Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Did the church "receive" a perfectly preserved text?

Recently, I received an e-mail from Kent Brandenburg regarding my post on SharperIron questioning the reality of a “received” text in church history. I asked and got permission from him to post his e-mail and reply to it on my blog. Kent’s e-mail to me, where he argues for the reality of a “received” text is shown below in the blockquotes. My response appears below each of his various points in italics. Please keep all comments respectful to both sides.

The people who called the traditional text of Scripture had a reason. They did not pull textus receptus out of a hat. The name or label came from Scripture. They gave it that name because they too believed that God preserved His Words, not actual papyrus or ink, but the Words. You see this truth in these texts, among others: You see this truth in these texts, among others:

John 17:8 For I have given unto them the words which thou gavest me; and they have received them, and have known surely that I came out from thee, and they have believed that thou didst send me.

Acts 2:41 Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls.

Acts 8:14 Now when the apostles which were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent unto them Peter and John:

Acts 11:1 And the apostles and brethren that were in Judaea heard that the Gentiles had also received the word of God.

Acts 17:11 These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.

1 Thessalonians 2:13 For this cause also thank we God without ceasing, because, when ye received the word of God which ye heard of us, ye received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which effectually worketh also in you that believe.
When the Elzevir brothers printed in their preface that their text was the one received by all, I highly doubt that they had these passages in mind. But regardless of that, it is clear that “received” in the passages you list does not mean that they gave their official approval to the texts or translations under consideration. It means they embraced God’s Word with a desire to hear and do what God said to them through those Scriptures. These passages say nothing about churches validating certain text types.

Those who believe in providential, Divine preservation of God's Words, a doctrine we read in the Westminster Confession, the London Baptist Confession, and the Philadelphia Baptist Confession, believe that God would fulfill His promises of preservation.

You talk about the "best preserved manuscript evidence." What evidence was there from 1500-1800, 300 years, of the critical text? If we believe in the availability of every Word of God, based on God's promises (presuppositional apologetics), then we believe His Words were and are available. The best evidence that these were God's Words are that churches guided by the Holy Spirit accepted them as God's Words for hundreds of years.
I don’t believe that God promised the availability of every Word of God. I think there is Biblical warrant to say that God inspired His Word so that it would be preserved to some degree but I don’t see any Biblical justification for insisting on the general availability of every jot and title of the entirety of the Old and New Testaments. The verses I use to teach an expectation of providential preservation are not the same (in most cases) as what you would use to prove verbal/plenary preservation. I think you are misreading and misinterpreting those verses.

The text received by the churches is the text they used. There is no magisterium, as you write. Neither is there a magisterium that is the basis of canonicity. We acknowledge the books that the churches copied and used. We take our basis for that from God's Word too.
OK, this really gets to the heart of my question. This is what I want to talk about.

The church was given special apostolic-era spiritual gifts to validate the canon as it was being produced. I don’t see anything in the Bible regarding a similar use of those gifts or continuing use of those gifts for a so-called canonization of words.

Indeed, there is no comparison between the church’s universal acceptance of the canon and your new idea regarding canonization of words. If there were such a thing, you would see the same level of acceptance of the words as you do the books. In Bible believing churches today you do not find any variation in what people believe regarding our 66-book canon. Anyone who rejects a book or suggests a different book would be regarded as unorthodox. That is simply not the case with the variants. Was Tyndale unorthodox because he added “And he said unto his disciples” to the first part of John 14:1? Of course not. But that was the text “received” by the church from Tyndale in 1526 until it was changed by the Geneva in 1587.

When you say “the text received by the churches is the text they used,” isn’t that begging the question? They used what they had. You take tribes in Africa, or any other third-world country and Christians use what is available. Rarely is it the complete Bible and rarely is it even a decent translation. Those in England in the 1300’s might have had access to an English translation based on the Vulgate, if anything at all. Those in the 1500’s used what they had available and today, we use what we have available to use. Christians and churches tend to want to use the best available text and translations. Churches today, for the most part, use versions based on the critical text because that text is an improvement on what was available back in the 1500’s. The church today is “receiving” the critical text if they are “receiving” anything today.

You actually do not have any evidence that they did not use the text received by the churches. Manuscripts wore out, were discarded, other copies were made, and we don't know based on "manuscript evidence" what they used. We have a tremendous number of copies of the TR today.
Neither of us knows for sure what anyone used back then. You have assertions and we have assertions. At the very least, though, we have evidence that what we say they read and used was actually in existence back then. Your position does not.

On your side are theories. Wescott and Hort's rules of textual criticism. The counting of manuscripts by the "majority text" people. The eclectic people who pick and choose based on any number of reasons what words are in the Bible. Those don't fit what we read about preservation in Scripture. They are all positions of "reasonable doubt" and less than 100 % assurance.
My understanding of your position leaves you with “reasonable doubt” as well. You have to do textual criticism with the TR family of manuscripts. No position has 100% assurance of every word. The only way for your position to receive 100% assurance is if you adopt the KJV/Scrivener text as your standard, but that basically reduces to an English translation dictating the reading of the Greek and Hebrew. And even then you have differences among the various KJV versions (Cambridge vs Oxford, etc). So, really, is it even accurate to say you have 100% assurance?

I contend, Kent, that your position and my position, in the end, amounts to the same thing, except in regard to the manuscript evidence that we allow ourselves to consider when evaluating variants. We both have to evaluate variants. I see no Biblical or historical reason to reject out-of-hand non-TR manuscripts.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Does Richard Dawkins Exist?

I thought this was pretty funny. Enjoy!

HT: William Dembski

You can find a transcript HERE.