Textual and Literary Judgments on the Biblical Text
What Happens to the Lutheran Commitment to Scriptural Inerrancy?
Location: Chapel of Our Lord/Werner Auditorium at Concordia University-Chicago in River Forest
Date & Time: 9:30am ~2:00pm CDT, 10/15/2016
Debate Announcement at Brothers of John the Steadfast
On Saturday, October 15, 2016 (tomorrow), at the campus of Concordia University – Chicago, will be publicly debated what I consider to be among the most important issues facing Christianity today: whether post-Modern theories of Textual Criticism are valid, and whether they militate against the perspicuity, inspiration and innerrancy of the Holy Scriptures. While readers of Intrepid Lutherans may be well aware of issues regarding post-Modern ideologies of translation, many of which impact the veracity of the NIV (especially the NIV 2011), what most may not be aware of is the nearly two-centuries-old drama regarding ideologies by which the Greek texts of the New Testament are gathered and collated, to produce an authoritative Greek document representing the original texts themselves.
In a series of comments to the July 2015 post, WELS Makes it Official: All WELS congregations shall use NIV2011, following some comments which questioned why the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS) refused to even consider use of the New King James Version (NKJV) of the Bible in its recent synod-wide deliberations and adoption of an official translation of the Bible to be used in its publications (and had even refused to answer questions as to why they refused to consider it), I provided a summary of the two-centuries-old drama of textual criticism, as follows:
...As for the reason why NKJV wasn’t, and probably won’t ever be considered [by WELS], Dr. Jewel is probably closer to the truth here than anyone is willing to admit. Reread Rev. Brian Keller’s essay, Evaluating Bible Translations: Alle Schrift von Gott eingegeben (I would also point you to his appendices: Appendix A and Appendix B), and take note of how he dances around the issue of “Alexandrian Priority,” almost apologizing for mentioning the NKJV so favorably. “Alexandrian Priority” is shop-talk for the liberal theories of the historical critical method applied to textual criticism. WELS has embraced “higher-criticism,” and will not at all consider a version of the Bible descending from what is today called the “Majority Text”, given the dominant influence of the Byzantine family of Greek texts has on it. But first a little history...
The time of the Renaissance in the West was a return to the classical learning of the Greeks and Romans, and as the works of antiquity were rediscovered, so were the ancient Greek texts of the Bible. Erasmus and others collected them, giving them the title “Textus Receptus” or the “Received Text,” referring to the text generally “received” by the Greek speaking Early Church. It was from these newly discovered texts (which were discovered in monasteries and libraries mostly in the East, or with connections to the East, which had existed under Byzantium), along with the Hebrew Old Testament Scriptures preserved by the Jews, that Luther and Tyndale produced their authoritative versions of the Bible in German and English, each of which were “received” (eventually) by the German and English speaking peoples, respectively, as “the Bible”. So highly skilled were Luther and Tyndale in the use of language (and the later editors of the KJV who essentially reproduced Tyndale), that these works are considered masterpieces of their respective languages even today, and remain endeared to the people and engrained in their cultures. These Bibles were translated directly from the Hebrew of the Masoretic Text, and the “Textus Receptus”, which was essentially a Byzantine text form. Over time, as language changed, certain elements within the greater Church considered it advantageous to “revise” these versions of the Bible. In the second half of the 19th Century, the German Bible was secretly revised – no one was told for about two decades, for fear that the German people would reject it out of hand and the publishers would lose their investment in the revision. After the Germans had been using it already for awhile, the publishers admitted the changes and charged their detractors with not knowing the difference anyway. Though the changes were minor, Kretzmann writes in his History of the German Bible that they were not improvements, and that German-speaking Lutherans in America were better off using the Unrevedierte Ausgabe.
The revision of the KJV was not secret, however. Westcott and Hort were assigned the revision task, but took it upon themselves (that is, without authorization) to conduct not only a revision of the English version, but a revision of the collection of underlying Greek texts as well – a task for which they were unqualified, having never collated a single text prior to this. John William Burgon, Dean of Chichester, perhaps the most eminently qualified textual critic in England at the time, and others like him, were excluded – even though they agreed that recent discoveries required a revision the “Traditional” Greek text (or TR). The question was whether classical (i.e, “lower-criticism”) or newer “higher-critical” theories would be used. Westcott and Hort, and those who they surrounded themselves with, were liberal theologians and adherents of German higher criticism. It is evident that they actively excluded and marginalized conservative voices like Burgon’s (nothing new here...). As liberals, they rejected the tenets of classical (or “lower”) textual criticism and conducted their revision of the collection of Greek texts on the basis of higher criticism, in a way that unnaturally elevated the importance of the codices Vaticanus, Alexandrinus and Sinaiticus, by lumping the many thousands of Byzantine texts into a single “family,” or a single representative text. It is from the revision committee of Westcott and Hort that we today have the Nestle-Aland “Critical Text” text published by UBS, that functions nearly everywhere as the standard on which many, but not all, newer translations are based. The problem with these texts, and the objection that conservatives like Burgon had with them is that, according to the standards of “lower-criticism,” they lacked sufficient biographical data (i.e., no one was sure, exactly, what their history was – which is curious given that they are codices, not fragments), there are only a handful of them compared to the thousands of texts that fit within the “Byzantine family” of texts, but more importantly, they were riddled with evidences of corruption. Burgon, being one of the few to have actually physically examined these codices, wrote several books on this affair, and prominently noted this last point, and even suggested the presence of Gnostic fingerprints (which is not out-of-the-question given that Alexandria was the center of Gnostic thought at that time) given a conspicuous reduction in the identification of Jesus, the man, as also God. An internet search will show much on this topic, including the fact that the NIV1984 reflects this reduction.
If interested, one source of Burgon’s collected works that I can highly recommend is Volume One of the series, Unholy Hands on the Bible, which contains the following works of Burgon:
The Traditional Text of the New Testament
The Causes of Corruption of the Holy Gospels
The Last Twelve Verses of the Gospel of Mark
The Revision Revised
GOD Manifested in the Flesh
The Woman Taken in Adultery
The Secret Spanking of Westcott and Hort
Conflation and the “Neutral” Text
What does this have to do with the NKJV? Well, the NKJV is the ONLY modern version of the Bible published today that does NOT use the higher-critical “Critical Text.” All other translations that I am aware of use the Greek found in the “Critical Text” as their basis. Instead, NKJV uses the “Majority Text,” which does not give unnatural weight to those hokey Egyptian copies. The Majority Text represents a different way of collating the thousands of Greek copies we have now – essentially following the methods of traditional textual criticism by eliminating “families” and giving equal weight to all of the witnesses – as an alternative to the Critical Text. They both use the same collection of copies, it’s just that the bloated influence given to the Egyptian copies in the method of the Critical Text is totally eliminated in the Majority Text. Given equal weighting to all texts individually, given the vast numbers of Byzantine copies compared to those from Egyptian sources, and given the remarkable agreement of the Byzantine witnesses, the result is that the influence of the Egyptian copies is dwarfed, and thus the Majority Text essentially reflects the contents of the Byzantine sources – just like the “Textus Receptus” first collected by Erasmus (though his text was produced from only a handful of Byzantine Texts).
All of this may soon be a moot point, however, as the next edition of the Nestle-Aland “Critical Text” (28th Edition) will follow an altogether different method than one can learn from Metzger, Robertson, Aland or Burgon. It follows a relatively newly devised “Geneological-Coherence Method” – something which I personally am only just becoming acquainted with. This new Method totally eliminates the idea of “text families,” and of using them as a basis for assigning authority to certain readings, and instead compares every known variant according to a variety of criteria, in order to determine their relationship and ultimately find what would statistically be the “initial copy”. And this is the critical aspect of this new Method. Beginning with the 28th Edition of the Nestle-Aland Critical Text, we will no long have, even in the original languages, anything that could be called “The Original” text, or even a representation of it. This new method is limited to producing what they call an “Initial Text” – which may be representative of a text existing in the Third of Fourth Centuries. A second critical aspect of this new Method is the reality of continuous updates to the Greek text. It is never fixed, nor can it be regarded as even theoretically fixed, but as continuously moving and shifting, dependent on the discovery of new texts, or other historical or linguistic facts that may impact the criteria used to analyze the body of collected texts. Bible versions descending from this Method will likewise be subject to continuous updating – and we’ve already been warned by the CBT (the NIV Committee on Bible Translation) of more frequent updates to the NIV (which reveals how monumentally stupid it is to standardize a hymnal project on the NIV family of translations, assuming the hymnal is going to be around for more than a few years...).
Due to the immense amount of data, computers will perform the analysis on the texts, while the whole project awaits the massive manpower necessary to enter the data. This eliminates the role of the individual pastor in selecting an authoritative reading during his study – the computer says what it is, and there is no arguing with the computer... But it will take some time to complete – around the year 2030, is what I recall. But already this new method has resulted in some fairly startling changes to the underlying Greek text, and it is expected to impact many of the references used as proof texts in our catechism, not only for Baptism (Mark 16), but also Headship, Church and Ministry, and others. No one really knows what the specific results will be, nor how broad their impact will be, which explains both the ambivalence of the Translation Evaluation Committee (TEC) [the WELS propaganda team for the NIV 2011] toward any specific translation, along with the rapidly changing practices of the WELS with respect to womens roles.
If you want to know more, here is a provocative paper written by a Concordia Seminary Professor on the subject: Text and Authority: Theological and Hermeneutical Reflections on a Plastic Text. To be fair, I think that the author later said his paper was intended for consumption by a select group of his peers, not by the general public, and that he would have written it differently had he known that it would see broader distribution. It’s been passed around. Alot. Some of his points and positions were written to deliberately “stir discussion” among his peers (who are all academics) – but that makes them all the more worthy of discussion.
In the best construction, your WELS pastors aren’t saying anything at all, because they are ignorant. If this is not the case, then there must be something far more sinister going on. If they are not merely ignorant and disinterested, then they are deliberately not telling the truth by choosing to say nothing at all. Perhaps they think they are protecting you. Perhaps there is some other benefit to hiding the truth. The reality is, very serious changes are afoot in Christianity – especially when it can be said of these changes, “Who knows what the Bible is going to say in fifteen years? We’ll just have to wait and see.”
Maybe this was more than you wanted to know... I for one will stick with what have learned, and pray that someone much more intelligent and capable than I am is both equipped and willing to fight this war. Whoever it is, he is likely to have very few allies.
In the first of Montgomery’s essays, we learn, among other things, that, (a), the issues are NOT linguistic, but a failure to understand and apply the assumptions which underly secularist New Testament scholarship (with which most confessional Lutherans, it seems, have long become enamored) – assumptions, I might add, which are, indeed, accessible to the understanding of average conscientious Christians (whereas the minutia of linguistic theory may not be, without significant training in languages); and (b), that Kloha admits to a significant departure from historic Lutheran understanding of biblical inspiration, as articulated by Pieper as well as by dogmaticians from the Age of Lutheran Orthodoxy (like Quenstedt).
In the second of these two essays, we learn that Dr. Kloha adheres to the theory of “thoroughgoing eclecticism” – a theory espoused and propounded by Kloha's Doktorvater (mentor), Professor J. Keith Elliot. The method of “thoroughgoing eclecticism” does not select either majority or weighted/preferred readings from variant texts, but, in the words of Elliot himself, is a method in which the textual critic “feels able to select freely from among the available fund of variants and choose the one that best fits the internal criteria.” We learn from analysis of this method, that, as a result, the Biblical texts are treated as “constructed literary works,” variants of which are selected according to the critic’s understanding of literary style and organization of the text. Montgomery offers two examples to illustrate:
- An analogy or two may make this clear. I deliver a lecture in which I organize my material in the order of A, B, and C. A news article on my lecture appears, in which the writer, out of great respect for me and a knowledge of my other writings, says that I presented my material in the order of B, A, and C – on the ground that this makes more literary sense and is more consistent with my usual style. That reporter has prostituted his journalistic calling: he has not reported what actually occurred, but rather doctored it to fit what he thinks would better have occurred.
Or consider the battle of Waterloo. The standard French accounts of the battle agree that one factor in Napoleon’s defeat was General Ney’s error in thinking that a movement of casualties from Wellington's centre was the beginning of a retreat. Suppose an early Romanian translation of a non-primary, no longer existent French account attributed the error to General Grouchy. Would any competent historian choose that account – on the ground that Grouchy provided a better source of the Napoleonic defeat because his “characterization” is more appropriate to an effective narrative? Of course not: the issue is what occurred historically, not what narrative would be most effective from a literary standpoint.
But suppose one were to argue that to presuppose historicity in the case of biblical materials is gratuitous and that one should instead view them primarily as literary creations? After all, are they not “religious” in nature? The answer to this is that the Gospels themselves claim, again and again, that they are setting forth history. “That which we have seen and heard,” they write,” declare we unto you” (I John 1:3). “We have not followed cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of his majesty” (II Peter 1:16).
From both of these essays, it becomes apparent that “thoroughgoing eclecticism” threatens a renewed Crisis of the Word, as Montgomery also states directly at the head of his essay:
- It is the conviction of the present essayist that this approach amounts to the destruction of the [Missouri Synod’s] commitment to scriptural inerrancy; returns biblical scholarship to the subjectivism of the higher criticism; and, if pursued, could cause that conservative church body to face again the theological difficulties that came close to destroying the LCMS in the Seminex controversy of the 1970’s.
In an event sponsored by the Lutheran Concerns Association, along with co-sponsors, Balance-Concord, Inc., The Brothers of John the Steadfast, The Association of Confessing Evangelical Lutheran Congregations, Minnesota North Confessional Lutherans, and Texas Confessional Lutherans, Dr. Montgomery and Dr. Kloha will debate the question: “Textual and Literary Judgments on the Biblical Text – What Happens to the Lutheran Commitment to Scriptural Inerrancy?”. The debate will be held on Saturday, October 15, 2016 (tomorrow), at the Chapel of Our Lord/Werner Auditorium at Concordia University-Chicago in River Forest. Starting time for the debate will be 9:30 AM CDT; closing time will be ~2:00 PM. Since both my wife and I regard Dr. Montgomery among our most beloved teachers, since I am seriously delinquent in treating her to a nice little escape from the children, and since Chicago is not unreasonably far from where we live, we plan to be personally present for the debate on Saturday. However, the debate will also be live-streamed and later archived, courtesy of The Brothers of John the Steadfast.
For more information about this debate, please visit the Debate Announcement at Brothers of John the Steadfast. See also their listing of related articles:
- Information from Dr. Kloha
- Information from Dr. Montgomery
- Livestreaming Link, Study Materials
- Lutheran Clarion – Why Dr. Montgomery is Right
- Lutheran Clarion — Theological Problems in Some of Dr. Kloha’s Recent Publications
- Livestream Announcement
- Initial Announcement
NOTE: Portions of this post – the graphic in the header and the final two paragraphs in particular – are Reprinted with permission from SteadfastLutherans.org.
ERRATA and ADDENDUM (10/16/2016)
In the first paragraph colored in blue, above, I noted that the issues involved in the controversies of our day over textual criticism are “something which I personally am only just becoming acquainted with.” Having attended yesterday’s debate, I can attest to having learned something about “thoroughgoing eclecticism” and the “Geneological-Coherence Method,” which requires me to correct what I stated above: I had conflated “thoroughgoing eclecticism” and the “Geneological-Coherence Method,” when, in fact, they are two separate things. The “Geneological-Coherence Method” is the method being used to collate the New Testament via computer modeling, as described in the paragraphs in blue, above. While this may be an issue (Dr. Kloha seems to beware of it, while Dr. Montgomery seems to think it is a positive thing), this was NOT the issue in yesterday’s debate; the issue of “thoroughgoing eclecticism” was the issue – a very serious issue which has Dr. Kloha admitting in his works statements such as the following:
- “If you want to rip Romans 15 and 16 out of my Bible, I can live with that. If you want Hebrews, James, Revelation torn out too, I can live with that. If you force me to look only at p46 or the bizarre majuscule manuscript W or one of the thousands of Byzantine miniscules and use them as my New Testament – I can live with that. Give me only Codex Boernarianus, one of the most poorly copied, misspelled, error filled copies of Paul’s letters, and I can live with that. I could live with or without any of those, because even these poorly copied, corrupted by people, edited, to use Luther’s words, preach Christ. And if they preach Christ, they are of the Spirit, for preaching Christ is the Spirit’s work. And if they preach Christ, they are apostolic, for the apostle can speak nothing other than what he has been sent to speak... I can live without a perfect Bible. I cannot live without God raising Jesus from the dead.”
(Kloha, J. . “The Authority of the Scriptures,” Concordia Seminary St. Louis 2010 Symposium [“The Scriptures: Formative or Formality?”]. Quoted in J. Montgomery , “Textual and Literary Judgments on the Biblical Text – What Happens to the Lutheran Commitment to Scriptural Inerrancy?”, presented in debate with Dr. Kloha, at Concordia University Chicago on 15 October 2016. pg. 11.)
“How, then is it decided which reading is apostolic and has been received as such by the church? The church has been and continues to be led by the Spirit into all truth as it hears ever again the Word. And the church has always taken the greatest care to ensure that what it teaches and preaches is indeed apostolic. The work continues today, in light of new evidence and historical study... [T]o speak of a single act of inspiration... leaves us vulnerable... God works in history. The Spirit created the church.”
(Kloha, J. . “Theological and Hermeneutical Reflections on the Ongoing Revisions of the Novum Testamentum Graece” in: Achim Behrens and Jorg Christian Salzmann [eds.], Listening to the Word of God: Exegetical Approaches [Gõttingen: Edition Ruprecht, 2016], p. 180. [This is the revision of Kloha’s “Plastic Text” essay delivered at the Lutherische Theologische Hochschule, Oberusel, Germany, in November, 2013]. Quoted in J. Montgomery , “Textual and Literary Judgments on the Biblical Text – What Happens to the Lutheran Commitment to Scriptural Inerrancy?”, presented in debate with Dr. Kloha, at Concordia University Chicago on 15 October 2016. pg. 9.)
I plan a more thorough reaction to the debate I attended yesterday, but suffice it to say for now: Dr. Kloha did not come prepared at all to debate the very serious points at issue, refused to be corrected, and toward the end, very disgracefully, angrily and childishly dismissed Dr. Montgomery, repeatedly offering as his only defense, “Dr. Montgomery does not know what he is talking about... read my paper.” Unfortunately, none of those who were not in attendance will be able to read his paper, as he expressly forbids ANY reproduction, in whole or in part, without express written permission from him. His doctoral dissertation remains unpublished. And if one wants to read his revision of the “Plastic Text” essay, it is under copyright in an obscure European academic journal (as are nearly all of his writings) that costs ~$90 to obtain.
(And, of course, later today I learn that on the evening of October 13, soon after Dr. Montgomery had made his debate paper available online [which can be downloaded at this link], only a little more than a full day before the debate, Dr. Kloha provided a data dump on Concordia Theology Online, in order that those attending the debate may prepare themselves with his background material. This was announced on The Brothers of John the Steadfast on October 14, but had not been included on their debate information page when I accessed it that day. I’ve added that announcement to the body of this post, above. Dr. Kloha’s Concordia Theology post is The Text of the New Testament: October 15 Presentation. In that post are links to his paper, to his doctoral thesis, and to other background material. His paper can be downloaded from the link he provides in that post [be sure to note Footnote 2: “Distribution, in whole or part, is not permitted without written consent of author.”]. The site hosting his doctoral thesis can be accessed here [he stated during the debate that it was not yet published]. His internet post supplying further background material can be found here.)