Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The Text of the New Testament - Lecture 3 Part 1

At the Family Conference 2014, Pastor Jeff Riddle presented three lectures on the text of the New Testament.  His third teaching was on 11/15/2014 and titled "The Text: Postmodern Challenges to the Text of the New Testament."  Pastor Riddle opened his talk by reading Psalm 11:3.  His teachings on the Traditional Text are highly important for all Christians, so I'm posting my notes from his lectures.  You can read my notes from Pastor Riddle's first lecture here & here and his second lecture here & here.
For text criticism, the modern age came to end and the postmodern age began with the publication of a book just a few years after the fall of the Berlin Wall.  In 1993, Bart Ehrman published his book titled, The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture.  Ehrman says he used to be a born-again, evangelical believer.  He went to Wheaton, Moody Bible Institute, and Princeton Seminary.  He pursued a PhD under Bruce Metzger in text criticism.  While he was studying the diversity of the manuscript tradition and being steeped in modern text criticism, he decided that he did not believe that the Bible was authoritative or that it had been faithfully preserved.  He went from being an evangelical to a mainline Protestant to agnostic.  Those of us who hold to reformed doctrine believe that he was a false professor of faith and that he never understood the Gospel because if he had truly been converted, he would not have fallen away, (1 John 2:19).

In his 1993 book Ehrman argues that it is the orthodox Christians who had corrupted the transmission of the texts of the Bible in order to fight against those that they perceived to be heretical.  He also says that the heretical groups in early Christianity were just as legitimate as the orthodox groups.  The Christian movement from the beginning was diverse with many competing interests.  Therefore, we should not speak of early Christianity (singular), but of early Christianities (plural).  In addition, his argument meant that it was impossible to discover the original or autographic text of Scripture because we can never have certainty about what the original authors wrote.  He notes that we can only study the transmission of the text of Scripture to learn what early Christianity was like and what each of these diverse groups within Christianity apparently held.  Such a view reflects the postmodern age of relativism where certainty and conviction is suspect, and where diversity is upheld as the ultimate.

In the world of text criticism, that landmark work in 1993 came only to be expanded by other scholars.  Currently the best know New Testament text critic in the English speaking world is Professor David C. Parker who works in the Department of Theology & Religion at the University of Birmingham in the UK.  He's responsible for digitizing many of the ancient manuscripts including Codex Sinaiticus.  Parker argues that there is not one static text of Scripture, but there are many living texts, all of which are equally valid and authoritative.  Professor Parker published his book An Introduction to the New Testament Manuscripts and their Texts in 2008 (the plural notations are on purpose).

Remember Bruce Metzger's title to his book: The Text of the New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration.  The 19th and 20th century way of looking at text criticism was that we can take the text that's been corrupted and use scientific methodology to correct it and get back to the original.  The postmodern 21st century scholars are now saying that there is no original text--that we can't find an original text (that would be a fool's errand).  The current scholars say that we have living texts that are all legitimate.

In 2011 Professor Parker presented the Lyle Lectures at Oxford University.  These lectures appeared in book form in 2012 under the title Textual Scholarship and the Making of the New Testament.  He reviewed the state of postmodern text criticism and noted in particular that modern text critics no longer believe that it is neither possible nor profitable to reconstruct the original text of Scripture.  Parker argued against the modern concept of a single, authoritative original text calling it a hopeless anachronism.  Scholars must not think of the Critical Text as the original, but only as the recovery of the form of text from which the surviving copies are descended.  This is the initial text, not the original text of the NT writers.  The task of the NT philologist is not to recover an original, authorial text, but simply to recover the oldest form of the text beneath the manuscript copies.

Professor Parker also conveyed a great deal of excitement about the latest technological revolution that we are currently living under--the digital age.  Right now there are persons who are the gatekeepers and custodians of the text of Scripture.  These custodians are thinking about the ways in which the texts of Scripture will be conveyed to the generations that are to come and how they will be read.  The most significant event in modern day humanity's research is the development of mass digitization.  The result of this digital revolution will be the democratization of fields which have only been accessible to a few people with the resources and opportunities.

In the digital age, Parker speculates that users will be able to build their own Critical Text.  The Brave New World that these scholars envision is that just about every individual at some point will be able to create their own text of Scripture in a digital format and personalize it by laying out the textual variants and picking & choosing which readings they prefer.  Pastor Riddle warns that this will produce a world of chaos where there is no standard, fixed, normative text of Scripture from which God's people in all places read and from which God's ministers preach, exposit, and expound.

~~This ends the first half of Pastor Riddle's third lecture~~
I usually prefer to read from a physical book, especially when I read and study my Bible.  However, I do like the convenience of reading from my iPad and smart phone, especially when I'm away from home.  I never considered how the digital age will affect not only how I read in the future, but also what I read.

Moving toward a digital, personalized Bible (a la the Build-A-Bear model) is not how Scripture defines the Word of God.  Without a standard, fixed form, no two Bibles will be alike because of the unlimited combinations based on the available variant readings.

The Bible is a sure Word of prophecy that is not of any private interpretation (2 Peter 1:19-20).  The Word of the Lord endures forever (1 Peter 1:25), and God's Word is forever settled in heaven (Psalm 119:89).  Adding to and/or subtracting from the preserved Word of God is strictly prohibited and has dire consequences:  "For I [Jesus] testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book," (Rev. 22:18-19).

The slippery slope of striving to construct the ever elusive original Hebrew and Greek texts has blinded many influential evangelical leaders of today.  As noted by Pastor Riddle, this goal has been abandoned by the text criticism scholars of today.  Nevertheless, current leading pastors continue to promote the modern Critical Text by serving on committees, financing its publication, and/or putting their name of the front cover.  James gives a sober warning to them: "My brethren, be not many masters, knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation," (James 3:1).

In my next post on the Text of the New Testament, I'll share my notes on the second half of Pastor Riddle's third lecture.

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"If the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do?" (Psalm 11:3).