The Comparison of Faithful Transmission and Faithless Textual Criticism
Recently, I was on Facebook discussing some New Testament textual issues in a public forum. We discussed everything from Bible translations to Greek Manuscript evidence. The thread was originally posed as a question concerning the King James Version (KJV) of the Bible; however, the discussion eventually morphed into the Greek Manuscripts from which the KJV and many other translations are rendered from. The good thing is, even though many of us disagreed at the end of the day, no venom or cross word was given. It is hard to find folks that don’t get their dander up when discussing religious issues. I mean, some folks are being slaughtered in the world because they don’t share the same religious or even non-religious convictions. Some people avoid discussion altogether, and I would say that is wise to do from time to time. I suppose they avoid it because so many people lack self-control when discussing this subject. Some of you know that I am a supporter of the Traditional Text of the New Testament (NT). The Modern Eclectic Text is what is primarily used to translate most of your modern English Bibles. At one time my position was in the majority, but now it has dwindled in recent years. Some of it is due to the passing previous generations. In the discussion with my Facebook friends we bantered back and forth about different things, but I finally had to get to the heart of the issue. Nobody on Earth possesses any original Greek Manuscripts of the New Testament. All we have, regardless of age is a copyist transmission. In fact there are no works of antiquity that we possess that are the original transmission. Based on the physical evidence, you could come up with a wide array of conclusions. However, at the end of the day there are some that are more probable than others, but you have to pick one based on faith. Here was my response.
Well, I think the argument is truly a Theological one in the end. We all believe that God parted the Red Sea for Moses and the children of Israel. We believe that a great fish swallowed Jonah and spit him out on dry land. We believe in the Death and Resurrection of Jesus, and many more miraculous works. Since I believe things like this, I don’t mind thinking that God in His providence has preserved His written word. The Scriptures themselves testify to their own preservation as did the Reformers, Vaudois, Anabaptists, and Puritans. I mean, the Modern Rational Movement of the 1800’s was the beginning of the dismantling of the Scriptures in Western Society. They lost many battles in the beginning, but are now successfully winning the war. Their efforts resulted in a degradation of the value of the Scriptures and a transferring of their care from the Church to the Academy. Just because a manuscript is late doesn’t necessarily mean there were scribal corruptions. Just because a witness is longer doesn’t necessarily mean it is not authentic. Of course we know there were some corruptions. Most were accidental errors such as skipping a line or two, or repeating a line or two. The scribal intrusions or deletions, which are more disturbing were not that plentiful in the traditional writings. In fact, they were more plentiful in the Alexandrian writings. If you compare the Traditional Texts to the Pure Alexandrian, you would have two different doctrines. One would be Orthodox, and the other, Gnostic. Therefore, I see no reason to mingle the two families. Also, in the middle ages, the Byzantine family was used not only by the Roman Catholics, but the Eastern Church and the Vaudois who were more like the Primitive Christians. There are many good reasons to believe God preserved His Word through the faithful copying of these manuscripts scattered about the world (The RCC didn’t have the only manuscripts). Sure, we need to be skeptical of mankind and his ability to preserve anything, but more than that, we should have a faith that is unwavering in God’s ability to preserve His Scriptures through inadequate and feeble men. What is more amazing about the preservation of the Traditional writings is the agreement in spite of the geographical differences. Of course, one can look at the variants and the Gnostic scriptures and cast doubt upon God’s divine preservation. They can point to all of the known scribal corruptions and even speculate about more. Truly in the end, the issue is a matter of faith. I am drawn to the Traditional Text of the New Testament for many of the reasons I have already cited in this thread, and there are many more that could be made. You don’t have to check your mind at the door to have faith. Arguments can be cleverly constructed for or against anything. Nevertheless, in the end, one has to realize that the physical evidence is limited, as is our ability to ascertain the truth based on that evidence. We need Divine intervention. I have studied this issue for more than a decade, and have found that the arguments leveled in books promoting the Modern Critical or Eclectic Text are not very solid. Holes are everywhere. Some of my arguments for the Traditional lack evidence since much of it has been destroyed or deteriorated. However, I have faith that they have been faithfully preserved. All I have is my faith in God’s ability to preserve His Word. Modern Critical Scholars (Most of whom are agnostics) believe the text is progressive and fluid. They do not believe we have the preserved Word of God but rather fragments of confused, unknown, and reconstructed texts. They believe the scribal corruptions were done by Orthodox believers (Which is a speculation). In the Scholarly world of the Academy, men like James White, Dan Wallace, and D.A. Carson (though well-intentioned) are holding on to an idea that is untenable. They believe God has preserved words that we no longer possess or exist in the world. How does that edify believers? They hold onto the hope that they will find that text that will answer all of the questions. Scholarship has left them and given up on that idea, and gone to the most logical conclusion based on their worldly philosophy. Bart Ehrman is far more consistent concerning this issue than Wallace, White, or Carson. The Naturalistic, skeptical eye based on the doubt that God has preserved His word can only lead to agnosticism and atheism. That is the logical conclusion here. Faith in the Scriptures and Faithlessness in God’s ability to preserve them is inconsistent. This issue of Text Criticism started by the German Rationalist Movement has spread through the Church, sucking the life out of its bones, and successfully producing Agnostics who despise the written Word. This issue, coupled with many other Modern and Postmodern Progressive ideas has been successful in pulling the foundation out from under the Church in Western culture. This is the result, and we are now seeing the fruits of it.
This is truly where we are at the end. It isn’t a bad thing to make your case, but endless debating about the evidence or lack thereof isn’t going to change the fact that you will have to take a position based on faith. I personally believe that God has used His “Ordinary Means of Grace” to preserve His written word in the traditional text of the NT. If you go the way of scholarship, then you are only allowed to rely on naturalistic or physical evidence based upon a blind presupposition. Riding the fence as most Evangelical scholars do is inconsistent. They are trying to look smart while at the same time holding onto the traditions of the Early Church and Reformers, who placed their faith in the Traditional Greek Text of the New Testament.