A common objection raised against those who hold to the Confessional Text of Scripture is known as the “Which TR?” argument. The critical text advocate believes he has struck a decisive blow when asking this simple question: “Which TR is the preserved text?” Unfortunately for the critical text advocate, the barrel of this gun is pointed in both directions. I have addressed a defense against this argument elsewhere, so in this post I intended on demonstrating that the Modernist must deal with the same issue, yet to a more intensive degree. The purpose of this article is to show the instability of the modern critical text, and to show that the Modernist will never be able to attain a stable edition of the Bible while using Modernist, reconstructionist methodologies.
The Problem Described
A glaring issue that the Modernist must deal with when defending the modern critical text is found in 2 Peter 3.10. Within this one verse are five different variations, but here we will focus on only one. This particular variation is a difference between the Nestle-Aland 28th Edition (NA28) and the Nestle-Aland 27th Edition (NA27). The NA28 completes the verse with ouch heurethēsetai while the NA27 ends the verse simply with heurethēsetai. The word ouch is the negative particle; in other words, its function is to negate or make negative. We translate ouch with words like “no,” “not,” etc. heurethēsetai means “will be found out.” So the latest edition of the critical text (NA28) reads “will not be found out,” and the previous edition of the critical text (NA27) reads “will be found out.” Obviously, the presence or absence of this little word ouch makes a significant difference in the meaning of this text (not only for this verse, but the entire context of Peter’s argument). The reading of NA28 is supported by no extant Greek manuscripts; the technical term for this is conjectural emendation, where scholars correct a text with a reading which they believe to be necessary without any manuscript support. The only support for including the word ouch comes from some early versional evidence; in other words, one translation and a marginal reading of another translation. The inclusion of ouch was rejected by the previous edition of the critical text (NA27). So, the Modernist has a dilemma: which critical text edition is correct? For the evangelical Modernist, the problem is even more severe: which critical text edition is the inspired, authoritative Word of God? And the problem becomes even more complicated when a subsequent question is asked: if the new edition is the inspired reading, then why do all mainstream modern translations (ESV, NASB, CSB, etc.) contain an uninspired reading at this verse?
The Intensity of the Problem
The entire principle of thought for the evangelical Modernist is that the original, inspired text of Scripture can be restored through the means of modern textual critical theory and methodology. This means that the Modernist can never stop seeking to attain the “original” reading. And so we come to a crossroads such as the one found in 2 Pet. 3.10. The evangelical Modernist must decide whether to follow the current of “scholarly, scientific” thought, or not. Many Modernists reject the conjectural emendation at this verse, as reflected in the modern translations such as the ESV, CSB, and so forth. Yet they are continuously clamoring for new and improved editions of the text. The emendation of 2 Peter 3.10 is a direct result of the vaunted Coherence-Based Genealogical Method (CBGM), which is the state-of-the-art methodology being employed by the editors of the Editio Critica Maior (ECM) of the Greek New Testament being assembled by the Institute of New Testament Textual Research of Muenster, Germany. In other words, the scholars who edited the ECM (which the editors of NA28 adopted for the catholic epistles) believe the inclusion of the ouch to be closer to the initial reading (here is a different problem for the evangelical Modernist, but it is a discussion for a different time). So, if the goal of the evangelical Modernist is to get back to the original reading, why would they reject the work of scholarship which claims that the inclusion of ouch is closer to the original?
Conjectural Emendation and the End of Preservation
To their credit, the reason the evangelical Modernist must reject any form of conjectural emendation is because it necessarily negates any meaningful doctrine of preservation. Conjectural emendation functions on the idea that the original reading has been truly lost; that is, there are no extant manuscripts which contain the original reading. Therefore, it is up to scholars to conjecture (make an “educated” guess) what the original (or initial) reading was. The evangelical must reject this notion because it overtly contradicts the doctrine of preservation. So, in the same breath, the evangelical Modernist accepts the “necessity” of modern textual scholarship while simultaneously rejecting the validity of its conclusion.
The Unstable Modernist Bible
The result of such flip-flopping behavior is an unstable Bible for the people in the pews. Modern “conservative” translations such as the ESV and CSB reject the conjectural emendation at 2 Pet. 3.10. These translations use the NA28 as their base text for translating the New Testament into English. Yet the editors of these translations decided to go against that base text in favor of an older one. One might even say they rejected the present reading for the sake of their traditional reading. For the sake of argument, let us say that five years from now a new “conservative” translation comes out that follows NA28 at 2 Pet. 3.10. Would this translation have the inspired reading or the uninspired reading? What about if a future edition of the ESV decides to accept the NA28 at this verse? Consider this issue from a pastoral perspective. Let us say that Person A has a 2016 ESV and Person B has a 2025 ESV (which hypothetically follows the NA28), and these two persons approach their pastor and ask which reading is correct. How does the evangelical Modernist answer that question? He cannot. If he rejects the validity of the current reading, then the hypothetical 2025 ESV contains an uninspired word, which negates its authority. If he accepts the validity of the current reading, then the 2016 ESV becomes suspect. And now both Person A and Person B are left pondering how the wording of the Bible could change so dramatically if it is actually the inspired Word of God.
Again, we return to the foundational difference between the Modernist approach and the Traditionalist or Confessional approach. The Modernist believes that text of Scripture has undergone such severe corruptions that only modern man with his modern thinking is capable of restoring it. The Confessionalist believes the work of assembling authoritative printed editions which reflect the original reading has already been done. The Modernist must struggle with a Bible that is always subject to change. The Confessionalist stands on the historic text preserved by God during the time of Reformation. How can the Modernist appeal to sola Scriptura when his Scriptura is constantly in a state of flux? Which Scripture is alone the foundation and rule of faith, life, and worship? Is it the NA27 or the NA28? This changing, in fact, negates the doctrine of sola Scriptura. Let us, instead, stand on the steadfast, never-changing Word of God, which Word was given “by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works” (2 Tim. 3.16-17).