Third World Modern Evangelical Textual Criticism as a Deathwork

Here at we have repeatedly asserted that there was one autograph, there is one canonical apographa (the TR), and as a result it seems only natural to assert that there is one standard sacred text for the English-speaking Church. We believe that text to be the KJV.

We anchor our belief in the above because the Bible teaches that the Holy Spirit speaks through His words to His people and His people through faith receive these words as the words of God, and not the words of men. In short, we anchor our belief in the Bible in a transcendent source. God the Holy Spirit is caring for His people and His words through His singular care and providence.

The man pictured above is named Philip Rieff, an American Sociologist and cultural critic who taught at the University of Pennsylvania into the late 20th century. Rieff’s thought features prominently in Carl Trueman’s The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self in offering a categorization of societal shifts.

Rieff construed societies under three categories when it came to their morality and moral underpinnings: 1st, 2nd, and 3rd world societies. These demarcations are not concerned primarily with geographical or economic concerns, but rather with moral concerns. Trueman, summarizing Rieff, observes,

“…fist and second worlds justify their morality by appeal to something transcendent, beyond the material world.”

Trueman, Rise, 75.

He goes on,

“First worlds are pagan, but that does not mean they lack moral codes rooted in something greater than themselves. Their moral codes are based in myth.”

Trueman, Rise, 75.

Regarding second worlds, Tureman writes,

“Second worlds are those worlds that are characterized not so much by fate as by faith. The obvious example here is Christianity.”

Trueman, Rise, 75.

Third worlds on the other hand,

“do not root their cultures, their social orders, their moral imperatives in anything sacred. They have to justify themselves, but they cannot do so on the bases of something sacred or transcendent.”

Trueman, Rise, 76.

So of course the question now is, Where do modern evangelical text-critical scholars root their moral imperatives to treat the Bible as they do?

As we have stated at the start of today’s post, we anchor our moral imperatives for treating the Bible as we do in the teachings of the Bible itself. God’s people know God’s words are God’s words because God’s people hear God’s voice in God’s words.

How does the modern evangelical textual scholar determine which words are the original words of the New Testament i.e., God’s words? Their answer, “Evidence and the interpretation thereof confined by the limits of their immanent frame.” And what is an “immanent frame”? Trueman explains,

“Rieff’s third worlds are the worlds of [Charles] Taylor’s immanent frame, where this world is all that there is, and so moral discourse cannot find its justification or root its authority in anything that lies behind it.”

Trueman, Rise, 77.

If you remember, we discussed Charles Taylor’s understanding of the social imaginary noting that the one’s social imaginary is a series of intuited beliefs held by a large group or even a nation.

Within the social imaginary of the modern evangelical textual scholar we see clear representations Rieff’s third world and Taylor’s immanent frame in that “the current manuscript evidence is all that there is.” The modern evangelical textual social imaginary has little problem claiming that we have all of the NT in either the text or the apparatus of the most recent Critical NT Text. And how do they know this? Based on the evidence we have. And how do we know the evidence we have is reliable? Because its the evidence we have.

In other words, to quote but modify Trueman above, “…so the modern evangelical textual discourse cannot find its justification or root its authority in anything that lies behind it.” And this is true both textually and theologically.

The former in that modern NT textual scholars will readily admit that they seek the initial text and not the original. Which is to say that in seeking they merely theorize about the text [i.e., initial text] which lies immediately behind the texts we currently have while simultaneously affirming that the theorized initial text is probably not the original text.

Nor are modern NT textual scholars keen on employing theological a priori in their textual decisions and therefore do not root their authority or justification in some metaphysical or theological foundation. Nowhere in the textual apparatus will you find appeals to the authority of Scripture or inspiration of Scripture in retaining a reading. Nor will you find in the textual apparatus “evidence” to omit a reading based on the fact that the Church knew about that reading and rejected that reading. All that matters in the apparatus and for that matter in the body, is how the evidence is weighed/interpreted by modern textual scholars.

For them and their complicit evangelical counterparts, the evidence is all there is and they do not find their authority or justification in anything which lies behind that evidence. Or, as Rieff defines it, such a third world culture is rightly understood as a deathwork, which is

“an all-out assault upon something vital to the established culture. Every deathwork represents an admiring final assault on the objects of its admiration: the sacred orders of which their arts are some expression in the repressive mode.”

Trueman, Rise, 96.

What is modern evangelical textual criticism than a deathwork, an all-out assault on something vital to established ecclesiastical culture – the TR/KJV of the Reformation? Wescott and Hort and their intellectual progeny persisted in this assault for over 150 years along with Marx and Darwin and Freud. Then in a most mercenary sort of way, evangelical academia has come along side to help in the deathworks. And do our opponents not admire that which they seek to destroy? Every time they spawn a new Bible they compare it to the TR and KJV. Why? Because they admire the unity that the TR/KJV brought and brings but they want to destroy the TR/KJV for the same reason. What is more, textual criticism insists that it is an art to that end and the practitioners of which see the TR/KJV as a repressive mode of the text-critic’s expression.

What more do we need? Modern evangelical textual scholarship is every bit a deathwork of Rieff’s third world and Taylor’s imminent frame.

So of course we resist these deathworks, and we do so with joy in our hearts for the opportunity to do so.

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