Bible: The Authentic Source Texts

8 - Received Text vs. Critical Text: Only a 'Minor Issue'?

By Dr. Paul M. Elliott
Postmodern Evangelicals claim that the differences are minor, no major doctrines are compromised, and the Critical Text is actually "superior". They are wrong on all counts.

From the TeachingtheWord Bible Knowledgebase

Part 8 of a series. Read part 7.

Postmodern Evangelicals claim that the differences are minor, no major doctrines are compromised, and the Critical Text is actually "superior". They are wrong on all counts.

This is not, as they claim, a "minor issue." There can be no more foundational and vital issue for the church than the authenticity of the Book that is the basis of our hope of eternal life, and our sole authority in all things.

Postmodern Evangelical pastors and scholars of the past 130 years have produced many books, papers, and sermons defending their abandonment of the authentic source texts of Scripture for a corrupted counterfeit. One of their chief arguments has been, "This issue is not nearly as vital as defenders of the Received Text make it out to be."

They often characterize those who raise the issue and support their case with facts as troublemakers. They often lump them in with others who "defend" the Received Text by putting forth lies, deceptions, and heresies. (Truly orthodox Received Text advocates like this author must often pray, as Martin Luther sometimes had to, "Lord, deliver me from my 'friends' as well as my enemies.")

To support their argument that the issue is not vital, postmodern Evangelicals proffer several sub-arguments that are either specious or simply wrong.

"The Changes Are Minor"

One of the most common arguments is that the differences between the Received Text used by the believing church since apostolic times, and the Westcott-Hort or Critical Text that was brought to the forefront in the 1880s, are minor.

When it comes to the Word of God, there is no such thing as a "minor" change. As we saw in our last article, a change of even a single word or the tense of a verb can have serious doctrinal implications. Christ Himself has promised that neither a single letter nor the smallest stroke of a letter of Scripture shall perish (Matthew 5:18, Luke 16:17). God repeatedly commands that mankind shall not add to nor take away from the text of His Word (Deuteronomy 4:2, 12:32; Proverbs 30:5-6, Revelation 22:18-19). Paul declared that he and his fellow workers had not adulterated the text of Scripture as some others had done even in apostolic times (2 Corinthians 4:2). To dismiss any change as a "minor" change is a human judgment that we have no right to apply to the Divine Book.

Additionally, the changes between the Received Text and the Critical Text are not "minor" even by human judgment. In later segments of this series we shall look at these facts in greater detail, but let me summarize the pertinent statistics about the New Testament.

  • The Critical Text of the New Testament differs from the Received Text over 5,300 times.
  • The Critical Text omits over 2,800 words from the Gospels alone.
  • The total of the omissions that permeate the Critical Text of the New Testament is the equivalent of removing the entire books of First and Second Peter from the text.

These are "minor" changes? Hardly.

"No Major Doctrines Are Compromised"

Another related argument of postmodern Evangelicals is that despite the vast differences between the Received Text and the Critical Text, "no major doctrines are compromised" in the Critical Text.

When it comes to the Word of God, any compromise is unacceptable. The Word of God reveals a tightly-woven and highly interdependent system of doctrine that existed in the mind of God from before the foundation of the universe. "Every word of God" comprising that indivisible body of revelation is "pure" -- literally, refined to purity (Proverbs 30:5). Man has no right to compromise the smallest bit of it, much less to stand as judge over what constitutes a "minor" doctrine. Today, many Evangelicals consider the doctrine of literal six-day ex nihilo creation to be a "minor" doctrine, but even a basic study of the Word of God tells us that this doctrine is an essential element of the Gospel itself.

The fact is that the differences between the Received Text and the Westcott-Hort or Critical Text affect far more than what anyone might call "minor" doctrines. Once again, this is an area we shall explore in greater detail in later segments of this series, but for now I will mention two important points. Many of the Critical Text's omissions reflect the influences of Gnosticism, compromising essential doctrines such as the deity and virgin birth of Christ. Many of the Critical Text's changes support Roman Catholic doctrine, undermining the teaching of the sufficiency of the person and work of Christ for salvation, and the doctrine of justification by faith alone. In fact, when the Westcott-Hort counterfeit began to gain acceptance in the late 1800s, Roman Catholic leaders were delighted that Protestants were, as they saw it, finally "coming home" to the source texts that underlie the Vatican's versions of the Bible.

"The Critical Text is Superior"

Postmodern Evangelicals also argue that the Critical Text is "superior" to the Received Text. They claim that the manuscripts underlying the Critical Text are older, and that the number of manuscripts supporting the Critical Text is far greater. As we shall see in later segments of this series, those assertions are based on a web of falsehoods and statistical gerrymandering invented by Westcott and Hort and perpetuated by others. The facts of the case are just the opposite: the Received Text is demonstrably the older text, and has overwhelmingly greater manuscript support.

"This Is a Side Issue"

Postmodern Evangelicals also argue that the controversy over the Biblical source texts is a side issue that is distracting the church from the vital business of the Great Commission. Fundamentalist Baptist Dr. Mark Minnick, pastor of Mount Calvary Baptist Church in Greenville, South Carolina, who buys into the false arguments mentioned above, writes that the controversy is "unscripturally divisive" and that it is "time to let men alone to preach Christ without any further loud drum beating and tragic division over the glorious company of the manuscripts."[1]

Dr. Keith E. Gephart, a professor at International Baptist College, agrees with Minnick: "We must remember that inspiration applies only to the original manuscripts known as the 'autographs.' Any claim that particular copies of these autographs are inspired in the same sense as the originals goes beyond what the Scriptures claim about themselves.... Life is too short and God's work is too great for Fundamentalist Christians to divide over issues on which God has not clearly spoken."[2]

This kind of thinking reflects that found among Evangelicals on a wide range of issues. "Let's not allow these things to get in the way of the church's mission," they say. Things that are not allowed to "get in the way" today range from turning a blind eye to covetousness and even immorality on the part of the man in the pulpit, to condoning divorce and fornication among church members, to compromise partnerships in "evangelism" and the "culture wars" with those who do not even believe the Gospel.

Such foolish "missional" thinking has corrupted the church in these and a host of other ways, in large measure because of the fact that it long ago infected the church's thinking about the text of Scripture itself. All of these evils - and many more - stem in part from postmodern Evangelicalism's low view of Scripture and willingness to create, promulgate, and preach from Bible versions that are based on corrupted counterfeit source texts.

Minnick, Gephart, and thousands of other pastors and scholars whose views they echo, are simply wrong. God has indeed spoken on this matter, clearly and directly. The source text issue is not a minor issue because God Himself says it is a most major issue. He has very specifically promised to preserve His genuine Word in meticulous detail, and condemns those who dare to produce corrupted counterfeits. That Word is the instrument by which the church carries out Christ's Great Commission to evangelize the world and edify the saints. There can be no more foundational and vital issue for the church than the authenticity of the Book that is the basis of our hope of eternal life, and our sole authority in all things.

Our response to the facts of the church's downgrade on Scripture over the past 150 years must not be that of the Postmodern Evangelicals who stubbornly refuse to take the issue as seriously as God does. It must be that of David, who wrote:

I will worship toward Your holy temple, and praise Your name for Your lovingkindness and Your truth; for You have magnified Your Word above all Your name. (Psalm 138:2)

God Himself has exalted His Word even above His own name. We can do no less.

Future Segments of This Series (in coming months, the Lord willing):

  • The History of the Received Text

  • The History of the Critical Text

  • What About the Majority Text?

  • The Abandonment of Inerrancy

  • Alleged Errors in the Text

  • John 8:1-11 and Other Omissions

  • Why the Church Needs a New Received Text Bible in English


  1. Mark Minnick, "Let's Meet the Manuscripts" in From the Mind of God to the Mind of Man: A Layman's Guide to How We Got Our Bible (Greenville, South Carolina: Ambassador-Emerald International, 2008), page 98.

  2. Keith E. Gephart, "The Response to These Facts" in From the Mind of God to the Mind of Man, pages 216 and 218.


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