Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Inerrancy and textual criticism

I have been reminded by a correspondent that some time ago I promised to open a discussion on the relationship between inerrancy and textual criticism. This is it. I'll start with my thoughts and hope that others will contribute theirs as well as explore specific applications of the principles explored.

Prolegomena
The first thing I should say is about the relationship between inerrancy and this blog. As the blog's founder I am very, very happy to sign inerrancy statements in almost whatever shape or form they take. However, the term I preferred when establishing this blog was simply to say that the scriptures were 'true'. Although this might seem a weaker term, I do not mean it in a weaker sense. Moreover, it has the advantage of being self-evidently in continuation with all historic mainstream views of scripture that have been articulated down church history. Using the term 'true' also means that I am not forced into instant qualifications of the term I use because I am not using a technical term.

The second belief that I see as fundamental to this blog is the belief that God may be said to be the author of specific sequences of words which constitute scripture (i.e. belief in verbal inspiration). Though this belief is not without its problems, it is less problematic than alternative accounts of inspiration (e.g. that God inspired thoughts in scripture, but may not be said to be the author of specific words—the question 'which thoughts?' is even harder to answer than the question 'which words?'). That said, for the sake of discussion I want to use the term 'inerrancy', since, in this context, I believe it will optimise the point I am trying to make.

Basic thesis
My basic thesis is that inerrancy may only be used at the most as a secondary criterion for the original reading. It cannot be used to overturn strong external support or to support conjecture. If inerrancy is allowed to be a primary criterion then we are adopting a method that is
1) highly subjective
2) does not adequately control human bias
3) beyond the remit of an evangelical textual critic

1) Apologists are often naturally concerned to be able to present a Bible 'without problem'. There can therefore be a tendency to want to solve problems prematurely. There are therefore numerous cases where apologists adopt readings in the name of inerrancy that are text-critically highly dubious otherwise. For one example you can see a brave but misguided attempt to suggest that the name Cainan was not originally in Luke 3:36 (I do not intend to 'shame' this site, which has some merit to it).

For me a major problem with the attempt to solve a problem by taking a text-critical decision that would otherwise be judged unlikely is that it is hard to see any non-subjective criteria by which one could decide when to take such a step. There are, after all, difficult texts of various kinds within scripture: texts that can readily be read to suggest that Jesus' would return to earth within a generation of his ministry, texts that make the relationship between Synoptic and Johannine chronology problematic, etc. Who is to decide which texts are so problematic that the doctrine of inerrancy can be invoked with the result that the reading otherwise judged best be set aside? This is the problem of subjectivity.

2) Evangelicals have often taken a rather dim view of when critics of other persuasions have allowed their own interpretative framework to be decisive in adopting readings. Thus we have not been too impressed by von Soden's adoption of the reading without the virginal conception in Matthew 1:16 (on the basis of the Sinaitic Syriac), nor by the way Ehrman sometimes allows his framework of 'orthodox corruption' to be decisive in deciding between readings. The problem with these approaches is that the doctrinal framework does not appear to be adequately constrained by the external evidence. Advocates of inerrancy need to demonstrate to others that they too are accountable to the external evidence and will not ignore it simply to demonstrate the truthfulness of their position.

3) Ultimately, I think that to use the doctrine of inerrancy to override the manuscripts is to enter into a domain to which we are not called. I, personally, am of the conviction that an editor of the NT should never accept a conjecture into a text (though see earlier debate on this blog, e.g. 'Ephesians 1.1 update', 'conjectural emendation', 'more on conjectures'), not because I hold the absolute conviction that no conjecture could ever be correct. I strongly doubt that any conjecture is correct, but acknowledge in theory that some may be. My view that an editor should not accept an emendation into the text is not based on the view that there are no correct emendations, but on the view that even if some were correct it would not be an editor's business to print them. Similarly, if it be that God has not given us every word he inspired within the manuscripts that is essentially his business, not ours. I do not have to take it upon myself to 'restore' what he has not seen fit to preserve. That's why if editing 1 Samuel 13:1 I would simply preserve MT. If something has dropped out, I have no way of knowing what it is (despite the conjectures of the early versions), so it is not my business to put it in. My job as a textual critic is not to ensure that readers have an inerrant edition of the Bible in their hands.

Inerrancy is a belief that is derived from God's character as one who does not err and the inference that if words may rightly be said to be 'his' they should therefore share that characteristic. Historically, authors like Jerome or Calvin were convinced that God's words were entirely true, but almost certainly did not believe that they had an errorless copy of those words in their own possession.

Comments? Disagreements? Issues raised?

39 comments:

  1. "That's why if editing 1 Samuel 13:1 I would simply preserve MT."

    'Saul was a year old when he became king, and he reigned two years over Israel'

    You'd be the first one to put it in print without even a footnote to provide conjectures based on Acts 13:21 and a marginal reading in Josephus.

    But what are the versional conjectures? LXX has nothing at 13:1.

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  2. PJW, just to make sure we are all on the same page you wrote:

    "As the blog's founder I am very, very happy to sign inerrancy statements in almost whatever shape or form they take"

    Then you should have no problem with
    The Chicago Statement on biblical Inerrancy 1978AD
    http://www.carm.org/creeds/chicago.htm


    Clay

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  3. "My job as a textual critic is not to ensure that readers have an inerrant edition of the Bible in their hands."

    It seems that many evangelical textual critics and apologists are trying to just this. I think that the presupposition is that every textual problem is a challenge to the Christian faith. Thank you for your perspective on this.

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  4. "the topical arrangement of metrical" --Article XIII

    Doing a little deconstruction of spellcheck emendation here, I think the correct reading is "topical arrangement of material."
    Metrical arrangement doesn't violate inerrancy either, for that matter.

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  5. "My job as a textual critic is not to ensure that readers have an inerrant edition of the Bible in their hands."

    Great line, Dr. Williams!

    I hope in the future you'll work these things through the claim of "without error in the autographa."

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  6. It may be because of my technological incompetance, but I think the link to Ephesians 1.1 doesn't work.

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  7. "I do not have to take it upon myself to 'restore' what he has not seen fit to preserve. That's why if editing 1 Samuel 13:1 I would simply preserve MT. If something has dropped out, I have no way of knowing what it is (despite the conjectures of the early versions), so it is not my business to put it in."

    Alas! A comment on an OT problem!

    Ok, enough of that.

    PJW, what you say sounds good, very good indeed. However, I wonder if I can ask you, or anyone else, to elaborate on this statement about God not preserving some things, yet also believing that God gave us particular words.

    If God gave us particular words, but some of these words are obscured through scribal error or some other problem in the transmission of the text, how can we say that we do not really have to be concerned with what those words (the ones now lost or obscure) are? It seems to me that a standard evangelical understanding of inerrancy forces one to fight for every word as divine communication. I am only wondering, then, if you were discussing 1 Sam 13.1 and said something like "God obviously did not make sure to preserve this line", would that not invite the kind of reaction you are hoping to avoid? Namely, wouldn't that invite a 'modified' inerrancy view that would allow for the inerrancy of the 'thoughts' or 'meaning' of Scripture, but not the actual words themselves?

    I'm just not sure how holding to a purely verbal inerrancy position jibes with also saying that some things God did not see fit to preserve. I've been criticised myself for saying the same sort of thing, so I'd like help from others on how to deal with this. It seems to me that verbal inerrantists want the whole cake.

    By the way, do you not sign Chicago?

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  8. I find myself struggling with two related issues concerning textual criticism and inerrancy.
    First, the doctrine of inerrancy is always (seems to me) limited to the original manuscripts. This suggests that we don't possess an an inerrant Bible today. Your statement ("My job as a textual critic is not to ensure that readers have an inerrant edition of the Bible in their hands") seems to reflect this inference. If this is the case, that inerrancy is always qualified with reference to the autographs, then why is it necessary? Can we not speak about the authority of scripture without resorting to something we don't have nor can we provide? For me, the doctrine of inerrancy only undermines the authority of scripture.
    Second, recently text criticism has raised questions about the meaning of autographs (e.g., Epp and Parker). Aren't there some cases where the autograph defies our traditional, TC understanding of the term? For example, it can be plausibly argued (Blass and Stranger) that BOTH the "Alexandrian" and "Western" texts of Acts come from Luke. If inerrancy is limited to the original manuscript, which edition of Acts is the inerrant, verbally inspired autograph? Isn't TC changing our the understanding of "original manuscripts," which in turn challenges a doctrine of inerrancy?
    Your response would be greatly appreciated.
    Derek

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  9. I knew I'd get some reaction.

    First, re 1 Sam. 13:1 it should be mentioned that MT of this verse is just occasionally defended as original.

    See, for example, the article in Archiv für Orientforschung at:
    www.univie.ac.at/orientalistik/AFO50INH.pdf

    There is also an article I remember but can no longer locate arguing that MT should be retained as a poetic couplet. I'm sure if someone scoured through all the commentaries on 1 Samuel, they would find a reference to it.

    Of course, we need to distinguish not being convinced that MT is original here, from being convinced that it is not. I am in the former camp.

    I would scarcely be the first to print a literal rendering of MT into English, cf. Douay-Rheims. KJV and NKJV would also claim to be based on MT, though their interpretation might be doubted.

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  10. Link to "Eph 1:1 update" now fixed.

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  11. Clay, it's a while since I looked carefully at the Chicago statement. I've just perused it. I think it's something I'm happy to sign, but is not what I would have written myself.

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  12. Daniel, according to Rahlfs the Origenic and Lucianic mss have '30', which could be by analogy with 2 Sam. 5:4.

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  13. TML: "I wonder if I can ask you, or anyone else, to elaborate on this statement about God not preserving some things, yet also believing that God gave us particular words."

    Unless I was careless I did not explicitly say that God did not preserve something. I do not preclude the possibility that he has preserved every inspired word, though I do record that some texts, e.g. 1 Sam. 13:1, are difficult to understand and readily lead us in our empirical reasonings to conclude that something has dropped out. However, we have no pisqah be'emsa' pasuq in MT to tell us of a minus (contrast Gen. 4:8), and we would therefore have to conclude that anything omitted had been omitted rather early—several centuries BC. At this point we have reached the earliest recoverable form of the text and the textual critic's task is complete. Since the textual critic can do no more I conclude that we have the text as God intended us to have it. This does not mean that there will be no more manuscript discoveries, but the material that divine providence has preserved for us gives us no further ground to proceed.

    Conjecturing an age for Saul is futile, since you have a very low probability of hitting the right number. Conjecture also assumes a competence on the part of humans that they do not possess. Even as I write I am confronted with the human proneness to error. I consult the Biblia Hebraica Stutgartensia at 1 Sam. 13:1 and see that P.A.H. de Boer—the great founder of the modern edition of the Peshitta OT—claims that the Peshitta reads the number '21'. This claim is also in Emanuel Tov's Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible (1st edn) p. 11. Now Tov is à mon avis the top OT textual critic in the world. However, either they're going mad or I am. Surely ܚܕܐ ܘܬܪܬܝܢ means 'one and two' not 'twenty-one'. Surely the Peshitta is just reading the same as MT.

    TML: "If God gave us particular words, but some of these words are obscured through scribal error or some other problem in the transmission of the text, how can we say that we do not really have to be concerned with what those words (the ones now lost or obscure) are? It seems to me that a standard evangelical understanding of inerrancy forces one to fight for every word as divine communication."

    I agree that we should be concerned for every word, and I would disagree with anyone who said we should not be concerned about words. I suppose what I would like to know is how you could arrive at a state of certainty that words had been lost. Secondly, any scholar needs to focus on do-able tasks. There is no point trying to reconstruct the state of native N. American languages at the time of the Leningrad Codex. If no data are available to humanity then it ceases to be humanity's task to investigate. When the manuscripts stop, so should we.

    TML: "I am only wondering, then, if you were discussing 1 Sam 13.1 and said something like 'God obviously did not make sure to preserve this line', would that not invite the kind of reaction you are hoping to avoid?"

    I would not say this, and therefore not get the reaction. Rather than say 'God ... did not make sure to preserve', I would say quite the reverse: 'God made sure not to preserve'—but then I am a Calvinist! However, evangelicals who can't go with me in that matter should (I hope) at least be able to affirm that God was not taken by surprise.

    Derek: "If this is the case, that inerrancy is always qualified with reference to the autographs, then why is it necessary?"

    The word 'inerrancy' is entirely dispensible. However, the confusing word here is 'autographs' (material). Inerrancy applies to the text (immaterial) which was first inscribed in the autographs. Insofar as the text in NA27 or any other edition is the same as that in the autographs then it is inerrant. It is only important to affirm this if one believes in verbal inspiration (that particular words were given by God). If you do not believe in divine verbal inspiration of some text somewhere then you believe that there are no deities who use words to communicate to humans. Contrariwise, if you believe that God does use words or that words may be said to be authored by him, then they must reflect his character. A truthful God can only be said to be the author of truthful words.

    Epp has shown that the term 'original text' is polyvalent and recommends that we therefore drop the term. The alternative is to recognise that it is used in various ways and then to use the term with an explicit definition of what we mean.

    There are, of course, cases where critics have argued for multiple editions of a single work by the original author. I've seen this argued for Jeremiah, Mark, Luke and John and it's probably been argued for more books. Ehrman has hypothesised about multiple versions of Galatians (Misquoting Jesus pp. 58-60). However, there is still no firm evidence of multiple editions, only scholarly hypotheses that involve such. There is nothing in these cases that compells us to abandon the aim for a single original text (though as I say this I realise I will have to turn to Ulrich Schmid's work on Romans soon).

    I suppose that an inerrantist might want to explore the possibility that there were multiple 'inspired' editions with the claim that only one of them was 'canonical'. I won't spend my time on that.

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  14. PJW,

    So, for discussions on inerrancy should our point of departure be the canonical form of the text and not its (possible) earlier form? I am thinking specifically of Julio Trebolle's work in distinguishing btw the tasks of textual and literary criticism. In other words, let us suppose that a collection of mss were discovered in the near future, all showing a shorter, longer, or varied arrangement of, say, Romans, and these mss could be dated to the earliest possible stage of textual transmission. Let us assume that perhaps JTB could be right in arguing that Kings, or Romans for our example, was composed in a different 'earlier' form. These earlier forms were then copied perhaps by Paul's buddies but later Paul decided he wanted to go add a few more notes and clarify his position on justification. If we had mss that support that, would you discard them for the sake of what is 'canonical'?

    In other words, should we forget about discussions over the 'autographs' and just pick up where the 'canon' begins? It seems to me that having canon as our starting point might prevent some other problems.

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  15. PJW: Unless I was careless I did not explicitly say that God did not preserve something.

    PJW: Rather than say 'God ... did not make sure to preserve', I would say quite the reverse: 'God made sure not to preserve'

    No entiendo.

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  16. TML: "no entiendo"

    Lo siento. 'God made sure not to preserve' is of course a provocative and inexact way of putting it. What I am wanting to do is to say that the textual evidence that is preserved is what God in his sovereignty saw fit to preserve. Of course there are aspects of human responsibility in the equation. If humans had been keener at copying texts, more willing to die for them, etc., there might well be more evidence today. There might also be more evidence available to us if people within the church were willing to scour the world for it. Having said that, surely most theists would have to say that divine intention was involved in the process of preserving evidence. After all, if there were once a longer text of 1 Sam. 13:1 an omniscient deity might have been expected to notice when the last copy of it was about to be destroyed.

    I suppose therefore we need to plan a discussion about 'providence' and textual criticism. This can take place some time in the future since it is best not to overload the blog with theological topics at the expense of the more informational ones.

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  17. TML,

    I left open the possibility that extant 'inspired' texts might be a different category from 'canonical' texts. This is, for me, a purely theoretical possibility and not one I regard as fruitful to pursue. Trebolle Barrera does important work on the relationship between literary and textual criticism, and this is where I think there is lots of important work to be done by evangelical scholars. The question is: to what extent do the LXX and DSS give us the opportunity to view the literary formation of OT texts? Most scholars in the area seem to want to claim that the extent is significant, but presuppositions from all sides loom rather large.

    TML: 'let us suppose that a collection of mss were discovered in the near future, all showing a shorter, longer, or varied arrangement of, say, Romans, and these mss could be dated to the earliest possible stage of textual transmission.'

    Hypothetical questions are always difficult to answer. Of course many evangelical scholars have adapted their identification of the inspired text in the light of manuscript discoveries in the past. Witness the end of Mark. But age isn't everything. If we had the autograph of Marcion's edition of Paul it would be earlier than our other witnesses to Paul, but not my preferred witness.

    You could only privilege a 'canonical' edition by Paul's buddies over his own apostolic edition if you had the ecclesiology to do so. However, Protestants have generally sought to locate authority in the apostolate and not in the committees of the early church.

    For the OT things are somewhat different since the authority of many OT books is not tied to the authority of a named individual. The role of the community in recognising the authority of particular texts is therefore more defined.

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  18. p.j. williams
    "You could only privilege a 'canonical' edition by Paul's buddies over his own apostolic edition if you had the ecclesiology to do so. However, Protestants have generally sought to locate authority in the apostolate and not in the committees of the early church."

    But what, if the evidence stops short off the apostle himself and leaves us with the/an (early) committee's text?

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  19. Ulrich:
    "But what, if the evidence stops short off the apostle himself and leaves us with the/an (early) committee's text?"

    In one sense the evidence always stops short of the apostle. It is never possible to prove definitively that something goes back to an apostle. However, I am also not sure how one would demonstrate that a work goes back to a committee.

    However, if you could demonstrate that the earliest available form of a text believed to have its authority from Paul originated in the mid-second century and differed from what he could have written then you have posed a wonderful problem for anyone who says that they want to follow Paul's original text as authoritative.

    The bigger the difference you can demonstrate between the mid-second century text and what Paul could have written the bigger the problem is.

    Obviously there are adaptations of the classic identification of Paul's writings that could be made. Someone could concede that 1 Cor. 14:34-35 or Rom. 16:24-27 were secondary and then try to maintain that there were no such significant variations in the rest of the Pauline corpus. However, the more a textual critic comes to the conclusion that the manuscripts do not provide us with a sufficient basis for access to what Paul wrote the less it makes sense for them to believe that it is rational to locate authority for their lives in what Paul wrote.

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  20. (I realize that some of this below is generalist and not everyone would say things exactly as I've characterized it below)

    I think I am really only at a stage where I am asking questions about this. However, I don't really think the evangelical affirmations are clear enough. What I was trying to say is that we typically say that the inerrant text is what was written on the 'autographa.' These 'original' texts, these manuscripts that were used by the Apostles themselves, or by David when writing/singing the Psalms, etc. These, for us, are the 'authoritative' and 'inerrant' Scriptures. The problem with putting so much stock in that is obviously (this is an old argument, I know) the fact that we don't have any of these 'original autographa.' So, we build our entire structure of the 'Authority of Scripture' on manuscripts that we are also willing to admit we don't posses, and even worse, we have never seen.

    We then go on to say such things as, "Well there is nothing significantly doctrinal lost in the transmission of the text" and though I would AGREE with that by default, it is a bit troubling because again, how can we know what wasn't 'lost in transmission' if we don't have access to that earliest stage? Further, we say, "Only matters of spelling or grammatical issues such as verb tenses have been affected by the transmission of the text." This is also troubling. I don't see how we can say, "We hold to verbal plenary inspiration/inerrancy...EVERY word is important" out of one side of our mouths, and then out of the other side say, "In the end, it doesn't matter, really, if Rom 5:1 exomen is an indicative or a subjunctive." If God revealed himself in specific words, then statements like these cannot exist in our theological method. We cannot say "Every word is important" and "Every word (or tense or spelling) is not important" at the same time.

    I think I see three possible approaches that evangelicals can use and I am not quite sure which one I like yet, but would invite your thoughts and reflections:

    1) We say that there is NOTHING AT ALL different in our texts, like the BHS or the NA27, that would not have also been in the autographa. It seems a bit KJV-only-ish to me to make this stand, because you have to rely on some kind of idea of Providence like they (KJVers) do to say that God has preserved everything in tact. This also means that the Spirit of God would have been active in every single instance of manuscript copying through the centuries. This might be a bit much.

    2) We rethink the definition of inerrancy and argue that individual problems like spelling, verbal tenses, presence/absence of waws, etc., are not included in a formulation of inerrancy. I suppose here we can also follow Vanhoozer and rethink what constitutes 'error' in Scripture. This then leads to the view that the 'thoughts' of God are what is at the foundation, and not particular linguistic codes we call 'words.'

    3) We get rid of the 'autographa' business altogether, admit that we don't have inerrant texts in our hands today, and start dealing with the 'Authority' issue from a Church/Tradition standpoint, or say that God Providentially safeguarded for us what He wanted us to know about Him in the texts that we have today. This is a bit like #1 except here we admit we do have change through transmission, but reject the notion that it injures our doctrine.

    I am completely open and tentative in all of what I have just said, but would love to have your feedback if I have gone wrong somewhere.

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  21. TML,
    I agree that we should avoid platitudes about doctrine not being affected and about how waws or moveable nus don't matter. The moveable nu is worth a lifetime's research (but I don't feel called!)

    Of your proposals, I'd be happy to ignore (2), at least as regards OT. Spelling is integral to the OT text. Verbal inspiration therefore implies 'literal inspiration', i.e. that God may be said to be the author of the letter sequences. Conceivably one could do without this in the NT, but my first thought it to buy the whole kit, i.e. take the plunge for arguing that God may be said to be author of particular letter sequences both for the OT and NT.

    As for proposal (3)
    "We get rid of the 'autographa' business altogether, admit that we don't have inerrant texts in our hands today, and start dealing with the 'Authority' issue from a Church/Tradition standpoint, or say that God Providentially safeguarded for us what He wanted us to know about Him in the texts that we have today."

    I'd happily avoid general use of the term autograph in this connection. One can easily just talk about authors and the texts they produced. However, we need to maintain the immaterial definition of text (this is Warfield's opening point in his handbook on NT TC). I would argue that we do have the inerrant text, and I have lots of copies on my shelf. The inerrant text of John begins εναρχηηνολογοσ. In John 1:3 the inerrant text involves the sequence ουδεν or ουδεεν. Either way, we have the inerrant text. However, I have a problem. Although the inerrant text has been given by God to humans I am uncertain as to which it is. Other people may know. That's good because it means that they can sleep at night better than I can.

    However, I don't think that I would sleep better by leaving this important issue about the epsilons to be resolved by a church council.

    I do think that it is very important that we distinguish between our uncertainty about the text and textual uncertainty in an absolute sense—as if there were no being in the universe certain about the identity of the whole text given by God. A tiny fraction of Christians have ever had the ability to read the NT in Greek for themselves. Of those who have been able to read the Greek most have not had easy access to all the NT. A tiny fraction has ever had access to both Hebrew and Greek mss. It is only a relatively recent phenomenon (since printing) that we have expected each personally to have access to the entire inspired text. Ironically, when the level of access to exact original sequences of words is better than ever, people feel their uncertainty even more keenly. However, historically the uncertainty of educated individuals has been a phenomenon concurrently to the extraordinary effectiveness of the text.

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  22. PJW: I would argue that we do have the inerrant text, and I have lots of copies on my shelf.

    But,

    PJW: we need to maintain the immaterial definition of text.

    So what immaterial inerrant texts do you have materially situated on your shelf?

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  23. "What I am wanting to do is to say that the textual evidence that is preserved is what God in his sovereignty saw fit to preserve."

    Is not the problem precisely that the textual evidence is not uniform? And if so, has God then sovereignly preserved conflicting textual evidence for us to humanly sort through?

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  24. p.j. williams

    "However, if you could demonstrate that the earliest available form of a text believed to have its authority from Paul originated in the mid-second century and differed from what he could have written then you have posed a wonderful problem for anyone who says that they want to follow Paul's original text as authoritative."

    To be very clear on that: It's not my intention to pose problems to anyone who says that they want to follow Paul's original text as authoritative. Quite to the contrary! I am interested in the very words of Paul myself. However, I want to work my way back by interpreting as much evidence as possible and on the basis of assumptions and models that are as apt as possible.

    Talking about Paul's original text, the most obvious thing to realize right from the start is that we are dealing here with a Corpus of (14) letters, out of which one letter does not even claim to be of Paul. That alone should give us reason to pause on our way towards Paul's original text of individual letters - I suppose that's what you mean by Paul's original text.

    In the case of Paul's original text it's my firm conviction that we need to understand the Corpus and its "mechanics" first before we *know* what we have and how we have it. Personally, I don't see much evidence to infer that we could not access what Paul wrote. There is however evidence that not every *letter* that is found in the transmitted text of the Pauline Corpus actually is Paul's original text.

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  25. TML, the vital word for clearing me of incoherence (though I probably am being incoherent today) is the word 'copy'. A 'copy' can be material.

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  26. Petros: "Is not the problem precisely that the textual evidence is not uniform? And if so, has God then sovereignly preserved conflicting textual evidence for us to humanly sort through?"

    In some ways I agree with the sentiments I see behind both questions. Yet I don't think that just because God's deliberate preservation applies to all manuscripts equally (as I tend to believe it does to all other entities in the universe) that it is necessarily God's intention that humans should set all witnesses on an equal footing. Clearly there is some 'sorting' to do, for which we need criteria. I would hope that the enterprise is not entirely 'humanly'.

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  27. Ulrich,
    I completely agree about the need to start with the 'Pauline' letter collection and work backwards.

    US: "Personally, I don't see much evidence to infer that we could not access what Paul wrote."

    Glad to see that someone who knows far more about the subject shares my optimism.

    US: "I want to work my way back by interpreting as much evidence as possible and on the basis of assumptions and models that are as apt as possible."

    Fair enough, and I might add that those who, like me, make theological assumptions need to show either that they are apt, or at least that they have no negative impact on the way evidence is being interpreted.

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  28. PJW said: 'The moveable nu is worth a lifetime's research (but I don't feel called!)'

    A substantial piece of research on the moveable nu is soon to be completed, and hopefully published in the not-too-distant future.

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  29. PJW: Daniel, according to Rahlfs the Origenic and Lucianic mss [of I Sam 13:1] have '30'.

    OK, a little antisemanticism here. A "versional" reading conjures up the image of a certain version's entire corpus carrying a reading--not isolated post-rescension copies thereof.

    A side note: I almost have to laugh when I see what HIGH critical value some scholars put on very LATE copies of the Greek OT, when those same scholars put but LOW value on Greek NT mss of the same vintage--perhaps even though bound in the same volume!

    Douay: Saul was a child of one year when he began to reign, and he reigned two years over Israel.

    This is not a literal rendering. Every other place the 'son of ___ year(s)in his reigning' formula occurs, it's translated differently than in this one verse.

    Witness Douay, "David was thirty years old when he began to reign."

    The 'child of one year' special treatment leaves room for back-bending (MT-only) Rabbinical interpretations (of this nonsense statement that King David was 1). Some of these are enough to make the KJV-only men look like real scholars with their italicised transformation of Goliath into Goliath's brother Lahmi.

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  30. King Saul. King Saul! David must have been Goliath's fifth brother.

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  31. P. J. Williams wrote; "I would scarcely be the first to print a literal rendering of MT into English, cf. Douay-Rheims." Was not the Douai OT a rendering from the Vulgate rather than from the MT?

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  32. Yes, and thus its value to those of us unversed in Latin. But in this case, the Latin was more faithful to the Hebrew than the English was to the Latin.
    Masoretic: son-of-year Saul in-reigning-of-him and-reigned years-two king over Israel
    Vulgate: son of one year Saul with reigning began, two also years (he) reigned over Israel.
    Douay: Saul was a child of a year when he began to reign, and he reigned two years over Israel.

    The Douay editors purposely perpetuated the practice, which went all the way back to Wycliffe, of translating 'filius' as 'child' thus providing cover for their marginal note, "That is, he was good and like an innocent child, and for two years continued in that innocency."

    Nothing wrong with this, of course, except that there is a clear agenda behind it--to uphold inerrancy in the face of a clearly defective ms tradition. The phrase, "a son of x years in his reigning" has no literal meaning other than to give a person's literal age when he became king. To translate it any other way is to paraphrase. To translate it literally is to perpetuate the nonsense of the Masoretic text as it stands:

    "Saul was a year old when he became king."

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  33. I have a diiferent take on this... I believe that God's Word sometimes is purposefully ambigious. He allows some "copy mistakes", because an alternative meaning (and very seldomly is there such a great difference in meaning) would also carry the message He wanted to convey.

    I also believe that not everything God said, is equally important to Him to preserve. I.e. it is sometimes possible for some of His inspired words to "get lost", simply because it will not have a big influence on our relationship with Him. Will Saul's age when he became king and the length of his reign (that can more-or-less be deduced from other parts of scripture) really cause one to know God better? I believe that those things that He expects from us, are clear enough for everyone that seeks to do His will.

    Having the "best possible" text and "most accurate" translation, is important. [rant]But I don't think His Spirit (who inspired the words in the first place!) will be unable to speak to us the Father's words that He wants us to hear in a certain situation, because of some textual variation/copy mistake. And it is the faithfull, trustworthy God that reveals Himself as such in scripture, that I trust to speak the truth to me. I know I will still sometimes make mistakes; even if I had the original autographs (and could read Greek perfectly), I sometimes wouldn't listen to Him, wouldn't do what He tells me. And disobedience to God's Word and unwillingness to confess when we do sin, is a greater problem in my experience than finding the original meaning of some obscure passage.[/rant]

    Maybe what I want to say is that there is enough of His Word that is unambigious and clear, that we can start living out, that we should not be troubled by those bits where we are less sure about the "correct"/"original" text. Major on the majors and minor on the minors. The Word is "inerrant" (I still prefer the term "inpired"), but I am not.

    Chavoux

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  34. "Inerrancy is a belief that is derived from God's character as one who does not err and the inference that if words may rightly be said to be 'his' they should therefore share that characteristic."

    This is somewhat of a problem because there is NO reason to assume that they (imperfect Hebrew/koine Greek languages)are somehow "His" exact words unless Jesus wrote it Himself. Prophets and Apostles are NOT Jesus. They write under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit BUT they are NOT writing as God. There is NO reason to believe that the Word of God is the "words of God." The Word of God itself is the Perfect Logic/Reason/Truth of God that is contained throughout the imperfect medium. God's Word is indeed Perfect..and someday when we have a Holy language we will be able to communicate without all of the minor errors...in the meantime we are left with imperfection in langauges WE developed while we were learning.

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  35. Breckmin,
    This is a rather old post. My argument was that verbal inspiration by God implies inerrancy (if you believe God does not speak error).

    However, it seems that you are asking for demonstration of verbal inspiration.

    Before exploring this big question further, can I take it that you would be happy with the notion that all the speech by God in the book of Leviticus is verbally inspired? After all, most of Leviticus is in direct speech from God. If we both agree that most of Leviticus is verbally inspired and consequently inerrant, then that will be a good starting point and we can continue discussion from there.

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  36. Actually, I think that the English word "inerrant" is painfully over simplistic when it applies to how people communicated and navigated specific meaning with both the Hebrew and koine Greek languages. Also, there is an issue regarding whether books are equally "without minor error" when it comes to different authors/time periods.

    I think there is a difference between the general gist of truth and the hyper-technicality of inerrant perfection in these imperfect languages.

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  37. I used to believe some form of the teaching of inerrancy but there is one big problem... The "scriptural canon" (usually 66 books) was made solely by men and not God. We must not fall for the circular argument that some writings testify for the whole set since in the first place they were never shown to be right. Furthermore, when the writings say "the word of Yahweh", or something similar, they obviously were never referring to "the human collection of human writings", but rather the actual speaking of Yahweh. It is a foolish desire to want to say that some particular set of writings is "the word of God". God has already many sufficient witnesses for him, the laws over his entire creation, the laws he put in our hearts, his people Israel, the laws that Moses received on the tablets, that were subsequently passed down in Israel and later written down. And Yahweh made it clear that it is those who fear him and keep his commandments who are righteous and will live. I accept it. There is nothing better than that.

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  38. I Sam 10:6, "And the spirit of the Lord will come upon thee, and thou shalt prophesy with them, and shalt be turned into another man."

    I Sam 13:1, "Saul was a year old when he became king."

    Okay, so what was the problem again? Just sayin'...

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