Traditional – Ecclesiastical – Confessional – Standard

It was recommended yesterday by one of our readers that I offer a brief treatment of the interrelation of the following positions: Traditional Text position, Ecclesiastical Text position, Confessional Text position, and the Standard Sacred Text position.

Often when seeing different terms we expect that each term would denote different things. In this case, as I wrote yesterday, I believe these terms mean the same thing though their emphasis falls in different places. In other words, there are differences but the differences are not substantial in the defense of the Scriptures.

In order to show these similarities, Dean Burgon’s The Traditional Text of the Holy Gospels and Theodore Letis’ The Ecclesiastical Text will suffice. We will see in brief that each position held to the TR and the KJV as the standard sacred text given their respective linguistic spheres, but they held to that position for different reasons than the others. Beginning with Burgon and the Traditional Text position, Burgon writes,

“Speaking generally, the Traditional Text of the New Testament Scriptures, equally with the New Testament Canon, rests on the authority of the Church Catholic. ‘Whether we like it, or dislike it’ (remarked a learned writer in the first quarter of the nineteenth century), ‘the present New Testament Canon is neither more nor less than the probat [i.e., to establish the validity of] of the orthodox Christian bishops, and those not only of the first and second, but of the third and fourth, and even subsequent centuries.'”

Burgon, Traditional, 23.

Here Burgon takes “Church Catholic” not to mean Roman Catholic but rather and particularly, to mean the Anglican Church of which Burgon was the Dean of Chichester Cathedral. For Burgon the New Testament Canon rested upon the authority of the Church Catholic and that text was the Textus Receptus and the Authorized Version or the King James Versions being approved by, as Letis points out,

“all the Bishops of the Anglican Church…but it was called ‘authorized’ because James I, the Supreme Governor of the Church, had given this translation his authority and sanction.”

Letis, Ecclesiastical, 175-176.

Burgon clearly held to the TR and KJV or AV as the standard sacred text for the true Church and he did this by leveraging the witnesses of the Church reaching back to the first and second centuries. In his view, the TR and the KJV were the text the true Church had traditionally held to since the inception of the NT Church. And being a High-
Churchman, tradition was not merely local custom. Rather, “tradition” carries with it a divine superintendence of God’s Spirit in God’s people thus leading them to orthodoxy and orthopraxy.

Next let’s turn to the Confessional Text position which is most recently propounded by the likes of Dr. Jeff Riddle from Louisa, VA. Perhaps the modern progenitor of this position though is found in the work of Edward F. Hills in his work, The King James Version Defended aka Text and Time. Letis notes of Hills,

“Hills came to many of the same conclusions as Burgon, but in the place of the high church argument of apostolic succession as a guarantee (perhaps more implicit than explicit in Burgon), he appealed directly to the affirmation of the Presbyterian Westminster Confession of Faith.”

Letis, Ecclesiastical, 183.

So while Hills and Burgon came to many of the same conclusions regarding the TR and KJV; their emphasis on how those conclusion were to be drawn differed. Burgon’s derived his arguments in favor of the TR and KJV from the his Ecclesiology and Pneumatology while Hills and subsequently Riddle derive their arguments from Bibliology and Pneumatology.

For Burgon the Church Hierarchy has authority because the Spirit has preserved that hierarchy and therefore the deliverances of that hierarchy have authority. For Hills and Riddle, God has kept His words pure in all ages through His singular care and providence and that by the Holy Spirit. Still, whether Burgon or Hills, both arrived at the same conclusion: the TR ought to be the standard sacred text undergirding the standard sacred text of the English-speaking Church, the KJV.

Turning now to the Ecclesiastical Text position, remaining in line with Burgon and Hills, Letis turns his attention (his emphasis if you will) on the role of corporations and money in the making of Bibles. To that end, he concludes,

“Pandora’s box has been pried open and the Bible, no longer in the possession of the Church and her specific theological criteria for a religious understanding of the translation task, is now a commodity of the ‘Bible society’ and the Bible landlords of the corporate world.”

Letis, Ecclesiastical, x.

Letis understood that the textual issues facing the Church are more complex than merely an assessment of variant readings. Part of the Church’s problem is that there is lots of money to be made in the making of multitudes of translations and study helps and designer Bibles. In other words the textual issue is an issue of text and an issue of consumerism.

Letis’ goal then was to put the Bible back into the hands of the Church, to make the Bible the possession of the Church again with all her “specific theological criteria for a religious understanding of the translation task.” The starting place for the Church’s repossession of her Bible is to acknowledge the TR and KJV as the Church’s Bible, indeed, to admit that the Church has a Bible.

The Standard Sacred Text is merely the next iteration in the flow of these three positions. We attempt to carry the emphasis of Burgon in that we see the Church as the vehicle through which God preserves and recognizes His words though our emphasis is not as heavy on the authority of the clergy. We carry identical positions with the Confessional Text position in that we argue that the Holy Spirit preserves His word by an act of singular care and providence. Thus when combining these two [Burgon and Hills] you get that regular refrain around here, The Church knows what is and is not the word of God because the Spirit of God speaks through the words of God to the people of God.

Furthermore, we have taken a queue from Letis, recognizing that the Church’s textual issues and the version debate at large are more than a debate about textual variants. There are robust historical, theological, philosophical, exegetical, economic, methodological, ecclesiastical, and educational considerations to take into account when some person or entity endeavors to change the one traditional confessional text of the English-speaking Church which has formed and informed the West for the last 400 years.

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