Over this last weekend I was in a Facebook discussion with Dr. Elijah Hixon. Some of his credential are: (PhD, University of Edinburgh) is a research associate at Tyndale House in Cambridge. He completed his doctoral thesis on a trio of manuscripts from the sixth century and their scribes. His areas of research include New Testament textual criticism, papyrology, early Christian apocrypha, early Christian theology, and apologetics.
This is now the third time at least he and I interacted in a prolonged discussion on the text/version issue. I have to say, having spoken with him these many times he is easily the most intelligent interlocutor I have thus far engaged on this topic. I always appreciate his comments and the foil he offers on the text and version discussion.
Below you will find the first part of last weekend’s discussion. I think it will be fruitful to read his statements in particular. Note specifically how readily he defends mere evidential and naturalistic means. It is as if being Christian doing textual criticism is enough to claim that textual criticism is a Christian enterprise steeped in robust exegetical and theological support.
Here is the first part of our conversation which took place on Mark Ward’s FB wall after he posted a cheeky article in the Baptist Bulletin:
Hixon: A scenario: My wife’s uncle was a faithful pastor for 20 years and never strayed from the teaching of God’s Word. However, at one point several people in the church decided that he *had* strayed from God’s Word. Most of the faithful Christians who took the time and trouble to study God’s Word and weigh what he was preaching against the Scriptures came to the conclusion that he was, in fact, preaching God’s Word. The problem was that there were many people on the church membership roll who lacked the humility to study the Scriptures honestly and though they were willing to claim he was being unbiblical, they were unwilling to study to learn what is and is not biblical and historically orthodox. Much of what they accused him of was a straw man. The church ended up splitting over it.
I have yet to read a single TR person who has summarized and described modern textual criticism accurately (I haven’t finished your book yet, but I am at the last chapter), and many who have described it objectively incorrectly have doubled-down in their misrepresentation when challenged on it. On the other hand, there are millions of Christians who believe the ESV, NIV, NASB, CSB and trust it because they hear the Shepherd’s voice in it, and they rightly understand that those words are not authenticated by any human scholars anymore than the words of the KJV/TR are. Could it be that TR ‘activists’ (not counting the simple Christian here) are not the Protestants resisting the pope in your analogy, but rather the church members who don’t like what the pastor is saying [=a believing text critic saying that we can have confidence in a non-TR edition] and feel like they are entitled to have an opinion more valuable than his without having to study the Scriptures to see if what he is saying is true? You actually touch on this on p. 46 of your book, but you brush it off saying there’s “little merit in the charge of egoism”. Yet Jesus said ye shall know them by their fruits, and I am hard-pressed to find very many TR defenders willing to admit that they made a mistake about anything. It’s more common to see comments deleted when someone is called out for misrepresenting/being factually wrong (two examples are the way Matthew Rose’s comments have been deleted from the YouTube chats of a couple of Christian McShaffrey’s videos when he has rightly called McShaffrey or Riddle out for mistakes/taking things out of context, and how the Confessional Bibliology group hides behind the private group settings—such behavior reminds me of John 3:20: “For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved.”). It’s not usually a problem with Byzantine prioritists though, nor do I see it a whole lot from the reasoned eclectics who are actually doing the work. Just something to consider. Jesus said “ye shall know them by their fruits”, and unwillingness to repent/persistence in misrepresentation is easier to see and understand than complex issues in textual criticism/how to read minuscule text/Byzantine liturgical history/papyrology, etc.
Van Kleeck: It is always good to hear from you. That is a horrible story about your wife’s uncle. No doubt sin can enter into the church and cause the very thing you described. That said, it is the Barean church members [Acts 17:10-11] and the saints in Ephesus [Rev. 2:2] that critiqued and judged the words of apostles and supposed apostles. Most NT scholars hold that the early church was largely composed of illiterate slaves and yet it was they who were commended by Luke and John for the capacity to discern the true Apostolic Message from the false one. If the Church of the first century could discern what words of professing apostles were God’s words and what words were not, certainly the Church of today having the same Christ, the same Spirit, and the preserved words of God can do the same when a text-critic [who is not an apostle] claims this or that about the content of Scripture [i.e., the Apostolic Message].
In all honesty, I don’t want to get textual criticism wrong. I don’t want to strawman the position. Every book I read on textual criticism is not distinctively Christian. All or the vast majority of the words could have been written by Bart Ehrman with minor or no change at all. Peter Gurry’s introduction to the CBGM could easily have been written by a godless Christ-hating atheist. Apparently, the discipline of textual criticism operates just fine without ever appealing to the theological realities which gave rise to God’s words. Christians and non-Christians alike can spill thousands of pages of ink without even mentioning let alone treating these theological realities and be applauded and published for such fine work.
The current evangelical position has not relinquished Alexandrian priority though interestingly enough Byz now holds greater sway in the advent of the CBGM. It seems to me that text-critics are two-faced to the Church regularly and publicly when they tell the Church we have an “embarrassment of riches” because we have so many manuscripts only to turn around in the privacy of the academy and tell young scholars that Byz (which accounts for the vast majority of the “embarrassment of riches”) is the most corrupted text-form, that Byz is often only counted as 1 source in the apparatus, and that the number of manuscripts is not what matter but the quality/age of the manuscript.
I may be wrong on these things. Perhaps Gurry’s book is a monolith of exegetical and theological erudition grounding and supporting the CBGM and I just missed it. Perhaps Sinaiticus and Vaticanus are no longer the best manuscripts and I just missed the news. Perhaps I am wrong in thinking that of written manuscripts minuscules count for the largest share and of that share Byz accounts for nearly 80% of those manuscripts. I am open to correction but I think I’m spot on or at least in the neighborhood with these conclusions.
Then there’s the claim by the OP that we “get God’s words” by trusting “well-validated academic men.” The hubris is palpable and it tastes like Roman Catholic dogma dressed in doctoral regalia.
Then there’s the modern practice of textual criticism which seems wholly absent of any exegetical, theological, or church historical guardrails. But this post is already way too long. In sum, if you will offer an accurate [your word] summary of modern textual criticism and assuming there are no meaningful follow-up questions I’d be willing to accept that summary and move forward with it in my apologetics and polemics on this topic.
Hixon: Thanks for your reply. A few days ago, one of my former professors included this in one of his posts: “Augustine put it well: an author can only be understood through friendship.”
If you have taken it upon yourself to teach others about textual criticism, it is not my responsibility before God to do your work for you and give you an accurate definition of it—you should be having that as your top priority. If you’re looking for reasons to be against it rather than seeking to understand how a believer can have this position, you’ll never understand it. Maybe you don’t read text-critical works that way, but it’s hard to escape the conclusion that many TR advocates do (Jeff Riddle’s recent review of Myths and Mistakes being one example). I doubt many text critics (assuming they have the time to do so) would be opposed to reading your description and giving you feedback, but asking someone to do your work for you is asking too much. I forget who said it but “a desire to preach without the burden to study is a desire to perform”—the same goes for positions in which we teach others about things like textual criticism. I spend more time reading KJV/TR literature and bibliology these days than I spend reading actual textual criticism and papyrology because I do want to know what y’all are saying and what y’all’s arguments are.
What seems to be the elephant in the room is that most text critics are actually professing believers, and millions of Christians trust non-TR translations as their Bibles (I’d argue that there are probably more Christians who are led by the Spirit to trust these Bibles as God’s Word than there are TR defenders, so if that is your argument and both can’t be right, it does raise the question of who is in sin). Not all equally conservative, for sure, but at the same time, not all are flaming liberals either. I don’t think I have ever seen a TR person have the attitude of “wow—these guys have spent years of their lives studying this issue and know WAY more about this stuff than I do, and yet they have this position that doesn’t seem right to me. What am I missing? How can we reconcile these two positions?” There’s not even a need to agree with text critics to have that approach—just look at nearly any Byzantine prioritist for an example of how that’s possible—Dwayne Green, Maurice Robinson, Jonathan Borland, etc.
What unspoken theological underpinnings are at work in people who are not writing in an explicitly theological setting? There’s an aspect of genre in academic writing (not everyone would agree with it, but it’s a thing). Reading some of the academic works by Pete Williams on Syriac translation technique, Simon Gathercole on the Gospel of Thomas, Dirk Jongkind on scribal habits, if you knew nothing else about them, you might not know that they are all members (at one point at least some of them were elders) at the reformed Baptist church that Mark Dever attended when he lived in Cambridge, but it would be a mistake to say that because they didn’t explicitly mention their theological presuppositions in an academic context, their content is on par with Ehrman’s. A parallel example might be my undergraduate research supervisor. In organic chemistry, green chemistry, etc. he would come across exactly like one of the token atheists in the department (in fact, he and one of them were among the organic chemistry professors). But if you asked his personal beliefs, he would tell you that he saw chemistry as obedience on his part to the command to “Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth,” so his research was an outworking of his active obedience to the Scriptures (he also said that when it came to the age of the earth, there was only one who was there to see it, and since He told us what He did, we should believe him). Nobody ever accused him of having atheistic positions because they allowed him to be a Christian.
Why don’t TR defenders ‘allow’ believing, conservative, evangelical text critics to be believing, conservative, and evangelical Christians?
Van Kleeck: Thanks, Elijah Hixson If you are unwilling to offer an “accurate” description of modern textual criticism then I will continue to believe I am accurate. I have indeed taken it upon myself, and my professors across my BA, 3 graduate degrees and a Ph.D. have all compelled me to hear their arguments, read their books in favor of your position, and write like papers. This is the conclusion I have come to. If textual criticism is so Kingdom-oriented perhaps your side should spend more time talking about the exegesis that grounds your position rather than the supposed objective evidential superiority of Vaticanus.
You say that the elephant in the room is that “most text critics are actually professing believers, and millions of Christians trust non-TR translations as their Bibles.” This is hardly an argument. To use your own words, “Most worshipping Baal at the foot of Mt. Sanai were professing Jews, and millions of Jews on that day trusted in a non-I AM being as their god.” You must know that your reasoning on this point does nothing to support the claim that modern textual criticism is a Christian enterprise grounded in exegesis and Christian theology.
>”What unspoken theological underpinnings are at work in people who are not writing in an explicitly theological setting? “
To claim that textual criticism done on the New Testament is not an “explicitly theological setting” is perhaps the greatest distillation of why the position you hold is confused, dangerous, and must be refuted. The New Testament is by its very nature theological in a way that nothing else in the world is. Yet by your words, you believe the opposite. Indeed, you believe what is clearly false by the lights of elementary Christian teaching.
>”but it would be a mistake to say that because they didn’t explicitly mention their theological presuppositions in an academic context, their content is on par with Ehrman’s.”
Ok, so in a world where babies are being torn apart at the behest of their mother, where the average age for being exposed to porn is 8, where men are “transitioning” to women, where it is increasingly difficult for academics to define what a woman is, and the Protestant Church is slowly shrinking you think now is not the time to state our explicitly Christian precommitments in an academic sphere of textual criticism? Indeed, in your last post you defend such private holding of beliefs. If not now, when? By the looks of it your answer is, never.
It is always good to interact with you Elijah.
Part 2 comes tomorrow. Blessings.