Sunday, May 20, 2012

Manuscripts and Faith

I'm giving a paper in 9 days in Atlanta titled, "Are Differences in the Manuscripts a Problem for Christian Faith?" I actually thought this was a rather lame topic, since the answer is so obviously, "No, differences aren't a problem for Christian faith in the slightest."  The answer hasn't changed from the beginning of textual criticism to Bruce Metzger's verdict in The Text of the New Testament to now.

However, in preparation for the paper I've been reading a bit about Daniel Wallace's ongoing debate with Bart Ehrman.  My impression is that Ehrman is quite the showman and plays with the ignorance of audiences to 1) make them think the original text is more uncertain than it is, when 2) he doesn't even actually think that himself.  The first chapter of Revisiting the Corruption of the New Testament gives the essence of this debate.

From what I can tell, the more things change the more they are the same.  I find nothing in Ehrman troubling that is valid.  And there are a few things in Ehrman that probably aren't valid... and which one wonders if even he believes. So I feel just as up to date on "textual criticism and faith" today as I did when I finished seminary.


Mr. Mcgranor said...

Quite intellectual is your post(s). Lord your spirit shall suffice.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

If you begin in "faith" in the text, that is, a certain bias, you will be predisposed to interpret accordingly. You will dismiss error with "God's over-intending Sovereignty" and understand it as "human", as "the human" does not undermine God's revelation/overintending intent. This is a problem,I believe, God's Sovereignty, as it is a bias, not a point that can be proved, although the Church has attempted to "prove" God's existence.

If God exists, then he must be sovereign, and there can be questions unanswered, and left to "God's wisdom". (God, in this sense is a good "escape clause to human error and judgement.) This is a stance of trust in an intervening and over-intending "God above the text", which uproots one's faith from the real political world and demands "trust", not reason. One is called to "enter a trust relationship" to God in their "human experience".

But, isn't it just as plausible that humans beings being "human" are prone to use power to manipulate others to do and see things the way they do and see them? This was what the church did in limiting information to the common person and demanding certain behaviors from believers under threat of eternal punishment and for the Church's own benefit?. This is abuse of power and the limiting of conscience for adults, as the Church was the authority for/of conscience for the individual, when the Church had political power. Luther stood against such power over conscience, as Luther questioned the intent of such power over another's conscience and he brought education to the common believer. And he did so, by translating the text into a familiar language.

The text was never intended to take the place of the "church", as a social structure, in Luther's intial resistance, but it has. But, Luther was wanting to empower those that the Church had abused for their own ends.

Tradition holds the conditioning culture that religion affirms. But, religion also limits the individual as to choice and self-determination, which are modern values.

I don't think Ehrman is dishonest. One has to make a judgment call about intention, and paint scenarios of possibilities to "fill in the gaps" in history. And no one can really make sure that what one 're-creates" is true to fact, as the culture was so different and the tradition was passed down through generations before scribes began to transcribe the oral tradition. And those sources are still being "investigated".

So, while text and tradition do create a conditioning element to culture, I do not think these should limit humans as to liberty of conscience, otherwise, we create and affirm a stagnant view of reality. Human reality is dynamic, not static and human beings are different as to their desires and how they might want to meet their needs. But, all humans need to be aware of their limitations and understand that they do not live in the world as an isolated island. This is where our laws protect and provide the individual and society with justice, or an order whereby, each part can function without intrustion of another part. This is not the "vision" of the text, or of tradition. A conformity and homogenity is expected and demanded.

Good political philosophy allows for liberty and justice in understanding and interpreting of text and tradition, because our society believes in religious liberty.

Ken Schenck said...

Angie, there are issues where I have to be very careful. There are some areas where I have to pull my punches because scholarship would be troubling to your average Wesleyan.

But I can say with complete fervor that there is nothing about textual criticism that should be troubling to any evangelical or Wesleyan. I am allowed to follow the evidence wherever it may lead on this subject. I can't think of any conclusion Ehrman truly holds that should be troubling to any Wesleyan.

Now if you're a KJV only person--like he started out--then yes, you're going to find his stuff deeply troubling.

Anonymous said...

Ken, I'd be very interested in reading some examples of where you have to pull your punches. It bothers me some to think that such is the case, though I don't doubt that you have a legitimate reason to think so. Do you believe things will change anytime soon?


Ken Schenck said...

You might notice I haven't posted anything political for some time... ;-)