Monday, May 28, 2012

Excerpt from Paper: "Charismatic" Copyists

Finishing my paper for Atlanta tomorrow night.  Here's a brief excerpt.
...But I digress again. The original manuscripts of the New Testament were quite possibly around for some time, long enough for a significant number of pretty accurate copies to be made and for their keepers, whoever they were, to recognize early variations. I’m not saying that the earliest Christians had a culture of double-checking. When I look at how New Testament authors use the Old Testament, I feel quite confident that the message was far more what they were interested in than the precise wording or even the historical meaning as we think of it today.

The most radical example that comes to mind of this dynamic of Scripture use in the New Testament is Matthew 2:23: “And he [that is Joseph] went and lived in a city called Nazareth, so that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled, that he would be called a Nazarene.” It is hard to know exactly what Old Testament verse Matthew is referring to. Judges 13:5 comes close: “the child shall be a Nazirite.” But of course this verse was referring to Samson, and a Nazirite is something quite different from Nazareth. Nazareth was a village in Galilee. A Nazirite was someone who vowed not to drink wine or cut his hair for a lifetime. Jesus was not a Nazirite.

On the other hand, Isaiah 11:1 uses a Hebrew word that looks somewhat similar to Nazareth. “There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.” This passage is often taken messianically as a prophecy about to Jesus, and the Hebrew word for branch is nēzer. In seems to me that the best explanation of Matthew’s quote is a combination of something like these two passages, the form somewhat coming from Judges and the substance coming from Isaiah 11. The hypothesis seems confirmed by the fact that Matthew doesn’t say that this prophecy comes from a "prophet," singular. Instead, he says it was spoken “by the prophets,” plural.

By the way, this was the issue I was talking about that troubled me after my first year of seminary. I concluded that the New Testament authors read the Old Testament more like charismatics than like my seminary professors were telling me to read it. This is why that, even though I myself prefer a more “wooden” or what some call a more “literal” translation, I don’t have a problem with those who prefer The Message or biblical paraphrases. Ironically, one of the factors in Bart Ehrman losing his faith is that he found the variety among manuscripts problematic to his view of Scripture. For him, it was “wild copying,” and it was a major problem. Maybe if he had been a charismatic, he wouldn’t have lost his faith.


FrGregACCA said...

"Maybe if he had been a charismatic, he wouldn’t have lost his faith."

Or someone whose ecclesiology actually matches that found in the New Testament, regardless of text type or early translation.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

So are you saying that the copyists projected upon the text their own desires? That seems plausible, but I assumed that these "transcribers" were being careful about their "scholarship". Or are you suggesting that the political elite held domination over the views of the scribes? Don't all humans tend to "confirm" their own biases, if they are not careful? Can anyone be unbiases?

Bart Ehrman is just a little more honest with the facts of the matter. He approaches the text with a critical eye, which believers do not have, nor do they desire to have. "Faith" is their foundational approach, which prohibits critical assessment!

"Faith" means that one doesn't discern amongst manuscripts, and ancient writings, but assumes that what has been "taught and recieved" is the truth (the Apostle's creed). It is cultural indoctrination. And it is how humans attempt to justify their cultural understandings, their identity, if you will.

The recent "culture wars" between believers over what constitutes "truth faith" is a case in point. One side believes that without "social works", then faith is dead, while the other claims that the Protestant work ethic, American ideals and "Christian values" are the "disciple's commitments"! Both can be justified by scripture. And since we are a Protestant nation, we are allowed these diverse viewpoints. It is just a shame that religious tests are used to judge political candidates, as reliigous tests were never meant to be used for political office!

Ken Schenck said...

Angie, there was no political center in the early period to control the copying of texts. There was no pope, despite older Roman Catholic views. There is a point at which what you are calling a "critical eye" becomes unjustified skepticism, like the lunatic mythicists that James McGrath is constantly dissing. Dan Wallace's careful eye has carefully documented quotes from Ehrman that indicate even he is not as pessimistic as some take him.

By the way, for all my rhetoric, I am not hostile to Ehrman. My pilgrimage is very similar to his except my big picture personality did not allow fundamentalism to stick to me as strongly as it apparently did to him. I smile when I think of how much money he's making off of the arcane subject of textual criticism.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Traditions were all oral and though there was no "ruling authority" before the institutionalization of the Church, people still have a LOT to assume, don't they, as to "faith"? And since even sources are missing, or limited, doesn't one have to be "charismatic" (by choice or by default) to even believe in how the text has been theologically understood?