The Curriculum of Higher Education and Modern Textual Criticism

It has struck me as of late that there seems to be an educational divide between those who hold to the Confessional/Traditional/Ecclesiastical/Standard Sacred Text and are formally trained versus those who hold to the CT and are formally trained. Why is it that those like John Burgeon, Edward Hills, Theodore Letis, and Jeff Riddle can regularly engage in the language of textual criticism but folks like Norman Geisler, Daniel Wallace, Peter Gurry, and James White seem wholly unaware or only tacitly aware of the Pre-Enlightenment formulation of Bibiliology.

Put another way the first group of guys have little trouble dealing with things like manuscript families, text types, internal and external evidence as well as the nomenclature of scribal error, conjectural emendation, dittography, and transposition. But the second group of guys seem to have little understanding of autopistos, axiopistos, self-authentication, self-interpretation, first principles, derivative inspiration, substantia doctrinae, substantia verba, the nature of an inspired version, the Archetypal Word, the relation of the Apostolic Message to our Bibles today, and the Spirit’s identification of His own words. Furthermore, the second group of guys quote Scripture, not to support their position exegetically, but to support their position negatively e.g., given the evidence the Bible doesn’t really mean jot and tittle so we can’t believe in verbal plenary inspiration or preservation. Why is this?

Certainly, my observations here encompass a wide variety of phenomena, but I would like to start here: One of the main reasons if not the main reason why the modern evangelical text-critic does not know the historical orthodox position is because they are not taught in school. Their formal training did not include this material. Conversely, the reason why the TR/KJV advocates can speak into the CT position is because we have all received formal training in this material, and the more formal training you receive the more of the CT position you are exposed to. Consider the following.

Starting in college/university, unless you went to an ultra-conservative school, when you took Greek [in my case, three years of undergrad Greek], you read out of the UBS text or the N/A text. You were taught about variants, the kinds of variants, the apparatus, and how to read the apparatus. The apparatus appears on nearly every page of the UBS and N/A Greek texts. So, for three years you work in that matrix of text and textual issues. Then you go on to your first graduate degree and if you school was like Westminster East in the early 2000’s you had to either CLEP out of Greek or take more Greek. And guess what? If you had to take more Greek, you read out of the UBS or N/A and the same material from your undergrad is now reinforced in your graduate studies.

Then of course there are your classes like Introduction to the New Testament. Again, at Westminster and many other seminaries and divinity schools they demanded that you know your Greek and Hebrew before you were allowed to take any New Testament or Old Testament class because the greater majority of the observations were made from the original languages. And guess what Greek text you read from when taking Pastoral Epistles, Gospels, or the General Epistles. You guessed it, the UBS or N/A. You were reminded again and again of the differences present in the manuscript tradition. You were called to grapple with what was in the apparatus and what was in the text. All New Testament work in the undergraduate, graduate, and even, depending on your focus, post-graduate was seen through and done through a modern evangelical text-critical lens.

What is more, if you either didn’t have an opinion on textual issues or you were already in the text-critical camp, then what I described above was your natural habitat. You soaked it in and were strengthened in your position. You were on the side of the professor and the professor was on your side. You were among ideological friends on this point. But unfortunately for you, you were not challenged. You were not taught to criticize textual criticism, and if you were, it was done within the good and necessary bounds of textual criticism. That is, modern textual criticism was assumed to be good and only those crazy Ruckmanites thought otherwise.

Those of us who disagreed with this lens were not Ruckmanites. But because historic orthodoxy has been ignored or besmirched it was not taught and we had to do double the work. We had to do the work enjoined upon us by our professors advocating the critical text and we had to do the work of rebutting the claims of our professors on textual issues. So, while I and many others like me spent 17 years in higher academia listening to my opponent’s arguments and formulating responses to them; our opponents have learned very little of our position and have either cast unfounded aspersions or formulated only the shadows of strawmen in response.

In sum, to my CT brothers, consider the possibility that the reason why you do not believe the Standard Sacred Text position or those like it is because you do not sufficiently understand it, and you do not sufficiently understand it because you do not know it, and you do not know it because you have not been taught it, and you have not been taught it because you don’t care to understand it. If the purpose of education is to shape the soul’s affect/desire, and most seminary grads have not had their soul’s affect/desire shaped in a historically orthodox way via education, there is no wonder the CT crowd disagree with the Standard Sacred Text position or those like it. They haven’t the soulish desire for it. As Plato observes,

“…he who has received this true education of the inner being will most shrewdly perceive omissions or faults in art and nature, and with a true taste, while he praises and rejoices over and receives into his soul the good, and becomes noble and good, he will justly blame and the bad, now in the days of his youth, even before he is able to know by reason why; and when reason comes he will recognize and salute the friend with whom his education has made him long familiar.”

Plato, The Republic, III, 402.

It is odd that so many come to question the Bible as the word of God down to the very words only as they grow up, and not when they are youths. How many Bart Ehrmans and Mark Wards have stated that they held to something approximating the Standard Sacred Text position only to get formal education and drop that ball. Plato knew the reason for such a fumble. It is odd that the formally trained modern evangelical does not. But then again sometimes the children of darkness are wiser than the children of light [Luke 16:8].

Continuing, Aristotle observes,

“Hence we ought to have been brought up in a particular way from our very youth, as Plato says, so as both to delight in and to be pained by the things that that we ought; for this is the right education.”

Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, 1104b.

Or as C.S. Lewis observes,

“When the age for reflective thought comes, the pupil who has been thus trained in ‘ordinate affection’ or ‘just sentiments’ will easily find the first principles of Ethics; but to the corrupt man they will never be visible at all and he can make no progress in that science.”

C.S. Lewis, Abolition of Man, 8.

In conclusion, if you disagree with the Standard Sacred Text position, know that we sat under your education for years and with listening ears. The least you could do is take a few years out of your life and study our position with listening ears. Perhaps then you may be able to recover the excellence of your evangelical youth and reappropriate a more virtuous and shapely soul.

2 thoughts on “The Curriculum of Higher Education and Modern Textual Criticism

  1. Great article and important points. So many of the critical text scholars with which we interact, including Bart Ehrman, Mark Ward, Elijah Hixson, Peter Gurry, and even James White testify that they grew up basically believing what we believe about the purity and preservation of Scripture. They had to be “educated” out of that belief. So much for Tyndale’s ploughboy knowing and understanding more of the Scriptures than the approved and credentialed scholars.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for the comment, Paleofundamentalist. I too was struck with the juxtaposition of Aristotle’s words and the shift in belief by those you mentioned. I think it’s clear that educational progress is not always progress in the right direction. Even our education must be guided by the lights of Scripture. To deviate from that path is, in the word of John Bunyon’s Pilgrim’s Progress, to encounter “two lions…chained, [which] are placed there for trial of faith, where it is, and for discovery of those that have none.”

      Liked by 1 person

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