Admitting That It’s Over

With the collapse of Evangelical textual criticism, (See Dr. Peter Van Kleeck, Jr.’s post on “The Initial Text is a Unique Defeater for Modern Evangelical Text-Criticism”) taking inventory of the last 140 years (1881 to the present) of theological formulation is inevitable. One might ask, “How early in the textual critical process did scholars realize the course they had taken to reconstruct the autographs was unsustainable? or did they only come to this conclusion in the late 20th c? It seems highly untenable that scholars realized that the idea of recovering the autographa was a dead end in only recent days. After how many editions of Nestles text, or how many editions of the UBS text, or how many critical commentaries did they write before scholars began to think to themselves that the academic course they were on would always be evolving and for them, finally inconclusive? Facing the conspicuous impending inevitability of disappointment, having failed to recover the original reading at every iteration of the process, why would scholars risk their academic credibility on a certain scholarly catastrophe?

One should not understate the power of suberbia (pride)and avarice (greed) to control the lives of men, but the intensity of the work of reconstruction seems to point beyond these two of the seven deadly sins. Nonetheless, the textual critical idea developed a transgenerational, multimillion-dollar industry from teaching salaries, lectures, book contracts, and publishing of textbooks and bibles, a business that would rival Tetzel’s indulgences racket. This may be or be part of the reason for the persistence of textual critics getting what they can while they can.  

Touching superbia, or pride, textual critical work is labor intensive, and in its specificity, is the path for scholars so inclined to assert their academic standing over others. Never has something so bankrupt been lorded over other scholars and sold to the public with such rigor. Technical jargon and complex symbols in the textual apparatus all contributed to building the mystery of the textual critical façade. But rigor is a two-edged sword: the more detailed the work, the more certain the scholar was that no end of the work was in sight. Each novel edition of the Greek text was a testimony against the credibility of preceding editions which means the last edition, though the “best” so far, was already perceived to be inherently flawed.

A better place to look for the answer of how early the critic understood that the reconstruction of the autographa was an impossibility is within the milieu of modern textual criticism’s origin. The Enlightenment axiom homo mensura created a cultural milieu that bred the philosophies of Charles Darwin (1809-1882) and the elimination of God in the biological disciplines in the Origin of the Species (1859); Karl Marx (1818-1883) and the relegation of sin to failed social and political systems beginning with the Thesis on Feuerbach (1845) and moving on to Critique of Political Economics (1859) and Das Kapital (1867); and Sigmund Freud’s (1856-1939) anti-Christian impact in the field of psychology. It should, therefore, be no surprise that Introduction to the New Testament in the Original Greek written in 1882 by the Anglican scholars Brook Foss Westcott and Fenton John Anthony Hort, contemporary with he previously cited scholars, should not have escaped the mid to late 19th century secular omission of God from that era’s textual criticism. Hort wrote, “Little is gained by speculating as to the precise point at which such corruptions came in. They may have been due to the original writer, or to his amanuensis if he wrote from dictation, or they may be due to one of the earliest transcribers.” Westcott and Hort, Introduction to the New Testament in the Original Greek, 208.

The answer to the question was given by Hort in 1881. The critic never expected to recover the autographa because they did not believe the autographa existed as Scripture itself and Reformation Orthodoxy informed the Church. If the purpose was never to reconstruct a text of the apographs in the first place, what other purpose could there be for the textual critical process, (if not pride and greed). This post suggests that the sole reason for textual criticism, by not searching for the inspired sacred text, was to challenge and then displace the Reformation Bible, not with a credible replacement for the Church but ultimately, as the “initial text” shows, to leave the Church with nothing connected to the Originals, with no Bible, thus leaving the Church and American culture with a void where once God’s Authority was found. The purpose of textual criticism never intended to reconstruct the autographa, always knowing it was impossible, but in an attempt put an end to the final Authority in the Western world, the Received Text, and Authorized Version.

            Now that scholars have concede the textual critical attempts to reconstruct the autographs have failed, how long will it take for local church pastors and college professors to make the necessary course correction for their institutions? Now is not the time to ignore the findings, double down on the error, or worry about a bruised ego, allowing this façade to persist into the next generation. 140 years should be enough time for a reasonable person to conclude that modern textual criticism and the plethora of modern versions it has produced has not been good for the Church. Anecdotal stories on readability are no substitute for the authoritative foundation for faith, practice, and “all things that pertain to life and godliness” that is the Bible, the Authorized Version.

Published by Dr. Peter Van Kleeck, Sr.

Dr. Peter William Van Kleeck, Sr. : B.A., Grand Rapids Baptist College, 1986; M.A.R., Westminster Theological Seminary, 1990; Th.M., Calvin Theological Seminary, 1998; D. Min, Bob Jones University, 2013. Dr. Van Kleeck was formerly the Director of the Institute for Biblical Textual Studies, Grand Rapids, MI, (1990-1994) lecturing, researching and writing in the defense of the Masoretic Hebrew text, Greek Received Text and King James Bible. His published works include, "Fundamentalism’s Folly?: A Bible Version Debate Case Study" (Grand Rapids: Institute for Biblical Textual Studies, 1998); “We have seen the future and we are not in it,” Trinity Review, (Mar. 99); “Andrew Willet (1562-1621: Reformed Interpretation of Scripture,” The Banner of Truth, (Mar. 99); "A Primer for the Public Preaching of the Song of Songs" (Outskirts Press, 2015). Dr. Van Kleeck is the pastor of the Providence Baptist Church in Manassas, VA where he has ministered for the past twenty-one years. He is married to his wife of 43 years, Annette, and has three married sons, one daughter and eighteen grandchildren.

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