The Critical Text:

Never Finished

By Taylor DeSoto


There are few facts that should cause Christians to be as skeptical of the critical text as this: It will never be finished. In an online article, evangelical textual scholar Dr. Jan Krans plainly states that this is indeed the case:

“An immediate consequence of this position is that in principle the text-critical task is never finished. Methods can be refined and fresh manuscripts finds can be made. Readers of the New Testament – just as for instance readers of Plato’s works – will have to live with a degree of uncertainty, even more so since there are cases that the available evidence does not allow for firm conclusions.”

I want to make three observations from this quote which should cause you to question the validity of the effort of modern New Testament textual criticism.

Those who defend the Textus Receptus [TR] have been called many names for saying exactly what this evangelical textual scholar admitted in his article. I have written before that TR advocates listen to the scholars much more closely than those in the critical text camp, because if those in the critical text camp were actually listening, they might begin raising the alarm alongside us.

If you take the time to listen to the textual scholars, you will realize that they do not have the ability to scrutinize the TR because they do not believe that their methods are even capable of allowing for “firm conclusions” on the text. If their methods cannot do this for their preferred text, why would their methods be able to do so for any other text, such as the TR?

The reality is, these scholars can have no more certainty in their conclusions on the readings of the TR as they have for the readings of the critical texts, and it is abundantly clear that they do not have the level of certainty in their own text as they have against the TR.

1. The Work Will Never Be Done

The first thing to note is that the effort of creating critical texts “will never be finished.” Dr. Krans states that this is the case because “methods can be refined and fresh manuscript finds can be made.”

What this means is that the critical text is subject to change based on updated methodologies and new manuscript finds. Jeff Riddle asked this very question to James White in a debate, and White proceeded to insinuate that Riddle was mischaracterizing and misunderstanding the discussion entirely.

2. The Work Is Like Secular Writings

The second note is that Dr. Krans compares the work of textual criticism of the New Testament to the writings of Plato. TR advocates have been saying that the work of evangelical text criticism is no different than text criticism of any other ancient body of work for years. Dr. Krans agrees:

“Textual criticism of the New Testament does not fundamentally differ from that of any other text from Antiquity.”

For those of us that believe in God’s providence and sovereignty over the text of Holy Scripture, this claim is clearly problematic. The Bible is not the same as any ancient text, and should be treated as such. This is a clear admission that modern textual scholars are not engaging in the same effort as Beza, because he treated the work of textual criticism within the bounds of his Christianity and Theology.

3. The Work Brings No Firm Conclusions

The third and final note is that Dr. Krans states plainly that “the evidence does not allow for firm conclusions.” Once again, those in the TR camp have been saying this for years, and have been met with ridicule and scorn. I have written elsewhere on this topic at length.

Similar to the first two notes, whenever TR advocates have made this claim, it has been repeatedly and aggressively dismissed by critical text adherents. Yet here we have it being plainly stated by a prominent evangelical textual scholar. How many scholars need to admit this before Christians wake up to the dangers of this approach? Here is Dan Wallace stating the same thing, in no uncertain terms.

“We do not have now – in our critical Greek texts or any translations – exactly what the authors of the New Testament wrote. Even if we did, we would not know it. There are many, many places in which the text of the New Testament is uncertain” (Gurry & Hixson, Myths & Mistakes in New Testament Textual Criticism, xii).

How long will conservative Christians, who claim to stand on the doctrine of inerrancy, settle for this incredibly low view of Scripture?


The critical text is not finished, and never will be. It is subject to the ebbs and flows of modern critical methods as well as new manuscript discoveries. It is created by methods that do not treat the Bible any differently than any other ancient text. The methods these scholars employ are not capable of arriving at any “firm conclusion” in any place. These facts simply cannot be disputed.

The question is, are you comfortable having an unfinished Bible in your hands? Does this align with your view of Scripture? What would it take for you to admit that this is an incredibly dangerous and volatile view God’s Word? Most importantly, is this what the Bible teaches about itself?

If you consider yourself to have a high view of Scripture, it is time that you start listening to the evangelical textual scholars. They will continue to say that you should not be worried about the reality of modern text-criticism and that the uncertainties they have about Scripture shouldn’t concern you.

What every Christian needs to realize is that their uncertainty does not need to be your uncertainty. You do not need to adopt this incredibly skeptical view of the Bible.

As James White often says, studying church history will protect you against a number of errors. This is probably the clearest example of our time, so I will say it again, my dear reader:

Listen to the scholars!