Dr. D. A. Carson: a fundamentalist evangelist for critical orthodoxy

In this entry Theses 2 and 3 of Carson’s Plea are considered. In 1979 he did not, or course, have access to recent text critical findings, which makes his book the more egregious. Speaking dogmatically, as if the textual critical discipline was a settled science, he delivers this polemic against the Greek and English standard sacred texts. Of his many misjudgments, he writes as a critical text zealot rather than with a balanced scholarly skepticism, overestimating the credibility of his chosen methodology. In this book, Carson is a fundamentalist evangelist for critical orthodoxy. On these pages is the call for repentance from a pre-critical malaise brought on by KJB pamphleteers and to personal faith and trust in his scholarly acumen and an ever-fluctuating critical system.

You haven’t done the textual critical work he has; few in all of Church history have. Can you imagine if the prerequisite for understanding your Bible was the capacity to read 4th c. majuscule manuscripts? What about just trusting your Bible or is it required that everyone has advanced theological degrees. Is this what God intended for the Church? Is Carson’s model the better model for the Church? The answer must be a resounding no.

And so we press on with comment on Theses 2 and 3.

Thesis 2: The argument that defends the Byzantine tradition by appealing to the fact that most extant manuscripts of the Greek New Testament attest to the Byzantine text-type, is logically fallacious and historically naïve. P. 48

At issue with this thesis was referenced earlier. In Myths and Mistakes, 116, “the core tradition remains remarkably stable over time, in that the differences between the two texts usually thought to be most polarized is actually fairly small.” Hodges was indeed correct when referring the number of manuscripts preserving the text best because according to recent textual analysis extant manuscripts look more like “fairly small” differences of the “core tradition” overwhelmingly represented by the Byzantine text type or text form. The minority readings are more like little streams that differ from the river which is the Byzantine text form. Only when texts are weighed by scholars for their significance is the rivulet manuscript considered, on a par of equality with or superior to, the entire core tradition. What contemporary scholarship has found is significant continuity between what during Carson’s time where prejudicially weighed text types. The textual facts have hardly changed but the manner in which the data has been interpreted has become more balanced.

The Byzantine text type became more dominant in the East because it was not merely considered a text-type, but the Holy Scripture. Essentially, Erasmus’ contribution was to introduce the sacred text of the Eastern Church based on the Byzantine text into the Western Church where Latin was considered the sacred text. When the dust settled, the Renaissance model ad fontes, or “back to the fountain” or primary source, lead the Reformation scholars to reject the Latin as secondary, a translation of the Greek, and, with some modifications, adopt the Greek sacred text of the East. Carson’s principal error of Thesis 2 is his conspicuous and prejudicial rejection of the value of the Byzantine text-type recognized by his contemporary interlocutors in 1979 and which is currently supported by modern text critics

Thesis 3: The Byzantine text-type is demonstrably a secondary text. This for Carson is one of his more absurd arguments for the following reason. He’s never seen the autograph. Yet he writes, “The only way to circumvent the evidence is to deny that these are harmonizations or to argue that harmonizations are not secondary; and I find it very difficult to conceive how either of these alternatives can be defended by the person who has spent much time pouring over the primary data.” P. 52.

So we deny that what Carson calls “harmonizations” are such and argue that they are the Original reading. This straight-forward rebuttal of Carson’s argument is beyond contestation. Unless he is possession of the autographs, then there must be more evidence required than his or someone else’s assessment to confirm the validity of either the long or short reading. Indeed, as we have seen, in a discipline as fluid as textual criticism, thriving on scholarly skepticism, there is hardly space for dogmatism.

No matter how many times one reads the evidence, it is a deduction based on a presupposition that would lead one to conclude that what in one manuscript is shorter and less complete is closer to the original that the manuscript that is longer and more robust. For Carson, his prejudicial handling of the Byzantine text type leads him to call the longer and robust reading “harmonization.” And he tests the reader’s patience by inferring that some how the capacity to examine the original sources will inevitably lead to his conclusion. This closed-minded evaluation of the manuscript evidence is what made the writing of Myths and Mistakes necessary. The entire Byzantine Church did not consider their Greek text to be full of erroneous harmonizations, nor did the Western church after its introduction by Erasmus, and yet this is what Carson would have you believe. It appears that Carson, rather than the Byzantine text is the odd man out.

Published by Dr. Peter Van Kleeck, Sr.

Dr. Peter William Van Kleeck, Sr. : B.A., Grand Rapids Baptist College, 1986; M.A.R., Westminster Theological Seminary, 1990; Th.M., Calvin Theological Seminary, 1998; D. Min, Bob Jones University, 2013. Dr. Van Kleeck was formerly the Director of the Institute for Biblical Textual Studies, Grand Rapids, MI, (1990-1994) lecturing, researching and writing in the defense of the Masoretic Hebrew text, Greek Received Text and King James Bible. His published works include, "Fundamentalism’s Folly?: A Bible Version Debate Case Study" (Grand Rapids: Institute for Biblical Textual Studies, 1998); “We have seen the future and we are not in it,” Trinity Review, (Mar. 99); “Andrew Willet (1562-1621: Reformed Interpretation of Scripture,” The Banner of Truth, (Mar. 99); "A Primer for the Public Preaching of the Song of Songs" (Outskirts Press, 2015). Dr. Van Kleeck is the pastor of the Providence Baptist Church in Manassas, VA where he has ministered for the past twenty-one years. He is married to his wife of 43 years, Annette, and has three married sons, one daughter and eighteen grandchildren.

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