Thursday, March 09, 2006

More Inerrancy

Pursuant to the earlier discussions on inerrancy, here is a really nice piece from Dan Wallace (Dallas Theological Seminary) on the subject.

Inerrancy and the Text of the New Testament:
Assessing the Logic of the Agnostic View


  1. Good. Someone else who thinks we do have the original text.

    Hadn't realised that the statement about no doctrine being at risk went back to Bengel.

  2. This comment really belongs on the earlier thread regarding what we are trying to recover. But since that post is getting old and this one also relates to the issue of the autographa it fits here well enough.

    As I continue to ponder the issue of autographa I become more and more convinced that, while it may sometimes be the autographa that we ought to recover, we should also come up with some category for inspired texts that are later than the first edition. This is not just theoretical, but something that, if we are honest with ourselves, we probably already do.

    Inerrantists pretty much have to accept Mosaic authorship of at least large parts of the Penteteuch in order to accept the historicity of those portions that internally claim to be laws given to the people via Moses. However, certian parts of the Penteteuch (such as the end of Deuteronomy and other snippits) are so obviously later than the time of Moses that they practically say so on their very face. These are things that premodern readers would see just as easily as scholars practising current historical-critical methods. In other words, Jesus, and his opponents and followers all had no difficulty accepting Penteteuchal texts that included things that they were well aware did not originate with Moses.

    This matter applies to a fair amount of the OT. While some books reflect a fairly stable textual tradition, where no textual witnesses vary greatly from the MT, others show degrees of variation among the extant witnesses. Not only this, but these variant texts exist side by side at Qumran, leaving us with the likely conclusion that the Essenes were not troubled by the existence of such variants. Ulrich proposes a way of classifying the textual witnesses of these books according to editorial stages (each book exhibiting its own distinct set of editions of course), such that Jews of the 1st century who were familiar with the variants may well have simply accepted that two differing scrolls of the same book simply exhibit different permutations of readings from the several earlier editions of that book. His view naturally sees books tending to grow by accretion of scribal insertions, such that the shorter text is usually older (of which I am not convinced). I picture the type of activity that resulted in these editions is of the sort described in Fishbane's masterpiece Biblical Interpretation in Ancient Israel.

    I'm not yet prepared to accept Ulrich's view of OT textual history as fact, nor that Fishbane's examples showing that the lines between author and scribe were sometimes blurry are necessarily correct. But I can't avoid that we need to at least accomodate these possibilites in our view of inspiration if we want to align our understanding of the authority of the OT with the understanding reflected by Jesus Himself. Again, if it holds nowhere else, at the very least we need a category for non-autographic inspiration when we deal with the Penteteuch. No?

  3. Eric, I agree that 'autographa' are not the best concept for the OT, but I still find them useful for the NT. Whatever the Qumran community made of variants, it is likely that strict copying standards of biblical texts were in place prior to the existence of that community. Some 'proto-Masoretic' texts are dated to before the existence of the community, and the limits to variety within the Pentateuch shared between Samaritans and Jews (in MT and LXX) suggests that texts were fixed before the third century BC (here I differ from Purvis on the relevance of Samaritan material). Some aspects of Masoretic spelling go back before the Proto-Semitic /aw/* --> /o/ shift.

    I would be very interested to discuss some of the 'best cases' where scholars judge that textual witnesses give us insight into the compositional processes of the OT.

    I imagine that one of the most relevant books to read on fixity and variation of spelling is Studies in Hebrew and Aramaic Orthography by David Noel Freedman, A. Dean Forbes, and Francis I. Andersen (Eisenbrauns, 1992), though I confess with shame that I haven't read it myself.

  4. But if the problem of identifying the "autographa" of OT texts only concerned orthographic matters, I don't think we'd have a real problem. Its really the matter of words, phrases, paragraphs, and chapters that we have from editions that are more recent than the autographa that forces us to seek another term I think. And, if our view of inspiration is large enough to accomodate the later editions of OT books, on what grounds shouldn't we at least consider doing that with NT books. After all, this is pretty much what no less a conservative than Th. Zahn did in his view of the text of Acts. It is also what many do with the PA and the long ending of Mark, including some who practise reasoned ecclecticism. I believe Metzger's Text of the NT explicitly calls the long ending "canonical" despite being secondary (granted, I know of no place in which Metzger indicated a belief in inerrant autographa).

  5. Eric, I still need some more specificity about these 'words, phrases and paragraphs' in the OT. Which ones are we talking about?

    You can of course have recourse to multiple editions of the NT text and call ones that you judge historically later to be canonical. If I remember rightly even old F.F. Bruce in The Canon of Scripture talked about the Comma Johanneum as having some claim to canonicity. This would cause me more than a few problems.

    The question of whether we're trying to recover the earliest form of the text is exactly that asked by Mike Holmes. However, if you decided that Mark 16:9-20 was historically secondary but still canonical I'd want to know how you would be able to exclude from the canon any other additive variant that arose in the first century of transmission. What criteria would you use to distinguish canonical additions from non-canonical ones?

  6. Wallace essay is interesting, but it raises as many questions as it claims to answer.

    Wallace says in the NA27 we find the original text whether it is above or below the line. Has Wallace checked with Munster to see if the authors of that text hold the same opinion?

    What about Christians for the last 1850 years or so before NA was concieved?

    Once again the thelogy of Divine Providence seems to me inherently tied to textual critism.

  7. PJ, for the sake of the best example of a secondary portion that we should receive as inspired, I will just stick with the last chapter of Deuteronomy. If you want others I can bring them up, but since this is one we can discuss as an example without any disagreement (I hope) that it came later than Moses, it seems like the best prototype for further discussion of the issue more generally. I agree that the idea of secondary additions being inspired creates problems. But rather than rule out the possibility because we don't want to face those problems, it's better to acknowledge the possibility as something we know happened and then work out the rules that will best guide us into knowing the text God has given us as His Word. The autographa are sometimes the end of that search, but not always, as in the case of the last chapter of Deuteronomy. I am aware, of course, that this example takes us outside the field of TC proper, and more into matters of redactional criticism. But in our quest to identify precisely what text is inspired, that distinction is trivial.

  8. Anon, I agree about the importance of divine providence. However, this does not necessarily mean that all people of all cultures and times have equal access to the original text of the NT. Wallace would doubtless say that the access that we have to the original NT text is better today than in 1850.

    I know he's spent time in Muenster (I'll be there next week too, so may have to cut down on blogging). While one cannot assume that all the researchers in Muenster have a unified view, I think it would be fair to say that members of the Institut do not follow the line that there were lots of original readings that have dropped out of extant mss. The similarity of the Editio Critica Maior and the text of NA27 reveals the degree of confidence they have about the text.

  9. What does the quantity of witnesses have to do with finding the autographs? If your ancient text is extant in 500 manuscripts all poor ones you are worse off than a text with ten manuscripts two of which are very good. I have been hearing this quantity argument for forty years and it doesn't hold any water.


  10. D.Wallace:
    "I would argue that no cardinal doctrine is jeopardized by any viable variant."

    What does this affirmation have to do with "Inerrancy and the Text of the New Testament"? A bible just full of factual errors could be a bible where "no cardinal doctrine is jeopardized by any viable variant". Furthermore, this affirmation does not get us any closer to the autographs. What we are doing here is creating a canon within the canon. A canon made of proof texts for cardinal doctrines.

    Again, I have heard this one since i was in my teens and I don't think it brings us any closer to the autographs.


  11. "Naturally, the closer we get in time to the originals, the fewer the MSS."

    This is a common myth in textual criticism, and I thought Daniel Wallace knew better.
    I suspect he's making a generalization, leaving out the paucity of evidence from the centuries just prior to Charlemagne's flurry of republication.

  12. Obviously Dan is not just advocating numbers (witness his attitude towards the Majority Text). However, in a context where authors are still trying to make arguments against textual integrity on the basis of the number of variants in witnesses to the text (e.g. Ehrman, Misquoting, pp. 84, 98, 101-109) there is obviously some relevance to talking about numbers.

    Of course not all mss are relevant to us in determining the original. However, if by some freak events many of our witnesses (and our editions of them) were destroyed many witnesses that we do not now consider important would become relevant. It is probably fair to say that many Classical works are only extant in mss of an equivalent pedigree to those we do not at present feel we need to use for establishing the text of the NT.

  13. Nice piece Wallace!

    I think your mention and use of the Deuteronomic material is helpful. It brings up a third group less mentioned in the text critical arena... the amanuenses or scribes. Luke makes it into the NT on account of his relationship to Paul and Mark because of a relationship with Peter (although Luke was not an amanuensis, Mark may have been). Could a scholar argue both for Mosaic authorship and for some sort of primary scribal role in authorship? This could also play out in Jeremiah, Isaiah, etal...

    Internal complexities can be described by the fact that texts may have two authors contributing in different ways in slightly different times in a way not seen by ancients as problematic. The scribe's influence (e.g. Baruch), while important would have been seen as secondary and the authorship would have been solely attributed to the "author" (e.g. Jeremiah).

  14. PJW,

    Wait a minute, neither the Editio Critica Maior or NA27 is a "New Testament". Does anyone think otherwise?

    None of the 27 books were written with a critical apparatus.

    It's not like Paul said to his sribe, "put this stuff above the line and stick this stuff below the line"

    Why does Wallace think that a critical edition of the New Testament is what God wanted his people to have so they could discover the original text in its fullest expression.

    What do we think Paul would have thought if his scribe had come back to him and said we are now including a critical apparatus with your letter?

  15. Dan said: 'Indeed, if all the Greek MSS and versions were destroyed, scholars could reproduce all but about half a dozen verses of the NT from the patristic quotations alone.'

    I've heard this argument before (I believe I have even used it myself). Does anyone have the faintest idea whether it is true?

  16. Pete, following Dan, said: 'Hadn't realised that the statement about no doctrine being at risk went back to Bengel.'

    In fact it goes back beyond Bengel at least as far as Bentley in 1713. It was also used in Wettstein's defence in his heresy trial.

  17. It is very difficult to emphasise the numbers of NT manuscripts without being potentially misleading.

    E.g. 5,700 Greek NT MSS.

    I suggest that most lay people who hear this kind of talk think that we have 5,700 manuscripts of the Greek New Testament. They might be a bit surprised (disappointed?) to hear that less than 1% of these are (or even 'were') manuscripts of the whole Greek NT.

  18. Anon said: 'Why does Wallace think that a critical edition of the New Testament is what God wanted his people to have so they could discover the original text in its fullest expression'?

    I don't see Wallace as saying that God intended to inspire a critical edition. Rather he is responding to the argument that words have been lost. Part of his response (if I may put it minimalistically) is to say that there are no parts of the car missing: they are all in the self-assembly kit. I think it's a far position as far as it goes, and it must be seen as only part of his response. Nor does his response pretend to be comprehensive. There is still further to go. I think that the job is not done until every letter of the NT is fixed.

  19. PJ, you have indicated to us several times your view of the importance of every letter of the NT. This implies that you believe there is not a single spelling variant in the NT that is trivial, not even, as came up in your recent post, the exact vowels uses in the spelling of Moses' name. A future thread that may provide us with good material to ponder would be a detailed defense of this position on your part. I myself am skeptical that such a position is a necessary corollary of either inerrancy or the general importance of TC.

  20. Eric wrote: "I myself am skeptical that such a position is a necessary corollary of either inerrancy or the general importance of TC."

    It certainly isn't a corollary of inerrancy. If it has a doctrinal connection it would be more related to verbal inspiration and my sense that this is most easily, but not of necessity, conceived of as literal inspiration.

    My interest in spelling, however, lies not in its theological importance or in some thought of semantic gain (even if our Lord associated letter shapes and semantics in Matt. 5:18). Rather, it comes from a sense that spelling is an important set of data historically. I outlined this in a post on the general importance of spelling.

    In thumping the pulpit about spelling I see myself as combatting apathy, not heresy.

  21. Pardon me if I misunderstand, but I have real questions about the idea that inerrancy of a text, however defined, can be refuted on the grounds that the text is copied by human beings. Is this not the core argument? -- that people make mistakes, therefore the copies (handmade or printed, for that matter) will not be identical to the exemplar, therefore the copy is not inspired. Thus no book can possibly be inspired.

    But the doctrine of inspiration comes to us from a society in which all books were manuscripts, and the problem of copying errors was far better known than to those who suppose, somewhat curiously, that our printed editions of modern books are all accurate copies of the autograph. Likewise we have no certain idea of in what language Jesus preached, yet most likely it was not Greek, in which all his words are recorded. This does not seem to be an issue either for those who decided the NT was inspired.

    Finally; why on earth can a perfect deity not inspire a text? If I were a spaceman over a primitive planet, and dictated a message to some aborigine that the planet was about to be destroyed and to avoid all persons dressed as accountants, I really do not believe that I could not compose a text that would convey this message, and that it would not continue to be my message, even if the lazy blighters couldn't copy it accurately. If I, as a human, can manage this, why on earth can't someone who is Even More Powerful Than The Inland Revenue?

    In short this seems to me to be a *theological* issue, which is simply unrelated to the general text-critical question: how do we cure faults of transmission in a reasonably objective manner.

    No doubt I have hopelessly misunderstood. But I can't help this feeling that two things are being muddled together here.

    All the best,

    Roger Pearse

  22. PJ, you said, "My interest in spelling....comes from a sense that spelling is an important set of data historically."

    I do recall the earlier discussion in which this point was made. And I agree that spelling variants have a potential to give us valuable data that has not yet been sifted for its gems. However, I also see a difference between the historical value of spelling variants on the one hand and the goal of having a NT text that conveys the text of the autographa down to the letter on the other. The latter was what I inferred from your earlier comment on this thread, "I think that the job is not done until every letter of the NT is fixed." It is this goal that I don't quite buy.

    P.S. I am still interested in any counterpoint to my above claims that post-Mosaic material in the Penteteuch requires a view of inerrancy that allows for inspired secondary additions to God's Word.

  23. Eric,

    Sorry the reply is belated. On the second question, I do not think that you have produced any evidence that anything in the Pentateuch may be clearly identified as 'secondary'.

    I have no problem if you don't buy the view that the job is not done until every letter is fixed, although I hope that you would not give up on a text-critical task somewhat earlier than I would. It is, however, rather difficult to draw any distinction between letters that could give us historically interesting information and those that could not. Just as in a democracy every vote should count, so every moveable nu or variant spelling forms part of the overall picture of the linguistic setting of the NT. You cannot be sure what information the patterns of spellings in the original text are not telling you until you have reconstructed them all. Therefore, to be a really obsessive textual critic, you have to assume that all information is important until you can prove that it is not.