For the last few weekends, I have been sharing a little of my own pilgrimage in the understanding of Scripture. Last Sunday I finished a first group of posts I called, "Reading Out of Context." This weekend I want to start a second group I'm calling "The Original Text."
I was raised on the King James Version (KJV) of the Bible. But as I approached my teen years, the New International Version (NIV) made its debut, and some in my denomination began to advocate for using it. I remember one camp meeting in Indiana when my parents were taken aback by someone who suggested they were potentially hurting the faith of their children by not using the NIV. My sense of our response was that we understood the Bible just fine in the King James.
I was in high school in the early 80s when Christian radio and engagement in public and church related issues began to rise. We lived in Florida near Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church and Dr. D. James Kennedy, one of the early Christian activists of the sort we now consider the norm of Christian Republican politics. Dobson was on the rise. I went to hear creationist-evolutionist debates in high school, interestingly at the same time I was learning how to think critically and objectively in an excellent public high school.
I felt God was calling me to be a minister in the middle of my first year of college at Southern Wesleyan and soon I found myself learning Greek. Over the next three years I would learn about "textual criticism," the branch of biblical studies that tries to determine the original wording of the biblical texts. I believe somewhere in that process, my mother bought me a copy of Edward Hills' The King James Version Defended. I'm sure I could still find it if I did a bit of searching.
In those days I felt like a pilgrim without a guide. I wanted to read so much but almost no book could hold my attention. In college I would often read the same sentence over and over and over again and my mind would run from the page faster than the period at the end of a sentence. I was not like those I envy who can't put a book down and seem to be able to read Kant or Heidegger without a guide.
For the next 10 years I would find myself uncertain on many things. I would read Donald Guthrie's New Testament Introduction and he would give one side to an issue so well I would find it convincing. Then he would give the other side and I would find it convincing as well. (By the way, what a tribute to objectivity, that he could convince me for a moment of a position to which he did not himself hold!) It seemed as if there were so many possible variations and it was never quite clear to me which was the most likely. It was the same on issues of the biblical text.
I remember thinking that at some point you begin to draw some conclusions. Somewhere in the vast sea of scholarly uncertainty you find something convincing. Once you have made one decision, then other decisions become more likely. I remember thinking of it in these terms. Of course now the big consensuses of scholarship seem rather obvious to me. But one could argue that I have only become comfortable with them.
I hope that is not true. In any case, because in effect I had to start from scratch and generally started from the minority position in most things, I believe I know the most convincing arguments for the majority positions. And because it has taken me so much effort to get my head around such issues--and because I am so easily bored--I am more likely to communicate the reasons for majority positions in a palatable way...