Saturday, January 04, 2020

WM 146: Text and Academy: Mormon Editor for the OT?

Image: BYU professor Robert W. Parry studies an OT ms.

I have posted WM 146: Text and Academy: Mormon Editor for the OT? Listen here. Here are my notes:

In WM 146 I want to look at three items all related to the topic of “Text and the Academy.”

Before we get started with today’s topic, let me also share some feedback from a past podcast. WM 137 was titled Are Reformed Baptists “Reformed” and featured a pastors’s round-table discussion of the book On Being Reformed.

Several weeks ago, one of the authors of that book, and the general editor of it, Dr. Crawford Gribben, from Queen’s University in Belfast, tweeted out a link to that podcast, and then last week one of the authors, Chris Caughey, who co-authored the opening essay in the book with Gribben, sent an email, a part of which I’d like to share with his permission. He wrote:

Hello Pastor Riddle,

My name is Chris Caughey.  Crawford Gribben had tweeted out a link to your discussion of On Being Reformed.  I appreciated the discussion, and I just wanted to send a quick note.

My name doesn't matter that much, but it sounded like it was really bothering you, whether you were getting the pronunciation right.  Growing up, we pronounced it "Coy."  But then I did my PhD at Trinity College Dublin (under Crawford Gribben), and the Irish pronounced it "Caw-hee."  Since it is an Irish name, my family and I decided to change the pronunciation to the Irish one.

I also wanted to let you know that I am not a Baptist…

Anyway, thanks again for the discussion you hosted.  It was helpful to hear about it from Baptist perspectives.

In Christ,


It turns out Chris is Presbyterian, and even studied at Westminster Seminary West, but differs from Hart and Clark in their narrower definition of what it means to be “Reformed.”

Thanks to Chris for these clarifications.

OK now on to today’s Topic: Three short “look ins” on the topic of Text and Academy: (1) my blog post from Ian’s Murray’s book Evangelicalism Divided, (2) an observation made in Richard Brash’s recent book on the preservation of the Bible, relating to a Mormon scholar being added to the editorial committee for the scholarly edition of the Hebrew Bible; (3) a brief comment made by Tommy Wasserman on an Evangelical Text criticism blog post.

First, I want to review (provide an audio version of) the content from my November 25 blogpost on Iain Murray’s book Evangelicalism Divided, which was titled “Iain Murry on the Evangelical Search for Academic Respectability.”

Second, I want to share just one brief statement or factoid that was mentioned in Richard Brash’s booklet A Christian’s Pocket Guide to How God Preserved The Bible (Christian Focus, 2019).

You might recall that in WM 128 I reviewed Brash’s 2019 WJT article on the Reformed Orthodox’s understanding of the “originals.”

Brash’s new booklet is interesting just for the fact alone that it addresses the doctrinal issue of the providential preservation. Unfortunately, from my perspective, he does not defend the traditional Protestant view of preservation but a modern reinterpretation of that doctrine.

I could offer a review of the entire book, but I want to focus, for now, on just one sort of side comment made on pp. 48-49. Here Brash is discussing John Owen’s view of preservation, including his defense of the Masoretic Text, including even it vowel points and accents.

Brash says that one of the errors in Owen’s approach was the fact that he believed “only the true people of God could preserve the written Word of God” (48).

Was that an error on Owen’s part?

Brash writes, with respect to this “error” in Owen: “there is no reason to assume that God cannot use unbelievers, such as the Masoretes, to preserve his written Word” (49).

He then adds the following: “Indeed, one of the editors of the latest critical edition of the Old Testament (Biblia Hebraica Quinta) is a Mormon professor from Brigham Young University” (49).

A footnote links to a news article from 2009 from BYU about Dr. Robert W. Parry, an Isaiah specialist, becoming one of a couple dozen scholars tasked with the responsibility of editing the current scholarly edition of the Hebrew Bible.

Brash adds: “Can God Use a (non-Trinitarin) Mormon to work on textual criticism of a Hebrew text that will likely form the basis of future Bible translations across the world? History suggests that he can” (49).

I was not aware of the fact that a Mormon scholar was now serving as a steward and gate-keeper for the scholarly text of the OT.

This sort of issue arose with respect to the NT back in the 1980s when Carlo Maria Martini (1927-2012), a Jesuit scholar and later Archbishop of Milan and RC Cardinal, was named to the very small editorial committee that oversaw the scholarly text of the NT. Martini was at least Trinitarian!

To respond to Brash’s critique of Owen’s view that “only the true people of God could preserve the written Word of God” my inclination is to defend Owen.

Here are three rejoinders Brash’s argument against Owen:

First: He suggests there is a precedent for “unbelievers” preserving the Word, because of the Masoretes.

But, we would point out, the Masoretes, were not polytheistic pagans (as are the Mormons) but monotheistic Jews. Furthermore, there is a longstanding Christian (especially Protestant Christian) view that the Jews were given special responsibilities in preserving the OT for the people of God. This included the scribes who copied and collected the OT writings but also the Masoretes who carefully preserved and transmitted the text up until the time of the invention of the printing press. A key text often cited by the Protestant orthodox is Romans 3:2, where Paul says, “unto them [the Jews] were committed the oracles of God [ta logia tou theou].”

Second: The Masoretic tradition, for both the consonants and vowels, went back to the second temple period and the restoration era, of Ezra and men of the Great Synagogue. Those godly Hebrews were hardly “unbelievers.”

Third: I do not believe there is any Biblical or historical evidence for polytheistic pagans being given the task of preserving God’s Word.

In conclusion, let me add that I do not see the inclusion of  Mormon scholar on the editorial team of the BHQ as an evidence of divine preservation. On the contrary, I am bothered by the fact that a Mormon is a now a gate-keeper for the text of the OT that will be studied and translated and read and preached by otherwise orthodox Christians who make use of modern Bible translations.

This is yet another reason IMHO as to why we should prefer the confessional text position.

Third, I wanted to share a comment that struck me which read on a post on the Evangelical Text Criticism blog.

This was a post by Peter Gurry back on November 23, 2019 titled ‘First Century Mark’ SBL Panel.

As the title indicates, the post was about a panel held at the annual SBL meeting on the supposed “First Century Mark” which Dan Wallace had appealed to, several years back, in a debate with Bart Ehrman as proof for the Gospel’s antiquity. Problem is, the Mark fragment proved not to be dated to the first century. Ehrman and some other liberal scholars were on the panel and, apparently “evangelical” text critics took some heat in the discussion. Some even took “woke” aim at supposed evangelical “male white privilege.”

The comments section on the post was lively (it currently has 74 comments) and interesting. Here were many academically credentialed “evangelicals” getting pushback from unbelieving scholars for being too narrow in their study of the Biblical text. So much for earning academic respectability!

The comment that stood out to me was one by the Swedish Baptist scholar Tommy Wasserman. Wasserman is a respected scholar who co-authored with Peter Gurry the introductory book on the CBGM, from SBL. Last year he also co-authored with Jennifer Knust the book To Cast the First Stone (Princeton, 2019). I met Dr. Wasserman a couple of years ago at the SEBTS conference on the PA and enjoyed catting with him, though we obviously disagree on text cricism. He is a really nice guy and has a very charitable spirit. I also know this was just an informal blog comment. Here is what TW wrote:

In any case, for me a high view of Scripture is a matter of personal belief. I have no intention of trying to prove that this or that textual variant is the original word of God. I would like to work as a text-critic as if God didn't exist, so to speak. On the other hand, I have a personal faith which certainly affects also my scholarship, and I try to be honest about that. I am certain that other people's belief or disbelief affects what they do to. I prefer not to be put in a box of privileged white male text-critics who just pretend to do real scholarship.

TW, seemed to be wincing at the criticism and was questioning the value of the label “evangelical.” What does that term even mean anymore?

But it is also interesting to hear in that comment how even such scholars who might broadly identify with being “evangelical” have been influenced by both the modern and postmodern perspectives.

With regard to the postmodern, TW says he does not think it is possible to prove any variant is the “original” word of God.

With regard to the modern, he suggests that text criticism should be done “as if God did not exist.” That is, I take him to mean, without any consideration of religious beliefs or spiritual/theological presuppositions.

It is this type of notion that leads evangelicals to say it’s OK to have a RC edit the NT and a Mormon the OT.

Again, I like TW personally and have no desire to bash him.

But this comment, to me, exemplifies the problems that emerge when evangelicals attempt to embrace modern text criticism (as part of the wider modern historical critical method), and it confirms my resolve to advocate for the superiority of the Confessional Text position.



Tommy Wasserman said...

Hi Jeff, I just noted your blogpost. Yes, you have correctly represented my position. I do not want to begin with a fideistic presupposition, e.g., the Textus Receptus is the word of God, and then seek to defend it pretending to be a critic using the accepted principles of textual criticism. On the other hand (as I pointed out in the discussion you refer to), I will not pretend either that my personal faith does not affect me as a scholar. But in my scholarly work I make arguments as anyone else and they are not arguments like, ”the Spirit told me this is the original” (like one practitioner said), or ”this is the received text by everyone,” but rather based on a larger view of textual history and principles accepted by a wide range of scholars (as laid out in handbooks), and knowledge of the documents we are dealing with. So, I want to be as transparent as possible with my theory and method (which can be shared by any serious scholar I think), as well as my personal faith.

Jeffrey T. Riddle said...

TW, thanks for your comment. I am glad to hear that you think I accurately represented your views.

I do not think that embracing the TR as the standard text of the NT is merely a fideistic presupposition, since it is also based on historical and practical reasoning, though "fide" (faith) does play a leading part. I also do not want to contend for the TR on the basis of an appeal to some kind of esoteric, mystical experience or feeling, though I also think it is right to acknowledge the practical, experiential value of this position. Nor, do I want to appeal to its authority on naive historical grounds (i.e., a nebulous claim that this text was received by everyone).

It seems that the secular scholars at the SBL were taking exception to "evangelical" scholars for their "fideistic presupposition" that the Bible (even in its modern, text critical form) is exceptional (unlike other works of antiquity), inspired, authoritative, inerrant (infallible), etc. Were they not suggesting that evangelicals are really only doing "pretend" scholarship? If one is a believer, can he ever really escape such charges from secularists, if he takes a high view of Scripture?

I also do not want to "pretend" to be a critic, using "the accepted principles of textual criticism." I see the "reconstruction" method, after all, as a dead end. I am, however, interested in the history of the text (the study of extant mss., whether they agree with the TR or not, etc.). I think this study is worthwhile. I have certainly appreciated your historical work on the text and have profited from it, even though I disagree with many of your conclusions (e.g., the PA is not original/authentic to John). I just don't think we can use this sort of historical evidence to reconstruct the authentic text (and, as I understand, you don't think that's possible either).

Anyhow, thanks again for your response, and I hope we can cross paths again in person sometime. My door is open to you if you ever pass through Virginia.

Blessings, JTR

Tommy Wasserman said...

Thanks! And in case you haven’t seen, I have a new book out on the PA (with Jennifer Knust).

Best wishes

Jeffrey T. Riddle said...

Thanks Tommy. I have your book on the PA and have read some of it. I hope to finish soon and maybe even write a review.