T. David Gordon
Ordained Servant: August–September 2023
Also in this issue
by Calvin R. Goligher
by Gregory Edward Reynolds
by Alan D. Strange
by An Older Elder
by T. David Gordon
by William Edgar
by Andrew Marvell (1621–1678)
Cultures, perhaps like individuals, seek equilibrium. When the cultural left pushes further left, the cultural right tends to push further right. In my own lifetime, I may have observed this several times: mid-century communists probably birthed the John Birch Society, the hippies may have instigated the National Review, Roe v. Wade likely incubated Theonomy and the Moral Majority, and the woke left yin today appears to be provoking its Christian yang of biblicism (and revived theonomy). Those who deny certainty provoke hyper-certainty. Whether for this reason or simply because nature abhors a vacuum, it appears to me that there is more discussion of biblical text criticism today than there has been in a half century or more.
As an individual with three graduate degrees in biblical studies, I welcome any intellectual effort directed towards Holy Scripture, especially since the late Peter L. Berger ruined my sleep by persuading me that, for most people, religion is not an intelligent concern. My Greek students for four decades were fairly tolerant of Greek, and many of them liked it, but even my one-hour lecture on text criticism in second-year Greek appears to have moved them to alternate thoughts of suicide or murder, and I know for whom the latter was directed. For me, therefore, to encounter any interest in text-critical questions of the Bible is an oft-sought oasis.
Still, I wonder what is provoking a renewed interest in the once-boring field of text criticism. Thomas Kuhn thought that intellectual revival (especially in the empirical disciplines) was ordinarily provoked either by new tools (electron microscopes, MRI, et al.) or new paradigms. I have not witnessed any new paradigms in biblical text criticism, and few new tools have demonstrated significant promise. At any rate, the editor of Ordained Servant is not the only one who believes there appears to be renewed interest in the matter, so I will provide a few thoughts that may assist church officers who wish to address this issue.
By introduction, I would remind church officers of the need for humility regarding the matter. Few of us, even seminary graduates, are trained in text criticism beyond the introductory level. Further, even the late Bruce M. Metzger (1914–2007), who was perhaps the leading American expert in text criticism, expressed caution about the very discipline to which he devoted much of his professional life:
The range and complexity of textual data are so great that no neatly arranged or mechanically contrived set of rules can be applied with mathematical precision. Each and every variant reading needs to be considered in itself, and not judged merely according to a rule of thumb. . . . Since textual criticism is an art as well as a science, it is inevitable that in some cases different scholars will come to different evaluations of the significance of the evidence.
Exactly one century before Metzger, Robert Lewis Dabney, at the conclusion of a forty-three page discussion of “Doctrinal Variant Readings” in the Greek testament, also urged humility regarding the matter, saying:
If all the debated readings were surrendered by us, no fact or doctrine of Christianity would thereby be invalidated, and least of all would the doctrine of Christ’s proper divinity be deprived of adequate scriptural support. Hence the interests of orthodoxy are entirely secure from and above the reach of all movements of modern criticism of the text, whether made in a correct or incorrect method, and all such discussions in future are, to the Church, of subordinate importance. Yet they have their interest, and should receive the intelligent watch of the teachers of the Church. Absolute historical certainty of results is not to be expected, since so many of the documents of the primitive Church are gone forever; but probable conclusions are all which are to be expected.
As the English Puritans frequently observed, there should be a direct correlation between light and heat; where we have little of the first, we should have little of the second. This adage probably confounds the American populist, who ordinarily holds the strongest opinions in areas of his least competence. For example, consider how heated some individuals become about a favored translation, individuals who often have studied neither Hebrew nor Greek. I taught Greek for forty-one years, and there is no translation that I have any passion for, though there are many that I appreciate.
In the following, I would like to address several matters: the scale of the question, the “families” of manuscripts, and some counsel to church officers.
The vast majority of variant readings in the original Scriptures have no consequence on interpretation and are merely variants of spelling, such as elthato or eltheto (ἐλθάτω or ἐλθέτω) in “your kingdom come,” in the Lord’s prayer. Such variation in the second aorist spelling is equivalent to variants between British and American spelling of words such as “colour” or “color.” Robert Lewis Dabney, in an article largely defending the textus receptus (RLD followed J. L. Hug in referring to it as κοινὴ ἔκδοσις), found only six variants that were doctrinally significant, which in total would hardly constitute two sentences. And, as we observed earlier, Dabney’s opinion was that “no fact or doctrine of Christianity would thereby be invalidated,” regardless of how we resolved those disputed texts.
The two significantly lengthy passages that have textual variants are the longer ending of Mark (16:9–20) and the pericope adulterae at John 7:53–8:11, neither of which would alter our understanding of what the Scriptures “principally teach,” namely, “what man is to believe concerning God, and what duty God requires of man” (Westminster Shorter Catechism [WSC] 3). The several things that the longer ending of Mark records in the post-resurrection narrative are affirmed later in other passages:
In my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues;
Acts 5:16 The people also gathered . . . , bringing the sick and those afflicted with unclean spirits, and they were all healed. (also 8:7, 19:12)
Similarly, there is nothing in the disputed variant in John 7:53–8:11, properly understood, that would add anything to what is taught elsewhere. Contrary to popular opinion, Jesus did not encourage moral relativism but especially told the woman, “from now on, sin no more” (emphasis added). Nor did he, as people often think, use the expression “cast the first stone” metaphorically to mean something like “he who is without sin may evaluate life ethically.” Adultery was a capital crime in the Mosaic law, and Jesus knew that those who would have her stoned were probably guilty of similar sins themselves (and may have written their offenses on the ground) and were therefore precluded, by the Mosaic law, from participating in the trial. Stoning a person to death is not the same as respectfully differing on an ethical question.
Even in these two lengthiest variants in the Greek New Testament, nothing is added to or deleted from the teaching of the New Testament by including or excluding either passage (properly understood). “What man is to believe concerning God, and what duty God requires of man” (WSC 3) is unscathed by the inclusion or exclusion of either variant. In my judgment, little is at stake in resolving the text-critical issues. However, out of our high regard for God’s Word, we officers—especially pastors—do our “due diligence,” as it were, and attempt, whenever variants might influence interpretation, to do our best to resolve them.
Most church officers know what many laypeople have never even thought about: We do not have the original manuscripts of any part of the Bible. What we have is thousands (including the fragmentary evidence, about seven thousand) of manuscripts that contain all or portions of the Greek New Testament. Unsurprisingly, no two of those hand-copied manuscripts is identical to another; on the other hand, there are not seven thousand different variants for each variation. There is widespread agreement among students of the Greek New Testament that there are three (possibly four) different “families” of textual variations. Within these families (Byzantine, Western, Alexandrian, and some recognize a Caesarean), most of the readings are the same. In any given passage, then, it is rare to have more than two or three minor variants, though there may well be thousands of particular manuscripts that represent one or another of the variants.
When people undertake a translation, they must first decide whether to regard some family variants to be the default or not. Do the translators work from representative manuscripts of the Byzantine family of texts, the Western texts, or the Alexandrian texts (or from an eclectic/critical text)? Obviously, a translation committee cannot re-argue such a basic matter every day; to the contrary, most translation committees have made their decision beforehand and agree to work one way or another, and their translations later reflect that choice. Here are the three options ordinarily considered.
Desiderius Erasmus (1467?–1536) of Rotterdam published his magnum opus (1516), the first printed edition of the Greek New Testament (in contrast to handwritten manuscripts). He consulted Lorenzo Valla’s annotations on the New Testament, and he also consulted the biblical commentaries of the Church Fathers and published four editions of his Greek New Testament. Erasmus was a skilled and dedicated Renaissance humanist, but he had very few manuscripts to work from, as Bruce Metzger said,
For the book of Revelation he had but one manuscript, dating from the twelfth century, which he had borrowed from his friend Reuchlin. As it happened, this copy lacked the final leaf, which had contained the last six verses of the book. For these verses Erasmus depended upon Jerome’s Latin Vulgate, translating this version into Greek.
Several decades later, Robert Estienne (Stephanus) published editions of the Greek text in 1546, 1549, 1550, and 1551, revising the earlier edition of Erasmus, which had been printed from 1516–1535. Stephanus used fourteen other Greek Byzantine manuscripts along with the Complutensian Polyglot in his 1550 edition, and even two other Alexandrian Codices, which were given/loaned to him by Italian friends. These Byzantine manuscripts, not surprisingly, concurred with the edition of Erasmus, and the Stephanus edition is nearly identical to that of Erasmus. These printed manuscripts became the basis of nearly all of the European translations of the Reformation era (and the immediate post-Reformation, with such as the King James Version).
Not too much later, The Elziver brothers (Leiden, 1633) printed their second edition of a Greek text, nearly identical to the texts of Erasmus and Stephanus, and the preface contained this: “Textum ergo habes nunc ab omnibus receptum in quo nihil immutatum aut corruptum damus” (Therefore you now have the text received by all, in which we give nothing changed or corrupted). From this preface, the expression “textus receptus” came, and from the Elziver brothers (borrowing nearly entirely the work of Erasmus and Stephanus) came the Greek text used for nearly all translations until the nineteenth century.
A small misnomer exists here, because, in fact, the so-called “received text” is no longer “received” by all individuals or traditions as sacrosanct; it ordinarily refers to the Stephanus/Erasmus text, which, we all know, was not based on a complete Greek manuscript. The concept of a “received text,” however, is somewhat commendable, because, regarding textual matters, it is similar to the “Vincentian canon” (quod ubique, quod semper, quod ab omnibus creditum est, “what has been believed everywhere, always, and by all”). Perhaps this is what Robert Lewis Dabney meant when he said:
Let it be that the received text has usurped the position by accident, or been assigned to it by providence, the all-important fact is, that it holds it. It is far better for the interests of truth, that Christendom should recognize, as a commonly received Bible, a less accurate text, than that it should recognize none.
To be sure, not every individual would agree with Dabney that a less-accurate text, approved by consensus, would be preferable to a more-accurate text, but his point is at least judicious. What should not be overlooked, however, is that Erasmus’s text actually was an eclectic/critical text, even though he had many fewer manuscripts to work from than others (later) did.
The Majority Text avoids the obvious problem that the Textus Receptus has, that Erasmus conceded that a portion of Revelation was missing from his primary manuscript, and he provided his own free translation from the Latin Vulgate. Majority Text advocates are not enslaved (or even beholden) to the Erasmus text. They do, however, show great deference to the “majority” of manuscripts, and the majority of manuscripts available today are from the Byzantine tradition. Most of those manuscripts are fairly late; manuscripts degrade over time, and, of course, we have more of the more-recent manuscripts than we do of the less-recent manuscripts.
Some (not all) advocates of the Majority Text argue providentially, that these are the manuscripts preserved in greater number than other types of text, and they were in fact the manuscript tradition from which the first Protestant translations were made (Dabney’s “ecclesiastical” argument, mentioned earlier). Other advocates argue empirically that the “majority” of available manuscripts today happen to be Byzantine.
Many (probably most) academic scholars of the Bible adopt what is called an “eclectic” or “critical” text, basing their translations on a consultation of all the available manuscripts (including early versions and patristic sources), attempting to account for the variants. What kinds of mistakes did scribes typically make? What “families” of texts appear to be more reliable than others? Which variants appear in several “families” of texts? Printed editions of the Greek New Testament by the major Bible societies in the United States and Germany contain marginal information about the alternative readings and the manuscripts in which they are found, so that translators may make their own decision, or at least understand why the translators made theirs.
Advocates of the eclectic/critical approach may (or may not) have their own version of a providential argument, to wit: in God’s infallible providence, these are the kinds of errors that fallible humans make, and if God’s providence preserves some very ancient manuscripts, in which there is a lesser likelihood of numerous generations of copying errors, we should avail ourselves of that providential reality. Advocates of this approach make the same kinds of assessments of biblical manuscripts that students of the Greek classical literature make of Aristotle or Plato.
Advocates of the eclectic/critical approach also recall that the Received Text and the Majority Text are themselves eclectic/critical; Erasmus consulted the Vulgate (and himself, when he freely translated the Latin into Greek at the end of Revelation), and Stephanus consulted over a dozen Greek texts. Therefore, the difference in the three approaches is actually on a spectrum: The Received Text tradition consults very few manuscripts (possibly only one); The Majority Text (by definition) consults many texts (with a tendency to prefer the Byzantine manuscripts, since they are more numerous than the Western or Alexandrian manuscripts), and the Eclectic/Critical text consults any text it can find (as I put it: I consult any manuscript God’s providence makes available).
Readers of Ordained Servant will be interested in knowing how or whether our confessional standards address the matter, and especially the first portion of Confession of Faith 1:8, which reads:
The Old Testament in Hebrew (which was the native language of the people of God of old), and the New Testament in Greek (which, at the time of the writing of it, was most generally known to the nations), being immediately inspired by God, and, by his singular care and providence, kept pure in all ages, are therefore authentical; so as, in all controversies of religion, the church is finally to appeal unto them. (parentheses theirs)
Some portions of this are quite straightforward, especially the result clause at the end, “so as, in all controversies of religion, the church is finally to appeal unto them.” This clause precludes the possibility of any given translation of the Bible having privileged status and was likely an implicit denial of the Roman Catholic Church’s adoption of Jerome’s Latin Vulgate as its authoritative Bible. Two other parts of the Confession’s statement require a little more work to determine their meaning: “singular” and “kept pure.”
“Singular care and providence” (emphasis added) is one of several quaint expressions found in the Westminster documents, and its quaintness assists in making it memorable. Consulting Oxford English Dictionary (OED), one finds a movement from the absolute to the comparative sense of “singular.” The absolute definitions of the adjective employ the term in an almost-mathematical sense: “Alone; solitary. One only; one and no more; single. Exclusive, sole. Forming the only one of the kind; unique. Separate; individual; single.” Note, then, the more-comparative uses:
Separate from others by reason of superiority or pre-eminence. Above the ordinary in amount, extent, worth, or value; special (“Common from 1550–1650, now rare”). Remarkable, extraordinary, unusual, uncommon. Hence rare, precious. Especially, particularly.
Westminster certainly did not employ “singular” in the absolute sense, because they affirmed at Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF) 5:1 God’s ordering of all things: “God the great Creator of all things doth uphold, direct, dispose, and govern all creatures, actions, and things, from the greatest even to the least, by his most wise and holy providence . . .” (emphasis added). We may safely assume that the Assembly used the term in its comparative sense of “special, extraordinary, unusual, uncommon.”
Presumably, for instance, God’s providence also superintended the preservation of the writings of Plato and Aristotle, but the manuscript evidence for their writings is extremely scant, compared to the manuscript evidence for biblical texts. In the 1930 Loeb edition of Plato’s Republic, for instance, edited by Jeffrey Henderson, he lists only thirteen manuscripts available. Similarly, in Harris Rackham’s 1926 introduction to Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics in the Loeb series, he lists only six manuscripts and says, “Other mss. have been collated by other scholars, but none has any authority. . . . Another witness, ranking in importance next to the best mss., is the thirteenth-century Latin translation attributed to William of Moerbeke” (emphasis added). Rackham had only two reliable Greek manuscripts for the Ethics, and his next-most-reliable witness was a thirteenth-century Latin text. The Assembly would not have known of how great the discrepancy was between manuscript evidence for the Bible compared to other ancient works, but they correctly knew God had a special/singular interest in the Scriptures, an interest so “singular” that we now know that the Assembly underestimated how “singular” God’s providence for the Scriptures was.
The Assembly’s “kept pure in all ages” is also mildly challenging to interpret. OED expends three pages (861–63) to list the varying uses of “pure.” To begin, we may rule out what the Assembly did not mean: They did not mean that there were no spelling, punctuation, accenting, or simple copying errors in the manuscripts of the Bible. Many (if not all) members of the Assembly would have been aware of the previous century’s text-critical activity, and they would have been aware of the publication of The Complutensian Polyglot in 1517. They probably intended one or more of these OED usages:
not having in or upon it, anything that defiles, corrupts, or impairs . . . Intact, unbroken, perfect, entire . . . without foreign or extraneous admixture; free from anything not properly pertaining to it . . . free from corruption or defilement . . . the genuine article, the real thing.
The Assembly probably meant that, despite the routine copying errors, nothing of substance has been lost or added to the biblical manuscripts. Some manuscripts contain only the gospels, and others contain only the epistles, but all sixty-six canonical books are there, in multiple copies, without “corruption or defilement” as to their substance.
Especially pertinent to our conversation is that the Assembly’s language was about the “Scriptures” in their entirety, as attested by several/many manuscripts; the Assembly did not refer to or endorse any particular manuscript (or group of manuscripts) of the Scriptures. They referred to “the Old Testament in Hebrew” and “the New Testament in Greek” but not to any specific manuscript of either. They made no claim similar to that later made by Joseph Smith, that he had the actual manuscripts of divine revelation, akin to the tablets Moses brought from the mountain at Sinai.
My preference for the Eclectic/Critical text is motivated by two things: First, since I believe God’s providence orders “all things,” said providence somehow includes the variety we find in different manuscripts (or in different manuscript traditions). Second, the Eclectic text is inclusive; the Textus Receptus and Majority Text are exclusive. An individual such as myself, working from an eclectic text (whether United Bible Society 4 or Nestle Aland 28), could, in each case, decide that the TR or MT is the preferred reading. Indeed, these two major eclectic texts print all of the significant (and some of the insignificant) variants in the margins. By contrast, one who is committed to the TR or even the MT is committed thereby to blinding his vision from even considering some of the oldest extant manuscripts available to us. I at least have all fifty-two cards on the table, even if I only or ordinarily selected the Byzantine cards. The alternative approaches remove some cards from the deck (a deck, I remind, that is here due to God’s “singular care and providence”).
Whichever translation of whichever text is read from the pulpit or the pew, a conscientious reader will occasionally correct the translation. Even if we adopt/employ the “right” text (or group of texts), no one suggests that a given translation is inerrant (though some defenders of the Authorized Version [KJV] come very close to affirming such). Whichever English translation we adopt (on whatever grounds), there will be occasions where we will disagree with it. I use the ESV in the pulpit, but there are times where I correct it. Its translation of Romans 12:2 reads, “. . . that by testing you may discern what is the will of God . . .” (emphasis added), which is an ungainly mouthful; the RSV is simply (and correctly), “. . . that you may prove what is the will of God . . .” (emphasis added), which is a perfectly good way of translating the infinitive δοκιμάζειν (dokimazein).
As another example, Westminster questionably cited John 5:39 on two occasions. At WCF 1:8, they referred to “the people,” who “are commanded, in the fear of God, to read and search them (the Scriptures)” (emphasis added), and again at Westminster Larger Catechism (WLC) 156, which says, “all sorts of people are bound to read it apart by themselves, and with their families: to which end, the holy Scriptures are to be translated out of the original into vulgar languages” (emphasis added). In each case, Westminster proof-texted the KJV (based on the Textus Receptus) of John 5:39: “Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life . . .”. Every first-year Greek student, however, knows that the present active indicative and the present active imperative of the second person plural is spelled in identical fashion: ἐραυνᾶτε (eraunate). It is, of course, textually and grammatically possible that the verb is an imperative; it is equally possible, however, that the verb is a mere indicative, meaning something like, “although you search the Scriptures that testify about me, you refuse to come to me,” an irony very characteristic of John’s Gospel. The “you” in the passage is plural, retained nicely by the KJV “ye,” but Westminster understands the passage to teach that the “people,” individually understood, are required to read the Scriptures privately and in their families, which would have been impossible prior to the invention of the printing press and is impossible still today among the many smaller indigenous groups who are not literate or have no Bible in their language. So, even though the KJV used the “right” text, and Westminster employed the “right” translation of the “right” text, Westminster erred in both of its citations of the text.
Ministers (and other interpreters) should be very cautious about making homiletical mountains out of text-critical molehills. Jesus had little good to say about religious leaders who abused their authority, especially when, in doing so, they made life difficult for those they ought to have served: “The scribes and the Pharisees . . . tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger” (Matt. 23:2–4). A robust understanding of divine providence includes the reality that we have more evidence for some ideas than we do for others, and there is nothing wrong with saying about some matters, “We do not have a compelling case.”
Pastors and elders of growing congregations face the occasional challenge of purchasing more hymnals or more pew Bibles: Should we purchase fifty more of what we now have, or should we purchase one hundred of an alternate? Sometimes, the question is fairly easily answered, because the session may have already noticed defects in the current hymnals or pew Bibles for some time. The 1990 The Revised Trinity Hymnal, for instance, was superior, overall, to the one it replaced; many tunes were set in a lower key signature, to make them easier to sing, thus encouraging congregational singing. Similarly, both the notes and lyrics were printed in a larger, more-legible font. I would probably be far less likely to adopt a new pew Bible, unless it were one known to be more readable (NKJV, NASB, and several other good, accurate translations are extremely difficult to read aloud). Considering the expense involved in making such a switch, in most circumstances it would be better for the minister simply to “correct” the version as part of the sermon, as I routinely do if discussing (for example) the ESV rendering of Romans 12:2 (see above). Contemporary versions based on an eclectic text (e.g., NIV, ESV) routinely have marginal notes explaining the differences in the manuscripts, and a thoughtful expositor could easily give his reasons for adopting the alternate in the sermon. Unfortunately, the alternative is not true; the translations based on the Textus Receptus (KJV, NKJV) will not ordinarily include the alternative readings (and the Majority Text has not yet been entirely translated into English).
Robert Lewis Dabney was neither the first nor the last to desire some common text or translation that would foster and preserve church unity, and such a desire is surely commendable. Church officers, therefore, should be alert to whether their denomination or denominational agencies (such as Great Commissions Publications for the OPC and PCA) employ a given translation for their publications. In most circumstances, church unity would be fostered by conforming to such practices at the local level.
We face an irony here, as we often do in a world precariously poised between divine grace and divine judgment: deference for the commonly known/received manuscript of the sixteenth century (the Textus Receptus), on the ground that it was the common version of the churches (an aspect of Dabney’s argument), has the effect of demonstrating a lack of deference for the commonly known or received manuscript tradition in the twenty-first century (the Eclectic text). Respect for the entire church—both then and now—might motivate us to prefer the Eclectic text, which always includes the Byzantine readings of the Textus Receptus and the Majority Text.
 Scott Clark discusses what he calls “QIRC,” which stands for the Quest for Illegitimate Religious Certainty. Readers can search his Heidelblog to find his discussion of the general intellectual quest for such certainty. In my lectures, I have frequently argued that the original Edenic temptation was an example of this: “Then you will be like God, knowing” as God does, rather than as a dependent, mutable, and fallible creature does.
 Peter Berger, A Rumor of Angels: Modern Society and the Recovery of the Supernatural (New York: Doubleday, 1969).
 Bruce M. Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament (New York: United Bible Societies, 1971), xxiv, xxviii. Hence TCGNT.
 Robert Lewis Dabney, “The Doctrinal Various Readings of the New Testament Greek,” The Southern Presbyterian Review xxii:2 (April 1871): 234. For a systematic theologian, Dabney demonstrated a remarkable grasp of text criticism as it had been practiced to his day. His article reviewed, among others, the text-critical work of Richard Bentley (1662–1742), Johann Albrecht Bengel (1687–1752), Johann Jakob Wettstein (1693–1754), Johann David Michaelis (1717–91), Johann Jacob Griesbach (1745–1812), Johann Leonhard Hug (1765–1846), Johannes Martin Augustinus Scholz (1794–1852), Karl Lachmann (1793–1851), Constantin von Tischendorf (1815-74), Samuel Prideaux (1813–75), and Henry Alford (1810–71). Unfortunately for Dabney (and for us), another decade passed before Brooke Foss Westcott (1825–1901) and Fenton John Anthony Hort (1828–92) published their influential, two-volume The New Testament in the Original Greek in 1881.
 The primary manuscript he worked from, Codex Basiliensis A. N. IV. 1, known as Minuscule 2, resides today at the University of Basel.
 Metzger, TCGNT, xxi.
 Robert Lewis Dabney, Doctrinal Various Readings, 199.
 I honestly do not know what would happen to this view if, say, in a calendar year, throughout the globe, archaeologists found hundreds—perhaps thousands—of Alexandrian manuscripts. Would Majority Text advocates propose new translations based on the new majority? One advantage of the eclectic/critical theory is that it welcomes new manuscript discoveries and need not abandon its principles upon their discovery. By any orthodox theory of divine providence, it did not cease in the early sixteenth century.
 Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, trans. Harris Rackham, Loeb Classical Library 73 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1926), xxvi.
 I have always commended private and family reading of the Scriptures, because I believe there are many benefits to doing so. There is an important difference, however, between commending and commanding. Westminster commanded what is merely commendable and, in this case, commanded something that would have been impossible to have fulfilled for three-quarters of the church’s history (prior to the printing press). In defense of the Westminster Assembly, I should remind that a smaller sub-committee provided the proof-texts, and that, ordinarily, they did very fine work; and the proof-texts were not regarded as having any binding authority on anyone, lay or ordained, but were designed for whatever assistance might be derived therefrom. In these two particular cases, however, the Assembly did adopt, in the text of the Confession and Larger Catechism, language that imposed a binding duty where they did not have biblical authority to do so. The Orthodox Presbyterian Church revised the proof texts for the Confession and Catechisms (Confession of Faith, 1956; Shorter Catechism, 1978; Larger Catechism, 2001; all together in 2005).
T. David Gordon is a minister in the Presbyterian Church in America and is a retired professor of religion and Greek at Grove City College in Grove City, Pennsylvania. Ordained Servant Online, August/September, 2023.
Contact the Editor: Gregory Edward Reynolds
Editorial address: Dr. Gregory Edward Reynolds,
827 Chestnut St.
Manchester, NH 03104-2522
Electronic mail: email@example.com
Ordained Servant: August–September 2023
Also in this issue
by Calvin R. Goligher
by Gregory Edward Reynolds
by Alan D. Strange
by An Older Elder
by T. David Gordon
by William Edgar
by Andrew Marvell (1621–1678)
© 2023 The Orthodox Presbyterian Church