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

06 Apr

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.”

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Posted by on April 6, 2016 in Uncategorized


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