Presuppositions of Textual Criticism Examined

Chris ThomasConfessional Textual View, Textual Criticism1 Comment

It’s been some time since I’ve posted due to work and building up the Miskatonic University site. But now that I have time, I’m going to focus on three of the canons of textual criticism and the assumptions one must make to affirm them. The three canons will be provided followed by a short analysis showing their inherent arbitrariness.

The shorter reading is best (Lectio brevior praeferenda).

The shorter reading (unless it lacks entirely the authority of the ancient and weighty witnesses) is to be preferred to the more verbose, for scribes were much more prone to add than to omit. They scarcely ever deliberately omitted anything, but they added many things; certainly they omitted some things by accident, but likewise not a few things have been added to the text by scribes through errors of the eye, ear, memory, imagination, and judgement. (Text of the New Testament, Drs. Metzger & Ehrman, p. 166)

How does one know, without direct observation, that scribes were much more prone to add than to omit? How does one know they scarcely ever deliberately omitted anything without direct observation? No answer is forthcoming. This is an example of arbitrariness. The assumptions it makes about scribes is an unargued bias. What is necessary for us to determine if the short reading truly is to be preferred?

  1. We must observe the copying of every scribe noting his differences from the text he is copying and ask him the reason for them
  2. We must compare his copy with the autograph

Neither condition can be met and so this canon of textual criticism is easily refuted by simply saying, nuh-uh.

The hardest reading is best (Difficilior lectio potior or Proclivi scriptioni praestat ardua).

In general, the shorter reading is to be preferred, except where parablepsis arising from homoeoteleuton may have occurred or where the scribe may have omitted material that he deemed to be superfluous, harsh, or contrary to pious belief, liturgical usage, or ascetical practice. (Text of the New Testament, Drs. Metzger & Ehrman, p. 303)

Again we find ourselves asking, how is one able to prove such a contention? Again we must do the following:

  1. We must observe the copying of every scribe noting his differences from the text he is copying and ask him the reason for them
  2. We must compare his copy with the autograph

And again, these two necessary conditions are impossible to meet. And so like the previous canon, this is easily refuted by saying, nuh-uh. This of course seems childish, but to put forth such canons as if they were a scientific fact as the worshippers of textual criticism do is nothing short of lying.

The oldest manuscript is to be preferred

This is simply the belief that the older a manuscript is, the more accurately it reflects the autographs.
Again we find ourselves asking, how is one able to prove such a contention? Again we look at the following:

  1. We must observe the copying of every scribe noting his differences from the text he is copying and ask him the reason for them
  2. We must compare his copy with the autograph

This idea, like all the others canons in textual criticism, is impossible to prove. Contrary to the RTC advocate, textual criticism is not a science. It is a philosophy. And like all philosophies it has basic presuppositions. Restorationist Textual Criticism has two such basic presuppositions:

  1. The Scriptures may be treated like any other book of the ancient world when it comes to textual criticism
  2. The Bible became corrupted over time

The question we must ask regarding these two presuppositions of RTC, are they consistent with Biblical teaching?
May the Scriptures be treated like any other book of the ancient world? That is, may the Scriptures be considered a book originating with man?

1 Thess 2:13 “For this cause also thank we God without ceasing, because, when ye received the word of God which ye heard of us, ye received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which effectually worketh also in you that believe.”
2 Peter 1:21 “For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.”

Scripture is clear, that we should not treat Scripture so. We must treat it as it is, the very words of God spoken to man, recorded by his penmen.
But has Scripture become corrupted over time as RTC advocates assert? Let us look first at WCF/2LBCF 1.8:

8. The Old Testament in Hebrew which was the native language of the people of God of old, and the New Testament in Greek which at the time of the writing of it was most generally known to the nations, being immediately inspired by God, and by his singular care and providence kept pure in all ages, are therefore authentic; so as in all controversies of religion, the church is finally to appeal to them. But because these original tongues are not known to all the people of God, who have a right unto, and interest in the Scriptures, and are commanded in the fear of God to read and search them, therefore they are to be translated into the vulgar language of every nation unto which they come, that the Word of God dwelling plentifully in all, they may worship him in an acceptable manner, and through patience and comfort of the Scriptures may have hope.
Romans 3:2; Isaiah 8:20; Acts 15:15; John 5:39; 1 Corinthians 14:6, 9, 11, 12, 24, 28; Colossians 3:16

Does the confession say kept partially pure but in need of reconstruction through arbitrary human reasoning? No. It plainly states “and by his singular care and providence kept pure in all ages”. In other words, if RTC advocates are correct, then the Confession is wrong. And they know this as many have attempted to substitute General Preservation for the Confessional doctrine of Providential Preservation. Dr. Daniel Wallace rejects that the Bible teaches Providential Preservation in section 3.d in his Inspiration, Preservation, and New Testament Textual Criticism.
But his opinion is meaningless if it differs with scripture; no matter how learned one may consider it.

Isaiah 59:21 “As for me, this is my covenant with them, saith the Lord; My spirit that is upon thee, and my words which I have put in thy mouth, shall not depart out of thy mouth, nor out of the mouth of thy seed, nor out of the mouth of thy seed’s seed, saith the Lord, from henceforth and for ever.”
Psalm 12:6, 7 “The words of the Lord are pure words: as silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times. 7 Thou shalt keep them, O Lord, thou shalt preserve them from this generation for ever.” (How can God’s people be preserved forever apart from His word being preserved forever?)
Romans 3:1, 2 “What advantage then hath the Jew? or what profit is there of circumcision? 2 Much every way: chiefly, because that unto them were committed the oracles of God.”
1 Timothy 3:15 “But if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.”

And to conclude, I present the following from Edward Leigh’s Treatise Vol 1:
Two other arguments may evince this truth, that the Scrip­tures were from God.
1. Miracles both of

  1. Confirmation, which the Lord shewed by Moses, Exod. 19. 16. & 24. 18. & 34. 29. the Prophets, 1 Kings 7. 24. Christ himselfe and the Apostles for the confirmation of their do­ctrine, such as the devill was not able to resemble in shew. The raising of the dead, the standing still or going backe of the Sunne, the dividing of the Sea, and the Rivers; the making of the barren fruitfull. My works testifie of me, saith Christ, and believe the workes which I doe, if you will not believe me.
  2. Preservation of the bookes of the Scripture […] the fury of many wicked Tyrants which sought to suppresse and extinguish them, but could not. As God caused it to be writ­ten for the good of his people, so by divine providence he hath preserved the same whole and entire. Here we have three arguments in one,
  3. 1. The hatred of the Devill and his wic­ked instruments against the Scripture more then any other booke. Antiochus burnt it and made a Law that whosoever had this booke should die the death; yet
    2. It was preser­ved maugre his fury and the rage of Dioclesian, Julian, and other evill Tyrants.
    3. The miserable end of Julian, An­tiochus Epiphanes, Herod, Nero, Domitian, and Dioclesian, and other persecutors of this doctrine. The bookes of Salomon, which he wrote of naturall philosophy and other knowledge, the profitablest bookes that ever were, the Canon excepted, are perished, but those alone which pertaine to godlinesse have been safely kept to posterity; which is the rather to be observed, since many more in the world affect the knowledge of naturall things then godlinesse: and yet though carefull of keeping them they have not been able to preserve them from perpetuall forgetfulnesse; whereas on the other side these holy writings hated of the most part and carelesly regarded of a number, have notwithstanding as full a remem­brance as they had the first day the Lord gave them unto the Church. The Roman Empire for 300 yeeres set it selfe to per­secute and extirpate this new doctrine; and in all these trou­bles the Church grew and increased mighily Acts 12. 1. Herod killed James with the sword, yet v. 24. the word grew and multiplied.

In conclusion, Scripture is the very word of God, kept pure in all ages by God’s singular care and providence. So what place does RTC with it’s arbitrary canons and unbiblical presuppositions have in Christ’s Church? Absolutely none.

1Cor. 5:7 Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened. For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us: 8 Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.

One Comment on “Presuppositions of Textual Criticism Examined”

  1. Thanks, Chris. I think you’re on solid biblical grounds as opposed to the sinking sand of the modern day RTC crowd.
    Keep up the good work.

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