A Question for Presuppositionalists

For those who may not be familiar with what “presuppositionalism” is, it can be described simply as the Reformed approach to apologetics (defense of the Christian faith). The New Dictionary of Theology explains: “The presuppositionalist endeavors to convince the unregenerate first by demonstrating that, on unregenerate presuppositions of chance occurrence in an impersonal universe, one cannot account for any sort of order and rationality. Next, he tries to show that life and reality make sense only on the basis of Christian presuppositions.” (see this link for citation)

I have not studied presuppositional apologetics personally to any extent whatsoever, yet. However, based on short definitions like the ones above, it occurred to me once upon a time, that since Edward F. Hills, author of The King James Version Defended is a graduate, not only of Yale, but also of Westminster Theological Seminary, and that much of Hills’ defense of the Textus Receptus (the popular name of the Greek text that underlies the King James Version New Testament) is written from a characteristically Reformed standpoint, that when he further makes his defense from what he calls “The Logic of Faith,” that this must be his way of applying presuppositional apologetics to the defense of the superiority of the Greek Text underlying the King James Version, as well as that translation itself.

My question for presuppositionalists who’ve read The King James Version Defended, therefore, is: Am I right? Was Hills a presuppositionalist, and is his so-called “Logic of Faith” a fair representation of the presuppositionalist apologetic, and is belief in the inherent superiority of the Textus Receptus therefore the consistently Reformed answer to the question, “Which New Testament text is closest to the original manuscripts?”

My personal short answer is, “I hope not.” I don’t really think the conclusion necessarily follows from the premise. I’m sure most presuppositionalists agree with me on this, and could probably give a better explanation as to why, and I’d like to see what you’d have to say on this topic. I’d also be interested in any King James Onlyist presuppositionalists out there (or perhaps more accurately, Textus Receptus Onlyist) who would answer yes to the question as stated in the previous paragraph.

Independent Baptist defender of the King James Version, Dr. David Cloud, has posted “The Testimony of Dr. Edward F. Hills,” in which Hills explains his journey to the position he defends. He writes that he was puzzled by Dr. B.B. Warfield, who was simultaneously perhaps the premier champion of the Westminster Confession of Faith, and an avid proponent of what Hills considered the textual criticism of theological liberalism. Hills explains that Warfield must have fallen prey to the false dichotomy between faith and reason, which he says Cornelius van Til taught him was begun by the medieval scholastic theologians. In this testimony, Hills does not state explicitly that he applied van Til’s presuppositional apologetic to this question, but what he does state explicitly does seem to say, at least implicitly, in my opinion, that this is just what he did.

What say you, Reformed presuppositionalists? Pro KJV/TR onlyists, or pro-modern textual criticism/modern versionists? I’m ready to learn.  


12 responses

  1. I’m not familiar with this author so I can’t comment on his method. But, even if he attempted to use a presuppositional approach that doesn’t mean he did it well. While he may have started with the presupposition that the TR is the only correct manuscript base, that doesn’t make it a correct presuppositon. The main point of presuppositionalism is that EVERYONE has presuppositions. The issue is whether or not those presuppositions are justified. Just as the Presuppositionalist would say that the atheist has a faulty starting point, since it ultimately cannot make sense of the universe around it (logic, data, meaning, etc).

    Van Til’s starting point wasn’t only faith. It was coherence. The latter is what your author seems to be lacking if he is trying to argue for the TR.

  2. That’s helpful, Josh. I loaned out my copy of Hills’ book, and it was never returned. I just Googled it, and it seems to be out of print, but there are a few pricy copies available at Amazon.

    I think you’re right that Hills’ starting point is unjustified. He also uses his same “logic of faith” to argue for geocentricity in this and other of his writings. Namely Space Age Science, and Believing Bible Study. I think this point alone helps us realize how justifiable his presuppositions are.

  3. David Jacks recommended a book that I picked up called:

    “Five Views on Apologetics” by Steven B. Cowan

    The positions are as follows:
    1. “The Classical Method” by William Lane Craig
    2. “The Evidential Method” by Gary R. Habermas
    3. “The Cumulative Case Method” by Paul D. Feinberg
    4. “The Presuppositional Method” by John M. Frame
    5. “The Reformed Epistemological Method” by Kelly James Clark

    I’ve only read the intro so far, but I think it’s a great resource for a good primer on each position, their distinctions, benefits, holes, etc.

    I also have “Christian Apologetics” by Van Til on the bookshelf which is in line to be read but not up to bat yet.

    1. Thanks for the recommendation. Don’t know when I’ll get around to hashing out the various approaches, but I’ll keep this title in mind.

  4. The book is available to read online at quite a few different sites. I read the book and his logic of faith to me seems similar to presuppositionalism. It is basically a fideistic view. Building on faith, we can reason from a faith-perspective about this issue as other issues.

    I don’t think it is directly tied into presuppositional apologetics but it’s a good question nonetheless.

    Hill’s book was influential in my own research into KJV Onlyism. Ultimately it gave me more questions than it answered and I never could answer them satisfactorily from a KJV Only perspective.

    1. In many ways, I love Hills’ book. Especially the first three chapters. “God’s Threefold Revelation of Himself” is good, solid Reformed theology, and probably in many ways helped plant the seeds of Reformed theology that are currently growing–however, I disagree with his promotion of geocentricity. To me, that’s evidence that Hills is a bit off the mark in how he applies his otherwise very sound theology.

      Then there’s chapter two, “A Short History of Unbelief” that is a wonderful survey of unbelief spanning the millennia from ancient paganism through modern political and economic institutions. And chapter three is a great introduction to the development of modernism and its primary architects.

      I don’t recall if it was in an index, or woven throughout the later chapters, but there is a lot of great info on the texts and manuscripts that are in themselves a handy resource. I used to consult it many times.

      It’s like a miniature seminary education! I used to ask my fellow moderate KJV-onlyists at BBC why we didn’t use it as a textbook. They didn’t know themselves–of course, few of them had read it. I suppose now it’s because it is Reformed and because it promoted the Textus Receptus as superior. BBC in the early nineties was in the process of buying into modern textual critical scholarship–or at least becoming tolerant of it.

      But still, I disagree with Hills’ application of his “logic of faith.” Like you said, it’s fideistic. Hills criticized Warfield for drawing too much of a distinction between faith and reason, but Hills seems to rely on faith against reason in his logic of faith. A PCA pastor friend of mine offered his opinion via email (he doesn’t blog) and said that he knows lots of presuppositionalists who apply it in all kinds of goofy ways. He writes, “A lot of presuppositionalists hold to a lot of goofy ideas. But a man’s apologetics does not commend (or condemn) the goofy ideas he holds. I know hearty Van Tillians who are radical post-millinnialists. I affirm their apologetic but reject their eschatology and one does not necessitate the other. In other words, don’t get too wound up that Hills studied at WTS and is a KJV-only fella and also a Van Tillian. I am glad he is in our camp apologetically, but wish he wasn’t championing a KJV-only view. Not a big deal though, in my mind.”

  5. […] friend John Chitty asks a question of those familiar with E.F. Hills and his book The King James Version Defended.  The question […]

  6. Being a former KJV-Onlyist, I can firmly say that such a position is biased and illogical. The disdain that KJV-Onlyists have for Textual Criticism is totally uncalled for. Added to this, KJV-Onlyism cannot be defended from the Scriptures since the writers of the Scripture and the Reformers were not KJV-Onlyists. Added to that, Jesus and the Apostles were not Hebrew & Aramaic-Onlyists either. I do not believe that 100% Presuppositionalism cannot be totally defended from the Scriptures either; Jesus did not appear claiming to be God, without the support of the Scriptures, his works and more importantly His Resurrection.

    To begin with, they fail to take into account all of the existing witnesses to the Scriptures including the Church Fathers and other versions such as the Peshitta, Samaritan Pentateuch, Vulgate etc. Additionally, the differences between the Byzantine, Western, Caesarian and Alexandrian manuscripts do no damage to any doctrine of the historic Christian faith.

    Added to that, the Textus Receptus was not put together under the best of circumstances, all Erasmus was concerned about was getting to the press on time. In fact, comparing the handful of manuscripts used to make the TR and ignoring the other mss in the line of the MT, the TR appears less reliable in this regard.

    I believe operating on presuppositions can be dangerous if the presuppositions themselves are faulty. Apart from this, the English of the KJV is 16th century – we do not live in that time anymore. With that said, some of the words and expressions found in the KJV are misleading since they take on a different meaning today than they did back in the 16th century.

    The KJV is basically a revision of previous Bibles and a form of Textual Criticism was used to construct it and bring it to its present from. Presuppositionalism is insufficient because it is biased and circular, often overlooking evidences and witnesses to either prove or disprove the given proposition.

    One presuppositional theologian (who was a master exegete that that) told me once that all belief systems are circular, however one should make an effort to be free from vicious cycles. As much as I respect such a great man, I do not fully agree with this assertion; such reasoning may give credibility to just about any belief system once it appears coherent and self defined.

    In the end I believe that an eclectic method in Apologetics, Textual Criticism and other spheres of theology will yield us with the best results in knowing and understanding truth, being built upon the necessary foundation of divine revelation contained in the Scriptures.

  7. […] Puritannica Project. Boy, I hope they didn’t screw it up! Hills deserves better than that! Here’s something I posted about this book in the past, back when people actually interacted with me on my […]

  8. To help answer this question, check out this article by Greg Bahsen. It shows clearly that one does not have to follow Hills to be a consistent Presuppositionalist.


    If you have the time, read the whole thing. But here are two summary quotes:

    “To be sure, in answering such a question some have gone to unscholarly excess in the interest of protecting the divine authority of Scripture. Certain superstitious stories led Philo to postulate inspiration of the Septuagint translation of the Old Testament. Some Roman Catholics, following the declaration of Pope Sixtus V that the Vulgate was the authentic Scripture, attributed inspiration to this translation. Some Protestants have argued for the inspired infallibility of the vowel points in the Hebrew Old Testament (e.g., the Buxtorfs and John Owen; the Formula Consensus Helvetica more cautiously spoke of the inspiration of “at least the power of the points”). The errorless transmission and preservation of the original text of Scripture has been taught by men such as Hollaz, Quenstedt, and Terretin, who failed to recognize the significance of textual variants in the copies of Scripture that have existed throughout the history of the church.[9]”

    And again:

    “The time-honored and common-sense perspective among Christian believers who have considered the inescapable question raised by the inscripturation of God’s word (viz., do inspiration, infallibility, and/or inerrancy pertain to the autographa, to copies of it, or to both?) has been that inerrancy is restricted to the original, autographical text of Scripture.”

    Likely, no one understood Van Til better than Bahnsen—both from long personal friendship and scholarly investigation. Whatever we may think of Presuppositionalism this article at least shows that it would be unfair to reject Van Til on the basis of Hills’ (I would argue) misapplication of Van Til’s apologetic.

    (Also, for the purposes of fair dialog, neither Van Til nor Bahnsen would describe Presuppositionalism as “fideistic.” Check out the relevant section in Bahnsen’s Van Til’s Apologetic.)

    I hope the article helps.

    P.S. I believe this article was scanned and thus contains some misspellings that Bahnsen didn’t have in the original. But despite the “textual variants” we can still follow the argument. Huh. Interesting how that works…

    1. Thank you very much. I look forward to reading this article.

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