Thursday, December 12, 2013

Why Kloha Isn't the Problem: Inspiration, Inerrancy, Preservation, and other stuff.

Recently, there has been quite a bit of discussion in the interweb about an unpublished paper written by Jeffrey Kloha. The paper is about the release of NA28 and how it relates to the current popular understanding of the authority and inspiration of Scripture. Some have worried that this paper will result in a battle for the Bible similar to what the LCMS experienced in the 1970's. I believe what happened in the 1970's was really the result of what happened in the 1880's and that the major doctrinal shift was never really addressed.

In the 16th and 17th Centuries, Lutheran and Calvinist theologians claimed that God preserved His Word in the church and that the text they had in their hands was the same take given to the Apostles. Rome was arguing that the Greek and Hebrew texts were corrupt and that the Vulgate preserved the authentic text. The Reformers were well aware of textual variants but still held to the belief that God's providential care preserved the Greek and Hebrew texts. The autographs served as a sort of touchstone for the authority of the extant manuscripts. Click here for further information regarding the historic Protestant position.

Within the wider body of Protestantism, the shift away from this position began in the 1880's. In the 1880's, Westcott and Hort published their Greek New Testament based on theories that continue to this day. There have been further developments since that time but the idea that the church was the corrupter rather than the preserver of the text remains a foundational principle. A reading which differs from the reading adopted and transmitted by the church is considered to be more likely to represent the original text. This is really an Anabaptist understanding of church history being applied to the Scriptures.

B.B. Warfield was educated in the methodology of Westcott and Hort and found himself in a battle with liberalism. When liberals began to point out "contradictions" in the Biblical text, Warfield would claim that these "contradictions" did not exist in the original autographs. Since nobody had the original autographs it was impossible to prove him wrong. Warfield also popularized the use of the term "inerrancy" which was originally an astronomical term used to refer to fixed stars. On the surface, Warfield seems to have done an excellent job in defending Protestant orthodoxy against liberal criticism. However, this radical move by Warfield resulted in a the placement of authority in something nobody has. Within Presbyterianism, Warfield shifted authority away from infallible apographa (texts we actually have) to inerrant autographa (texts that nobody has). Belief in God's providential care of the text was replaced with faith in the academy to reconstruct the autographs.

William Arndt popularized Warfield's position among Lutherans in the 1920's. It doesn't take too much imagination to see how placing all authority in a text that nobody has could ultimately lead to something like the Jesus Seminar where people vote on what Jesus said. The readings in Nestle-Aland are sometimes decided by a three to two vote. If the church is not the preserver but the corruptor of the text, how do we know that they didn't significantly corrupt the text prior to the earliest manuscripts that we have in our possession?
Westcott and Hort were very optimistic in being able to reconstruct the original autographs but modern textual criticism does not share that optimism. The editors behind NA28 are openly stating that they are not trying to reconstruct what the Apostles wrote but rather the source text that explains the many variant readings. Anyone who has kept up on this field of study knows that this has been going on for quite some time but NA28 is the first time this has been openly stated. NA27 adopted at least one reading (Acts 16:12) that was a textual emendation with no manuscript support. At what point will all the conjectures stop? Why should they ever stop if the church is the corrupter of the text?

If the assumptions that stand behind Nestle Aland text are applied to the Old Testament, I don't see how anyone can have any confidence in the Old Testament text at all. It's true that we have record of a very controlled method of copying the text but this process was not in place until a very long time after the texts were originally written. We also 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. Sometimes they do quote from the tradition that stands behind the MT and sometimes they quote from an unknown textual tradition. Jesus and the Apostles seem completely unconcerned with trying to reconstruct the original autographs. Instead, they quote the commonly used text in their day as God's inspired Word. When Paul said that all Scripture is God-breathed he wasn't referring to the original autographs. When Jesus said that not one jot or tittle of the Torah will pass away, he wasn't referring to the original autographs. He was referring to a Torah people really have.

I'm not arguing for a return to the Textus Receptus or even the use of every reading that has the fancy M next to it in Nestle-Aland. Instead, it seems that the church should take its task of preserving the text seriously and use those readings that have lived and breathed in the church, especially the lectionary readings in the Eastern Church. The 1904 Antoniades edition of the Greek New Testament is a good starting point although it has its own peculiar flaws. The Church should honor father and mother and make use of those readings that were preserved for us by the saints who have gone before us rather than acting like disobedient children who think we know more than our parents. Why should we presume to think that we know better about how to choose the correct reading than those who made the textual decisions in the first place? We can find localized examples of intentional corruptions of the text but the vast majority of the time people simply copied what was put in front of them or read to them making small, unintentional mistakes along the way. The idea of a massive, geographically widespread corruption of the text by the church smells like something you might see on the History Channel. Right now, we're waiting every few years to see what text the academy will give us and waiting in anticipation to see what readings our favorite commentator will adopt. The academy and the commentators are giving up hope. It's time to return to a belief that God preserved His Word and knows what He's doing.


David Preus said...

Thank you for this! A very helpful diagnosis of the problem behind the TC problem. God has used the church, pastors, teachers, fathers and mothers, as the faithful instrument to preserve the apostolic and prophetic teaching. Thank God!

The outstanding question for many, I think, is what do the lacunae in the apographa have to do with the theopneustia of the autographa? I would argue: nothing, unless we have reason to suppose that we have gotten the raw end of that nasty old "telephone game."

Jesus says: "My words will not pass away." I believe both that he said these words and that his words are true.

tehazy said...

Excellent post and very, very helpful.

shane said...

I appreciate your thoughts, especially your love for the church. I did have a thought though about your post: the notion that the reception of newly found, older texts isn't honoring father and mother is odd to me. One doesn't need to lack confidence in God's preservation of the text to remember that he sometimes preserves it somewhere unexpected (see Josiah's episode in 2 Kings 22).

Nor does one need to think conspiratorially to recognize copying errors and editing that has occurred within textual traditions and the importance of removing them.

Chuck Wiese said...

I think the problem is though that the Church was aware of these variant readings but in her wisdom did not adopt them. Modern textual criticism assumes that the Church was wrong in the readings it adopted and/or purposefully corrupted the text.