The Critical Text:
An Enigma Machine of Confusion
By Robert Truelove
If your Bible is to be found somewhere between the base text of the NA28 and the myriad of choices from the apparatus, you don’t have a Bible but a puzzle. The true text of sacred Scripture is an enigma for all who would seek it in such a manner.
According to this approach, no one from biblical times had a Bible, nor the early church fathers, nor those of the Reformation and Post-Reformation era, nor anyone else up until the late 20th century. Even so, the Enigma Machine of contemporary textual criticism keeps serving up an ever-changing critical text (including apparatus).
The actual Enigma Machine of World War II was the device kept aboard German submarines used to decrypt orders sent from the German High Command. The Enigma Machine of history actually worked. When the Allies captured one they were able to successfully decrypt German messages.
The Enigma Machine of contemporary textual criticism doesn’t work nearly so well. It ultimately comes down to a lot of subjective guess work and for this reason the scholars who produce critical texts never claim to have solved the puzzle. This is why they provide an extensive apparatus detailing myriads of variants. If they could actually produce a definitive text, there would be no need for such notes.
So while on the one hand, contemporary textual critics claim to be recovering the earliest form of the text, their praxis is based upon the scientific method making any findings subject to falsification. The scientific method requires this skepticism.
Textual decisions cannot ever be final. Those who actually produce the critical texts never make the claim that the base text of any particular edition is the restored, autographic text. Not only that, but these same scholars have rejected the idea that the autographic text can ever be fully restored.
This is not to say that all before us had the precise text of the Textus Receptus. One need not make such a claim to demonstrate the approach to the text as seen in contemporary textual criticism is uniquely modern. It is a novel approach to the text of the scriptures and it looks little like anything that has come before it.
It is difficult for many supporters of the modern, Critical Text to see this because their understanding of the subject is at the popular level. They actually think the base text of the NA28 is THE text in a very similar way a Received Text advocate sees the TR.
What is driving the resurgence of the Received Text in our day?
I think a chief cause is the Holy Spirit is opening people’s eyes to the fact that the base text of the NA28 has not been presented as THE text by its own compilers. While this is a matter of sacred scholarship, it is first and foremost a matter of divine revelation. It requires a work of the Holy Spirit. Where do we hear the Shepherd’s voice?
People are looking for a Bible they can trust. They are looking for a canonical text and there is only one such text that has been received by the church from the hands of God’s singular care and providence.