* Alexandrian, or else they are Byzantine *and* Western. They are not *distinctly* Byzantine.

    Of course, some early readings *are* distinctly Byzantine – but that’s another story. My point is just that listing 2,630 early patristic citations of Byzantine readings is no kind of proof of the antiquity of the Byzantine Text; it is proof of the early existence of those 2,630 readings (assuming that the text of the patristic writings themselves is accurate), but they are almost all *not* distinctive readings. (This point was made by William Sanday in the 1897 Oxford Debate.)

    Suppose I have had a bag of chocolate chips, for which I have the grocery-store receipt from June 28, 2011, and a bag of M&M’s for which I also have the grocery-store receipt from June 28, 2011. And suppose that using those chocolate chips and those M&M’s, I made some cookies today which contain those chocolate chips and M&M’s, mixed together. Nobody would say that those cookies, as cookies, are three months old. Similarly, Miller’s/Burgon’s data does not show that the Byzantine Text is as old as the Alexandrian Text and the Western Text; it just shows that the component-parts of the Byzantine Text are ancient – which Hort readily granted.

    (10) In his answer to the claim that “shorter in better,” Brian Schwertley did not mention the most important part of the case against that axiom: the work of Royse. Clark arrested the axiom, but Royse guillotined it. A. C. Clark’s work (which has its problems, btw; Clark tended to favor the “Western” Text, not the Byzantine Text) should not be treated as the centerpiece-objection when there is thorough work like Royse’s to consider.

    (11) Despite some shortcomings in the course of the presentation, and despite his failure to differentiate between the TR and the Byzantine Text, what can be said against his concluding points? Specifically:

    (A) Hort was driven by a strong bias against the TR. This is virtually demonstrable.
    (B) The more evidence is found, the more Byzantine readings are found in the early patristic writings. Sturz proved that already.
    (C) Virtually every pillar of the WH-edifice has been toppled. I generally agree. But the strong favor shown by Hort to the Alexandrian Text still has one thing going for it: the climate of Egypt.
    (D) Bible versions based on the critical text elicit doubt about various passages; for example, Mark 16:9-20. No doubt about that!

    Those four ingredients fuel a fifth point: Every Reformed denomination ought to get rid of the NIV and the NASV and the ESV. That would be a simple and effective solution to a complicated problem, but perhaps the differences between the TR and the Byzantine Text should be appreciated first, and it should be understood, considering the shortcomings of the KJV and NKJV, that the adoption of either one or both, to the exclusion of others, would only be the least-worst option, among popular translations.

    Yours in Christ,

    James Snapp, Jr.

    • Damien T Garofalo September 28, 2011 / 9:52 pm

      Thanks for pointing out the spelling error in his name; I have corrected it.

  4. Nazaroo September 28, 2011 / 6:36 pm

    How did anyone find the sermon? there was no link that I could see.

    • Damien T Garofalo September 28, 2011 / 9:52 pm

      The link is at the bottom of the post, “Link to Sermon”

    • Nazaroo September 29, 2011 / 4:29 am

      Doh! thanks

  5. Chris Cole September 28, 2011 / 6:51 pm

    I am familiar with Brian Schwertley. I have his book on exclusive psalmody and non-instrumental worship. My experience of him is that he makes unconvincing arguments, then announces the matter closed. For example, he refers to Genesis 4:21 (“…Jubal, who was the father of all that play on the harp and organs”) to prove that worship must have existed before musical instruments, and therefore we shouldn’t have instruments in worship. I think that is a silly argument. Therefore, I wouldn’t consider him a trustworthy source on any question.

  6. Chris Cole September 28, 2011 / 6:54 pm

    Sorry, I didn’t complete my thought. Schwertley, in the book I mention, makes most of his arguments that way. He presents a series of arguments which are possible, though by no means conclusive, and considers his case proven. As if one were to argue that some cows are brown, therefore all cows must be brown.

  7. James Snapp, Jr. September 28, 2011 / 8:41 pm


    Do you mean that Brian Schwertley is the kind of person who might say something like, “Some arguments from a certain source are flawed; therefore all arguments from that source must be flawed”?

    Yours in Christ,

    James Snapp, Jr.

    • Chris Cole October 2, 2011 / 8:43 pm

      No. Nor is he the kind of person who wouldn’t recognize an illustration. Rather, what I have read by him indicates a tendency to make arguments like, “a might be equal to b, therefore it is equal to b.”

  8. Jim September 29, 2011 / 10:17 am

    My general feeling about the recording is that Schwertley tried to do too much. That is understandable; I’ve heard this kind of attempt in other sermons on textual criticism and/or the Bible Version Issue. There are a lot of components to this kind of discussion and the tendency is to want to cover the issue thoroughly. But the result, sometimes, is a kind of wandering without having clearly established one’s points. I sympathize. Even in casual discussions about this issue it tends to become diffuse rather quickly. Just last weekend I was having a discussion with a good friend who is a strong proponent of the New Versions and we found it problematic to even move forward on a single point (some of the criteria used in textual criticism such as ‘oldest is best’, ‘shorter is to be preferred’. And we are good friends which simply demonstrates the difficulty of the task.

    On the plus side, I liked the way Schwertley broadened the discussion by pointing out that the new versions are a rejection of all reformation translations. I would like to see that expanded to include the rejection of the Old Latin, the Vulgate, Gothic, Syriac and Ethiopic as well. I think this is a significant point which has not been emphasized enough because it really places the burden of proof on the new version proponents. It seems to me that the pro-new version people have not really offered convincing arguments as to why the Christian community should turn its back on so many centuries of translations, commentaries, etc.

    So overall I would give the presentation a thumbs up.

    To James Snapp: I didn’t follow the line of reasoning you offered in the 9th point you posted. Are you, or the CT people, saying that early patristic sources that agree with MT readings are not actually evidence for the existence of the MT form?, but that early patristic sources that agree with the Alexandrian are evidence for the early existence of the Alexandrian form and/or the Western form? If that is what is being said I’m somewhat baffled.



  9. Maurice A. Robinson September 29, 2011 / 11:17 am

    Walter: “the new versions are a rejection of all reformation translations. I would like to see that expanded to include the rejection of the Old Latin, the Vulgate, Gothic, Syriac and Ethiopic as well”

    If you are seriously suggesting this, you must not be aware of the huge amount of non-Byzantine, non-TR, non-traditional readings in those versions that would oppose the so-called “reformation translations” to which you refer.

    Once more, this is usually a KJVO/TRO-type argument, and not one that a majority/Byzantine supporter would normally make (for the record, I am also a strong advocate of modern translation, formal equivalence preferred, and I make no use whatever of the KJV or its predecessors, in case anyone was curious).

    • Jim September 29, 2011 / 2:24 pm

      Thanks for bringing up this point. I am aware of variant readings in older translations, but perhaps I have not fully considered the implications.

      Best wishes,


  10. James Snapp, Jr. September 29, 2011 / 11:49 am


    You asked: “Are you, or the CT people, saying that early patristic sources that agree with MT readings are not actually evidence for the existence of the MT form?”

    Both, as long as the Byzantine reading is not *distinctively* Byzantine, but is shared by major representatives of the Alexandrian or “Western” Texts.

    And: [Are you also saying that] “early patristic sources that agree with the Alexandrian are evidence for the early existence of the Alexandrian form and/or the Western form?”

    I am not saying that. (We’re moving away from the initial subject now.) But I am saying something similar. As a rough-and-ready answer: Suppose that an early patristic writer uses Alexandrian variants, and no distinctly Byzantine variants, and no distinctly Western variants. We would conclude that he was using copies that contained mainly Alexandrian variants. Even if his quotations agree with the Byzantine Text 70% of the time, this would just be a side-effect of agreements between the Alexandrian and Byzantine Texts in those passages from which he quoted. What we would need to see, to establish that this early writer used the Byzantine Text, is quotations of Byzantine readings which are non-Alexandrian and non-Western.

    Let me try to illustrate this. Suppose we sat down to analyze the writings of some writer in the 1600’s, to see if he quoted from Tyndale’s translation of the New Testament. We might find many quotations which agree with Tyndale’s translation and with the Geneva Bible and with the Authorized Version. But if we wanted to prove that the writer quoted from Tyndale’s translation, what we would need to find = quotations that agree with Tyndale’s distinctive renderings. Quotations that agree with Tyndale *and* the Geneva Bible *and/or* the KJV would not be sufficient.

    In real life, it’s not that simple, because even early writers such as Clement of Alexandria display Byzantine readings here and there. The claims that were made by Hort, and repeated later by Lake, and then by Metzger, giving the impression that no distinctive Byzantine readings have early patristic support, could not be sustained today. And there are quite a few distinctive Byzantine readings in the early papyri (such as P45), too, drawing into question the premise that the extant early patristic quotations are a safe guide to the contents of all the MSS in all the locales of that period. But to go into all that would take us away from the subject of Brian Schwertley’s statements. I hope the basic idea is sufficiently clear.

    Yours in Christ,

    James Snapp, Jr.

    • Jim September 29, 2011 / 12:11 pm

      Thanks for the clarification. The Tyndale analogy worked and I get what you are saying. Makes sense.



    • James Snapp, Jr. September 30, 2011 / 9:13 am


      It worked?! Then let me take it a step further and make the illustration more analogous. Suppose that we visit Othercountry, where three translations of the New Testament are in use – the Apple, Banana, and Kiwi Versions. The citizens almost all use the Kiwi Version, but no one is really sure which one was made first. We decide to try to find out. With me so far? Okay.

      We try to find the oldest existing copies of each version. We find copies of the Apple Version from the 300’s, and copies of the Banana Version and the Kiwi Version from the 400’s. Earthquakes, however, have destroyed the libraries that used to be in Kiwipolis. The citizens there obviously used the New Testament, but the early copies of whatever version was used there in the 100’s, 200’s, and 300’s have all been destroyed.

      Some researchers, at this point, say, “Our work here is done. The Apple Version is obviously the oldest version, because it is attested by the oldest copies.” Others, though, insist, “It would be crazy to let earthquakes decide the issue. Perhaps we can see what sort of New Testament text was used by the authors of ancient writings in which the New Testament was frequently quoted.” So we turn to Othercountry’s patristic evidence.

      We find clear evidence that the Kiwi Version was used in Kiwipolis in the mid-300’s. We even discover that the Kiwi Version was used *in several locales* in the late 300’s. And we find clear evidence that the Banana Version was used in Bananaburg in the late 100’s. And we find clear evidence that the Apple Version was used in Apple City in the late 100’s. Some researchers, at this point, say, “Our work has taken a step forward. The Kiwi Version is obviously not as early as the Apple Version and the Banana Version.” But others insist, “Look: Kiwipolis was flooded in 250, and again in 300. This could explain why we don’t have earlier evidence of the Kiwi Version before the 300’s. We have also discovered that in the 400’s, the Kiwi Version was popular not only in Kiwipolis but even in Apple City and Bananaburg. How can this be explained if the Apple Version and Banana Version both had a head start of over 100 years?”

      So the question is not settled. But then a researcher proposes, “We all acknowledge that the available evidence is very incomplete – so incomplete that the possibility still exists that someday evidence could be discovered showing that the Kiwi Version is as old as the Apple and Banana Versions. But we are scientists. We have to work with the available evidence. What does the available evidence say? It tells us that the Apple Version is old, and that the Banana Version is old. The Kiwi Version, though, was made in the late 200’s by someone who possessed copies of the Apple Version, and copies of the Banana Version. Just look at the evidence: before 300, in the patristic writings, there are no distinctive quotations of the Kiwi Version. Whenever a patristic writer, before the year 300, makes a quotation that agrees with the Kiwi Version, his quotation also agrees with either the Apple Version or the Banana Version. Such quotations of readings shared by two or more versions do not show that one is more ancient, or less ancient, than the others. But, also in those ancient patristic writings, there are distinctive readings found in the Apple Version, and distinctive readings found in the Banana Version. The evidence for the distinctive readings of the Apple Version, and for distinctive readings of the Banana Version, is older than the evidence for the distinctive readings of the Kiwi Version. The evidence thus shows that the Kiwi Version originated later than, and was derived from, the other two versions. Eight readings in the Kiwi Version appear to be combinations of one reading found in the Apple Version, and a different reading in the Banana Version. This shows that the Kiwi Version is a derivation of those two earlier versions.”

      Then another researcher asks, “So which is older? The Apple Version, or the Banana Version? No manuscript-evidence for either one is as old as the patristic evidence, and the patristic evidence for one is not appreciably older than the evidence for the other. Should we call it a tie?”

      The first researcher answers: “The Apple Version is older. This cannot be shown by a comparison of the dates of the earliest evidence for each version. I concede that many readings found in the Banana Version are supported by the oldest evidence. But if you compare the Apple Version and the Banana Version, the intrinsic superiority of the Apple Version becomes obvious: the reading in the Banana Version is explained by the rival reading in the Apple Version, whereas if the reading in the Banana Version had been original, there would have been no impetus for the reading in the Apple Version.”

      Other researchers, though, protest: “That seems awfully subjective. A clever analyst could find reasons for favoring whatever readings he wanted to favor, to fit his theory. Plus, it seems rather reckless to conclude that the Kiwi Version is derivative on the grounds that it contains eight readings that appear to be derivative. In addition, if the Kiwi Version did not exist before the 300’s, how do you explain its popularity in the late 300’s and early 400’s and thereafter? Did everyone casually set aside the texts of the Gospels that they had been using? We have found an anecdote in an ancient composition from the late 300’s describing a near-riot that was provoked by the alteration of a single word in an Old Testament book. That sort of vigilance does not seem likely to have embraced a brand new version of the Gospels. Plus, no one seems to have noticed the initial production of this revision that you posit. Doesn’t it make more sense to deduce that the popularity of the Kiwi Version in the 400’s implies that it is, at least for the most part, as ancient as the other versions, and that those who used it in Kiwipolis in the 400’s were simply inheriting a local text that had been in use there since the 100’s?”

      That brings us, in Othercountry, to approximately the same stage of the discussion that the real world of New Testament textual criticism was in at the end of the 1800’s.

      Yours in Christ,

      James Snapp, Jr.

    • Nazaroo September 30, 2011 / 12:02 pm

      “Earthquakes, however, have destroyed the libraries that used to be in Kiwipolis.”

      This brought a tear of giggle, then of sadness, to my eye, as I realised it wasn’t actually so much of a joke.

      I am glad I’m not from Pompei.

  11. Maurice A. Robinson September 29, 2011 / 1:25 pm

    I had claimed Walter as the source of the quote I addressed, when instead it was Jim. Mea culpa.

    • Walter September 29, 2011 / 1:46 pm

      Thanks for clearing that up. I have a hard enough time defending and clarifying what I write, so I definitely wouldn’t want any added responsibilities 🙂

  12. Bob Hayton October 11, 2011 / 12:52 pm


    Fascinating analogy here in your Othercountry tale. Could you bring it up to date and take us into the 1900s and beyond?

  13. James Snapp, Jr. October 12, 2011 / 7:57 am


    I’ve got some other things that must temporarily claim priority, but, sure, I’ll try to do that soon. If I haven’t sent something within a week, please remind me.

    Yours in Christ,

    James Snapp, Jr.

  14. Ahmed January 4, 2012 / 8:55 pm

    What always strikes me is that I’m not aware of any sermons/homilies from the early church fathers on what MSS we should be relying on. I suppose they had other priorities back then. Perhaps we should too.

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