Chris Gordon recently interviewed Rosaria Butterfield and the entire thing is seething with gems.1 Among other things, Chris asked Rosaria to talk about intersectionality and she had this to say a bit past 19 minutes in:
One of the concerns that Christians should have is that intersectionality is no friend to the gospel. Because it starts with a false understanding of personhood. A person is not someone who finds a subject position through intersections of oppression. A person is an image-bearer of a holy God, made male and female, with a soul that will last forever. And if in Christ, a glorified body that will be sexed, that will be male and female, inheriting to the new Jerusalem. And if not in Christ, a sexed body that will indeed suffer in hell for eternity. So to start with the wrong view of personhood, you can never arrive at a Christian ethic starting with anything but a Christian anthropology.
I’ve read her first book but it’s always insightful to hear someone give an impromptu talk such as this interview. Genetics helps, but this level of clarity and precision on the fly can only come from a disciplined life of dedicated reading, writing, thinking, talking, and memorizing. It behooves God’s people to strive for more of this.
Marty Sampson recently announced his departure from the Christian faith in a widely-circulated Instagram post that’s now deleted:
This is a soapbox moment so here I go … How many preachers fall? Many. No one talks about it. How many miracles happen. Not many. No one talks about it. Why is the Bible full of contradictions? No one talks about it. How can God be love yet send four billion people to a place, all ‘coz they don’t believe? No one talks about it. Christians can be the most judgmental people on the planet—they can also be some of the most beautiful and loving people. But it’s not for me.
As James White ably pointed out on a recent Dividing Line episode, this claim that “no one talks about” these things isn’t true. Apparently Sampson’s former shallow circles didn’t talk about these things, but many others have, and in great depth.1
In Misquoting Jesus, Bart Ehrman claimed that the Synoptic Gospels described a post-Passover crucifixion, while John’s gospel described a pre-Passover crucifixion. This is a common point of dispute, but in his A Harmony of the Gospels, A.T. Robertson gave a scholarly, satisfactory explanation for how John was actually describing a pre-Passover crucifixion that is in agreement with the clear narrative in the Synoptics. But if you only listened to Ehrman and didn’t give the other side a fair hearing, you might be tempted to think that Sampson was correct, that the Bible is full of contradictions, and that this is an example of one of them.
There are rational, coherent responses to the objections that Sampson raised. But it is wrong to think that if he just had more knowledgeable friends, and had gotten the answers he was looking for, he’d still have his faith. This is a dimension to the discussion that I wish James White had brought out more.
Ignorance didn’t cause Sampson’s apostasy. Unbelief did.
You don’t have to know A.T. Robertson’s explanation of the Passover in relation to the crucifixion to keep your faith. If you lived on an island with nothing but an English copy of a Bible and Misquoting Jesus, read Ehrman’s alleged contradiction in the gospels, and could think of no way to reconcile the accounts, that would not ultimately shake your faith in the truthfulness of the gospel if you were truly born again. Instead, you would recognize that your knowledge is limited and faulty and that one day you would understand it more clearly. In other words, the antidote to apostasy is not mere knowledge, as useful as that can be, but rather, God-given belief.
God’s people regularly face the hurdles that Sampson described in his Instagram post. Since the Garden of Eden, Satan has been sowing seeds of doubt about God and the reliability of his word. Is God really good? Has he really revealed himself to us today in a trustworthy manner? These aren’t new questions. They’re as old as Lucifer and the first man and woman to breathe on this planet.
We don’t always have all the answers. We walk by faith, not by sight. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13 that we see through a mirror dimly, not face to face. We only “know in part” — that is, we only partially know. Our knowledge is incomplete. But with that partial knowledge, nothing incompatible should phase us. Paul told the Galatians that if an extraterrestrial creature were to come and reveal a gospel other than the one revealed in the Bible, such a creature would be accursed. In other words, we’re in the eye of a storm, and nothing should unsettle us or cause us to waver, regardless of what is swirling around us.
Keep a copy of Robertson’s book around — it’s useful. As Peter urged in his first letter, always be ready to give a rational, coherent defense for your hope in God to those around you. When the occasion merits and as you have knowledge, remove reasonable doubt in the veracity of seemingly contradictory passages in the Bible. But don’t mistakenly think that this is where the real battle ground lies. These objections that the world raises are smoke screens, interference. They’re excuses that mask the real issue: unbelief. People fail to believe, not because the truth claims of Christianity are unbelievable, but because their heart is set against them. This bondage and loyalty to the kingdom of darkness is the root of the matter.
On a note of encouragement, as we look at these manifestations of unbelief, they actually reveal to us more about God. In times like these, perhaps the best way for us to begin to understand the greatness of God is this: he’s more powerful than the unbelief that has Sampson so trapped that he’s convinced the God of the Bible can’t exist. That is power. That is a God worth worshipping. Next time you think about Marty Sampson and are tempted to be discouraged at these first-fruits of the tsunami of apostasy, remember this: God is more powerful than the unbelief that swallowed him whole. For those of us who have been shown God’s kingdom in rebirth, this is cause for fear and rejoicing. Fear, for this would be our fate if left to ourselves. Rejoicing, for by God’s free grace, he has shown us things as “infants” that he has kept from those who are “wise and intelligent” (Luke 10:21).
- It’s worth pointing out that Sampson was one Google search away from exploring each of these things he mentions. Sadly, he just wasn’t trying very hard. ↩︎
In his Authorized: The Use and Misuse of the King James Bible, Mark Ward cites this insightful quote from Benjamin Franklin:
It is now more than 170 years since the translation of our common English Bible. The language in that time is much changed, and the stile being obsolete, and thence less agreeable, is perhaps one reason why the reading of that excellent book is of late much neglected.
I read Mark’s book last night and highly recommend it. The two most valuable insights were the “false friends” chapter and the original difference between “thee” versus “ye” (hint: it did not distinguish between singular and plural).
Council of Trent, On Justification, Canon XXIV:
If any one saith, that the justice received is not preserved and also increased before God through good works; but that the said works are merely the fruits and signs of Justification obtained, but not a cause of the increase thereof; let him be anathema.
It’s funny: I talk to a lot of Catholics, and when I tell them, “We’re saved on the merits of Christ’s work alone,” they nod their heads. Most modern Catholics don’t know their history well enough to know that this blatantly contradicts their church’s 19th ecumenical council in the 16th century. The number of heretical canons that came out of this council are truly astounding when you read them.
On my commute to work yesterday morning I was listening to part 23 of James White’s series on church history. He quoted a piece of Cyprian’s letter that he wrote before his own execution by a Roman sword. His recipients were working as slaves in gold and silver mines in deathly conditions. Cyprian writes:
But that, being first severely beaten with clubs, and ill-used, you have begun by sufferings of that kind, the glorious firstlings of your confession, is not a matter to be execrated by us. For a Christian body is not very greatly terrified at clubs, seeing all its hope is in the Wood. The servant of Christ acknowledges the sacrament of his salvation: redeemed by wood to life eternal, he is advanced by wood to the crown. But what wonder if, as golden and silver vessels, you have been committed to the mine that is the home of gold and silver, except that now the nature of the mines is changed, and the places which previously had been accustomed to yield gold and silver have begun to receive them? Moreover, they have put fetters on your feet, and have bound your blessed limbs, and the temples of God with disgraceful chains, as if the spirit also could be bound with the body, or your gold could be stained by the contact of iron. To men who are dedicated to God, and attesting their faith with religious courage, such things are ornaments, not chains; nor do they bind the feet of the Christians for infamy, but glorify them for a crown. Oh feet blessedly bound, which are loosed, not by the smith but by the Lord!
It’s one thing to patiently await an execution in a cold, rank, rat-infested prison. It’s another thing to slowly die in a mine under hard labor, being beaten in chains with clubs. After reading this letter, I am embarrassed to complain about the heat of the July sun. What do American evangelicals who think Billy Graham preached the Sermon on the Mount know of this? What do I know of this?
In light of the distinction between a ministry of condemnation and a ministry of righteousness, some basic questions need to be addressed: When the pastor is treating the sanctification of Christians with God’s law (the third use of the law), is he using the killing power of the law in anger to correct a perceived lack of spirituality, or is he is speaking to them as believers under the grace of God? Conversely, when the pastor is crushing the people with the killing power of the law (the first use of the law), is his goal to lead the people to Christ to receive forgiveness and grace? What are the fruits that follow such a ministry in the life of the congregation, joy or guilt?
On May 24, 2019, I sent Dr. Jeff Riddle this email, with a desire to better understand his view of the preservation of Scripture. He was kind enough on June 20 to post his thoughts in a podcast episode as well as a written blog post. There are a few things to which I would like to respond.
One is not ready, it has been said, to properly analyze an argument until one can accurately reflect that viewpoint in one’s own words. My email was a test to repeat back the argument of Dr. Riddle’s position on textual preservation, to see if I could achieve this goal yet. I attempted this by first outlining some bullet points on which I thought we would have common ground. They were making historic truth claims that are either true or false. They’re either verifiable or disprovable. I was not expecting there to be major disagreement; but as it turned out, Dr. Riddle took issue with much of what I postulated. I found this to be perplexing. I wish to look at a few of Dr. Riddle’s replies. First, there is this one:
The Received Text did not come into existence only in the sixteenth century. It is identical with the divine original.
These are strong words. Identical? How identical? To the last “jot and tittle” (Matthew 5:18, which Dr. Riddle referenced in the podcast)? Dr. Riddle can’t mean to the last jot and tittle because elsewhere in this episode he said this:
There are obvious slight differences in the printed editions of the TR.
And this, about 9 minutes from the end:
Now during the Reformation period, there was a time when in the Providence of God the text was printed, it was edited, it was promulgated, and it became the basis for the vernacular translations of the Protestant era.
It was “edited.” How can that be identical to the divine original? There is an inescapable logical fallacy here with these truth claims. If someone wants to say that the TR is very close to the divine original, that is one thing, and we can all agree on that.1 But identical? This is ahistorical and, I say this as respectfully as I can, Dr. Riddle’s very words self-contradict this truth claim. There were more than 30 editions of the TR. Which one of them was identical to the divine original?
Since it is identical with the divine original, there were Greek mss. that “matched the TR” from the beginning. Thus, there were mss. that contained the inspired and preserved Word of God from the beginning.
I don’t understand the meaning of “matched the TR.” Do this mean that there are Greek manuscripts that have matched some version of the TR to its very last variant? Such a manuscript has never been found. No textual critic has ever claimed that such a thing existed. If such a thing did exist, all the Reformers would have needed was to find that perfect manuscript, and it would have saved them many thousands of hours of collation work. But they did not have that perfect manuscript, which means that that hypothetical document, no trace of which exists, was not preserved. By this logic and interpretation, God failed on his promise. By performing collating and engaging in textual criticism, the very behavior of the Reformers upon whom Dr. Riddle claims allegiance shows the fault of this viewpoint. There was no single Greek manuscript text that any of the Reformers solely relied upon. Dr. Riddle’s position here is in direct opposition to the belief and practice of the Reformers. It is not a continuation of it. It is a deviation from it.
Christians had the “full canon” the moment the last canonical book was written.
Which Christians? The ones who didn’t have copies of the last book the moment it was written?
God knew what the Bible would contain before he created the universe. But the completion of the canon in time and space is meaningless from man’s standpoint if nobody possesses it. Thus, it is pointless to say that in a theoretical sense, Christians had the full canon as soon as the canon was written. In that scenario, they don’t have it in a physical reality any more than they did back when it existed as nothing more than a thought in the mind of God. In reality, it would be hundreds of years before meaningful numbers of Christians possessed the full canon. This historical fact isn’t in dispute.
Next, we move on to Philip Schaff and his book Theological Propaedeutic. Dr. Riddle writes:
I would have to review his perceived KJV “mistranslations” one by one to see if they have any merit or if, as I suppose, they might be contested.
As noted in the episode, the book is available for free on Google Books. Here’s the direct link to page 193. Around minute 27 in the podcast, Dr. Riddle had this to say as well:
[Philip Schaff] has a dog in this fight. He’s trying to overthrow the KJV […]
There’s a lot of bias in that viewpoint. I encourage anyone to look at the avalanche of problems with the Authorized Version that Schaff points out and honestly assess them. Schaff isn’t trying to overthrow the KJV for the sake of overthrow. He’s demonstrating how badly in need of a new translation were the English-speaking people. It’s painful for instance to read John Gill’s mention of “straining at a gnat” and recognize that he’s memorized a printing error that doesn’t even make sense.
Next, I want to make a syllogism black and white to clear up some confusion.
- Nothing other than the original Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek are the divinely inspired Word of God.
- Most Christians do not have literate access to these original languages.
- Therefore, most Christians do not have literate access to the perfectly divinely inspired Word of God.
In a purely logical sense, this is true. Nobody disputes the first two propositions, and the conclusion necessarily follows. However, this can be easily misconstrued to imply assumptions that we normally associate with Islam and classical Catholicism. I probably did not need to include this as a bullet point in my original email. In a functional sense, we understand that to the extent that a translation follows the original text, it can be used with confidence and authority. However, it must be remembered that no translation is perfect or inspired and that ultimately our trust must be in the original.
Preservation does guarantee that the Bible does not change.
The printed TR tradition did not change much […]
Does the Bible not change, or does it not change much? Which is it?
This brings us to a very important point. When discussing the preservation of the Bible, we aren’t discussing whether the actual Word of God changes. Rather we are discussing whether our knowledge of what that Word is changes or not. Nobody in this conversation disagrees on the truth claim that the actual Word of God does not change. To state that truth claim in this conversation is irrelevant and distracting. The thing I’m interested in discussing is whether or not our understanding of what the Word of God is changes. And what’s fascinating is that in the second sentence, Dr. Riddle agrees with me that our understanding can and does change. If only he would be consistent!
When we change a print edition of a New Testament, we aren’t saying that the Word of God changed. We’re saying that our understanding of what the Word of God is has changed. The Reformers produced more than 30 editions to the TR. In doing so, once again the Reformers by their actions are refuting the truth claim that new discoveries and knowledge can’t affect our understanding of what God’s Word is. Any dissent to this is ahistorical.
Your “reconstruction” of the TR position is not something I recognize. What is this 100 year process? Who were the scholars working on this who rejected justification by faith and held other doctrinal errors similar to those held by modern text critics of the nineteenth century? Are you talking about Erasmus? This was not true of the Protestant orthodox (like Stephanus and Beza) who produced the printed editions of the TR.
Yes, I’m talking about the 16th century. As noted in the podcast, the first print edition of Erasmus’ Greek New Testament was in 1516. Beza’s last came in 1598. I’m talking about this time period.
It’s disappointing that Dr. Riddle fails to recognize the historical realities of the reconstruction process. In Beyond What Is Written we get an insight into Erasmus in his own words on page 23, in which he divulges his method of arriving at the “true reading” of a text:
The man who makes such advances does not follow any manuscripts which happen to come into his hands, nor does he stick to one only. He makes a selection. Nor does he rely only on the comparison of his manuscript authorities: he carries out careful research among the Greek and Latin commentators to find out how a passage has been read by the most reputable authorities, how they have explained it, what measure of agreement there is between them. And even then he does not deny anyone’s right to his own view unless the error is so obvious that it would be shameful to turn his back on it.
In his own words, Erasmus is rejecting the notion that any singular one of his consulted manuscripts could possibly be “identical with the divine original” as Dr. Riddle claims. Rather, he “makes a selection” amongst multiple manuscripts all of which have varying levels of accuracy and corruption. Dr. Riddle has an idealism that is grounded in fabrication and fiction, not in historic reality.
It’s interesting to see Dr. Riddle’s desire to distance himself from Erasmus while at the same time trying to claim that “the printed TR tradition did not change much.” If the tradition did not change much, that meant that Erasmus was an important pioneer who cannot be ignored. It’s a contradictory line of argumentation to try to distance oneself from Erasmus on the one hand, while at the same time maintaining that there was remarkable stability of the Greek Text during the 16th century.
Erasmus denied the gospel. In his On the Bondage of the Will, Martin Luther debated Erasmus on the core of the gospel. A man who denied justification by faith was a very heavy influencer on the TR that exists today. If Dr. Riddle insists that the early pioneers of the print edition of his text not be judged, then I ask him to extend the favor and never again speak of the ills of Westcott and Hort. Moreover, when one reads Erasmus in his own words, one comes to the inescapable conclusion that men like the late critical text advocate and scholar Bruce Metzger have held a higher view of preservation than did Erasmus.
But Erasmus aside, let’s talk about Stephanus and Beza. Theodor Beza was the successor to John Calvin at Geneva. What was Calvin’s view of the preservation of Scripture? Let’s look at his commentary on 1 John 2:14 for a sampling.
These repetitions I deem superfluous; and it is probable that when unskillful readers falsely thought that he spoke twice of little children, they rashly introduced the other two clauses. It might at the same time be that John himself, for the sake of amplifying, inserted the second time the sentence respecting the young men, (for he adds, that they were strong, which he had not said before;) but that the copyists presumptuously filled up the number.
John Calvin would have been fine with this “superfluous” verse to disappear. Just how received was this so-called received text? It sounds to me that John Calvin would have been much more at home with a modern day movement to fix the corruption of the text. My point is this: Dr. Riddle is trying to claim the Reformers to support a position that is historically implausible and that betrays an ignorance of what these men themselves believed.
The confessional text is NOT that “things were messy for the first 15 centuries.” No, God’s Word was “by His singular care and providence kept pure in all ages.” The true text has not been “messy.”
We have more than 5,800 New Testament Greek manuscripts available, and not one of them perfectly matches the TR. Yet Dr. Riddle claims that “there were Greek mss. that ‘matched the TR’ from the beginning.” That means that finding the Word of God (on Dr. Riddle’s terms) is looking for a needle in a haystack. A needle, I daresay, that we don’t have any historical grounds of ultimately finding. That sounds messy to me. And it sounds messy to anyone who’s spent meaningful time investigating the realities of the transmission of the New Testament text. At the time of the Council of Nicaea, Athanasius of Alexandria, defending the Trinity, had an Alexandrian Bible that would’ve looked a whole lot more like the CT than the TR. Meanwhile the heretic Arius, denying the deity of Christ, had a Bible that looked more like the TR. That sounds messy to me. The “received text” (to appropriate a confusing term) for the first 800 years of New Testament history was various forms the Alexandrian text. That sounds messy to me. The TR was wishy-washy on James 4:2, and the Tyndale Bible ended up skipping a phrase that the KJV later included, reflecting disagreeing versions of the TR. That sounds messy to me. For six years, the TR didn’t have the Comma in it. That sounds messy to me.
In all of this, I sense a fear that if one admits that the story of the preservation of the New Testament is messy, one must necessarily conclude that God’s Word is itself messy. But as I’ve tried to belabor above, the former does not require the latter. Denying the former is exchanging truth for certainty, and results in the loss of both.2
I’ll close with one final quote taken chronologically out of order in the podcast:
It is not true that God’s people have at various points not had the perfectly preserved Word. That would be contrary to the Confessional doctrine of Preservation.
I’m going to quote II Chronicles 34:14-15 to refute this one, using Dr. Riddle’s preferred English translation:
And when they brought out the money that was brought into the house of the Lord, Hilkiah the priest found a book of the law of the Lord given by Moses. And Hilkiah answered and said to Shaphan the scribe, I have found the book of the law in the house of the Lord. And Hilkiah delivered the book to Shaphan.
Part of being Sola Scriptura is that every doctrine ultimately comes from the Bible, not from perceived interpretations of confessions and man’s tradition. Sola Scriptura’s jurisdiction extends to the doctrine of the preservation of Scripture. The Bible makes it very clear that the Scriptures were lost for a period of time, for we read in verse 19:
And it came to pass, when the king had heard the words of the law, that he rent his clothes.
Had Josiah owned the book of the law before this moment, he wouldn’t have been surprised to hear its words from Shaphan. Our view of the preservation of Scripture must have room for the narrative in II Chronicles 34. The Word of God was lost and then later restored. If it could happen then, it could happen now. King David, with all of his Psalms that TR-onlyists love to quote in support of their position, came before Josiah.
It’s man’s natural thinking to want to put everything in a neatly-defined box. God’s bigger than that.
Necessity has required for me to disagree, in some cases strongly, with Dr. Riddle. I consider him a brother in Christ, and I pray that these examinations are both given and received in humility, and useful unto edification.
- Admitting that the TR is merely very close to the divine original is a slippery slope for a TR-onlyist, because it opens the door for a future printed text to be even closer. It opens the door for modern textual criticism to pick up where the Reformers left off. That is antithetical to Dr. Riddle’s position. I understand why ideologically he has to shy away from saying that. But it’s an inescapable historical reality that even he is forced to attest to. ↩︎
- We do not hold to doctrinal perfectionism. God’s salvation is perfect, but our understanding of it is imperfect. Similarly, God’s Word is perfect, but our understanding of it is imperfect. To say that our copies of the Scriptures today are ever so slightly different from the original autographs does not deny the doctrine of God’s Word enduring forever anymore than does our imperfect knowledge of salvation deny the fullness of Christ’s atoning work. ↩︎
Roger E. Olson, as quoted in chapter 13 of Lee Strobel’s excellent book The Case for Miracles:
A lot of mainstream evangelicals have bought into the notion that prayer doesn’t change things, [that rather] it changes me. They don’t realize it, but they’re adopting the teachings of Fredric Schleiermacher, the father of modern theological liberalism, who denigrated petitionary prayer as something that children do because they don’t know any better.
Any meaningful reading of the Bible makes it clear that prayer does indeed change things. If your theology gets so uptight that you’re not comfortable saying that, you’re in a place that the Bible hasn’t taken you.1
In certain Reformed circles, I sense a fear that acknowledging the power of prayer will necessarily preclude a belief in the sovereignty of God.2 Theologians on both sides of the divide often struggle with the temptation to simplify things so they fit neatly and cognitively into 3-pound human brains. God is bigger than that. No systematic theology can paint his ways with an exhaustive brush. It is simultaneously true that both God is fully in control, and that prayer changes things.3 Both men and angels, including fallen angels, understand that prayer is powerful and dangerous.
To those who insist that prayer doesn’t change things, some of the more obvious proof texts to the contrary are I Kings 8:29-30, Isaiah 37, Isaiah 38, John 14:13-14, John 16:26-27, 1 Peter 3:7, and James 4:2. Try reading those passages and conclude that the only purpose of prayer is to change the person praying. It won’t work. From the perspective of the person praying, prayer is a change agent that extends beyond inward change. Denying that or simply failing to state that when discussing the meaning and purpose of prayer is to state a half-truth. And frankly, it’s to state the meager, less exciting half. I speak as a man.
- One of the foremost persons on my mind is James White, who regularly states on his Dividing Line that the purpose of prayer is to change the person praying. He’s not wrong that that’s one of the effects of prayer, but by saying no more than that, he’s ignoring a rich tapestry and falling short of a powerful incentive to pray. ↩︎
- Roger Olson is an Arminian, as clearly demonstrated by his book titled, Against Calvinism: Rescuing God’s Reputation from Radical Reformed Theology. It is as easy for an Arminian to say that prayer changes things as it is for a Calvanist to say that prayer’s only purpose is to change man. People don’t like admitting there are elements of useful, important truth to opposing perspectives. We should learn from our Arminian friends to embrace a fuller view of prayer that is more harmonious with the very clear demonstrations in Scripture. ↩︎
- If you wanted, you could add from everyone’s perspective other than God’s. That’s implied. Of course we’re not God. We never will be. And we’re not writing these things for God’s sake, but for our sake. It’s necessarily from our perspective. The urge to constantly buttress every statement with that clause betrays a mindset that differs from the writers of the Bible. If you’re that uptight about everything, you would’ve never written Genesis 6:6, Exodus 32:14, I Chronicles 21:15, Jonah 3:10, or Amos 7:6 the way that those writers did. The Bible was written by men for men. It’s pretentious to try to communicate as though you’re intending your theological statements to be crafted for God’s ears. You’re going to miss the mark every time, no matter how hard you try and useless to human ears you become. The Bible doesn’t try to do this, and neither should we. ↩︎
I did not want the resolution to say less than it said, I wanted it to say more than it said. It wanted it to acknowledge more clearly the origins of critical race theory and intersectionality. I wanted it to state more clearly that embedded in both of those “analytical tools” is a praxis, that is, a political extension. That is abundantly clear in the origin of both intersectionality and critical race theory. It is also abundantly clear in how they function in higher education and public debate.
It is true that both can be deployed as analytical tools. The problem is, as Christians understand, that analytical tools very rarely remain merely analytical tools. Ideas as we know do have consequences. And one of the most lamentable consequences, but the main consequence, of critical race theory and intersectionality is identity politics. And identity politics can only rightly be described as antithetical to the gospel of Jesus Christ.
I’ll preface this by saying that I’m thankful for the ministry that it sounds like Pooyan Mehrshahi is doing in the Lord’s work.
But I’m afraid he’s hurting his ministry by trying to sell the Muslim peoples a narrative about the Bible that doesn’t hold up to the scrutiny of facts.
Michael Behe’s Darwin Devolves serves as a reminder that Charles Darwin’s main reason for rejecting intelligent design was that he had preconceived notions of how God would and wouldn’t design organisms, and as he discovered certain things that failed to be in line with his preconceived notions, he reckoned that as proof that God didn’t make them. This was what enabled him to reject what even he would have to admit as clear signs of intelligent design elsewhere in his investigations. It all rose and fell on this presupposition. In other words, Darwin’s theology of God — a theology that he’d derived on his own whim — dictated his beliefs and his approach to science. It was his core underpinning.
Textus Receptus advocates need to be beware of an alarmingly similar preconceived and anthropocentric belief that states that there’s no way that God would’ve preserved his word in a particular fashion. I’m hearing that line of reasoning come out of these men in this interview. It’s not an argument based on facts and reason. It’s an argument based on theology; a theology that cannot be derived from scripture despite efforts to misappropriate versus in a circular fashion. Rather, it’s derived outside of scripture. This very same anthropocentric argument caused Charles Darwin and more recently Bart Ehrman to abandon their belief in even the possibility of a God who reveals himself in words. This line of thinking does not have the mind of Christ. It’s destructive.
In one sense, the debate here is a small one. No major doctrine is at stake. Mostly just minor reading differences here and there, and quibbles about whether some sections should have some unobtrusive brackets around them or not. But in another sense, big things are at stake here. If, like Charles Darwin, you refuse to believe in a God would who preserve his Word in a certain way, you’re putting yourself in a dangerous position. If you start studying and discover the truth — the naked, undeniable, scary facts about the messiness of the New Testament witness throughout history — your world is going to turn upside down. Like the poor young Christians that Pooyan Mehrshahi is trying to witness to, your faith is going to be badly shaken. And well it should! Like Charles Darwin, you’ve found an undeniable historic fact that is incompatible with your made-up definition of God. What are you going to do? Should you abandon your faith? Much is at stake.
So in one sense, it’s not a big deal. In other sense, it’s a very big deal.
Meanwhile, the Internet is changing things. It’s causing Mormons, Muslims, and Jehovah Witnesses to leave their faith in droves, as they realize that the bag of goods they were sold, the truth claims about their canonical texts and their spiritual forefathers, were not everything they were cracked up to be by their local teachers, priests, bishops, and imams.
If you decide to remain in one of those religions, there are often facts about your religion’s past that you must either deliberately try to mischaracterize or ignore altogether. The problem is that this used to work but it no longer does. The Internet happened. If you hold to a view that is bothered by an honest and candid conversation about history, that’s a bad warning sign. That’s a sign that you’re hoping that the person you’re trying to evangelize is just a regular “person on the street” who isn’t going to question you or look up whether what you’re saying jives with what really happened. If you want to get a first-hand grasp of how the Internet has completely changed the information flow in regards to personal faith, I highly recommend Understanding Jihad by Nabell Qureshi.
When your position results in you being uncomfortable sharing or discussing historic realities, you know you have a fault somewhere in your position. The true position is not afraid to face the facts. If your view of something is shaken by studying facts, and causes you to wish others likewise remained ignorant or silent about the matter, you have a faulty view, and you’re stuck in a man-made tradition that’s not rooted in reality and doesn’t have the currency of facts on its side.
When it comes to the Textus Receptus, this is why Beyond What is Written by Jan Krans is a one-volume destruction.1 It demonstrates how the truth claims that Truelove and Mehrshahi seek to make about the TR are untenable. To believe in the infallibility of every textual variation adhered to in the TR requires the same kind of blind against-all-odds belief as is required to believe in the sacred texts of Mormonism and Islam. This mentality exchanges truth for certainty. It requires a blind belief that is not becoming of Christians, one that is not based on God’s word, but rather upon the vain imaginations of fallible men. It’s demonstrably disprovable by any careful study of the facts.
God created the human mind. He does not expect or require that his followers ditch their reason or intellect in order to believe. God is rational and logical and truthful. And to deny the corruption of the TR requires a suspension of truth. You either hold that the TR does indeed have errors in it, or you hold that God re-inspired the TR in the 16th century. There is no middle ground without blatantly denying historic facts and truth.
This is precisely why the Muslims that Pooyan Mehrshahi is trying to minister to stumble when they hear the facts about the messiness of the Greek New Testament: they’ve been told that the TR is the infallible word of God, that there is no variation, and then they discover it’s much more complicated and nuanced than that. It is messy, it always has been, no time more than at the Reformation, and anyone who tries to say otherwise is either lying, deceived, or simply ignorant.
It’s understandable that Pooyan Mehrshahi would find an appeal in using the TR and its translations. The peoples he’s reaching are used to the Quran, which has no textual variant whatsoever, at least they think. The TR is more in thinking with the faulty Muslim concept of preservation that mocks the messiness. But both texts don’t stand the scrutiny of examination. The problem here is this: if you’re able to create doubt in their minds about the Quran, then someone else will find a way to create doubt in their mind about portions of the TR; and both sources of doubt will be founded upon good grounds. Long-term, you’re hurting your ministry if you try to witness to Muslims with the truth claims of TR-onlyism.
I’ll close with a few final thoughts.
James White never said that you can’t witness to a Muslim if you hold to the TR. Of course God can use such persons. What he said was that a debate between an able Muslim scholar and a TR-only advocate would not end well. That’s different altogether. We still haven’t seen that.
It’s strange discussing 1 Timothy 3:16 without discussing passages where the TR fails to assert the deity of Christ in places that the Critical Text does assert it (e.g. John 1:18). This partisan cherry-picking is unhelpful to the discussion.
It’s also disappointing to see Truelove continue to fail to make basic category distinctions about the difference between cannonics and textual criticism. These are not the same thing.
Lastly, I sense that a lot of TR-only advocates feel like the sole alternative to their viewpoint is the Critical Text. That’s wrong. If you prefer the Byzantine text type and, having studied the issues, are compelled to believe that there are good reasons that it should have priority over the Alexandrian text type, Maurice A. Robinson has the New Testament you need.
- I haven’t personally read all the book, but I’ve seen enough from a physical copy to realize how destructive it is to the TR-only position. It deals in the hard and cold currency of facts, shows the errors that the compilers of the TR made, and completely violates the false narrative of a so-called “confessional” text that was undisputed by the Reformers. ↩︎
Yesterday’s Dividing Line was eye-opening. Not only does Matthew 2:16 have gender problems, but so does Luke 2:22, it turns out. Except Luke’s situation is worse because the problem is not in the translation but in the underlying Greek in the Textus Receptas.
The number of places where the KJV is imprecise or downright inaccurate is stunning when you put it all together. It’s an avalanche caused by individual snowflakes.1
In this DL, James White brings the same challenge that he offers again and again to the TR-onlyists: demonstrate a consistent method of textual criticism that would reproduce the TR. In objection to this challenge, some people reference the continued changes to the Nestle-Aland edition and its translations. They say, “Modern scholars can’t produce a consistent methodology for textual criticism either, as demonstrated by the changes they keep making to their text.” This is an ill-found accusation for a few reasons:
- Modern textual critics are willing to change things when the evidence and understanding of that evidence matures and nuances. The TR-only advocates haven’t demonstrated a good-faith effort and willingness to do likewise. They sometimes talk about it but nothing is ever actually done. No one dares do it because the backlash would be great and the changes would be rejected by the majority of fellow TR-onlyists, betraying the ecclesiological traditionalism that is deep-rooted in the overall TR-only movement.
- The number and severity of the discrepancies in the implementation of textual criticism for a print edition is vastly greater with the TR than with any modern Nestle-Aland edition. It’s difficult for me to conceive of anyone disputing this point. When you look at the changes that are happening today, there is invariably compelling evidence for both the replaced reading and the new reading.2 In contrast, if we were to make a list of the top 100 places in which the TR most desperately needs changing, there would be very little or no support whatsoever to support the way it currently is, given the 100x increase in manuscript evidence we now have compared to what the Catholic scholars had in the 16th century.
It’s false equivalence to claim that both schools of thought are guilty of inconsistency in their method of textual criticism. The Nestle-Aland edition is making an increasingly tight pattern around the bull’s eye. The Textus Receptas sometimes doesn’t even make the target.
- I can hear someone object, “But the modern Bibles have major portions missing, so all of these imprecisions and blunders in the KJV are still better than that.” Even if one were to concede that these “missing” portions should be there, the response is simple: any modern Bible has these portions in it. They’re just in brackets. They might ought to be there. The printers allow for that. The level of certainty there is less than the level of certainty that the KJV got Luke 2:22’s gender wrong. The more I study this, the more it becomes shockingly clear that there’s simply no excuse to keep using the KJV as one’s main Bible. ↩︎
- As far as translations are concerned in this regard, we’re admittedly hitting a snag with the NASB 2020 release. Whether that becomes a long-term trend or not will be interesting to watch. But either way, my case still stands with the underlying Greek from which the NASB 2020 release is derived. ↩︎
One of Seth Andrews’ big hurdles with the Christian faith is the fact that in the Old Testament Yahweh sanctioned the killing of pregnant women (e.g. the complete slaughter of Jericho) and the concept of people owning other people as property. In having a problem with this, Seth is imbibing a popular notion today that certain acts are always wrong without any question. In reply, Caleb Moor seems to hee-haw a bit in saying that we have to take the Old Testament context into perspective and understand that this was back then, so long ago, when culture was different, etc.
Caleb’s answer, admittedly brief by time constraints, leaves a lot on the table. God doesn’t change. He doesn’t “evolve” with society. Christianity denies that itself is merely a living organism of made-up ideas from a bunch of dead people. Caleb doesn’t actually believe this naturalistic explanation of the Christian faith, but to an atheist’s ears, it lends itself to that secular explanation when you go down this line of reasoning. While it’s helpful and useful to understand the context of Israel in the Old Testament, we don’t have to frame our answers in terms of things being different back then, where people would have understood God’s genocide commands to be reasonable because of the violent nature of reality that was happening everywhere at the time, and the culture being different. That’s unhelpful and misleading because God’s moral character doesn’t change. In other words, it is impossible that God could have commanded something to be done back then that would be immoral or ungodly of him to command today if it were his good pleasure to do so.
A more useful answer is to recognize the difference between an atheist’s and a Christian’s presuppositions. The atheist presupposes that certain things are always wrong, regardless of any other factors. A prime example is killing. To them, capital punishment is always wrong. By extension, even the death of Jesus Christ was wrong. This is why we hear things like this from Serene Jones:1
Crucifixion is not something that God is orchestrating from upstairs. The pervasive idea of an abusive God-father who sends his own kid to the cross so God could forgive people is nuts.
This anthropocentric viewpoint decides that man is the judge of what is right and wrong, not God, and that killing is always wrong. This poses a huge problem to the Christian faith, because Isaiah 53 clearly says that God was pleased in bruising his son, and that he was the one who put him to grief. In other words, the Bible says in unmistakable terms that God was the one who killed his son on the cross.
The death of Jesus Christ was the greatest act of violence in the history of the human race, and God was the one who did it. If killing is wrong in every context, then God is the most ungodly person in the universe.
In contrast, when you start with a theocentric viewpoint, you recognize that the violence of the cross demonstrates to us how great man’s sin is in God’s sight, and that man is deserving of eternal punishment in hell fire. Anything less than that is a mercy from God that he does not owe. When you view the world in these terms, God has the right to command an army to completely slaughter a city, including men, women (some of whom would be pregnant), and children. There has only ever been one person who suffered innocently, and he did it willingly. Christ was in perfect agreement and submission to his Father. The rest of us are born at enmity with God and deserving eternal death. Anything we receive in the short-term that is less than that — including living life as a slave to another man, or obligatorily marrying the person who raped you — is a mercy that God does not owe.2
To attempt to “explain” God’s actions in the Old Testament to someone who is approaching these things from an anthropocentric viewpoint is an exercise in futility. It is impossible to understand this correctly unless you start from God’s perspective. An atheist cannot do that, and so there will always be an impasse here between the atheist and the Christian. As long as an atheist judges God by his man-centered measuring stick, he will find God at fault, because God’s ways are not man’s ways. A Christian will never be able to persuade an atheist that God’s actions in the Old Testament were just. The moment an atheist comes to agree that God was just, he has ceased being an atheist, for he is now necessarily viewing things from a theocentric viewpoint, which is impossible to do apart from a belief in God’s existence.
There were other things about this episode that were troubling, which I will highlight in shotgun fashion.
Hell is eternal, and I congratulate Seth for understanding the centrality of the doctrine of hell to the Christian faith. Its unending nature is a primal issue of great weight, more so than Caleb is willing to concede. This serves as a reminder of how atheists are sometimes more orthodox in their understanding of the core tenants of the Christian faith than are some Christians whose minds have been confused by modern liberal thought and values.
There were absolutely dinosaurs on the ark. This is a minor point, but it matters because it’s really a surface issue that denotes a deeper problem about human origins. The book of Job and elsewhere refer to that which can only be considered as dinosaurs. To capitulate on this is to give credence to the demonstrably fake science of evolution. There is no need for this. God, who created the world in six literal days a few thousand years ago, preserved the dinosaurs past the flood, and he will make this clear to all the earth one day, to show the foolishness of fallen men who claim to be wise.
Similarly, Moses did write the Torah. Matthew did write Matthew. John did write John. There is no reason to be wishy-washy about these truth claims of authorship. They can withstand the test of scrutiny. No historic fact can refute them satisfactorily.
Seth wants to see God manifest himself in a visible way. God is already doing that every day with the creation. That’s the argument of Romans 1. Seth wants more than that, and he has deceived himself into thinking that a miracle would persuade him. He knows less about his own deceitful heart than does his Maker, for the Bible tells us that though one were to be seen rising from the dead, yet members of Adam’s blinded race would still fail to repent. A miracle does not a theist make.
The question of what it would take for Ken Ham to lose his faith in Christ is not the equivalent of asking what would it take for Bill Nye to lose his faith in atheism. Once you are persuaded something is real, your own heart testifying of the truth, you can no longer doubt that which you know to be true. That is a one-way street. The only one who can doubt whether a coin rests inside a cup is he who has never seen it. Once one has peered inside and seen the coin, it can no longer be doubted. The atheist claims to have peered in the cup and failed to see the coin, so for them, it makes sense that once they do see the coin, they must change their position. But it would be madness for one who has previously seen the coin to deny its existence under any conceivable circumstance thereafter. The only people who leave their Christian faith are those who were never truly persuaded of God’s existence; or else they are those who have been persuaded of its truthfulness but are like the devils who believe and tremble, remaining at enmity with God.
The argument that many intelligent scientists in ages past have been Christians used to hold weight with me but no longer. Even if no scientists were to believe in the truth, that would have no bearing on the truthfulness of truth. Moreover, for every godly scientist one may find, there are many more who are not. It’s a discussion in futility. To become a follower of Christ, we must become foolish in the eyes of this world (1 Corinthians). It’s useful for historic purposes to know that Francis Bacon was a godly man for whom faith was important, but using that as an argument for the validity of the truth claims of Christianity is extremely arbitrary and de-prioritizes much more compelling lines of persuasion.
The analogy of the burning building is something of a straw man argument inasmuch as it fails to nuance things enough. To be a fair comparison, you would need to also say that you’re in control of the fire in that building, and that you’ve chosen to save a certain number of people in that building, and to let others perish. In that context, calmly sending papers that warn of the danger makes sense. God isn’t in panic mode in the way that firefighters are in panic mode. God is in control of the fire. Firefighters are not in control of the fire and they seek to save every life in the building.
- She isn’t an atheist per se, but she certainly denies the God of the Bible. ↩︎
- This is the Biblical answer to the age-old question of why a good, all-powerful God would allow suffering in the world. God isn’t cruel; he’s actually exceeding merciful to not send all of mankind to hell immediately. It was a failure to understand this that caused Steve Jobs to denounce the Christian God at a young age. He said he refused to believe in a God who had the ability to stop human suffering but who did nothing about it. ↩︎
In the last days, two radically different human experiences will be happening in parallel. For some people, most people, it’ll be business as usual; people will be eating and drinking and giving in marriage just like they always have (Luke 24:38). But other people will be undergoing intense persecution as Gog and Magog gather to attack the camp of the saints (Revelation 20:8,9).
How can both of these experiences be happening at the same time? The answer is easy when you know church history. If you were a Christian in the second century, you were in real danger of being considered an atheist by the Roman empire for not accepting the deity of Caesar, and if you didn’t renounce your ways, you were either killed by animals in the Colosseum or burned alive (e.g Polycarp).
Attending an event at the Colosseum was a pastime for Rome in much the same way that catching a movie at the theater is today. Someone who was casually living life — eating, drinking, and giving in marriage — would visit the Colosseum and watch Christians devoured by wild animals, then go home, sip wine, and think nothing of it. Business as usual.
That’s a picture of what the end of the world will look like. You’ll have a large group of casual people living what the majority consider to be normal healthy lives, and you’ll have a fringe ostracized community of Christians who are considered a hate group that deserve whatever they get. When you take the whole of scripture, this is the Biblical narrative of how it will go down. Hence Christ’s question in Luke 18:8 about whether he will find faith on the earth when he returns or not. Things are going to be increasingly dark for God’s true followers until the Son of man appears.
This puts into context this morning’s briefing by Al Mohler, in which he talks about the story of Facebook removing unwanted people from its network. Al Mohler sees this as a foretaste of more bans to come, specifically targeting Bible-believing Christians.
Meanwhile we have this fascinating 3.5-hour episode that Joe Rogan had with Jack Dorsey (Twitter CEO), Vijaya Gadde and Tim Pool back in March talking about Twitter’s policies in regards to who it allows unfettered usage of its platform and who it bans. Twitter is clearly biased, and Tim’s contention is that Twitter is ostracizing groups that don’t confirm to its ideology. At one point, Joe said that he thinks this narrative is exaggerated and that Twitter is essentially doing the best it can at a very complex problem. In saying this, Joe would take Al Mohler to task in his contentions in this morning’s briefing.
Who’s right? Both viewpoints are rational conclusions when you begin with the presuppositions of their respective worldviews. To the masses, everything is fine. Twitter and Facebook are great. They’re striving to enable the greatest number of people to feel safe on their platforms, have conversations, and build community. But to the Christians, Satan is gathering Gog and Magog to attack the camp of the saints. We’re seeing the forces assembling right now.
If you go to the Colosseum for fun as a small coincidental part of your pleasure-filled daily agenda, you’re not going to see what the ruckus is all about. To see that, you have to be a part of the group that’s in danger of being a spectacle in that Colosseum. Nothing about God, his plans, the Bible, the Devil, sin, or human nature has changed from the second century to the present. The world would label the Jesus of the Bible as a member of a hate group and crucify him again if they could. But he’s not here, so they can’t, and they must attack Christ’s faithful servants instead, and they’re doing it with gusto. Everything is rolling right on schedule as we approach the apocalypse.
Now is the time for Christians to warn their pleasure-seeking friends about the judgement to come if they don’t repent of their sins, take up their cross — the symbol of violent death — and follow Jesus. It’s the only way forward. The only way to save one’s life is to lose it.
It’s disappointing to see the departure from a literal translation that the NASB 2020 release is doing, particularly in the places that should clearly be masculine-only.
That said, here’s a gentle reminder that the KJV mistakenly does this too, as Philip Schaff points out in his Theological Propaedeutic on page 193. In Matthew 2:16, the translation should be male children, as NASB correctly translates it. KJV mistranslates it as simply children.
No translation is perfect. The NASB 1995 is very good, better than most other translations in most places, and I plan to stick with it for the time being.
I often feel like we are in the middle of another reformation in a 500-year cycle. John Calvin and Martin Luther had no idea they were in the middle of a reformation.
There are so many triggering things about this interview. This particular part is blatantly historically wrong on several levels. Of course they knew they were in a reformation. And they weren’t pioneering new ground. There were groups outside the Roman Catholic society who believed in justification by faith alone; those groups had existed in one form or another since the time of Christ. What’s more, the Reformers’ view of justification squared faithfully with scripture. You didn’t have to deny the Bible to believe in what the Reformers believed. Serene Jones has no right to claim that what she is doing is remotely similar to what the Reformers did.
At the Reformation, a group of men left a heretical society by assenting to a Biblical view on a wide variety of issues — the chief being the basis of how man can become right with God. They weren’t going in a new direction. They were returning to Christ’s original teaching on the subject. Serene Jones is either deliberately spreading lies, or worse, she’s self-deceived.
This message by Timothy Brindle1 wrecked me. It absolutely knocked me off my feet and rolled me in the dirt. In American Gospel, the true Christ-centered application of David and Goliath is briefly hinted at. This sermon fleshes that out in full detail. I listen to a lot of audio; this 45 minute sermon is something I recommend putting at the very top of the list.
Two things about this Pulpit and Pen article. First, because Steve Anderson calls orthodoxy heresy, I don’t consider him an ally. Second though, the enemy of your enemy is not your friend. If the totalitarians are doing this to the Steve Andersons of the world today, they’re going to be doing it to orthodox Christians tomorrow. The stormy winds are picking up.
Last fall, James White teamed up with Michael Brown to take the negative side in this debate against Deweyne Robinson and Ruth Jensen-Forbell. Even if you think you’re very familiar with what the New Testament has to say on this subject, I still highly recommend watching this debate. There are a lot of useful things that came out of it.
Throughout the entire debate though, it’s confusing whether the affirmative side is admitting that homosexuality is sinful or not. Half the time they talk about how humans are imperfect and that the whole point of the gospel is that “there is therefore no condemnation,” and the fact that Jesus forgave the woman in Luke 7 but didn’t say, “Go sin no more,” leaving the door open apparently for a continuation in her forgiven sin.1 All of this belies an admission that we are indeed dealing with sin here.2 But then the other half of the time, the affirmative side argues that committed stable same-sex relationships aren’t what Paul had in mind in his writings (a claim that’s demonstrably disprovable by pointing out that committed same-sex couples were very much a reality in Paul’s day and that he would’ve known that by categorically condemning this perversion in general, he was leaving no room for that group), and that Jesus never condemned it either.3
I’m walking away from this debate not actually understanding the affirmative’s stance on the subject. They seem confused. Half of their contention is incompatible with the other half. There’s no point in talking about Jesus’ forgiveness and love and the fact that nobody’s perfect if what you’re talking about is ok in the first place. You don’t need Jesus’ forgiveness if you’re already righteous. It makes no sense.
Approaching this from a proper Biblical perspective, I think the answer is sadly obvious: they know they’re wrong. It’s written in their conscience and they’re without excuse. So they’re grasping at whatever inconsistent lines of argumentation they can to justify their sin. It’s incoherent babblings compared to the meaningful, consistent exegesis of scripture as demonstrated by the negative side.
- There would be no other reason for Ruth to point out the fact that we don’t have a record of Jesus telling the woman to stop sinning. ↩︎
- If both sides agree that this is a sin and the disagreement is merely over whether Jesus loves us as his ostensible children despite our habitual non-remorseful practice of our sin, then the main tenant of the debate is actually over. In other words, the affirmative side would have to admit, “No, homosexuality is not consistent with New Testament obedience, but that’s ok, because Jesus loves us despite our imperfections, and there’s therefore now no condemnation.” ↩︎
- As the negative side aptly points out, Jesus never condemned child molesting either, so by this line of argumentation, that lifestyle is ok with Jesus too. This approach ignores the fact that Jesus clearly taught he had come to fulfill the law, not to abolish it, and the fact that the Old Testament law is black and white on this issue. Since homosexuality was illegal in Israel, Jesus didn’t need to talk about it because nobody was openly practicing it, and everyone understood it to be wrong. Why talk about gluten in a gluten-free cookbook when there are much more practical things to talk about? Jesus focused on the sin at hand in his day. Had homosexuality been rampant in Israel, he would’ve most certainly talked about it, as Paul and the other apostles did once the gospel went to the Gentiles. See how the negative side has a much more consistent view of the whole of scripture than the affirmative side ever possibly can? ↩︎
At first, the project was simple: search for insults to keep reading Luther interesting. He’s spectacular at times, and other times he’s theologically dense, as all theologians are from time to time. And you really had to read Luther to find his better insults; they didn’t just pop off the page. So I read Luther and highlighted every insult I found. Of course, that means someday someone’s going to inherit the volumes of Luther’s Works that I own, and they’re going to find every insult throughout the books highlighted. Nothing else; just the insults.
Here’s the full compilation on one page.
R. Scott Clark:
I think there is a difference between real, professional scholarship and that of the amateur variety. Frankly, most pastors are amateur scholars. By this I don’t mean to be demeaning, but it’s a fact.
This whole thought piece is very useful. Clark refutes the notion that seminary was a product of the enlightenment, and that a lack of seminary-level training was historically normative in the preparation of ministers.
At first, I was thankful that they pointed me to my church leaders, but then I clicked on the link to True Freedom Trust, 4 which they “heartily recommend.” The first article that caught my attention was one that dealt with loneliness and physical isolation for those experiencing same-sex attraction but still desired to remain celibate. Here is what I found when I read that article:
“Over many years of providing pastoral support at TFT, we’ve heard same-sex attracted Christians suggest a number of ways of meeting their longings for intimacy:
- Hugs with a same-sex friend
- Visiting naturist beaches5
- Visiting gay bars or nightclubs without the intention of sexual intimacy
- Using an online chatroom or a dating website/app to meet other same-sex attracted people just for friendship
- Sharing a house or going on holiday with another person of the same sex
- Solemnising a particular same-sex friendship
It’s unbelievable that people who call themselves Christians are giving out this kind of advice. The lines of orthodoxy versus the untenable abandonment of scripture are forming.
I was fighting back tears watching this last night. Nabeel Qureshi, who I won’t meet in this life but who holds a special place in my heart, is in it, as well as a whole host of others who explain the essence of gospel in sharp contrast to the American Gospel, which is a denial of the true gospel of Jesus Christ. Plan to watch this more than once.
I’ve already responded to WM 120 in a couple different ways the past couple of days, each one from a different angle. The first was about the danger of exchanging truth for certainty and then about the importance of not confusing methodology with philosophy.
Now I want to demonstrate how relative some of the core arguments that Jeff is making truly are. Close to the end of WM 120 we have this sound bite:
Erasmus was important in the providence of God but really the definitive Textus Receptas came when Godly men like the Calvins and the Stefanuses and the Bezas embraced this text and printed it and it became the basis for the Protestant translations of the Bible into the various vernacular languages.
What he’s saying here is that we can know that the TR has God’s blessing on it as the confessional text because some great men (who had no printed alternative) happened to use it. Taken at face value, what Jeff is saying is that if Erasmus’ text had simply remained an obscured entity, it wouldn’t need to be taken as seriously. We know it is the definitive “received” text, the argument goes, because of the host of people who jumped on board with it at a specific time in church history. Here’s the problem with that argument: you can use this exact same argument for the critical text too. To demonstrate this, I’m going to switch up the quote a bit.
Eustathius of Antioch was important in the providence of God but really the definitive Alexandrian text came when Godly men like Athanasius of Alexandria embraced this text and quoted it and it became the basis for expelling the heretical teachings of Arius and Eusebius of Nicomedia who happened to be using a corrupted Byzantine text.
See how relative this is? Jeff is using the 16th century and I’m using the 4th century. Or how about a more modern example:
Wescott and Hort were important in the providence of God but really the definitive Critical Text came when Godly men like John MacArthur, R.C. Sproul, and John Piper embraced this text and quoted it and it became the basis for the majority reading of millions of Christians in the 20th and 21st centuries.
Two can play this game. One is as persuasive as the other. Something becomes quickly clear in all of this: the criteria for defending a text must be more than merely, “I think this is the canonical text because these people were using it at this particular time in history and they seemed to have God’s blessing on them.” If that’s your argument, you’re defending an ecclesiastical tradition and in so doing you’re rejecting other equally noble ecclesiastical traditions. This is why true textual criticism must be employed. True textual criticism says, “I acknowledge that varied texts were employed at various times in church history. That’s all very fine and good. But what did the original autographs say?” That is the question, after all, isn’t it? TR-onlyists like Jeff are, by their own words, rejecting this approach, and instead going with a relative buffet of historical anecdotes from which to cherry-pick a preferred favorite, hoping against all odds that they hit the jackpot, despite demonstrable evidence to the contrary.1
Moving a minute later into the audio, we encounter this:
When James White and others attack Erasmus you should understand that sometimes that is a diversion from the real attack, which is on the Textus Receptas. Our embrace of the Textus Receptas does not depend on the piety or the scholarly erudition of Erasmus.
Once again, I’m going to change the names on this and spin the quote. Here we go:
When Robert Truelove and others attack Wescott and Hort, you should understand that sometimes that is a diversion from the real attack, which is on the Critical Text. Our embrace of the Critical Text does not depend on the piety or the scholarly erudition of Wescott and Hort.
If you want to use Jeff’s argument to defend the TR, be consistent and never again criticize the piety of Wescott and Hort. I don’t want to hear it.
When Martin Luther responded to Desiderius Erasmus in his On the Bondage of the Will in 1525, he argued among other things about the basis of justification. Erasmus did not believe in Martin’s concept of sola fide. The business about how man becomes right with God is a gospel issue, core to the faith. If you’re going to say anything against the theology of Wescott and Hort and not say anything against the theology of Erasmus, you’re being inconsistent.2
In his notes for WM 120, Jeff wrote that “[James White] does not seem to be making much effort or progress toward attempting to understand or represent our position.” Candidly, I think James White understands Jeff’s position quite well, actually. Perhaps better than Jeff himself understands it. There are these very blatant holes in the TR-onlyist line of argumentation that hinder me from connecting with any of it. The more I study it, the more its contradictions glare, and the more it makes no sense.
- The fact that Athanasius used an Alexandrian text to defeat Arianism is not the reason I subscribe to the Critical Text, but if that were my reason, it would have equal footing to Jeff’s reason for using the Textus Receptas. It would be amusing in a debate to watch the inevitable impasse that would occur if Jeff’s opponent used Athanasius as their Erasmus. Stalemate! ↩︎
- Critical Text advocates will point out that the number of doctrinally sound people who have arrived upon the textual criticism scene subsequent to Wescott and Hort nullifies any DNA fallacy that TR-onlyists try to bring up regarding these two men. I get that. I’m simply raising this accusation of inconsistency to demonstrate that you don’t even have to be familiar with how much has happened in textual criticism in the past 100+ years in order to be able to expose the fallacy of whining about “modern liberal scholars” when your own TR was put together by a guy who disputed with Martin Luther about the basis of salvation. ↩︎
Listening to WM 120 has made something crystal clear to me in a way that I had not seen before today.
There’s the methodology to textual criticism and there’s the philosophical underpinnings behind it.
- The methodology is whether you use textual criticism to derive your text, or if you simply defend an ecclesiastical tradition.
- The philosophy is whether you believe in the tenacity and preservation of the text, or if you think we no longer have the words of the original autographs.
These are two separate things. They’re related, but they’re distinct, and when you combine their total possible combinations, they represent 4 different quadrants. Now let’s use these two concepts to look at the characters in our story:
- Desiderius Erasmus mostly had the right philosophy and the right methodology — he was just extremely limited in the number of manuscripts that he had available.
- Jeff Riddle has the right philosophy but the wrong methodology.1
- Bart Ehrman has wrong philosophy but the right methodology.
- James White has the right philosophy and the right methodology.
- Gene Kim has the wrong philosophy and the wrong methodology.2
It’s important to note that if two contemporary3 people’s philosophy disagrees but their methodology agrees, then they will be arrive at the same conclusions generally speaking about what the New Testament should look like. In contrast, if their philosophy agrees but their methodology disagrees, then they will not arrive at the same conclusions about what the New Testament should look like. This is why James White can reference the book Beyond What Is Written. He disagrees with the philosophy but he agrees with the methodology.
Thus in terms of output, philosophy has much less bearing and influence than methodology. That said, in terms of theology, it’s more important to be correct about the philosophy than the methodology. If forced to choose, I would rather be a Jeff Riddle than a Bart Ehrman.
But I would really rather not be forced to make that choice. It’s nice to be right about both.
- Jeff’s mistake is in thinking that because he agrees with Erasmus’ philosophy, and because he and Erasmus both use Erasmus’ text, therefore Jeff’s methodology is of necessity the same as Erasmus’. It’s not. Erasmus’ methodology was very different because he himself didn’t have an ecclesiastical tradition to follow. He was forging new territory in putting together a printed text. If he were living today, he’d have a very different body of evidence from which to draw. As a result, his New Testament today would look different than what he put together then (e.g. Rev 2:2). Beyond What Is Written makes this contention indisputable. ↩︎
- This is a new actor that I’m pulling out of the hat simply to fill out the 4th quadrant. No serious person gets both of these aspects wrong like this. Gene believes that the King James Version is the final standard (ecclesiastical tradition = wrong methodology) and he believes that the Greek is garbage (denial of manuscript tenacity = wrong philosophy). ↩︎
- The key here is that they both have access to the same body of manuscript and historical evidence. ↩︎
My good friend Joe asked this on Facebook tonight:
A friend challenged me yesterday. Do you believe every word in the Old and/or New Testament is infallible? Do you believe the each author is infallible? If not, he concluded, “you’re basically agnostic.” If you’re willing, I’m interested in your thoughts.
I created a Facebook account just so I could interact with the answers. We had quite an interesting thread. Because of the importance of the subject, it’s worth a read. I started out with this as my reply:
We have 5,800 Greek manuscripts (nearly all of them partial fragments) pre-Gutenberg of the New Testament, and many thousands more of translations into other languages (e.g. Latin). The “witness” of the New Testament is unparalleled to any other historic book, and we’re still discovering new manuscripts. The amount of agreement between them is truly astonishing given the amount of human error that inevitably does occur when you are manually copying a document. It’s true that there are textual variants, as there are with any historical document, but none of them alter any doctrine or teaching. There’s a consistency across the different lines of transmission. Christianity spread so rapidly because of how many (slightly imperfect) copies were made in the early centuries. In short, if you want to argue that people made up things along the way the past 2,000 years, to be consistent you must also call into question a thousandfold anything we know Alexander the Great, Homer, etc. A high confidence in the accuracy and consistency of the manuscript tradition of the New Testament does not require faith. Belief in the actual contents does require faith.