Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Asking Students A Very Important Question About Textual Criticism

I asked my New Testament Greek students the following question last week:
"So if you had to land your plane, what would you say––which is original, which is not? Folks, what do we do? If it is original, we teach it. If it is not original, why would we teach it? Can we teach something that we don't think is original? Should we? It's a curious thing that we have probably never heard anything about textual issues in a local church. How can a pastor teach through the New Testament and something about helping the church understand the issue of inspiration and textual criticism never come up (not even in a Sunday School class)?" 
Here's one of their answers:
"This topic can get confusing in a church setting. I think we would confuse them if we tell them about ancient Greek manuscripts and textual apparatus. Unless someone expresses interest in these topics, I would not mention these subjects. Even after reading and researching the textual apparatus, I am still confused as to what’s the oldest manuscript. It seems like there are a lot of Greek manuscripts and the same problem that we have with English translations exists as well with Greek. In English we have so many translations that people are confused. I was not expecting to have the same issue in Greek."
 I replied: "Yet somehow almost everyone at my local church can do their taxes :) What's more complicated––textual criticism or US Federal Income Taxes? :)."

Here's some more from three other students:
"That's a very good question, Thomas. I've never heard anyone explain what was going on (including myself) when different translations of the Bible added or subtracted words. We merely glossed over the discrepancy without an explanation. To be frank, I really didn't have a satisfactory answer as I was never taught anything about texual variants. I can't teach something that I don't believe is original, but I owe it to those I'm teaching to let them know that the variant exist. Nevertheless, I don't feel the pulpit is the place to teach it. Maybe a text variant series of bible studies to give them at least an awareness of some of the major issues."
"My instinct tells me not to teach it; however, I can also understand when teaching a later version of the text is profitable. Just based on this week's assignment, although I think that 'who is in heaven' was added, the addition is expanded upon the reality of the person of Christ. However, an overriding concern may be when people (in our time) add to the text without having a biblical basis for the translation or perversion of the word. Also, a pastor/teacher having in-depth knowledge of what's in and not in the original biblical text must be prepared to address the importance of the differences in the variants. In particular, how it impacts our theology. So, I do not think that there is a clear yes/no, but I err on the side of not teaching it. However, if I do teach it, I would have to, at a minimum, highlight the differences. I've sat in church and have had leaders have people read from different versions of the Bible without explaining the differences and treat the different translations as simply another way of translating the verse."
"You indeed bring up a very interesting question. I agree with some of my peers. I too found some of the information confusing. With that being said, I can understand how pastors would tend not to bring up the textual issues in the local church. I am not saying this is the right avenue to take however. My thinking is that in some circumstances textual analysis could cause more harm than good in a congregation. Therefore as a pastor, it is imperative that the under shepherd know his flock. If he or she knows the flock, they will know how best to present the information and how much to present."
I loved this one comment by one of the students, especially the first sentence:
"This textual analysis is not for sissies. It is really hard work. How easy would it be when we hit a variant in the text just to rely on Metzger or Carson. Aren't they smarter than me? The tools and the Web are making it easier and more accessible for us to form our own opinion but it will be a struggle to dig in. How many pastors have done a textual analysis since seminary? They are buried in caring for the flock and getting the weekly sermon ready in the few hours they have left every week. However, as preachers, the integrity of the Word of God is critical. How can we not? But how can we? It will be a struggle for sure." 
I wrote the following reply:
"One suggestion for everyone: Bite off smaller passages to teach. It makes it easier to study and to give full attention to what we need to study for a given text. When pastors and teachers are doing 'Ephesians 5:1-18' on a Sunday morning, there's no way they are going to wrestle with what's in the text. We can only teach what we've studied. And glossing over the issues that are there might make it easier on Sunday (especially in light of everything that's going on Monday thru Saturday), but it behooves us to study the text. Do we need to delve into a textual analysis every single week? You'll find that it's not as often as you think. For example, am I going to spend a couple of hours doing this for 'Reading 1: Christ Jesus' vs. 'Reading 2: Jesus Christ' (which is a variant issue one of the students has for their Greek Exegesis Project)? The answer is no. Do I have to wrestle with Matt. 5:22, John 3:13, John 7:53-8:11, Mark 16:9-20, and others like it? Definitely. And if I don't, especially after having been trained how to do so, it will be something for which I think I will give an account."
So what do you think?

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