The Irrelevance of Counting Manuscripts (MSS)

After reading Dean John William Burgon’s unanswered defense of the long ending of Mark and reflecting to the genius of his argument, several of his observations lingered with me this morning that apply to the transmission of all MSS to a greater or lesser degree.

First, because the process is unquantifiable not knowing what the autograph looks like, the counting of MSS gives no illumination to resolve the lost autographa dilemma. If the exemplar or “initial” text, was mutilated and copied many times the number of mutilated witnesses would outweigh the single, correct, unmutilated copy. To say there are more MSS is to say nothing relevant in the collation of preserved inspired words. (This is also true for the Majority Text, as if the majority reading somehow bridges the gap between the “initial” text and the autographs.) The one exception could be the original reading, but the scholar cannot know for sure. Under these circumstances, all the quantifying textual critical genealogical rules are incorrect. If the oldest was mutilated, it is the shortest, the source of all other mutilated MSS, and in its mutilation harder to read. So the majority text and critical text meet all the criteria for the modern genealogical method but has not delivered the true reading of the passage though it has passed the standard of the critic.

The two essential elements missing in this scenario are the witness of the Holy Spirit through the Church and the linguistic acumen of scholars in their personal recognition of the churchly text, the written Word. Since the 1st century, God has not left his people without the Word. If you want to find the Word, find God’s people and vice versa. The scholar’s work is futile if the Spirit does not bear witness through his linguistic labor to the Church. The Church is not engaged in the scholarly work or comparison and collation, but the Church is the body through which the Spirit receives or rejects the scholar’s work. The interaction between the Church, Spirit, and Word is unquantifiable but effective in identifying the preserved word of God. This makes the witness of the Spirit through Church to the reading of text the final arbitrator of the scholars’ labor.

So, along comes a mutilated MS that omits large portions of Scripture, like the long ending of Mark. It is already suspect because the Church has never seen a document that reads as it does when compared to the text they have already received. The Church, in response, recognizes the attempt to quantify the unquantifiable by the interloping novel methodology and rejects the novel text as unsustainable thus keeping the theological precommitments of the Church in place and continuing to hold to the King James Version as the Standard Sacred Text for English-speaking people.

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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