The Theology of the Text: How Do Critical Methodologies Affect the Layman?

This article is the eleventh 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 Critical Methodologies Affect the Layman?

All efforts of the seminaries should be for the purpose of glorifying God and benefitting His people. Usually, what goes on in seminaries trickles down slowly to the people in the pews, and the people in the pews often push back at the things that seminary trained pastors bring into their church from the academy. This is perfectly exemplified by the statement recently issued by the Lockman Foundation regarding the NASB 2020:


“The long ending of Mark (Mark 16:9-20) and the story of the woman caught in adultery (John 7:53-8:11) were retained due to their special interest for many readers and because of the lengths of the texts. These two passages have double brackets to indicate that they lack adequate manuscript support because the earliest manuscripts do not contain these passages.”

Despite the scholars on the editorial committee for the NASB 2020 not believing that the Ending of Mark and the Pericope Adulterae are Scripture, they kept them in the text because of the “special interest for many readers.” Many pastors face this same dilemma when they mount the pulpit to preach these passages, and find that their calendar is overbooked by angry lay people because they denied these texts from the pulpit. The people of God are constantly assailed with the theories and methods of critical scholars by men who go to be trained at institutions that have been overtaken by critical approaches to text-criticism and exegesis. 

There are several practices of such trained men that fall into the category of pastoral abuse. The first is the idea that a translation cannot be “perfect.” This line of thinking says that Greek and Hebrew is so incomprehensible to the 21st century audience, that it cannot be translated accurately into English. The practical impact of this is that modern Christians are actually made to believe that not only are there no modern Bibles that accurately set forth the original languages, they must learn Greek and Hebrew and learn text-critical methodologies if they wish to know what God says. This is worse than the practice of Rome in the 16th century. It completely takes the Word of God away from Christians, even when they have it in their mother tongue. If it is impossible to accurately translate Greek and Hebrew into vulgar tongues, then all Christians must be proficient in the Biblical languages just to read their Bible. When pastors say this, they are effectively taking the Bible away from their people, and locking it behind walls of the academy. 

The second practice is when pastors popishly declare that this text or that text is not Scripture, based purely on unfounded theories of the academy no more established than Darwinian evolution. Christians are told that the best and brightest scholars have “proved” certain readings inauthentic, when this is the farthest thing from the truth. The same scholars who advocate against many beloved readings are unwilling to say that any text is “original,” and even go as far to say that we can never find the original. Thus, the skepticism of modern men is forced upon the people in the pews, who do not know anything about text-criticism or the original languages, and likely don’t have the time to invest in studying modern criticism of the Bible. This further takes the Bible away from the people by saying that not only can the Biblical languages be translated adequately, the texts they are translated from aren’t even what the prophets and apostles wrote. This is one of the most heinous impositions on the people of God in the history of the church. 

The third practice is when pastors preach unbiblically by applying critical principles to hermeneutics. They say that Moses likely didn’t author the whole Pentateuch, and that the Messianic prophecies in the Old Testament couldn’t have been about Christ, because the Jewish faith communities wouldn’t have had that in mind as they were writing. Further, they depart from orthodox understandings of the Pauline epistles and others because the modern scholars “know better.” They impose strange, private interpretations on their people because of some new school of thought that has emerged nearly 2,000 years after the apostles lived. This further takes the Bible away from the people of God by demonstrating that the Bible is just another historical text documenting the religious experience of historical faith communities. 

Conclusion

Critical methodologies take God out of the Scriptures, and feed unbelief to the people of God in the pew in small doses. This practice is “safely” done in the academy out of the reach of the pew, but is abusive when pastors bring such methodologies to the pulpit. Pastors must take what they learn in seminary, and try their best to make it sound Biblical by the time they present it to their people. Even if the layperson is able to set aside the problems with these critical methodologies, it changes the way they read their Bible. Christians can no longer have certainty that the words they are reading are the words of God. Firstly, because they are told that Greek and Hebrew is so magical that it cannot possibly be translated. Secondly, because they are told that those Greek and Hebrew texts do not even represent the originals, and even if they did, we would not know it. Thirdly, critical hermeneutics simplify God’s Word into a simple exercise of understanding the historical context of the Scriptures. This is damaging to the people of God, who are not critical scholars, and will never be able to be critical scholars. I’ll end with this quote found in a book by Jennifer Knust and Tommy Wasserman, whose research informs editorial teams like the Lockman Foundation:


“Books and the texts they preserve are human products, bound in innumerable ways to the circumstances and communities that produce them. This is also true of the New Testament…Even if the text of the Gospels could be fixed – and, when viewed at the level of object and material artifact, this goal has never been achieved – the purported meaning of texts also change.”  

, Knust & Wasserman, To Cast the First Stone,15,16

3 thoughts on “The Theology of the Text: How Do Critical Methodologies Affect the Layman?

  1. “The first is the idea that a translation cannot be “perfect.” This line of thinking says that Greek and Hebrew is so incomprehensible to the 21st century audience, that it cannot be translated accurately into English.”

    Accuracy does not equal perfection.

    Like

    1. The two terms are conflated constantly so I put it in quotes. In any case, modern scholars say that perfect translations are not available, neither are accurate translations. That is the point I’m making. Thanks for the comment.

      Like

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