The Church’s 1st Century Text-Critical Heritage

Speaking of the Bereans, Luke writes,

“These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and search the scriptures daily whether those things were so.”

Acts 17:11

John speaking of the Ephesian Church writes the following in a similar vein,

“…thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars.”

Revelation 2:2

At the inception of the Church, generally speaking, first century Christians had three forms of special revelation: the sign gifts, the Old Testament, and the Apostolic Message. In both of the passages mentioned above we see that the Church, the fledgling Church, the Church without commentaries and study helps, was able to and accurately performed the work of determining what was the Apostolic Message and what was not – what was the word of God and what was not.

Indeed, as the Westminster Confession of Faith observes,

“All synods or councils, since the Apostles’ times, whether general or particular, may err; and many have erred. Therefore they are not to be made the rule of faith, or practice; but to be used as a help in both.”

WCF 31.3

How exactly were they, the Church, able to determine what was the Apostolic Message, what was the word of God, and what was not? By the analogy of faith. In Acts 17:11, the Bereans compared Scripture with Scripture to see “whether those things be so.” In Revelation 2:2, John records that the Ephesian Christians tested/tried those who claimed to be apostles but where not. In like manner, we see in 1 John 4:1 that the Church is “believe not every spirit, but to try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world.”

Albert Barnes commenting on 1 John 4:1 writes,

“If they taught what God had taught in his word, and if their lives corresponded with his requirements, and if their doctrines agreed with what had been inculcated by those who were admitted to be true apostles, 1 John 4:6, they were to receive them as what they professed to be.”

Albert Barnes, Notes on the Whole Bible, 1 John 4:1.

Again the impetus and power to determine what is or is not the word of God is to compare what is said by a true or false apostle with the words of Scripture. This of course assumes, that the Church in the first century assumed the Old Testament, which was a copy of a copy of a copy of a copy of a copy and on and on was indeed the word of God and superior to the authority of a person professing to be a apostle whether that be Paul or some other.

What is more, I would like to ask my Critical Text/Multiple Version Only [CT/MVO] brothers whether they believe any one of the myriad of Bibles they hold to is a sufficiently reliable source to critique the Apostle Paul or the Apostle Peter? Put more concretely, in a world where the Old Testament shadows and figures are fulfilled in Jesus, and then Paul in Romans or the writer of Hebrews begins to show how the Gospel has gone to the Gentiles and that Jesus of Nazareth is greater than angels and the entire Jewish sacrificial system, do you believe that your subjective appraisal of the Bible as “sufficiently reliable” is going to be able to authoritatively persuade you and the Apostle Paul if he errs in his presentation?

It is also interesting to point out that the Church was able to determine the words of God, the Apostolic Message without the means of textual criticism. Certainly a form of textual criticism existed at that time seeing that there were many copies and manuscripts of the Old Testament. Still, the Scripture does not call the saint to employ textual criticism. Instead, they are commanded to search the Scriptures.

My point is this, 1.) if you put the words of God in front of God’s people whether they be the words of an Apostle or the words of the Old Testament, they can determine whether those words are from God or not by hearing the voice of the Shepherd through the power of the Spirit. It is no different now and they can do it without the subjective artistic commentary of the textual scholar.

2.) There is no guarantee nor is their any meaningful argumentation for the CT/MVO position that a sufficiently reliable Scripture is suited to withstand an Apostle of Christ to the face should that Apostle stray from the message given to them by Christ. In short, you need to raise the bar for “sufficient reliability” by orders of magnitude from “You can get saved out of this Greek NT or version” to “You can rightfully question and even oppose an Apostle of Christ out of this Greek NT or version”. And as I’m sure you know, Apostles talked about more than the way to salvation. Or as Barnes points out,

“No one should be received as a religious teacher without the clearest evidence that he has come in accordance with the will of God.”

Albert Barnes, Notes on the Whole Bible, 1 John 4:1.

This includes the version from which you read, Christian. Putting Barnes’ words another way, “No Bible should be received as a religious teacher without the clearest evidence that it has come in accordance with the will of God.” But for our CT/MVO brothers they trade “clearest evidence” for “sufficiently reliable evidence”.

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