Thursday, June 28, 2012

Textual Criticism, Falsifiability, and the Gospel of Q

In order for a claim to be convincing it has to be falsifiable. This sounds contradictory until you think about it a bit. The statement, "It will rain tomorrow" is falsifiable because you can observe whether or not it rains tomorrow. If someone says that a silent, invisible dragon that takes up no space lives in his garage, it is not falsifiable because there is no way of observing the dragon. The claims of most non-Christian religions are not falsifiable. There is no way of proving that Mohammed or Joseph Smith did not receive revelation from God and so there is also no way of proving that they did.

Christianity is unique as a religion in that it is falsifiable. If it could be proven that someone had Jesus's bones, it would be proven that Christianity is false. The historical evidence that a resurrection did take place is strong enough that there are people who believe that Jesus had some type of resurrection without buying into all that He taught. As Christians we believe what Jesus taught because He died and rose again.

Unfortunately much of current textual criticism operates under a number of assumptions that are not falsifiable and which the actual evidence tends to contradict. Even though the manuscripts that we have tend to support the idea that except in a few localized instances scribes tended to simply copy what was in front of them, textual criticism tends to assume that those who copied texts were making insertions and expanding the text all over the place and that these changes became the dominant text. This is true even among those who hold to a rather high view of Scripture. At the very least, they tend to accept the textual work done by those who assume that the church has been in the business of corrupting the text rather than preserving the text and that the reading that the church rejected should be preferred to the one it accepted.

The idea that the church expanded the text has also caused a shift from the historic view that Matthew was the first Gospel written to the idea that Mark must have been the first Gospel written. Mark seems to assume that the reader is already familiar with Matthew but the "shorter is original" argument tends to win out over the idea that Mark was writing for a specific purpose. When it is widely accepted that the church began to corrupt the text at a very early date, it's no surprise that people start to question the integrity of the Gospels themselves and start looking elsewhere for another source. So the "Q Source Hypothesis" developed.

The idea is that Matthew and Luke were dependent upon both Mark and "Q." The problem is that there is no evidence that there is such a thing as "Q." There is not a single manuscript and there is not a single reference to "Q" in the church fathers. It only exists in the imagination of textual critics. Since it only exists in the imagination of textual critics it is not falifiable. You can't prove that "Q" doesn't exist for the same reasons you can't prove that Joseph Smith didn't receive magic spectacles and gold plates. You can't prove that "Q" doesn't exist for the same reason you can't prove that the Gospels were not spoken through the mouth of a dragon that resulted in unicorns pooping out manuscripts. The idea that "Q" doesn't exist is in fact falsifiable because all you would need to prove me wrong is to produce a copy of "Q." But to assert that "Q" does exist is not falsifiable because there is no real way to prove that it doesn't exist. Augsburg/Fortress actually released a The Critical Edition of Q.Scholars voted on what passages they beleived were included in this thing that has no evidence of ever having existed.

If the Q theory only held sway in the field of textual criticism things might not be so bad. But the assumption of Q has ruined a great number of commentaries on the Gospels. Some scholars spend so much time in commentaries talking about whether or not a specific passage was drawn from Q that they have little space left to comment on the Greek text that really exists that is sitting before them and little time to delve into the theology of the text. Even more liberal scholars who buy into these theories like Brevard Childs have recognized the problem and insist that eventually you have to deal with the text you have--the text which is actually used by the church--rather than only dealing with the imaginary text that nobody has.

I am thankful for the Concordia Commentary series for this reason as well as many others. I'm really looking forward to the forthcoming commentary on Mark by Dr. James Voelz. Dr. Voelz studied under C.F.D. Moule and knows the Greek as well as anyone. He puts together a pretty persuasive argument for the idea that Mark was written after Matthew and Luke.

At the end of the day, the pastor's job is to deliver Christ-crucified to people from the Scriptures as the perfect icon of Christ. The pastor's job is not to engage in speculation and doubt in order to impress people with how smart he supposedly is.

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