In a recent discussion I had in the Wild West of Facebook back-and-forth I was told by a couple of my interlocutors that multiple differing manuscripts, multiple differing Greek texts, and multiple differing versions were all the word of God. I found this puzzling and I found it puzzling for the following reasons:
1.) Premise 1: There is only one God.
Premise 2: There is only one voice of God.
Premise 3: There is only one actualized timeline.
Premise 4: When the one God using His one voice in the one actualized timeline spoke inspired words to the penmen of Scripture, one set of inspired words were spoken.
Premise 5: Only those words spoken by the one God using His one voice in the one actualized timeline are God’s words. No more. No less.
Conclusion: Claiming that the TR and the NA28 or version X and version Y are the word of God is indefensible if there are indeed only one set of words. Given this argument, claiming one is the word of God is far more defensible.
2.) Consider the following example, in 1 Kings 22 Ahab calls his prophets or shall we say his false prophets and asks them to prophesy of the coming battle. This is what they say,
“And Zedekiah the son of Chenaanah made him horns of iron: and he said, Thus saith the LORD, With these shalt thou push the Syrians, until thou have consumed them. And all the prophets prophesied so, saying, Go up to Ramothgilead, and prosper: for the LORD shall deliver it into the king’s hand.”1 Kings 22:11-12
First, these prophets assume themselves to be prophets of God and so they present their prophecy. Second, others i.e., Ahab, assume these men to be prophets of God. Third, the message is brought in the name of the LORD. That is, these prophets are claiming that God said one thing and not another. These prophets are claiming that God said that victory is assured and that defeat is not.
Notice the phrase, “Thus saith the LORD.” These prophets are claiming that what is tantamount in our time as the word of God, Scripture. Furthermore, they are invoking the name of the Covenant Keeping God to make this claim. They are not prophesying in the name of Baal or Moloch but in the name of the living and true God. The God that brought Israel out of the land of Egypt.
As the story goes, contrary to Ahab, Jehoshaphat does not accept the prophecy of these prophets and asks if there are any other prophets of the LORD who have not spoken. Ahab says that there is one, Micaiah, but Ahab hates Micaiah because he does not prophesy ”good things” of Ahab. Still, Micaiah is called and asked to prophesy. Micaiah says,
“And the king said unto him, Micaiah, shall we go against Ramothgilead to battle, or shall we forbear? And he answered him, Go, and prosper: for the LORD shall deliver it into the hand of the king. And the king said unto him, How many times shall I adjure thee that thou tell me nothing but that which is true in the name of the LORD? And he said, I saw all Israel scattered upon the hills, as sheep that have not a shepherd: and the LORD said, These have no master let them return every man to his house in peace.”1 King 22:15-17
Micaiah believes himself to be a prophet and so he prophesies. Others believe he is a prophet and so he is called by two kings. Micaiah prophesies in the name of the LORD, the name of the covenant keeping God. Yet, Micaiah prophesies a very different prophecy; a prophecy of the death of the king and the scattering of the sheep. In other words, Micaiah prophesies defeat and not victory. Can both the prophecy of Macaiah and that of Zedekiah both be the word of God? It seems the answer is manifestly, no. If that is the case, can a version which has the long ending in Mark and a version which has not the long ending in Mark both be the word of God? Again, at least at that point in the Scripture, it seems the answer is manifestly, no.
3.) Picking up with the example above, there is an additional moral component with saying God said something He didn’t or to say that God didn’t say something when he did. In the case of the Zedekiah, as in all claims that God said this or that, he prophesied that God said something He didn’t say [i.e., there will be victory]. Additionally, Zedekiah also failed to prophesy something that God said [i.e., catastrophic defeat]. As a result, what happens to Zedekiah for this very infraction? The Scripture tells us,
“And Micaiah said, Behold, thou shalt see in that day, when thou shalt go into an inner chamber to hide thyself.”1 Kings 22:25
Many commentators here observe that Micaiah predicts that when the news returns to the palace that the king is dead in battle, Zedekiah will be on the run for his life because he is a false prophet and his false prophecy contributed to if not directly caused the death of the king. Some commentators argue that Zedekiah’s false prophesy contributes to Jezebel’s slaughter of the prophets of God because so many of them claimed to speak for God, where proven wrong, and therefore were proven to be charlatans. In short, Zedekiah’s false prophecy lead to the threatening of his life and perhaps even the death of many of the prophets of the LORD.
I make this point only to say, that if #2 above holds, then claims in opposition to #2 situate that claimant in the same company of Zedekiah et al. In short, there is great gravity in saying this is Scripture and this is not. If only our modern evangelical textual critics where as the wicked king Ahab on this point. He could at least recognize that Zedekiah’s prophecy and Micaiah’s prophecy cannot be the word of God at the same time and in the same way.
4.) I ask you to consider that there is a significant difference between making claims about what God said or did not say, and making claims about what God meant by what He said. The former postulates two different God’s while the latter reveals different understandings of the same God.
For example, on the one hand, you observe the phenomena of Scripture which teaches that God is sovereign and that man is free. Christian A observes these phenomena and ascribes to Molinism. Christian B observes these same phenomena and ascribes to Arminianism. Christian C does the same and ascribes to Calvinism. Assuming no one is questioning what God has said, at least not knowingly, the dispute here is over what God means not whether God acted or did not act in history via inspired speech.
On the other hand, if you say that God inspired the long ending in Mark but your neighbor says that God did not inspire the long ending in Mark. You hold to a God that acted in time while your neighbor holds to a God that did not act in time in this way. Put another way, it is like one of you believes Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead and one of you believe Jesus did not. This is not the same God. Unlike with Abraham, one of you is not believing what God said therefore your belief is not counted to you as righteousness.
5.) What is the doctrinal gravity of Micaiah and Zedekiah’s words? Could we lose those words from the canon and still have a sufficiently reliable text? It seems for the modern evangelical text critic the answer is, yes. Yet, Micaiah pronounces judgement upon Zedekiah for his “non-doctrinally significant” words. We learn at least two things from this:
One, simply because a word is not regarded by this or that person as doctrinally significant does not mean that said word can be cast aside without significant repercussions to the one casting. According to Scripture and this passage in particular, in addition to the doctrinal significance of a word discussed in the next point, there is also a truth quality [did God say X or did He not], and a moral quality [it is immoral to say you speak for God when you don’t e.g., God said its time for me to get a private jet. Send in your seed money.]. As such, the no-major-doctrine-is-affected-by-errors argument is both shallow and indefensible.
6.) Finally, given #4, it seems there is great doctrinal significance even to the smallest of words. Apart from the fact that many of Christ’s teaching and Paul’s teachings hang on one seemingly insignificant word, and apart from the fact that man is incapable of determining which of God’s words are insignificant as if that is a judgment that could be made, to say that God did not inspire a word like “and” or ”who walk not after the flesh” when He did is very grave business. Admittedly, to say God inspired something which He did not is also grave business, but let’s be clear. The reason why it is grave business is because we are making a claim about what God did in history when we say He inspired reading X or did not inspire reading X. But to imply that He did both when saying, ”There are many good translations” is both grave business and, on its face, indefensible and even the wicked king Ahab knew it.