Five Questions About the Majority Text
By Jeff Riddle
Several internet pundits and critics of the TR, like Dwayne Green and Matthew Everhard, have recently suggested that the proper text of the Greek NT may be found in the so-called Majority Text (the text represented by the majority of currently extant Greek mss.).
Sometimes the Majority Text is put forward as a sort of via media between traditionalists, on one side, who hold to the TR, and progressives, on the other, who hold to the modern critical text. Such a view is problematic for several reasons, especially for those who are confessionally Reformed and affirm that God’s Word has been “kept pure in all ages” (WCF 1:8).
Here are five questions I’d like to see addressed by contemporary evangelical and (especially) Reformed advocates of the Majority Text:
1) If the Majority Text is the preserved true text of the Greek NT, why were there no printed editions of it completed until the late 20th century (see the editions of Farstad and Hodges, The Greek New Testament According to the Majority Text, Second edition, 1985) and how does this fit with the doctrine that God’s Word has been kept pure in all ages?
2) If the Majority Text is the preserved true text of the Greek NT, why did God in his providence not allow the Protestant Reformers and Protestant orthodox to recognize it as such and make it the standard for their scholarship, preaching, and Bible translations? Relatedly: How was the Protestant Reformation able to succeed and be blessed by God without ever having access to the “true” Bible?
3) If the Majority Text is the preserved true text of the Greek NT, why have no widely used Protestant translations of it ever been made in any language? In fact, the only NT translation of the Majority Text in English that is currently in print that I know of is that independently published on amazon by Wilbur Pickering in 2013 and titled The Sovereign Creator Has Spoken: Objective Authority for Living. As far as I know there are currently no churches anywhere in the world which make liturgical use of a New Testament translated from the Majority Text in their worship.
Our friends may respond that even though there are no viable translations of the Majority Text widely available or practically in use today, they can still have access to it either through translations based on the TR (like the NKJV) or ones based on the modern critical text (like the ESV). This, however, means that they must approve and commend editions of the Bible to their congregations which either contain passages they do not believe are original and inspired (such as Acts 8:37 and 1 John 5:7-8 in TR-based translations), or that omit or cast doubt on passages that they do believe are inspired (like Mark 16:9-20 and John 7:53—8:11 in modern critical text-based translations).
Dwayne Green has done a number of videocasts where he has doggedly asked “Which TR?” but to my knowledge he has never addressed the question, “Which Majority Text?” or “Which Majority Text Translation?” I hope we will get answers from him and other Majority Text advocates soon.
4) Given that the Majority Text is sometimes affirmed as the preserved true text of the Greek NT in part based on its usage in the Greek-speaking Eastern Church, why does the current standard printed edition of the Greek NT used by the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Patriarchal Edition (1904), essentially follow the TR and not the Majority Text (e.g, it includes Acts 8:37 and 1 John 5:7-8 without brackets or explanatory notes)?
5) If you affirm the Majority Text as the preserved true text of the Greek NT, what do you do with places in the NT (as in the book of Revelation) where there is no clear Majority Text? Must Christians be perpetually uncertain as to what the authoritative text of these passage is?
In the end, I think we can see that the Majority Text is not really a viable option for traditional Protestant Christians who hold to the providential preservation of the Word of God. The only viable Protestant option, IMHO, for the Greek NT remains the Textus Receptus, the traditional text of the Reformation. In the providence of God it was the consensus printed text of the Reformation and post-Reformation eras and the basis for all their vernacular translations of the Bible, and it still widely used by Bible-believing Christians and churches around the world today.