Friday, August 28, 2009

Savoring "more of curiosity than wisdom": Notes on the translation of logizomai in Romans 4:1-12

The Greek verb logizomai (to count, to reckon, to impute) is at the heart of Romans 4:1-12:

KJV Romans 4:1 What shall we say then that Abraham our father, as pertaining to the flesh, hath found? 2 For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God. 3 For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness. 4 Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. 5 But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness. 6 Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works, 7 Saying, Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. 8 Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin. 9 Cometh this blessedness then upon the circumcision only, or upon the uncircumcision also? for we say that faith was reckoned to Abraham for righteousness. 10 How was it then reckoned? when he was in circumcision, or in uncircumcision? Not in circumcision, but in uncircumcision. 11 And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had yet being uncircumcised: that he might be the father of all them that believe, though they be not circumcised; that righteousness might be imputed unto them also: 12 And the father of circumcision to them who are not of the circumcision only, but who also walk in the steps of that faith of our father Abraham, which he had being yet uncircumcised.

Logizomai appears eight times in this passage and is translated in various ways in the AV:

v. 3: to count
v. 4: to reckon
v. 5: to count
v. 6: to impute
v. 8: to impute
v. 9: to reckon
v. 10: to reckon
v. 11: to impute

This raises an interesting question about the nature of translation. Should the translator strive to render the same Greek word with the same English word throughout? This has been the rule for some modern translations. The RSV and NRSV, for example, translate logizomai in this passage with "to reckon" throughout. The ESV uses "to count" throughout.

In Alister McGrath’s book In the Beginning: The Story of the King James Bible and How It Changed a Nation, a Language, and a Culture, he notes the "elegance achieved by accident, rather than design" in the KJV (p. 254). He continues: "One possible contributing factor to the elegance of the King James Bible is its refusal to adopt a purely mechanical approach to translation, in which a Hebrew or Greek word is woodenly rendered by exactly the same English term throughout" (p. 255).

In the prefatory introduction "The Translators to the Readers" to the AV, this translation philosophy is made clear in a section titled "Reasons inducing us not to stand curiously upon an identity of phrasing." The translators explain:

"Another thing we think good to admonish thee of, gentle reader, that we have not tied ourselves to an uniformity of phrasing, or to an identity of words, as some peradventure would wish that we had done, because they observe that some learned men somewhere have been exact as they could that way. Truly, that we might not vary from the sense of that which we had translated before, if the word signified the same thing in both places (for there be some words that be not of the same sense everywhere) we were especially careful, and made a conscience, according to our duty. But we should express the same the same notion in the same particular word; as, for example, if we translate the Hebrew or the Greek word once by purpose, never call it intent; if one where journeying, never traveling, if one where think, never suppose; if one where pain, never ache; if one where joy, never gladness, & c.; thus, to mince the matter, we thought to savor more of curiosity than wisdom, and that rather it would breed scorn in the atheist than bring profit to the godly reader. For is the kingdom of God become words or syllables? Why should we be in bondage to them, if we may be free? Use one precisely when we may use another no less fit commodiously? …."

Indeed, we can see the wisdom of the AV translators here. Surely, they succeeded in the creation of a distinctively English translation that rendered the literal sense of the underlying original languages according to formal correspondence, but not in such a way as to create the kind of sterile redundancy that one often encounters in modern translations.


Ryle: On the regular hearing of preaching

Last week I included some of J. C. Ryle’s exhortations in the booklet "Thoughts for Young Men" on the use of the "public means of grace." Ryle continues this line of thought by commending the regular hearing of the preaching of the gospel:

I dwell on this point too, because of the strong anxiety I feel that every young man should regularly hear the preaching of Christ's gospel. I cannot tell you how important I think this is. By God’s blessing, the ministry of the Gospel might be the means of converting your soul, of leading you to a saving knowledge of Christ, of making you a child of God in deed and in truth. This would be cause for eternal thankfulness indeed. This would be an event over which angels would rejoice. But even if this were not the case, there is a restraining power and influence in the ministry of the gospel, under which I earnestly desire every young man to be brought. There are thousands whom it keeps back from evil, though it has not yet turned them unto God. It has made them far better members of society, though it has not yet made them true Christians. There is a certain kind of mysterious power in the faithful preaching of the Gospel, which tells insensibly on multitudes who listen to it without receiving it into their hearts. To hear sin cried down, and holiness cried up, to hear Christ exalted, and the works of the devil denounced, to hear the kingdom of heaven and its blessedness described, and the world and its emptiness exposed—to hear this week after week, Sunday after Sunday, is seldom without a good effect to the soul. It makes it far harder afterwards to run into any excess of riot and profligacy. It acts as a wholesome check upon a man’s heart. This, I believe, is one way in which that promise of God is made good, "My word shall not return unto Me void" (Isaiah 55:11). There is so much truth in that strong saying of Whitfield, "The Gospel keeps many a one from jail and the gallows, if it does not keep him from hell."

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle
Note: Evangel article for 8/27/09

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Notes on the Text and Translation of Romans 4:1

What is the text of Romans 4:1? How should it be translated?
There are several distinct textual and translation issues:

1. Word order:

The traditional text reads: Abraam ton patera hemon eurekenai kata sarka

Literally: Abraham the father of us to find concerning the flesh

The modern critical Greek text reads: eurekenai Abraam ton propatora hemon kata sarka

Literally: to find Abraham the forefather of us according to the flesh

External evidence: The traditional text is supported by the Majority of manuscripts. The modern critical text is supported by six Greek manuscripts (original hand of Sinaiticus, Alexandrinus, original hand of C, 81, 365, and 1506) and one or two translations (the Syriac Sahidic and possibly the Bohairic). There are also a handful of other Greek manuscripts that share the modern critical text word order, except for their use of the noun patera rather than propatora. Codex Vaticanus and one other Greek manuscript omit the infinitive eurekenai altogether. Thus, the RSV/NRSV/ESV tradition all have a note suggesting the possibility of the reading: "What shall we say about Abraham…."

Analysis: It certainly seems possible that a scribe might have accidentally written the infinitive eurekenai first and then "corrected" his mistake by adding the other words in the order. The verb might also have been omitted (as in B). There is no compelling reason to reject the traditional word order as attested in the vast majority of manuscripts.

Internal evidence: As we shall see below in the discussion of translation, a scribe might also have been motivated to "smooth out" the text by having kata sarka come behind the noun "father" to stress Abraham as the physical progenitor of the Jews.

2. Word variation:

The traditional text refers to Abraham as "father" (patera) and the modern text as "forefather" (propatora).

External Evidence: The textual evidence is divided as above with only six Greek manuscripts supporting propatora. It seems more likely, however, that a scribe might expand the meaning of "father" to "forefather" and less likely that one would diminish "forefather" to mere "father." Thus, "father" is the best reading.

3. Translation of kata sarka:

Here, the main question is whether the prepositional phrase "according to the flesh" should be read as modifying the noun "father" or the infinitive absolute verb "to find." Does it read: "what Abraham our father according to the flesh found" or "what Abraham our father found according to the flesh"?

If the former, Paul would be speaking to his fellow Jews and stressing their common physical heritage as Jews through their descent from Abraham, their "father according to the flesh." This translation is reflected in the NASB: "What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, has found?" and the ESV: "What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh?"

If the latter, then the kata sarka would relate to the verb. Thus, "What did Abraham our father find according to the flesh (according to physical things)?" What did Abraham discover regarding efforts at justification or gaining a right standing with God "according to the flesh" (i.e., through the efforts of the flesh)?

This is the translation reflected in the AV: "What shall we say then that Abraham our father, as pertaining to the flesh, hath found?" And also in the NIV: "What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather, discovered in this matter?" Note, however, that the NIV prefers "forefather" to "father."

The latter appears to be the best option. This is especially the case when we consider that Paul is not merely speaking to Jews here but to Jews and Gentiles who have found a new identity in Christ, as is made clear later in the passage (see Romans 4:11 where Paul describes Abraham as the father of all who believe, both Jews and Gentiles). Thus, when Paul speak of Abraham as "our father" he is not saying that Abraham is the father of "we Jews" but of "we Christians (both Jews and Gentiles)."


Monday, August 24, 2009

John Piper, Lutherans, and a Tornado

I read an intersting ABP article today on a recent a mini-controversy over comments John Piper made on his blog regarding a tornado that touched down in Minneapolis while the ELCA was voting to loosen its views on homosexual practice for their clergy. Piper ventured "an interpretation of this Providence" that concluded, "The tornado in Minneapolis was a gentle but firm warning to all of us: Turn from the approval of sin." Minneapolis open theist and Piper nemesis Greg Boyd offered a critique you can read here.
Indeed, the Puritans also offered similar interpretations of God's intervention in providential occurences. The comments on the articles and blogs include quite a few "how dare you" comments from the liberal perspective. My problem with Piper is not with the notion of a God who providentially intervenes to chasten but in the interpretation of experimental phenomena as God's revelation rather than resting on the sufficiency of Scripture. The condemnation of the ELCA came not through the tornado (which is open to varying interpretations) but has always been there in Romans 1.

Interview with Sermonaudio founder Steve Lee

Sermonaudio is one of the biggest internet broadcasters of conservative, evangelical preaching. Ever wonder how the ministry got started? Watch this three part interview with Sermonaudio founder Steve Lee:

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

J. C. Ryle on the Diligent Use of the Public Means of Grace

J. C. Ryle (1816-1900) was an evangelical Anglican bishop who wrote and preached often on personal holiness. One of his classic works is a booklet titled, Thoughts for Young Men. You can usually find a free copy on our tract table in the sanctuary. One section of the book is titled "Special Rules for Young Men" and includes the exhortation to make us of "all public means of grace." By this Ryle meant, "the instruments which God is pleased to use in order to accomplish salvation and sanctification in the hearts of men: the preaching of the Word, Bible reading and study, prayer, baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and godly fellowship with others." Below is an excerpt:

Be regular in going to the house of God whenever it is open for prayer and preaching, and it is in your power to attend. Be regular in keeping, the Lord's day holy, and determine that God's day out of the seven shall always be given to its rightful owner.

I would not want to leave any false impression on your minds. Do not go away and say I told you that going to church made up the whole of Christianity. I will tell you no such thing. I have no wish to see you grow up formalists and Pharisees. If you think the mere carrying of your body to a certain building, at certain times, on a certain day in the week, will make you a Christian, and prepare you to meet God, I tell you flatly you are miserably deceived. All services without heart-service are unprofitable and vain. They only are true worshipers who "Worship the Father in spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks" (John 4:23).

But the practices of Christianity are not to be despised because they are not saviors. Gold is not food, you cannot eat it, but you would not say it is useless, and throw it away. Your soul's eternal wellbeing most certainly does not depend on the practices of Christianity, but it is certain that without them, as a general rule, your soul will not do well. God might take all who are saved to heaven in a chariot of fire, as He did Elijah, but He does not do so. He might teach them all by visions, and dreams, and miraculous interventions, without requiring them to read or think for themselves, but He does not do so. And why not? Because He is a God that works by means, and it is His law and will that in all man's dealings with Him means shall be used. No one but a fool would think of building a house without ladders and scaffolding, and just so no wise man will despise means.

I dwell on this point, because Satan will try hard to fill your minds with arguments against the practices of Christianity. He will draw your attention to the numbers of persons who use them and are no better for the using. "See there," he will whisper, "do you not observe that those who go to church are no better than those who stay away?" But do not let this move you. It is never fair to argue against a thing because it is improperly used. It does not follow that the practices of Christianity can do no good because many do them and get no good from them. Medicine is not to be despised because many take it and do not recover their health. No man would think of giving up eating, and drinking because others choose to eat and drink improperly, and so make themselves sick. The value of the practices of Christianity, like other things, depends, in a great measure, on the manner and spirit in which we use them.

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Note: Evangel article August 18, 2009

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Interview with Conrad Mbewe

Conrad Mbewe will be speaking at the Evangelical Forum Friday-Saturday, September 25-26, 2009 and preaching at JPBC on Sunday, September 27, 2009.
You can listen to a good interview with Pastor Mbewe conducted by Mark Dever of 9 Marks on various topics including the state of the church in Africa, etc.


Monday, August 10, 2009

Homecoming and Revival Meetings at Nomini

I am back in the Northern Neck this week. Yesterday, I had the privilege of preaching for the annual Lord's Day Homecoming service of Nomini Baptist Church in Montross, Virginia (the county seat of Westmoreland County). I preached on Acts 2:42 "Four Marks of the Church."
The church is 223 years old! the historical marker above notes its founding in 1786 under Elder Henry Toler. It was at one time the largest Baptist church in the Commonwealth. According to the church's records, in 1845 they reported 335 white and 583 black members. It also boasted a library of over 200 volumes. It has been the mother church for ten congregations, including Beulah Baptist Church (founded 1885) which I served from 1992-97 and which lies just a few miles down Route 3 on the border between Westmoreland and Richmond Counties.

Side view of the simple but elegant meeting house, built just before the Civil War (1859). The central section (the sanctuary) is original with the wings added a hundred years later (1959). The bricks for the old meeting house were made in a kiln in the church yard by the men of the congregation from clay and sand they had harvested from nearby land. Twenty nine men from the church and the Pastor, George Bagby, served in the Confederate States Army. As with many other Baptist churches in the South, the black members withdrew after the great war to establish their own congregation. Galilee Baptist Church, formed in 1868, is just down the road.

Frontal view of the meetinghouse and its lawn.

A modern sign on Route 3 announces the week's special events. I will be preaching each evening at 7:00 pm. Though it is called a "Revival" we know full well this is not something we can manufacture but only God can send down. It is the custom in this area to have "special music" at each of these services in addition to preaching. Tonight (Monday) a men's group from Galilee Baptist will sing. Wednesday a group from Beulah will sing.


Saturday, August 08, 2009

More on Dan Wallace

If you read the five part series reviewing the ETS comments of Dan Wallace regarding text criticism in the 21st century, you might also enjoy listeing to this recent interview with Dan Wallace on James White's August 6, 2009 "Dividing Line" program or this May 22, 2009 interview on the Reformed Forum.

Review of Dan Wallace: Part 5 of 5

Note: This is the fifth of 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).

V. Conclusion:

Wallace concludes with a summary of his affirmations. He argues that evangelicals should do text criticism because we have a high view of the text and should want to determine the wording of the originals.

We should be involved out of a concern for history and to rebut epistomological skeptics.

Finally, we should be involved because of the incarnation. He ends with this challenge: "We should have a no-holds barred approach to the problems the text. And we must pursue truth at all costs, rather than protect our presuppositions" (p. 100).

Final Analysis: Dan Wallace is considered to be perhaps the most influential evangelical scholar in the field of New Testament text criticism. There are many issues raised in this paper, however, that elicit grave concern. We may summarize them as follows:

1. "Traditional" text criticism has completely shifted. Mainstream academic text critics are no longer pursuing the reconstruction of the original text (autograph). Future evangelical text critics are likely to follow suit. Wallace is caught defending last generation’s scholarly goals for this generation. Perhaps what is needed is a return to the pre-critical Christian view of the Scriptures and defense of the received text of the church.

2. Wallace offers a vision of text criticism that would supposedly be free from doctrinal presuppositions. This cannot be done. Even Wallace’s desire to eliminate presuppositions is itself a presupposition. Textual criticism is not an a-theological discipline. Why would we want to approach this task without clear confessional convictions?

3. Wallace naively sees the growing ecumenical control of the modern critical Greek text as a positive movement and fails to understand the erosion of a distinctively traditional Reformation understanding of the text of Scripture.

4. Wallace demonstrates the limits of defending the inerrancy of the autographs of Scripture without also defending the inerrancy of the apographs of Scripture. Will this approach ever be able to sustain an affirmation of the authority of Scripture against its cultured despisers?

Friday, August 07, 2009

The Prayer of Asa

Asa was one of the few kings in Judah who receives a generally favorable review by the writers of Scripture. According to 2 Chronicles 14:2, "Asa did that which was right in the eyes of the LORD his God." He is praised by the Chronicler, in particular, for the fact that "he took away the altars of the strange gods, and the high places, and brake down the images, and cut down the groves. And commanded Judah to seek the LORD God of their fathers, and to do the law and the commandment" (2 Chron 14:3-4). Asa oversaw a time of spiritual revival and reformation among his people.
Asa was soon challenged, however, on the international front. Zerah the Ethiopian came against him with a great host against him. On the eve of battle, Asa cries out to the Lord in prayer, saying:

LORD, it is nothing with thee to help, whether with many, or with them that have no power: help us, O LORD our God; for we rest on thee, and in they name we go against this multitude. O LORD, thou art our God; let not man prevail against thee (2 Chron 14:11).

Here are five points to consider in determining how this prayer might serve as a model for how believers should pray:

1. It begins with an acknowledgement both of the Lord’s complete sovereignty and his utter awareness of all needs. As Isaiah said: "Behold, the LORD’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; neither his ear heavy, that it cannot hear" (59:1).

2. It recognizes that although God may use human means to accomplish his purposes, he is not dependent upon them. In fact, he often chooses to aid those who have no power precisely so that he alone might receive all glory. Consider the paring down of Gideon’s army in Judges 7:2: "The people that are with thee are too many for me to give the Midianites into their hands, lest Israel vaunt themselves against me, saying, Mine own hand hath saved me." Consider also the Lord’s comfort to the apostle Paul: "My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness" (2 Cor 12:9).

3. It proceeds to a cry of help out of weakness and need ("help us, O LORD our God").

4. It confesses absolute rest and confidence in God in the face of the enemy ("for we rest in thee…").

5. It recalls that God has pledged himself to be our God and pleads with the Lord not to vindicate the one praying but the one prayed unto ("O LORD, thou art our God…").

The Chronicler proceeds to relate how the Lord was pleased to answer this prayer: "So the LORD smote the Ethiopians before Asa and before Judah; and the Ethiopians fled" (2 Chron 14:12).

Let us learn from the prayer of Asa as we bring our petitions before him.

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Note: Evangel article for 8/5/09.

Review of Dan Wallace: Part 4 of 5

Note: This is the fourth of 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).
IV. Desiderata: The Task that Remains

Wallace groups his thoughts under two themes:

1. Knowledge of documents.

Here Wallace stresses the need for:

a. Discovery. We now have 5,760 NT manuscripts and Wallace thinks "there may be as many as 1,000 NT MSS yet to be discovered" (p. 96).

b. Collation. This refers to the comparison of all known manuscripts to a base text. To date this has only been done for one NT book (Revelation by H. Hoskier).

c. Analysis.

2. Closing the Gap.

He notes three gaps:

a. The gap between liberals and evangelicals.

Wallace encourages evangelicals to take up textual study to be "the voice of reason" in the discipline vis-à-vis liberals, like Ehrman and his ilk (p. 98).

b. The gap between scholar and apologists.

c. The gap between church and academe.

Here Wallace is critical of the fact that modern translations still retain the "longer ending" of Mark and the pericope adulterae in John. This takes place, he says, despite the fact that the scholars who produce these translations "do not subscribe to the authenticity of such texts" because they are not "in the oldest and best manuscripts and their internal evidence is decidedly against authenticity. Why then are they still in these Bibles?" (p. 99).

These are there, he says, largely due to "a tradition of timidity" (p. 99). He coyly states that the NET Bible (for which Wallace serves as an editor) considered placing these disputed passages in the footnotes but, in the end, decided to print them in "smaller font with bracket around them" (p. 99). He jokes: "Smaller type, of course, makes it harder to read from the pulpit" (p. 99). He assures us, however, that they are giving serious consideration to dropping these verses completely in their next edition!

Wallace again raises the specter of Ehrman’s attacks and calls for a preemptive strike: "We have to educate believers. It is far, far better that they hear the facts from us than from someone who is hostile to the faith" (p. 99).

Analysis: I find this section particularly disturbing. Might there be good reason to retain both Mark 16:9-20 and John 7:53-8:11 as part of the canonical text of Scripture? I would challenge Wallace, and any others who are in such great doubt about these passages, to make good on their intention to proceed with the removal of these passages and then see how the market treats their product. Wallace seems to think that the Christian public needs to be protected by evangelical text critics from the likes of Ehrman. Could it be, however, that the Bible might be protected by the Christian public (who would likely revolt once they knew such precious verses were omitted) from the likes of evangelical text critics?

Thursday, August 06, 2009

J. L. Dagg on the Musical Aspects of Worship

Baptist theologian J. L. Dagg (1794-1884) offers his view on what is fitting with regard to the musical aspects of the worship of God's people in his Manual of Church Order (The Southern Baptist Publication Society, 1858) in a section under the mode of worship (see pp. 238-40). Dagg writes:
Praise may be mingled with the petitions and thanksgivings offered in prayer; and is then, like these, expressed in prose, and with the ordinary voice. But poetry and music are specially appropriate in the expression of praise. They were used in early times, and formed an important part of the temple worship. In the New Testament, we find frequent use of singing; and it is expressly commanded in several passages (Col. iii. 16; Eph. v. 19; James v. 13). The phrase "admonishing one another in psalms," &c., being addressed to a church, sufficiently indicates that singing was designed to be a part of the church's public worship.

The book of Psalms was composed for the temple worship. It serves as a help and general directory in this part of the public service; but there is no proof that our praises ought to be expressed in no words but those found in this book. We have no book of prayers in the Bible; and we learn from this that a book of prayers is not needed in our public worship; but we have a book of Psalms, because, in a service in which many are to speak together, they cannot speak the same things without previous preparation. We learn hence the lawfulness of using hymn-books; and experience has proved their great utility.

Instrumental music formed a part of the temple worship; but it is nowhere commanded in the New Testament; and it is less adapted to the more spiritual service of the present dispensation.

Dagg, therefore, rejected exclusive psalmody, and he did not condone the use of instrumental music in worship (concurring with Francis Wayland).


Guest Preacher at JPBC August 9th: Brian Russell

Our guest preacher at JPBC this upcoming Lord's Day (August 9th) will be Pastor Brian Russell.

Brian A. Russell was born in South Africa and came to a saving faith in Jesus Christ at the age of seventeen. He worked in the gold mining industry for six years. Following the Lord’s call to full-time service, he earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of South Africa and his theological degree from the Baptist Theological College, Johannesburg. He entered the ministry in 1962 and has served in three churches in South Africa, one in Zimbabwe and two in Virginia. He and his wife, Muriel, have three grown children. He is the author of Baptism: Sign and Seal of the Covenant of Grace (Evangelical Press, 2002) and Totally Committed to Christ (EP, 2004).


Review of Dan Wallace: Part 3 of 5

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:

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.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Review of Dan Wallace: Part 2 of 5

Note: This is the second of 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).
II. Postmodern Intrusions into New Testament Textual Criticism

Wallace proceeds to trace three "postmodern intrusions" into the field of text criticism (p. 80). The first two he sees as negative and the third as positive. The three intrusions:

(1) Defining the goal of the discipline.

Here Wallace refers to the fact that text critics in the academy have abandoned the traditional task of determining the original text or autograph of Scripture.

He cites here the work of British scholar David Parker, in particular, who sees the Bible as "a living, changing document" (p. 83). There are no longer wrong or right readings, but all are equally valid.

Wallace concludes that, at its worst, "postmodern textual criticism" is "anchorless" and "detached from history" (p. 85). For him, "the quest for the wording of the autographa is still worth fighting for" (p. 85).

Analysis: It seems to me that the root problem with contemporary evangelical academic text criticism is exposed in this section. The "traditional" textual work done by evangelicals like Wallace is, in fact, the cutting edge scholarship of the 19th and 20th centuries and not the 21st. "Traditional" text criticism is the same scholarship that was dominated by men like Westcott and Hort and adapted to evangelical church life by men like B. B. Warfield and A. T. Robertson. It gave us the overthrow of the ecclesiastical text and its replacement by the modern critical Greek text. It has also given us a multitude of new translations based on the new authoritative text. Sadly, the next generation is revealing that far from leading to certainty, the trajectory is leading to confusion.

The alarm expressed by Wallace is rooted in the fact that "mainstream" academic text criticism has entered a brave new world of near complete relativism where not only marginal textual variants but even Gnostic gospels are considered to be as relevant as the received text of the canonical gospels. The search for the original, authoritative text is passe.

What will the future hold for evangelical text critics? If the pattern is repeated here as in other fields, the most likely scenario is that the evangelical scholars will be led more toward the innovations of those in the academy in an attempt to gain scholarly respectability. It is highly unlikely that the new generation of "postmodernists" will be pulled back to the "traditional" goal by evangelicals, whose work they are most likely merely to dismiss offhand as outdated. What will future editions of the modern critical text look like? How will the text be altered? What will the translations made from such text look like A look at the ending of Mark’s Gospel in the NRSV with its inclusion of the "shorter ending," the "longer ending," and even the complete inclusion of the Freer Logion (in a footnote)might give us some clue as to the direction scholarship is heading.

(2) Epistemological skepticism.

The second intrusion, Wallace defines as "a frontal attack on any kind of certainty" (p. 85). Wallace offers a sociological explanation for this skepticism "cultivated in the soil of cultural pessimism" explaining that "Broken homes and lives racked with sin are not ingredients for hope or certainty" (p. 86).

Analysis: Though Wallace bemoans postmodern angst over ever achieving any measure of absolute certainty with regard to the establishment of an authoritative text, his own approach ironically reflects the same fatal symptoms.

Wallace concedes that his discipline will never produce an absolutely authoritative text. He asks, "Can we know with absolute certainty that what we have in our hands today exactly replicates the original text?" and answers, "Of course not" (p. 86). Nevertheless, Wallace says, this is a good thing since it corrects "the naïve epistomological triumphalism" of "modernism" (p. 86).
What do we have? According to Wallace, the best we have is "overwhelming probability that the wording in our printed Bibles is pretty close" (p. 86).

His critique of postmodernism is that it ignores "probabilities" if it cannot have absolute certainty: "At bottom, postmodern textual critics have confused absolute certainty—which we cannot have—with reasonable certainty—which we can have" (p. 89).

Wallace's response hardly leaves the traditional Christian with much assurance as to where things are heading. The abandonment of the received text has led to an evangelical text that is "pretty close" and to a postmodern text that is so completely uncertain that it is whatever one chooses to make of it.

(3) Focus on community/collaboration.

Wallace affirms this third influence as "a very positive trend" (p. 89). Whereas the great text critics of the past tended to be "lone wolves," postmodernism has made textual criticism a communal effort.

Analysis: Wallace’ praise for efforts at collaboration includes high commendation for ecumenical rapprochement. He commends, for example, the fact that the 4th edition of the UBS and the 27th edition of the Nestle-Aland text "involved Protestants, a Roman Catholic, and an Orthodox scholar—all three branches of Christendom" (p. 90, n. 48). Furthermore, Wallace approvingly reports on recent changes at that highly influential German INTF, a historically Protestant organization:

"When Barbara Aland retired a few years ago, the search was on for a new director. In 2004, Holger Strutwolf was found. What is remarkable about this appointment is that Strutwolf is a Roman Catholic. To understand how radical this shift is, just imagine the Evangelical Theological Society with a Roman Catholic as its president!" (p. 91).

That final remark got quite a laugh when delivered at the ETS meeting, given the recent ETS Francis Beckwith debacle.

One is left to wonder, however, if such cooperation is as healthy as Wallace makes it out to be. In losing the traditional text of Scripture have we also lost a distinctively Reformed and Protestant Bible? Will efforts to diminish cardinal doctrinal differences have an impact in future editions of the modern critical Greek text and the translations that are based upon it?

Monday, August 03, 2009

Review of Dan Wallace: Part 1 of 5

Note: This is the first of 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).

The theme of the 2008 Annual Meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society held last November in Providence, Rhode Island was on the Text and Canon of Scripture. There were four plenary speakers, with two addressing issues of text and canon respectively for the OT and two for the NT.

Dan Wallace was chosen to address the topic of NT text. This appointment indicates that he is considered by many to be the foremost evangelical authority in the field of NT text criticism. In his address, Wallace mentioned only two other society members who hold the requisite credentials to be considered NT text critics (William Warren at NOBT and Maurice Robinson at SEBTS).
Wallace teaches at Dallas Theological Seminary and is the founder and director of the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts. He is also an outspoken advocate for "reasoned eclecticism" and promoter of the modern critical Greek text.

I heard his remarks in person during the meeting and recall having my feathers ruffled by what I heard. His address was published in the March 2009 issue of the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society [JETS] (pp. 79-100). I got around to reading his address more closely in JETS last week and wanted to compose some responses.

Wallace’s address/paper has five major sections:

I. Preface

II. Postmodern Intrusions into New Testament Textual Criticism

III. The Role of Theology in New Testament Textual Criticism

IV. Desiderata: The Task that Remains

V. Conclusion: Why Evangelicals Need to be Involved in New Testament Textual Criticism

Wallace’s address deserves close scrutiny and response. I will offer a general outline of Wallace’s paper with some analysis (often in italic) provided:

I. Preface:

Wallace frames his remarks as an evangelical response to recent "dramatic" and "drastic" changes in the field relating to "a new skepticism about recovering the wording of the autographa" of the NT by Epp, Ehrman, and Parker (p. 80).

He cites Ehrman’s "masterful tome" The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture as the watershed (p. 79, n. 3). Wallace also overestimates the impact of Ehrman’s more popular work Misquoting Jesus, claiming that the book created a "Chicken Little effect" causing "countless people to abandon the faith" (p. 79). Aside: I would like to meet even one person who "abandoned the faith" due to this book, not to mention the fact that no authentic believer ever would or could do such a thing!

Book Note: Greg Wills, "Southern Baptist Theological Seminary: 1859-2009"

I recently finished reading Greg Wills' Southern Baptist Theological Seminary: 1859-2009 (Oxford University Press, 2009). This is an impressive work, thorough (weighing in at 566 pages), meticulously researched, and remarkably well written. As an alumnus of the school during the moderate days of Roy Honeycutt's leadership, it gave me new insights to understand my experience. All bitter ex-SBC moderates should read this book to understand the heritage and history not only of SBTS but also of the SBC. This book affirms that the reformation and redirected trajectory at SBTS in the last twenty years is nothing short of miraculous. I plan to write a longer review for a future issue of the EFN.


Wayland on Singing and Instruments in Worship

Wayland on Singing and Instruments in Worship:
One of our essential beliefs is that of the spirituality of the church, that is, that the church of Christ is composed exclusively of spiritual or regenerated persons. As God is a spirit, and those that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth, we have always believed that the real worship of God was performed only by believers. To us, worship, either in public or private, is the offering up to God of holy and devout affections. Hence we believe that no one can be a minister of the sanctuary, unless he be a devout and regenerate man. Hence we believe that to sing the praises of God without really lifting up the heart to him, is in no sense Christian worship, and is, in fact no acceptable service. Hence our belief always has been that singing is a part of worship which belongs, in a peculiar manner, to the disciples of the Saviour. In this service they, with one voice, utter the confessions of penitence, the triumphs of faith, the confidence of hope, and bow down together with one feeling of holy adoration. Hence our singing was a service of the church, in which others united with them only in so far as they could sympathize with them in the sentiments which they uttered. These are, if I mistake not, our beliefs on this subject, and to it our practice, until lately, conformed. A member of the church selected the tunes, led the singing, and the whole church, and the devout portion of the congregation, united with him in this part of religious worship. Their design was to make melody in their hearts to the Lord.

For these reasons, Baptists formerly were universally opposed to the introduction of musical instruments into the house of God. They asked, How can senseless things speak the praises of God? In this, they may or may not have erred. I do not deny that something of this sort may be useful to harmonize the voices of a congregation. I leave the decision of this question to the judgement of others, yet I can not but remark in passing, that I have rarely met a Christian person who did not prefer the singing in a vestry-room below, where nothing was heard but the voices of the congregation, to the music of the choir, aided by the organ in the meeting-house above. Hence the singing in Baptist churches was formerly what is now denominated congregational. We had neither choirs nor organs. Nothing but the voices of worshipers was heard in hymning the praises of God, and in this service every devout worshiper was expected to unite.
Source: Notes, pp. 149-150.
Note that Wayland stresses:
  • Only believers can truly sing praises to God.
  • The old Baptists did not use musical instruments but relied solely on the instrument of the human voice.
  • The old Baptists only did congregational singing with "neither choirs nor organs."