Mark Ward and His Three Critiques of Confessional/SST Theology

Continuing our evaluation of Mark Ward’s understanding of the Confessional/StandardSacred Text position we now turn to a treatment of his three point objection to our position. Ward’s objections are as follows: 1.) Ward is “satisfied” with the current theological construction of his side though simultaneously calls for more work to be done in field of theology as it relates to modern textual criticism. Ward employs Jongkind as evidence to that effect. This will be addressed below. 2.) It is Ward’s contention that our position has real hang-ups at Ps. 12:6-7 and Matthew 5:18. The former passage has already be dealt with by Dr. Van Kleeck Sr. in this post today. As for Matthew 5:8, I intend to address that passage on my next post. Finally 3.) Ward sees our position as artificially pitting the Academy against the Church on the point of modern evangelical textual criticism. I addressed that claim yesterday in this post. These three stand as Ward’s substantive polemic against our position.

First, I want to thank Dr. Ward for his careful thoughts on these points. They serve as an opportunity to clarify and expand on certain nuances that may have gotten lost in the shuffle of questions and answers.

Now, beginning then with Ward’s satisfaction/dissatisfaction with the current theological structure erected to support modern evangelical textual criticism. Ward mentions Brash and Jongkind, but lands finally on Jongkind’s assessment as an clear example of robust theological grounding for modern evangelical textual criticism. For the sake of charitable discourse let us assume that Ward presented Jongkind accurately and in a benevolent light. Let us further assume that Ward’s assessment serves as an exceptional specimen of robust theological formulation defending modern evangelical textual criticism. We ought to assume the latter because of Ward’s ardent assertion that Jongkind’s work is satisfactory, at least according to his latter opinion.

Ward takes Jongkind’s argument to be in summary, ”While the OT scribes had the privilege of having a central figure, the high-priest, to govern the copying and accuracy of the Hebrew text, we in the NT do not. Rather, God ordained that the manuscript tradition of the Greek would be corrupted but recoverable, and the ones called to perform that recovery process have been textual critics over the centuries.” If this is indeed the argument or somewhere in the neighborhood, I find it difficult to believe this is a robust theological grounding for modern evangelical textual criticism, and for the following reasons:

1.) First, Jongkind begins with a transcendentless, this-worldly first principle – the high-priest. In other words Jongkind’s argument begins with man [high-preists] and ends with man [text-critics]. This is what is called a bottom-up theology. Man begins with man and as such ends with man. At no point in the Hebrew Scriptures are the high-priests called the final arbiters and preservers of what is or is not Scripture. Did they participate in the process and participate significantly? Indeed, they did. Still, the Scripture is clear that God has put His word in the mouth of His people and that God has promised to preserve His word in the mouth of His people from henceforth and forever (Isaiah 59:21). What is more, the context of Isaiah 59 evinces a triune covenant [i.e., God, Redeemer, and God’s Spirit] with God’s covenant people. The text is clear and given standard hermeneutical method, should serve as primary point of departure on the nature of verbal preservation because it is a clear text.

2.) Second, Jongkind’s via Ward wholly misses that both in the OT and NT there was indeed a central figure around which the word of God was recognized and collated. That person is the Holy Spirit by His singular care and providence kept His word pure in all ages. This omission again points to the transcendentless nature of the purported theological grounding for modern evangelical textual criticism. Furthermore, it is consistent with the overall approach of modern evangelical textual criticism’s desire to excise distinctively Christian a prioris in an attempt to treat the manuscript evidence with neutrality.

3.) Third, there seems to be a direct link, almost a syllogistic link, between the high-priest and the textual critic. The high-priest through his knowledge and wisdom ensured the purity of the text as it was being written while the textual critic does the work of “purifying” the text after the texts have been written. The only substantive difference is time; the high-priest did his work to a present text while the text-critic does his work to a historical artifact. There is a third option which does similar work, indeed a kissing cousin. There was a time when a man by his knowledge and wisdom determined what was and was not the pure text and his title has traditionally been known as Pope. We here at have often made the claim that there is little difference between a high-priest being the authority on what is or is not the OT and a textual critic being the authority on what is or is not the NT and the Pope being the authority on what is or is not the NT. If there is substantive difference I would enjoy a robust presentation of the substantive/qualitative difference.

4.) Fourth, simply because high-priests and evangelicals do textual criticism does not mean that their textual criticism is done under the authority and direction of the Scripture. Certainly the Babylonians were the instruments of God to judge the southern tribes of Israel but that does not mean they did it as they ought to have. Indeed, we know they did not and for it were judged harshly for their cruelty and immorality. Jeremiah tells us in full relief how God was displeased with Babylon for the way they did their “job”. For this failure Babylon was not merely reprimanded. They were destroyed. Simply because a textual critic does textual criticism doesn’t mean that he is doing it right. Simply because a Christian does textual criticism doesn’t mean he is doing it right.

How do we know what is right? Glad you asked. We know what the right method is by the leading of the Spirit of God through the word of God to the people of God by faith. For example, how did the people of Israel know to enter into the Promised Land? They believed God. Or more fully put, the people of God [i.e., Israel] believed by faith the word of God [i.e., God’s command to enter the land] and they did so by the Spirit of God speaking to their hearts which is the only way the gift of faith is conferred upon a soul. This process has been carried out time and time again throughout the OT and NT. Today is no different.

5.) Fifth, it seems to me that Jongkind’s argument is almost completely detached from the historical theological formulation of Bibliology. Certainly he can find Post-Enlightenment folks making his case, but beyond that there seems to be little orthodox support for his argument. On that point, it seems manifestly clear that it is not our theological position which is novel, it is the CT’s theological position which is novel. Ergo, it is not the TR/KJV folks like Burgon, Hills, and Letis that caused a schism with their theology. Rather the blame falls to those like Wescott, Hort, and Warfield.

To conclude, by my lights Jongkind’s argument as expressed by Ward ultimately offers little by way theological potency. In fact, it may be that Jongkind’s argument makes things worse. Should this indeed be the case I think it explains why Ward initially stated that the CT theological position does need a more expansive theology than what is on offer. That said, we here at have an exceedingly robust theological argument with considerable explanatory scope and force, and we’d love to share it with anyone who will listen. And by anyone, we mean anyone even those with whom we disagree.

Lord willing, tomorrow I will address Ward’s objection to our use of Matthew 5:18 in conjunction with Ward’s professed Young-Earth-Creationist stance. See you tomorrow.

5 thoughts on “Mark Ward and His Three Critiques of Confessional/SST Theology

  1. Peter, you may want to read Jongkind’s argument before using my representation of it in an off-the-cuff talk as a target for critique! Indeed, I’m sure you’d still have critiques to make, but don’t pin on him any omissions or distortions I may have inadvertently been guilty of!


    1. Yes, another of your textual persuasion turned me on to this book and particularly that of 7th chapter. In it Jongkind observes the following, “The spread-out character of the church was not a development by accident; it was by design. There is something inherently good about the discontinuity between the Jerusalem temple and the spiritual temple that is the church. Yet it was a development that had a profound effect on the transmission of the written Word – no longer was there a central authority that could authenticate the approved status of individual copies of the text, just as there was no single, central location that would produce approved copies. The absence of a central sanctuary in the worldwide apostolic church is intentional and theologically meaningful. Therefore, this the context in which textual variants started to multiply. That we have to deal with variants in the textual transmission is a consequence of the church’s history is indicative of the decentralized and dispersed situation of the people of God.” (107-108).

      First, of all I think your assessment on the podcast episode in question is quite faithful to Jongkind’s words here. As such I think you get him right and I believe my critiques still stand as a result. Two, it is unclear to me how Jongkind’s 8 page chapter at the very end of a rather elementary work could stand as a sufficient theological grounding for the CT position on modern textual criticism, its methods, and its conclusions. If these 8 pages are a sufficient accounting according to the CT positin I am with Dwayne Green in his assessment that the CT position has much to do by way of offering theological explanation for their behavior touching the treatment of God’s Scriptures over the last 150 years. “Scant” is not too robust of a word to describe Jongkind’s work at this point as a theological grounding. Three, Jongkind had the opportunity to proclaim that there was indeed a “central authority that could authenticate the approved status of individual copies” and that person was the person of the Holy Spirit speaking through the word of God to the people of God who accept those words by faith. But of course, he didn’t do that. Instead, he claimed the opposite. He remained entirely eminent and transcendentless in speaking of the centralized temple cult of the Jews and the “spread-out character of the church.” These are mere historical observations of the Jews and the church in defense of an apparent mere historical process i.e., modern textual criticism.

      All in all, though I appreciate you pointing me in this direction. I was disappointed that what I went to look for was not there, but this is not the first time, and I am certain it is not the last. Blessings. I look forward to continuing this discussion as the Lord allows.


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