Tuesday, February 14, 2017
Word Magazine # 69: Epistemology and Text Criticism
I recorded and posted today Word Magazine # 69: Epistemology and Text Criticism. Here are some notes:
I began with reviewing some comments in a panel discussion from Peter Williams of Tyndale House in which he laments the lack of certainty among modern evangelicals with regard to the Bible (you can see the whole video of the panel discussion here; for the comments reviewed in this episode begin at c. the 5:30 mark). Here is some of what Williams said:
“Now what’s happened is, over the last couple of centuries, the burden of proof has shifted. So if you read commentators from 200 years ago or more, they are presuming that they have access to the original text - unless someone has some overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
“Whereas what happens nowadays is people say that they need a huge amount of evidence before they actively believe that they have the original. And I think that’s all part of the shift in epistemology that happened since David Hume – that people no longer want so say that they know anything. They just have increasing levels of confidence until, as a shortcut, you say you know something [but] it’s really just 99-point-something-percent certain belief.”
I noted that this lack of certainty is reflected in modern reconstructionist text criticism, wherein those who use the method can never claim actually to have the text of God’s Word but only a very close approximation. I offered three representative quotations from relatively recent books on text criticism (emphasis added):
Neil R. Lightfoot, How We Got the Bible, Third Edition (MJF Books, 1963, 1988, 2003):
Using these tools [modern text critical methods] with discretion, it is possible to come so near the original autographs that we can all but grasp them in our hands (p. 106).
Paul D. Wegner, A Student’s Guide to Textual Criticism of the Bible: Its History, Methods, & Results (IVP Academic, 2006):
Careful examination of these manuscripts has served to strengthen our assurance that our modern Greek and Hebrew critical texts are very close to the original autographs, even though we do not have those autographs (p. 301).
Jeffrey D. Johnson, A Primer on Textual Criticism (Birmingham, Al.: Solid Ground Christian Books, 2012):
Although it is highly doubtful that we will ever know for certain that we possess in its entirety, line for line, word for word, letter for letter, dot for dot, the exact text of the original writings of the Prophets and Apostles, it is believed by the majority of textual scholars that we can come very, very close (p. 19).
In contrast to this modern equivocation, I noted the confidence of John Owen in the text of Scripture:
… 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…. In them all, we say, is every letter and tittle of the word (Collected Works, Vol. 16, p. 357).
I also made reference to Peter Enns’ 2016 book, The Sin of Certainty, and suggested that many otherwise evangelical and conservative men have adopted an essentially liberal position by making a virtue of textual uncertainty.