This week's discussion "Do we contribute to being misunderstood?" focused on terminological issues. A significant thread is submerged in that discussion that I would like to see addressed more directly. The issue of "edition", a.k.a. "publication", in connection with 'original' whatever, and both in connection with canon.
As is well known, there are editiorial notes in the Tora "e.g., "... up to this day". Even taking the most conservative view of the Tora minus one, that Moses wrote the "whole" Tora [the absolute most conservative would be that Moses wrote the Tora and prophesied the future annotations, too] we still have the question of "editions". Our Hebrew Bible editions include the annotations. Is the 'annotated' edition the "original"?
At the other end of the spectrum we have Jeremiah. We appear to have multiple editions (I don't think that textual criticism alone can adequately deal with this.)
To this we could inject a theological starting point, e.g., the words of Yeshua recorded acc. to Mt 5:18 'not one iota or projection will pass from the law' and John 10:35 'scripture cannot be broken'.
Was Yeshua claiming that the 'first edition' was recoverable in the first century down to the exact spelling? Or are we asking the wrong questions? Was he accepting a "canonical text"?
These are rather typical questions of boundaries. At what point does the text become, or stop becoming, "the original text". It may not be too different from defining 'person', or 'life'. At what point? Today most evangelicals tend toward 'conception' as the neat, logical way to define 'become alive'. Something similar is taking place with this 'inspired original' idea. It cannot be easily defined or linked to any one specific hard copy of a text. It is the 'inspired code', the message '(to be) written down', not the ink on any one parchment. Like DNA, it is the code, not any one set of molecules.
If multiple editions were not enough, the Hebrew Bible also raises the question of potential multiple readings. There are points of ambiguity in the unvocalized Hebrew text. Yes, it is true that someone fluently conversant with the language can read most of the text unambiguously. But there remain points of ambiguity. [A related, earlier blog on the Hebrew Bible is: Signficance of Hebrew Pointing]
Writing systems are not the issue here and the unvocalized Hebrew Bible can still include an authorical intention, an 'inspired code' that is only partially recorded in pre-Masoretic periods. That was part of the purpose of having readers in the synagogue with ten 'critics'. The received code remained true. (Ultimately, this was recorded in our MT.) The MT is part of what may be called 'the oral law'. That is part of the reason that the oral law and written law are entwined within Judaism. You can't have one without the other. (cf. Mt 23:3 'do and keep whatever they tell you'.)
Anyway, I think that the way to approach these questions is through bifurication. To posit an 'idealistic' viewpoint and a 'practical' viewpoint. Idealistically, we can posit that there was an official inspired edition, a.k.a. the autograph, the inspired code. [Hopefully, that wouldn't be a fourth revised draft that already included a misspelling or scribal elipsis. Though one could accomate this with an inspiration theory that stretches through various editions.] Practically, we can accept a canonical text that God has given us to orient our lives around.
The NT and OT are inverted here.
The NT 'idealistic' text is almost visable through our rich textual data. (It is visable but there are points of doubt on details and the question of multiple editions is not addressed and unrecoverable.) But the canonical text is less clear. Is it NA27, 28, WH, or the best Byzantine edition? (The Orthodox churches would choose the last item.) Does the canonical text change? Maybe. And as previous discussions on this blog attest, there is a temptation when only looking at the NT to equate the canonical text with the idealistic text.
For the OT, most text critics frankly admit that any 'original' is unrecoverable and that there were probably layers of editions that we cannot penetrate. The 'idealistic' can only be dreamed, though in faith we assume that the practical text sufficiently relates to this idealistic text. Ironically, the canonical text may be clearer than a NT "canonical text". The MT, if accepted as canoncial, is very very 'tight'. (More problems develop if either the LXX or other composites of Hebrew tradition are chosen for the canonical text.)
Where do evangelicals stand? Does the acceptance of a "canonical text", warts and all, help or hinder? (Maybe 'blog' format isn't suitable for this. Pls shorten or redirect as others wish.)