Those who hold to a TR-only position like to think that they hold a moderate position. They typically repudiate the extremes of Ruckmanism in the strongest terms while repudiating the “extremes” of contemporary texts/translations just as firmly.
It is my intention in this post to explain why I believe it is impossible to build a reasonable TR-only position without rooting it in 1611. In other words, I want to show why you cannot distance yourself from Ruckmanism if you hold to the TR-only position.
I do not suggest that all who hold to a TR-only position intend to root it in Ruckmanism. I merely argue that Ruckmanism is the inevitable foundation of their system when considered as a reasonable whole.
What is the TR?
When I say TR-only, I refer to the view that the New Testament has been perfectly preserved1 in the Greek textus receptus (TR) from which the King James Version was translated. It is crucial to note that this position does not leave room for other texts (e.g. Westcott-Hort, Nestle-Aland/United Bible Society, etc.). It is the TR-only position. It holds that the TR is the only collation of Greek manuscripts that is acceptable for use by the church. If you are TR-preferred, this post does not address your position.
It is also crucial to understand that this position stands or falls on the word-for-word accuracy of the TR. While the TR was collated by Erasmus from a collection of Greek manuscripts and then corrected over the years by Desiderius Erasmus himself and then later by the Elzivir brothers, Stephens, and Beza, the position holds that the editors of the TR got it right in every instance. That is why the TR is the only text from which translation should take place.
The point is neatly illustrated in the publication of Scrivener’s 1881 textus receptus by the Trinitarian Bible Society. It’s that little blue, hardback New Testament that students receive when they study Greek at a TR-only college. It has no footnotes! Not one! Why? Because according to this position, there are no variants that cannot be conclusively determined and that determination is final in the textus receptus. The matter is settled. The case is closed. Simple as that.2
How do we get from 1881 to 1611?
You remember I mentioned all those editions of the TR a moment ago. Here’s the trick… each one is different. Erasmus didn’t create one TR. He created five. And multiple editions followed by other editors. This raises the question, if the TR is word-for-word accurate, which one?
You might think that the 1881 edition is the editorial finale in a long line of editions and was chosen for that reason. But it is not. It is not even an edition per se. Rather, it is a collation of editions. Let me explain what I mean.
The reason the 1881 edition of the TR is defended as word-for-word perfect by TR-onlyism is that it is the edition from which the KJV was translated in 1611. But of course the 1881 edition didn’t exist in 1611.
In 1611, the translators of the KJV had many editions of the TR in print and so they used all of them. They carefully considered their points of difference and made text-critical decisions as to which reading they would follow for their new translation. So once they were finished, while it was accurate to say the KJV was translated from the TR, there was no one edition of the TR from which the KJV had been taken.
That’s why it was necessary in 1881 to go back and create a new TR edition. This TR would be the TR from which the KJV was translated. Scrivener checked the KJV to see which reading it followed in any particular instance. He then included that reading in his 1881 edition.
Correcting the Greek
Let me summarise. There are many TRs. They are all different. Since they all differ, only one of them can be word-for-word perfect. So when a TR-only person holds up the 1881 TR and declares that it is word-for-word perfect, he is claiming this solely on the grounds that it contains in every instance the reading which was used by the King James Version of 1611.
In other words, from the time of the early church until 1611, believers had to wrestle with differing readings in various portions of Scripture. But in 1611, the matter was settled. Not merely in English, but also in Greek. In other words, TR-onlyism determines the correct Greek reading in any instance by referring to the English translation of 1611 for it’s authoritative ruling. The English corrects the Greek.
This is Ruckmanism, pure and simple. TR-onlyism is rooted in Ruckmanism and I see no way in which it can escape this without becoming something other than TR-onlyism.
Grace to you.
1 By “perfectly preserved,” I refer to the new teaching of verbal, plenary accessibility which has been circulated within Fundamentalism in the last decade or so.
2 Some might wonder if it is possible to hold that the TR is the best text without insisting that the 1881 (or 1516, or 1519, or 1522, etc.) is word-for-word perfect? The answer is yes, but in that case, you are not TR-only because you have openly accepted textual criticism. You will prefer a Greek New Testament with footnotes that describe certain variants. And that means you will have to take a broad range of manuscript evidence into account. Thus, you merely prefer the TR.