This book is written within a radically historic framework while claiming adherence to an orthodox doctrine of Scripture. For 128 pages no reference is made to the role of the Holy Spirit/Covenant keeper/Scripture dynamic (Isa. 59:21, etc.) or to the exegesis of passages historically cited in favor of providential preservation. For the purposes of this post and those that follow the theological schizophrenia that can simultaneously hold to the Scripture as the Word of God while uncertainly and fluidly containing the words of men is not the principal point. Rather, Carson’s argument will be shown to be irrelevant based on developments in the discipline of textual criticism. Since 1979 many textual perspectives have arisen making much of Carson’s argument meaningless.
On page 10 Carson means to present a “popular rebuttal” for those who have been “influenced by the writings of the Trinitarian Bible Society and parallel groups.” His “conservative” credentials is signing on the Articles of Faith of Northwestern Baptist Theological Seminary hopefully helping him not to being “dismissed out of hand as a modernist.” This ploy, is of course, ludicrous. Part of his “bibliology” is the book. All this means is that you can sign the Articles of Faith and still be a modernist/secularist when dealing with Scripture. His self-consciousness of his orthodox standing seems disingenuous and self-serving. In the 1979 who would his contemporary interlocular be? No, Carson is making a case that he hopes would have broad popular influence. Furthermore, Carson’s reference to the TBS as a disseminator of “misinformation” separated him from the Churchly tradition and secured his place in the Academy as a true critically thinking scholar who would not allow his theological precommitments to cloud his evaluation of the evidence.
Carson limits the pre-critical advocate within a post-critical, historical frame that he undoubtedly felt at ease to answer dealing with manuscript evidence and the literary qualities of the King James Version. Not only was this framing unscholarly, not rebutting the historical/theological defense of a standard sacred text, but by this omission acting as if the manuscript evidence argument is the only argument historically utilized by the theologians of the Church.
In 1979 and since, Carson’s argument has enjoyed information dominance in the Academy which has in turn monolithically impacted the Church for many decades. But because Carson represents a position that bifurcates the Scripture from theological precommitments, Carson can claim to be theologically orthodoxy while treating the Scriptures like a any naturalist would. As if the self-appointed arbitrator of peacemaking Carson’s hubristic plea for realism is really a plea to ignore Leigh, Whitaker, Turretin, and Owen, et al, consider the Scripture a book like any other subject to the ravages of time, and accept a critical system that now accepts the impossibility of discovering the autographs and has settled for the initial text. Carson is not pleading for realism, if he were, he would have said that the notion of discovering the autographs was impossible, that there are huge gaps in manuscript genealogies, that the importance of the Byzantine text type was underestimated, and that the importance of modern textual criticism to the Church has been wildly exaggerated. He would have admitted, even if we discovered the autographs we wouldn’t know we had them.
Furthermore, the antiquated argument presented by Carson, considering the topic was the deficiencies of the standard sacred text of the Church for 500 years, mandates a recognition on Carson’s part and for those who utilized his booklet, that the core of his evidentialist argument was based on faulty data as described in Myths and Mistakes in Textual Criticism edited by Elijah Hixson and Peter J. Gurry. For what was once considered “scholarly” endorsers of Carson’s booklet should now plea for forgiveness for ruined personal relationships, churches that were split, college students that were taught error, and for the overall spiritual decline in the Church due to the misplaced zeal and bad information Carson utilized in his polemic against the King James Version and his notion of transcendentless, historic, realism. Carson and his ilk attacked the princpium cognesendi, causing great personal and ecclesiastical harm and pain, and then trudge forward having no accountability for the relational and ecclesiastical damage done.
This series is not a rejection of the Scripture as a providentially preserved historical document. What we are saying is that Scripture, as the Word of God, is not solely a historical document, and as such, possesses the quality of autopistos or self-authentication, unlike any other solely historic document. (This argument is not being made here. See our blog posts and printed volumes for an expanded explanation.) We are also saying that in a theological or philosophical system when the natural and spiritual are equal parts, in short order the natural will uproot the spiritual leaving only the empirical, and historical.