Monday, April 29, 2024

“Why I Trust the New Testament Is What God Wrote”: Contend 2024


Over the weekend, I spoke for one of the break-out sessions at Contend—an apologetics conference at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary that is geared for high school students. The title of my presentation was "Why I Trust the New Testament is What God Wrote," and that title was intentional. The talk wasn't so much to convince anybody that we do really have God's words as it was rather to tell them why I believe we do really have God's words.

My talk was based on what I presented a while back at the church where I was ordained. That itself was an interesting situation—it is a TR church that has always used the KJV or NKJV, but they also recognize that it's not an issue worth dividing over and consider other translations to be sufficient as well. My impression of the rationale at that church has always been that it was an unstated trust that TR translations are 'safe' in that God has obviously blessed their use, and since that's what the pastors typically used, they just stayed with it because there are more important things than becoming experts in textual criticism just to be sure that you have the best Bible when you already have a Bible that's not only good but perfectly sufficient. But they knew my position and actually asked me to speak about why we can trust the Bible. It was an interesting task to try to do that in a way that doesn't undermine the KJV/NKJV on the one hand or modern translations on the other (because plenty of people beyond myself at that church used translations like the ESV and LSB).

It may not be helpful to anyone, but in case it is, I wanted to post some of my slides from those two talks and give a few main points here.

1. Dunning and Kruger

I began (at the church; unfortunately this part had to be cut for Contend because I didn't have as much time) with explaining the Dunning-Kruger effect, which is named after the authors who described it in this 1999 article, and which Tom Nichols wrote about in his excellent book, The Death of Expertise (which should be required reading for anyone engaging in the TR/KJV issue). In short, when we first start to learn something, we don't know enough to know what we don't know, then there comes a time when we realize how much we don't know (and that can be unsettling), and finally, if we stick with it, we achieve competence. On a chart, these three phases are sometimes called Mount Stupid, the Valley of Despair, and the Plateau of Sustainability (I didn't come up with those names, but they fit). My casual observation is that a lot of the people who 'go wrong' when it comes to manuscripts and textual criticism do so because they get hurt falling from Mount Stupid into the Valley of Despair, so to avoid living in that pain, they climb back up Mount Stupid and build a fortress there. It's not the mountain that hurts, it's the fall. Basil Manly Jr. [The Bible Doctrine of Inspiration Explained and Vindicated] even observed this phenomenon in 1888.

2. Examples of Uncertainties

In the talk I did give a very brief "We have over 5,000 manuscripts" section, but I figure that most people who are coming to an SBC seminary for an apologetics event probably already have a baseline of belief in the Scriptures, so that part wasn't very long. It's probably what they came to hear though; sorry for the disappointment! I think it might be more helpful to dive right in to the uncomfortable part—uncertainties. Nobody likes to be uncertain about God's Word, but because of how God has acted in history, somebody has to sort out the differences among manuscripts, and if we are concerned about this, then we should have an accurate picture of what that looks like and what the degree of uncertainty actually is.

Thursday, April 25, 2024

Two items from Erasmus on Stunica


I've been reading through vol. 74 of the Collected Works of Erasmus series—Erasmus' controversies with Stunica—Diego López de Zúñiga, if you prefer (not to be confused with the other Diego López de Zúñiga. Zúñiga was the main editor behind the Complutensian Polyglot and was therefore one of the more qualified of Erasmus' many critics. Still, Erasmus took issue with Zúñiga, including the way he went about his criticisms. I always enjoy reading the writings of my second-favorite Dutch textual critic who worked in Cambridge, and I found these words from his Apologia Against Zúñiga to be interesting:

Collected Works of Erasmus vol. 74, p. 245

"This man put the extracts on display once and for all in the most invidious way he could, omitting the material that softened their sharpness, and adding violent and even meaningless titles to exacerbate their effect."

Evidently, Zúñiga was circulating quotes from Erasmus' writings taken out of context—he had conveniently left out the parts where Erasmus qualified what he said to make it less severe. You can definitely get more mileage out of a quote that way, but it's simply not honest to leave out the parts that contradict the narrative you are trying to spin. As I read on, I chuckled at what Erasmus said a few pages later about Zúñiga (in the context of his responses to Erasmus' broad criticisms of abusive clergy who were not acting like Christians): "And he is an unhappy advocate if he cannot protect the honour of others except by speaking ill of me, which a pimp could do just as well."


To shift gears, we also see this interesting comment a few pages later: "Or is it a falsehood that I say that some passages have been added? That is incontrovertibly the case at the conclusion of the Lord’s Prayer, to say nothing of other places" (p. 258).

Zúñiga evidently (by what I infer from Erasmus' response) didn't like that Erasmus admitted that it's difficult not to come to the conclusion that there are places in the New Testament textual tradition where something has been added. Erasmus appeals to the doxology of the Lord's Prayer (Matt. 6:13). I find this interesting for two reasons:

1. Despite that he says that it is "incontrovertibly the case" that the doxology is not original, Erasmus did include it in his Greek text. However, he clearly doesn't think it's original, he says as much, and elsewhere, his Paraphrase leaves out the doxology.

2. Erasmus' appeal to the Lord's Prayer is especially clever. Zúñiga was over the Complutensian Polyglot, which leaves out the doxology to the Lord's Prayer and has a rare marginal note about how it is added in the Greek copies. While it seems that Zúñiga was not the author (or at least not the principal author) of this marginal note, it's still the case that he was in charge of an edition that left out the doxology and casts doubts on its authenticity. Jerry Bentley writes, concerning the marginal note in the Complutensian Polyglot: 

"In only one note does a peculiar observation suggest its author. This is the note to Mt. 6:13 (quoted above), which discusses the authenticity of a clause found in many Greek texts, but not in the Vulgate: "for thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory forever. Amen." The note casts doubt on the authenticity of this clause : the author suggests that the clause crept into Greek New Testament manuscripts by way of the Greek mass, where it forms part of the liturgy. The note obviously bears the mark of the Cretan Demetrius Ducas, no doubt the only member of the Complutensian team familiar enough with the Greek liturgy to have made such precise points about it. This is not necessarily to say that Ducas prepared all the annotations, for the note to Mt. 6:13 is by no means representative of all the rest. We may be fairly sure we see Ducas' influence in this note, though we must not jump to the conclusion that he was sole author of the annotations." ("New Light on the Editing of the Complutensian New Testament," Bibliothèque d'Humanisme et Renaissance 42.1 (1980): 154–155).

The textually-missing/marginally-present doxology and beginning of the note in the Complutensian Polyglot (page 2069 here).

Wednesday, April 03, 2024

Resources for Reading Greek Minuscule


Over at the Text & Canon Institute website, Clark Bates has put together a helpful list of resources for dealing with Greek abbreviations, contractions, and ligatures. It should be especially useful to students just getting started reading manuscripts. Along with Amy Anderson's article on the benefits of reading Greek manuscripts, it would be great for introducing students to manuscripts.

Ligatures galore in GA 1969, f. 125r!

Monday, April 01, 2024

Gospel of Mark in Herculaneum!


Since Youssef Nader, Luke Farritor, and Julian Schilliger won the Vesuvius
, we've seen more and more of the carbonized scrolls from Herculaneum identified and read. The Herculaneum Papyri have a firm terminus ante quem of A.D. 79—the date of the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius.

The latest identification was very unexpected—a copy of Mark's Gospel from the A.D. 70s at the absolute latest! I can't wait to find out of there's enough to tell if it contains Mark 16:9–20 yet so we can know if those verses are in the Bible or not.

Read more about it here.