Ecclesiastical Text Theory — Refuted?

The Evangelical Textual Criticism blog pointed my attention to a lengthy article by Adam at the Old Testament Studies blog which refutes  the “Ecclesiastical Text theory”.  The article covers quite a bit of ground as it attempts to refute a recent article by Kent Brandenburg on the LXX argument.  Adam interacts with the Scriptural evidence for preservation, and shows how a proper exegesis does of them does not demand the preservation of a word-perfect, accessible text.  Adam then discusses targumming, the LXX, and gets into some OT textual criticism.

I recommend the article as a good reference for discussion.  The question remains, did he really refute the Ecclesiastical Text theory?  For additional discussion here, perhaps we should switch from calling a reasoned, Greek studying, KJV-onlyism, TR-onlyism and instead call it the “Ecclesiastical Text theroy”.  I think that might be preferred by people of that persuasion, what do you think?

Thanks go out too, to the Evangelical Textual Criticism blog for linking to our little blogging establishment again in their post about Adam’s article.


Preservation: How and What? Part 2 by Aaron Blumer

Aaron Blumer at Sharper Iron has part 2 of his series on preservation up.  In this post he interacts specifically with Kent Brandenburg’s book Thou Shalt Keep Them (TSKT), and it’s assertions.  His post is well written and hones in on some major flaws in the reasoning of TSKT.   I provide an excerpt below, but be sure to read the whole post.

2. The fallibility of Israel and the churches

The writers of Thou Shalt Keep Them claim that God has used two key institutions to maintain word perfect copies of His word. Thomas Strouse summarizes their view as follows.

[T]he Biblical writers clearly delineated the means for the preservation of God’s OT and NT words in Scripture. That the Lord used His NT congregation, as He did His OT saints, to be the agency through which His Words were preserved, is irrefragible [sic]. (109)

Chapters 11-14 focus on making a biblical case for this view. But weighing the biblical evidence for the idea of perfect preservation through the community of true believers requires that we first recognize what the Bible teaches about the character of these institutions.

Scripture reveals that, when it comes to wickedness and weakness, what is true of individual believers is also true of the body of believers. The epistles were all written to address problems in local churches, and some of these problems were severe. Though the church is described as “the pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Tim. 3:15), these words describe the responsibility given to the church, not the church’s inherent character (cf. Brandenberg, 117-121). Paul does not assert that the church will perform its role as pillar and ground perfectly.

In the Bible, only one local church receives an evaluation free of criticism for failures. Christ commends the church of Philadelphia (Rev. 3:7-13) on every point. However, even this church receives the solemn warning to “hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown” (3:11, KJV). Even this church was capable of slipping and failing to do its work properly.

The body of true believers in the Old Testament was certainly no better! That they were given the responsibility of keeping and declaring the words of God (Brandenberg, 100) is not in dispute. But they were given many other responsibilities as well, and ultimately failed to execute any of them perfectly.

Prior to the reign of Josiah, idolatrous kings even managed to lose a vitally important copy of “the book of the law” for years, until Hilkiah accidentally rediscovered it (2 Kings 22:8). Opinions vary regarding whether this “book” was Deuteronomy or the entire Pentateuch, or whether any other copies of “the Law” were then available. Josiah’s reaction (22:10-13) suggests this “book” was, at best, one of very few surviving copies at the time. Some might object that these Israelite kings do not represent the true people of God during this time. However, if the leadership in Judah was not the chosen agency for preservation during that era, who could have been? It was certainly not the consistently idolatrous kings of the northern tribes.

In both the OT and the NT, the community of faithful believers is revealed to be one prone to error, and our doctrines of inspiration and preservation must take this clear biblical truth into account.

Testing the Textus Receptus: Rev. 16:5

In Testing the Textus Receptus posts, I test the claims of Textus Receptus (TR) Onlyism. This is a moderate form of King James Onlyism focusing on the Greek (& Hebrew) basis for the King James Version.

As I mentioned earlier, Rev. 16:5 is one of three passages that James White (author of The King James Only Controversy) recently asked TR Only proponents to “explain why [someone] should use the TR’s [reading]“.

The TR Only Claim

For this verse, the TR Only claim is not unanimous.  There are a few brave TR only groups that side with other TR editions against the TR edition underlying the King James Version (e.g., The Received Bible Society).  Most however, defend the King James Version’s readings.  I guess this verse then shows that even for TR Only folks, the King James really is the standard.  Rarely will a TR onlyist admit a single error in the KJV.  They will more readily admit that we have no perfect edition of the TR than that there is an error in the KJV.

Okay, moving back to the point here. Let’s look at the verse itself and the reading which we are concerned about for this post.

KJV And I heard the angel of the waters say, Thou art righteous, O Lord, which art, and wast, and shalt be, because thou hast judged thus. (…? ?? ??? ? ?? ??? ? ???????? …)

NASB And I heard the angel of the waters saying, “Righteous are You, who are and who were, O Holy One, because You judged these things; (…? ?? ??? ? ?? ? ó???? …)

There’s a variant regarding “Lord” earlier in the verse, but the one we will focus on is “Holy One” versus “and shalt be”.  Beza’s 1598 edition of the TR supports the KJV here, but several other key printed TR Greek texts have “Holy One”.

Testing that Claim: History of the TR

The other major editions (Erasmus’, Stephanus’ and Elzevirs’) of the TR, besides Beza’s, do not contain the “and shalt be” reading.  Scrivener’s 1894 TR does have the reading, but like its Oxford 1825 ed. forebear, Scrivener’s text was created based off of the English readings of the KJV and any available printed Greek texts that the KJV 1611 translators would have had.  So really we’re down to Beza’s as the only TR text which includes this reading, with one exception.  The 1633 Elzevir’s text, which earned the title “textus receptus“, actually sided with Beza, but the 1624 edition of Elzevir’s text and the 1641 and all following editions of Elzevir’s text go back to Stephanus/Erasmus reading of ó????.  That reading is nearly equal to the reading of the Westcott-Hort, Nestle-Aland, and Robinson-Pierpont (majority) texts.  The TR reading keeps the “and (???)”, however.

With this particular reading, English churchgoers of the 1600s would have been shocked to find their Bibles altered with the new Authorized Version’s reading here.  The Wycliffe Tyndale, Coverdale, Great, Geneva, and Bishop’s Bibles all had “Holy One”.  The Puritan branch of the Geneva Bible Only group would have been a tad bit concerned over this passage I think.  Because this is so important to really grasp, I am going to include the text of all the above Bibles at this verse (from

Wycliffe (1395) [And the thridde aungel… seide,] Just art thou, Lord, that art, and that were hooli, that demest these thingis;

Tyndale (1526) And I herde an angell saye: lorde which arte and wast thou arte ryghteous and holy because thou hast geve soche iudgmentes

Coverdale (1535) And I herde an angel saye: LORDE which art and wast, thou art righteous and holy, because thou hast geue soche iudgmentes,

Geneva (1557) And I heard the Angel of the waters say, Lord, thou art iust, Which art, and Which wast: and Holy, because thou hast iudged these things.

Bishop’s (1568) And I hearde the angell of the waters say: Lorde, which art, and wast, thou art ryghteous & holy, because thou hast geuen such iudgementes:

Testing that Claim: Manuscript Evidence

Now why did Beza remove “Holy One”.  Certainly if there is strong manuscript evidence, we should gladly embrace the change to a 200+ year tradition of the English Bibles.  Yet at this point, we find not one Greek manuscript to support Beza’s reading.  “Well”, one might counter, “perhaps Beza had access to manuscripts that we don’t have today.”  That would be all fine and dandy, except Beza himself tells us why he inserted the reading.  Listen to Beza in his own words:

“And shall be”: The usual publication is “holy one,” which shows a division, contrary to the whole phrase which is foolish, distorting what is put forth in scripture. The Vulgate, however, whether it is articulately correct or not, is not proper in making the change to “holy,” since a section (of the text) has worn away the part after “and,” which would be absolutely necessary in connecting “righteous” and “holy one.” But with John there remains a completeness where the name of Jehovah (the Lord) is used, just as we have said before, 1:4; he always uses the three closely together, therefore it is certainly “and shall be,” for why would he pass over it in this place? And so without doubting the genuine writing in this ancient manuscript, I faithfully restored in the good book what was certainly there, “shall be.” So why not truthfully, with good reason, write “which is to come” as before in four other places, namely 1:4 and 8; likewise in 4:3 and 11:17, because the point is the just Christ shall come away from there and bring them into being: in this way he will in fact appear setting in judgment and exercising his just and eternal decrees.

This is clearly a guess by Beza.  He is looking  at some Vulgate copy which is worn in the text at hand, and so based on his understanding of John’s other uses of the phrase, he concludes “shall be” is the proper reading.  Now, after fixing the Vulgate reading, he then concludes he should fix the Greek reading to “which is to come”, to match the other four places in Revelation where “which are and which were” is found.

The problem is, of the more than 5700 Greek manuscripts we have, and of the more than 10,000 Latin manuscripts we have, we have not a single copy supporting this reading.  What’s more we have no other old language translations supporting it either.  The only possible evidence for it is detailed by Thomas Holland here (that link is broken, try this one or this one and scroll down).  It is a Latin commentary on Revelation compiled in 786 AD, but the commentary in question was from 380 AD.  The Latin phrase “qui fuisti et futures es” is used for this passage.  Beza, however, is ignorant of this support as he does not cite it as a reason for his changes to the text.

Before I go on to dealing with the evidence, let me offer a scan of Philip Comfort’s New Testament Text and Translation Commentary (Tyndale House: 2008) at this point.  Continue reading