(Note: Since this article was written in August 2004, I have come to an understanding of additional issues involved in the Bible Text debate.  Please see the article at http://www.puritans.net/news/bibletext070805.htm .)


By Parnell McCarter



The Bible is the infallible Word of God, and God has preserved the integrity of His Word for the Church from generation to generation.  But especially starting in the nineteenth century, many critics began questioning and denying that truth.   Many Presbyterian and Reformed denominations compromised in their defense of the truth on this matter.  One of the few Presbyterian denominations to remain faithful as a church on this issue has been the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland.   It is important for Christians to be armed with the truth.  In this article we shall review some of the resources available to help Christians understand the issues involved.


One resource on-line we have found to concisely explain many of the issues, in the context of its history, is an article at http://www.ourredeemerlcms.org/nttext.pdf entitled “THE NEW TESTAMENT:WHICH TEXT!” by Lutheran Pr. William P. Terjesen.  Here are some extended excerpts from that excellent article:


“If you have made any extensive use of the variety of Bible translations available today, you may have noticed that the King James Version and the New King James Version include words, phrases, verses, and even whole paragraphs of text that are missing from other modern translations.  You may have also noticed that many modern translations have marginal comments regarding ancient manuscript evidence for certain inclusions or deletions that sound, well, rather snippy.  What ’s going on?


You probably know that whatever English Bible you use is a translation from the original languages in which the Bible was written. The Old Testament was written in Hebrew (except for a few Aramaic

chapters),and the New Testament was written in Greek.  You probably also know that until the invention of movable type and the printing press in the 1400 ’s, publishing and preserving documents and books meant hand copying; a very difficult and expensive endeavor.  So from the days of the Biblical authors on until just prior to the Reformation, the Bible was published and preserved by being hand copied by scribes.


There are thousands of these hand copied manuscripts of the Bible in existence. There are also ancient translations of the Bible into Aramaic, Latin, Egyptian, etc., preserved in manuscript form, as well as hand copied church lectionaries (appointed readings for each day and each holiday of the church year),and quotations of Scripture in the writings of the ancient Church Fathers such as  Augustine, Athanasius, Jerome, etc. So the evidence for the text of the Bible is very extensive and compelling.  In the secular realm the text of an ancient book is accepted with confidence on far less than ten percent of the textual evidence that exists for the Bible.


Now just about the time that Dr. Martin Luther was beginning to study and teach the Biblical truths that led to the Reformation, a humanist scholar by the name of Erasmus published the first printed and mass produced edition of the Greek New Testament.  His printed text was based on the relatively small number of late manuscript witnesses that were available to him at the time.   What has been discovered since his day dwarfs what he had available to him.  Yet, we should not for this reason undervalue the manuscripts he worked with, or the text of his Greek New Testament.  The manuscripts he used were late, but they were faithful exemplars of the vast majority of New Testament manuscripts used throughout the church since the apostolic era.  Therefore Erasmus placed in the hands of the Reformers a printed Greek New Testament with genuine catholicity, which presented what had been preserved as sacred text in the church throughout its history.


It is important to realize, lest anyone deceive you in this regard, that the vast majority of ancient witnesses to the text of the New Testament favors this Ecclesiastical Text, Traditional Text, Majority Text,

Received Text, or whatever else you want to call it.  With Erasmus ’ Greek New Testament, and with other editions of that basic text by editors who followed Erasmus, scholars had at their disposal a printed edition of the consensus of ancient witnesses to the preserved, catholic, sacred text of the New Testament.   In time, these printed editions became known as the Textus Receptus,  or Received Text. When Luther and the Reformers urged us "Back to the Sources", it was to these extant texts, not to some hypothetically reconstructed original autograph.   It was the texts in hand that the Reformers and confessors called inspired and infallible…all of the Bible translations produced during the Reformation and post-Reformation eras, were translations of the received Hebrew text of the Old Testament, and the received Greek text of the New Testament, not some hypothetical reconstruction of lost original autographs...


In the 1700 ’s and 1800 ’s, as more and more ancient manuscripts and sources became available, it was discovered that some few of these witnesses differed substantially from the Ecclesiastical Text in numerous places.  These variant readings were seized upon by rationalistic, sceptical scholars in order to attack the church ’s doctrine of the verbal inspiration of the Scriptures.  Many conservative scholars responded to this threat by maintaining that the Ecclesiastical Text was the sacred text that God had preserved through the church throughout the centuries, and regarded the variant readings in the minority texts as either intentional or inadvertent corruptions.  They were not overly intimidated by the variant readings.  However,  some conservative scholars bought into the rationalistic argument that the Ecclesiastical Text was an ecclesiastical corruption of the text of the NT in the interests of orthodoxy. Conservatives began saying that the church had corrupted the NT by smoothing it out and taking out the rough edges.  They began to assert that the inspiration and infallibility of the NT resided only with the original autographs, and that it was the task of conservative textual critics to use the "earliest and best"manuscripts and witnesses in order to reconstruct, as closely as possible, the text of the autographs.  Thus conservatives turned against the Ecclesiastical Text and minimized the doctrine of divine preservation which had always gone hand in hand with the doctrine of inspiration.   They felt safe in locating inspiration and infallibility in the (as far as we know non-existent) autographs, and they confidently began the quest for the original text.   It didn’t seem to bother them that behind their quest lay the idea that for 1900 years labored with a "weak" text while the "purer" manuscripts lay mouldering in forgotten corners,only to be brought to light in an era noted more for its apostasy than for its faithfulness.  Is it an accident that the Reformation had the Ecclesiastical Text as its sacred text?


The nineteenth century culmination of the new approach to the text of the New Testament came with the publication of the English Revised Version of 1881.This granddaddy of all modern Bible translations reflects the text critical outlook of two famous English scholars, Messrs. Westcott and Hort.   They and the translation committee that worked with them were charged by the Anglican Church to revise the Authorized version as gently and sparingly as possible, making only patently necessary changes.  So what did they do?  Well,  first they edited an altogether new edition of the Greek New Testament which reflected their preference for a small minority of ancient manuscripts that differ sometimes sharply from the Byzantine/Majority text.  Then they translated their new text into English rather than following the text used by the Authorized Version translators.  They made unnecessary changes to the wording of the AV, even when this made their version more obtuse and stilted, and unleashed it on the world.


How did the world react? First,the scholars.  By and large they liked Westcott and Hort ’s new Greek Text, but were mixed about the quality of the English translation.  The nineteenth century was a time when people snapped hungrily at any novel new idea. And just as they had done with Darwin and evolution, so they did now with an amazing fascination for discarded old manuscripts dug out of monastery wastebaskets and cellars.  In the scholarly world Westcott and Hort ’s Greek New Testament, and the multitudinous revised editions of it throughout the 20 th century,  have become the almost universally recognized New Textus Receptus.


But among ordinary folk things were different.  This newfangled revision was stiff and stilted, retaining little of the beauty of the AV.  And many words, phrases, verses and even parts of chapters were missing or altered.  Where disputed passages were retained,  there were crabby little comments in the margins to aggravate the reader ’s doubt.  By and large,  the laity would have none of it and continued to use the AV as if the Revised Version didn’t exist, and for the most part, forced the clergy to do likewise.  The RV was dead at the starting gate.


It wasn ’t until the Bible translation mania of the post World War II era that the AV slowly began to make room for various modern versions.  The Revised Standard Version, the New English Bible, the New

American Standard Bible,   An American Translation, etc. all had their small niches in the Bible reading world.  But it wasn’t until the publication of the long awaited New International Version that the AV was given a run for its money.  Not that the NIV was so good; it wasn’t.  It was dull and two-dimensional, wordy and unmemorable.   But it was marketed like no other Bible in history.   It became the Big Mac of the Bible publishing world.  The Rupert Murdock owned Zondervan Publishing Co.,  which is the main publisher of NIV Bibles,  claims that sales of their baby have outstripped the old AV.  This is probably hype, but despite continued strong sales of the old AV, it looks as though we are entering a post-King James Version era.


With the exception of the recent New King James Version, nearly all modern translations of the Bible are in the Westcott and Hort tradition of New Testament textual criticism.  But not everyone has jumped on the bandwagon.  Back in the nineteenth century a small number of scholars contended vigorously for the Traditional Text; among them, John William Burgon and F.H.A. Scrivner, two massively gifted textual critics.  Now, while their work has been largely ignored by the majority, there has always been a small but ardent group of scholars who have kept the home fires burning for the Traditional Text of the New Testament.  Outstanding modern exponents of this outlook are Dr. Edward F.Hills (now deceased) and Dr.Theodore Letis (very much alive).  Hills’ book, The King James Version Defended:A Christian View of the New Testament Manuscripts, and Letis'  book,  The Ecclesiastical Text ,  are notable for their defense of the Traditional Text from an ecclesiological and theological perspective.


The work of Hills and Letis must be contrasted with other groups of scholars who support the Traditional Text for different reasons.  One group has become known as the "King James Only" group.  They

believe that the AV is the perfect, preserved Word of God for the English speaking world.  For them,  the AV is equal in authority to the original Hebrew and Greek of the Old and New Testaments.  The "King James Only" group generally consists of a small group of fundamentalist Baptists who have little positive impact on the world of scholarship with the exception that some among them have managed to keep the works of Burgon and Scrivner in print, despite the fact that Burgon and Scrivner would never subscribe to their views.


A second group of scholars that must be distinguished from the work of Hills and Letis is the Majority Text school.  This school, again, mostly fundamentalist Baptist, have produced two recent notable editions of the Greek New Testament.  Maurice Robinson and William Pierpont have edited The New Testament in the Original Greek According to the Byzantine/Majority Textform (1991).This is the Byzantine Greek Text found in many Bible Software programs such as BibleWorks,Logos, and the Online Bible.  Zane Hodges and Arthur Farstad have edited The Greek New Testament According to the Majority Text (1985).  It is important to note that the Majority Text school is in no way made up of "King James Only" advocates.  The fact is that the KJ-Only people consider the Majority Text people to be in league with the devil!  Be that as it may, what the Majority Text school is up to is attempting to purge the Traditional Text of it ’s slight "corruptions" in the interest of making it conform more closely to the hypothetical original autographs.  They, like the critical school of textual criticism, are primitive restorationists, with the exception that they hold that the Byzantine manuscripts and witnesses better reflect the originals than do the Alexandrian texts.   But like the critical school,  they are attempting to get behind the church ’s preserved texts to the posited originals.  Both groups assume that the church, to some degree, corrupted the originals.


Hills and Letis, like Burgon, are not primitive restorationists.  They are, to use a term borrowed from Letis, "catholic preservationists".  This means that they believe that God who inspired the infallible

Scriptures, has through His church , preserved what he gave for the church ’s use and benefit.  The inspired, infallible sacred text is not some minority text hidden in a corner for 1900 years and only lately

rediscovered.  Rather,  the inspired , infallible sacred text is the text everywhere preserved and used in the church throughout its history.  The best text of the New Testament reflects the consensus of this catholicity of witnesses.  Therefore the text of Erasmus and his successors, the text that formed the basis of all Reformation era Protestant Bible translations, which reflects this preserved catholic consensus; the text which Letis calls The Ecclesiastical Text, but which is also known as the Byzantine Text, the Majority Text, or the Textus Receptus, is rightly to be regarded and received as the sacred text of the churches of the Reformation.


…any discussion of these issues runs the risk of creating the impression that the differences between the various editions of the Greek New Testament are more numerous than they are.  Therefore, we

should keep in mind that the textual differences between any given edition of the Ecclesiastical Text amounts to no more than about two percent. And the textual differences between the Ecclesiastical Text and the modern critical texts amounts to no more than about fifteen percent.  Therefore, over 85%of the text in all manuscripts and witnesses is identical.  It should be obvious then, that we are not talking about two entirely different kinds of New Testament. The layman should keep this in mind while studying these matters. This amazing textual agreement, even between the divergent Ecclesiastical and critical texts, makes  the New Testament by far the best attested ancient text ever.


But we must not be sanguine. While we do not want to be hysterical or to get caught up in wild conspiracy theories after the manner of our fundamentalist counterparts, neither do we want to minimize the

fact that the modern critical texts at certain strategic places in the text make omissions, or alterations that are far from innocuous.  For approximately twenty five years the Revised Standard Version was published with the last half of Mark 16 relegated to a footnote in accordance with the then current edition of the Nestle Greek Text.  Other translations, less bold, included the text but added marginal comments which cast doubt on it.  This is not harmless.  Neither should it be a matter of indifference when Paul ’s words concerning Christ: "God was manifest in the flesh …"are changed to the more ambiguous: "He was manifest in the flesh" on the basis of a few paltry textual witnesses against the overwhelming majority (1 Tim.3:16).  Nor should we merely shrug our shoulders when the overwhelmingly well attested and orthodox rendering:"…the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father … "is replaced with the poorly attested and arguably Gnostic:"…the only begotten God, which is in the bosom of the Father … "(John 1:18).But enough.  We can be thankful that even in the most critically reduced New Testament text the doctrines of the Law and Gospel are still set forth clearly and accurately for the benefit of the church. But this does not mitigate the fact that in the 19th century the discipline of textual criticism went in the wrong direction; a direction that has had serious consequences with regard to faith in the authority of Scripture, even down to our day.  Nor does it absolve us of the responsibility to study these matters carefully and return the discipline

of textual criticism to the service of the church and its divinely inspired, infallible, and preserved sacred text…”



Besides the helpful article above, the following website has additional information that many might find useful:   http://www.holywordcafe.com/bible/


Another internet resource on the topic consists of a discourse on the Caledonian email list during the months of July and August 2004.   It includes answers to questions I posed to Dr. Theodore Letis, who is a preeminent scholar in the field.  (It should be noted that he was mentioned in the article excerpted previously.) Below are excerpts from some of the posts, which can also be read by subscribing to caledonian@yahoogroups.com :



From: LetisT@aol.com [mailto:LetisT@aol.com]
Sent: Friday, August 20, 2004 10:17 AM
To: caledonian@yahoogroups.com
Subject: Re: [Caledonian] Princeton and textual criticism


>In a message dated 8/20/2004 8:55:54 AM Eastern Daylight Time, jparnellm@usxchange.net writes:

>Dr. Letis and others on this list, I would appreciate to read your thoughts on the article at http://www.wrs.edu/Materials%20for%20Web%20Site/Journals/4-2%20Aug-1997/Battle%20-%20Hodge%20and%20Scripture.pdf regarding textual criticism.  It lumps Charles Hodge, A.A. Hodge, Warfield and Machen together as essentially having the same view.  Do you agree or disagree?…

I have not read the article yet--but will do--but for now I can tell you that for my master's degree in American Church History at Emory, it was my specific theme to treat how Princeton approached N.T. text criticism from its founding (A. Alexander), to its fall in 1929. This research is now available from our Institute: Edward Freer Hills's Contribution to the Revival of the Ecclesiastical Text.  In short, I can tell you unequivocally that Charles Hodge defended the Textus Receptus and that with Warfield one gets both the use of the term "inerrant autographa" and the advocacy of the German criticism of Griesbach via Westcott and Hort, which Charles Hodge had publicly denounced as an alternative to the TR.


Theodore P. Letis


The Institute for
Renaissance and Reformation
Biblical Studies
P.O. Box 870525
Stone Mountain, GA 30087

From: LetisT@aol.com [mailto:LetisT@aol.com]
Sent: Friday, August 20, 2004 11:10 AM
To: caledonian@yahoogroups.com
Subject: Re: [Caledonian] Princeton and textual criticism


In a message dated 8/20/2004 10:19:14 AM Eastern Daylight Time, LetisT@aol.com writes:




I have now read the piece (it took all of ten minutes), and I can say that the author's dependence on Calhoun should be evidence enough that it is little more than an in-house, self-serving propaganda piece. Calhoun's two vol. history of Princeton Seminary is a shamefully hagiographic eulogy and not hard history. I personally sent him (Calhoun) my research on Warfield in its published form when I met him in Edinburgh while he was still in his research stage for the project, which meant that he had to refer to it to retain any integrity whatsoever; but he chose to do so in a mere footnote which no one could find by consulting his index because my name was deliberately left out of the index. In like fashion, even though I covered all the ground that Battle did (with more unpublished manuscript sources than he used), and though my research appeared in the Journal of the Presbyterian Historical Society (1991), no reference whatsoever is made to my research in this present WTJ article by Battle.


All of this is very telling, because while at NO point was Battle able to document Hodge as even using the word "inerrancy," (one will see in the article that what I have been saying for years is true, "infallible" ALWAYS served the orthodox, was the word forever used by Hodge, and never "inerrancy," until Warfield, because this was the language of the WCF), much less the appeal exclusively to the "autographa" as final. Furthermore, at NO point did Hodge EVER advocate a critical edition of the Greek N.T. over the Textus Receptus (yes, he had doubts about I Jn 5:7-8 as he was right to), which Warfield clearly did. Hence, under NO circumstances whatsoever can the following statement by Battle be considered true:


"The View of Scripture defended by Warfield was that previously taught at Princeton" (p. 11).


It absolutely was not! And the very fact that Battle refuses to allow my research to be cited is clear evidence that he knows he could not make such a claim as found above and point his readers to my evidence in the same article.


 This essay is either the unfortunate result of a kind of WTS parochial myopia; or worse, a lie. in either case it reflects very poorly on the author (outside of the ranks of WTS, where I suspect he wrote this as a research project for some class--he told his teachers what they wanted to hear). This essay would NEVER have pasted peer review had it been submitted to the Journal of the Presbyterian Historical Society. It is propaganda, not history. Read my work on Hills mentioned in the last post and this will be obvious to all.


Theodore P. Letis


The Institute for
Renaissance and Reformation
Biblical Studies
P.O. Box 870525
Stone Mountain, GA 30087


In another post Dr. Letis wrote:


… "inerrancy" also maintains that only the autographa are ultimately authoritative (which, however, no longer exist) because only they are free of transmissional corruption, or textual variantion. This doctrine, therefore, is a dramatic departure from the WCF which never stated Biblical authority in such absurd terms. The above is also incomplete because it fails to point out that this is NOT classic Protestant orthodoxy as found perfectly expressed in the Westminster Confession of Faith, which says absolutely NOTHING about "autographs" or "inerrancy," but rather puts its stress on a PRESERVED text that it calls "infallible." Hence, the doctrine of "inerrant autographa" is both a late revisionism, as well as a defection from orthodoxy which never demanded "textual impeccability" (i.e., no textual variants in trnasmission) in order to have an absolutely infallible text. One does not understand the doctrine of "inerrant autographa" without these further elements…”


Theodore P. Letis


And in another post Dr. Letis wrote:


My book titled The Majority Text: Essays and Reviews in the Continuing Debate was first published in 1987, 17 years ago(!), and it clearly documented in nearly all the chapters that I wrote, that Warfieldianism ("inerrant autographa") was a clear defection from classic Protestant orthodoxy (which the language of the WCF makes perfectly clear), as well as the cause that Princeton fell to Neo-Orthodoxy in 1929. Moreover, the book was very positively reviewed in your Evangelical Theological Society Journal (JETS) at the time. Where have you been?  The literature that recognizes my research is also steadily growing:


For works that interact with the chapters in this book, consult the following works:
Donald G. Bloesch’s Holy Scripture: Revelation, Inspiration and Interpretation (Wheaton: Crossway, 1994), p. 307, n. 18; David B. Calhoun, Princeton Seminary 2 vols. (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth, 1996), vol. 2, p. 469, n. 2; Gary North, Finger's Crossed; Harriet A. Harris, Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1998), acknowledgment page, pp. 135 n. 3; 141 n.11; William Baird, The History of New Testament Research: From Jonathan Edwards to Rudolf Bultmann Vol. 2 (Augsburg Fortress, 2002), p. 346; Kim Riddlebarger, The Lion of Princeton: B.B. Warfield on Apologetics, Theological Methodology and Polemics, Unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, Fuller Theological Seminary, p. 47.”



And in another post Dr. Letis wrote:


“I do not have a private definition for either "inerrancy" or "infallibility." Let me state as succinctly as possible the issues at stake when one chooses to use the word "inerrancy" rather than the historic orthodox word "infallibility" (let's not confuse the issue at this point with extraneous material such as the Chicago Statement).


There are three reasons why the word "inerrancy" cannot be used by anyone who considers themselves orthodox. They are as follows:


1) Inerrancy as a word is not a theological term; nor was it ever used as a theological term until the late 19th century. What are the implications of this:


2) Inerrancy as a word is an innovation of the faith, just as anyone who wanted to introduce a different word other than homoousios ("of the same essence") into the Nicean Creed would be introducing an innovation in the definition of historic orthodox Christology.


3) Inerrancy as a word is unnecessary because everything it attempts to say in a non-theological way, has already been invoked by the historic orthodox word of "infallible."


4) Inerrancy as a word has no connection to the notion of inspiration, that is, it does not require verbal inspiration to be true, since inspiration is not required to obtain "inerrancy." Any humanly produced document can be inerrant.


5) Inerrancy as a word is a defection from orthodoxy because it locates final inspired authority in the autographic form of the text alone.


6) Because the autographic form of the text does not exist, "inerrancy" is a dangerous word, because in its definition it demands the application of naturalistic New Testament text criticism; that is, it assumes that ALL extant editions are corrupt to one extent or another, while claiming that ONLY text criticism can "restore" a lost "inerrant," autographic archetype, the only inspired and authoritative form of the Biblical text.


7) Hence, it was the use of the word "inerrancy" by B.B. Warfield in the 19th century (a non-theological innovative terminological alteration to the language of Biblical authority), that resulted in the "quest for the historical text" i.e., the endorsement of the Westcott and Hort edition of the Greek N.T., (which assumes the extant text is corrupt), which in turn evolved into the quest for the historical Jesus and the Jesus Seminar, the most blatantly arrogant project of unbelief presently active on this planet. Moreover, his use of the word at Princeton was a major contribution towards that Institution going liberal in 1929.


Infallibility, on the other hand, is what the Church has always said the Bible was, in existing editions, and was defined as follows in the Latin (and here I give you an excerpt from a discussion list to which I recently made the following contribution):


Allow me to say that many have been confused by my advocacy of the word "Infallible," and my pronounced dislike of the modern term "inerrant," because the former word is the word always used by Luther, Calvin, and the Westminster Divines, in its Latin form, "infallibilitas." On this please consult Richard Muller, Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms: Drawn Principally from Protestant Scholastic Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1985), s.v. "authoritas Scripturae." There you will see the meaning of "infallible"contains the sense that Scripture is "without admixture of error...historically true in its record of words, deed, events, and doctrines." As for the word "inerrant," it has no pedigree as a theological term until late in the 19th century and because when it arrived in a new context (its original context was as an astronomical term), it always and only had reference to the "autographic" form the text, a sweeping revisionism of the WCF which taught a preserved "infallibility," not a lost "autographic inerrancy." I trust this makes clear that the earlier accusation about me was intended to suggest not that I actually have a historically more grounded statement of Scripture (via the WCF), but that somehow I have a weaker view because I choose to hold to the WCF's language and content on this issue (because, with this standard my own Lutheran orthodox view is in complete agreement).


Please keep in mind that any document is capable of attaining "inerrancy." Only Scripture, however, is always "infallible" on all that it speaks, as saith the WCF…”



So information available on-line should get you well started in understanding the issues.  But if you are interested in doing further reading and research on this subject, here are some books you may want to consult:


   The King James Version Defended ,  Edward F.Hills

   The Ecclesiastical Text ,  Theodore Letis

   The Traditional Text ,   John William Burgon

   The Last Twelve Verse of Mark ,   John William Burgon

   The Revision Revised ,   John William Burgon




And, finally, here is a list of Bible versions currently in print that are based on the Ecclesiastical Text:


  The Authorized (or King James) Version (Cambridge University Press, etc.)

  The New King James Version (Thomas Nelson Publishers)

  The Geneva Bible

  The 21st Century King James Version (Deuel Publishing)

  The Third Millennium Bible (Deuel Publishing)

   The Modern King James Version (Sovereign Grace Publishers)


Personally I recommend the Authorized (or King James) Version.  It is the version still used in the public worship of most of the conservative reformed and Presbyterian churches, like the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland.  And it is still in my opinion the best for scripture memorization.  It is the version our family uses.  But the other versions are available for those who have an especially difficult time with some of the words not so commonly used in our own day.