This article is the sixth in the series called “The Theology of the Text,” designed to cover the topic of the text in short, accessible articles.
The Theology of the Text: How Do We Make Determinations?
One of the most common impacts of modern criticism is that Christians have been taught for the last several decades that it is their job to make determinations on which verses of Scripture they are to read as authentic. It is even common to believe that all Christians make a decision on whether or not each verse is authentic as they read it. While this view is practically crippling to the effort of actual Bible reading, it also assumes that Christians should view the text in this way. It also demands that every Christian have a functional knowledge of the original Biblical languages and access to a textual apparatus. Is it Scriptural to treat the text of Holy Scripture as though every verse is corrupt until proven pure? The answer is obviously no. Is it necessary to burden the average Bible reader with the responsibility of navigating and using a critical apparatus in Greek? Again, the answer is clearly no.
The Scriptures set forth the truth that God immediately inspired the Scriptures and promised to preserve those Scriptures, and in time the people of God can see that He actually has done it. That means that it is not the Christians job to put every line of Scripture to the test (Luke 4:12). The assertion that simply reading a passage in Scripture as authentic is “making a decision” on the text is a thought that flows from a modern critical perspective of the Scriptures. Christians are to receive the text of Holy Scripture and be tried by them experientially. It is not their job to try them and determine which texts they ought to be tried by. Such a practice invites textual chaos into the church.
Even if it were the task for Christians to “make decisions” on the text of Holy Scripture, there is not an objective standard by which to do this. In the first place, complete extant manuscript data is missing for the first 300 years of the church, so any determination made by such data is hanging three feet in mid air. It’s completely arbitrary. Further, there is no way to determine that the reading a Christian decides upon wasn’t a reading introduced by somebody like Marcion or Valentinius. Even if it can be demonstrated that a reading has been introduced or removed or changed by a heterodox source, Christians may decide that they like that reading better and decide to add it to the text! Since the early manuscripts that are used to make such determinations have no provenance, or determinable origin, there is no way to tell that the reading is even orthodox, let alone original, based on that extant data.
In short, Christians in the 21st century must resolve to receive the Scriptures as they have been delivered, not decide which verses they will receive. It is dangerous and haughty to even assume that the early extant manuscripts can provide the adequate data to make such a choice. The fruit of such decision making is evident when it can be plainly observed that the most trained textual scholars cannot even agree among themselves which readings are “best.” If the most trained scholars cannot come to a consensus on the text, why should the average Christian be told that they are responsible for making such decisions? Not only is this theologically erroneous, it is practically burdensome and likely impossible for most people who read the Bible.
The mindset that Christians are responsible for “deciding” upon every line of Scripture is one that flows from the belief that the Scriptures are currently in the process of being reconstructed, in contradiction to the Biblical testimony. I present this contradiction in the first five articles in this series. Even assuming that the Scriptures do teach that they would fall away, Christians in the 21st century do not have the adequate materials to responsibly make such decisions and know that they’ve made the correct choice. It is an approach to the text that inevitably results in Christians believing that the text is lost to some degree or another and will never be completely found. It is an approach that teaches Christians that they are the judge over Holy Scripture.
Fortunately, this approach is not necessary, because the Scriptures have not fallen away and do not need to be “decided upon.” It is not the task of the Christian to be the hero of the modern church and restore the text that God has allegedly let fall away. Now that I have established several important theological principles in this series of articles, I will move on to presenting the text of Scripture that I believe should be received, translated, read, and preached by the modern Christian church.