“For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.”
“And it is easier for heaven and earth to pass, than one tittle of the law to fail.”
“The words of the Lord are pure words: as silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times. Thou shalt keep them, O Lord, Thou shalt preserve them from this generation for ever.”
Order of Contents
Regarding the preservation of the Greek New Testament, there are two main schools of thought: (1) the Critical Texts, and (2) the Ecclesiastical (or, Traditional, Byzantine, Majority, etc.) Texts.
(1) Three or so Critical Texts were discovered in the 1800′s in Egypt. Most Bible versions are based off of them today. They disagree with 8% of the text of scripture that had been preserved in the Ecclesiastical Texts that the Church had been using for 1800 years. This significantly affects the Doctrine of Inspiration, as many verses you learned in Sunday School, according to the Critical Texts, are not the Word of God.
(2) The Ecclesiastical (Majority, Byzantine, etc) Texts comprise about 5,000 manuscripts from across the world, and have been the traditional text that the Church has always used. The King James Version (Textus Receptus) comes from this tradition. The reformers and puritans were universally agreed in their affirmation of the Ecclesiastical Text, not for circumstantial reasons, but because of scriptural reasons. Below are resources that defend the majority, Church history view.
Does this Issue Really Matter?
While no primary doctrine of Christianity is lost in the Critical Texts, many secondary and tertiary doctrines are significantly altered. See here for a list of 40 Doctrinally Significant Variants.¹
¹ Mt 5:22,44; 6:1,13; 9:13; 17:21; 18:11; 19:17; 20:16; 20:22; 23:14; Mk 1:2; 6:11; 7:8; 9:29,44,46,49; 10:21,24; 16:9-20; Lk 2:40; 18:28; 22:43-44, 64; 23:34, 42, 45; Jn 1:18; 3:13; 5:4; Acts 2:30; 8:37; 10:30; 24:6-8; 28:29; Rom 8:1; 11:6; 1 Tim. 3:16; James 2:20; 1 Jn 4:3.
Thus the doctrine of inspiration, of what is the inspired Word of God, is very much affected. God places a curse upon those who either cut out or add to the Word of God (Rev. 22:18-19).
It should also be noted that the Ecclesiastical Text position is taught in Westminster Confession (1646) 1.8:
“The Old Testament in Hebrew… and the New Testament in Greek… being immediately inspired by God, and, by His singular care and providence, kept pure in all ages, are therefore authentical (Mt 5:18)…”
For one who is familiar with the field of textual criticism and wants to interact with the best positive and balanced case and defense for the Ecclesiastical Text position, see Dr. Maurice Robinson’s scholarly (but readable) essay: The Case for Byzantine Priority Buy.
“The words of men are perishable, being the words of perishable men; but… His words resemble Himself – they are imperishable, immortal.”
John ‘Rabbi’ Duncan
Where to Start? (in order of easy to more advanced)
Bernardinus De Moor (1709-1780)
Didactico-Elenctic Theology, vol. 2
“We concede some corruption of the founts [of the Scriptures as we have them], but of what sort? α. accidental, β. of some exemplars, γ. of one point or letter or another, δ. [they which are] always correctable from parallels.
But we deny corruption, α. done deliberately by the Jews, β. universal, of all codices, γ. of the whole context, δ. frequent, and, ε. irreparable, through which, if by then it be nearly universal, the sense would thus be injured, inasmuch as the sense would no longer be able to be discovered in the context or by parallels. We demonstrate this negative assertion:
α. From the providence of God, which by a singular kindness has so watched over our codex that it might not at any time take in anything defective, according to Isa. 40:8, compared with 1 Pet. 1:25. But, if the divine providence willed as much to preserve for the Church the canon perpetual, as to preserve for the canon its integrity, it follows that today’s canon of Scripture is uncorrupted: otherwise God would not have achieved His goal.
But divine providence willed as much to preserve for the Church the canon perpetual; for to this end God granted to the Church θεόπνευστον (inspired Scripture), so that thence it might be certain of the will of the Divine Being and the way of pursuing salvation, and have an immovable foundation and norm for faith and worship: as to preserve for the canon its integrity; for God keeps the same will still today, even toward the Church, to be saved through the Word, and concerning the Scripture, as the means of salvation, which will He was fostering when He first delivered to the Church the same Scripture in writing. Therefore, even today the canon of Scripture is uncorrupted.”
Adeyemi, Seni – ‘The Preservation of Scripture’ (2016) 20 paragrpahs
Adeyemi gives an excellent introduction to the Scriptural issues at stake. He includes numerous choice quotes from the reformers and puritans, and clearly distinguishes the change of viewpoint that came into reformed theology through B.B. Warfield’s deficient view of preservation (which has since become the norm).
Kayser, Phillip – “Has God Indeed Said?”: The Preservation of the Text of the New Testament (2004) 35 pp. with Wilbur Pickering. Kayser wrote the first two sections, Pickering the third section.
Kayser is especially helpful in listing out the Biblical verses and presuppositions that factor into, and should guide, the issues. He and Pickering also overwhelmingly show the corruption of the critical texts and the superiority of the Majority Texts.
‘Prefer the Shorter Reading?’ n.d. 8 paragraphs with two charts
One of the most foundational pillars of critical textual criticism since its rise in the late 1800’s has been to (almost always) prefer the shorter reading, which pillar is still widely popular today. This unproven assumption is based upon the premise that scribes would most of the time have willingly expanded the text, which means that the shorter reading was original (contrary to them having any fear of God and contrary to the testimony of the early Church Fathers).
This pillar of modern textual criticism, unbeknownst to many, has been thoroughly disproved by half a dozen recent textual studies. Consistent with common sense, scribes, insofar as they unintentionally made mistakes, most often simply left a letter or word out (bad eyesight). Wilson provides a table. Modern textual criticism, which underlies the basis of most modern Bible versions, has no clothes on; but rather has been cutting out the Word of God (Rev. 22:18-19).
‘Scribal Habits in Greek New Testament Manuscripts’, Filología Neotestamentaria, vol. 24 (2011), pp. 95-126
Pickering, Wilbur – ‘An Examination of the Alexandrian Texts’ (2004) 7 pp. beginning on p. 28. This is section three of the larger work co-authored with Phillip Kayser, “Hath God Indeed Said?”: The Preservation of the Text of the New Testament
Pickering demonstrates that the critical Greek texts of the New Testament that many of current Bible translations are based on, are inferior to the traditional texts.
C.S.P.M.T. – ‘Byzantine Greek New Testament: Introduction’ (2014) 8 pp.
This gives a historical account of the preservation of the Majority Text.
The Majority text is also known as the Ecclesiastical, or Byzantine text, as the Christian scribes in Byzantium during the Early Church and Middle Ages transcribed the majority of New Testament texts in Greek that have been traditionally used by the historic Christian Church.
This scholarly, yet readable, essay is the best, most balanced and careful description and argument for the ‘Majority Text’. Here are Dr. Robinson’s extensive credentials. Here is the outline to his essay:
A Problem with Modern Eclecticism
The Byzantine Priority Method
Principles towards Restoration of the Text
Principles of Internal Evidence
Principles of External Evidence
Inaccuracies and Misleading Claims
Pickering, Wilbur – The Identity of the New Testament Text Buy (1977; 2014) 191 pp. Be sure to read the latest edition, currently number IV (as of 2015).
A classic defense of the Majority Text of Greek New Testament manuscripts.
Cartwright, Thomas & William Fulke – ‘Confutation of the Rhemists’ Preface’ in Confutation of the Rhemist Testament (1618; NY: Leavitt, Lord & Co., 1834), pp. 13-38
The Rhemist version of the New Testament in English was a Roman Catholic translation from the Latin of the Vulgate. Naturally this begs the question of the Greek original and its preservation. Hence Cartwright (1534-1603)) and Fulke (1538-1589) have many things to say in this confutation of that preface regarding God’s preservation of the original Greek up through the manuscripts which they had in that day.
This short and easy to read booklet is both informative and humorous. Clark shines the spotlight on the subjective and unfounded method that liberal textual critics commonly use (specifically, Bruce Metzgers Textual Commentary) and sprinkles the whole with arguments for the Majority Text.
Crampton, W. Gary
‘Blackballing Jesus’ (1995) 4 pp.
In 1985 a group of 35 liberal scholars held the Jesus seminar in search for the ‘historical Jesus’. Their method was that of textual criticism, to vote how likely each verse of the gospels was, by casting colored beads reflective of their vote. Black meant that the saying at hand was definitely not Jesus’. Crampton exposes this nonsense masquerading under the name of scholarship.
Dr. Pickering answers Aland, Fee & Wallace.
What happens when textual critics cut and manipulate the Greek New Testament according to their every whim? 105 of the verses in the Nestle-Aland Greek New Testament (which most Bible versions are based off of) are shown not to exist in any actual manuscript of the Greek N.T. that we have.
F.H.A. Scrivener was a leading textual critic and defender of the traditionally received text during the late-1800’s. Daniel Wallace called the claiming of Scrivener for the Majority text position by M.T. advocates to be historical revisionism. While Scrivener had his own unique textual theories, Robinson documents that Scrivener agreed by and large with Majority Text presuppositions and that Wallace’s portrait of him is historical revisionism.
Fulke, William – A Defence of the Sincere & True Translations of the Holy Scriptures into the English Tongue, against the Cavils of Gregory Martin (1583; Cambridge: Parker Society, 1843) 625 pp. no ToC
Fulke (1538–1589) was an English Puritan divine. Fulke makes some of the first references to the ‘common received text’ in English (pp. 86, 533-4).
Cartwright, Thomas – Syn Theōi en Christōi: The Answer to the Preface of the Rhemish Testament (Edinburgh: 1602) 213 pp.
The Ecclesiastical Text: Text Criticism, Biblical Authority & the Popular Mind Buy (1997) 232 pp.
From a customer review: ‘This book puts [James] White and [Daniel] Wallace [contemporary evangelical critical text scholars that have critiqued the Majority Text position] in the corner in a fetal position.’
The Majority Text: Essays and Reviews in the Continuing Debate (1987) edited by Letis, 210 pp.
Edward Freer Hill’s Contribution to the Revival of the Ecclesiastical Text (1987) 177 pp.
Sturz, Harry – The Byzantine Text-Type & New Testament Textual Criticism Buy (1984) 305 pp. ToC
While Sturz is not a Byzantine text advocate, he argues that the Byzantine texts are far more reliable than what the critical text advocates have often given them credit for. He takes a middle position.
Various – Digging for the Truth – Collected Essays regarding the Byzantine Text of the Greek New Testament; A Festschrift in Honor of Maurice A. Robinson Buy (2014) 207 pp.
Guarino, Giuseppe – The Majority Text of the Greek New Testament: An Apology of the text of the New Testament Found in the Vast Majority of Surviving Greek Manuscripts Buy (2015) 132 pp.
Milne, Garnet – Has the Bible been kept pure? The Westminster Confession of Faith & the Providential Preservation of Scripture Buy (2017) 322 pp.
“This work of historical theology looks at the religious epistemology of the Westminster divines and especially what they meant in their Section 1:8 of the Westminster Confession of Faith when they stated that the Scriptures had been kept pure in all ages by God’s providence. I discuss whether they meant to teach that only the doctrine or the doctrine in its autographic text of Scripture had been preserved entire. The Westminster divines held that both the sense or doctrine and the pure text of the original revelation in the original languages had been kept pure through all ages.” – Milne
That the Long Ending of Mark is Original
Snapp, Jr., James – ‘A Case for the Longer Ending of Mark
An argument for Mark 16:9–20 as the original, canonical ending, written by Mark but added by his colleagues’ (2022) 26 paragraphs
The History of Textual Criticism
Vogan, Matthew – ‘Thomas Cartwright & the Bible’ (2019) 13 paragraphs
Vogan quotes Cartwright as to his theory of translation and of textual preservation. See Cartwright, Syn Theōi en Christōi the Answere to the preface of the Rhemish Testament ToC (1602), which was later republished as A Confutation of the Rhemists translation, glosses and annotations on the New Testament Ref (1618). See also the edition by William Fulke (1538-1589), Confutation of the Rhemish Testament.
Krans, Jan – Beyond What Is Written: Erasmus & Beza as Conjectural Critics of the New Testament Buy (Brill, 2006) 384 pp. ToC
McClure, Alexander – The Translators Revived: Biographies of the Authors of the King James Version of the Holy Bible (LutheranLibrary.org, 2020)
Diversity in the Post-Reformation
On Thomas Goodwin
Steele, Stephen – ‘A Westminster Divine & an Alexandrian Codex’ (2022) 27 paragraphs
In 1627-1628 Cyril, a Calvinist patriarch of Constantinople sent Codex Alexandrinus as a gift to King James of England. In the Gospels it represents the Byzantine text, but in the rest of the NT it represents the Alexandrian text type. Goodwin favored some of its readings, as well as Daniel Featley (both Westminster divines) in the English Annotations.
A Free Disputation Against Pretended Liberty of Conscience (London, 1649), ch. 27, p. 366
“and though there be errors of number, genealogies, etc. of writing in the Scripture, as written or printed, yet we hold providence watches so over it that in the body of articles of faith and necessary truths we are certain with the certainty of faith, it is that same very word of God, having the same special operations of enlightening the eyes, converting the soul, making wise the simple, as being lively, sharper then a two-edged sword, full of divinity, life, majesty, power, simplicity, wisdom, certainty, etc. which the prophets of old and the writings of the evangelists and apostles had.”
Scripture Light the Most Sure Light (1656), sermon 3 on 2 Pet. 1:19, p. 47
“How shall we hold and keep fast the letter of Scripture, when there are so many Greek copies of the New Testament? and these diverse from one another?
Yes, well: for though there are many received copies of the New Testament; yet there is not material difference between them… In the times of the Jews before Christ, they had but one original of the Old Testament; yet that has several readings: there is a marginal reading and a line reading, and they differ no less than eight hundred times the one from the other; yet the Jews did adhere to both and denied neither; Why? Because there was no material difference. And so now, though there be many copies of the New Testament; yet seeing that there is no material difference between them, we may adhere to all:”
The Majority Text in English
The textual base for the King James Version (the Textus Receptus, or ‘Received Text’) was largely put together from a dozen or so Greek manuscripts by Erasmus. While the KJV is a very good translation (one of the best), we have a lot more Greek manuscripts available today (5,000+).
Unfortunately there has not yet been a major, large scale translation of the Majority Text into English (publishing houses are not renowned for their scrupulous faithfulness to every jot and tittle of God’s Word). The only translations that have been done have been by single individuals. Dr. Maurice Robinson (according to his bibliography) is also working on an English translation.
Pickering, Wilbur – The New Testament with Commentary: The Sovereign Creator has Spoken: Objective Authority for Living Buy (2013)
The textual base for this translation is what Dr. Pickering considered to be the most faithful group of texts from within the Majority Texts (see below under Greek Editions of the Majority Text). The English translation philosophy, unfortunately, is not ideal though. Bible translations by single individuals (as opposed to groups of scholars with regulated processes of review) are notorious for uneven quality, idiosyncratic readings, etc.
The commentary to the text by way of footnotes is mostly practical and instructive for the beginner or intermediate student of God’s Word (and is not related to textual criticism).
What specific version of the Majority Text this translation is based off of is not clear, nor is his translation philosophy anywhere described.
Differences Between the Majority Text and the King James Version
Marlowe, Michael – ‘The Majority Text Compared to the Received Text’
This page is a collection of all the translatable differences (in English) between the King James Version and the Hodges-Farstad Majority Text. Marlowe is a reformed Christian and the webmaster of Bible-Researcher.com.
Pierpont, William – Some Improvements to the King James Version from the Majority Greek Manuscripts (1991)
‘This is a pamphlet… giving in English about 800 readings of the Pierpont & Robinson text where it differs from the Greek text presumed to underlie the King James version.’ – Bible-Researcher.com
Könni, Jussi – Collation of Robinson & Pierpont vs. Scrivener
This document compares in Greek the differences between the Robinson-Pierpont Majority Text and the Textus Receptus edition (1881) of F.H.A. Scrivener, which underlies the King James Version.
Editions of the Greek Majority Texts
Robinson, Maurice – The New Testament in the Original Greek: Byzantine Textform 2005 Buy (2005) 587 pp.
This is the best Greek Majority Text available today. There is an excellent scholarly appendix in the book on “The Case for Byzantine Priority.” This high quality and very well done book is selling at cost for $12, which is dramatically less than the Critical Text editions which often go for more than $100.
Pickering, W. – The Byzantine Greek New Testament HTML Buy The online version is the same as the print version though they have different titles. The online version has no textual apparatus; the printed book does.
The Family 35 line of transmission that this text is based off of is considered by Dr. Pickering to be the most accurate and pure within the Majority Text. He defends that thesis in a series of articles here. However, there are pros and cons to this Greek edition:
Pro: The editions of Robinson-Pierpont and Hodges-Farstad are largely based on Hermann von Soden’s collation of the Byzantine Text (1911). Pickering cites two significant pieces of evidence in his Introduction (to the print edition) that von Soden’s work ‘not infrequently’ is ‘seriously off the mark’. Pickering’s edition stems from his work ‘reconsider[ing] the evidence for the whole New Testament…’
Con: Pickering’s using of primarily one family of texts within the Majority Text seems a bit simplistic and unnecessarily discounts the usefulness of the other texts within the Majority Text tradition. See Dr. Robinson’s essay for a more balanced approach.
The Greek Orthodox Church was in large measure the Church that preserved the Majority Texts through history. This 1904 edition is their standard edition. Here is an introduction to the textual base of this edition. Here is the preface (in English) to the print version. Here is an English summary to the original preface of the 1904 version.
Hodges, Zane & Arthur Farstad – The Greek New Testament According to the Majority Text, with Apparatus Buy (1982, 1985)
This edition, while helpful and valuable, has a simplistic method for determining the preferred reading: a statistical method of literally counting which reading by the external evidence is the majority (counting noses). Unfortunately this has become a caricature of the Majority Text position. For a solidly grounded textual philosophy, see Dr. Robinson’s essay. Hodges and Farstad were professors at Dallas Theological Seminary.
von Soden, Hermann – Die Schriften des Neuen Testaments in ihrer ältesten erreichbaren Textgestalt hergestellt auf Grund ihrer Textgeschichte [The Writings of the New Testament restored to their earliest attainable Text-form on the Basis of their Textual History] vols. I (Prolegomena), 2 (Text with Appartus) 1913
Von Soden’s German work was the first major modern study to collate the Majority Text manuscripts. While the work is not faultless, Dr. M. Robinson evaluates it as ‘generally reliable’. Most modern Majority Texts (above) are based to a significant extent on von Soden’s work.
‘Von Soden’s text is based upon a theory of the manuscript tradition which divides witnesses into three basic groups: the Koine text (from Asia Minor), the Hesychian text (from Egypt), and the Jerusalem text. These three are reconstructed by von Soden and put on the same level as witnesses to the original text. Wherever two agree upon a reading he adopts that reading in his text. Consequently, von Soden’s text approaches much more closely to the Received Text than any other modern critical edition.’ – Bible-Researcher.com
The first link gives 4 more Greek Orthodox texts and 11 texts from the Received Text tradition (which is a subset of the Majority Text tradition), from the Center for the Study and Preservation of the Majority Text.
The second link gives various other manuscripts from within smaller families within the Majority Text.
Differences Between Majority Text Editions
This is a collation of all the differences (in Greek) between the Hodges-Farstad Majority Text edition and the Robinson-Pierpont Majority Text edition. There are 330 ‘major variants’ between them, which is almost nothing in the world of textual criticism: many books of the N.T. have either no, or less than three, variants. Over half of the variants (185) are in the Book of Revelation, which is one of the textually thornier books.
To get an idea of the overwhelming number of times the critical texts disagree with themselves, see Pickering’s article ‘An Examination of the Alexandrian Texts’ (above).
On the Lost, Greek Text of the KJV & Back-Translating
It is often thought by many that the Greek New Testament produced by the Trinitarian Bible Society (TBS) is the Greek text that was translated into English as the King James Version (KJV). This Greek text is often considered by some to be the par excellence, if not the exclusive, Textus Receptus (TR).
This Greek text produced by TBS, however, was not only not the one used by the KJV translators, but it was essentially back-translated from the English of the KJV (which process is notoriously risky and liable to err).
In the product description on TBS’s website, it is states that “[t]his Bible… provides… the New Testament in the Greek Textus Receptus of F. H. A. Scrivener.” Scrivener (1813-1891) was an 1800’s, conservative, textual critic who studied and appreciated the KJV, and was a prominent defender of it from the modern critical texts in his day. As is clear from his writings, he did not believe the KJV was faultless.
Scrivener, in his volume, The New Testament in the Original Greek…, in the Preface, describes how he did not have access to the exact, original Greek that the KJV translators used, and how he essentially back-translated the Greek from the English of the KJV. Here are some of his own words:
“…the readings ‘presumed to underlie the Authorized Version,’ in order that they may be published…” (pp. v-vi)
“…to keep the continuous text consistent throughout by making it so far as was possible uniformly representative of the Authorized version. The publication of an edition formed on this plan appeared to be all the more desirable, inasmuch as the Authorized Version was not a translation of any one Greek text then in existence, and no Greek text intended to reproduce in any way the original of the Authorized Version has ever been printed.
In considering what text had the best right to be regarded as ‘the text presumed to underlie the Authorized Version,’ it was necessary to take into account the composite nature of the Authorized Version…” (p. vii)
“It was manifestly necessary to accept only Greek authority, though in some places the Authorized Version corresponds but loosely with an form of the Greek original, while it exactly follows the Latin Vulgate.” (p. ix)
“…the presumed Greek original of the Authorized Version…” (p. ix)
“The paragraphs into which the body of the Greek text is here divided are those of the Revised Version… The marks which indicate the beginning of paragraphs in the Authorized Version [of 1611] do not seem to have been inserted with much care, and cease altogether after Acts xx. 36…” (p. xi)
To see Scrivener’s process for how he came up with his Greek text, and which manuscripts he chose readings from in order to make it (which the KJV translators were thought to have used), see pp. vii-ix.
Note the careful wording of the full title of Scrivener’s volume, which does not say that the Greek he produced was that which was translated into English in the KJV:
The New Testament in the original Greek, according to the text followed in the Authorized Version…
Some conclusions from the above are:
The final, Greek text that the KJV translators translated from, even in their own day, did not represent any one, existent, Greek manuscript, but was a humanly compiled-text.
Sometimes, due to the paucity of their Greek manuscripts, the KJV translators did not follow a Greek manuscript at all, but were forced to translate from the Latin Vulgate.
Scrivener’s Greek text also does not represent the Greek of any actual, surviving Greek manuscript, nor even the final, compiled, Greek text that the KJV translators translated from.
Rather, he essentially back-translated the Greek from the KJV English, presuming he knew, or taking his best guess, as to what that Greek should be (which process is notoriously liable to, and set up to err).
Hence Scrivener’s text, and that of TBS (which many believe is the most pure, or even only, TR), is essentially a translation of a translation of a compiled Greek text that is not known to exist today, it being lost to history and not preserved by God.
Despite this, however, do note that most of the implicit Greek readings behind the English KJV do exist, and have been preserved by God in printed† editions of Greek manuscripts, or compiled Greek manuscripts from the Post-Reformation era.
† Wikipedia: “The translators appear to have otherwise made no first-hand study of ancient manuscript sources, even those that—like the Codex Bezae—would have been readily available to them. In addition to all previous English versions [translations]… they made wide and eclectic use of all printed editions in the original languages then available…” ‘Sources’ in ‘King James Version’ (12-22-21)
Website for Further Resources
A Church Declaration
‘Statement on Scripture’ by the Illinois Lutheran Conference 5-4-1983
“We teach that the original manuscripts (autographa) alone are verbally inspired (2 Pet. 1:21, 2 Tim. 3:16) being preserved through copies to this day in their full integrity by the Holy Spirit who gave them (John 17:20, Matt 28:20, 24:35). We teach that through the family of manuscripts called the Majority (‘M’) texts which form the basis of the K.J.V. of 1611 (Textus Receptus) as well as Luther’s German Translation, the Scriptures have been brought to us today in their full pristine (original) integrity in spite of the variant readings in the Majority manuscripts.”
A Free Disputation Against Pretended Liberty of Conscience (1649), pp. 333-38
“Goodwin’s argument makes as much against Christ and the apostles as against us, for they could never in all their sermons and writings so frequently bottom and found the faith on <Greek> ‘as it is written in the Prophets,’ ‘as David saith,’ ‘as Isaiah saith,’ and Hosea, ‘as Daniel saith,’ as Moses and Samuel, and all the Prophets bear witness, if they had had no other certainty, that the writings of the Prophets, that came to their hands, was the very word of God, but the credit, learning and authority of men, as Mr. [John] Goodwin says, for sure Christ and the apostles and evangelists had not the authentic and first copies of Moses and the prophets, but only copies written by men, who might mistake, printers and translators not being then, more than now, immediately inspired Prophets, but fallibly men, and obnoxious to failings, mistakes and ignorance of ancient Hebraisms and force of words; and if ye remove an unerring providence, who doubts but men might add a <Hebrew> or subtract, and so vitiate the fountain sense? and omit points, change consonants, which in the Hebrew and Greek, both might quite alter the sense:
Nor can any say, ‘Christ and the Apostles being infallible, could well cite the prophets without a mistake, though the copies might have been vitiate and corrupt, 2. Because the very citing of these testimonies by Christ and his apostles, made them Scripture, and so of infallible authority; but our citing of them, (since both printers and translators are not immediately inspired, and we also might err) cannot adopt them into canonical and authentic Scripture, such as was first written by the immediately inspired prophets.’
I shall answer that first, this objection presumes that Christ and the apostles might, and did, find errors and mis-printings even in written Scripture, which might reduce the Church in after ages to an invincible ignorance in matters of faith, and yet they gave no notice to the Church thereof; or if there was no error de facto, then for so many hundred years, yet there are now substantial errors, and so foul that it may be we have no Word of God at all, amongst us, and God has no Church, no believer on earth, but we must all take the word of printers and translators, which is merely the word of man:
And what is become of all the martyrs that suffered by the bloody woman Babel? They died for mere conjectures and opinions, for they had not the first original copies of Moses and the Prophets, yea Stephen the first martyr, who according to all our copies, Acts 7, adds five to Moses, his 70 souls, that went down to Egypt, in that glorious sermon that he has before his death, when he sealed the truth with his blood and died gloriously, and said, ‘Lord Jesus receive my spirit,’ died but upon the faith of men’s fallible skill in grammar, printing and writing; for he cites the writings of Moses to his enemies that stoned him, according to the copies that they then had, who would quickly have controlled him if he had cited false copies, and Stephen’s own testimony was controverter, and therefore except we say that Stephen and Christ and the apostles cited the testimonies of the prophets as they were then obvious to the eyes and reading of both the people of God and the enemies, and that not simply as their own words which they spake as immediately inspired, but as the testimony of the prophets, according to the then written copies, we must say they spake not ingeniously the truth of God, for it was against truth, candor, ingenuity, to Christ and the apostles to say, ‘as it is written in your Law,’ John 8:17, and so often ‘it is written,’ if they would not have the hearers to receive with certainty of faith and full assurance, free from all doubting and fear of humane fallibility, that what they cited as written, was undoubtedly the same very truth of God, and no other, which Moses and the prophets spoke and wrote; and if they would not have them to read, search and believe these same Scriptures, and to conceive that they drew arguments in the New Testament to prove and confirm their doctrine from that which was written by Moses and the prophets in the Old Testament, and would not have them to believe them, only because New Testament writers immediately inspired had so said.
6. If God will have us to try and examine all spirits, all doctrines, by the Scriptures written, then are we certainly assured that the books we now have of the Old and New Testament, are the very Word of God, though we cannot by any possibility have the first and original authentic copies of Moses and the prophets and apostles. Because 1. God would not bid us try, and then leave us no rule to try withal but our own natural light, which must lead us into darkness. 2. The visible Church should not be guilty of unbelief if the written Word were not among us, or then Christ and his apostles speaking to us, as is clear, John 15:22; Rom. 10:14-15; Mt. 11:21-22. The assumption is clear by the commended practice of the Bereans, who tried Paul’s doctrine by the Scriptures, Acts 17. See Rivetus, Whitaker, Calvin. 3. By the command of God, 1 Thess. 5:2; 1 John 4:1; ‘Try all things,’ ‘try the sprits.’
7. John would not call those blessed who read and hear, Rev. 1:5, nor would Paul recommend reading to Timothy, and continuance in the doctrine of the Scriptures, and so extol the necessity and utility of the Scripture and the indwelling of the word of God in us as he does, 1 Tim. 4:16; 2 Tim. 3:14-16; Col. 3:16, nor could the things written by John ch. 21, by Moses and the prophets, Luke 16:29-31, be holden forth as sufficient to bring souls to heaven, and to cause them eschew Hell, if it were true that we ‘have no certainty that the Scripture of the old and New Testament are the very word of God, but such as is made of men’s credit and learning.’
8. Yea and so what God spake immediately to Abraham, Moses and the prophets, could not be infallibly and by certainty of faith to them the Word of God; for if God spake to them in a language intelligible, they had no certainty of faith that the words that came from God did signify thus and thus; for sure, God, by immediate inspiration, taught them not grammar and significations of words, and those that read the Law written by God’s finger on two tables of stone, those who heard Moses and the prophets preach in their mother-tongue, even the Jews who read the original first Hebrew copy of Moses and the prophets, must have had no warrant that that was the Word of God, but the authority of father, mother and nurses, who first taught them their mother-tongue, for sure the prophets were not school-masters to teach them Hebrew; so by this learning there was never since the world was any certainty of faith, but such conjectural human and fallible opinions in all the matters of God as is resolved ultimately (says Mr. Goodwin) into men’s fallible and topic authority and skill of grammar, and all divine faith is perished out of the earth, except God by a supernatural power taught men first grammar, and then to believe, for which we have no warrant, so all our faith must be dreams.
And since Mr. Goodwin acknowledges a supernatural power of the Spirit of grace to believe; what else does this Spirit cause us believe, but lies? or at best fancies resolved into human credit? which may be false for any certainty of knowledge that Libertines allow us?
May not reading, interpunction, a parenthesis, a letter, an accent, alter the sense of all fundamentals in the Decalogue? of the principles of the Gospel? and turn the Scripture in all points (which Mr. Doctour restricts to some few darker places, whose senses are off the way to heaven, and less necessary) in a field of problems, and turn all believing into digladiations of wits? all our comforts of the Scriptures into the reelings of a Windmill, and fancies of seven moons at once in the firmament? this is to put our faith and the first-fruits of the Spirit, and Heaven and Hell to the press. But though printers and pens of men may err, it follows not ‘that heresies should be tolerated,’ except we say, 1. that our faith is ultimately resolved upon characters, and the faith of printers. 2. We must say we have not the clear and infallible word of God, because the Scripture comes to our hand by fallible means, which is a great inconsequence, for though scribes, translators, grammarians, printers, may all err, it follows not that an erring providence of Him that has seven eyes, has not delivered to the Church, the Scriptures containing the infallible truth of God. Say that Baruch might err in writing the prophesy of Jeremiah, it follows not that the prophesy of Jeremiah, which we have, is not the infallible Word of God; if all translators and printers did their alone watch over the Church, it were something, and if there were not one with seven eyes to care for the Scripture. But for tradition, councils, popes, fathers, they are all fallible means, and so far forth to be believed as they bring Scripture with them.”
Bernardinus De Moor (1709-1780)
‘On the Imperishability of canonical books’ in Didactico-Elenctic Theology, vol. 2, pp. 339-40
“ . . . although many things, written by θεοπνεύστοις (inspired men), but not θεοπνεύστως, by inspiration, may have perished; or even θεοπνεύστα, inspired writing, but not writings destined by God that they might be referred into the public canon and repository of the Church: no Canonical writings, pertaining according to the intention of God to the Canon and corpus of the Scripture of the Old or New Testament, and at length also brought and received into that same Canon, have perished. This we prove:
α. By the Immutability of the Counsel of God, with the End of the Scriptures brought to bear. For what books God caused to be written, that they might be the perpetual canon of faith and manners for the universal Church, these He ought to preserve in good repair from dissolution. The rationale of the major [premise] is that the counsel of God would have otherwise been disappointed, and failed of its end: but this is absurd. But concerning books of this sort, destined for the perpetual canon, we treat here in accordance with the stated hypothesis/supposition: concerning which things, Paul treats in Romans 15:4, [in Greek] “for whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope”. Of the writings of this sort, therefore, nothing should perish, unless that goal in the writing of the same at the same time perish: hence nothing is to be added to, and nothing is to be removed from, the Canon (Rev. 22:18,19).
β. By the providence of God continually keeping watch for the salvation of the Church, which cannot be thought to be able to permit that the Church might suffer the loss or mutilation of so great a treasure as the canon of Scripture; and which is actually shown in all the times of the Old and New Testaments in the careful preservation of sacred Scripture, even in the greatest defections and vexations of the Church.
γ. By repeated promises and declaration (Mt. 5:18; Isa. 40:8; 1 Peter 1:23, 25). But, if God so carefully averts the mutilation and destruction of individual texts and their words, that not one little letter or the smallest point is able to perish; how much more would He prevent the destruction of entire books? especially since He wills to preserve His Word in the Church in written books.
δ. The vigilance and care of the Church is added, both of the Christian Church, which vigilance shows itself in such a number of writings of the holy fathers, in which they commend the sacred Scriptures, and discuss and enumerate the books comprehended in the canon, and carefully inquire concerning any ἀντιλεγομένῳ (disputed books); and also especially of the Jewish Church, to which the custody of the canon of the Old Testament was committed, and in this matter is nowhere accused of negligence or treachery by the Lord or his apostles: on the contrary, its care in preserving the integrity of the canon in the latter times was almost excessive and superstitious, inasmuch as the Masoretes [medieval Jewish group] set about numbering, not only the sacred books, but the sections, verses, words, and even the very letters, so that in this manner they might post [in Hebrew] “a guard for the Law, lest in any manner it might be able to be altered,”…
Also read the concise arguments for the uninjured integrity of the canon by Petrus Dinant… in which it is argued out of Mt. 5:18… that the codex of the Old Testament was preserved safe and sound unto the time of Christ… and that the unbelief of the Jews did no harm to it thereafter, he shows from their superstitious care for the uninjured integrity of the sacred codex, while he discourses concerning the means, by which, under the benign guidance of divine providence, the Christian Church in turn watched over the preservation of the canon of the New Testament.”
“Oh, it is a pitiable thing for a poor silly puppy of a sciolist to stand up in the pulpit vexing the people by shaking their confidence in our good English translation [the K.J.V.]”
John ‘Rabbi’ Duncan
“…the Church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.”
1 Tim. 3:15
“…the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life…”