Saturday, January 20, 2007

Protestants and the Bible

Recently, I was looking at a website for people who are shopping for a church, and tried to create a profile for the Church of the Atonement, hoping that I could recommend this service to Anglicans of our stripe on a large scale. But, their Belief Statement (assent required) included these words: "We believe that the Bible is God's written revelation to man and that it is verbally inspired, authoritative, and without error in the original manuscripts." Aside from the redundancy of saying that the Bible is the word of God, and without error- as if God might lie or be mistaken, which alone would make the extra words necessary- there is a problem with the words "in the original manuscripts." I sent them an e-mail in which I deliberately used their terminology (since any good Catholic knows that the Bible is "inerrant" without having to add that idea to the inspiration of the Holy Spirit), making communication easier. Here is what I wrote to them, in full:


Before I go any further I must raise the question sparked by these words in your Belief Statement: "...and without error in the original manuscripts." That may be intended to affirm the authority of the Bible as the word of God, but it actually denies the authority of the Bible. Since the 1880s, beginning with The American Standard Bible, the Codex Sinaiticus, has been given far too much weight and undeserved authority, and it has been given this authority due to Higher Criticism. The Textus Receptus was, until then, the universally recognized Bible of all Christians. It was from this that all traditional translations were made, including the King James Version in English. If I say that I believe in "the original manuscripts" then I am saying that I believe in a Bible that we simply do not possess, since no original manuscripts are extant. I believe in the Bible that we actually do have, the Textus Receptus, which has been defended best in the Preface to The Third Millennium Bible. It is that collection of scripture that always has been believed by Christians - Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant- to be the Word of God, and therefore without error. About that, our Anglican Article VI declares: "Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation: so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed as an article of the Faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation. In the name of the holy Scripture, we do understand those Canonical books of the Old and New Testament, of whose authority was never any doubt in the Church." The simple words of the Roman Catholic Papal document, Dominus Iesus, say it rather well (about the books of the Bible): "These books have God as their author."

The preface to The Third Millennium Bible says:


"In evaluating the reliability of almost all contemporary versions one must take into account some little-known history of Bible translations. The principal Greek New Testament text from which almost all contemporary translators worked is known as the Codex Sinaiticus, discovered by archeologist Konstantin von Tischendorf at the foot of Mt. Sinai in 1844. This manuscript is shorter than the text used in translating the Authorized Version by almost three thousand words. This shorter Greek New Testament text was unused and ignored for more than fifteen hundred years in the life of the church, and was reflective of Gnostic and secular influences of the Alexandrian and Hellenistic cultures of antiquity. It was never used in any English Bible translation until 1881. It is worthwhile to note that the New Testament of the Authorized Version finds its support in over five thousand ancient Greek manuscripts, more than any writing in the entire history of literature. By contrast, contemporary versions are supported by a mere handful of ancient manuscripts.

Contemporary Bible translators and publishers attempt to defend their use of the shorter text in their translations by arguing that theirs is more ancient than the manuscripts supporting the text used in the Authorized Version. But recent scientific examination of fragments of Greek manuscripts which are still more ancient casts much doubt on such claims."


Therefore, if we limit our faith in the inerrency of the Bible only to "original manuscripts" we give the Devil ground. We don't have those originals; but we do have the Bible that the Church has received from the Holy Spirit, and this Bible is the word of God, without error. The words "in the original manuscripts" amount to a denial of faith in the Bible, not an affirmation of the Bible, no matter how well they may be intended.

My second question is why your options for church government do not include "episcopal," that is, the authority of bishops? I cannot limit my answers to your options, because we have an episcopal structure, and we believe it to be the doctrine contained in the Bible.

Fr. Hart

I saw no reason to go further, that is, to bring up the authority of sacred Tradtion. Anyone who accepts the scriptures as the Word of God must, if logic and knowledge are utilized, eventually get to the point of accepting the authority of the Tradition too.

10 comments:

Albion Land said...

Fr Hart,

Unless I overlooked it, you left out of your post any statement as to whether these people are describing themselves as Anglicans.

poetreader said...

Fr. Hart,
Thank you. One of the things that finally led me back to the Catholic Tradition was exactly this nonsense of the 'autographs' of the Scriptures. How can one rely upon the authority if a non-existent document as identified by a handful of scholars who do not have to believe any part of the content to be recognized scholars? The Bible is known to be the Word of God precisely because it has been in continuous use by the Church of God. These 'ancient manuscripts' have not been. I have a lot of Bibles on my shelf, of various translations. Some of them are in near pristine condition and will long outlast this mortal flesh. I neither trust not use them. Some of them are already worn out from use. Most of these copies will not outlive me. Why did Sinaiticus and the others survive? Perhaps because they were considered too good to destroy, but not really good enough to use, and wer tucked safely away.

I've been presenting these thoughts for years, and have been roundly derided by Evangelicals, Anglicans, and RCs for being 'against scholarship'. It is a pleasure to find someone else who sees these ideas as reasonable.

ed

Fr. Robert Hart said...

Albion,

They are not Anglicans, and the website is supposed to be for all Christian Churches. Their Belief Statement is, otherwise, fine. I saw my response to the "original manuscripts" issue as worth posting here. It shows the problem of authority among a certain strain of Evangelicals. The Bible is the word of God, but what if some scholar proves that a very early "reliable" manuscript denies a very important verse ot two? This has been done to I John 5:7, and it is what the hubbub about Mark 16:9-20 is all about.

In other words, in place of Scripture, Right Reason and Tradition, they have the latest poop from modern scholars as the final authority on doctrine. Since they do not want their situation to be what it is, it is worth waking them up to this fact.

Salome said...

From my inexpert reading of things, it would appear that most, or at least some, of the omissions from the Sinaiticus are the result of identifiable copyists' errors (in particular ti homoeoteleuton, where one could presume that two successive lines of the text of the manuscript ended with the same word, with the result that one such line was omitted by the copyist). Now, it would seem to me that if Higher Criticism were preceded by solid philological work, these would instantly have been identified and the omissions ascribed to the obvious error. The error appears to account for 1 John 5:7 (although the Greek doesn't have exactly the same words repeated). I can't explain the loss of the end of St Mark, but I have for years been troubled by the combination of the missing resurrection story in the Marcan account and the apparently universally accepted priority of Mark (which I was taught at school as a 13-year-old as a simple matter of fact). (I mentioned to my priest one day that it seemed strange that Christians couldn't agree on fundamental points of doctrine such as the divinity of Christ or the resurrection, but that everyone without question appeared to accept the priority of Mark. I was rewarded the next week with a sermon on the priority of Matthew, and was therefore glad to learn that at least the fathers disagreed.)

In any case, the problem appears to have arisen from inadequate attention being paid to the ancillary disciplines--in this case old-fashioned philological text editing, the sort of thing God made Germans for (where were they?). Theology and its related disciplines appear to have been infected by a false intellectual pride founded on bad scholarship. Why do things the old-fashioned, rigorous, way, and come to the same answer that the Church has always and everywhere come to, when you can cut a few corners and come up with a new one? Sorry to ramble on, but I recently restored to my library (by purchasing replacements) some later works of Mascall, and I am currently revisiting Theology and the Gospel of Christ.

I do note, however, that the Sinaiticus agrees with the KJV in Luke 10, where the Lord sends out the seventy, rather than the Vaticanus, where he sends out seventy-two.

Oh, and I just loved the bit about episcopal governance having biblical foundations.

Fr Matthew Kirby said...

I agree that the desire only to affirm the inspiration and inerrancy of the Bible in its original manuscripts is unnecessarily fearful and a reflection of the anxiety that "sola Scritpura" brings in the modern context. However, I would note three things:

1. Contrary to what has been implied in the post, Textual Criticism and "Higher Criticism" are not identical. To a large extent they are independent of each other.

2. Following on from this, whereas Higher Criticism often relies on multiplication of suppositions and philosophical filtering, Textual Criticism has a more scientific and logical grounding. It is NOT true to say it simply always prefers the older manuscript. Comparison of variants is extensively used to work out how the variations may have developed, often due to common sorts of scribal errors and glosses. This analysis does not usually rise to the level of certainty in its conclusions, which is why modern Bibles give alternate marginal readings so often. Textual Critics themselves also point out that none of this affects any major doctrines.

3. Finally, the example of 1 John 5.7 is not apposite. Long before modern "criticism" or the discovery of Codex Sinaiticus Erasmus and others had noted that it was not original to the text and, indeed, it occurs in not one of the Greek versions of the first eight or nine centuries AD if my memory serves me correctly.

Fr Matthew Kirby said...

I agree that the desire only to affirm the inspiration and inerrancy of the Bible in its original manuscripts is unnecessarily fearful and a reflection of the anxiety that "sola Scritpura" brings in the modern context. However, I would note three things:

1. Contrary to what has been implied in the post, Textual Criticism and "Higher Criticism" are not identical. To a large extent they are independent of each other.

2. Following on from this, whereas Higher Criticism often relies on multiplication of suppositions and philosophical filtering, Textual Criticism has a more scientific and logical grounding. It is NOT true to say it simply always prefers the older manuscript. Comparison of variants is extensively used to work out how the variations may have developed, often due to common sorts of scribal errors and glosses. This analysis does not usually rise to the level of certainty in its conclusions, which is why modern Bibles give alternate marginal readings so often. Textual Critics themselves also point out that none of this affects any major doctrines.

3. Finally, the example of 1 John 5.7 is not apposite. Long before modern "criticism" or the discovery of Codex Sinaiticus Erasmus and others had noted that it was not original to the text and, indeed, it occurs in not one of the Greek versions of the first eight or nine centuries AD if my memory serves me correctly.

Doubting Thomas said...

Indeed, the Johannine Comma (1 John 5:7) is missing from pretty much all early GREEK MSS, but isn't it found in some early
LATIN Versions and in quotes from some of the fathers? I seem to have read this somewhere before.

Fr. Robert Hart said...

These are all good points.

What Salome wrote is the kind of scholarly point that has been needed for a long time, and I wonder if she might round that out and let us post the results. As for the Biblical case for episcopacy, I think I ought to write a separate post on that in the next few days. I am amzed that so many people think it is completely "extra-Biblical." Don't they read the Pastoral Epistles? However, I recommend as a relevant work , the short book (booklet really) Holy Order by Dom Gregory Dix.

Salome said...

Oooooh, Father, you do flatter me! Unfortunately, in matters theological and philological I'm a rank amateur and no more than a dabbler.

If I may digress right off topic, where I know what I'm talking about, I recall an article about the reception of Mahler's music in Vienna. The author was trying to make a feminist point, and she seized on the review of the 5th Symphony (in 1905, I think) by one Elsa Bienenfeld, to show how Dr Bienenfeld had a unique woman's insight. (My own assessment of Dr Bienenfeld's work, in comparison with that of the best of her male contemporaries, was that she was a bit of a nutter, but I digress.)

The author focused on Dr Bienenfeld's reference to musical climaxes and in particular her use of 'Klimax' where, according to the author, the usual German word would be 'Höhepunkt' (high point, or peak), and concluded that Dr Bienenfeld, a disciple of Freud, was daring to describe Maher's music in orgasmic terms.

Now, I respectfully disagreed. I consider it far more likely that Dr Bienenfeld was using 'Klimax' not in some Freud-influenced biological sense, but in the sense in which anyone in Vienna in 1905 with a decent education would have understood it: the sense of classical poetics, where it refers not to the expressive summit (as climax now does in English, as a result of corruption of its strict sense), but to the stepwise path by which the summit is reached. Such an interpretation, however, was quite unremarkable.

This is illustrative of the principle: 'Why let the facts, or the most obvious explanation, get in the way of a good theory?'

Now, I don't want to be too critical of the author. Ignorance is a universal affliction: nobody knows everything, or, as I prefer to say, everybody doesn't know something. A more experienced and circumspect scholar, however, will take stock and check that all his/her bases are covered before advancing a sensational interpretation of something that's crying out for a prosaic one, lest the something that he/she doesn't know come back and bite him/her on the backside.

From my observation of the condition of theology, and especially from my reading (most of it long ago) of the late works of Mascall (which I heartily commend to anyone out there who hasn't read them), it would appear that the rush to hang a whole new version of the faith on a variant reading (Junias or Junia, etc), or to fit the documents to the theory and not the theory to the documents, has been all too common. Mascall complained that the breadth of the basic honours degree in theology meant that the training received in both theology and in the ancillary disciplines lacked the depth and specialisation found in other degrees. That can, and should, be overcome, and the problem I have described is not unique to theology, in any case.

The problem lies partly in the pressure to produce original work, as I think I've said before in connection with the Pagels problem, and in educational systems that don't allow students a long period of absorbing before they have to start producing. Much of it possibly also lies with the desire of faculty to seem up-to-date, which will result in the latest controversial work going on the students' reading list in place of an older work that would actually teach the students something. I am firmly of the belief that students should actually know things before they are encouraged to think about them. (That's very old fashioned, I know.)

From Fr Kirby's remarks, however, I wonder if the issue of editions and manuscripts of the Bible is the right one in which to launch into tirades like mine. Nevertheless, I think there is a general principle to be gleaned, and that is that any authentic biblical study will have to take holy Tradition into account, and will ignore holy Tradition at its peril, since even the scholar who is not afraid to be called a heretic should be very fearful of being called sloppy.

Albion Land said...

Fr Hart,

Did you ever get a response from these people?