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Misgoded reading continued

February 14, 2018 Book Reading Events 0

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For example, in the words of Robert W. Funk, the founding scholar of the Jesus
Seminar,

To add to the problem, no two copies of any of the books of the
New Testament are exactly alike, since they were all handmade. It has
been estimated that there are over seventy thousand meaningful variants in
the Greek manuscripts of the New Testament itself. That mountain of
variants has been reduced to a manageable number by modern critical
editions that sort, evaluate, and choose among the myriad of possibilities.
The critical editions of the Greek New Testament used by scholars are in
fact the creations of textual critics and editors. They are not identical with
any surviving ancient manuscript. They are a composite of many variant
versions. 234
Professor Dummelow of Cambridge attributes the lack of ethics in scriptural
record keeping to how so many variants of the text came into being:
A copyist would sometimes put in not what was in the text, but
what he thought ought to be in it. He would trust a fickle memory, or he
would even make the text accord with the views of the school to which he
belonged. Besides this, an enormous number of copies are preserved. In
addition to the versions and quotations from the early Christian Fathers, nearly four thousand Greek MSS
*
of the New Testament are known to
exist. As a result the variety of readings is considerable. 235
Lest the above be taken as personal opinion, this quote is taken from a work
derived from the combined scholarship of forty­two Christian scholars of international
repute. We might fairly question why such a group of distinguished scholars would
criticize their own book of guidance, if not out of dedication to truth.
Other noted scholars offer their explanations for the widely varying biblical texts:
The speeches in the Fourth Gospel (even apart from the early
messianic claim) are so different from those in the Synoptics, and so like
the comments of the Fourth Evangelist himself, that both cannot be
equally reliable as records of what Jesus said: Literary veracity in ancient
times did not forbid, as it does now, the assignment of fictitious speeches
to historical characters: the best ancient historians made a practice of
composing and assigning such speeches in this way.
236
Rev. J.R. Findlay notes: “None of the evangelic writings thus produced, not even
those now in the New Testament, claimed on their appearance to have canonical
authority; all alike were the offspring of the desire to present what was known or believed about Christ with the aim of satisfying the religious needs of the communities for which
they were severally written.”
237
Findlay’s remarks on the apocryphal gospels could equally apply to the canonical
gospels:
The desire would naturally arise for a presentation of the evangelic
facts which would be in harmony with prevailing thought and feeling. If
this desire was to be satisfied, some manipulation of the generally
accepted tradition was necessary, but that did not seem a serious matter in
an age which had little conscience for the obligation of depicting things as
they actually were. Thus Gospels were produced which clearly reflected
the conceptions of the practical needs of the community for which they
were written. In them the traditional material was used, but there was no
hesitation in altering it or in making additions to it or in leaving out what
did not suit the writer’s purpose. 238
Or, in plain language, “For the early Christians who passed along the stories we
now have in the Gospels, it was sometimes legitimate and necessary to change a
historical fact in order to make a theological point.”
239
The fact that gospel authors modified the text to suit their purpose is so well
known among scholars that it has spawned a particular methodology of gospel analysis known as redaction criticism. The work of redaction critics is to guess each author’s
intentions, theological stance and evangelical purpose through analysis of the gospel form
and editorial modifications—including insertions, deletions, reinterpretations and
rearrangements—made to the sources from which each gospel was derived. 240
Whether or not we agree with the argument that the New Testament is an
unreliable source of truth, the silence of church authorities in the face of such criticism
can be assumed to imply assent. But whatever the reason for the vast variability of the
scriptural accounts, the fact remains that they do differ, and the lack of uniformity
remains a malignant difficulty which grossly disfigures the claim of inerrancy.
With all the inconsistencies, we have to wonder why conflicting books were
canonized together. The simple answer is that these are the Christian writings which best
served the purpose of the early church.
And isn’t that a scary thought?
But it does lead to the question of how the canon of the New Testament was
derived, so let us turn to that subject next.

 

 

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