RSS

Monthly Archives: April 2016

The Critical Text: Very Word of God? Fallible “Witness” of Man? Both!?

Lecturns out of fashion but not pulpits? What might this mean?

Lecturns out of fashion but not pulpits? What might this mean?

 

“But the notion that in Scripture some things are recondite and all is not plain was spread by the godless Sophists (whom now you echo Erasmus)–who have never yet cited a single item to prove their crazy view; nor can they. And Satan has used the unsubstantial spectres to scare men off reading the sacred text and to destroy all sense of its value, so as to ensure that his own brand of poisonous philosophy resigns supreme in the church.” – Martin Luther to Erasmus

Original post here. Part II here.

This post features more follow-up thoughts about Satan playing the long game with what is known as the critical text. It amounts to part III, and looks to…

  • tie up some loose ends
  • address some of the misunderstandings of my first post, and
  • answer some of the best questions and challenges I have received.

One of my current students, reflecting on how much she has appreciated being forced to read and wrestle with the Bible, said this to me about her past efforts to read it:

"Did God really say?"

“Did God really say?”

“I would find myself questioning more of what I read rather than understanding and appreciating what it was. …we often find things in readings that are very small and compare them to others. We find something that really isn’t that important or shouldn’t have that big of a difference, but yet we focus on it. Why is it that when we read the Bible we find those small things that are so insignificant but yet we dwell on them as if there’s an unanswered question lurking behind?”

Its a good question. We all sometimes miss the forest for the trees. And I think this is especially true when it comes to text criticism of the Bible.

Why the hostility towards the Byzantine text? http://bgnt.net/

Why the hostility towards the Byzantine text?

 

That said, I believe there is still a window for us, the church, to make adjustments in our attitudes regarding text criticism, because again, Satan plays the long game, as he evidently needs to do. Currently, there are a good number of persons in the Western world who still believe and teach that God’s word is reliable – and even without error (some don’t deny this because of outside pressure, even if they want to, but many still firmly believe this). And they are right – even when it comes to the critical text! In spite of its coming out of the academy, and not the church, the NA 28 critical text is the very word of God, period (also note that, for the time being, even liberal churches that now deny traditional Christian doctrine and practice still use the historic creeds and basically the same Bible as those who willing to assert they believe it)!

This is a time, I submit, to strengthen what remains – to pray that God would restore the Church’s confidence in His true Word.

At a theology conference last week in Bloomington, Minnesota, my pastor gave a rip-roaring scholarly paper (trust me, it is good, particularly because it is packed with the kind of important historical detail my pastor excels at, but I can only post some excerpts for now) titled “Martin Luther’s Sola Scriptura”. At the end of the paper, he summarized as follows:

A "coherence-based geneaological method...disregards a given manuscript in time and space, focusing solely on the grammatical composition of the text which it no longer calls a text, but a "witness".

A “coherence-based genealogical method…disregards a given manuscript in time and space, focusing solely on the grammatical composition of the text which it no longer calls a text, but a ‘witness’.” — Paul Strawn

Modern textual criticism, in the face of 5600 manuscripts of New Testament texts has, with Nestle-Aland 28, thrown its hands in the air finally and conclusively determining that it is no longer their goal to establish an original text of the New Testament. And so the appeal has been made that Lutherans in particular return to the time of the Reformation, to once again understand how we can grasp Scripture as the Word of God, and yet have a somewhat transient or even “plastic” text of Scripture. A cursory overview of the efforts of Martin Luther demonstrates, however, that he himself grew up with the fixed text of the Vulgate, and even though confronted by an impressive number of Latin corrections of it, German translations, and even Greek texts of the Byzantine variety, he himself remained fixed upon the idea that the original texts of Scripture could be arrived upon, and translated clearly, so that they could read and understood.

Probably most troubling, is that the challenge of Nestle-Aland 28, is not new, but old. Writing in the first volume of his Christian Dogmatics Francis Pieper noted already in 1924 that “…now the objection to the inspiration of Scripture assumes another form, namely that an inspired Scripture becomes useless and should no longer be urged, since the presence of variant readings makes it, after all, uncertain which is the original Word of God.”[1] What follows then in that volume is a meticulous treatment of all of the issues involved, questions raised, concerns expressed.[2] But Pieper’s argument for the veracity of the Bibles we have was simple. 1) We know we have God’s Word before we even begin to investigate the text, for Christ promised that we would by: a) saying that all who come to faith would through the apostles’ Word (John 17:20); b) admonishing all Christians to remain in His Word (John 8:31-32); c) commanding that His Word be taught to all nations (Matt. 28:20). 2) And by textual criticism, the same conclusion is reached, for “not a single Christian doctrine has been rendered doubtful in any point by the “legion” of variant readings.”[3]

Of course for Luther, the issue was even simpler. The Bible as we have it is a work of the Holy Spirit even in these end times. Therefore, in spite of the questions raised by modern textual criticism, it remains without error, readable and understandable.

[1] Quotation from English edition (St. Louis: Concordia, 1950), p. 238.

[2] Pp. 238-265.

[3] Ibid., 239.

Un-Peiper-like scholars such as Rudolph Bultmann distinguished between the "Jesus of history" and the "Christ of faith". Now, the "Bible of history and the Scriptures of faith"?

Un-Peiper-like scholars such as Rudolph Bultmann distinguished between the “Jesus of history” and the “Christ of faith”. Now, the “Bible of history and the Scriptures of faith”?

 

“The Bible as we have it… is without error, readable, and understandable”. The Word of God for us, by the power of the Holy Spirit, even in these end times!

Amen and amen and amen!

Take up and read, right? What are we waiting for?

"...you don't necessarily have the Word of God itself, but the fallible "witness" of man to God's word" - Paul Strawn, on Karl Barth's view of the Bible

“…you don’t necessarily have the Word of God itself, but the fallible ‘witness’ of man to God’s word” – Paul Strawn, on Karl Barth’s view of the Bible

“…but wait a minute”, you might say. “Didn’t you, in that past post, imply that Satan was behind the critical text?” Well, to be clear, that is not at all what I was getting at. In fact, Again, I think that the critical text, as it exists today, fully remains God’s word. In short (and to answer the question posed in the title), what we now have really is the Word of God (no confusion!) – even as some who are involved in certain kinds of textual criticism will look at the same text and think that it is a fallible, though “generally reliable”, “witness” [of man] (perhaps, however, capable of “becoming the word of God” in a person’s subjective experience).

My main point, again (many missed this) is simply about the importance of the church being thought of primarily as the receiver and preserver of God’s word – not it’s corrupter.[i] Just like Jesus and His apostles received the various manifestations of the Old Testament as God’s word in their day (in spite of the problems He identified with the Church’s leadership![ii]), so should we – for God preserves His word through His Church. Especially, when God’s Spirit inspires the leaders of His Church to put their best persons on the job and officially promulgate Bibles, our default reaction should not be to be skeptical – “They are just conserving and consolidating their power and keeping us down… authority is constructed, contextual, and saturated with unsavory privilege!” On the contrary, this, like few other things, should make us cry out with vigor, “Thanks be to God!”[iii]

Some expressed concern over my talking about the “highly flawed” Latin Vulgate. The fact of the matter is that even with the problems that existed in the Latin Vulgate, God was merciful to his people. For example, it was while he was lecturing from the Vulgate that the Holy Spirit led Martin Luther, in his “tower experience”, to see the truth about justification before God by the faith which lives in repentance (even as the Vulgate caused great confusion because of its translations of the words “justification” and “repentance”, and hence reinforced Rome’s aberrant teachings on these doctrines).[iv]

Kurt Aland et al., "the 26th edition of the Nestle-Aland in 1979[] signal[ed] the rise to prominence of the methodologies of the intellectual behemoth which was Kurt Aland... at the INT in Munster..." -- Paul Strawn

Kurt Aland et al., “the 26th edition of the Nestle-Aland in 1979[] signal[ed] the rise to prominence of the methodologies of the intellectual behemoth which was Kurt Aland… at the INT in Munster…” — Paul Strawn

And, to emphasize it yet again (third time is a charm), even with the “critical text” that we have today, the Lord has been merciful to us! Yes, it is true that out of Muenster, home of the critical text, we now hear the idea that those who value the Bible should think that they are unable to arrive at the text God gave His people through His apostles and prophets.[v] And yet, in spite of this unfortunate turn, what we have right now continues to be a reliable text. When I suggested that Satan was “playing the long game”, what I mean to call into question is faulty attitudes, orientations, mindsets, and methodologies – and not the critical text that we currently have. God, after all, can even use evil for good, and has a habit of doing so.

But then – am I obliquely implying that all textual criticism is evil? Again, my original post said nothing of the sort, and in fact sought to encourage younger textual critics. My point was simply to encourage those who feel led to explore these matters do so faithfully (as text criticism cannot avoid dealing with the matter of the church’s canon, i.e. what is found in the Bible it promulgates), and always with the good of the entire church in mind. Why say or do anything that is likely to give the impression that the basic content of the Bible is in anyway unstable or in question – when it clearly is not?

“…theological notions like providence and preservation need to be connected with the content of the New Testament and not with the letter. In that sense, the New Testament is historically and theologically fully preserved.” (p. 66)

Text critic Ernst Boogert: “…theological notions like providence and preservation need to be connected with the content of the New Testament and not with the letter. In that sense, the New Testament is historically and theologically fully preserved.” (p. 66 here)

And this not only means avoiding unnecessary confusion but making clear, for example, that prominent Bible detractors like Bart Ehrman excel more as rhetoricians than they do as decent scholars (and people think it is the Church that has a problem with bias!?). One should never expect persons like Ehrman to give us anything approximating an accurate and nuanced presentation of the reality that exists as regards early New Testament texts.

My hope is that the prayer of text-critics, established as well as up-and-coming, would be that they are led by a godly and reverent curiosity regarding these matters (yes, I realize some may not think that can exist – I think they are wrong), and one that works to encourage all confidence not only that the critical text we have is fully God’s inerrant, readable, and understandable word, but that other versions of the Bible – particularly those put forth by Christ’s Church specifically for worship! – are fully the Word of God. To crib the Apostle Paul “each [Church] should be convinced in [its] own mind”. (and I think it is even possible, but not provable, that even the individual N.T. writers themselves had Old Testament texts that they favored, whether in Hebrew, Aramaic or Greek versions, including the Septuagint).

But isn’t that the issue, you say? Aren’t these texts different? I would say “No, that’s not the issue and has never been the issue”. Again, for the variations that do exist, nothing changes when it comes to doctrine. And here is the thing: even when it comes to the basic content, nothing really changes.[vi] This seems to be in line with the attitude of Martin Luther, who said:

Martin Luther believed "the Holy Spirit is no skeptic" and that the text was not just established, but actually existed: "Holy Scripture is God’s Word, written & formed in letters, just as Christ is the eternal Word of God enveloped in the human nature." - Luther (photo: Dr. Luther debates Dr. Eck - Martin Luther Memorial in Eisleben, Germany)

Martin Luther believed “the Holy Spirit is no skeptic” and that the text was not just established, but actually existed: “Holy Scripture is God’s Word, written and formed in letters, just as Christ is the eternal Word of God enveloped in the human nature.” – Luther (photo: Dr. Luther debates Dr. Eck – Martin Luther Memorial in Eisleben, Germany)

 

“…people… raise all kinds of questions for which they want to have answers. If one, however, has a correct understanding of Scripture and possesses the true statement of our faith that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, has suffered and died for us, it will not be a serious defect if we are not able to answer them… When discrepancies occur in Holy Scripture (namely concerning such chronological questions as these: how many years Jesus taught openly, how the account of the Temple cleansing in John agrees with Matthew, and similar questions) and we cannot harmonize them, let it pass, it does not endanger the article of the Christian faith.”[vii]

My pastor, in his paper, says that Luther gives the impression of believing “Scripture to be a coherent whole, in spite of its many writers, languages, historical contexts and transmission issues… [and] Where conundrums were discovered he let them be.”

tollelege

"Tolle lege" (take up and read). The words Augustine said he heard about the Bible.

“Tolle lege” (take up and read). The words Augustine said he heard about the Bible.

Yes, there are nuances to be carefully and responsibly addressed, but I am saying that getting caught up in what amounts to minutiae misses the big picture[viii] – a big picture that we should be shouting from the rooftops: “We live by every word that comes from the mouth of God, and He has, in these last days, given us His very own word!”

Take up and read! Even if you have a “critical text” in your hands! (again, the product is good, even if with the process in the background makes it easier for the text to be considered, by some, to be something less than the very word of God). Words that are Spirit and life indeed!

(and if you are one of those who feel called to role of text criticism, I also say: “Take up and read first and foremost for the life of the world, including you – and also give a good guy like Boogert a read“).

FIN  

Images:

Adam and Eve by Cranach studio, 16th c. ; Kurt Aland, by Roberto Cruz ; Ernst Boogert, by Prostestantse Theologische Universiteit (used with permission); “Tolle Lege”, St. Augustine’s at Hammersmith (Longdon) by ramson ; Karl Barth by Hans Lachmann, Rudolf Bultmann, Porträtbüste von Michael Mohns, 2002 by Dbleicher ; St Pius X Church Lecturn, Saint John NB by Cusack5239 ; Byzantinischer Maler um 1020 – The Yorck Project: 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei. DVD-ROM, 2002. ISBN 3936122202. Distributed by DIRECTMEDIA Publishing GmbH (public domain) ; Martin Luther window at St. Matthew’s Lutheran Church in Charleston, SC by cadetgray

Notes:

[i] From Charles Wiese, who has contributed to the Byzantine Greek New Testament project here: “Mainstream textual criticism holds to the idea that the church did not preserve the text but corrupted the text and so textual critics must recover and restore the text that the orthodox corrupted. It’s similar in some ways to the way that the Campbell/Stone movement and other Protestant groups view the Church in general where they think everything went to hell after the Apostles and now they have discovered the truth and restore the true teachings.”

[ii] From my first post: “Even as Jesus Christ Himself urged the laity of his day to obey those who sat in “Moses’ seat”, He nevertheless blamed those same church leaders for a variety of  theological errors (painful detail here). And yet, in spite of this, He trusted that the Scriptures the church had received had been reliably preserved by God. Jesus’ default position was not that God’s assembly, or church, was the corrupter of the biblical texts, but its grateful recipient.”

[iii] Pastor Jordan Cooper: “It is also true that the whole manuscript tradition has in some sense been ‘received’ by the church, but not all of those manuscripts have been used by the church or viewed as its canonical text.”

[iv] Charles Wiese says: “For myself, I think it’s best to adopt the text that is the most catholic and has been received by the church most widely and which the church has shown the greatest care in its transmission. I think there is some room variation and I’m really more concerned with defending the idea of divine preservation than I am about having some elusive perfect text. I don’t think variant readings are evil. I have helped do some editing for this text [the Byzantine Greek New Testament] and it’s the one I typically use http://bgnt.net” This view makes some sense to me, even as I shy away from the importance of the numbers. In other words, even as God preserved His reliable word in a flawed Latin Vulgate, in the Eastern church he had preserved His word as well, promulgating many wonderful copies with the church’s imprimatur, and without the issues regarding things like justification and repentance.

[v] This is problematic, because, as Pastor Jordan Cooper says, over and against the goals of critical scholarship, we need to think about these questions: “what text serves as the church’s canon?” What has been “received, preserved, and used” in God’s church? This is related to the matter of the original text because, one assumes, that the church wants to hand on just that which God gave to His Apostles and Prophets for our salvation!

Still, as I argue in this post, it is good for us to not get bogged down in what amounts to minutiae. Of course, the questions will nevertheless come: “What about the longer ending of Mark? What about the periscope adulterae (John 8)?” These issues were known from early on in the church’s history, and have been dealt with in a variety of ways – and I think it does us well to admit there is much we can’t know for sure from our “scientific” or historical investigations. See the end of this post as well as the final footnote for more.

[vi] For example, in part II, I noted this: “…having read through the variants for example, I just can’t get too excited about them. If I gave two separate accounts of an event to two different persons, for example, I would have no trouble saying that I had told them the same thing, even if there was a little variation here and there. And, so long as there was nothing I had said was meant to hide anything from a certain person, I don’t think anyone else in their right mind would have a problem with my saying I had told them the same thing. I don’t think we are meant to be exacting and robotic persons like that. I can use totally different words and the meaning and content of what I say can basically be the same…..In general, interrogating me by saying ‘but you didn’t say exactly the same words!’ seems pretty lame.” (if this produces more questions in you, check out the full context here).

[vii] Found in Reu, Luther and the Scriptures, p. 90.

[viii] Some might counter here and say things like: “But what about the antilegmomena? Should those books really be in the canon at all? What about the longer ending of Mark and the story of the woman caught in adultery? Why do you reject the Apocrypha?” Here, I insist that, in the bigger picture, these are small things. Again, Luther, in spite of his hesitations regarding certain books, did not look to exclude them from the Bible even as he made clear that they, being books that were “spoken against”, should not be books that could singlehandedly be used to determine doctrine. This view has a very long pedigree in church history: these are certainly not the most important of the New Testament books. As for the longer ending of Mark and the woman caught in adultery, I fully understand if there are brothers who think they cannot accept these sections as canonical. I simply ask that they allow others, and the church at large, to do so – and without being overly critical of them for doing so! – even as again, these are passages that should not used to determine doctrine. Finally, Luther himself included the Apocrypha of the Western church in the German Bible, although he made it clear that they, also, were books of a lesser authority than even the antilegomena. The unique theological situation in the 16th century church, where Rome used not only the Vulgate but these books in particular against the Lutheran Reformers, resulted in them being excluded from Lutheran Bibles in the future. Again, the fact is that the church had never given these books pride of place, and had not, until Rome countered Luther, ever used these books to argue for doctrines. Insofar as Rome persists in doing this, I think it is reasonable for us to insist on keeping the Apocrypha out of the Canon altogether (note that if it were in our Bibles, it would not necessarily need to be “Scripture” – Jesus Himself, after all, only says to accept what the Pharisees teach in Matthew 23:2, and there is no indication that this would have included the Apocrypha, as seen, for instance, from the decision made at the council of Jamnia in 90 A.D.).

 
1 Comment

Posted by on April 18, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

Tags: , , , ,

Follow-up on Yesterday’s Pro-Byzantine Text Post

There have been a number of thoughtful response to the post I did yesterday, although most of the discussion has happened on Facebook, and not my blog here or the Just and Sinner blog (it is posted in both places).

Here are some other things that I have said in reply to some of those posting. One gentleman pointed out, for example, that in a significant number of places in the early church books like Hebrews were not considered Scripture (this book, and some others, like James and Revelation, were “spoken against” (“antilegomena”). It was also said that God preserved the text so that where there is a manuscript record no two manuscripts perfectly agree – so when we talk about how he has preserved the text which text are we talking about? Where is divine preservation (of the kind that I promoted in my post) in that?

Brief responses:

First, regarding the antilegomena, as I say in a footnote in the article: “And to be honest, I think that after a while, the 16th century reformer Martin Luther realized, for example, that he should just shut up about his misgivings about the book of James, Hebrews, and Revelation, for example. I suspect that as a good churchman, he recognized it was enough to say what some in the early church said: these books were received as canon, but, since some orthodox persons spoke against their inclusion in the canon, should not be used to determine any doctrine.”

Second, regarding the wider issue of variations within the books (particularly within those books that the entire church at all times received without question), I think the point here is that the N.T. writers took all of the O.T. texts they used (probably largely from versions of the LXX) – even though there were known variants – to be inspired. Keeping things simple, I do think we can still honestly say that the doctrine does not change and the basic content does not change either when it comes to passages of Scripture – having read through the variants for example, I just can’t get too excited about them. If I gave two separate accounts of an event to two different persons, for example, I would have no trouble saying that I had told them the same thing, even if there was a little variation here and there. And, so long as there was nothing I had said was meant to hide anything from a certain person, I don’t think anyone else in their right mind would have a problem with my saying I had told them the same thing. I don’t think we are meant to be exacting and robotic persons like that. I can use totally different words and the meaning and content of what I say can basically be the same…..In general, interrogating me by saying “but you didn’t say exactly the same words!” seems pretty lame. I know there is the story about adultery, the longer ending of Mark, the ending of the Lord’s prayer, etc. And that in some cases what I say above might be debatable (“that one says they can only come out by prayer and fasting – the meaning is different!”), but these cases seem so small as to not be worth getting worked up about. To each his own (yes, and I think my position is, in general, “just accept the text you receive” – and if you feel called to be a text critic, be sensitive to the importance of that default attitude) People in the church have known about these things for a long time in church history, and seemed to get along just fine… I’ll say it again, I think wringing out hands too much about this plays right into the hands of those who would encourage distrust and disarray in the church. If you read the article closely you will see that I am not saying it is a bad thing to be curious about all of this stuff, just that we should be careful not to give the impression that anything folks like Erhman say is worth any respect at all.

Third, here is a response to a friendly Majority Text advocate from Pastor Jordan Cooper on his Facebook page:

“…you outlined a number of specific issues which go into the decision as to what readings should be used in our current editions of the NT. I appreciate the nuance that you bring to the discussion, as some MT advocates do speak rather simplistically about how the various textual decisions are made.

Westcott and Hort did generally argue that the earlier reading is better, and that the Alexandrian manuscripts are generally better. There has been quite a bit of development in textual criticism since then, and sometimes MT guys speak as though the field hasn’t advanced beyond Westcott and Hort. I’m very much aware of the developments in this area. There are now a number of different considerations in exactly what reading should be used, as you mention.

What I’m criticizing is not just the use of the Alexandrian text type, or the oldest is best mentality, but the use of such a methodology for determining canon at all. What you construct is a theology wherein critical methodologies determine the canon of the church based upon what scholars can best guess is closest to the original autographa. This is not, I don’t think, how the church has thought of canon until the late nineteenth century.

In your perspective, it is the _scholar_ who is the one who preserves the inspired text by the use of critical methodologies. I think this is backwards. This is the role of the church, and the canon for the church is that which the church received, preserved, and used.

Textual criticism is based on theological presuppositions. It is not some neutral field, where Bart Ehrman can tell the church what is the most likely “original” reading for autographs that no one has. As Christians, especially as ones who are very much aware of church history, should we not trust that God actually preserved his Word in the church? Including the long ending of Mark and the Pericope Adulterae.”

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on April 6, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

Tags: ,

Satan Playing the Long Game? What’s the Problem with the Critical Text?

“These copies that were made centuries later contain numerous mistakes. Thousands of mistakes. Tens of thousands of mistakes. Hundreds of thousands of mistakes…” Whatever, Bart. Don’t have a cow.

“These copies that were made centuries later contain numerous mistakes. Thousands of mistakes. Tens of thousands of mistakes. Hundreds of thousands of mistakes…” Whatever, Bart. Don’t have a cow.

 

Despite the picture and provocative caption that leads off this post, it is not really about the molehill that is Bart Ehrmann. It rather attempts to critically address, in a thoughtful way, the modernist/Enlightenment world of biblical criticism from which he has come. I make no claim to expertise in what I write of below – my hope is that this post and any subsequent discussion can get interested persons, including myself, thinking more about this important topic.

Pastor Jordan Cooper, the owner of this blog, has written and podcasted about how he is in favor of supporting what is called “the Majority text” over what we today call “the critical text” (think Nestle-Aland, now in its 28th ed.). In his support of this “Ecclesiastical text”, he is decidedly against the mainstream of biblical scholarship.

I think that Pastor Cooper has done us a service is clearly stating his viewpoint and giving persons an accessible introduction to these important issues. If you have not had a chance to look at these yet, I encourage you to do so (here is another good introductory post).

My own view is also that what we might call the Byzantine text is the text that we should trust (and my reading of a recent scholarly treatise on this topic further confirms me in my own view, which I lay out below[i]).

Why do I think this? In brief, I believe that God, in His providence, preserved His word in the churches of the East, and that this word performed two critical functions in history: a) to provide a common, shared text for the churches of the Eastern churches ; and b) to provide a needed corrective to the churches in the West, for whom the highly flawed Latin Vulgate had become the default biblical text.

During the time of the Reformation, apologists from the Roman Catholic church argued that the Greek text of the New Testament and the Hebrew text of the Old Testament had been corrupted and that the Vulgate alone preserved the authentic text. And yet, when it came to the Latin Vulgate, many could see clearly that distrust had rightly been earned here, and a “shake-up” of sorts was necessary. This largely came in the form of what we call the “Textus Receptus” of a Roman Catholic scholar named Erasmus. He introduced this new edition of the Greek text of the New Testament when he did (based largely on what were understood to be Byzantine copies of the original biblical text in Greek) in order to fix problems in the Vulgate. The rest, in the “Protestant” West at least, is history.

“If exegesis is to be practiced historico-critically, it must use the methods of secular historical science, i.e. criticism which allows only probability judgments, and the principles of analogy and correlation (cf. Troeltsch). Thereby it subjects itself in principle to secular-historical judgment” (theses presented for discussion in the University of Munich, quoted by Marquart on p. 114)

Probabilities, i.e. death by a thousand cuts: “If exegesis is to be practiced historico-critically, it must use the methods of secular historical science, i.e. criticism which allows only probability judgments, and the principles of analogy and correlation (cf. [Walter] Troeltsch[, pictured]). Thereby it subjects itself in principle to secular-historical judgment” (theses presented for discussion in the University of Munich, quoted by Kurt Marquart on p. 114, Anatomy of an Explosion)

At least, until the end of the 17th century and beginnings of the 18th century, when some doubts about the Textus Receptus’ synonymity with the original texts of the Bible (the “autographs”) begin to emerge – and the “scientific” study (more on the reason for the scare quotes below) of the biblical text took off in earnest. This culminated in a way in the early 1880s, with the publication of Westcott and Hort’s critical edition of the Greek New Testament, which deferred heavily to a couple of manuscripts containing the entire Bible (from the 4th century): Codex Vaticanus and Code Sinaiticus (see more here).

My impression is that this quest was largely wrongheaded, but let me be clear about why I think this is so. I actually do not have difficulty with a person arguing that these early editions of the Bible, produced as they obviously were with the imprimatur of the church’s hierarchy, are basically indicative of the biblical text the Western church has recognized, preserved, and passed down (here, I think, it is like the Apostle Paul says: “let each be convinced in his own mind”![ii]). In other words, in an effort to address the problems clearly seen in the Vulgate, the baby was thrown out with the bathwater (again, the Vulgate would seem to have been largely based on codexes like Vaticanus and Sinaiticus), but this did not need to be the case.

The problem, however, is that the discussion about these things in the church today, because of the impact of a modern scientific and technological mindset (as opposed to using something more akin to a careful legal case) that permeates the academy, basically reduces to the quantitative, i.e. to numbers and percentages. In brief, those advocating for the ever-changing critical text in the train of Westcott and Hort usually do so on the basis of the numbers of the earliest manuscripts (which, as a whole, do tend to conform more to codexes Vatincanus and Sinaiticus), while those in the minority who advocate for what they call the “Majority Text” (basically, the “Byzantine Text”) usually do so on the basis of the total number of manuscripts from the first copies of the Bible up until the Middle Ages.[iii]

In short, I think what this really shows – for all involved – is a lack of trust in the church, and does not show a proper deference to its authority. In general, I suggest a further implication of this, because God preserves His word in His church (a word which is sufficiently clear even to unbelievers – they can indeed, begin to understand the Scriptures and its core theme), is a lack of trust in God and a lack of deference to His authority.[iv]

Speaking of numbers, I am guessing that I might have lost upwards of 99% of the Christians in America with that statement, but stick with me here as I explain my reasoning!

“[Descartes] declared that all past beliefs, all ideas inherited from family or state, or indoctrinated from infancy onwards by ‘authorities’ (masters, priests) must be cast into doubt, and examined in complete freedom by the individual subject… – Luc Ferry, discussing the impact of Rene Descartes, pictured (italics and bold mine).

“[Descartes] declared that all past beliefs, all ideas inherited from family or state, or indoctrinated from infancy onwards by ‘authorities’ (masters, priests) must be cast into doubt, and examined in complete freedom by the individual subject… – Luc Ferry, discussing the impact of Rene Descartes, pictured (italics  mine).

Even as Jesus Christ Himself urged the laity of his day to obey those who sat in “Moses’ seat”, He nevertheless blamed those same church leaders for a variety of  theological errors (painful detail here). And yet, in spite of this, He trusted that the Scriptures the church had received had been reliably preserved by God. Jesus’ default position was not that God’s assembly, or church, was the corrupter of the biblical texts, but its grateful recipient.

So, why can’t the churches of the East simply be thankful for and trust the biblical texts that they have received? And why can’t the churches that used the Greek text of Erasmus – largely produced from the aforementioned texts – largely do the same? And why can’t those who think that we should defer to what has been called the more “Alexandrian” “text-type” (this is what the critical, or Nestle-Aland text, is largely based on), simply talk about receiving the text as well, apart from the problems with the Latin Vulgate that derived from them (these texts being exemplified by, but perhaps not limited to, codexes like Vaticanus and Sinaiticus)?

Am I saying that it is always wrong to doubt the church? What about “trust but verify”?

To answer these questions in brief, “no, it is not wrong to distrust the church (see more reflection here), but distrust, where it exists, ought to be earned, i.e. justified” (think “Donation of Constantine”[v]) and “’trust but verify’ is really an oxymoronic statement.”[vi]

The fact of the matter is that when it came to receiving the biblical text, distrust was never truly justified, even if some, of course (like the deists and others with anti-Christian motivations), were eager to say that it had been earned. What happened, it seems to me, is that some persons became aware of variants in the various text-traditions (realizing there were rough “text types”, or perhaps, as some say today, “text clusters”), and started exploring more. I don’t have an issue with this per se, because I do believe that God has made all of us simply curious about this or that, and I don’t doubt that he raised up persons who were curious about this kind of thing as well – and that he provided avenues for them, at their unique point in geography and history, to begin further exploration.

The problem, however, is that this exploration was not openly explored and discussed in the church, and with a proper respect of church authorities and their responsibilities in mind.[vii] Persons in the church hierarchy, understandably, were eager to safeguard the integrity of the text, and to let persons know that serious matters about the Bible were not in doubt. Those on the cutting edge of this exciting and attention-getting scholarly work, however, were not always eager to work slowly, carefully, deliberately, and intelligently with the top leadership in the church. They often acted alone in this sense (though not without the help of, for example, the state and the academy), and, at the very least, fueled the impression of a conspiracy among the orthodox (often maligned as “dead” or “Pharisaical”) to hide the “many errors and corruptions” of the biblical text.[viii]

In response, the orthodox leadership could hardly be blamed for seeing something dark in the critical scholar’s work from the beginning (unfortunately, the attempts to “call out” the irreverent – and sometimes downright impudent – critical scholars and their pietistic allies may have, at times, been both too weak and rather ham-fisted). This, it seemed, was something altogether different from the kind of textual criticism the earliest of the church fathers themselves admitted to openly – after all, before the church as a whole (i.e. the leadership), thankfully, had the means to “first, [when doing biblical interpretation] correct your copy of the text” (as Augustine had said), it was these individual Christians who had to make decisions regarding the various variant manuscripts they were aware of.

Lutheran saint Kurt Marquart: “Man is not an objective super-observer in the universe, but a condemned sinner with a vested interest in escape.”

Lutheran saint Kurt Marquart: “Man is not an objective super-observer in the universe, but a condemned sinner with a vested interest in escape.” And here, Satan urges a long, “frog-in-kettle” game.

So again – none of this means that Christians should be opposed to scholarship per se (see more thoughts on scholarship vis a vis Christianity here). On the contrary, I think all of this comes down to not respecting authority. Of God, the Bible, and the Church.[ix]

Again, didn’t Jesus Christ and His apostles quote the commonly used text of their day – the Torah that people actually had – as God’s inspired Word? As Charles Wiese points out: “We…have evidence of a variety of different textual traditions that pop up in the New Testament. Most of the time, Jesus and the Apostles don’t quote from the textual tradition behind the Hebrew Masoretic text but the tradition stands behind the LXX.” How does this compare with the church’s approach today, where it seems the decisions of an editorial committee in Muenster (home of Nestle-Aland 28, the “standard text” of Christendom) are of inevitable authority for us and our theology?!

In short, the kind of approach advocated in even the most conservative Christian colleges and seminaries is tremendously lacking. It is an atomized individualism – regarding persons, texts, and churches – that is on display in spades. In matters as simple as receiving the Scriptures to the matter of corporate worship, there is no respect shown to the authority of those above one’s self – and so there is also no mutual submission of the brethren to one another.

No thanks. I, for one, will buck this trend and say:

“I will receive in humble and grateful child-like trust what is given unless there is something really off like the glaring Comma Johanneum (even this was not in the earlier editions of Erasmus’ text, and hence is not in Luther’s German Bible). To say the very least, there is no need to give any kind of false impression that the church has anything to be hiding or has been hiding anything when it comes to God’s word.”[x]

Please challenge me on this. Attempt to educate and inform me, and if you suspect I am unteachable, try to do that for others.

Let’s talk more about how the Verbum Domini Manet in Aeternum.

FIN

 

Image credits:

Bart D. Ehrmann by Dan Sears UNC-Chapel Hill ; Rene Descartes ; Ernst Troeltsch (1865-1923), from http://kcm.kr/dic_view.php?nid=37849 (published in the US before 1923 and public domain in the US) ; Kurt Marquart, by http://www.angelfire.com/ny4/djw/marquartlectures.html maintained by David J. Webber

Notes:

[i] The author of this treatise, erstwhile master’s degree student Ernst Boogert, says at one point: “Truth may and should be questioned, because by testing it, it is strengthened.” (p. 63) My own view on this is a bit more nuanced: it is indeed possible, through God’s providential care, that truth can be strengthened in the act of questioning – but that this is not necessarily the case. In fact, depending on our attitude towards the things of God, I submit that sometimes received truth should not be questioned, even if God might use unwarranted skepticism for good (more on this in the broader piece above).

“It is not enough to say that historical criticism means ‘discriminating appreciation.’ The historian,’ says [David] Lotz, ‘must cross-examine, test, weigh, probe and analyze all written records of the past. If he fails to do this he de facto surrenders his claim to the title of historian!’” (Marquart, Kurt; quoting from a May 1975 issue of Forum Letter, in his Anatomy of an Explosion: Missouri in Lutheran Perspective, p. 114, italics mine). I note that view/attitude well. Evidently, we can’t seek to learn more about history simply because we are curious to do so. Of course questions will come, but no one can question absolutely everything about their own history or history more widely conceived.

With all of that said, I believe that my own view comports quite well with Boogert’s recent and rather detailed study (again available here) that seeks to constructively address and overcome the impasse that currently exists between CT and MT (Byzantine) advocates.  Elsewhere, in his study he writes: “Both Byzantine protagonists and eclectics need to take time for careful analyses of each other’s arguments. This thesis provides a wealth of arguments that need consideration and reinvestigation.” (p. 63)

[ii] Ernst Boogert again (see above endnote): “…theological notions like providence and preservation need to be connected with the content of the New Testament and not with the letter. In that sense, the New Testament is historically and theologically fully preserved.” (p. 66)

[iii] Numbers can wow us to be sure. They might even tempt us with their perceived usefulness. As my pastor put it: “There are a little over 3.5 million letters in the Bible (3,566,480). In that most textual variants have to do with letters, even if the “mistakes” or “conflicts” are determined to be in the thousands, that is still, simply statistically, insignificant. There are 783, 137 words in the Bible. The same could be said about them. Overall agreement between the RT, MT and CT seems to be about 99.5%. So for a book that is from 2000-3500 years old, and copied by hand for much of its existence, that is simply amazing.”

[iv] In other words, I believe that the actions of the church authorities in this case were certainly God-inspired acts of love for good of – and order of – the one church.

From this it simply follows: Those who don’t think this results in an infallible and inerrant text should, at the very least, point out how reliable and firm it is! And this should be, if they desire to be friends of God and His people, their constant public refrain.

Again, recognizing that there are variant traditions, deriving from various schools and centers of Christian influence should not change any of this.

[v] A line from the 2003 movie Luther comes to mind. In it, Martin Luther jests: “the priests assured me that by gazing at sacred relics, I could cut down my time in purgatory. Luckily for me, Rome has enough nails from the holy cross to shoe every horse in Saxony… but there are relics elsewhere in Christendom. Eighteen out of twelve apostles are buried in Spain…” see here: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0309820/quotes

[vi] And to be honest, I think that after a while, the 16th century reformer Martin Luther realized, for example, that he should just shut up about his misgivings about the book of James, Hebrews, and Revelation, for example. I suspect that as a good churchman, he recognized it was enough to say what some in the early church said: these books were received as canon, but, since some orthodox persons spoke against their inclusion in the canon, should not be used to determine any doctrine.

[vii] An Eastern Orthodox Christian, Rod Dreher, has expressed this responsibility well: “

“…what I can tell definitively about Orthodox Christian doctrine would be about one-third of the length of my big long Dante blog post yesterday. But I trust the guides who know the territory. I don’t need to know how to read maps to trust them to lead me out of the dark wood. Moreover, I don’t have to worry that there’s a big fight among the guide corps over whether or not the maps and the methods of map-reading have anything true to tell us about where we are in the world, and what we need to do if we are to get out of the dark wood.” (Does Doctrine Even Matter To Liberal Catholics?)

[viii] Those of a more pietist bent, eager to distinguish themselves from the orthodox, also promoted their work.

[ix] Today, we see this in full flower with “progressive religion” and its counterpart tendencies: radical social justice warring, identity politics, and the denial of truth and fact (see here, for example).

[x] Wikipedia has a useful list of the most significant New Testament textual variants here:https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_major_textual_variants_in_the_New_Testament”

Should we not be utterly amazed at how not only do none of these variants affect doctrine, but none of these variants can be said to necessarily contradict one another at all?!

As church historian Martin Noland has pointed out (from a private email correspondence, shared with permission): “The textual variants in the New Testament only become a big deal when anti-Christian polemicists blow their significance way out of proportion.  This happened first in the Deist controversies in the 18th century; and has been resurrected by Bart Ehrmann today, to his great financial and career profit.”

 
3 Comments

Posted by on April 5, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

Tags: , , , , ,

 
Sense & Reference

libraries and philosophy

Reliable Source (This is a)

Overcoming "Fake News" and Beyond

The Jagged Word

"What the Hell is going on!"

ROUGH TYPE

Just another WordPress.com weblog

Meditationes Sacrae (et Profanae)

A blog concerning theology, faith, the humanities, and Interesting Things

Pyromaniacs

Just another WordPress.com weblog

Blog

Just another WordPress.com weblog

Proslogion

Just another WordPress.com weblog

Blog – AlbertMohler.com

Just another WordPress.com weblog

Worldview Everlasting

Jonathan Fisk exposits on all things Lutheran.

De Profundis Clamavi ad Te, Domine

Just another WordPress.com weblog

Mercy Journeys with Pastor Harrison

Just another WordPress.com weblog

Abide in My Word

Just another WordPress.com weblog

Blogia

The Blog of LOGIA: A Journal of Lutheran Theology

Gottesdienst Online

Just another WordPress.com weblog

GetReligion

Just another WordPress.com weblog

Todd's Blog

Just another WordPress.com weblog

theologia crucis

Just another WordPress.com weblog

The Boar's Head Tavern

Just another WordPress.com weblog

Glory to God for All Things

Orthodox Christianity, Culture and Religion, Making the Journey of Faith

Eclectic Orthodoxy

"I'm a blogger, dammit, not a theologian!"

Jonathan Last Online

Just another WordPress.com weblog

Steadfast Lutherans

An international fraternity of confessional Lutheran laymen and pastors, supporting proclamation of Christian doctrine in the new media.

www.theamericanconservative.com/dreher/

Just another WordPress.com site

Reformation500

A forum for exploring the historical truths of Christianity reclaimed by the Reformers

Surburg's blog

Just another WordPress.com weblog

Beggars All: Reformation And Apologetics

Just another WordPress.com weblog

Weedon's Blog

Just another WordPress.com weblog

First Thoughts

A First Things Blog

Pastoral Meanderings

Just another WordPress.com weblog