We are now into the sixth question of Francis Turretin’s treatment of Bibliology. In a more everyday kind of way he asks, what source enables the Christian to know the divine authority of Scripture? The question may also be posed as, what source enables the Christian to know the divine authority of one book of Scripture, or one verse, or one word? Turretin, quoting Irenaeus, obesrves,
“Thus what Irenaeus says concerning the heretics of his day is appropriate to them, ‘When they are convicted from Scripture, they turn round and accuse the Scripture, as being corrupt, and having no authority.”Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology vol. 1, Second Topic, Q. 6, Sec. I.
Note in the example that the heretic is convicted from Scripture. Some verse or passage or series of passages is used to convince the heretic of his wayward theology to which the heretic accuses the Scripture in those places of being corrupt or having no authority. So by what source do we come to know of the divine authority of Scripture in the twenty-first century?
In Turretin’s time it was the Roman Catholic ecclesiastical authorities which served as such a source. He goes on to quote several who testify to that effect. But what is that source today? What source tells the Church that these words are the true words of the New Testament and these words are not? I propose the answer in the twenty-first century is academia’s evaluation and interpretation of the manuscript evidence – a.k.a. textual criticism. Assuming this to be the case let us now commandeer Turretin’s examples but make one relevant change. Where the example reads “church” I will insert “textual criticism”. Turretin writes,
“Eck says that ‘the Scriptures are not authentic, except by authority of [textual criticism].'”Turretin, Institutes, Second Topic, Q. 6, Sec. I.
“Baile says that ‘without the authority of [textual criticism] we should no more believe Matthew than Titus Livy.'”Turretin, Institutes, Second Topic, Q. 6, Sec. I.
“Andradius says, ‘…the power and dignity of [textual criticism] are so great that no one without greatest impiety can resist it.'”Turretin, Institutes, Second Topic, Q. 6, Sec. I.
Have you not heard these words before? Are they not familiar? What counts as the authentic reading? Why, oldest, shortest, and best of course. The Scriptures are not authentic generally speaking except by authority of these text critical rules. How many times have you heard that the work of textual criticism must be done while excluding theological presuppositions? The NT must be treated like any other text, like Hesiod or Sophocles.
One of the staple evangelical text critical arguments is to tell you that we have an “embarrassment of riches” in the NT textual tradition when compared to other ancient Greek writings. Without the authority of textual criticism we should no more believe Matthew than Hesiod. Have you ever tried to question the power and dignity of evangelical textual criticism? The masters of the craft have explicitly stated in print that such people are intellectually dishonest, dubious, “fundamentalist,” and even cultic. In a word, these are people of greatest impiety.
In sum, these arguments are first old and then boring. What is more, these arguments are funny in a sad kind of way because the very lines used to assault Protestant belief in the Scriptures are now used by Protestants to assault Protestants on the same topic. My how the tables have turned. Or something more like,
Lastly, if you disagree with my comparison in the above quotes, point me to the modern argument defending the words of the NT that does not use textual critical structures, interpretation, and conclusions as its cornerstone. I eagerly await your reply. In short, it seems as Protestants that we have traded the magisterium of the Roman Catholic church for the musings of academia and maybe it’s time for a reformation.