CBGM stands for Coherence-Based Genealogical Method. So now you are thinking, “Great, and what does that mean”?

CBGM is a relatively new approach to textual criticism using a computer program in order to determine the validity of a reading (somewhere between 1997 and 2000). By “reading”, we are referring to anything from a single word of Scripture to a phrase, or even a more substantial section of the Scriptures. In this method, the computer becomes a tool in determining which readings are “most likely authentic”. Having said that, it should be noted that it still requires much interaction from the users.

The computer application itself aggregates relationships between readings based on agreement with other readings as well as based on their disagreements. Basically, it compares Greek manuscripts, finds the similarities and differences, and then uses an algorithm to decide which is “probably” the right reading.

In practical usage, where two readings agree, CBGM views that as implying a relationship between the two readings. But when two readings disagree, the CBGM inquires of the user to relate the disagreement and then aggregates the disagreements in order to determine the relationship between the two readings.

The computer application is currently being used by the Institute for New Testament Textual Research (INTF) to produce a major critical edition, which will form the basis for all future Critical Greek texts. It has already been applied to the Catholic epistles and they are currently working on Mark, John, and Acts. The most recent edition is the Nestle-Aland 28 (NA28). 

Text Types in Brief

Before we go any further, it might be helpful to remember that until the late 1800s, there really was only one text type in use and that was the Byzantine text type. The Textus Receptus, the Greek manuscript from which we get our King James Bible, is basically a construct from the Byzantine family of manuscripts. The manuscripts in this family have a phenomenal level of agreement among them, so much so that it would be impossible to doubt that they had a common source.

In the late 1800s, a committee that began with the goal of updating archaic words in the King James Version ended up going a completely different route. Before it was all over, they had taken a handful of manuscripts from the Alexandrian family of manuscripts – manuscripts which had not even been used for hundreds of years, and they constructed the first Critical text from these manuscripts. And at this point, I would like to reiterate that it is extremely difficult to even consider the Alexandrian text type a true family of texts due to the incredible number of disagreements between the manuscripts in that text type. Families are grouped on similarity. But the number of dissimilarities are so great, it would be hard to say they are related.

A third text, called the Majority text, came into being in the early 1980s. It is a statistical construct of all known collated Greek manuscripts. This was done by comparing the existing readings and then choosing the reading that had the most evidence for inclusion. It is a bit more complicated than that but this helps us keep it within the scope of our discussion. It is fairly similar to the Textus Receptus due to the fact that over 90% of all extant manuscripts are Byzantine manuscripts. That being said, there are still 1005 translatable differences between the Majority text and the Textus Receptus.

Bias in the Foundation

With all this as background, I want to immediately point out that CBGM does not consider any of the readings from the Byzantine family and for this reason, as much as the supporters of the Critical text may want to deny it, it is still very much a biased approach.

The Concordia Theology Journal makes an interesting point about text types. It states that classical text types are not very meaningful and actually constitute a poor way to determine true texts. It is better, in their estimation, to examine all texts equally using CBGM. And from what we have seen in our quick overview of the three prominent Greek texts, this should lead the users of CBGM to more of a “Majority Text” position – except for one problem. The users of the computer application are the ones who choose the manuscripts to consider and they have ruled that the Byzantine family should not be used.

So they speak of examining all of the texts but they don’t practice what they preach. What they really mean is that they examine all the texts they prefer. But not all of the texts.

CBGM, or more correctly, the computer application, has been described by some as a “black box” because the results are given without the user actually being able to observe the processes. He is simply expected to trust the algorithms. Speaking of the actual nuts and bolts of the computer application, one writer said, “Unfortunately, the method remains little known outside of the small circle of dedicated NT textual critics. Even among textual critics, the method continues to confound.”

Of course, we all understand that computers can be very helpful. But the bottom line is, if we think a computer will rule out possible bias in selecting one text over the other, then we are ignoring the obvious. The bias occurred when the scholars decided which manuscripts to put through the process. CBGM is not simply a computer application. It requires user input and editorial judgement. 

And it has already been admitted that the Byzantine text, from which we get the Textus Receptus, from which the KJV is translated, was not considered in the process. This is a clear bias against the Byzantine text type. And if it isn’t bias, then what is it?

The Logic of Faith

Now, let’s consider all of this from a theological approach. Believing as I do that God has providentially preserved every word that he gave by inspiration, I cannot accept any method, no matter how scientific, that calls into question the preservation of Scripture. We could list many more verses on preservation, but here are a few of my personal favorites:

Psalms 12:6-7  The words of the LORD are pure words: as silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times.  7  Thou shalt keep them, O LORD, thou shalt preserve them from this generation for ever.

Psalms 33:11  The counsel of the LORD standeth for ever, the thoughts of his heart to all generations.

Psalms 100:5  For the LORD is good; his mercy is everlasting; and his truth endureth to all generations.

Matthew 24:35  Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.

Since God has promised to preserve His words to every generation, why do we even need CBGM? Why are scholars still trying to reclaim the original text, which they don’t really call the original text, because they don’t really believe we have everything that the apostles wrote? 

If you can get these unbelieving scholars to be honest, they would have to admit that they can never be sure if they have the pure Word of God or not. How can they be sure? In their minds, the next great archeological discover could change the text yet again!

In fact, scholars that swear by CBGM tell us that their new approach can only detail the exact form of the Bible as it existed after 125 AD. But John wrote the last book, the book of Revelation around 95 or 96 AD so what have they really gained? That’s still 30 years off from the closest original so what is the point if you can’t guarantee  that at some point, you have God’s pure Word?

Whereas I believe we have a settled text, as the psalmist said, 

Psalms 119:89  LAMED. For ever, O LORD, thy word is settled in heaven.

The modern Critical Text supporter cannot believe in a fixed text. To him, we are constantly trying to find God’s words, we are constantly trying to recover lost readings, we are constantly trying to correct errors, and so the text is constantly in flux. For proof of this we don’t have to look far. Just take note of the title of this Paper, “How Your Greek NT is Changing: A Simple Introduction to the Coherence-Based Genealogical Method” by Peter J. Gurry. According to Mr. Gurry, the New testament is not settled, but changing.

Or what about this statement from an article on the website, “Religion Unplugged”?

“A revolution now under way will gradually change every future English translation of the New Testament you’ll be reading”.

What does this do to God’s promises of preservation? Do we have a Bible that we can trust or not?

The Irrationality of Doubt

CBGM contributed to the NA28 text (critical/eclectic/WH text) based on 123 manuscripts in James, 1 and 2 Peter, 1, 2, and 3 John, and Jude. And in this relatively small selection, there were 34 changes from NA27 to NA28! And just to make sure that the reader knows he should doubt his Bible, the scholars put little black diamonds in the text to indicate that the text is “uncertain”.

And the CBGM is to be the basis for all future changes to the Critical text. So what does that mean? Even more changes to come – a Bible in constant state of change. And undoubtedly, more little black diamonds of doubt.

And then, every time archeologists discover a new manuscript that the “experts” consider to be reliable, they will feed it into their computer program and produce even more changes. 

And what else happens every time they update their Greek text? There is a corresponding plethora of updates to many of the 450 English translations as well. 

With all of this happening, it is not surprising that churches are filled with believers who have been duped into believing that the Bible has errors in it – deceived believers who are constantly buying the latest, greatest translation, hoping that someday they may actually have something they can fully trust. But clearly, that won’t be happening for them any time soon.

I would expect that this new technological coherence-based, genealogical method  (CBGM) would introduce more certainty to Bible readers in regards to their confidence in the Bible. But this is not the case, instead we find a greater number of places in the NA28 which have been deemed “uncertain”. So rather than lending itself to a greater assurance in God’s Word, it has led to greater doubt.  

Now, aren’t you glad we have computers? Maybe with the help of technology we will be able to finally get a Bible we can trust. God was not powerful enough to protect what He gave, but thankfully, we have genius men who can do what God apparently could not. And hopefully you know that I am being sarcastic when I say this. It is one of my dominant traits.

In my reading upon the subject of CBGM, I discovered that as the application was applied to the Catholic Letters, the editors found that a number of the passages were surprisingly similar to the Byzantine manuscripts. And this was interesting since they never included the Byzantine manuscripts in their inputs to the computer application. 

So what does that mean? It means that according to their all-knowing computer program, there are Byzantine readings hidden in their precious Alexandrian manuscripts. But I doubt you will get them to admit that.

Several of those who are “in the know” on this method now believe that only the Byzantine texts constitute a text type. This is due to the incredible agreement between the manuscripts. 

So what about the rest of the manuscripts. Well, they cannot be a text type because there is too much disagreement. So, will somebody please tell me why we are basing our textual analysis on this group? It’s ridiculous!

And it can be easily shown that CBGM can allow an errant reading to slip into the text. In other words, as the program considers all the variant readings, it can actually choose the wrong one.

A good example is Jude 1:5.

Jude 1:5  I will therefore put you in remembrance, though ye once knew this, how that the Lord, having saved the people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed them that believed not.

The verse is talking about the time that God (Jehovah, The Father) brought the children of Israel out of Egypt and then weeded out the unbelievers during their time in the wilderness.

But CBGM changed it. The NA28 has “Jesus” while the NA27 had “Lord”. Clearly, the text should not say “Ἰησοῦς” (Jesus). Anyone even remotely familiar with the Bible can tell you that Jesus did not bring the children of Israel out of Egypt. The NA27 reading was “κύριος”(Lord) which is perfectly accurate since it is referencing God. But the text was changed based on this supposed better method.

According to the CGBM, the “Jesus” reading has good coherence because it is found among closely related witnesses, which, they say, have a best potential ancestor as the initial text. So let me say all that in easy-to-understand terms, several manuscripts have the same mistake so they must be right. And excuse me for being sarcastic here but how in the world can these people be so smart and so mistaken at the same time?

In summary, what do we have with CBGM? We have the same old conflict with a technological flare.

Christian, beware of any approach to the Scriptures that is based on the idea that we must still recover the original texts.