Random Polemic, or "The Last 400 Years Have Been Great, But We've Hired New Help"

     Before I get to reviewing the last couple of weeks in a day or two, there’s two things I suddenly find that I have to cover briefly:

  1. You cannot with logical consistency be committed to the historico-grammatical interpretation of Scripture and claim that the dispensational hermeneutic is the only correct interpretation of Scripture.
  2. You cannot claim that God has preserved His Word through the ages and claim that the Textus Receptus is the sole, true manuscript tradition preserving His Word.

     To confirm the first is to state that no interpretation of Scripture has been accurate in the least for the first 1,800 years of the New Testament’s existence prior to the development of the dispensational school of thought; to confirm the second is to state that no one even had a Bible for over a thousand years while affirming at the same time that God has kept His Bible alive and intact! Unavoidable inconsistencies arise from both of these affirmations. An appeal to faith can be made to justify one or both of these positions, but a leap of faith in their direction is neither commanded by nor given reasonable justification from Scripture itself; their strict adherence has no biblical warrant nor substantiation.
     The historico-grammatical hermeneutic advocates a plain reading of what the text states according to its ordinary, grammatical meaning aided by an understanding of the writer’s time and place and the terms, tone, and metaphors he or she thus uses; it has no place for the irresponsible allegorizing of the medieval age, nor for the hyperliteralism you witness in the circles which advocate the two points discussed above. While it is true that a plain reading of Scripture will most often offer a literal perspective on a particular passage, and while allegory is utilized in many distinct places throughout the Bible, it is a mistake to state absolutely that this or the other is the only manner in which Scripture as a whole must be understood. The key to determining a passage’s intended meaning is dictated by the passage itself; Scripture interprets Scripture and will set the framework necessary for understanding not only a given text, but the entire organic unity of the Bible itself. This is the essence of the historico-grammatical hermeneutic, and basically means that you ride shotgun while Scripture takes the wheel and clues you in to what it’s trying to say, not what you want it to say. Marrying this method of interpretation to a theology which envisions different modes of salvation throughout the course of human history is a slippery slope which, if followed through to conclusion, will crack the grammatico-historical lens and leave us blind in the wilderness.
     The Textus Receptus (“the Received Text”), to open the second can of worms, is kind of a joke. Not a good joke, though- it’s like when your awkward uncle that no one particularly likes comes to your birthday party and laughs a little too hard when he remembers out loud (very loud) when your dog was put down on your birthday years ago. Something more along those lines. To begin with, there isn’t even a Textus Receptus; several editions throughout the past five centuries have carried the name, many of them attempts to improve the text first delivered by the Dutch humanist Desiderius Erasmus, but there is no single edition of the text that is the alone, exclusively titled and identified Textus Receptus. Second, the TR is riddled with problems, problems we do not encounter through the study of manuscripts far more numerous and oftentimes far older than the texts Erasmus had at his disposal.
     The first published Greek New Testament appeared in 1516 and was an attempt to restore the Greek texts available to their Apostolic purity. Erasmus consolidated a tiny portion of manuscripts (seven!) which he had immediate access to in Basel, all of them belonging to the Byzantine textual family, and relied primarily upon two of them which dated from the twelfth century.1 It was not known as the Textus Receptus however until 1633 due to a notation in Latin on the cover of the second edition from its publishers Bonaventura and Abraham Elzevir (Textum ergo habes, nunc ad omnibus receptus, e.g. “Therefore you have the text now received by all.” Kind of a letdown for an origin story, eh? I figured there would be at least one curse involved with a phrase as nefarious-sounding as that!).2 The term was applied to prior editions of the text and to the revisions thereof over the following century. For a parallel, think of Great Britain’s constitution- they don’t have one! They possess several documents stretching back nearly 1,000 years from which they regulate the processes and statutes of their government. In the same manner, “Textus Receptus” is a term retroactively applied to a series of related documents, having Erasmus’ 1516 edition as their source.
     The many editions subsequent to the 1516 text are essentially reprints of the original as edited by Erasmus, with only minor variations on the part of scholars such as Theodore Beza and Robertus Stephanus. The editions themselves have an eerie similarity and uniformity about them due to the fact that they originate from Erasmus’ text and are not the result of studying and compiling a multitude of Greek manuscripts; this is plainly evidenced by the numerous readings which are unique to Erasmus’ text. These readings found exclusively with Erasmus are due to the meager availability of manuscript evidence he had to work with- in many instances, Erasmus did not have complete texts to compile (case in point: he had only one copy of Revelation, and it was missing six verses!), and when this occurred, he would back-translate the old Latin Vulgate to Greek.* Any peculiarities in the Vulgate reading thus found themselves in the Textus Receptus. Unfortunately, these peculiarities have no corroboration from any Greek manuscripts, meaning the TR is fundamentally flawed. In a more positive light, however, we are able to pinpoint these flaws with accuracy. When each of the old TRs are examined and unique readings such as “book of life” in Revelation 22:19 are discovered, we can know that it is a result of copying word-for-word Erasmus’ edition (or one of its descendants) because every known Greek manuscript reads differently; “book of life” comes from the back-translation of the Vulgate, whereas every manuscript known to exist reads “tree of life.”
     Understand now that I’m not bashing the King James version as such- I’m only trying to demonstrate the impossibility of logically maintaining the King James Only position. It can’t be done. To insist that the “texts that underlie the King James Bible are the very words which God has preserved down through the centuries, being the exact words of the originals themselves”3 is far-fetched and not a little irresponsible in light of the facts.    
     Unfortunately, both of the aforementioned points often go hand in hand (not always, I readily admit, but by and large there is a correlation); the two streams many times will unite to form one confluence which floods over the orthodox doctrinal understandings recovered during the Reformation. It’s almost inevitable that when sound principles of interpretation are abandoned our fallenness will wreak havoc with our theology. We will find grounds for unbiblical assumptions when we separate ourselves from the mainstream of orthodoxy stretching back to the faith once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3). And when non-adherence to these two points is se
en as a red flag for the need to be evangelized, something is terribly, terribly wrong.
     I know this will take me further afield then I originally intended with this post, but confirmation of the second point also runs counter to the published claims of the Authorized Version (KJV) translators themselves! Let’s hear a little from these dudes. In the original preface to the 1611 Version they wrote,**

Now to the later we answere: that wee doe not deny, nay wee affirme and auow, that the very meanest translation of the Bible in English, set foorth by men of our profession (for wee haue seene none of theirs of the whole Bible as yet) containeth the word of God, nay, is the word of God. As the Kings Speech which hee vttered in Parliament, being translated into French, Dutch, Italian and Latine, is still the Kings Speech, though it be not interpreted by euery Translator with the like grace, nor peraduenture so fitly for phrase, nor so expresly for sense, euery where.

The phrase, “the very meanest translation” denotes inferior translations, so take note of what is being said: even translations which did not conform to the scholarship and precise wording of the King James translators contain and are the word of God. This is devastating to the King James Only position and quite possibly a reason the Preface is no longer published with King James Versions anymore. Also take note:

A man may be counted a vertuous man, though hee haue made many slips in his life, (els, there were none vertuous, for in many things we offend all) also a comely man and louely, though hee haue some warts vpon his hand, yea, not onely freakles vpon his face, but also skarres. No cause therefore why the word translated should bee denied to be the word, or forbidden to be currant, notwithstanding that some imperfections and blemishes may be noted in the setting forth of it. For what euer was perfect vnder the Sunne, where Apostles or Apostolike men, that is, men indued with an extraordinary measure of Gods spirit, and priuiledged with the priuiledge of infallibilitie, had not their hand?

“Forbidden to be current” means translated into the vernacular, i.e. the common speech of those who will be reading the translation. The translators clearly believed that it was essential that the text be understandable to the reader in a plain manner (which is consistent with Scriptural principle, e.g. 1 Corinthians 14:7-19. Paul here states that speaking in tongues will not edify the greater body of believers because their minds will not actively understand to the fullest what is being said- he then draws this principle out to song, prayer, and exhortation, and in so doing demonstrates that the mind must not be passive in any element of worship or spiritual service. The faculties of the mind must be engaged for anyone to be built up, otherwise the “mind is unfruitful” Paul says in verse 14. Your mind can’t take a break if your goal is to glorify God and grow in the knowledge of the holy, in other words- this principle is plainly of great importance to this debate, as you can see.)

Now through the Church were thus furnished with Greeke and Latine Translations, euen before the faith of CHRIST was generally embraced in the Empire : (for the learned know that even in S. Hieroms time, the Consul of Rome and his wife were both Ethnicks, and about the same time the greatest part of the Senate also) yet for all that the godly-learned were not content to haue the Scriptures in the Language which themselues vnderstood, Greeke and Latine, (as the good Lepers were not content to fare well themselues, but acquainted their neighbours with the store that God had sent, that they also might prouide for themselues) but also for the behoofe and edifying of the vnlearned which hungered and thirsted after Righteousnesse, and had soules to be saued as well as they, they prouided Translations into the vulgar for their Countreymen, insomuch that most nations vnder heauen did shortly after their conuersion, heare CHRIST speaking vnto them in their mother tongue, not by the voyce of their Minister onely, but also by the written word translated.

Man- pwned! Any one of these guys would have been busted by modern KJO proponents for their heretical views on translation (among other points).*** The irony is murderous.
     I meant to only address the first two points briefly, but that obviously flew out the window pretty fast. In light of all this, though, let’s resolve to keep our thinking caps on and discern with the Spirit’s aid what is good and true and affirm that which God’s Word does proclaim, for in embracing that we will guard ourselves from error. As promised, I’ll cover highlights from the past two weeks in the days ahead, so stay tuned, eh?****

*Pretty bogus way to arrive at a Greek New Testament if you ask me! But then again, I haven’t contributed anything meaningful to the Church as of yet, so maybe I need to just cool it…
**I’m really sorry about all the Middle English here, but… it does look kinda cool, dunnit?
***Need I mention that none of these gentlemen were Dispensationalists either? (Sorry- was that below the belt?)
****”Eh?” West Allis is really rubbing off on me.

1 William W. Combs, Erasmus and the Textus Receptus, Detroit Baptist Seminary Journal, DBSJ 1 (Spring 1996): 35–53
Douglas Kutilek. (May 24, 1996). Westcott & Hort vs. Textus Receptus: Which is Superior?
3   D.A. Waite, Defending the King James Bible (Collingswood, NJ: Bible For Today Publishers, 1992), 48–49.

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