Three Types of Consistency and Textual Criticism
How we approach the work of textual criticism, must like all other doctrines, be derived from Scripture alone. This is evident from Chapter 1 of the WCF/2LBCF Confessions themselves:
10. The supreme judge, by which all controversies of religion are to be determined, and all decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men, and private spirits, are to be examined, and in whose sentence we are to rest, can be no other but the Holy Scripture delivered by the Spirit, into which21 Scripture so delivered, our faith is finally resolved.
21Matthew 22:29, 31, 32; Ephesians 2:20; Acts 28:23
To go to any other source to determine how we are to engage in textual criticism is to make that other source our final authority over Scripture. This is an untenable position for the Christian. How we approach the issue can be broken down into three areas: Atheistic Consistency, Confessional Consistency, and Evangelical Inconsistency.
Atheistic Consistency begins with autonomous human reasoning and naturalistic methods for dealing with the textual issues of Scripture. It then applies this same process to the other doctrines found in Scripture such as Creation, the Trinity, Christ’s Deity & Resurrection. Since Creation, the Trinity, Christ’s Deity & Resurrection, etc. cannot be proven through autonomous human reasoning and naturalistic methods, they are rejected. Proponents of this type of Restorationist Textual Criticism include Bart Ehrman, Kurt Aland, and other atheists.
Confessional or Biblical Consistency begins and ends with Scripture as the foundation for the Doctrine of Scripture and how we evaluate mss and deal with variants. It then applies this same exegetical method to the doctrines mentioned above. Proponents of Preservationist Textual Criticism are men such as the Reformers, writers of the Confessions, E. F. Hills, Ted Letis, Joel Beeke, Jeff Riddle, TBS members, John Greer, and others.
Evangelical Inconsistency begins in the same place as Atheistic Consistency, and after attempting to justify the authority of Scripture through the foundation of autonomous human reasoning and naturalistic methods, it then inconsistently replaces its original foundation with its recently justified Scripture, and attempts to derive the aforementioned doctrines from Scripture. Proponents of this type of Restorationist Textual Criticism include: Dan Wallace, James White, John Piper, John MacArthur, Maurice Robinson, Wilbur Pickering, et al.
Neither the first position nor the last position have a Biblical foundation and are contrary to what Scripture teaches about itself. Because of this they have no place in Christendom and the work of their proponents is vain. The reason so many Christians become confused over this issue lies with confusion about the boundaries of science. Science can tell us many things. It can tell us that hydrogen and oxygen are flammable when separate, but water when combined. Science can tell us how to use electricity to create machines and computers. It can help us cure diseases. It allows us to fly in the sky and reach the moon. But science, contrary to the Logical Positivists, isn’t all powerful nor can it inform us about all things with accuracy.
One only has to look to the fields of anthropology, archaeology, manuscript and art criticism, and evolutionism to see where science can easily fail due to an inability to get complete evidence. Each of these fields is fraught with examples of gross errors that made them laughing stocks at various times. Whether the Piltdown or Nebraska Man or Lucy of anthropology, the total assurance of archaeologists that the Hittites never existed contrary to Scripture, the authentication of forgeries as genuine in manuscript and art criticism, and the pseudo-scientific nonsense of evolutionism, one sees that such fields are more notorious for their failures than their “successes”.
Restorationist Textual Criticism is another science in this list. The problem with such sciences is that it is impossible to verify their conclusions without a time machine or without an infallible record. Both Atheistic Consistency & Evangelical Inconsistency (AC & EI) act as if there is no infallible record, namely God’s word, to inform us as how to judge manuscripts and deal with textual variants. And because of this, they both fail. Scripture alone can infallibly inform us as to how we are to judge manuscripts and how we are to deal with textual variants among those faithful apographs. Now many in the AC & EI camp will claim this is circular reasoning. And so it is. But ALL appeals to an ultimate authority are inherently circular. The question is, which circle is faithful to Scripture and meets the preconditions of intelligibility? Is it the circle of AC & EI which begins with autonomous human reasoning as its ultimate authority? Or is it the circle of Confessional Consistency which begins with the infallible word of God as its ultimate authority? For a Christian, the only acceptable answer is the latter.