Saturday, January 22, 2022

WM 221: J. K. Elliott, Radical Eclecticism, and Academic Respectability


This episode was prompted by seeing a promotional flyer for an upcoming CSNTM conference in Dallas  in which various top scholars in the field of textual criticism will be presenting papers.

One of the breakout speakers (topic unlisted) is J. K. Elliott, emeritus professor at the University of Leeds, UK.

This brought to my mind Elliot’s chapter contribution to the 2008 book Perspectives on the Ending of Mark, especially his closing comments aimed it seems, in particular, at evangelicals or traditional Christians involved in academic textual criticism.

Elliott represents an approach known as thoroughgoing or radical eclecticism.

See the description in D. A. Black, NT Textual Criticism (1994): 37.

There are actually some parallels between this view and the Confessional Text position in that (1) it is skeptical of reconstruction based on the external evidence: (2) it affirms the NT text on an alternative basis (internal evidence; thoroughgoing eclecticism) [cf. the TR, which is also skeptical of empirical reconstruction of the extant external evidence and affirms the text based on “providential preservation”].

So, let’s turn and read the conclusion to Elliott’s article: “The Last Twelve Verses Original or Not? in Perspectives on the Ending of Mark (80-102).

He rejects the Traditional Ending of Mark (TE) on internal grounds, concluding that its “content and theology” are “uncharacteristic of Mark elsewhere” (87). Adding that the TE demonstrates a “significant difference in the language and style” (87). He later adds, “It is an inferior piece of writing, plodding and grey, compared with Mark’s racy, simple, and colloquial writing elsewhere” (91).

Nevertheless, the sees the TE, through secondary, as early and even suggests it might have been composed as a conclusion to the fourfold Gospel collection in the Western order (Matt-Luke-John-Mark) (see 92-93).

See, in particular, his conclusion (99-102).

To summarize:

1.    He misunderstands the meaning of the terms “inerrancy” and “infallibility” as relating to meticulous transmission of the text without scribal errors. Who holds this position? He attacks a straw man.

2.    He rejects the Reformed doctrine of providential preservation. If the original is there, it is there by “sheer chance” (100).

3.    He affirms the Ausgangstext calling it “as close as scholarship enables one to get to the possible original” (99).

4.    He rejects any notion that canon and the original text are interrelated categories. For Elliott the canonical text is not the original text. This means there can be authentic Jesus material not in the canon, and there can be inauthentic Jesus material within the canon.

Overall reflection:

Elliott’s conclusion reflects the confused state of contemporary textual criticism. Those evangelicals who choose to engage in this discipline seem to me to reflect essentially the same worldview and reach the same uncertain conclusions as Elliott (even though they may reject his radical eclecticism).

Anyone considering the academic study of religion should read Iain Murray’s book Evangelicalism Divided (Banner of Truth, 2000) and especially chapter 7, “’Intellectual Respectability’ and the Scripture.” At one point he writes:

“I turn now to the consequence which always follows a lowered view of Scripture. It is that biblical truth becomes a matter of possibilities and probabilities rather than of certainties” (197-198).

Correction note: FYI. In the podcast I assumed the CSNTM conference was formally associated with Dallas Seminary. Looking at the conference info I realize it may not be. 


No comments: