Ephesians 3:9, and My Analysis of The Debate Between Dr. Jeff Riddle and Dr. James White

I had the opportunity to watch the 2 hour debate between Jeff Riddle and James White on the text of Ephesians 3:9. Unfortunately, I haven't had the time to watch the one on the ending of Mark, but I hope to do so sometime in the future. Time is a commodity that is hard to come by these days. 

After watching the debate between these two brothers who oppose each other over which is the best Biblical Text to support in Ephesians 3:9, I had to think long and hard on the issue, because both of these men brought up some important points. I personally think that James White is the better debater of the two, but he has definitely had more experience. I am involved in two different Facebook groups that support each side, and both camps thought that their guy won the debate, which is typical of these kind of things. 

Here's the difference: 

The Textus Receptus: "And to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ:"

The Modern Eclectic Text: "and to enlighten everyone about God’s secret plan—the mystery that has been hidden for ages in God who has created all things."

So the big issue is one word. I believe that Dr. White chose the text, and it is obvious why, because the majority of historical and manuscript support we have seems to uphold the word "plan" or "stewardship" over "fellowship." There were a lot of things said in the debate that had nothing to do with this text, but it is hard to limit yourself when you are trying to convince everyone of the "big picture," and not just one word in one text. Based on available evidence, both of these men have a disadvantage regarding their positions, and this is mainly due to the fact that Modern Eclectic Text Supporters and Textus Receptus Supporters hold to an eclectic text which mostly has Majority readings (a lot of evidence), but they also have a lot of Minority readings (hardly any evidence). In the case of Ephesians 3:9, Dr. Riddle was at a disadvantage in my opinion, but he was right I think to point out the fact that Erasmus, Beza, and the others who created and developed the Textus Receptus most likely had access to sources that we don't have today. Dr. White I think overstated his case by calling this line of thinking "dangerous," but from a Scientific standpoint it would be I suppose because "plan" is in the majority of manuscripts. However, both of these men are doing this out of a religious conviction, and Dr. Riddle was right to point out our Supernatural perspectives. Dr.  White, like a lot of Christian Evangelicals these days want to rely mostly on the material evidence, and this is entirely reasonable. This has to do with the fact that we are now surrounded by a lot more skeptical Atheists than we once were, and it is easier to display the reasonableness of Christianity when you have some historical evidence. I understand the line of thinking, and I do agree with Dr. White that we are blessed to have so much evidence available to us today. There is no doubt that we have a lot to be thankful for as the people of God. I can also understand Dr. Riddle's position of wanting and believing strongly in a fixed and stable text, I mean isn't God perfect? Why wouldn't His written revelation be perfect? Of course when we read the Bible, God usually did things and chose people we wouldn't. Dr. White did make the point that most of the New Testament is settled and there is no debate on a large majority of the evidence, and he is right. So why would a perfect God use imperfect men to handle and manage His written revelation to mankind? That my friend is a mystery. It is also a mystery why He hasn't destroyed us all yet! 

I have struggled personally for years over these kind of Textual Issues. Writing about them has helped me think through the issues, and I am hopeful my thoughts have been more of a help than a hindrance. That being said, we must ask the question: Which reading? Like James Snapp Jr., "I would rather have barnacles on my vessel than holes in it," so I tend to prefer the Textus Receptus translations over the Modern Critical Text ones. That being said, I do think the Textus Receptus has texts like this one though that are hard to defend. The Modern Eclectic texts that are used for most modern translations tend to subtract verses that I don't think should be, and when I weigh the two, I prefer the Textus Receptus readings. So I suppose that I would be more of a Majority Text person, but I do think some of the Textus Receptus minority readings are good too. In this case though, I personally think that the Majority reading wins, and "plan" is far more coherent than "fellowship."

The question I finally had to ask is: "What difference does it make?" I mean, I know that the Word of God is important, and I frankly think it is amazing that we have what we have after all of these years. But regarding the difference between "plan" and "fellowship," I can see where both are coherent readings, and a case has and can be made for "fellowship" in the text. Dr. White and Dr. Riddle's testimony of the coherence of the texts is true. I'm sure that is one reason it slipped under the radar. I personally think that Dr. White was right in this case, where Dr. Riddle most likely did better concerning the Traditional ending of Mark. The only reason why I say that is because a much better case can be made to defend the Traditional Ending of Mark than this text in Ephesians 3:9 in the Textus Receptus.

My mentor and good friend who I give a lot of credit to helping me through some very difficult times in my life uses the NASB 95 update, which is kind of a more moderate eclectic text and certainly puts the verses in question in brackets rather than subtracting them from the text entirely like the ESV, NIV, and others do. I have talked with him about this issue off and on, and he hasn't ever really been concerned about it. I think this is mainly because of something that Dr. White pointed out, and that is the fact that the majority of the New Testament isn't disputed. I think when we look at this text and others like it, we need to take that into consideration. 

My brother is a retired accountant, and he told me about a method that is used in the accounting world called "Materiality." Now, materiality refers to the impact of an omission or misstatement of information in a company's financial statements on the user of those statements. If it is probable that users of the financial statements would have altered their actions if the information had not been omitted or misstated, then the item is considered to be material. If users would not have altered their actions, then the omission or misstatement is said to be immaterial. It's kind of like when you are 17 cents short after balancing your books. The perfectionist will drive himself crazy trying to find this amount, and many times it will not produce any results. My mentor I think is a wise man, and he is right. While we can see the possible misappropriation, we don't know for sure where the proper reading is in the text. One can make a perfectly coherent case for either, and it wouldn't be devastating to any Christian doctrine. Therefore, if I were teaching on the verse, I might point it out, and if I did, I would show the variation and how it displays the humanness of the text, while preserving the overall Divine message. This is hard for the perfectionist to accept, because we know that there is no variation or imperfection with God, but like His love for us, the text of Scripture has been through a lot. The Bible is sufficient, and whether you are reading the ESV, NASB, KJV, NKJV, or something else, God will save His people. They will get the message. Therefore, we find that while the text of Scripture is important, we understand that when we bog ourselves down over one word (17 cents), we are straining ourselves over something that might be a perpetual frustration and not a blessing. 

A few nights ago I was watching an old show named Have Gun Will Travel. I like old westerns, and the episode I was watching had an old man who owned a piece of property next to another man who was sore over the crooked fence line between them. The two men had a property dispute, and while the old man liked the crooked fence line, his neighbor didn't and tried to claim the territory as his own. The neighbor used a dispute over a calf to justify murdering the old man, and when he did, the property owner went immediately and straightened out the fence row. His obsession drove him mad, and while I don't think this issue has to be like that, there are some who obsess over it beyond the point of reason. I almost got to that point. Some would argue that I did. My mentor Brother Ray helped me tremendously overcome something that shouldn't have been a problem, but rather a blessing.

I like both Dr. White and Dr. Riddle and consider them brothers. We all agree on far more than we disagree. As far as this textual variant and others like it, we need not worry. God is speaking through the Texts of Scripture and will accomplish His goal. You can be saved through a Bible that says "plan" and one that says "fellowship" in Ephesians 3:9. Below is the debate if you're interested.


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