TEXTUAL CRITICISM AND CHRISTIAN FAITH
Old books have sometimes been likened to little ships which have sailed across the tides of time, bearing within themselves their precious freight of ancient knowledge and culture. None of these books, however, has enjoyed an uninterrupted voyage over the century stretching seas. The vessels which commenced the journey have perished, and their cargoes have been subject to frequent re-shipment in the course of their perilous passage. The original manuscripts of these ancient works have long since been lost, and they have come down to us only in copies and copies of copies, which were produced by the pens of scribes during the progress of the intervening ages. And just as cargoes of merchandise are likely to incur damage whenever they are transferred from one vessel to another, so the copying and recopying of manuscripts has resulted in some damage to their cargoes of words, which are commonly called their texts. Textual criticism, therefore, is the attempt to estimate this damage and, if possible, to repair it.
Has the text of the New Testament, like those of other ancient books, been damaged during its voyage over the seas of time? Ought the same methods of textual criticism to be applied to it that are applied to the texts of other ancient books? These are questions which the following pages will endeavor to answer. An earnest effort will be made to convince the Christian reader that this is a matter to which he must attend. For in the realm of New Testament textual criticism as well as in other fields the presuppositions of modern thought are hostile to the historic Christian faith and will destroy it if their fatal operation is not checked. If faithful Christians, therefore, would defend their sacred religion against this danger, they must forsake the foundations of unbelieving thought and build upon their faith, a faith that rests entirely on the solid rock of holy Scripture. And when they do this in the sphere of New Testament textual criticism, they will find themselves led back step by step (perhaps, at first, against their wills) to the text of the Protestant Reformation, namely, that form of New Testament text which underlies the King James Version and the other early Protestant translations.
1. The Importance Of Doctrine
The Christian Church has long confessed that the books of the New Testament, as well as those of the Old, are divine Scriptures, written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. "We have learned from none others the plan of our salvation, than from those through whom the Gospel has come down to us, which they did at one time proclaim in public, and at a later period by the will of God, handed down to us in the Scriptures, to be the ground and pillar of our faith.
The Scriptures are perfect, inasmuch as they were uttered by the Word of God and His Spirit." So wrote Irenaeus (1) in the second century, and such has always been the attitude of all branches of the Christian Church toward the New Testament.
Since the doctrine of the divine inspiration of the New Testament has in all ages stimulated the copying of these sacred books, it is evident that this doctrine is important for the history of the New Testament text, no matter whether it be a true doctrine or only a belief of the Christian Church. But what if it be a true doctrine? What if the original New Testament manuscripts actually were inspired of God? If the doctrine of the divine inspiration of the New Testament is a true doctrine, then New Testament textual criticism is different from the textual criticism of ordinary books.
If the doctrine of the divine inspiration of the Old and New Testament Scriptures is a true doctrine, the doctrine of the providential preservation of the Scriptures must also be a true doctrine. It must be that down through the centuries God has exercised a special, providential control over the copying of the Scriptures and the preservation and use of the copies, so that trustworthy representatives of the original text have been available to God's people in every age. God must have done this, for if He gave the Scriptures to His Church by inspiration as the perfect and final revelation of His will, then it is obvious that He would not allow this revelation to disappear or undergo any alteration of its fundamental character.
Although this doctrine of the providential preservation of the Old and New Testament Scriptures has sometimes been misused, nevertheless, it also has always been held, either implicitly or explicitly, by all branches of the Christian Church as a necessary consequence of the divine inspiration of these Scriptures. Thus Origen in the third century was expressing the faith of all when he exclaimed to Africanus, "Are we to suppose that that Providence which in the sacred Scriptures has ministered to the edification of all the churches of Christ, had no thought for those bought with a price, for whom Christ died!" (2)
If, now, the Christian Church has been correct down through the ages in her fundamental attitude toward the Old and New Testaments, if the doctrines of the divine inspiration and providential preservation of these Scriptures are true doctrines, then the textual criticism of the New Testament is different from that of the uninspired writings of antiquity. The textual criticism of any book must take into account the conditions under which the original manuscripts were written and also those under which the copies of these manuscripts were made and preserved. But if the doctrines of the divine inspiration and providential preservation of the Scriptures are true, then THE ORIGINAL NEW TESTAMENT MANUSCRIPTS WERE WRITTEN UNDER SPECIAL CONDITIONS, UNDER THE INSPIRATION OF GOD, AND THE COPIES WERE MADE AND PRESERVED UNDER SPECIAL CONDITIONS, UNDER THE SINGULAR CARE AND PROVIDENCE OF GOD.
2. Two Methods Of New Testament Textual Criticism
The New Testament textual criticism of the man who believes the doctrines of the divine inspiration and providential preservation of the Scriptures to be true ought to differ from that of the man who does not so believe. The man who regards these doctrines as merely the mistaken beliefs of the Christian Church is consistent if he gives them only a minor place in his treatment of the New Testament text, a place so minor as to leave his New Testament textual criticism essentially the same as that of any other ancient book. But the man who holds these doctrines to be true is inconsistent unless he gives them a prominent place in his treatment of the New Testament text, a place so prominent as to make his New Testament textual criticism different from that of other ancient books, for if these doctrines are true, they demand such a place.
Thus there are two methods of New Testament textual criticism, the consistently Christian method and the naturalistic method. These two methods deal with the same materials, the same Greek manuscripts, and the same translations and biblical quotations, but they interpret these materials differently. The consistently Christian method interprets the materials of New Testament textual criticism in accordance with the doctrines of the divine inspiration and providential preservation of the Scriptures. The naturalistic method interprets these same materials in accordance with its own doctrine that the New Testament is nothing more than a human book.
Sad to say, modern Bible-believing scholars have taken very little interest in the concept of consistently Christian New Testament textual criticism. For more than a century most of them have been quite content to follow in this area the naturalistic methods of Tischendorf, Tregelles, and Westcott and Hort. And the result of this equivocation has been truly disastrous. Just as in Pharaoh's dream the thin cows ate up the fat cows, so the principles and procedures of naturalistic New Testament textual criticism have spread into every department of Christian thought and produced a spiritual famine. The purpose of this book, therefore, is to show that in the King James (Authorized) Version we still have the bread of life and in demonstrating this to defend the historic Christian faith.
In the world, which He has created, and in the holy Scriptures which He has given God reveals Himself, not merely information about Himself, but HIMSELF. Hence the thinking of a Christian who receives this divine revelation must differ fundamentally from the thinking of naturalistic scholars who ignore or deny it. In this book we shall endeavor to prove that this is so, first in the field of science second in the realm of philosophy, and third in the sphere of Bible study, and especially in New Testament textual criticism.