Saturday, April 12, 2014

Why is Textual Criticism such a Massive FAIL? (Part 1)

Laymen get it.  Non-textual critics get it.  Historians get it.  Even little old ladies with no education or training, or even religious instruction, get it.

True story:  I was questioned by nice church lady the other day, about why Textual Criticism was important.  So I explained the idea of the textual history of the Bible, the discovery of ancient manuscripts, the careful collating of readings in critical editions, the basis of English translations, etc.   I told her the basis for the many terse footnotes and brackets, found in modern Bibles.

Her response: "Oh, I never bother with the footnotes.  I know they are nonsense.  Just read them yourself, you can see they are garbage."   She went on to explain that Christians don't really pay attention to scholars, because they know they are wolves in cheap clothing, unbelievers, and mere critics.

I won't say I was floored.  But the extent of this 'intuitive knowledge' and instant invalidation of all things text-critical is actually quite sweeping inside live, vibrant churches.  Ordinary Christians just don't give textual critics any credibility whatever.  The Bible simply has more authority than academia. And this is true in spite of most Bishops, Priests, pastors and church officials being accredited (and often faithless) academics.

Textual critics and other academics might dismiss this as mere bigotry, or ignorance, or magical thinking.  But actually its a stunning example of intuitive grasp of the real crisis in Textual Criticism (Biblical) and many other professions, as we stumble into the 21st century.

It seems that the 'lay-church' has always had little use for academics, and apparently even for church authorities.  The grassroots 'church' just carries along, with or without professors, commentators, leaders, simply thriving and nuturing itself ultimately on the text alone. 

The Problem in Simple Terms

On the one hand, we have never had better access to manuscripts, data, history, and the process of textual transmission than we do now.   And we have never had so much science, tools for analysis, and brain-power than we do today.

On the other hand, never has this 'science' of Textual Criticism been more confused about the 'original text' of the Bible.  In fact, its even uncertain of any kind of scientific procedure for how to proceed to discover it.  And doubt has extended in a sweeping manner not only to whether original texts can even be discovered, but whether they ever existed at all.

And never in the history of Biblical Criticism has the entire field of Biblical studies had less prestige and less scientific credibility than now.   The sad part is they've earned this lack of credibility in spades.

The Sad History of Textual Criticism

This will be a unique but terse explanation of what went wrong and why.

1400s  -  With the invention of printing, and unprecedented opportunities for literacy, people turned away from the previously necessary task of hand-copying texts, to establishing a uniform, universal printed Bible, at least for each language.   Two tasks were immediately recognized: (a) the establishment of the original text, (b) the translating of it into the main languages.

At the same time, the political climate created by the previous Crusades, the Inquisition, and the Reformation brought out the problems and complexities of the growth of scientific and free thought against dogmatism and abuse of authority. 

1500s -  It also became apparent that establishing the original text would not be as simple as thought.   Errors and inaccuracies had crept into copies and needed to be spotted and removed.   This became a more and more unwieldy task, as more copies (and variants) came to light.  Early work of Erasmus, John Mill, Beza, etc., resulted in the establishment of a consensus text, the Traditional or Received Text for the New Testament, while for the Old Testament the Hebrew was used by Protestants, largely bypassing the Latin Vulgate.

But a method for the selection process for readings had yet to be developed.

This was of great concern because the Bible was used as an authority for the correction of the political abuse of power, and was an effective tool in the Reformation of the Christian Churches. 

1600s - The Bible, and the default Received Text became the cultural property of every nation who received it, that is, most of Western Europe, and the Protestant countries.  It provided a common ground and mind-set for interpreting the world.  It was used as an authority to appeal to, and argue and reason about differences in religious interpretation.

1700 - 1900s - Growing uncertainty in regard to the Bible text, (mainly from collation of textual variants), diminished the overall authority of the Bible for many, just as science began to develop and grow as an apparent alternative to religious dogma.   Unfortunately, a reliable and convincing method for establishing the Bible text was still very slow in developing.   At the same time, the problem of collating the many hand-copies had grown beyond the abilities of one person to manage.   The last two great collators of manuscripts were Tregelles and Tischendorf, but 19th century "methods" of Textual Criticism were largely eclectic and coloured by scepticism about Catholic tradition.

By the late 1800s, scepticism as an early part of 'scientific attitude' and scepticism of historical claims in particular had led to a de facto approach of constructing a minimalist text based on rejecting any variants that might be possible additions or accumulative editing.   From Wetstein's original doubt (1752), to Lachmann's deletion program (1831), to Tischendorf's flip-flopping (1869) and finally Hort's stubborn scepticism (1882), ratified by Nestle (1904) and promoted by Metzger, and only slightly modified by Aland (1960), we arrived at the 'standard critical text' of the UBS series, used for most 20th century 'modern' English translations.

But when all was said and done, no credible scientific Text-critical method had actually been developed.  Only a stoic scepticism inspired by 19th century materialist science and anti-Catholicism had saturated the field with a minimalist approach, entrenched by simply upholding the status quo for nearly 100 more years.

As the smoke cleared in the late 20th century, from the battles between traditionalists and moderns, we ended up with essentially two NT texts;
(1)  The Received Text, essentially the one used by Christians for the most recent 1,000 years, and
(2)  The Critical Text, essentially the smallest text that could be constructed, by rejecting any longer variants and accepting as original every significant omission found in the more ancient copies.

Part 2 will examine how it happened that no significant progress in textual-critical methodology was achieved, and why the text bifurcated and remains in two branches today, with loyal apologists for both sides.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

A Few Good Reasons to Dismiss the "Therefore, God Exists" Blog

Recently on  

 There was posted a shallow article entitled, 

They provided 8 reasons, each with a summary paragraph, which however often did not connect with the header, and contained poisonous disinformation as well:

1 – It is just a translation, not a manuscript. ... But there is nothing intrinsically valuable about holding fast to the King James Version. 

Comment: Why wouldn't there be something intrinsically valuable, for instance if it were a decent, relatively unbiased translation of a very accurate text?  
Most detractors of the KJV do so because they have a hidden agenda:  They really want to promote an alternate version, such as the NASV (see 2 below!).  Their own lack of connection to the 400 year old English Bible is apparent, when they themselves admit they don't understand it (2), don't use it (3), value "older manuscript" texts more highly (4), think its 'unreadable' (5).  
What the Christian reader of the article is not being told is that those campaigning against the traditional KJV are sponsored by Roman Catholic publishers and investors who want to promote Roman Catholic friendly translations.  They have no real concern or interest in textual issues at all. Its about translation that favours Roman Catholic doctrine.

2 – It was written hundreds of years ago. Imagine that you were transported to the year 1611 and began to interact with the people around you. They would regard your tongue as strange and foreign, even if they can generally understand what you are saying. But on a certain level, your language and theirs will make for difficulties. You would need some sort of expert to translate between the two of you. If we feel that we need to understand what men have to say, how much more do we need to understand what God has to say? Get a translator, a New King James Version perhaps, or better yet, a New American Standard Bible.

Comment: The exaggeration of the KJV text is here blatant.  The most popular KJV Bible is not the text of 1611 at all, but a revised modernized text done in the 19th century, and which has been further updated in the 20th and 21st centuries in the form of the New King James Version, and the KJV 2000 etc.  There is no problem accessing a readable, authoritative KJV text, and it certainly doesn't require a 'translator' for the modern reader to understand it.

3 – We do not use the original KJV. The original KJV was overwhelmed with errors. There were literally thousands of corrections between 1611 and 1769. We do not use the 1611 version, we use the 1769 version. For you to say that we should use the 1769 version is to concede that we need to appeal to the updates that scholars offered between 1611 and 1769. Why wouldn’t we appeal also to the updates that modern scholars offer based on the evolution of the language?

Comment:  The Bible has never been "overwhelmed by errors".  It was a readable text for those in the Byzantine Empire in Greek, and also for the Roman Empire in Latin, and finally it was an exceptionally well executed translation into English which was based on earlier work both by individuals and sanctioned editions like the Bishop's Bible.  The unique thing about the KJV was that it was commissioned and executed by a large team of university scholars from Cambridge and Oxford, and made use of the state of the art of knowledge at that time.  And few KJV advocates today would object to a "New King James Version" (NKJV) for someone wanting to read an even more modern text.

4 – We have discovered older manuscripts. When the original KJV was written, we did not have nearly as many translations as we have now. We have discovered thousands of manuscripts used by the early church. In some cases, the translation rendered by the KJV needs to be overridden by the new manuscripts. For example, part of 1 John 5:7-8 is not present in the majority of the oldest manuscripts.

Comment:  This is largely misleading, since the older texts were available for comparison even in the 15th century, and ALL Protestant Bibles from Luther to Calvin to King James have been based on "critical texts" of both the Old and New Testaments.  The scholars of the last 4 centuries were well aware of both the content and the problems of the supposed "older and better manuscripts"
One can read these two articles with profit on that subject:

W. Pickering (2009) Oldest = Best MSS? - early errors
T. Holland (2009) "Oldest & Best MSS" - & Byzantine

5 – The King James Version is unreadable. Due to the evolution of language, we often just cannot understand what the author is expressing. 1 Samuel 5:12 reads, “The men that died not were smitten with the emerods.” What is an emerod? Luke 17:9 says, “Doth he thank the servant because he did the things that were commanded him? I trow not.” I trow not? Psalm 5:6 says “Thou shalt destroy them that speak leasing.” Does God dislike realtors? There are many examples of this. Would it not make more sense if this were translated into our native language?

Comment:  The modern reader largely escapes these supposed difficulties by simply using a well annotated text with marginal notes, just as one would do using a "modern" version.   In regard to the 19th century text (no one uses the 1611), there is a list available of a 100 words or so that have somewhat changed meaning over the centuries, and could be potentially misleading.  But anyone who loves the Bible will naturally be interested enough in these things to make use of such handy quick-lists, such as this one here:

KJV Word List
- key word updates

6 – We do not force non-English speakers to read the King James Version. When we want to share the word of God with non-English speaking people, we do not tell them that they need to learn 1611 English. We do not translate the Bible into 1611 Chinese and give it to the Chinese. We translate it from Greek into their common language. Why do we not do the same for ourselves? 

Comment:  Another red herring.  No KJV advocate uses the 1611 version, so why even discuss it?

7 – The King James Version has been abused. There are many people who attempt to say that the King James Version is the only version of the Bible that we can use. Bordering on bibliolatry, this idea causes division and strive within the body of Christ. While the KJV has a great part in the history of the Scripture, it would be better if this movement would just fade into irrelevancy. Perhaps to do that, we can just popularize the other, better, modern translations.

Comment:  Unity of agreement on the historical text does not promote division or 'bibliolatry', a word coined by opponents of a fixed biblical text to imply that stability of text and defending the traditional text is some kind of 'idolatry'.  What really causes division is when promoters of radical changes to the text spread disinformation about the true state of the Bible text and its reliability.

8 – There are better translations. Teams of scholars have carefully executed the processes of textual criticism upon the oldest versions of the Greek manuscripts that we have (older than that used by the KJV translators). They now offer us a translation of the Bible that is easier to understand without compromising the biblical data. The NASB is a reliable, formula (word-for-word) translation for us to use.

 Comment:  A far more honest statement would be to say that there are often useful and novel renderings in modern versions which may give insights or be more appealing to modern readers.  This is not a question of "superiority" of translation generally, because at least as often as they improve clarity, modern translators create confusion, blur the meaning, or introduce ambiguity in the text that previously did not even exist.  There is no "better translation", and the modern reader should beware of other issues, such as the liberty that modern translators take with the text to express their own interpretations, and perhaps more importantly, their unsound reliance upon inferior texts and reconstructions because they are 'novel' and represented by 'older copies'. 

Its at least as important what reconstructed text you are translating from, as it is how well you translate it.