1. My early realizations about context
and continued with last weekend's start of discussing issues of the biblical text:
2.1 Issues of the Biblical Text
2.2 Manuscripts, Manuscripts
2.3 Common Sense Textual Criticism
Now the last of this group of reminiscences:
Those who wrote my church's statement on Scripture were careful to specify that they were talking about the "original manuscripts." In other words, they acknowledged the validity of textual criticism and legitimated modern translations for those who chose them. Stephen Paine, one of the primary influences on the Wesleyan Methodist's statements on Scripture, was actually involved in the translation of the original NIV.
There are theological implications here. If we accept the majority position, then the version of the New Testament that dominated Christianity from around 400 to 1950 was not exactly the same text as the ones the New Testament authors wrote. It was mostly the same to be sure, but perhaps as much as 5 percent different. The bottom line: God was not particularly concerned that Christians use the exact wording of the original texts. The message was what was important.
I might add that this is an implicitly fundamental value of Protestantism, implied by our fundamental sense that the Bible should be translated into the vernacular language. You can't translate the particulars of wording. Languages just don't do things the same way. So more than anything it is the message one translates.
Anyone who knows me will know my love of Greek and Hebrew and I am very interested in determining as much as possible the original wording of the Bible's books. But the implication here is that God does not require the original text in the original languages to speak through Scripture, indeed that it is not a priority for him at all. It implies that those who hate The Message because it is a paraphrase are out of touch with the way God has operated for the last 2000 years. It implies that those who have opposed the NIV2011 because of switches from singular to plural, to capture an originally intended inclusiveness, are misguided--sincere but misguided. It implies that it is not a high priority for God that we "get back" to the original wording in the first place.
It may also have implications at the very least for arguments over verbal versus conceptual inspiration. I don't think God has a problem with any word in either the original texts of the Bible or the Byzantine textual tradition. But it looks like God is really not so concerned with the precise wording. This at the very least tips the scales more toward "conceptual" rather than "verbal" inspiration. Conceptual inspiration is the idea that God breathed the fundamental message into the biblical authors and the precise words came more from them.
I'm not, by the way, saying that there may not be instances where God was very directive in the precise wording. Nor do I mean to preclude the possibility of some mysterious duality of both human and divine verbal inspiration. It is probably best for us not to pin it down.
It is distressing that people have faith crises over textual criticism and that people fight over which version of the Bible they use. Looking at the example of the biblical texts, God apparently was not worried about such things. In fact, when you consider that we are so limited in our end of understanding, so prone to see our own meaning in the words, it is quite absurd to stake our faith on minor details of wording.