Logical Criticisms of Textual Criticism.
A Book Review of Gordon H. Clark's Logical Criticisms of Textual Criticism (The Trinity Foundation, 1990).
By Dr. W. Gary Crampton
Copyright 2001 © First Presbyterian Church of Rowlett

In the Westminster Confession of Faith (I:8), we read: “The Old Testament in Hebrew (which was the native language of the people of God of old), and the New Testament in Greek (which at the time of the writing of it was most generally known to the nations), being immediately inspired by God, and by his singular care and providence kept pure in all ages, are therefore authentical.”

According to the Westminster divines, only the original biblical manuscripts (the autographa) were “immediately inspired by God.” The copies which we possess today are to be considered “authentical,” but in the strictest sense, only the autographa may be said to be the infallible, inerrant Word of God.

The problem is that none of these original manuscripts is extant. What we have are copies of copies (apographa). But, as Gordon Clark points out in his Logical Criticisms of Textual Criticism,[1] although it is true that we do not possess the autographic codex (i.e., the physical document), it is a non sequitur to assume that we do not have the autographic text (i.e., the words). The good copies we do have, as a whole, can and do retain the latter without the former.

Orthodox Christianity makes no assertion that no errors have crept into the text of the copies. God never claims to have inspired translators and copyists (albeit, he does promise to keep his Word pure throughout the ages; confirm Isaiah 40:8). Whereas mistakes in the autographa would attribute error to God, defects in the individual copies attribute error only to the copyists. It is only the original authors who were inspired by God to write without error (see 2 Peter 1:20,21; 2 Samuel 23:2; Jeremiah 1:9). And the individual copies are to be considered the inspired Word of God only to the degree that they reflect the original Word. That is to say, writes Clark, “that no one should hold that the King James Version [or any other particular version] is the infallible autograph” (37).

Unlike the autographic text, the copies are not free from error. The branch of study known as “textual criticism” undertakes the careful comparison and evaluation of the copies to determine the original manuscripts. As one might imagine, says Clark, textual criticism “is a very difficult and delicate procedure,” even though it is a “legitimate and necessary” task (9,22).

As far as the Old Testament is concerned, there is little or no disagreement. The real controversy concerns the New Testament. But this really should not be. There are nearly 5000 New Testament manuscripts extant, as well as numerous translations from the early church. Too, there are over 2000 church lectionaries that are based on portions of the New Testament, and some 85 papyri which contain fragments of the New Testament texts. It may be said with little question that there is not one piece of literature in all of antiquity that is as well validated as the New Testament (9-11,49).

This is why the Westminster Confession of Faith, as cited above, properly distinguishes between the autographa and the apographa, stating that only the originals are “immediately inspired by God.” But then the Confession goes on to say that the copies of the books of the Bible that we possess have “by his singular care and providence [been] kept pure in all ages, [and] are therefore authentical.”

What is being taught here is that even though no one particular copy is without error, nevertheless, due to God’s providential watch care over the transmission of his Word, the genuine text has been “kept pure” in the multitude of copies. The doctrine of inerrancy, then, applies in the strictest sense only to the autographa. But it also applies in a derivative sense to the apographa, because we have the autographa within the apographa.

It should not surprise us that God has kept his Word pure throughout the ages, or that the present day copies which we possess are so accurate. The Bible itself affirms the perpetuity of God’s Word. Psalm 119 (verses 89, 152, 160), for example, declares that the Word has been founded forever; it is eternal truth which will not fade away. Isaiah 40:8 states that “the Word of our God stands forever.” Then too, Jesus claimed that “I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled” (Matthew 5:18).

The question arises: How are we to know which translation is the most accurate? As noted above, the controversy here is not over the Old, but the New Testament. Just in the last century there have been a number of new translations (e.g., ASV, RSV, NASV, NIV, NKJV). And all of these except the New King James Version are based on a Greek text, known as the Alexandrian Text, that differs with the Greek underlying the King James Version, known as the Received Text, in over 5000 ways (9-12).

The new translations rely heavily on a handful of early Greek manuscripts that were discovered in Egypt in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. B.F. Westcott and F.J.A. Hort promulgated the theory that these documents are to be favored, primarily due to their greater age. And yet, even among these few manuscripts, there are a number of differences.

The Westcott-Hort theory further maintains that the great bulk of Greek manuscripts (between 80 and 90 percent), represented by the Received Text, which, unlike the Alexandrian Text, are in substantial agreement, underwent a radical editing process in the fourth century; therefore, they are unreliable. Other studies have shown that this is not the case. As a matter of fact, there is evidence to show that the Alexandrian manuscripts were the ones tampered with, and these deliberate changes are the reason that the documents are so dissimilar.[2]

Another group of New Testament scholars, with which Gordon Clark is in agreement (9-12), avers that the majority of manuscripts are to be preferred over the older documents. This is referred to as the Majority Text, the Byzantine Text, or the Traditional Text theory. The Received Text belongs to the manuscripts of the Majority Text, but it is not perfectly identical with it.

According to the Westcott-Hort theory, manuscripts are to be weighed, not numbered. After all, it is alleged, all of the Majority Text manuscripts came from one related family. Hence, say Westcott-Hort, “number is less important than weight” (15). According to the Traditional Text theory, on the other hand, greater age is not nearly as important as number. First, one text being older than another in no way implies that it is superior. The older text itself could be errant. Too, the weight of textual evidence now reveals that the Majority Text manuscripts go back at least to the time of the older texts (13-16).

Second, if a number of similar manuscripts have a single ancestor, as is alleged to be the case with the Majority Text, it does not necessarily mean that the greater number carries little weight. It may well imply that the copyists of that day believed that ancestor to be the one most faithful to the original. The manuscripts which are fewer in number were in all probability rejected by copyists; their scarcity indicates their corrupt nature (13-16). Dr. Clark correctly asserts that the fact that the “number of manuscripts of the type underlying the King James Version far exceeds all other types combined…would seem to be conclusive for the Byzantine Text” (15).

Third, the church used the Majority Text for over 1000 years prior to the Reformation. The churches of the Reformation used the same text for another 350 years (and some continue to use it). If the scholars who have followed Westcott-Hort are correct, then the church in many cases, has been without the Word of God for nearly 1500 years (v). This does not indicate that the New Testament text has by God’s “singular care and providence [been] kept pure in all ages.”

What we are discussing here is no small matter. We are dealing with the very Word of God itself. It is not enough that the translations be accurate; the Greek text underlying the translations must also be accurate. As Gordon Clark concludes: “the type of criticism underlying the Revised Standard Version, the New American Standard, and other versions is inconsistent….Its method is that of unsupported aesthetic speculation. If we want to get closer to the very words of God, we must pay attention to the [Majority Text theory of the King James and] New King James Versions” (49).

[1] Gordon H. Clark, Logical Criticisms of Textual Criticism (The Trinity Foundation, 1986). The pagination used in the body of this review is from Clark’s book.

[2] See Wilbur N. Pickering, The Identity of the New Testament Text (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1977), 58-62, 107-110.