Deathworks, Forgetfulness, and Modern Textual Scholarship

What could be less then to afford him praise,
The easiest recompence, and pay him thanks,
How due! yet all his good prov’d ill in me,
And wrought but malice; lifted up so high
I sdeind subjection, and thought one step higher
Would set me highest, and in a moment quit
The debt immense of endless gratitude,
So burthensome, still paying, still to owe;
Forgetful what from him I still receivd,
And understood not that a grateful mind
By owing owes not, but still pays, at once
Indebted and dischargd; what burden then?

– John Milton, Paradise Lost, 46-57.

Here John Milton proposes perhaps the greatest fault of Satan in his rebellion against God – forgetfulness. Satan recognizes that his requirement to praise God is a meager requirement given who God is and what He had done for the fallen angel. Yet Satan admits, “Forgetful what from him I still receivd.” And with this forgetfulness he refused to praise or show gratitude to his Creators and with his refusal to praise came pride and with his pride came his fall from grace. No doubt, forgetfulness is a greater evil than perhaps we are willing to admit in our modern day.

As we continue our journey through Carl Trueman’s The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self while making comparisons to modern evangelical textual scholarship, we come now to another feature of deathworks, and that is, “forgetfulness”. If you have been following this series at all you will know that American sociologist and cultural critic, Philip Rieff, has featured prominently thus far, particularly in his assertion regarding third worlds.

For Rieff, if you remember, first worlds are those who have a mythical or fateful grounding for their morality and societal norms. Second worlds are those that ground their morality and societal norms in faith e.g., Christianity. Third worlds are those which admire first and second worlds but desire to destroy those worlds. Part of that destruction stems from the third worlds “forgetfulness”. Trueman writes,

“Underlying the notion of the deathwork is, as we noted, a basic repudiation of history as a source of authority and wisdom. This in turn means that what Rieff calls ‘forgetfullness’ is one of the hallmarks of third worlds and a dominant trait of modern education.”

Trueman, Rise, 100.

I have argued in other posts here and here that modern evangelical textual scholarship is the very definition of a deathwork. Indeed, modern evangelical textual scholarship fits the bill even in the area of forgetfulness or “a basic repudiation of history as a source of authority and wisdom.” Metzger and Ehrman observe under the section entitled, The Overthrow of the Textus Receptus,

“It was perhaps not surprising that Wescott and Hort’s total rejection of the claims of the Textus Receptus to be the original text of the New Testament should have been viewed with alarm by many in the church.”

Metzger and Ehrman, The Text of the New Testament, 181.

Again the standard fair of Expressive Individualism fits like hand in glove when compared with modern evangelical textual scholarship. Plainly and obviously, Wescott and Hort rejected the historical claims that the Textus Receptus was the original form of the original text and Metzger and Ehrman recognize as much. Furthermore, they do not seem to include themselves among those alarmed by this rejection. And why should they be alarmed by the rejection of a basic repudiation of the textual history represented by the TR as a source of authority and wisdom? Such a repudiation seems to be baked in. Here is a quote from Harold Greenlee,

“With the work of Westcott and Hort the TR was at last vanquished. In the future, whatever form an editor’s text might take, he or she would be free to construct it with reference to the principles of textual criticism without being under the domination of the Textus Receptus.”

Greenlee, Introduction to New Testament Textual Criticism, 71.

“Without being under the dominion of the Textus Receptus” is the same as saying, “Without being under the dominion of the standard sacred New Testament text of the believing community.” Which is equal to “a basic repudiation of history as a source of authority and wisdom,” and particularly the New Testament theological textual history of the English-speaking believing community.

Textual scholarship is now free from the dominion of the standard sacred text of the English-speaking believing community and Queer scholars are now free from the dominion of the same in large part because there is no standard at all, not even for evangelicals. “Well, wait. There is a standard in the original,” says B.B. Warfield “but are long lost.”

“But…but…we do care about textual history,” our interlocutors say. “We look at historical texts for a living,” they retort. If you think such objections, then you have miss my point entirely. The history I speak of is not primarily one of ancient manuscripts. The history of the TR is one which represents the work of the Holy Spirit in preserving His word though His word to His people.

The rejection and vanquishing of the TR was a rejection and attempted vanquishing of the Spirit of God’s moving through the words of God in the people of God to recognize those words as the words of God. The rejection and vanquishing of the TR is a rejection and vanquishing of a distinctively Christian view and understanding of Scripture. And if we can reject a distinctively Christian view of Scripture we can easily reject a distinctively Christian view of man, woman, marriage, and sexuality.

Indeed, forgetfulness regarding the TR and the KJV has become one of the hallmarks of third worlds and a dominant trait of modern evangelical higher education. Again, the likeness of modern Expressive Individualism and that of Modern Evangelical Textual Scholarship is familial. These two are cousins or even sisters whose names are Forgetfulness and Immediacy and modern evangelical textual scholarship can’t decide who to marry so they’ve married them both.

N.B. – It seems that most of our interlocutors when speaking of KJV-Onlyism or a Standard Sacred Text or a Confessional Text they always go after that small town pastor who’s doing his best to navigate personal issues, family issues, church issues, cultural issues, and also the version issue. Why don’t they swing at Burgon or Hills or Letis? Why haven’t they build robust exegetical, theological, and philosophical groundings to support the way they treat the Bible? The cynical answer is that they are lazy or weak-willed. The more gracious answer is that they simply haven’t gotten around to it after 150 years of being at the helm of nearly all evangelical schools of higher learning. Which do you think is more reasonable?

I’ve called out Metzger and Greenlee here, both exceedingly proficient in text-critical disciplines who most of the other side argue are evangelicals. We’ve also gone after Blomberg, Jongkind, Wasserman, Wallace and many other scholars. Set your sights higher boys. It’s easy to pick on people who haven’t made it their life’s calling to have this discussion. But to set your sights higher will take work, a lot more work given your abject failure to properly construe our position and those like it.

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