D.A. Carson and his throw-away line on why we should be glad we don’t have the autographs

After being taught by my dad that the Bible was God’s Word, as he was taught, and indeed, as the Christian tradition believed for centuries, in 1974, after HS graduation I went off to the Baptist Bible College in Clarks Summit PA, to begin my preparation for the ministry. In my innocent idealism I actually thought that I was going to be prepared for the pastorate. It didn’t take long for me to realize that was not going to happen, I was confronted for the first time with the notion that the Bible was “riddled with errors.” This meant everything that my dad had taught me and his teachers had taught him about the Bible was wrong, and that what I was learning was going to be the beginning of a new theological foundation. With my fledgling understanding of what I had recently learned I returned home to tell my dad what I had learned. He listened and listened to my “a little information is a dangerous thing” apologetic for the critical text. Having figured that my pathetic argument was sufficient to win the day, my dad said, “Two thing that are different cannot be the same.” That was the entirety of his rebuttal as I sat in our living room stymied about to how to answer. That was almost 50 years ago and today Standardsacredtext continues to respond in the same manner. If God gave inspired words to the original penmen, then there are specific words that are God’s; each of them of infallible, or not capable of error, infinite importance, and because God is the Author, these words are immutable. These words were designed to be translated into other providentially prepared receptor languages. This means for the Scripture, the word cannot be in the text and not in the text, the verse cannot be in the text and not in the text, the pericope cannot be in the text and not in the text and still be called God’s word. Only God can speak for Himself; we can only say about God what God has already said about Himself. Except now, it has become normative in American Christianity to speak for God because the Academy and Church cannot seem to figure out how God can speak for Himself throughout the ages of Church History without loosing his place on the page. Somehow, He can create and sustain the created worlds, sustaining the cosmos, and every everything corporeal and non-corporeal but the providential preservation of Scripture is just too much for God – until the 19th c. when finally, standard rejecting scholars came along side God to give Him a hand. And then, everything was better. But everything was not better, is not better.

So the Academy gaslighted the Church. While watching the news with a building engulfed in flames the reported says the riot was mostly peaceful, the Academy reports to the Church while the Western culture is in serious decline and is morally ablaze, that the Bible is mostly God’s Word, nothing to see here, move along. Those that say this experiment to replace the standard sacred text of the Church has proven itself to be a dismal failure are deemed the extremists. Corrupt information dominance through the publishing companies and Academy have undermined historic Christian orthodoxy, censured opposing views, and say the critical approach is the sole method for determining what is and is not God’s Word. Professors, fearful of professional ostracization and dismissal pusillanimously fall in line with the status quo.

In 1979, D. A. Carson writes the small book, hubristically entitled The King James Version Debate: A Plea for Realism. It’s not all he could say on the subject but if he were to write any more, it would have merely been more of the same. Carson is saying that the pre-critical approach to the Bible version debate was unrealistic, because it was not radically historical, as if the Scriptures were merely historical documents. This is the same, pathetic, unconvincing argument we heard from James White, but you see how comfortable White was regurgitating the same old lines; this apologia has been argued for many years.

In Chapter 1 The Early Circulation of the New Testament, Carson, on page 16 presents a scenario that cannot be answered empirically, that is by modern textual critical methods, and yet he persists in his plea and continues to write for another 118 pages. He writes of copyists, “Without saying anything, he might decide to correct such errors. Unfortunately, because he did not have the autograph at hand by which to correct his own work, he might think he detected an error where there was none! In that case his ‘correction’ was itself an error.” Here Carson has stumbled an insurmountable problem.

First, there may have initially been an error in the exemplar that required correction, making the correction genuine, but how would anyone know not being in possession of the autograph. Carson does not need the autograph to keep writing because the autograph is unimportant. Critics are building the text according to their methodology and that does not include appeal to the autographs, inspiration, or preservation. Second copy errors due to proximity to the autograph could have been accepted as authentic. Textual critically, who could tell which draft represented the Original? Carson writes, “The textual critic sifts this material and tries to establish, wherever there is doubt, what reading reflects the original or is closest to it.” Such misleading drivel populates the paperback books of this genre, and in 1979 this passed for scholarly writing. How does the critic know what is closest when he has no access to the exemplar? This manner of writing has successfully misled the Church for over 40 years. Carson by inference would have the popular reader believe that he can tell by the textual critical method which reading is closest to the original while admitting in the prior paragraph that such could not be known after the first copy. The inference that the method can discover the autograph has been one of the most successful ruses perpetrated on the Church.

On page 17, hyperbole meant to detract from the insurmountable problem of not possessing the autographs, is utilized where Carson writes, “In no instance do we possess the autograph; and I suspect it is as just as well, for undoubtedly we would make an idol out of it.” “In no instance do we possess the autograph” should have been an early give away to the failure of the modern method, and empirically, he is correct. It is impossible for Carson to know if he does or does not have the autograph, but he lumps the reader in with himself. This throw-away line was unnecessary to his argument but solidified his place as a critical scholar and an opponent of the standard sacred text. Here Carson takes a cheap shot at those who hold to a standard sacred text as “Bible worshippers” expressing the danger those who hold to a standard sacred text are to Christianity. Modern textual criticism will protect the Church from idolatry.

How do you think such words written by a scholar were received by the reader. If you were in the critical camp, your new methodology was a means of keeping he Church free from those who would make an idol out of the providentially preserved word. If you held to a standard sacred text, then you realized the Academy was not your friend. Note for all the claims that the KJB guys are bombastic, there is plenty of that criticism to go around. The Academy also had its part in fomenting hard feelings among brothers and churches.

As I wrap this post up, please note that since 1979 virtually nothing has changed in the critical method. Once the Academy did away with a standard sacred text, real substantive change was no longer necessary. Sure there will be continued changes but the damage has been done. The only hope for the Church is a return to a pre-critical understanding of Scripture and return to the historic Scripture of the Church preserved as written documents throughout history, culminating in the TR and for English reading people, the KJB.

Published by Dr. Peter Van Kleeck, Sr.

Dr. Peter William Van Kleeck, Sr. : B.A., Grand Rapids Baptist College, 1986; M.A.R., Westminster Theological Seminary, 1990; Th.M., Calvin Theological Seminary, 1998; D. Min, Bob Jones University, 2013. Dr. Van Kleeck was formerly the Director of the Institute for Biblical Textual Studies, Grand Rapids, MI, (1990-1994) lecturing, researching and writing in the defense of the Masoretic Hebrew text, Greek Received Text and King James Bible. His published works include, "Fundamentalism’s Folly?: A Bible Version Debate Case Study" (Grand Rapids: Institute for Biblical Textual Studies, 1998); “We have seen the future and we are not in it,” Trinity Review, (Mar. 99); “Andrew Willet (1562-1621: Reformed Interpretation of Scripture,” The Banner of Truth, (Mar. 99); "A Primer for the Public Preaching of the Song of Songs" (Outskirts Press, 2015). Dr. Van Kleeck is the pastor of the Providence Baptist Church in Manassas, VA where he has ministered for the past twenty-one years. He is married to his wife of 43 years, Annette, and has three married sons, one daughter and eighteen grandchildren.

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