Note: This is the third in a five part series offering review and analysis of Dan Wallace’s "Challenges in New Testament Textual Criticism for the Twenty-First Century" (JETS, Vol. 52, No. 1: pp. 79-100).
III. The Role of Theology in New Testament Textual Criticism
Wallace here stands by arguments made earlier in his career that "A theological a priori has no place in textual criticism" (p. 92). Still, he notes that such presuppositions "have taken a more prominent role in text-critical studies—on both sides of the theological aisle" (p. 92). Aside: I am not clear on what two "sides" he is referring to here: Conservative and liberal? Traditional and postmodern?
Wallace then presents the following four points:
1. The emergence of an internet site for evangelical discussion of textual issues: evangelicaltextualcriticism.com
2. The orthodoxy of variants.
Wallace appeals to the old conclusion of J. A. Bengal that despite all the textual variants, "no evangelical doctrine rests on textually disputed passages" (p. 92). This has long been used to soothe the uneasy consciences of evangelicals concerning the messy task of textual study.
In this discussion of the orthodoxy of variants, Wallace makes a detailed, confusing, and curious statement in a footnote that calls for careful deciphering. After quoting D. A. Carson’s view that the total "purity" of the Biblical text is not disturbed by the instances of individual variants, Wallace offers the following proviso:
"My own view is stated less absolutely: No viable variant affects any cardinal doctrine. The key terms are "viable" and "cardinal." That the doctrinal content of the Bible is not affected by the variants is an a posteriori demonstration that stops short of dogma. Thus if a viable variant were to turn up that affected a cardinal doctrine, my view of God’s providential care would not be in jeopardy, though it would be reworded. Similarly, my view of God’s providential care of the text does not depend on the nonexistence of viable variants that teach heresy precisely because I am not affirming such on a doctrinal level. (I argue explicitly against a doctrine of preservation in "Inspiration, Preservation, and New Testament Textual Criticism.") The above statement is made solely on the basis of the evidence (p. 93, n. 59)."
If I am reading Wallace correctly here, then he is qualifying Bengel (and Carson) by conceding the possibility that a "viable variant" could alter what is now considered a "cardinal doctrine" of Scripture. He can do this because he does not uphold any a priori doctrinal view of the preservation of Scripture.
Wallace then proceeds to assail those who uphold the Majority Text or Textus Receptus on doctrinal grounds as obscurantists who slavishly follow their presuppositions. He castigates: "If our faith cannot stand up to the scrutiny of rigorous investigation, then our beliefs need to be adjusted. But if we always jerk back the fideistic reins when the empirical horse goes too fast for us, then the charges of obscurantism, scholasticism, even pietistic dribble are well deserved" (p. 93).
From here, Wallace makes, what appears to me to be an odd leap in logic. He draws a parallel between Gordon Fee’s attempt to remove 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 on the basis of his theological presuppositions concerning women in ministry and Majority Text advocates "who use inerrancy as a text-critical method" (p. 94).
He concludes this point: "I maintain, with most evangelical scholars, that inerrancy is not jeopardized by viable textual variants. To make inerrancy a theological a priori in any given text is to bring an end to honest historical inquiry" (p. 94).
Analysis: Wallace wants to divide textual criticism from all theological presuppositions. He is particularly sharp in his criticism of those who support the TR or MT. This is an area where one might have thought that Wallace would have been helped by his interactions with postmodernists who have challenged the notion that any scholar can be completely objective. Is not Wallace’s outright rejection of the Reformation concept of the divine preservation of the copies of Scripture (contained in article one of both the Westminster Confession and Second London Baptist Confession), in itself, an a priori assumption that informs and prejudices his own conclusions? Would Wallace even call himself an inerrantist if he insists that such a presupposition has no impact on his study of the text?
3. The logical fallacy of denying the inerrancy of the autographs
On this point, Wallace takes to task those skeptics who denounce inerrancy based on the fact that we do not possess the inerrant autographs. He essentially argues that since we have a close approximation in the current critical text such objections are deflected on logical and empirical grounds.
He surmises: "In other words, what we have in our hands today is the original NT; we just do not know in all cases if it is in the text or the apparatus" (p. 95). The inerrant autograph is somewhere in there even if we cannot always clearly identify it.
Analysis: I am not so sure that the critics of inerrancy will be as convinced by Wallace’s argument here as he thinks they should be. If the best we can say is that our Bible is "pretty close" to the original (see the earlier discussion of epistomological skepticism), the inerrancy of Scripture appears to be in jeopardy. Does this not lead us to defend not only the integrity of the autographa but also the apographa (copies) of Scripture?
4. The incarnation as a methodological model for historical investigation.
The one theological a priori upon which Wallace insists is "a belief in the incarnation of the theanthropic person" (p. 95). For Wallace the fact that "the incarnation of Christ is more important than the inerrancy of the Bible" allows us to be unafraid "to wrestle hard with the text" and "to go wherever the evidence leads" (p. 95). He concedes: "It may lead us to conclusions that we did not want to arrive at, but at least we will arrive at those conclusions with full integrity. And we will arrive at them with a Christological center that is fully intact" (pp. 95-96).
Analysis: Wallace appears to be retreating from what he would consider to be a too narrow or conservative spin on inerrancy. His insistence on the "incarnational approach" brings to mind another recent controversy within both ETS and Westminster Seminary over Peter Enns’ "incarnational" interpretation of inerrancy. Again, Wallace expresses his desire to be free to do research unencumbered by the weight of confessional baggage. He makes it all sound like a grand adventure into the land of academic freedom.
There are some real problems, however, with what Wallace is suggesting. First, what is wrong with confessional boundaries? What if, for example, Wallace’s investigation led him to conclude that Arius was right about the doctrine of Christ and not Athanasius? Many have reached such conclusions (e.g. modern day Jehovah’s Witnesses). We do not affirm their integrity, however, but bemoan the fact that their false conclusions have led them into heresy. Wallace wants to claim a Christological center with no confessional guideline to define who Christ is. This, in my view, is not heroic but spiritually dangerous.
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