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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: Don Stewart :: Are the Right Books in the New Testament?

Don Stewart :: Is There a Certain Form of the New Testament Text That Should Be Considered Canonical?

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Is There a Certain Form of the New Testament Text That Should Be Considered Canonical?

Are the Right Books in the New Testament? – Question 15

One of the questions concerning the extent of the New Testament canon has to do with the very words found in each book. We know that in the process of copying and recopying the text, some variations, or variant readings, found their way into the manuscripts. Some words were added while others were deleted. Most of this occurred by accident. How are we to understand these variations? Can we discover a form of the text that we should consider as canonical?

There have been a number of ways in which believers have dealt with this issue. They can be summed up as follows:

Some Believe There Is a Divinely Inspired Form of the Text

There have been those who have argued that only one form of the Greek text has God’s divine inspiration behind it. All other forms either add to or take away from that which God has divinely revealed. This view has been popularized by some who argue that the majority of Greek manuscripts, also known as the “Majority Text,” or the Textus Receptus, should be seen as the one true New Testament text. The Textus Receptus was the name given to the Greek text that was basically used to translate the New Testament in the King James Version of 1611. The Majority Text is the name given to a modern attempt to put a text together based upon the majority of the surviving Greek manuscripts.

Some people go as far as to say that any translation of the New Testament that is not based upon the majority of manuscripts, or the Textus Receptus, is not really the Word of God. Therefore, the canonical text of the New Testament is equated with these manuscripts and these manuscripts alone.

There are many problems with this sort of perspective. For one thing, there are variations among the manuscripts of the Majority Text; they do not all read the same. In fact, the Majority Text of today has about 1,800 differences than the Textus Receptus!

Thus, in a number of cases, some type of decision has to be made to determine which reading is the best among the majority of manuscripts. Once this is practiced, it cannot be consistently argued that only one type of Greek text is the canonical text. A better answer needs to be found.

All Forms Are Authoritative

It seems best to conclude that all of the various forms in which the Greek text has come down to us have God’s authority behind them. Indeed, the surviving manuscripts read exactly the same in about 85% of the places in the New Testament.

Even where there is variation, it does not affect the ultimate meaning of the message.

Therefore, contrary to some, we should not conclude that there is some sort of divinely inspired, or canonical, text that can be determined by either looking at the majority of the manuscripts or by assuming that God only providentially preserved His Word in one line of Greek manuscripts. God’s Word comes through loud and clear in all of the surviving manuscripts. We cover this issue in detail in our book, The Words of the Bible: How We Know They Were Transmitted Accurately.

While we should do our best to recover the original text of Scripture, the text has been transmitted to such an accurate degree that we can be confident that we are reading the Word of God when we read the various translations of Scripture.

Summary – Question 15
Is There a Certain Form of the New Testament Text That Should Be Considered Canonical?

The believers in Jesus knew the extent of the New Testament canon. There were twenty-seven books that God has divinely inspired during the era when Christ came into the world.

However, when the various books that belong to Holy Scripture were copied, variations crept into the text; the surviving manuscripts do not all read the same. Yet, this was never a major issue for Christians. They did not worry about some form of the text that should be considered canonical while other forms were not. While the text was not copied perfectly, the message can still be found in each one of the manuscripts that still exist.

Therefore, we do not have to resort to thinking that God only divinely inspired one group of New Testament manuscripts as some have contended.

Why Should the Present New Testament Books Be Accepted as Authoritative Writings? ← Prior Section
Why Was the Authority of Certain New Testament Books Questioned? (The Antilegomena) Next Section →
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