At the heart of the certainty debate is this issue. It’s syllogistic in form, with a couple of premises, followed by a conclusion.
Premise 1: God gave his Word through inspired writers who wrote down what God intended for them to write down. These are the original manuscripts of the Bible, of which we have none.
Premise 2: In order for us to still have God’s word, the words in the original manuscripts must be preserved by God so that we still have them today.
Do you see the problem? No conclusion is possible for this reason: at least one of the premises is not necessarily true.
Today we have a multitude of manuscripts and fortunately or unfortunately, God appears to have left it to the textual scholars to figure out which one contains the “original” text.
Or, just possibly, God has preserved His Word on not one single manuscript but all of them combined, and taken together they give us the certain word of God.
There are some people willing to give up logic in order to argue that the majority text and its derivative, the textus receptus, used as the basis for the KJV translation, is the “right” one, and this is God’s preserved Word.
But this is logic run amok, for it is not based on logical necessity but just assumed to be the preserved text. Forget that the TR did not exist for 1515 years. Forget that while it may have been based on the Byzantine Text tradition (also known as the Majority Text tradition) it has nearly 2,000 variations with the Byzantine texts.
then there’s the Magdalen papyrus, which some people claim is the majority text from the first century. Forget that the Magdalen papyrus has only one scholar suggesting its origin in the first century, while all the others give it a much later date. And then there is not clear evidence from the scholars that this papyrus is the wording of the later TR.
There is, unfortunately, absolutely no way you can arrive at the textual answer using the Bible itself. It simply does not tell us which manuscripts we ought to be using, just as it does not tell us which “books” belong in the New Testament.
Herein lies the weakness of our presuppositional apologetic, for this is one area we cannot go to the Bible to find the answer. The best we can do is assume that God has in fact not left us in the dark and that the Bible we have today is the Bible God wants us to have.
The real issue is this one. It is not a question of whether God has preserved His word. It is a question of how has God preserved His word through the ages. The Scriptures themselves do not tell us. So whether we like it or not, we are at the mercy of the textual scholars to provide an answer. And we might need to choose carefully so we do not get led up the many rabbit trails that lead to false conclusions about the KJV, the Majority Text tradition and the Textus Receptus.
The difficulty is this: throughout the ages, the Christian church has not been able to determine which are the writings that finally belong in the list of the canon. Different groups have different ideas, which can only serve to confuse.
It is apparent you are left with no alternative but to live by faith, remembering there are limits to your ability to answer some of the questions that lie at the back of life. But you do need to live by faith, trusting that the Bible you are reading today, no matter which version it is, is God’s Word for you today. And that’s about as good as it’s going to get.
God bless you this week. Hope it will be a week of faith for you!
Ian Hodge, Ph.D.