I. In a recent interview Peter Gurry and Elijah Hixon were asked about an error in Romans 8:1 and how they would preach that verse given the error. The TR/KJV tradition includes the phrase “who walk not after the flesh” while the CT/MVO position excludes that phrase. Gurry and Hixon suggested that the preacher encountering this passage as he makes his way through the book of Romans should either ignore it or address it after first preparing his people on topics surrounding text critical errors. In the end, both Gurry and Hixon tried to take the teeth out of the dilemma by equating uncertainty regarding a reading of Scripture with uncertainty about some difficult to understand passage of Scripture. What if there is a known error in the text? What is at stake and how are we to handle that known error? Gurry and Hixon’s approach and conclusion on this question is puzzling to say the least and for the following reasons:
1.) Either God in space/time parted the Red Sea or He did not. If He did, we must agree that He did. If He did not, and we say He did, then we have attached God’s name to something He has not attached His name to. This is one of the ways we can take God’s name in vain. False prophets of the Old Testament did this very thing all the time. The False prophet said that God said X, when indeed God did not say that.
In like manner, God in space/time inspired “who walk not after the flesh” of Romans 8:1 or He did not. Hopefully given that immediately above, we understand this dilemma is no minor dilemma to be treated with a simple hand wave and a nod of the head. To treat it as such and saying “No major doctrine is affected” is to grossly misunderstand and/or mischaracterize the state of the case. Assuming Gurry and Hixon recognize the gravity inherent in determining what is or is not the New Testament, it is unclear how they establish warranted belief in favor of including or excluding “who walk not after the flesh” while being in accordance with what God actually did in space/time.
2.) In the broader religious discussion particularly between the major world religions, we understand that on the point of sacred texts the basic locus of dispute is, Did God say that? The Muslims ask it of the Christians and their Testaments and the Christians of the Muslims and their Quran. Indeed, this question is foundational to Satan’s rhetoric when tempting Eve, “Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden?” The question, Did God say “who walk not after the flesh” in Romans 8:1 is the same kind, the same species as Satan’s question or those making competing religious claims.
What is more, when a Muslim asks this very question of a Christian, the astute Christian knows that the Muslim is making a play to diminish the Christian’s epistemic foundation for their Christian beliefs. Certainly, that is what the Devil was doing with his rather benign question about fruit bearing trees. But apparently for Gurry and Hixon that is not what is going on when we ask, Did God say “who walk not after the flesh” in Romans 8:1. Unfortunately for us, neither Gurry nor Hixon explain why the Romans 8:1 question is a different species of question from those offered above.
3.) Gurry and Hixon’s attempt to equate a hard-to-understand passage with whether or not a passage is the New Testament is unfortunate. The former is epistemological in nature and the latter is ontological in nature. The former asks, what does this passage of Scripture mean? The latter asks, “Is this Scripture?” Their comparison not even a difference between apples and oranges. The difference is more like “What is the molecular makeup of this apple?” versus “Is this an orange?” In sum, the comparison is unwarranted and as such uncompelling.
4.) Neither Gurry nor Hixon hold to what they call immaculate preservation. This is to say that when Jesus said not one jot or one tittle will pass from the law, He did not mean that literally. He meant that the meaning of the text will not pass. As such, the Bible is allowed to have a certain number and certain kind of error, inclusion, or omission. It is unclear how that certain number is calculated. Gurry and Hixon simply assert it. Still, they don’t run from the idea that certain errors can be meaningful. To this phenomenon they conclude that we are to be humbled before God when God does not keep those words for His bride, because God can do as He pleases and apparently it pleases God to keep His word mostly pure. Gurry and Hixon’s sentiment is summed up when they conclude that God does not owe us the truth as if we, contingent creatures, could somehow compel God to give us truth He has not already given.
Agreed. But it is not the Christian who compels God to give us this or that truth. God compels Himself. God declares that Lazarus rose from the grave. God declares the Red Sea parted. God declares that mana fell from the sky. God declares that not one jot or one tittle will pass from the law until all of the law is fulfilled. Because God has declared these things, He is compelled by His own word that they be true. So why is it that Gurry and Hixon do not believe every jot and tittle of the Bible is preserved? Not having a clear answer from them in the interview I assume it is because their interpretation of the evidence compels them to say what they do. But that is hardly a compelling reason in this context.
What evidence compels them to believe Lazarus rose from the dead? What evidence compels them to believe the Red Sea parted? What evidence compels them to believe that mana fell from the sky? These are all the same species of belief. I assume they believe what they believe about Lazarus, the Red Sea, and mana because the Bible says so despite the evidence, but not so with the source of those beliefs – Scripture. Scripture is the source of beliefs regarding Lazarus, the Red Sea, and mana. The beliefs derived from Scripture enjoy acceptance despite the evidence while the source of those beliefs and beliefs concerning that source seem wholly subject to the evidence at least on the point of whether errors occur in that source of Christian belief – the Scriptures.
II. A Brief Response: While it is often easier to poke holes in the arguments of those with whom you disagree, it is necessary that a replacement be offered to fill the resulting void. To that end, how would we here at StandardSacredText.com answer the question of how to handle a known error in the text?
1.) The idea of “kept pure in all ages” does not necessitate “between two covers in all ages.” This applies especially in the first century where much of the canon was not between two covers but that does not mean any of God’s words had fallen from existence. That is, all the words of Scripture were kept uncorrupted despite the fact that the church in Thessalonica did not have them all.
2.) When Jesus said jot and tittle He meant jot and tittle. Jesus literally meant that not a single letter or even a piece of letter would pass away. Again, Jesus’ promise here does not necessitate that every jot and tittle be between two covers at all times. See the first century church.
3.) How then does the TR/KJV advocate know that every word and every letter of Scripture is present between two covers in the original languages? Because the text claims it to be so as much as the text claims the parting of the Red Sea to be so and the resurrection of Lazarus to be so.
4.) Ok, so what do you do with those Christians in history who were TR/Geneva adherents or TR/Tyndale adherents or Erasmus TR adherents? Their beliefs are no different than any other beliefs in which the church grows in sanctification. The church did not always agree on whether Jesus was of the same or of similar substance as the Father. Some believed one way, and some believed another way. To be orthodox you must now believe that Jesus is the same substance as the Father. The church did not always agree on whether the Holy Spirit proceeded from the Father or from the Father and the Son. Some believed one way, and some believed another. To be orthodox you must now believe that the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son. The church did not always agree on whether the Geneva was the word of God in English or the KJV was. Still after 30-40 years the KJV became the standard sacred text of the English-speaking believing community in the place of the Geneva and that for over 400 years.
Was the church of the past wrong? In a qualified sense yes, but also no. Yes, in that we now know through the Spirit guiding His people into all truth that Jesus is of the same substance as the Father. No, in that God’s people were truly seeking the leading of the Spirit and the truth gleaned thereby and sanctification takes time. Sanctification is not instantaneous in this life. The Spirit guiding His church into all truth takes time. Simply because a saint does not understand the innerworkings of election does not make them wrong. They have yet to grown in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. Christian belief in the iterations of TR and those of the KJV tradition over time were growing beliefs, maturing beliefs.
One more example and I’ll be done. When the originals were written they were not all between two covers. So, when 1 Thessalonians was written the church in Thessalonica had the word of God and to say they did was correct. When 2 Thessalonians came along, that did not make the first belief concerning 1 Thessalonians false or heretical. It merely made it incomplete. As books were recognized and united together the church prior to the formal establishment of the canon were not wrong nor were their beliefs in error except insofar as they were incomplete. So how is it that the believing community can believe in multiple iterations of the TR and still claim kept pure in all ages?
In short, the Spirit of God was speaking through the different iterations of the word of God to the people of God by faith and in so doing pointing His people to the next iteration. Thus, the Spirit was doing a simultaneous work of refining the church by pointing her to the next iteration and refining his word by His singular care and providence. Is the Bible due a further refining? That is for the church to decide but she is currently busy trying to figure out if she should ordain women to the ministry or to include critical race theory as part of orthodox theological formulation or to scatter the sheep for a season because, you know, COVID.
In conclusion, Gurry and Hixon seem to be pleasant in disposition and competent in their field but their answers to the known existence of errors in the text seem to me to be sloppy at best. Admittedly there could be more to their position then they had opportunity to present. Perhaps one day we could discuss these things over a cup of coffee and a piece of pie.