Mortimer Adeler in How to Speak; How to Listen, reminds his reader that an example is not for proving but for explaining some element of one’s position. Additionally, it is commonly understood that an example does not meet at every point the thing being explained. If I offer an example of how a Golden Retriever is a dog by pointing to a German Shepherd, there will be considerable overlap in the comparison, but it will not be perfect overlap. Such is the nature of comparative examples.
The thing I aim to explain is the mechanism whereby a faithful Christian can faithfully move from one version of the TR to another or from the Geneva Version to the King James Version. I say a “faithful Christian” because they are faithful in holding to version X at Time 1 and at Time 2 he/she is faithfully moving to another version. To do this I want to draw on the grounding Scriptural concept of the faithful’s moving from the Old Covenant to the New Covenant exemplified most clearly in the persons of Nicodemus and the apostle Paul.
By version I mean, “a particular form of something differing in certain respects from an earlier form.” Put simply the New Covenant is a particular form which differs in certain respect from an earlier form i.e., the Old Covenant. The Reformed Orthodox understood these two covenants to be the same in fundamental substance but to differ in several respect, accidental respects. For our purposes we will focus on five of those respects: time, clarity, perfection, amplitude, and duration [Hereafter: the 5Rs]. Turretin says of the similarity of the two covenants,
“The orthodox maintain that the difference between the Old and New Testaments (broadly considered) is only accidental, not essential (as to the circumstance and manner and degree of the thing); not as to the thing itself, which was the same in each.”Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, vol. 2, Twelfth Topic, Q. 8, Sec. XVIII.
On the differences he writes the following we have our 5R,
“…as to time because the Old preceded Christ, while the New follows him.”Turretin, Institutes, vol. 2, Twelfth Topic, Q. 8, Sec. XVIII.
“As to clearness and obscurity because in the New the mysteries are far more clearly set forth, the veils and shadows and ceremonies and types being take away.”Turretin, Institutes, vol. 2, Twelfth Topic, Q. 8, Sec. XIX.
“As to perfection, for although the Old Testament had an essential perfection as to the substance of the covenant of grace, still it did not have an accidental perfection as to degree.”Turretin, Institutes, vol. 2, Twelfth Topic, Q. 8, Sec. XXII.
“As to amplitude because the Old Testament was restricted to one nation – salvation was then only of the Jews…But the New is extended to all indiscriminately.”Turretin, Institutes, vol. 2, Twelfth Topic, Q. 8, Sec. XXIV.
“As to duration because the Old had become antiquated and should continue only until the time of reformation. The overthrow of the Jewish republic, the confusion of the tribes and the irreparable destruction through so many ages of the temple…evinces this even openly.”Turretin, Institutes, vol. 2, Twelfth Topic, Q. 8, Sec. XXV.
First, let us touch on these terms and their use regarding different versions of the same covenant. Note that the orthodox regards the covenant essentially the same and only accidentally different. As it touches the “Which TR” question, we would say the same of all the tradition of the TR. The differences between the TR’s can be subsumed under the 5Rs. Erasmus’ TR and the Elzevir TR where substantially the same but different as to time, clarity, perfection, amplitude, and duration. Before I dive in, the following comparisons could be made between versions of the TR or versions of the KJV. I will choose either one to keep it simple, but the comparison is not only limited to the Greek or the translation but could be applied to both.
In time, the Old Covenant came before the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ while the New came after. In like manner, Erasmus’ came before the work of Stephanus and Beza while the Elzevir’s came after those works.
In clarity, the Old Covenant was composed of shadows and figures while the New Covenant clarified those shadows and figures in Christ as Savior and Lord. In like manner, the work of Stephanus and Beza clarified the work of Erasmus.
In perfection, the Old Covenant was complete for its time but was made more complete in the New Covenant at the consummation of the Christ-complex [i.e., the virgin birth, sinless life, death, burial, resurrection and ascension]. In like manner, the work of the KJV translators made more complete that which was already complete for its time in the Geneva.
In amplitude [i.e., breadth or range], the Old Covenant made a way to atone for sins and right worship of the holy God for a specific family, Abraham’s family, Israel. The New Covenant made a way to atone for sins and for right worship of God in Christ for all of humanity – Jews and Gentiles. In like manner, while the Geneva was the clear and complete translation for its time, the KJV provided greater breadth and range for the English-speaking believing community so much so that the KJV was the standard sacred text across oceans, denominations, social strata, and cultures for 400 years.
Finally, in duration, the Old Covenant was clear, ample, perfect for its time, but the New Covenant is eternally durative in Christ. In like manner, as was mentioned above the when compared to its versional peers, TR/KJV has held the position of standard sacred text for over four centuries.
What was the authoritative status of those saints in the New Covenant given the prior existing Old Covenant? 1.) the New Covenant was essentially the same but accidentally different as touching the R5. 2.) the New Covenant superseded and absorbed the Old Covenant, thus, to hold to the sacrificial system after the death of Christ was contrary to the prescriptive will of God [i.e., immoral]. 3.) the move from the Old Covenant to the New Covenant was a work of the Holy Spirit through the word and faith. Simply because God in the person of Christ upbraided the Pharisees for not accepting Him as Messiah and the subsequent New Covenant did not mean the Pharisees accepted this truth and moved from the old version to the new version. Still, those like Nicodemus and Paul did and that by the power of the Holy Spirit through the word and faith. 4.) there is only one covenant and one version of that covenant in play at a given time. In the Old Testament, to claim that sacrifices were superfluous because of Jesus’ coming sacrifice would have been disobedience to God. In like manner to say that we must continue the sacrificial system even though Christ has already died would also be disobedience to God.
What was the epistemic status of Old Testament saints given the advent of the New Covenant? Given all the above, is anyone warranted in besmirching the belief in the Old Covenant at Time 1 for an Old Testament saint at Time 1? No, such a claim would not only besmirch the belief of the Old Testament saint but also the character of God as covenant maker and keeper. Can we say that in Time 1 the Old Testament saints did not have a real covenant with God under the Old Covenant? Again, no, and for the same reasons immediately above.
With the advent of the New Covenant at Time 2, assuming that an Old Testament Jew [e.g., Nicodemus] also knew of the New Covenant as expressed in and through Jesus of Nazareth, could that Old Testament Jew hold to the Old Covenant and not be in violation of God’s prescriptive will? No. And this lack of changing from the Old version to the New version led to Israel’s being set aside. Only at the advent of the New Covenant did holding to the Old Covenant priorly construed become an immoral act, and not before. Which is to say that Nicodemus could have been a faithful saint in his youth and before the coming of Christ. Then at the coming of Christ recognized Him as the Messiah and instigator of a better covenant, thus believing and living a life where the Old Covenant is subsumed under the New. In this scenario Nicodemus is always faithful. Faithful in holding to the Old Covenant at Time 1 and equally as faithful in transitioning and holding to the New Covenant at Time 2. At no point can his belief be impugned.
In like manner, a Christian or Christian community can hold to Erasmus’ TR at Time 1 and then a Christian or Christian community can hold to Beza’s at Time 2 and that Christian or Christian community remains faithful in both the holding and transitioning. Again, in like manner, a Christian or Christian community could hold to the Geneva at Time 1 and then hold to the KJV at Time 2 and remain faithful in both the holding and transitioning.
You may ask, “Certainly the New Covenant was progression on the Old, how do you know the KJV was a progression on the Geneva.” My answer is in large part because the KJV has been the standard sacred text of the English-speaking community for over 400 years or approximately 20% of the Church’s entire existence if you take the beginning of the Church to be Pentecost. The English-speaking Church moved from the Geneva to the KJV, and it has been that way longer than the USA has been a nation. I take the KJV longevity to be more than a mere historical fact though. I take the KJV longevity among the English-speaking church as the leading of the Holy Spirit through His word to His people by faith. The phenomena of the longevity of the TR and the KJV is a historical fact that is the result God’s providence via the Holy Spirit working in and through His word for the preservation of His people and word.
1.) God gave two versions of His covenant which were essentially the same but accidentally different as to time, clarity, perfection, amplitude, and duration.
2.) At no point did God institute these different versions of the covenant at the same time and in the same way.
3.) A faithful saint could faithfully hold to the Old Covenant at Time 1 and faithfully transition to and hold to the New Covenant at Time 2 without such a transition causing the saint to be immoral or besmirching his/her belief.
In like manner,
1.) God though His singular care and providence has given us different iterations of the TR and KJV and they differ accidentally as to time, clarity, perfection, amplitude, and duration.
2.) Given their differences as to time, clarity, perfection, amplitude, and duration, at no point could these different versions of the TR and KJV be equally God’s word at the same time and in the same way.
3.) A faithful saint could faithfully hold to Version A of the TR or Version X of the KJV at Time 1 and faithfully transition to and hold to Version C of the TR and the 1769 KJV without such a transition causing the saint to be immoral or besmirching his/her belief.