The Textual Frankenstein of Modern Critical Text Theory

A passionate Textus Receptus advocate named Jonathan Sheffield recently published a video about textual criticism, framed around James White, a well-known Reformed apologist and PhD candidate in textual criticism. Although Sheffield apparently does not realize that Frankenstein is the name of Mary Shelley’s scientist, not the monster (who is never named), he raises a number of objections to modern textual critical theory.

The video is excellent from a technical standpoint, and Sheffield employs a number of amusing pop-culture references throughout. The more one has followed developments in textual criticism in recent years (look for a reference to the now-infamous Wallace/Ehrman/early Markan fragment debate!), the more “in jokes” one will see in the video, which is very entertaining. James White is a favorite target of Sheffield’s, who prodcued a similar video last year entitled “A James White Christmas Carol on ‘Father Forgive Them’ in Luke 23:34.

Sheffield asks:

Why are Modern NT Textual Scholars like James White, Daniel Wallace and the field as a whole losing the intellectual argument against the scholarship of Dr. Bart Ehrman and others that hold to his primary hypothesis on the text of the New Testament? In order to understand this predicament for Modern New Testament Textual Scholars, we will document the problems with Modern Textual theories as shown in the following cartoon animation.

Peter J. Williams, author of the recent Can We Trust the Gospels and a co-editor of the Tyndale House Greek New Testament, dismissed the video on Twitter as “[g]eeky trolling from a confused & twisted Textus Receptus perspective …”

Here is Sheffield’s video:

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There are 6 Comments

Wayne Wilson's picture

 A lot of work went into that video.   I haven't delved into this discussion for awhile. I think the KJVO crowd has hurt giving the Textus Receptus side a hearing. We should always be open to arguments.

TylerR's picture


A while back, for Theology Thursday, I posted a series of different articles from different textual critical perspectives. I found Robinson's majority text view particularly interesting and thought-provoking. I personally think reasoned eclecticism, weighing the internal and external evidence, makes the most sense!

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and works in State government.

Darrell Post's picture

When the dust settles the following are still facts:

1. The original manuscript of each book of the Bible is lost.

2. All extant copies have differences.

Whatever one does in response to these two facts amounts to textual criticism at some level. Even if one pulls one and only one manuscript from the pile and declares, "This is IT!" it was still a textual critical decision to accept the readings of one manuscript and reject all the others. As Tyler said, reasoned eclecticism makes the most sense, weighing and evaluating all internal and external evidence, rather than dismissing evidence without examination. 

I still await someone from the TR position to explain to me a defense of "on the beast" instead of "and the beast"  (epi instead of kai) in Revelation 17:16 as very first time the reading "on the beast" appeared anywhere was the printed TR. And yes, I personally checked every known manuscript of Revelation.


Bert Perry's picture

What Jim says.  What a mess of insults, cheap shots, and patronizing pats on the head.  Precisely who on the other side is that going to win over?  On the flip side, it is evidence for my position that the KJVO/TR position, at least in its form "the other texts are perversions", can really only be sustained by genetic fallacies.  

But to be fair regarding Jim's comment, the Chick tract/booklet on the KJV doesn't really build off the TR.  It assumes that the ultimate root was the Old Latin, which I'm told gave rise to the Vulgate when centuries of copying made it quite the mess in terms of consistency.  So those whose theological libraries are from Chick would actually--at least if they think through the implications of their "library"--be repulsed at this.  

Given I used to go to a church "pastored" by a guy who couldn't figure out this big difference between the Chick document and the work of David Sorenson, suffice it to say that I'm not sure our hypothetical "Chick" theologian would notice, however.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Bert Perry's picture

Two ways that I'd respect to establish the superiority of the TR:

1.  If we found ancient documents that would establish that, say, Alexandrian manuscripts were deliberately corrupted.  Since no such document has been found, this seems unlikely.

2.  If a serious, coherent new approach to the analysis of ancient texts were formulated that would upend the current habit of looking at the age, number, and distribution of manuscripts to infer the sources of each stream and their relative weight in favor of the age, distribution, etc.. of the TR or MT.   What it would be is not clear to me, but it could happen.

Also important is the question of whether any of the textual variants actually make a big theological difference.  I haven't seen any yet, but with sufficient evidence I could be persuaded.

What I'd also love to see; an end to guilt by association impugning of the Alexandrian/eclectic texts.  Again, not holding my breath.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

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