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Someone named Scott posted a comment to a Facebook Ad promoting our upcoming conference and a brief-but-spirited exchange followed between him and Pastor McShaffrey.

Our Facebook admin deleted the conversation from below the ad because it did not appear as a proper forum for this kind of debate.

We are re-posting it to the blog because it is a prime example of how apologetics works (or sometimes doesn’t work) in discussions related to textual criticism.

Scott writes:

I’m not sure what the big deal is about the Textus Receptus.

That term usually refers to Erasmus’ reconstruction in the 16th century of the Greek form of the New Testament, cobbled together from whatever sources were available to him. Much of it relies on six Greek manuscripts, of which five followed the Byzantine tradition, which differs in various details from the Western tradition.

Erasmus’ work was monumental, but he made mistakes. In fact his work went through multiple editions in order to correct some of those mistakes. He was limited by the manuscripts available to him, and of course had no access to manuscripts that have been unearthed since then.

Come on, guys. Erasmus was a great scholar, but he was not God. His work product is no more the pure unsullied Word of God than is the King James Version or the Douay Rheims Bible. We can do better in the light of more recent scholarship.

Christian responds:

Dear Scott, When it comes to the debate over which text base is authentical, I will heartily agree with at least one thing you wrote: We can do better. A good place to start would be making fewer assumptions about positions we do not fully understand and, after that, setting forth sound arguments rather than subtle accusations. Erasmus as God? Come on, guy.

If you are sincerely interested in this topic, then perhaps we can set up a time to talk. My secretary monitors the FB page and does not get paid enough to serve as my social media amanuensis. You may contact me directly through the contact page at fivesolas.church and, that you might prepare for the conversation, here are some of the questions I have:

  • Can you provide historical proof that Erasmus only had access to 6 Greek manuscripts?
  • Do you really think “Textus Receptus” readers use the editions published by Erasmus?
  • Are you aware that referring to “text traditions” is outdated in light of current text-critical models (i.e., CBGM)?
  • Do you believe the manuscripts discovered in the last 2 centuries out-number those destroyed in the previous 18 centuries?
  • If publishing “multiple editions” is problematic, then how do you justify the 28 editions of Nestle-Aland?
  • Didn’t you forget to mention how the discovery of the papyri in the 20th century changed everything?
  • If someone wants to purchase a copy of the “unsullied Word of God,” to which printed edition would you point them?

As you begin to ponder these questions, please consider reading some of the material linked here, here, here, and here. Again, contact me directly if you wish to continue this discussion. If we receive a reply via FB it will be promptly deleted.

Scott responds:

I have no interest in taking this discussion private. I am writing more for onlookers than for you. Delete if you must, but it would be fairest to delete my original comment and all the replies, rather than enforce a one-sided conversation by silencing the other side.

I am not the one who treated the Textus Receptus as “the authentic word of God.” By your own account it was “our fathers in the faith” who did so. I can’t be sure what you meant by that because you didn’t say. Perhaps you merely meant that Luther used the Textus Receptus for his translation into German. If that’s all you meant, then your wording seems overblown, and misleadingly so.

I leaped to the conclusion that you shared this reverence for the Textus Receptus. That was a hasty and careless reading on my part, for which I apologize.

You misrepresent me. I never said or implied that Erasmus had only six Greek manuscripts. I carefully hedged, saying that “Much of it relies on six Greek manuscripts.” That assertion is based on some quick Googling, plus some half-remembered remarks by some scholar or other. I don’t claim to be a scholar of Erasmus, but I think it’s fair to rely on the work of others — though certainly not foolproof.

I don’t know what editions or versions of the Textus Receptus its readers use. It’s not relevant to the question. I was responding to the notion that the Textus Receptus was the authentic Word of God (which I now understand isn’t necessarily your position).

The traditional division into Byzantine and Western traditions is no doubt an oversimplification. My point is that Erasmus’ sample was arguably unrepresentative.

Of course the manuscripts discovered in the last two centuries don’t outnumber the ones that had been destroyed before then. So what? That’s an absurd and meaningless comparison. The point is simply that Erasmus didn’t have them, and we do. It is of course possible that Erasmus had some manuscripts that have been lost in the meanwhile. I don’t know if that’s what you’re concerned about.

I never said that publishing multiple editions was problematic. It’s obviously a good thing, as long as later editions are improvements on earlier ones. However the later edition is a confession that the earlier one needed improvement (and an implicit hint that the later edition may not be perfect either).

I assume that the papyri you mention are things like the Dead Sea scrolls and the Nag Hammadi library. I had no reason to mention them specifically. They’re just particular examples of things that we have that Erasmus didn’t have.

I wouldn’t send anyone anywhere for the unsullied Word of God. As far as I’m concerned there is no Word of God, sullied or otherwise. If they just want to know our best guess about the contents of the original manuscripts, I would refer them to the most current research by qualified textual scholars, preferably peer-reviewed. Not that I would likely know who they are, but whoever they are, they’re the ones to ask.

Christian responds:

Scott, We are happy to leave this reply public since your last paragraph demonstrates so well the inevitable end of textual skepticism: No Word of God