Which Came First – The Text or Textual Criticism?

In the most recent episode of the Textual Confidence Collective [TCC] much hay was made about the ongoing enterprise of textual criticism in the history of the Church. In my opinion they did not go back far enough to the inception of textual criticism with the words, “Yeah, hath God said?” brought to us by the Father of Lies himself. Satan is arguably the greatest of textual critics.

He existed before any of the manuscripts we have. He could have been at any of the writing and copying of those manuscripts. He knows which readings are the oldest and he knows in what manuscripts those readings occur. He knows which readings are identical to the original. He knows of manuscripts which were old and accurate which were lost to the wastes of time and use. Conversely, so does God. God knows all these things as well.

The point is that knowing these things is not enough to be faithful and accurate, honest and reliable with these truths. All evidence, to be impactful on the human mind, must be interpreted. Satan will deceive and destroy and God will illumine and enliven. Then there are the rest of us in between who by comparison are fumblers and bumblers even with all our Ph.D.’s. In short, if you are not Satan and you are not God, then you are going to need God in the person of the Holy Spirit through His words in His people to show you, to show the Church what is or is not the words of God. All other methods are merely the Three Stooges at their best.

But that is not the point of today’s post.

The question before us is what came first – the text or textual criticism? The question is important because the answer will tell us something of the nature of belief God enjoined upon the people of God at the writing of His inspired and infallible words. When all is said and done we will get to ask the question, Does God expect a different kind of belief and faith from us today than He did at the first writing of the Scriptures? So let us examine the question for a moment.

1.) It seems quite impossible to perform textual criticism if there is not yet a text to test, criticize, and correct. Therefore it stands to reason that the text came first followed by at some point the criticism of that text.

2.) When was the Scriptural text first written? Well, in the OT it was probably Job and in the NT is was probably 1 Corinthians. Say we had the original of Job or of 1 Corinthians “hot off the presses” as it were. We were the first to touch and hold the actual documents as they were handed down from the immediately inspired writer. How are we to respond?

3.) It seems that we ought to believe the words of Job and of 1 Corinthians to be the very words of God down to the literal actual jot and tittle. And that while we may have subjective misgivings of belief those misgivings would be wrong/sinful in that they are not in submission to the real and immediate revelation of God in our hands, the thus saith the Lord.

4.) What is more, both Job and 1 Corinthians being the word of God in every jot and tittle would therefore have faith producing power in every jot and tittle. That is, at no place in those documents would there be a mixture of human words or uncertain words or merely sufficiently reliable words with the actual and immediate words of God. All the words would be completely God’s words and therefore capable of producing faith in the heart of the Christian.

5.) As a result, it stands to reason that these Christians holding these original documents would be morally duty-bound to accept every word as the revealed words of God, the Creator of Heaven and Earth. Indeed, they would be called to defend those words should a charlatan or heretic come along to besmirch large sections or even a word here or there. In sum, the Christian would believe and know that every word in their possession was the words of God down to the jot and tittle and anyone who tried to change those words must be met with a defense, a Christian Apologetic Bibliology of sorts.

6.) Fast-forward to the 19th century or even today. The TCC tells us that there are places in Scripture concerning which they are uncertain. Dan Wallace says that if we had the original words of Job and 1 Corinthians in front of us today there would be no way we could know that was the fact. The editors of the ECM have seen an increase in doubtful passages in the General Epistles by ~33% and in Acts by ~100%. How are Christians to take this?

7.) Are Christians supposed to be like the Christians who held the original words of God in their hand or are they to be different kinds of Christians because of different kinds of beliefs and knowing? Christians today are told by evangelical leaders in the Church and academy that they may not rightfully believe like the Christians who first received the originals. We are told to be more epistemically humble and accept that God, that’s right, God gave us the Bible in its current certain/uncertain state. So when we compare the believers who had the originals with believers now we find that our beliefs are very different, indeed contradictory. Consider the following,

Have the Originals

1.) Believe every word.
2.) Believe without doubt.
3.) Every literal jot and tittle is God’s word.
4.) God’s word is perfect/complete.
5.) Every word is inspired.
6.) Every word is certain.
7.) Every word is authoritative.
8.) Every word has faith giving potency.

Have Only Copies

1.) Believe most of the words to probably be God’s words.
2.) Uncertainty by use of diamonds and brackets is acceptable.
3.) We don’t know if every jot and tittle is in our Bible, and Jesus didn’t literally mean that anyway.
4.) God’s word is in process in at least a couple hundred places as this time.
5.) It is a high probability that most of the words in your Bible are inspired.
6.) It is a high probability that most of the words in your Bible are certain.
7.) It is a high probability that most of the words in your Bible are authoritative.
8.) It is a high probability that most of the words in your Bible have faith giving potency.

The right column passes as orthodox Christian teaching these days, but if we were to look back on our believing brothers and sisters who had the original Matthew or original Genesis in their hand we would not call them to probably of beliefs, measures of uncertainty, and perished jots and tittles. No, we would enjoin upon them full faith and confidence in every word of that manuscript, and perhaps even defend those words with our lives if someone were to try to destroy or change those words.

Hopefully you can see that the right column is very different from the left column. The beliefs held between the two columns are very different and not by degree, but by a shift in species.

It seems to me that the TCC and broader evangelical world would have two types of belief among the faithful depending on how proximate one is to the originals. If the originals are in your hand then believe every word with all your heart. If the originals are not in your hand then believe with a measure of uncertainty and doubt.

We here are StandardSacredText.com do not call for two types of belief depending on one’s proximity to the originals. We believe in one type of belief and that is to believe what the Bible says about itself. As such we believe as those who held the originals in their hand, because we believe we hold the originals in our hand. We believe every jot and tittle is present in our hand and we believe with certainty, not because we can be certain in ourselves but because we believe the certain testimony of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

In sum, we hold a continuity of belief with those who held the originals in their hands. The TCC and their ilk hold to a different and diverging belief; one which demands a probable faith or doubtful certainty or doubting Christian belief for all faith comes by hearing the word of God and there is not a single word the TCC can say is the word of God without a doubt. Therefore, by their lights, because the source is probable so must our faith be.

Remember, kids. No major doctrine is at stake.

2 thoughts on “Which Came First – The Text or Textual Criticism?

  1. Wescott and Hort took as a presupposition that no deliberate alterations of Scripture occurred for dogmatic purposes. The TCC essentially confesses the same belief. Thus they, along with the whole enterprise of modern text criticism, approach the words of God with a presupposition of naturalism rather than supernaturalism. Previous generations of Christians would consider them to be heretics. The Scriptures teach that, from the beginning, Satan and his agents sought to cast doubt upon (Gen. 3:1) and corrupt (2 Cor. 2:17) the words of God. History records many, such as the Marcionites, who sought to just that. A denial of this scriptural and historical fact is simply incoherent.

    Liked by 1 person

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