In Their Own Words: J. Harold Greenlee

In that famous martial treaties, The Art of War, Sun Tzu makes the following observation,

“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”

Sun Tzu, The Art of War

While we do not consider the likes of Wasserman, Gurry, Hixon, Ward etc. our enemies, we do consider them our intellectual and theological opponents. And so it is good that first we understand our own position and then seed to understand our opponents, read their books, and interact with their arguments.

Over the years we have accumulated books on textual criticism as part of our educational journey. So perhaps it is best that we allow our opponents to speak in their own words so that those who do not understand modern textual criticism may better understand and those who oppose modern textual criticism may more accurately and incisively dismantle their opposition.

Today we are going to look at J. Harold Greenlee in his own words. According to the cover of Introduction to New Testament Textual Criticism: Revised Edition (2003), Greenlee is a professor of New Testament and an International Translation Consultant with Wycliffe Bible Translators.

Here at we have argued and continue to argue that the Textus Receptus and its tradition represents the Greek New Testament recognized and accepted by the believing community, the Church. The book itself represents the movement of the Spirit of God through the word of God in the people of God. It is a monumental artifact which bespeaks the singular care and providence of God in His words to His people. And very much the same can be said about the KJV, but that is not the focus of today’s post.

Given what the TR represents to the Church over time and as a book of ancient origins it seems odd that the TR would be treated with derision even by godless scholars seeking to be objective in their work. Rather it seems the TR should at least be a wealth of scholarly wisdom for generations to come informing the next crop of scholarly professionals in understanding the content of the NT. And is it so outlandish to make these claims? Let’s check in with Greenlee.

“The credit for abandoning the TR is therefore generally given to Karl Lachman. Lachman was a classicist and not a theologian; consequently, he was unaware of how violent the criticism against his work might be.”

Greenlee, Introduction, 69.

And in the wake of “abandoning the TR”

“Lachmann’s great contribution, therefore is that his [Greek text] was the first generally recognized ‘critical text.'”

Greenlee, Introduction, 69.

But merely abandoning the TR was not enough it must be vanquished as if the Wescott and Hort are Beowulf and the Bible of the Church is Grendel himself.

“With the work of Wescott and Hort the TR was at last vanquished.”

Greenlee, Introduction, 71.

And what was the end result of WH’s “heroic feat” according to Greenlee?

“In the future, whatever form an editor’s text might take, he or she would be free to construct it with reference to the principles of textual criticism without being under the domination of the Textus Receptus.”

Greenlee, Introduction, 71.

Finally, that old dragon, the TR was vanquished, never again to have dominion over text-critical principles to this day.

It is difficult to put into words the abject poverty of Greenlee’s conclusion in the above quote assuming a distinctly Christian worldview. His conclusion is godless, transcendentless, and autonomous, or in a word, rebellious. Furthermore, the book is an introduction and as such is material meant to shape the youngest minds in our colleges and seminaries. Greenlee speaks positively of abandoning and vanquishing the Church’s NT and invites us all to do the same because in his opinion the Church’s NT “characteristically fails the test of the basic principle of textual criticism: viz., that the reading from which the other reading or readings most likely arose is generally original” [77]. Such a tactic may prevail today but it cannot win in the end.

 To secure ourselves against defeat lies in our own hands, but the opportunity of defeating the enemy is provided by the enemy himself.
– Sun Tzu, The Art of War

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