TEXTUAL CRITICISM AND THE END OF BIBLICAL INERRANCY: Follow-up Comments on the Tors/Costa New Testament Text Debate (Part 1)

© 2017, by John Tors. All Rights Reserved.


On the evening of Saturday, April 22, 2017, I debated Dr. Tony Costa on the topic of “the methodology of the reconstruction of the Greek New Testament.”[1]  I was contending for the Majority Reading/Byzantine text Approach, while Dr. Costa argued for Reasoned Eclecticism, the dominant approach that was used to produce the Nestle-Aland (NA) Greek text.  This was my first formal debate and it was certainly a learning experience.

It quickly became obvious that there are insurmountable limitations of time.  I composed my opening 35-minute talk trying to keep it as succinct as possible, saying only what needed to be said – and it ran for 1 hour 19 minutes.  I had to make several passes at editing it down in order to get it into the 35-minute period allowed, and each time I had to jettison content I did not want to lose.  So, as much as I would have liked, some issues simply could not be addressed.

Second, it is a definite advantage to be the second speaker and so get the “last word,” and there doesn’t seem to be a way to level this particular playing field.  Posting follow-up articles, such as this one, by each participant seems to be the only way that each can simultaneously have the “last word.”

Finally, I made a major tactical blunder.  The debate was scheduled to end with a five-minute conclusion from each party, and I wrote mine in advance.  When my turn came, I gave that prepared conclusion, rather than using the opportunity to respond to Dr. Costa’s final arguments and drive my points home, which is what I should have done.

Therefore, I am offering a series of articles in lieu of the extemporaneous conclusion I should have given.  (Of course, in this format, I can go into far more detail than I would have in the debate conclusion.)  Naturally, I would not have been able to respond to everything Dr. Costa had said, but there were three things that I should have emphasized.  They are:

– Modern mainstream textual criticism destroys any meaningful concept of Biblical inerrancy. 

– Modern mainstream textual criticism has no viable explanation for the dominance of the Byzantine text. 

– Objecting to the Majority Reading Approach does not justify continuing to use Reasoned Eclecticism, in light of the fact that Reasoned Eclecticism had been shown to be not just fundamentally wrong but backwards.

The first is by far the most important of these, and it was demonstrated so starkly that I was taken aback by it.  It is the topic of this article; the other two will be discussed in another article.[2]


Modern mainstream textual criticism (“Reasoned Eclecticism”) does indeed destroy the doctrine of inerrancy.  One can choose the Nestle-Aland text or inerrancy, but not both.

At the beginning of my opening talk, I made the point that textual criticism, virtually unknown to most Christians, is of crucial importance.[3]  If the Nestle-Aland Greek text is correct, there are errors of various kinds in the Bible, including errors of fact and science, and so the Bible contains errors, thus putting paid to the doctrine of inerrancy.[4]


I adduced Mark 1:2, which reads “as it is written in Isaiah the prophet” in the Nestle-Aland text as an example of a factual error.  Dr. Costa responded, “Now, was this common in the first century?  Yes, it was.”[5]  Was what “common in the first century”?  The usual evangelical claim is that it was common to combine the quotations of two prophets and in the attribution to mention only the more prominent prophet.  There are two problems with this: (1) it was not “common in the first century” to do such a thing; in fact, there was no such practice at all; and (2) it would still be an error; an error does not cease to be an error simply because a lot of people may do it.[6]

Now, Dr. Costa did not cite any evidence for his claim that this practice was “common in the first century”; all he did was point to Matthew 27:9, and in the absence of any other evidence for such a practice, the skeptic would rightly point out that this should simply be seen as another place at which the Bible erred, along with Mark 1:2.  It may sound trite, but two wrongs don’t make a right.

But what was particularly interesting is that Dr. Costa’s PowerPoint slide had the following: “The problematic citing of Jeremiah for a text which appears to come from Zechariah has prompted certain scribes to alter it.”  This did not even seem to be being presented as a case of a composite quotation being attributed only to the more prominent prophet but as simply a straight-out misattribution.  And this misattribution was then used to justify the erroneous Nestle-Aland reading at Mark 1:2.

In point of fact, what is attributed to Jeremiah in Matthew 27:9 does not “come from Zechariah,” nor it is “an exact quote from Zechariah,” and this is readily seen when we place the two passages side by side:

Then was fulfilled what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet, saying, “And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the value of Him who was priced, whom they of the children of Israel priced, and gave them for the potter’s field, as the Lord directed me.” (Matthew 27:9-10)

Then I said to them, “If it is agreeable to you, give me my wages; and if not, refrain.” So they weighed out for my wages thirty pieces of silver.  And the Lord said to me, “Throw it to the potter”—that princely price they set on me. So I took the thirty pieces of silver and threw them into the house of the Lord for the potter. (Zechariah 11:12-13)

There are some words in common, certainly, but their context is different and the entire thrust of the passages are different.  Most definitely, Matthew 27:9 is not quoting Zechariah 11:12-13 and then misattributing it to Jeremiah.

It shouldn’t be a problem, though; I gave a viable explanation for the reference to Jeremiah in Matthew 27:9, viz. that Matthew 27:9 explicitly says that this prophecy was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet, not that it is written in Jeremiah.  It can be understood to be an oral prophecy, one that was spoken by Jeremiah but not written in his book, [7]. We see this phenomenon (the fulfillment of prophecies recorded in the Bible, though the original prophecy was not written in Scripture) elsewhere in this very book (Matthew 2:23), as well as in 2 Kings 14:25.

Now, Dr. Costa objected to this solution, saying,

I pointed to Matthew 1:22-23, where, if you notice in the Greek text there of Matthew 1:22, Matthew does not say that this was written by the prophet – he’s quoting from Isaiah 7:14 – he does not say that this was written by the prophet; you’ll notice that he uses the participle legontos there, the same word that is used by Matthew 27 verse 9, where he says that “the word that was fulfilled by Jeremiah: legontos, “saying.”  Same structure, same word …. Why do you take Matthew 27:9 not to be an actual quote by Jeremiah when it has the very same grammatical structure as Matthew 1:22-23, where Matthew’s quoting Isaiah, the prophecy of the virgin birth?

Now, it is true that the same participle λέγοντος (legontos, “saying, spoken”) is used in both Matthew 1:22-23, which quotes a written prophecy, and in Matthew 27:9-10, which quotes an unwritten prophecy, but that presents no difficulty whatsoever.  It should be noted that prophets prophesied; they proclaimed; they spoke to the people.  It was after they spoke that what they said was committed to writing; in the case of Jeremiah, this is shown clearly in Jeremiah 36:17-18

And they asked Baruch, saying, “Tell us now, how did you write all these words—from his mouth?” So Baruch answered them, “He proclaimed with his mouth all these words to me, and I wrote them with ink in the book.”

Every saying of a prophet recorded in a book of the Bible was first said and then written.  Therefore, it is perfectly correct to describe any quote of any saying by any prophet as “as was spoken by the prophet.”  And it is certainly possible that a prophet said some things that were not written in his book, and therefore to say that he spoke a certain thing that is not written in his book is not an error, unless it can be shown that he never spoke such a thing.[8]

There is no reason not to think that Matthew 27:9 contains a prophecy that was spoken by Jeremiah but not written in his book, as Matthew writes, “what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet” – and, as we have seen, there are precedents elsewhere in Scripture, including earlier in this same book (i.e. Matthew 2:23), of doing such a thing.

So, in answer to Dr. Costa’s question “Why do you take Matthew 27:9 not to be an actual quote by Jeremiah when it has the very same grammatical structure as Matthew 1:22-23, where Matthew’s quoting Isaiah, the prophecy of the virgin birth?” I do take it to be an actual quote, but of an oral prophecy, and I take it that way for the obvious reason that the quote is not written in the book of Jeremiah.

And so one of the most common challenges to the reliability of the Bible, the claim that Matthew wrongly attributed Zechariah’s prophecy to Jeremiah, is shown not to be a problem at all.

Strangely, Dr. Costa rejected this explanation, saying, “I think Matthew 27 verse nine can’t just be dismissed as, ‘Oh, this is just another oral prediction by Jeremiah”; it’s an exact quote from Zechariah in the Septuagint.” Yet that is not correct; Matthew 27:9 by no means contains an “exact quote from Zechariah,” as seen below:

MATTHEW 27:9-10:

τότε ἐπληρώθη τὸ ῥηθὲν διὰ Ἰερεμίου τοῦ προφήτου λέγοντος Καὶ ἔλαβον τὰ τριάκοντα ἀργύρια τὴν τιμὴν τοῦ τετιμημένου ὃν ἐτιμήσαντο ἀπὸ υἱῶν Ἰσραήλ καὶ ἔδωκαν αὐτὰ εἰς τὸν ἀγρὸν τοῦ κεραμέως καθὰ συνέταξέν μοι κύριος

ZECHARIAH 11:12-13 (LXX):

καὶ ἐρῶ πρὸς αὐτούς εἰ καλὸν ἐνώπιον ὑμῶν ἐστιν δότε στήσαντες τὸν μισθόν μου ἢ ἀπείπασθε καὶ ἔστησαν τὸν μισθόν μου τριάκοντα ἀργυροῦς καὶ εἶπεν κύριος πρός με κάθες αὐτοὺς εἰς τὸ χωνευτήριον καὶ σκέψαι εἰ δόκιμόν ἐστιν ὃν τρόπον ἐδοκιμάσθην ὑπὲρ αὐτῶν καὶ ἔλαβον τοὺς τριάκοντα ἀργυροῦς καὶ ἐνέβαλον αὐτοὺς εἰς τὸν οἶκον κυρίου εἰς τὸ χωνευτήριον

The bolded words are the only parts in common between the two passages, and even there a masculine form for “silver” is used in the LXX but a neuter form in Matthew.  One does not even need to know Greek to see that Matthew 27:9-10 is not “an exact quote from Zechariah in the Septuagint”; it is not a quote at all.  The putative problem of Matthew misattributing a quote from Zechariah to Jeremiah doesn’t even exist, since there is no such quote in Zechariah.  The only question, then, is where this quote came from, and the only answer – and it is certainly viable – is that it was an oral quotation from Jeremiah, most likely known at the time.

Yet Dr. Costa rejected this explanation in favour of having an error in Matthew 27:9, whereby Matthew misattributes a prophecy.  It is exceedingly difficult to see why an evangelical would prefer an explanation that would mean there is an error in the New Testament.

The case for Matthew 27:9-10 referring to an oral prophecy is strengthened by the precedents for such a thing, in, as we have said, Matthew 2:23 and 2 Kings 14:25.  Yet Dr. Costa also denied that Matthew 2:23 (“And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, ‘He shall be called a Nazarene’”) was an oral prophecy, saying,

Matthew 2:23 where it says, “As it was spoken by the prophets, he shall be called a Nazarene,” this is a summation where Matthew is summing up what the prophets said about the messiah.  And we know where the prophets spoke about the messiah being a Nazarene, Isaiah 11, there the messiah is said to be a netzer – “a netzer shall come” – and the nezter is that shoot, the shoot that will come out Jesse.  And so we read Zechariah that speaks of the Messiah as the branch, Isaiah speaks of him as the shoot that comes out of Jesse, and so forth, and you look at the suffering Servant of the Lord.  All of these combined together show that the Messiah would be a Nazarene.  But in that passage, Matthew 2:23, Matthew is giving us a summation.

However, this fanciful explanation is exceedingly unlikely.  The etymology of the name Nazareth is not known.  That it comes from netzer is one suggestion, but it is problematic, in light of the following:[9]

– The prophecies tell of either a man named Branch or else a branch of Jesse. They don’t state that this man should come from a place called Branches. When Messianic prophecies contained specific references to towns, these towns were also part of some kind of larger tradition (Bethlehem, for instance was not a random town, it was the city of Jesse’s son David; the Messiah thus a “son” of David). Since Nazareth isn’t mentioned in the Old Testament, a prophetic reference to it would be rather inert.

– Although Isaiah uses the word נצר (neser) in his prophecy of the branch (11:1 and 60:21), this word is otherwise used for other (negative) metaphors. The word for branch that the other prophecies use is יונק (yoneq; Isaiah 53:2), and צמח (semah; Zechariah 3:8 and 6:12).

– Hebrew names that contain the letter צ (tsade) are commonly transliterated into Greek containing a σ (sigma), and not a ζ (zeta), as does Nazareth; see the names Isaac, Melchizedek, Perez and Sabaoth. The Greek letter ζ (zeta) is usually the result of the Hebrew letter ז (zayin); see Boaz.

Based on the topography of Nazareth,[10] a more likely origin of the name is the Aramaic nāserat (“watch-tower”).[11]  But even if the origin did come from netzer, Matthew 2:23 says “And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, ‘He shall be called a Nazarene.’”  The prophecy of a shoot coming from Jesse is not fulfilled by Jesus dwelling in Nazareth.  And, contra Dr. Costa’s suggestion, dwelling in Nazareth is certainly not a fulfillment of any “summation” of Old Testament prophecies.

So we are faced with Dr. Costa rejecting the obvious source of Matthew 2:23 as an oral prophecy in favour of an unworkable solution designed to keep it as a written prophecy.  There does not seem to be a good reason for doing so, but in the context of the debate it seems to be a means of removing a precedent for oral prophecies recorded as fulfilled in the New Testament, so that Matthew 27:9-10 can be seen as an actual misattribution in the text.  Why?  So that there is no point in resisting the acceptance of the Nestle-Aland reading of Mark 1:2 with its error, since that sort of error is in the Bible anyway?  That, then, is the price of accepting the Nestle-Aland reading of Mark 1:2 – accepting errors in the Bible.


It got worse.  In the “Cross-examination” section of the debate, Dr. Costa asserted that

I think we have to allow the text to speak for itself, taking into account the culture in which it was given, the customs in which these Biblical writers would have written in, and their world view and so forth.  So I think it’s possible for us to hold to inerrancy at the same time but also to understand that the Scriptures were not written in the 21st century; they were written in a certain time and a certain locale, a certain culture, a certain language.

It should be noted, however, that “true” is a description meaning “corresponding to reality, to the facts,” and that is not dependent on culture or locale or language.  As we discussed in detail in our article on Mark 1:2, “Behold, I send My messenger before Your face, who will prepare Your way before You,” is not written in Isaiah the prophet, and to say that it is is an error, regardless of what culture you belong to.[12]  I expressed my concern about this directly, pointing out that God is above every human culture and is not bound by any of them, and saying, “I’d be worried about something that is factually wrong being justified on the basis of, ‘Well, that’s the way the culture did it.’”  To accept that, in fact, one must embrace epistemological relativism, a philosophical view that avers that even factual truth is not objective but depends on the culture viewing the facts.

To my immense surprise, Dr. Costa replies thus:

In Leviticus 11, you have the dietary laws where God gave Israel the rules of what animals were clean and what animals were unclean, and in Leviticus 11 – I believe it’s verse 6 or 7 – it says that one of the animals that was unclean to the Jews was the hare or the rabbit.  And the reason why the Lord said that the hare or the rabbit was unclean to the Jews was because even though it chews the cud it does not have a split hoof like the cow or the goat, etc.  But we know that scientifically speaking a rabbit does not chew the cud; a rabbit does not have a multi-chambered stomach like a cow, a goat, a sheep, and so forth.  So would that not be a scientific error on the part of God to tell us that rabbits chew the cud?

Why would such a question be raised in a debate about textual criticism?  It has nothing to do with textual criticism and no discernible purpose – except one: to show that the Bible does, indeed, have errors in it.

I pointed out that “chews the cud” is only the English translation of the underlying Hebrew in Leviticus 11:6. Rabbits practise a process called “refection,” which involves taking up and chewing and eating again their droppings, to extract more nutrition from it, similar in form and purpose to the bovine practise of chewing the cud.  Refection would be included in the meaning of the Hebrew translated in Leviticus 11:6 as “chewing the cud,” so there is no scientific error here at all.[13]

Yet again, instead of accepting a viable explanation that shows that there is no error in Leviticus 11:6, Dr. Costa dismissed it, saying, “I would say that a dog would chew the cud ’cause dogs eat their own feces and other dogs’ feces but no one would say that dogs are ruminants.  And, obviously, a hare is not a ruminant; it doesn’t chew the cud.”

For some reason, Dr. Costa completely missed my point; a hare is indeed not a ruminant (and neither is a dog), but, as I pointed out, the original, God-breathed Hebrew text does not say that a hare is a ruminant; it says that the hare “raises up what has been swallowed” – and that it does do.[14]

And, for those who are interested, what a dog does is fundamentally different from what the hare does:

[A]nother name for this process [i.e. refection] is called cecotrophy, because the material is taken in a pouch at the beginning of the large intestine called the cecum or ‘blind gut’ (Latin caecus = blind). In the cecum, a process called ‘hindgut fermentation’ occurs, where bacteria help digest the food by breaking down cellulose into simple sugars. Then the special dropping, called a cecotrope, is expelled and re-eaten. This cecotrope is very different from normal feces, thus cecotrophy is very different from other forms of coprophagy (eating dung) practised by animals such as pigs and dogs.[15]

After dismissing the solution to the putative problem of Leviticus 11:6, Dr. Costa forthrightly said, “the reason why I raised this up is because a lot of skeptics raise this as an objection against the Bible, that the Bible was scientifically wrong” – and he agreed with them!  He continued, “So what am I saying?  We are adjusting our understanding by looking at the culture, by understanding that not everything that the Bible says about things in the case of these unclean and clean animals is scientifically accurate.”[16]

Rejecting the explanation that I gave, which (a) vitiates any claim of error in the passage; and (b) is correct, Dr. Costa offered instead the following:

Why is the rabbit or the hare said to chew the cud?  Well, very simple; when you look at a rabbit … and it’s eating, what does it do with its mouth?  You see, animals that chew the cud, their jaws move this way, sideways.  When we see those little bunnies when they start eating, what do they do?  Their mouths move back and forth like this, and so to the Hebrew, to the Jew, it looks like what is it doing it looks like it’s chewing the cud.

It is impossible not the conclude that, in answer to the question Dr. Costa posed, “So would that not be a scientific error on the part of God to tell us that rabbits chew the cud?” the answer for which he himself opts is that yes, this was a scientific error on the part of God.

In case we missed that, though, Dr. Costa continued:

Here’s another example: the word for “whale” and “fish” is the Hebrew word dag and the word dag was used by the Hebrews to refer to any creature that lived in the oceans or in the waters.  But a whale is not a fish so what am I saying?  I’m saying exactly what I said earlier, and that is, we have to understand that to the Hebrews anything that lived in the waters was a fish.  A whale was considered a large fish but that is scientifically incorrect.

And in case we missed that second example of a “scientific error” in the Bible, Dr. Costa gives us a third.  Leviticus 11:13,19 says, “And these you shall regard as an abomination among the birds; they shall not be eaten, they are an abomination: the eagle, the vulture, the buzzard …. the stork, the heron after its kind, the hoopoe, and the bat,” and Dr. Costa pounces:

John openly admitted that the bat, the bat’s called an ōph.[17]  An ōph is a flying creature in the Hebrew text, but a bat is not a bird; a bat is a mammal with wings, but I can understand why the Hebrews would call it a flying thing.  But in terms of taxonomy, that is not a scientifically accurate statement.[18]

Now, Dr. Costa is wrong in his claims of scientific inaccuracy in both of these cases, and it seems to be due to a lack of understanding of how science works.  Science operates fundamentally by means of observing elements of nature and drawing conclusions about them via inductive logic.

When it comes to zoology (the study of animals), scientists can observe whether a particular animal has a backbone or not, whether it is warm blooded or not, what sort of skin covering it has, and so on, and these are scientific facts.  It is a scientific fact, for example, that lions have backbones and parrots are covered with feathers.

Scientists find it helpful to group animals according to their characteristics, but which characteristics are used to classify them is a matter of choice; there is no “scientific” standard that makes the Linnaean system we use absolutely correct or the only choice that can considered scientifically valid.

According to the Linnaean system we use, birds are “bipedal, vertebrate chordates …. with feathers, wings, and a beak.”[19]  Since that system includes having feathers as a requirement for belonging to the group we call “birds,” the bat is certainly not a bird.

But there is nothing in science that demands that the presence or absence of feathers be used in classifying animals.  There is nothing unscientific, let alone scientifically wrong, about classifying a group of animals according to their ability to fly, as the Hebrews did; according to the Hebrews, an ōph was any creature that flies.[20]

Accordingly, the group “bird” and ōph largely overlap, and although this overlap is not complete, “bird” is the closest English word we have to the Hebrew ōph, and so it is the word used to translate ōph in our English Bibles.  Nevertheless, it is not identical, and whether the Bible has a scientific error or not must be judged by what it actually says in its own language.  Had the Bible said that the bat is a bird, it would be a scientific error.  But it does not say that; it says that the bat is an ōph, a flying creature, and that is completely, scientifically correct.  So when Dr. Costa says, “in terms of taxonomy, that is not a scientifically accurate statement,” he is completely wrong; it would be “not a scientifically accurate statement” if and only if bats could not fly.  The fact that Hebrew taxonomy is different from modern Western taxonomy is irrelevant.[21]

The same obtains regarding the use of the Hebrew word dag, usually translated into English as “fish.” Dr. Costa claimed that “the word for ‘whale’ and ‘fish’ is the Hebrew word dag and the word dag was used by the Hebrews to refer to any creature that lived in the oceans or in the waters.  But a whale is not a fish …. A whale was considered a large fish but that is scientifically incorrect.”[22]

Now, the Hebrew Bible never calls a whale a dag,[23] and most likely Hebrew would use תַּנִּין (“tanniyn” = sea (or river) monster (BDAG, p.1072)) to designate a whale.  Tanniyn would include some types of fish but is not limited to fish, so Dr. Costa’s challenge is moot.  More importantly, however, he is committing the same error here that he did regarding ōph.  It is a scientific fact that whales are warm blooded and that they give birth to live young, and we call such creatures “mammals,” whereas what we call “fish” are cold blooded and most of them have young that hatch from eggs.  But it is not a scientific fact that these are the characteristics we must use to classify aquatic animals into groups; that is simply our choice.

So when Dr. Costa says that to the Hebrews “A whale was considered a large fish but that is scientifically incorrect,” he is very wrong indeed.  The Hebrews did not consider a whale a large “fish”; they considered it a large dag (water-creature)[24] or a tanniyn (large, scary water monster), and there is nothing scientifically incorrect about either of these designations.


Despite all this, Dr. Costa affirms a belief in Biblical inerrancy, averring that, “I think it’s possible for us to hold to inerrancy at the same time but also to understand that the Scriptures were not written in the 21st century; they were written in a certain time and a certain locale, a certain culture, a certain language.”

For evangelicals who accept mainstream textual criticism and therefore the Nestle-Aland text, this seems to be the standard approach for dealing with errors in that text.[25]  As we have repeatedly pointed out, however, that approach is not tenable; “true” is a description meaning “corresponding to reality, to the facts,” and that is not dependent on culture or locale or language.  “Behold, I send My messenger before Your face, who will prepare Your way before You” is not written in Isaiah the prophet; that is a fact, and it does not change regardless of time or locale or culture or language.  To claim that this sentence is written in Isaiah the prophet, then, does not correspond to reality, to the facts, and is an error, no matter the time or locale or culture or language.  So if the Bible contains the claim that that that sentence is written in Isaiah, there is indeed an error in the Bible.

Another example: As the Old Testament record makes indubitably clear, the king of Judah between Abijah and Jehoshaphat was Asa and the king of Judah between Manasseh and Josiah was Amon, and they are listed in the royal genealogy in Matthew 1 – in the vast majority of manuscripts.  But Asa disappears from a handful of manuscripts, to be replaced by Asaph, who was not a king but a psalmist (Matthew 1:7-8), and Manasseh also disappears from these manuscripts and is replaced by Amos, who was not a king but a prophet (Matthew 1:10) – yet the readings “Asaph” and “Amos” are the ones incorporated into the Nestle-Aland text as the original readings.  In this case, too, no appeal to time or locale or culture or language will change the facts that these are errors, so if the Bible contains “Asaph” and “Amos” in the list of kings in Matthew 1, there are indeed errors in the Bible.

The Nestle-Aland text, which purports to be the best representative of the original New Testament text available, contains these errors and many more.  Accepting that text, therefore, and modern mainstream textual criticism (Reasoned Eclecticism), of which Nestle-Aland is the inevitable product, does indeed destroy the doctrine of Biblical inerrancy, for once and for all.


One on-line commentator complained that the debate went off-topic on such things as the prophecy in Matthew 27:9-10 and the matter of fish and birds and bats.  As far as the matter of which is the right way to do textual criticism, the Majority Reading Approach or Reasoned Eclecticism, the commentator’s complaint is justified, and if that were all there was to the debate, we should indeed have steered clear of these things.

But this is not merely an academic debate on methodology.  As I said at the beginning of my first talk,

Many Christians haven’t even heard of this topic and of those who have many consider it not to be particularly important.  I assure you that it is …. In some cases, depending on which variants are chosen to be the originals, there will be errors of fact and science in the Bible; we will obscure theology; we will lose theology; we will even have theological error; there are places where the Bible will be made to look silly; Jesus will be made to look bad; we will help skeptics undermine the resurrection and the Gospel books …. At least one doctrine of the faith is affected by this: inerrancyIf there are errors in the Bible, the doctrine of inerrancy is gone.  So I trust you see now why the issue of textual criticism is important.

The doctrine of inerrancy is not a salvific belief[26] but it is of vital importance to the health of the church.  This belief determines whether we will continue to see the Bible as the perfect, authoritative, trustworthy word of God that alone defines our doctrine and practice, or whether its status will be eroded to nothing more than human opinions that can be overridden by modern mores and the indirect inferences of secular scientists.  This is already happening, and to a far greater extent than most evangelicals realize.[27]

My purpose in the debate, therefore, was not simply to show that the Majority Reading Approach is the only correct method for reconstructing the original text of the New Testament, but also that the alternative method, Reasoned Eclecticism, which is the dominant method, leads to a text that necessarily destroys inerrancy, because it requires accepting errors in such passages as Mark 1:2, and Matthew 1:7-8,10.

The debate showed all that and more, and more clearly than I had anticipated.  Dr. Costa didn’t just accept errors of fact brought into the text by Reasoned Eclecticism, attempting to rely on cultural factors to explain them; he actually argued to show that there are errors in the Bible, and not just those brought in by Reasoned Eclecticism: Matthew wrongly attributed a quote to Jeremiah; The Bible was “scientifically incorrect” to call a whale a fish; The Bible was made a mistake in saying that the hare “chews the cud”; The Bible was scientifically incorrect to call a bat a bird.

I have to admit I was stunned by what happened; I had never expected to see an evangelical try to convince people that there were errors in the Bible.  I recognized in my opening statement that Dr. Costa is an evangelical Christian who loves the Lord and His word and who recognizes the fundamental importance of the Bible for Christian doctrine and practice, and I do believe these things.  So why would such a person not only believe that there are errors in the Bible but argue to prove it?  What is it about textual criticism that induces a serious Christian to do that?

Yet so many evangelicals do that very thing.  One can only speculate as to the reason.  One thing that seems clear is that textual criticism is thought (wrongly, as we have seen) to be a neutral scholarly endeavour unaffected by biases, and so its conclusions are accepted even by those usually on the alert for attempts to undermine inerrancy.[28]  Perhaps some, seeing that accepting the Nestle-Aland text will lead to accepting errors in the text, find it easier to think errors were there all along elsewhere, and then appeal to cultural factors to explain them all away.  Perhaps others, accepting the errors brought in by the Nestle-Aland text, no longer perceive a reason to find solutions to apparent errors but simply accept them as errors.

Whatever the reason may be, the fact is that acceptance of Reasoned Eclecticism and its product, the Nestle-Aland text, destroys inerrancy.  And this means that of the three heads (historical criticism, textual criticism, and Darwinism) of the three-headed monster,[29] it is textual criticism that is the most insidious and dangerous.

This is because textual criticism is qualitatively different from the other two.  Historical criticism and Darwinism set external claims cloaked in the patina of science and verisimilitude of scholarly historiography against the Bible and assert that the Bible is wrong because it disagrees with those claims.  The evangelical is free to say that if the Bible disagrees with these external claims then it is the external claims that are wrong, and the Bible remains inerrant.[30]  But textual criticism is different; if the evangelical accepts the Nestle-Aland text, then it is not a matter of the Bible against external claims, but of errors in the text of the Bible itself, and it is no longer possible to hold to inerrancy, certainly not in any meaningful way.[31]  An appeal to epistemological relativism is naught but an epicycle, and the Bible is no longer inerrant – after all, it misattributes, it makes errors of fact, contains statements that are “scientifically inaccurate,” and more.  And once errors are admitted, it is the beginning of the end for the authority of the Bible.[32]

And this is by no means a victimless crime.  The fact that young people are leaving the church in alarming numbers is well known.  A statistically valid professional study commissioned by Answers in Genesis was done by Britt Beemer, and the results were published and discussed in book form in 2009.[33]

Beemer’s study surveyed one thousand young people who had left the church. Of these, 44% said they did not believe that “all of the accounts and stories in the Bible are true and accurate.”[34]  They were asked what made them begin to doubt the Bible.  A full 15% chose “The Bible contradicts itself” and 11% chose “The Bible has errors”[35] – and the Bible does indeed contradict itself and does indeed have errors if the Nestle-Aland text best represents the original text of New Testament.  One wonders what would have happened if, when these young people first began to doubt the Bible, their teachers had mounted a vigorous defence of inerrancy – but that is not possible if they were using Bibles based on the Nestle-Aland text.  (Apparently, epistemological relativism didn’t work for them – nor should it have.)

Another 24% selected “It was written by men[36] – a view that is the inevitable end result of the belief that the Bible has errors in it (after, all God does not make errors, but only human writers do), and those who believe the Nestle-Aland text best represents the original text of the New Testament must believe that the Bible has errors in it.[37]

In sum, then, a full 50% of young people who began to doubt the Bible (and eventually left the church) did so because they believed the things that Reasoned Eclecticism and the Nestle-Aland text – the one championed by most evangelical leaders today – tell us: that the Bible has errors and contradictions in it – and the concomitant of that is that it was merely written by men.  And those church leaders wonder why they are losing young people.  (By contrast, the total of those who began to doubt the Bible because of evolution is 18%.[38])

For all this, the issue of textual criticism has slipped in under the radar of the evangelical church, essentially unopposed.  As I said at the beginning of my first talk, “Many Christians haven’t even heard of this topic and of those who have many consider it not to be particularly important.  I assure you that it is.”  I trust I have shown it to be of crucial importance.  For those who see it now, it is high time to join the battle for the inerrant word of God, and against the ravages of mainstream textual criticism.


[1] The debate was held at Toronto Free Presbyterian Church in Toronto, Canada.  It can be seen at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9km_KBw81DQ.

[2] See our forthcoming article

[3] I stated that depending on which variants are chosen as the originals there will be errors of fact and science in the Bible; we will obscure theology, lose theology, and even have theological error; the Bible will be made to look silly; Jesus will be made to look bad; and we will help skeptics undermine the resurrection and the Gospel books.

[4] I originally prepared one or more examples of each category in Footnote 2, but had to cut out all but four due to time constraints.

[5] All quotations from Dr. Costa are transcribed from the video recording of the debate, as are my comments from the debate.

[6] This variant and the various attempts to make it compatible with inerrancy is discussed in detail in Tors, John. “Why There is an Error in Mark 1:2 in Your Bible: Another Example of the Evangelical Betrayal of the Bible” at http://www.truthinmydays.com/why-there-is-an-error-in-mark-12-in-your-bible-another-example-of-the-evangelical-betrayal-of-the-bible-part-1/

[7] It may have been known to Matthew by special revelation, or perhaps it was generally known by the people in Matthew’s day.  The latter is far more likely, as the probative value of recording the fulfillment of the prophecy would be nil if the people of the day were unaware of the original prophecy.

[8] On the other hand, if one says that a particular saying “is written in” the book of a prophet, if that saying is not written in the book, that is an error.  That is why the Nestle-Aland reading of Mark 1:2 is certainly an error.


[9] The three following points are quoted from “Nazareth meaning” at http://www.abarim-publications.com/Meaning/Nazareth.html#.WROeUsYpDIU (accessed May 10, 2017)

[10] The topography of Nazareth is described by J.W. Charley in J.D. Douglas et al. eds. New Bible Dictionary. Second Edition. Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press and Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1982. p.819

[11] ibid.

[12] Tors, John.  Why there is an Error in your Bible.” op.cit.

[13] “[T]he Hebrew phrase for ‘chew the cud’ simply means ‘raising up what has been swallowed’ …. rabbits and hares practise refection, which is essentially the same principle as rumination, and does indeed ‘raise up what has been swallowed’. The food goes right through the rabbit and is passed out as a special type of dropping. These are re-eaten, and can now nourish the rabbit as they have already been partly digested. (Sarfati, Jonathan. “Do rabbits chew their cud? The Bible beats the skeptics (again) …” at http://creation.com/do-rabbits-chew-their-cud. (Accessed May 12, 2017)

[14] “Raise up” does not refer only to regurgitation by any means.  The Hebrew word עָלָה (‘alah) is a general word for going up or causing to go up, etc. (BDB, pp.748-750).

[15] Sarfati, op.cit.

[16] Bolding added.

[17] The Hebrew word translated “bird” in Leviticus 11:13 is עוֹף (‘ōph).

[18] Bolding added.

[19] “Aves” in Oxford: A Dictionary of Science. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2005, p.67

[20] BDB, p.733; HALOT, p.801

[21] The alert skeptic might point out that the ostrich is listed as an ōph in Leviticus 11:16 and ostriches don’t fly.  However, it is not clear that יַעֲנָה (ya’anah) is actually an ostrich.  Translators are divided on this, some seeing it as the ostrich but others as a type of owl, either the horned owl or the eagle owl.  In the Hebrew Bible, birds are often described more fully as עֹוף הַשָּׁמָיִם (ōph hashemayim), “birds of the air,” again indicating that birds flew, so that the ya’anah was more likely an owl than an ostrich.

[22] Bolding and underlining added.

[23] The only way to claim this is to argue that the animal that swallowed Jonah, called a “dag” in the book of Jonah, was a whale, based on the KJV translation of Matthew 12:40 “For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.”  However, the word translated “whale” here is κῆτος, which means “sea-monster” (BDAG p.544) and can refer to any large, scary sea animal.  Few modern translations render it “whale” in Matthew 12:40.

[24] Thompson, J. A. “Fish, Fishing” in Douglas, J.D. et al. eds. New Bible Dictionary. Second Edition. Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press and Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1982, p.378

[25] Tors, John.  Why there is an Error in your Bible.” op.cit.

[26] Salvific beliefs are those things that must be believed to be saved: the only true God, the Triune God of the Bible; Jesus Christ fully God and fully Man; the physical, bodily resurrection of Jesus; and salvation by grace alone through faith alone in the true Christ alone.

[27] See Tors, John. “The Three-headed Monster and the Evangelical Betrayal of the Bible: Exposing the Major Weapons Levied Against the Trustworthiness of the Bible (Part 1)” At http://www.truthinmydays.com/the-three-headed-monster-and-the-evangelical-betrayal-of-the-bible-exposing-the-major-weapons-levied-against-the-trustworthiness-of-the-bible-part-1/.

[28] See, for example, Tors, John. “Creation Ministries International and the Three-headed Monster: Why the Monster Wins (Part 1)” At http://www.truthinmydays.com/creation-ministries-international-and-the-three-headed-monster-why-the-monster-wins-part-1/

[29] Tors, John.” The Three-headed Monster,” op.cit.

[30] Of course, it is the job of apologists to respond to those challenges from historical criticism and show they are wrong – but they need respond only to supposed evidence from those fields; they do not need to respond to bald assertions

[31] “The Bible is inerrant, but it has a lot of errors in it” is not holding to inerrancy in a meaningful way.

[32] Again, see Tors, John. “The Three-headed Monster,” op.cit.  See also Tors, John. “The Assault on Inerrancy and What is at Stake: A Final Word to Nick Peters.” At http://www.truthinmydays.com/the-assault-on-inerrancy-and-what-is-at-stake-a-final-word-to-nick-peters/

[33] Ham, Ken & Britt Beemer with Todd Hillard. already gone: Why your kids will quit church and what you can do to stop it. Green Forest, AR: Master Books, 2009.

[34] ibid., p.107

[35] ibid.

[36] ibid.  Of course the Bible was written by men, who were used by God as authors (2 Peter 1:20-21).  What the doubters meant by this seems to be that they saw the Bible as no more than a mere human product.

[37] See, yet again, Tors, John.” The Three-headed Monster,” op.cit.

[38] Ham and Beemer, op.cit., p.107.  It is ironic that Creation Ministries International, which wages such a good battle against the Darwinism head, accepts Reasoned Eclecticism and the Nestle-Aland text.  See Tors, John, “Creation Ministries International,” op.cit.

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