Monday, June 19, 2006

Opening a Can of Worms: The Problems of Textual Criticism Part 3

The Way Forward for Textual Criticism

In the area of contemporary textual criticism, what are some factors that might contribute to the development of a mature and faith-based method of collating manuscripts? In the following paragraphs, I would like to mention certain points, which might be considered for future dialogue.

Firstly, we must address the issue of preservation of Scripture. Our Lord Jesus Christ, obviously, never owned the autographs of the Bible. Did our Lord, then, ever question the inerrancy of the apographs He had? In fact, Jesus was absolutely confident that not one jot or tittle of Holy Writ would ever be lost (Matthew 5:17-18), not even in the apographs. No honest student of the Scripture can ever claim that Jesus did not believe in an inerrant Bible (Matthew 4:4, 5:18, 24:35, Mark 13:31, Luke 21:33, 24:44, John 10:35). Yet our Lord did not possess the autographs of Scripture. Neither did the apostles possess the autographs of the entire biblical canon.

Secondly, in a very practical sense, we must explore the doctrinal implications and ramifications of verbal, plenary inspiration for the Church today. Whenever the word “Scripture” appears in the Bible, does it refer to the autographs or the apographs? In 2 Timothy 3:14-17, we read the following words of the apostle Paul:

But continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them; And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.

Paul admonished Timothy to continue (verse14) in the Holy Scriptures that he had known since he was a child (verse15). The Holy Scriptures, which Timothy possessed, were copies of the original Hebrew Old Testament texts. Timothy obviously did not own the autographs of the Old Testament. The apostle Paul referred to these copies as Holy Scriptures. When Paul wrote verse 16 under the inspiration of God, we observe that there is not a single verb in the past tense. Paul said, “All scripture is given by inspiration of God”; the Scripture, which Timothy knew from childhood, is presently inspired.

It is remarkable that 2 Timothy 3:16 was written in the present tense. Paul could have written, “All scripture was given by inspiration of God”; this might imply that Scripture was perfectly inspired only at its original writing. But the grammatical structure of verse 16 (“All scripture is given by inspiration”) unequivocally states that the verbal, plenary inspiration of God’s inerrant Word extends to the words of the apographs.

John MacArthur Jr., in his New Testament Commentary on 2nd Timothy, comments on 2 Timothy 3:16:

“In addition to the many other specific biblical references to the inspiration and authority of Scripture—some of which are mentioned below—it is important to note that similar Greek constructions in other parts of the New Testament (see, e.g., Rom. 7:12; 2 Cor. 10:10; 1 Tim. 1:15; 2:3; 4:4; Heb. 4:12) argue strongly from a grammatical perspective that all Scripture is inspired is the proper translation.” (John MacArthur Jr., MacArthur's New Testament Commentary: 2 Timothy)

It is not only the message, but also the very words of Scripture that are inspired. Modern textual scholarship insists that the inspired, inerrant Word of God is found only in the autographs. While the apostle Paul emphasized that, “All scripture is given by inspiration”, skeptics suggest, “All scripture was given by inspiration”. The bible-believing Christian affirms that “all scripture is given by inspiration of God” (2 Timothy 3:16), whereas textual scholars believe it was given.

Although Timothy had only copies of the Old Testament books, the apographs he owned were considered by Paul to be inspired Scripture! If the words of the apographs were inspired, they must also be inerrant and infallible. God’s inspired Words cannot contain error!

Besides, whenever the apostle Paul preached in the synagogues (Acts 13:16, 13:46, 14:1, 17:2, 17:10, 17:17, 18:4, 18:19, 19:8), he did not use the autographs of the biblical canon. The Berean church (Acts 17:11), the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:34-35) and the first century Christians did not possess a Bible made up of autographs. Is it, then, true that they did not have the inspired, inerrant, and infallible Scripture? God forbids. It is a fact that whenever the word “scripture” occurs in the Bible, it never refers to the autographs alone.

It is not the ink or the physical writing materials of the autographs that are inspired per se, but the words on the autographs. Those very same inspired words are found on the apographs. All scripture - autograph and apograph - is inspired of God (2 Timothy 3:16). The Bible is indubitably clear with regard to the extant inerrancy and inspiration of Holy Writ. Inspiration can never be rationally divorced from the doctrine of preservation. The Westminster divines, recognizing the logical relationship between inspiration and preservation, declared that the inspired Scriptures in the original languages are by God’s “singular care and providence, kept pure in all ages (Westminster Confession of Faith I:8).”

As a point of interest, I would like to digress a little, and mention an excellent article I read in the recent edition of The Standard Bearer (Volume 82, Number 17, June 2006), entitled “Modern Heresies: Higher Criticism 2.” In this article, Professor Herman Hanko wrote:

“The church of all ages has confessed that Scripture is the Word of God and the standard of truth and holiness. Yet the bitter attacks against Scripture have forced the church to define more precisely what it means that Scripture is the Word of God. To do this involves defining more precisely what is meant by inspiration. . . . Scripture is given to the church by God, word for word. Scripture is verbally inspired, fully inspired, totally that which the Holy Spirit wanted written. Hence, Scripture is both infallible and inerrant. (Pages 393-394, emphasis mine)”
I applaud the Protestant Reformed Churches in America for their high view on Scripture, and their courage in defending vital Christian doctrines against modernistic assaults. I agree and affirm wholeheartedly that “Scripture is given to the church by God, word for word,” and that “Scripture is verbally inspired, fully inspired” - each and every word of God has plenary inspiration.

However, if textual criticism ought to be swallowed wholesale by evangelical Christians, then allow me to direct a question to all evangelical scholars: “Which local church, or which generation of Christians, in all of Church history, has ever possessed all the words of this verbal plenary inspired Scripture?”

If indeed “Scripture is given to the church by God, word for word,” which local church on this planet has ever possessed all of Scripture “word for word?” Is it true, then, that the verbal plenary inspiration of Scripture is only limited to the non-existent, hypothetical autographs which neither Jesus nor the apostles ever possessed?

Contemporary textual scholarship must soberly consider the logical ramifications of the doctrine of verbal, plenary inspiration. Otherwise, evangelical textual criticism would degenerate to mere human philosophy and empiricism. But the Christian ought to work with the logic of faith; that is, logic derived from the faith in God that He will preserve His inspired words.

To be continued in Part 4


Anonymous said...

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Please contact me at when you have time.

Bless you!

Jon Cressey
Sheffield, Enland.

vincit omnia veritas said...

Hi Jon,

Thanks for dropping by. Hear from you again!