An important practice in the business world is determining the viability and impact of a project before investing resources into that project. It seems this is a wise analysis to consider for evangelical text-criticism.
For which of you, intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first, and counteth the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it? Lest haply, after he hath laid the foundation, and is not able to finish it, all that behold it begin to mock him, Saying, This man began to build, and was not able to finish.The Holy Bible: King James Version, Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version. (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2009), Lk 14:28–30.
Christians should now act like wise investors. The church has been patient, but it is time to analyze the project afresh. The evangelical text-critics have determined that while we will never have the original text God inspired, what we have is close enough. A valuable analytical process is to determine the impact of ending an ongoing project. According to the careful analysis and hard work of the evangelical textual scholars, the church has all it needs from the manuscripts to get by. No doctrine has been affected in nearly 200 years of textual criticism, the church has what it needs. So what is the impact on the church, if all of the text-critics went out for lunch and never went back to work?
Seven Benefits to Ending the Effort of Modern Evangelical Text-Criticism
First, Greek Bibles would stop changing. No new additions or subtractions would be made to God’s Word. The only changes to God’s Word would have to be made by translation committees.
Second, the text of the modern Bibles would be stable. Christians could buy a translation and keep it their whole lives without it expiring.
Third, the work of men like Bart Ehrman would be irrelevant to the church, because Evangelical scholars wouldn’t be working with him and for him and under him any longer.
Fourth, Christian textual scholars could spend more time doing exegesis for the church and pastoring, rather than scraping through manuscripts and counting words. Many of these men have a Masters of Divinity from well reputed seminaries, they could apply their education to shepherding the flock.
Fifth, seminaries could remove Bruce Metzger and Bart Ehrman’s textbook from the standard curriculum. We have what we need in our Greek texts, there is no need to continue giving Erhman a platform.
Sixth, the heroic apologists of the Christian faith could spend more time defending the teachings of the Word of God, rather than trying to discover what it says.
Seventh, resources spent on text-criticism could go to planting churches, supporting struggling churches, and training pastors.
If the best and the brightest text critics say that they haven’t found the original text in a time where we have “the best data,” and have determined that “we have what we need,” there is no point in carrying on. “No doctrine has been affected,” so it seems the church is equipped to press on. The church does not need to support a project that has already made the necessary conclusions. Instead, it should support those evangelical textual scholars in putting their MDivs to use pastoring churches and feeding God’s people. Let the secular academy continue their quest for the “historical Jesus” and free up the men of God to do work for the Kingdom!
A good question to answer to determine the impact of ending such a project is, “What would happen if evangelicals stopped making Greek New Testaments?” The answer is nothing. Nothing would happen. The church would carry on without a hiccup. Pastors would preach, seminaries would train, and the Gospel would still go forth to all the nations. The average Christian would be none the wiser. The Bible has been preserved after all, no need to keep working on a finished product.
5 thoughts on “If the Text-Critics Went to Lunch and Didn’t Come Back”
You know, I’ve never thought of this issue in light of Luke 14:28-30, but it does make sense. Even if we were able to find the original manuscripts written by all of the New Testament authors, I’m not sure that we would know that is what they were, and the efforts all of these years to restore the allegedly “lost” readings ends in an incomplete structure. Another way we could do this is to look at modern or post-modern text criticism like building a house on the wrong foundation, only to wake up and find our house washed away in the flood (Matthew 7:24-27).
Great article Taylor. This ought to be more widely read. Excellent points made. The “vital” work of evangelical text critics simply is not vital. I love the idea of sending these “doctors of the church” into the churches rather than sending them into the academy to tinker with the Bible or study arcane scribal habits.
Taylor, writing from the pew here… your article is a necessary dosage of succinct and refreshing textual common sense; thanks for this excellent article.
It’s good to know that before another Bible hits the market the curtains can be pulled back, as you and others are doing. We can yet rejoice! As a first cause, God has obligated Himself to keeping His Word pure in all ages by divine sanction. The Scriptures are settled as a matter of fact and are not subject, in whole or in part, to man’s “better judgement” and meddling (Psalm 119:89, 1 Peter 1:23-25, etc.).
That’s Bible. And that’s what we in the pew, who ultimately fund the whole enterprise, need. Bible. And we’ve had it all along.