A Proper Understanding of the New Testament Text

What the authors of Myths and Mistakes insist on is that it is neither necessary nor even possible to demonstrate that we can recover the exact wording of the New Testament. But what we have is good enough.

The above words by Daniel B. Wallace are the final sentences in his Foreword to the new multi-author volume Myths and Mistakes in New Testament Textual Criticism (Elijah Hixson and Peter J. Gurry, eds. [Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2019], pp xix-xx). I received a copy a few days ago, and I may provide a more comprehensive review of it at some point (beyond what I’ve written here), once I’ve read through all its contents.

I think all Christians, most especially those involved in any sort of apologetics, should at least be somewhat acquainted with the topic of New Testament (NT) textual criticism. This is the discipline of attempting to determine the original Greek text (aka the autographs) of the NT, from which we translate to English and other languages. And it’s important that claims regarding the authenticity of the NT text are not exaggerated, for this will only serve to damage the cause of Christian apologetics and Christianity at large. Some who are openly hostile to the Christian faith well-know there are extant Greek NT texts that do not agree with each other, and attempts to quell this fact will only lead to charges of a lack of integrity and/or intelligence among Christians.

The cult-like fervor of King James Version-onlyists (KJVO) is particularly damaging to the Christian faith. These KJVOs stubbornly cling to either a claim of the supremacy of the Greek text underlying the KJV (the so-called Textus Receptus [TR]) and/or the supposed superiority of the King James English contained in the KJV over against all modern English (and other language) versions.1 Adherents appear to be sincere in their desire to believe that God has preserved His words in a particular manner, but in their zeal and shortsightedness they take things too far.

Such an extreme view can be misconstrued as not unlike what we would find in the ‘automatic’ writings of occult works, such as those by Alice A. Bailey, in which she openly states she was the conduit by which an entity identifying himself as Djwal Khul (aka Djwhal Khul, The Tibetan, Master D. K.) channeled his words. Hopefully, no one in Christianity/Christendom believes God provided His words in such a manner. According to the Apostle Paul, “all Scripture is God-breathed (theopneustos: from theos = God; pneustos = breath, breathe)” (2 Tim 3:16);2 moreover, according to Simon Peter, “men, borne by the Holy Spirit, spoke from God” (2 Peter 1:21) and even Paul’s epistles are identified as Scripture (2 Peter 3:15-16). That is, Scripture is understood to be written by men under inspiration from God, as opposed to God dictating His words to these men verbatim. In other words, these men were active participants in the writing of the Christian Holy Scriptures, as opposed to passive recipients, mere conduits. Thus, it is not imperative that we have the exact words of the NT in order to understand what God had conveyed via His messengers.

In Hixson and Gurry’s Introduction is a salient point regarding the reliability of the Greek text we do have:

…Simply put, we believe the textual evidence we have is sufficient to reconstruct, in most cases, what the authors of the New Testament wrote. We cannot do this with equal certainty, of course, and the following chapters will discuss places where doubt remains significant…Nevertheless, we do think that even the most textually corrupted of our manuscripts and editions still convey the central truths of the Christian faith with clarity and power. In every age, God has given his people a text that is more than reliable enough to know the saving work he has accomplished through Jesus Christ.3

To that I can only add, “Amen!”

_____________________________

1 The Achilles’ heel of the KJVO stance is the Johannine Comma (Latin Comma Johanneum)—interpolated verbiage found in the TR of 1 John 5:7-8 and in the corresponding English of the KJV/NKJV. See Daniel B. Wallace’s refutation of this as inspired Scripture here and here.

2 For an in-depth analysis on this one-time occurrence of this word (hapax legomenon), see George W. Knight III’s Commentary on the Pastoral Epistles, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1992), pp 444-450.

3 Hixson & Gurry, Myths and Mistakes, p 20. The accompanying footnote to this passage is worth presenting here (in part): In this we agree with influential English reformer William Whitaker, who could readily concede to his Roman Catholic opponents that “the fundamental points of the faith are preserved intact in this Latin edition, if not everywhere, yet in very many places.” This despite his opponents’ claims that the Latin text had final authority, a claim Whitaker vigorously opposed.

14 Responses to A Proper Understanding of the New Testament Text

  1. Sylvia says:

    You still come up with some good and interesting posts Craig thank you 🙂 I trust all is well with you and yours, my family and I are very good. We are back in UK (Wales) permanently now which is great but we do miss the Florida sun. We wish you a Merry Christmas and New year ‘young man’ God Bless you.

  2. Craig says:

    Thank you, Sylvia! Good to hear from you, and glad you still read here.

  3. Steven Avery says:

    Hi Craig,

    Above, I found the idea of the heavenly witnesses as an “Achilles Heel” to be interesting and quite humorous. More creative than the “ridiculous business” quote of one English scholar.

    There are incredibly strong evidences demonstrating the authenticity of the verse as Johannine scripture. For those who love the scripture and the historical supports, including church writers throughout the ages, mostly in Latin, yet often with Greek and dual-language support.

    Steven Avery
    Dutchess County, NY

  4. Craig says:

    Hi Steven,

    Thanks for your response. Do I presume you’d read the Dr. Wallace links I provided at that same footnote? I feel certain you are aware that the RCC-approved NABRE omitted it from when updating the Douay-Rheims?

  5. Craig says:

    Steven,

    I should add: In your opening sentence, your restating of my position regarding the text in question is problematic on a number of fronts. Your phraseology might seem clever to you, but It’s a straw man with your own built-in implicit quasi-ad hominem. Your implication in this straw man is that I’m denigrating the “heavenly witnesses” themselves—as if I’m disparaging, perhaps even blaspheming, the Trinity—when the fact is that I’m questioning the validity of the text. Thus, in your opening straw man statement you’ve implicitly made a sort of ad hominem against me.

    Might I suggest that next time you engage someone on an issue that you do so fairly, engaging the stated position itself and not your own embellished version of it, thereby evidencing more intellectual honesty?

  6. Craig says:

    In the following link are links to interviews with some of the individual authors of the chapters contained in this book:

    http://csntm.org/Blog/Archive/2019/12/15/AnnouncingInterviewsWiththeAuthorsofMythsandMistakes

  7. Jim says:

    The Johannine Comma has been shown as a post-Nicene addition pretty conclusively. As such it should be treated as a man-made adjunct to the writings of the NT corpus and out of step with the ECF.

    As an aside I have been reading a couple of papers on the development of the Trinity:

    Click to access TrinityHistoricalDevelopment.pdf

    https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/trinity/trinity-history.html#Up325CE

    In the Stanford paper there is the Athanasian Creed. It essentially declares what the early Catholics and in reality nearly all major Christian denominations declare, which is that to be outside of the Athanasian Trinity is to be eternally damned!

    I beg to differ, and so does the NT

  8. Craig says:

    I will beg to differ with you on this, as you might expect. I don’t have time to engage presently; but, you may wish to re-read this, especially the Early Non-Christian Interpretations section.

  9. Craig says:

    Sorry, I’m tired–it’s passed my bedtime–but I won’t say one is eternally damned if they don’t strictly adhere to the Trinity. I’ll think they are incorrect, but I don’t think anyone is saved from eternal damnation by correct theology any more than anyone is damned eternally for faulty theology. It may depend on degree of error, but, more importantly, it depends on God’s grace.

  10. Jim says:

    You make a good point in the essay Craig that there is a difference between writing under inspiration and the very gnostic even new age based idea that God dictates words to a writer. This is often found in the way charismatic leaders and ‘prophets’ declare a ‘verbatim’ word from God that is expected to be believed without question. It’s dangerous and all too common.

  11. Jim says:

    I took a look at that linked dialogue. There’s almost a Masters thesis in there between us!

    The interesting thing with the very comprehensive articles I linked to is that the church knew God the Father as the supreme God, and quickly drew in the Lord to that level of deity (albeit mostly subordinated), and there is a passing awareness of the Spirit but not really as a person.

    See we unwittingly reverse engineer the trinity back in to scripture, but all the early church had was the God-breathed OT and the possible access to the apostles letters. They could only look back at the God of Israel who was the monotheistic Shema God and connect Jesus with the logos/wisdom/messenger/captain encounters. Hence the most common greeting was from God the Father AND the Lord Jesus Christ. Not the trinity, which only began to be evolved by the 4th century to counter so called heresies and put down vying personalities. It’s when the God bearer started to become popular and all this morphed into what became early RCC doctrine.

    Hence my point of order regarding the athanasian creed which is a very unscriptural declaration of what it takes to be saved ie par for the RC doctrinal course.

  12. Craig says:

    Jim,

    Actually Irenaeus expressed what seemed to be a Trinitarian confession. Also, Tertullian, ca. 200 or so, is the first to explicitly refute Monarchianism in his Adversus Praxeam by explaining the Trinity properly. Thus, an understanding of God in tri-unity was already in existence before 381. Keep in mind that the ecumenical councils were convened specifically to refute individual heresies as they began to gain traction.

  13. Jim says:

    Craig, here is a thread that suggests ireneus wasn’t as trinitarian as one might think.

    http://www.4windsfellowships.net/forum.html#/discussion/295/irenaeus

    This group has a number of questionable doctrinal positions but the research seems sounds in this instance.

  14. Craig says:

    Here’s Irenaeus from Adv. Haer. 4.20.3-4:

    1. I have also largely demonstrated, that the Word, namely the Son, was always with the Father; and that Wisdom also, which is the Spirit, was present with Him, anterior to all creation, He declares by Solomon: “God by Wisdom founded the earth, and by understanding hath He established the heaven. By His knowledge the depths burst forth, and the clouds dropped down the dew” [Prov 3:19-20]. And again: “The Lord created me the beginning of His ways in His work: He set me up from everlasting, in the beginning, before He made the earth, before He established the depths, and before the fountains of waters gushed forth; before the mountains were made strong, and before all the hills, He brought me forth” [Prov 8:22-25]. And again: “When He prepared the heaven, I was with Him, and when He established the fountains of the deep; when He made the foundations of the earth strong, I was with Him preparing [them]. I was He in whom He rejoiced, and throughout all time I was daily glad before His face, when He rejoiced at the completion of the world, and was delighted in the sons of men” [Prov 8:27-31].
    2. There is therefore one God, who by the Word and Wisdom created and arranged all things; but this is the Creator (Demiurge) who has granted this world to the human race, and who, as regards His greatness, is indeed unknown to all who have been made by Him (for no man has searched out His height, either among the ancients who have gone to their rest, or any of those who are now alive); but as regards His love, He is always known through Him by whose means He ordained all things. Now this is His Word, our Lord Jesus Christ, who in the last times was made a man among men, that He might join the end to the beginning, that is, man to God. Wherefore the prophets, receiving the prophetic gift from the same Word, announced His advent according to the flesh, by which the blending and communion of God and man took place according to the good pleasure of the Father, the Word of God foretelling from the beginning that God should be seen by men, and hold converse with them upon earth, should confer with them, and should be present with His own creation, saving it, and becoming capable of being perceived by it, and freeing us from the hands of all that hate us, that is, from every spirit of wickedness; and causing us to serve Him in holiness and righteousness all our days [Luke 1:71,75], in order that man, having embraced the Spirit of God, might pass into the glory of the Father.

    –translation from AnteNicene Fathers

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