Schrodinger’s Verse

In Tall Tales of Textual Criticism by Chris ThomasLeave a Comment

The Quantum Mechanics of Contested Verses

In 1935, Erwin Schrodinger developed a novel way to kill(?) a cat.  Take a cat, a flask of poison, a radioactive source, a Geiger counter and seal them in a box.  When the Geiger counter detects the decay of the radioactive source, the flask of poison shatters killing Mr. Tibbles.  According to the Copenhagen interpretation of Quantum Mechanics, after a while the cat is both alive and dead.  Only upon observation does the quantum superposition resolve itself and we are left with the cat being only alive or dead.  We’re rooting for you Mr. Tibbles!

Now I’m sure you’re wondering what this has to do with the so-called “contested verses” and what is a “contested verse”.  On social media, some internet apologists have made the claim that if a verse is contested, i.e. textual critics aren’t sure if it’s original, then we shouldn’t make doctrine from it.  At first glance this sounds quite logical.  After all, if we’re not sure whether or not it is scripture, then we shouldn’t make doctrine from it.  But this claim, like so many claims of RTC advocates, is filled with unargued assumptions.

The question that is never asked, is why are such verses as Luke 23:34 contested?  

 From Metzger’s textual commentary:

23.34 omit verse 34a [[ὁ δὲ Ἰησοῦς ἔλεγεν, Πάτερ, ἄφες αὐτοῖς, οὐ γὰρ οἴδασιν τί ποιοῦσιν.]] {A}

The absence of these words from such early and diverse witnesses as 𝔓 B D* W Θ it syr cop al is most impressive and can scarcely be explained as a deliberate excision by copyists who, considering the fall of Jerusalem to be proof that God had not forgiven the Jews, could not allow it to appear that the prayer of Jesus had remained unanswered. At the same time, the logion, though probably not a part of the original Gospel of Luke, bears self–evident tokens of its dominical origin, and was retained, within double square brackets, in its traditional place where it had been incorporated by unknown copyists relatively early in the transmission of the Third Gospel

From Dr. Riddle’s Text note on this verse:

The traditional text is supported the following Greek mss:  The original hand of Sinaiticus and its second corrector [b] (c. 7th century AD), A (using the aorist eipen for “he said” rather than the imperfect elegen), C, third corrector of D, K, L, N, Q, Gamma, Delta, Psi, family 1, family 13 (without the conjunction de), 33, 565, 700, 892, 1424, 2542, Lectionary 844, and the vast majority of extant mss.

Among the versions it is found in the Vulgate and part of the Old Latin, the Syriac (Curetonian, Peshitta, Harklean), some Bohairic Coptic mss, and in the Latin version of Irenaeus (dated to before 395 AD).

But wait!  There’s more!

Leon Morris, however, states:  “Early copyists may have been tempted to omit the words by reflection that perhaps God had not forgiven the guilty nation.  The events of 70 AD and afterwards may well have looked like anything but forgiveness.  We should regard the words as genuine” (Luke, p. 327).

So while Metzger claims its excision cant be explained by the fall of Jerusalem, Leon Morris says that it can.

And this is the problem with Restorationist Textual Criticism.  It is attempting to make definitive claims from incomplete evidence and speculation.  Making it worse, we have no idea from where the bast majority of Greek mss now extant originated, nor from who’s hand they were penned.  Were they Christians or Heretics? In copying, were they seeking to faithfully copy the text they had, or alter it to suit their own purposes?  These questions must be answered first, before any weight can be attributed to the opinions of RTC advocates when they claim a verse is “contested”.

But in saying we shouldn’t build doctrine on a “contested” verse, what is really being stated?  We know from 2 Timothy 3:16 that all Scripture is profitable for doctrine.  So if Luke 23:34 is Scripture, then it is profitable for doctrine.  But if it is not Scripture, then it isn’t profitable for doctrine.  Scripture doesn’t allow for the “quantum superposition” that calling such verses “contested” imposes upon them.  In other words, calling verses such as Luke 23:34 “contested” is merely cowardice on the part of RTC advocates.  If they don’t believe it was in the autographic text, they should just say so instead of engaging in such mealy-mouth double-talk.


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