The New Calvinist View of Scripture Part III

The New Calvinists’ Promotion of Textual Criticism

The reason for the New Calvinist’s support for the English Standard Version (ESV)
rather than the time-honoured King James Version lies in their belief of textual
criticism and the lack of understanding of the verbal plenary preservation of the
Scriptures. In fact, Crossway Books declared that they will “allow for ongoing
periodic updating of the text to reflect the realities of biblical scholarship such as
textual discoveries or changes in English over time.” Such a statement is a tacit
admission that we do not have all the words of Scripture today, and the Biblical text
must be constantly updated.

Such a belief is reflected in the various writings of the New Calvinist. One such
work is the Systematic Theology produced by Wayne Grudem. While largely
conservative in his view of Scripture and inerrancy, he nevertheless denies the full
preservation of all the words of God in Scripture, and upholds the scholarship of
textual criticism as essential. For example, on page 96 of his Systematic Theology, he
writes, the study of textual variants “has not left us in confusion about what the
original manuscripts said. It has rather brought us extremely close to the content of
those original manuscripts. . . . when we say that the original manuscripts were
inerrant, we are also implying that over 99 percent of the words in our present
manuscripts are also inerrant, for they are exact copies of the original.” Grudem tries
to assure his readers concerning inerrancy of the current published biblical texts with
words like “extremely close” or “99 percent”, but the truth is even 1 percent of the
words not being inerrant renders the doctrine of verbal plenary inspiration void.

The doctrine of verbal plenary preservation is taught emphatically in passages such
as Matthew 5:18, Psalm 12:6-7 and Matthew 24:35. The degree of preservation is
down to every jot and tittle of the words of Scripture. Thus, the Westminster
Confession of Faith I.8 states, “The Old Testament in Hebrew (which was the native
language of the people of the 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; so as, in all controversies of religion, the
Church is finally to appeal unto them.” Verbal plenary inspiration without verbal
plenary preservation is moot.

At this juncture, it is good for us to consider the validity of the man-made principles
of textual criticism. In determining whether a reading belongs to the original text, the
following principles are applied:

1. Prefer the reading attested by older manuscripts. With such a principle, a
reading found in the Alexandrian Family is more likely to be accepted than
that of the Byzantine Family.

2. Prefer the reading that has a wider geographical spread. Thus a reading
that is attested by Rome, Asia and Africa is more likely to be accepted than
that which is found only in Asia.

3. Prefer the reading supported by the greatest number of text types. Thus if a
reading is attested by both the Alexandrian and the Byzantine text types, it
is most likely to be accepted.

4. Prefer the shorter reading. The assumption is that scribes tend to add to the
text rather than to omit words.

5. Prefer the harder reading. The assumption is that it is more likely for a
scribe to make a difficult text easier to understand by smoothening the

6. Prefer the reading that accords best with the author’s style and vocabulary.
Therefore, if one word or phrase stands out of line with most of the author’s
use in the Scriptures, it is likely to be rejected.

7. Prefer the reading that best fits the context and/or the author’s theology.

8. Prefer the less harmonious reading in parallel passages.

The methodology of modern textual criticism can thus be summed up as follows: (1)
Older reading is better; (2) Shorter reading is better and (3) Harder reading is better.

It must be noted that such principles are arbitrary and determined by the figment of
man’s imagination and thinking. For example, the argument that older readings are
better is flawed. Older manuscripts could be preserved intact simply because of lack
of use. On the other hand, those manuscripts containing the true reading were often
used resulting in wear and tear. Thus, such manuscripts must be copied often,
resulting in most of the readings being new. The basis that older readings are better
is therefore extremely weak and fallacious.

The fruit of textual critical methodology is also rather hopeless as it can at best arrive
only as close as possible (or so it claims) to the original text and never with 100%
certainty. In fact, the renowned textual critic, E. Jay Epp, who himself has written a
textbook on textual criticism with Gordon Fee, recently declared the hopelessness of
textual criticism in discovering the original in his article, The Multivalence of the
Term ‘Original View’ in New Testament Textual Criticism, published in the Harvard
Theological Review. It is baffling how scholars can proceed with further study
without having a 100% reliable text. How can one preach the Bible authoritatively
when what he holds in his hand is not a certain text, but rather one that is constantly

The Scripture teaches textual reception, rather than textual criticism. In fact, the
whole battle from the very beginning in Genesis, has been about textual reception
versus textual criticism. Satan attempted to amend God’s Words. Adam, rather than
receiving God’s original words, accepted the criticism and “correction” of God’s
Word from Satan and ate of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
Similarly in Jeremiah 36, the evil king Jehoiakim chose to criticise and reject God’s
Word (and hence cutting the roll), rather than to receive it. This did not destroy
God’s Word as He ordered Jeremiah to repeat His Words, with Baruch recording
down all that was said, and added more words of judgement for Jehoiakim. On the
other hand, James 1:21 says, “Wherefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of
naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save
your souls.” Textual reception, and not textual criticism, is the correct attitude
towards God’s Word.

Textual criticism is a methodology that is inconsistent with the teaching of God’s
Word. The result of such a Godless methodology is an uncertain text which evolves
with the opinions of men. Such a methodology will only lead one to the tragic end
of uncertainty and unbelief. Sadly, the New Calvinists had bitten into the leaven of
textual criticism. We must guard our churches from such leaven.

Yours affectionately,
Pastor Clement Chew

“For this cause also thank we God without ceasing, because, when ye received
the word of God which ye heard of us, ye received it not as the word of men,
but as it is in truth, the word of God, which effectually worketh
also in you that believe.”
1 Thessalonians 2:13