Thursday, March 31, 2011

Rejoinder to Jamin Hubner: Part 6 (Baptist Confession)

Note to readers: I have added the label "Jamin Hubner"at the end of this and the other rejoinders in this series. If you click on the "Jamin Hubner" button, you can read all the rejoinders in this series.

This post is in response to Jamin Hubner’s article titled “Case Studies in King James Onlyism: The Baptist Confession and Byzantine Priority?” (which is essentially part six in his series “The ESV Translation: A Response to Jeff Riddle” that started as a response to my blog post “Three Basic Challenges to the ESV”).

In this post the reader will notice that Hubner persists in mistakenly referring to my position as “KJV-Onlyism.” Hubner fails to see that one can be opposed to the modern critical Greek text and a proponent of the traditional or received text (these are the terms I prefer to use rather than “Byzantine Priority”) without being a KJV-Only advocate (which entails belief in a special inspired status for the KJV translation per se).

Hubner is quite right, however, when he says that I wish to challenge his readers to question the value of modern translations which are based on the modern critical texts. I am unapologetic in this.

Hubner next states that “Riddle's position is essentially that of Presbyterian Edward F. Hills.” I suppose he reaches this conclusion on the basis of the fact that I offered two quotations from Hills’ book The King James Version Defended in my part four rejoinder. Hubner then cites a third passage from Hills (which I did not cite) to demonstrate Hills’ supposedly radical beliefs in the providential preservation of the Textus Receptus. Though it is clearly overreaching to say that my position is identical with Hills since I am not in full agreement with Hills on all points, I am not ashamed to say that I have found Hills’ work very stimulating and would readily commend it to anyone thinking through these issues. Even James White says that Hills represents “the best of the KJV Only position” (KJV Only Controversy, p. 92).

Hubner then states that the difference between the traditional text (which served as the basis for all the Reformation era translations) and the modern critical text is that the modern critical text makes use of important “new” manuscript discoveries (like Sinaiticus, Vaticanus, papyri, etc.) while the traditional text does not.

Let me again disagree with this simplistic presentation. As I have previously argued, all of the major textual issues were well known by the Reformation era theologians and scholars [e.g., the Lord’s Prayer doxology (Matt 6:13); the pericope adulterae (John 7:53-8:11), the ending of Mark (Mark 16:9-20); the comma Johanneum (1 John 5:7-8), etc.]. All one need do for confirmation of this point is to read the commentaries of Calvin and the notes of Erasmus on such passages to find that they were well aware of these issues.

With regard to the papyri, Dutch scholar Jakob Van Bruggen observes that the abandonment of the traditional text:

…did not occur on the ground of newly found papyri. The papyri only begin to play a part in the New Testament textual criticism in the middle of the 20th century. The textus receptus was then already abandoned. Many people who use the Bible think that the Bible translations had to be altered with regard to their text because of the discoveries of the Egyptian sand. Yet the reality is different. The Revised Version dates from 1881. In the practice of Bible-translation and exegesis, the Byzantine text was already abandoned decades before important New Testament papyri were published. Whether or not the new discoveries support the arguments of Hort is a separate question (The Ancient Text of the NT, pp. 15-16).

Regardless, I have already cited the findings of one scholar (Harry Sturz) who has argued that the papyri actually support traditional readings. Hubner has yet to respond to this point.

Conclusion on this point: It is simply untrue that the modern critical text was developed due to new “discoveries” of early manuscripts. The major textual issues were all known in the time of the Reformation. The overthrow of the traditional text was ideologically driven and was a fait accompli in academic circles by 1881 and was not the result of new manuscript discoveries.

Hubner next makes reference to my critique of the “secular academy” but offers no responses to any of my arguments.

Finally, Hubner presents his central objection related to my interpretation of the doctrine of the preservation of Scripture as defined in the 2LBCF 1689. At the heart of the matter is this question: What did the framers of this document mean when they said that the Hebrew and Greek of the Biblical original languages was “immediately inspired by God, and by his singular care and providence kept pure in all ages”? Hubner argues that the framers of this document were referring not to the actual autographs of Scripture (long lost) but to “the autographic text within the manuscript tradition.” His view would then apparently be that it is the work of scholars in the academy to determine what most closely approximates this nebulous “autographic text.” So he would say that scholars in our day have better manuscripts that have helped us get closer to this ideal autographic text, even if we can never be completely sure that we have it.

One of the major problems with this view is that it is anachronistic. It reads modern “Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy” ideals concerning the elusive inerrant autographs into the Reformation era confession.

Another major problem is the fact that it ignores the value of the apographs (copies of the text). My contention is that when the framers of Reformation era confessions like the 2LBC 1689 spoke about the divine preservation of the Scriptures they were addressing not some nebulous “autograph” but the real “apographs” (the copies of the Bible) they possessed. Furthermore, they believed that the extant “apographs” faithfully recorded the actual words of the “autographs.” This was the work of divine preservation. In truth, they were referring to the copies they possessed of the traditional text of the Bible. They well knew about the alternative readings, now adopted in the modern critical text, as represented by codices like Vaticanus, Beza, etc. The point is that they rejected them as inauthentic in favor of the traditional textual readings.

For evidence that this is the most likely view of the framers of the 2LBCF 1689 one can consult the writings of the Puritan independent John Owen who was the primary author of the Savoy Declaration (1658), which, like the 2LBC 1689, closely followed the Westminster Confession of Faith (1646). Owen was also a major influence among early particular Baptists. When Walton produced his “Polyglot,” an early attempt to produce a critical text, Owen responded with an essay titled “Of the Integrity and Purity of the Hebrew and Greek Text of the Scripture” (it is found in Owen’s Collected Works, Vol. XVI [Banner of Truth]).

In that essay, Owen acknowledges that the autographs are “utterly perished and lost out of the world” (p. 353).

Where then do we find the Word of God? Owen answers: “We add, that the whole Scripture, entire as given out from God, without any loss, is preserved in the copies of the originals yet remaining” (p. 357)

He continues: “In them all, we say, is every letter and tittle of the word. These copies, we say, are the rule, standard, and touchstone of all translations, ancient or modern, by which they all are to be examined, tried, corrected, amended; and themselves only by themselves” (p. 357).

Owen later adds (please read this citation carefully): “Let it be remembered that the vulgar copy we use was the public possession of many generations,--that upon the invention of printing it was an actual authority throughout the world with them that used and understood that language, as far as anything that appears to the contrary; let that then pass for the standard, which is confessedly its right and due, and we shall, God assisting, quickly see how little reason there is to pretend such varieties of readings as we are now surprised withal…” (p. 366).

To summarize Owen’s position: The Scriptures have been faithfully preserved by the providence of God in the extant copies of the Bible. The “vulgar copy” or received text achieved a fixed form with the invention of printing and now serves as the standard text.

I believe that the position that Owen articulates is the same as that held by the men who affirmed the 2LBCF 1689. This is what they meant when they affirmed that God had providentially preserved his Word.

Here is the final question that Bible believing Christians, particularly those who hold to Reformed theology, should ask: Do I want a theory of the text of Scripture articulated by John Owen (received text) or Bart Ehrman (modern critical text)? I choose Owen.



AJ said...

I believe your last point here is what is so critical to the differences between the camps here. Who will we stand with on the issue of which text; will we stand with the Framers and Reformers who studied hard to attain unto Sola Scriptura, or will we join ranks with liberal academia with whom the deity of Christ is nothing more than a point of contention and speculation (a doctrine, so I thought, the church had dealt with sufficiently in the early Councils). I too, will stand with Owen and the framers.

Anonymous said...

I believe Riddle makes a reasonable point. I would ask, do we have the inspired Word of God or do we have to wait for it to be found?