Two “dirty little secrets” of modern textual criticism
Proof — Prominent textual scholars believe God made mistakes when he wrote the Bible
I continue with my review and rebuttal of Jack McElroy’s book, Which Bible Would Jesus Use? With this post I’d like to review chapters 2 and 3 together because they present similar arguments against modern versions. I’ll try to briefly lay out the content of each chapter.
Chapter 2 is an overview of Sinaiticus and Vaticanus, two of the oldest complete codices of the NT that the church possesses. While they may be some of the oldest codices in existence, McElroy argues that does not mean they are reliable when it comes to the Word of God. Both of them contain numerous variant readings that not only disagree with the majority of manuscripts, but also with each other. In fact, Vaticanus is a text that has been edited according to an Alexandrian principle .
They were used by textual critics in the late 19th century, particularly B.F. Westcott and F.A. Hort, to create a revised critical Greek text from which new, modern versions are translated. The problem, however, is that there are two “dirty little secrets” about those codices that modern textual critics don’t want their readers to know.
The first is that critics know those two codices are filled with errors, but they will believe them anyway. Citing a number of scholars, McElroy explains how they themselves tell us that Sinaiticus and Vaticanus are both filled with errors that distort the biblical text to the point they can’t be trusted.
The second “secret” is that critics assert that God made those mistakes in the original autographs. Again citing from a number of scholars, McElroy claims that modern textual scholars believe God or the authors of Scripture made mistakes concerning geography, grammar, and basic facts of detail .
Chapter three expands upon the last point and provides several citations from modern translations of specific passages that seem to contradict each other across the various modern versions, as well as from scholars like Bruce Metzger and Philip Comfort who have commented that errors may have existed in the original writing when the first biblical author wrote down his Gospel or epistle.
Some of the passages that McElroy highlights are Mark 1:2, John 7:8,10, Matthew 5:22, Mark 3:5, and 2 Samuel 21:19. He develops his point further by showing the reader how those passages read will severely impact some important doctrines essential to the Christian faith like the impeccability of Christ and the inerrancy of Scripture. He then concludes the chapter by setting up the subject for the 4th chapter on the original autographs.
Practically ever KJV Only book has a chapter or section of chapters explaining how the two codices, Vaticanus and Sinaiticus, are wildly corrupted to the point of teaching heresy and how Westcott and Hort elevated them to a level of unquestionable prominence that has shaped modern Bible versions to this day.
Generally, the discussion is a ridiculous cacophony involving revision of ancient church history and the development of textual criticism. KJVO apologists will compile miscitations of out of context passages that are alleged to have been intentionally left out of those codices by editors who wanted to corrupt the Scripture. And then they impugn the character of Westcott and Hort as two Bible-hating textual critics who used those two codices to re-write the NT. They are the gateway scholars to all the modern perversions available today on the Christian book market. All those talking points are stirred up with a massive dose of pseudo-expertise in KJVO literature.
Never is there any attempt to genuinely explain the historical background and development of those codices. They are by default considered corrupted by heretics and were pushed onto our modern era by heretics. And that is exactly what we have here with McElroy’s two chapters.
They are amazingly bad; embarrassingly so. In fact, he even references an online article Will Kinney cobbled together explaining how Vaticanus and Sinaiticus are corrupted. Referencing Will Kinney in your book as a reputable source for understanding the character of Vaticanus and Sinaiticus is like referencing Rachel Dolezal as a reputable source for race relations in the United States.
Space just does not allow the opportunity to chase down every rabbit trail McElroy presents in his chapters regarding the history of Vaticanus and Sinaiticus and the reason why scholars utilized them in textual theory, but when the real history is put into perspective, they are not the Satanic bugbears KJV apologists want them to be.
Most folks in the 21st century forget that North Africa, where the so-called Alexandrian family of manuscripts circulated, of which Sinaiticus and Vaticanus are representative, was once a thriving Christian community. Some of the more notable earlier leaders there included Clement, Origen, Athanasius, Cyril, Tertullian, Cyprian, and Augustine.
Far from being the hotbed of heresy that KJV apologist say Alexandria was, it was just as orthodox as any other Christian community throughout the world at that time. In fact, when the entire world-wide church was essentially sliding into the heresy of Arianism, due in part to theological and cultural compromise in Antioch, where KJVO apologists insist the Bible was kept pure, it was Athanasius of Alexandria who was the anchor God used to keep Christianity biblical. He would have used the Alexandrian manuscript text types as his Bible.
McElroy sets up his reason for rejecting the Alexandrian texts with the following outline in his book [39-40]:
- Paul made 3 missionary journeys, visited scores of cities, and never went to Alexandria, Egypt.
- No original New Testament letters were ever written to anyone in Egypt.
- The two main “oldest and best” Vaticanus (B) and Sinaiticus (Aleph) manuscripts originated in or near Alexandria, Egypt.
- The best you could ever say about them is that they represent textual variation unique to that country.
- There was a lot of creative editing for style (referred to as “Alexandrian trimming”) and content instead of faithful copying going on in Alexandria.
If we take McElroy’s logic here, that represents KJVO apologetics in general, only cultic, new agey fake religious people who called themselves “Christian” lived in and around Alexandria. Apparently, it was a spiritual black hole where God’s Spirit could not operate and the Gospel could never penetrate. Nothing is to be trusted that came from Alexandria, and by extension North Africa, throughout church history. If by God’s grace there were any Christians living there at all, they didn’t have a real Bible to read. It’s a miracle they knew anything about Jesus.
But let’s revisit those 5 points. We could maybe re-write them thus,
- Paul made 3 missionary journeys, visited scores of cities, and never went to the British Isles.
- No original New Testament letters were ever written to anyone in Britain.
- The TR and the KJV originated in or near Great Britain.
- The best you could ever say about them is that they represent textual variation unique to that country.
- There was a lot of creative editing for style (referred to Erasmusian addition) and content instead of faithful copying going on in Britain.
You see how easy that is? But of course, it doesn’t represent the facts any more than McElroy’s strained version about the Alexandrian text type.
McElroy also pulls together a number of quotes and citations from various scholars he says proves his contention that they know Vaticanus and Sinaiticus are error-filled but don’t really care. His discussion, however, doesn’t even begin to explain how those two codices were just a part of a much larger picture of modern textual criticism that took shape in the 20th century with the uncovering of a number of papyrus texts. He attributes to them way too much influence. It is almost mythical.
Additionally, he doesn’t even define for the reader what those scholars meant by “error” or “corruption.” KJVO apologetics typically mean by the idea of “corruption” that an intentional distortion of the text by a nefarious individual or individuals that changes or challenges orthodox doctrine. But the word corrupt in the practice of textual criticism does not mean intentional distortion to introduce theological error. It has to do more with variants between similar manuscript types and explaining why or why not they should be included. There could be a number of rational, non-satanic cult reasons for why those variants exist. The point is that “corruption” does not equate to heretical attempts to alter God’s Word. That’s KJVO induced paranoia.
McElroy also ignores evangelical men who have written on the subject in order to provide a balanced perspective. Apologist James White is conspicuously absent in his discussion, as is Mark Minnick, who contributed essays on textual criticism to two separate books addressing the Scriptures and the Bible version issue among Fundamentalist believers. The author provides a disservice to his readers by ignoring good men who depart from his presentation.
In chapter 3, McElroy moves to highlighting specific passages that differ in reading between modern versions. They are meant to be the proof that modern scholars believe God made errors in the Bible. All of them he claims have dire impact upon the biblical orthodoxy. He specifically notes Christ’s deity as well as biblical inerrancy.
For the sake of the reader’s patience, let me interact with one I have addressed in a previous post. McElroy draws our attention to John 7:8-10 a number of times in his chapter. The passage states in the KJV,
8 Go ye up unto this feast: I go not up yet unto this feast; for my time is not yet full come.
9 When he had said these words unto them, he abode still in Galilee.
10 But when his brethren were gone up, then went he also up unto the feast, not openly, but as it were in secret.
The debate hinges upon the word “yet” in verse 8. The word translated “yet” is not found in the “oldest and best” manuscripts that are despised by KJVO apologists, so that in modern versions like the NASB and the ESV, Jesus says, “I do not go up to this feast…”
KJVO apologists insist that long ago, the redactors of the “oldest and best” manuscripts made a subtle change to John’s Gospel narrative that intentionally put a lie in the mouth of Jesus, because after He tells His brothers he wasn’t going up to the feast, He goes anyways as noted in verse 10. Jack Chick even has a tract about it.
The problem is easily explained, however, if one takes the entire context of what John writes. Christ has a discussion with his unbelieving brothers about His claims. They wanted Him to go up to Jerusalem and declare Himself the Messiah. He told them that it wasn’t His time for that just yet. Thus, when the context is considered, Jesus wasn’t telling His brothers that He wasn’t attending the feast at all, but that He wasn’t going up to the feast in the way they expected Him. There really isn’t a need for the word “yet.” The context is clear what was going on.
The KJV Onlyists never consider the fact that John wrote the Gospel without the word “yet,” because John the Apostle didn’t believe what he wrote was a contradiction. I mean, he was probably there as an eye-witness of the conversation. But it could be that at some later point in history, copyists thought that the text created a contradiction and so added the word to smooth out the reading. Deletion is always assumed by KJV Onlyists, never addition, which is just as bad when it comes to tampering with holy Scripture.
The other examples he lists are also easily explained. There are sound reasons why textual critics believe Mark 1:2 says “Isaiah the prophet” rather than “the prophets,” for instance. And it’s not because evangelical scholars don’t care and they believe God allowed errors in the Bible. To suggest as much to the readers of your book is just dishonest and slanderous.