In yesterday’s post I shared a portion of a discussion I had with Dr. Elijah Hixon over the weekend on Mark Ward’s Facebook wall. Here is the rest of that discussion.
Hixon: Peter Van Kleeck Thanks for this. Your reasoning with your credentials sounds a little close to saying I should trust that you’re right because you’ve been “validated by the best institutions of the day.” No, I’m saying that I’m an active researcher in that area, and I’ve read your descriptions, and they are not accurate. It’s not my job to do your homework for you. If all your degrees haven’t been enough to give you an accurate understanding of textual criticism, then maybe there is another problem (such as a problem with your approach to studying it). Again, this isn’t a problem with Byzantine prioritists, so it’s not that someone has to agree with mainstream textual criticism to be able to understand it.
That being said—by your logic, it seems that you are suggesting that the vast majority of Christians are not following the Holy Spirit, and you and a small band of TR defenders are alone trying to fend for God. Both can’t be right in the way you define it, so am I without the Holy Spirit? Are all those Christians worshipping Baal? My argument is not majority=right, it’s “1. you’ve made a claim that only Christians can hear she Shepherd’s voice in the Scriptures, 2. You have defined “the Scriptures” in such a way that the ESV, CSB, NIV, etc. are excluded,” so 3. it’s hard to escape the conclusion that to be consistent, you must be implying that none of us are regenerate or are at least living in sin and deaf to the Spirit’s voice, so what do you do with that?” Again, Jesus said ye shall know them by their fruits, and the fruits of TR advocates when it comes to this issue are regularly rotten in a way other believers’ fruits are not—so why not consider that either you haven’t defined “Scriptures” accurately, or perhaps it is your camp that is blinded by sin on this issue and not the millions of others who (in my experience) usually default to trusting the (modern) Bibles in their hands until someone like you tell them not to?
//To claim that textual criticism done on 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.//
No, see this is just plain wrong, and it’s a very uncharitable way to read what I said. As I mentioned above—”Augustine put it well: an author can only be understood through friendship.” If you’ve decided beforehand that anyone who disagrees with you is an enemy and an opponent and “must be refuted”, do you have the humility to see what they believe as it really is? Do you know what most text-critical research is? I wrote a whole book on scribal habits in the 6th-century that has almost nothing to do with what the original text *is*, and it’s been decently well-received as text-critical research because outside of editing editions or arguing for one reading over another (which are other matters altogether), most text-critical research is actually historical work with historical documents and looking at what was happening historically. For example: “here’s a collation of all the manuscripts at John 18” (and it is not inherently a theological exercise to record what words are on a manuscript and what words are not, other than that everything we do should be done with God in mind), or “here’s a set of manuscripts that were copied from other known manuscripts, and here’s how that copy-process went.” Or: “here’s a new manuscript we just discovered—here’s what its text is and here are some notes about how it agrees/disagrees with other manuscripts.” Does someone need to be a Christian to be able to accurately say what letters a manuscript has on it, or do they need to ground those claims about what letters are on a manuscript in Scripture? Your comments are dangerously close to Prov. 18:2: “A fool hath no delight in understanding, but that his heart may discover itself.”
Van Kleeck: Elijah Hixson > “Your reasoning with your credentials sounds a little close to saying I should trust that you’re right because you’ve been ‘validated by the best institutions of the day.'”
All I was trying to communicate is that I have experience with it and I have come to the conclusions that I have. You say, my conclusions are wrong. Demonstrate it.
> “That being said—by your logic, it seems that you are suggesting that the vast majority of Christians are not following the Holy Spirit, and you and a small band of TR defenders are alone trying to fend for God.”
No, this is not what I am saying. My argument on this point is one of sanctification not salvation. I believe you are my brother in Christ, but I also believe the position you hold lacks necessary and proper exegetical and theological underpinnings. Simply put, your thoughts on the version issue, not being in submission to and grounded in Scripture are not in captivity to Christ [2 Cor. 10:5] i.e., are not sanctified. [Note how I pointed out how your representation of my position is inaccurate without pulling the go-do-your-own-study-and-find-out-for-yourself card.]
>” If you’ve decided beforehand that anyone who disagrees with you is an enemy and an opponent and “must be refuted”, do you have the humility to see what they believe as it really is?”
No, again I think you misunderstand me. I do see you as a brother and as a friend/professional acquaintance. This is what real friends do, they challenge each other. Iron sharpens iron [Prov. 27:17]. This is a metaphor that includes considerable friction, collision, and/or confrontation. Paul was no enemy of Peter when the former withstood the latter to his face. I do not equate disagreement with being an enemy. In fact, I find it as a mark of brotherhood in Christ and brotherhood in humanity. Rather, it seems that you do. It has been my experience that defending the TR and KJV has only been met with jesting and derision because descension on this point is largely unallowed in academic circles. [See our current discussion/thread for examples and the jesting in the OP article.] If there is anyone who has equated “disagreement” with “enemy” it is the Critical Text position and especially in academic environments.
>” I wrote a whole book on scribal habits”
If we are talking about textual criticism of Plato’s Republic then Christian theology is less germane. If we are talking about textual criticism of the Acts of the Apostles, then the work is necessarily theological in nature. New Testament scribal habits are by default theological habits because said scribes are copying the New Testament. Any work with the New Testament is necessary and properly theological because the New Testament is and can be nothing other than at the ground of Christian theology.
> “For example: “here’s a collation of all the manuscripts at John 18″ (and it is not inherently a theological exercise to record what words are on a manuscript and what words are not, other than that everything we do should be done with God in mind)”
Again, rather than backing up you seem to be digging the hole deeper. Manuscripts of John 18 are not merely historical artifacts. They contain the inspired words of the Creator God graciously given to fallen man for the salvation of his soul and as a guide for all life and practice. To treat them as mere artifacts to be collated is to treat them as something they are not. Manuscripts of John 18 are records of divine words from the one living and true Triune God. So where Ward calls us to look to men to give us God’s word, you unabashedly and repeatedly affirm that God’s words can and in certain academic circumstances should be treated as mere artifacts for collation and comparison.
>”Does someone need to be a Christian to be able to accurately say what letters a manuscript has on it, or do they need to ground those claims about what letters are on a manuscript in Scripture?”
I’ve never made this claim. Certainly, non-Christians can count and collate manuscripts. What they cannot do is know and therefore tell us what is the word of God and what is not.
>”Your comments are dangerously close to Prov. 18:2: ‘A fool hath no delight in understanding, but that his heart may discover itself.'”
So I make the claim that perhaps you need to grow in the sanctification of your mind on this topic and you infer that my comments put me on the verge of being a fool which Christ expressly warns against you doing in the Sermon on the Mount [Matt. 5:22]. This is exactly that cool, calm, even-tempered, text-critical attitude that I’m used to. Thanks for making me feel right at home.
This conversation is and continues to be very fruitful for me so, thank you. I applaud your candor and appreciate the fact that those reading this can observe the readiness wherewith your position casts off exegetical and theological moorings in order to maintain that position. It makes my job much easier.
Hixon: Peter Van Kleeck Thanks for this. I have already hinted at a correct representation of textual criticism, and you have rejected it—let believing text critics be Christians. As far as my own position on the version issue, I do think it is grounded in Scripture. You are free to disagree, of course.
At first, I spoke of research published outside of an explicitly theological setting, and you claim that this is unscriptural and needs rebuke, but then you agreed with me: “>” Does someone need to be a Christian to be able to accurately say what letters a manuscript has on it, or do they need to ground those claims about what letters are on a manuscript in Scripture?”
I’ve never made this claim. Certainly, non-Christians can count and collate manuscripts. What they cannot do is know and therefore tell us what is the word of God and what is not.” [and the language of “tell us what is the word of God and what is not” definitely deserves its own discussion, but that’s another can of worms]
You’re missing the point—most text-critical research is *not* saying anything about what is and is not the [ontological] Word of God. By your own admission, non-Christians *are* able to do that kind of work. That seems to allow Christians to also publish the same kind of research in the same kinds of settings without being unChristian the same way that as a Christian I can drive a car, just like a non-Christian can. I might have a different set of underlying beliefs accompanying my drive, but that doesn’t mean I can’t drive a car without first putting a Jesus fish on the bumper or turning the key in some distinctly Christian way.
I‘m not sure how to read your objection to the manuscripts though, because throughout your book, you’ve given me the impression that two things can’t be the same thing in the same way at the same time, and from that, you conclude that the ESV, TR, NIV, etc. can’t be the Bible in the way the TR is. If that is true, then those manuscripts of John 18, etc. are *not* the words of Scripture (by your definition) because they don’t completely agree with the TR. Sure, they have some words of Scripture in them, but if I understand your definitions right, they can’t be Scripture because there aren’t any that agree fully with the TR, and if they aren’t Scripture, then is it really a theological exercise to study them? If they are *sufficiently* Scripture, then sure, but that undercuts your position’s ability to exclude things like the ESV, NIV, NASB, etc. As to my own position, I allow something to be sufficiently Scripture such that I *do* consider them to be the words of Scripture, but my definition of ‘sufficient’ allows fallen man to have made mistakes that aren’t powerful enough to thwart God’s purposes.
All that being said, we still have the issue that things like recording what readings are found in what manuscripts is most of the work text critics do, which is not the same as saying what is and is not God’s Word, unless you have some postmodern view of the text that says all manuscripts are equally God’s Word (distinct from my position that due to the providence of God in his preservation of Scripture, all manuscripts are *sufficiently* God’s Word). So on the one hand, you say that scribal habits *is* theological because it has to do with how God’s Word was copied, but on the other hand, you seem to say that unbelievers can do anything with manuscripts but know what the original text is—I don’t get it. Scribal habits themselves don’t tell you what the original text is; they have to be applied. Moreover, throughout the Scriptures we see God using non-believers to accomplish his purposes. Sure, it would be ideal if everyone was a believer, but that doesn’t mean God can’t (and doesn’t) use non-believers.
No, I don’t affirm that artifacts of God’s Word *should* be treated as mere artifacts—at least not as a Christian. Nothing we do should be done as if God doesn’t exist (just like I don’t think we should drive cars as if God doesn’t exist), yet you still accuse me of believing that. That being said, I do think God’s word is powerful enough that manuscripts of it *can* be treated as such by non-believers, and that won’t thwart God’s purposes, even if it would be better if they were always treated as God’s Word by believers. (something-something here about Jewish scribes preserving the Hebrew Bible as well.)
I guess fundamentally, my issue is that the definitions and illustrations that you give make me think that you might not really be familiar with enough text-critical research to make the claims about it that you make. Maybe that is my own pride—maybe I am not humble enough to put myself in the mind of another and grasp how someone can actually understand what I do and conclude what you conclude about it.
But I agree, sanctification is indeed a huge issue. We just have to be very careful to make sure we are on the right side of it. You’ve accused me of believing something that I don’t, and presumably that’s because you took words that I said and assumed they could only mean what you think they mean and then came to the wrong conclusion (if so, this would not be the first time a TR person has done this. There was once a time when rumors circulated that I was an annihilationist because misunderstanding something I said, assuming the worst and spreading the rumor). If that is true (and I hope it isn’t), is it possible you’ve done so elsewhere as well?
As far as enemies/opponents are concerned, you say that you aren’t interacting as an opponent here, but is this not your website, that makes repeated reference to “our opponents”, and did you not write this post? Your name is at the bottom. If this is you, do I believe what you are saying here in these comments or what you said there at the blog? This is the post I had in mind when I made those comments above. (https://standardsacredtext.com/…/gotcha-questions-in…/)
Van Kleeck: Elijah Hixson > “You’re missing the point—most text-critical research is *not* saying anything about what is and is not the [ontological] Word of God. By your own admission, non-Christians *are* able to do that kind of work. “
Yes, you have conflated a couple things here. Lost men can do text-critical work but that does not mean their work ceases to be theological. What is more, the fact that they treat the NT as a mere artifact tells us about their theology.
>” If that is true, then those manuscripts of John 18, etc. are *not* the words of Scripture (by your definition) because they don’t completely agree with the TR.”
That is why I specifically said the manuscripts from John 18 “contain” the words of God. There is a vast difference between a cup containing water and a cup being water. I hope you can see that distinction here when it comes to manuscripts.
>”As to my own position, I allow something to be sufficiently Scripture such that I *do* consider them to be the words of Scripture, but my definition of ‘sufficient’ allows fallen man to have made mistakes that aren’t powerful enough to thwart God’s purposes.”
Yes, and we both disagree quite sharply on the notion that “sufficient reliability” is a properly suited adjective to apply to God’s Holy Scripture.
>” Sure, it would be ideal if everyone was a believer, but that doesn’t mean God can’t (and doesn’t) use non-believers.”
Agreed, but simply because Assyrians slaughtered Israel’s infants as an act of providential divine judgment doesn’t somehow make the acts of the Assyrians moral. In fact, for such immorality, God judges them quite severely. The same goes for the Babylonians. Simply because unsaved text-critics are doing textual criticism on the NT does not mean what they are doing is morally good in the eyes of God. Here it seems you have conflated God’s decretive will with His prescriptive will. An unfortunate theological gaffe.
>”Nothing we do should be done as if God doesn’t exist (just like I don’t think we should drive cars as if God doesn’t exist), yet you still accuse me of believing that.”
Ok, if God exists then God gets a say in every choice that is made concerning His own words, right? How does modern textual criticism factor in what God says regarding His own words? How does a text-critic determine what word God says is His word and what word is not? What is the mechanism to determine this? How is that mechanism consistent with what Scripture teaches? What verses do you appeal to in order to construct that mechanism within the scope of modern textual criticism? How many verses do you have?
An axiom of apologetics is that one’s behavior betrays their beliefs. I see nothing in mainstream evangelical textual criticism that invokes Scripture, theology, or church history to ground their methodology in a robust way. I accuse evangelical text-critics in the fashion I do because within the sphere of textual criticism the shoe seems to fit their behavior. Even in this brief conversation, you resisted my calls to distinctively Christian textual criticism by making claims to the unsaved, genre studies, and apparent NT scribal practices having nothing to do with theology.
>”As far as enemies/opponents are concerned, you say that you aren’t interacting as an opponent here, but is this not your website, that makes repeated reference to ‘our opponents'”
Opponent, yes. Enemy, no, and it is “enemy” which I have demured on in this thread. Again, iron sharpens iron. I have no idea how one sharpens a knife except that the whetstone opposes the knife. I have no idea how one grows in strength unless the barbell opposes lifter. It seems odd that you are hung up here, but perhaps this is not something you are used to among your peer group. That is unfortunate.
Perhaps the most disappointing thing for me in this discussion is the fact that I have repeatedly characterized your position as strongly leaning naturalistic, largely devoid of Christian precommmitments in the actual work of textual criticism, and charged your position with a lack of exegetical and theological support. But instead of putting these concerns to rest, you have doubled down on them making no effort to show your robust theological position for modern text-critical practices of making decisions based on mere historical evidence or trained subjective artistry.
There has been no exegesis put forth that modern textual criticism is God’s vehicle for finding and knowing what words are God’s words. B.B. Warfield tried but even he is now abandoned because few share his dependence on Scottish Common Sense Realism. None on your side of the debate have yet to find a meaningful place for the Spirit of God moving through the word of God in the people of God to accept God’s word by faith in the text-critical process. Rather, all I hear lecture after lecture from Hixon, Gurry, Wallace, White, et al are arguments for mere evidential probabilities coupled with snide remarks toward TR/KJV users. It’s an old tune but a familiar one to be sure. Where in the Bible does Scripture claim our faith rests in mere evidential probabilities that this or that reading is indeed the word of God and not men? The Critical Text side of this discussion should have answers to these questions at the tip of their tongues, but alas they are not.
Well, my wife just finished teaching and I told her I would be done when she was done, so I leave the last word to you, Elijah. As always I appreciate the interactions. Perhaps one day we could meet face to face, get a cup of coffee, and a donut or two from the local bakery. Until next time.
Hixon: Peter Van Kleeck Thanks for this. I think the fundamental issue for me is how you are characterizing “How does a text-critic determine what word God says is His word and what word is not?”, which as I mentioned deserves its own discussion, too much for here. I am a bit perplexed why I would need to articulate a theological argument in light of the existence of TR editions. We know a lot about what they are and how they were made, and while I actually agree with much of what you say about a regular Christian trusting the Bible in his hands, I’d put a strong emphasis on “sufficient” and place the object of that trust in *God who preserves his words sufficiently* and not in editors, whether they be editors of the NA/UBS/ECM or of TRs. Or to flip it, if TR defenders can accept the TR by faith, it doesn’t seem right to me for TR defenders to say that ESV believers aren’t allowed to accept their ESV (as at least sufficient) by faith (and I’ll add that the mischaracterization “we don’t have a Bible so neither can you” that I’ve seen more than once is slander and is not remotely what I or any other believing text critic I know believes). Consequently, I don’t see anything in a theological grounds of textual criticism (that accurately understands textual criticism and allows a Christian approach) that excludes modern work without cutting off its own feet. Or to put it another way, it’s hard for me to understand how you can want me to give a theological grounding for my work on ‘my’ text when you have already accepted a theological grounding for the same kind of work involving your text, if you really do understand what the work is.
That being said, if you want a theological treatment, Frame’s Doctrine of the Word of God is a great example of a reformed, confessional theologian getting into textual criticism, understanding it and allowing it to be done by Christians. Lorraine Boettner has a little book called The Inspiration of the Scriptures that’s good too.
Some feedback on your book though as I have been reading it—Have you considered filtering what Calvin said though the fact that he engaged in conjectural emendation at times in his exegesis? In light of how he worked out his theology in the way he dealt with textual issues, his view of the sufficiency/certainty of the Scriptures seems more in line with my position than yours. I could be wrong though.