Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Reverential and Relevant Textual Criticism

Dave Black shows that textual criticism can be relevant to the Christian life, and it can be done reverentially. By the way, my current position on the different text families is similar to his, just not as well-informed. Incidentally, Dave, it was just today that I ordered these two books of yours.

Quick note at the end of a good day. I just got back from campus where I taught on that most “popular” of subjects, New Testament textual criticism. I even showed an ancient papyrus I acquired in Egypt. (Okay, so I bought it there in 1986.) How do you explain the importance of an obscure, pedantic-like subject to 120 young people (and some not-so-young people) that have never studied it and will probably never study it again in their entire lives? I don’t really know. For better or for worse my approach was to take a couple of examples that impact real life – what we believe and how we live. John 3:13 either says that Jesus was claiming to be in heaven while talking to Nicodemus or He wasn’t making that audacious assertion. That’s Christology, and that’s important. Matt. 5:22 either says that Jesus nixed all anger or only ungodly anger. That’s Practical Theology. We even got into the “King James Version Debate,” though I doubt there’s anyone in my classes who would die defending the 1611 edition. One of my most cherished possessions is an autographed book by my former professor and colleague Harry Sturz. It’s called The Byzantine Text Type and New Testament Textual Criticism, and it argues that the Byzantine/Majority text is not that evil, corrupt thing that most modern critical scholars make it out to be. No, I don’t slavish follow the MT (Majority Text), but I still think it has its place in textual criticism. In the end, I gave my opinion: the evidence points to Jesus saying to Nicodemus that He was actually on earth and in heaven at the same time, and that He condemned only unrighteous anger (“if anyone gets angry with his brother without a good reason he’s going to be judged”). I could go on and on. But the text that we teach or preach is important. It’s just that we’re not always sure whether the original text is reflected in the NKJV or the NASB tradition. And that’s why textual criticism is more than ancient history.

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