Lutheran Theologians to Debate Textual Criticism of the Bible


Dr. John Warwick Montgomery, Distinguished Research Professor of Philosophy at Concordia University Wisconsin and Dr. Jeffrey John Kloha, Provost and Professor of Exegetical Theology at Concordia Semniary, Saint Louis, will conduct a debate about the philosophies of Biblical textual criticism on Saturday, October 15th, 2016 at Concordia University-Chicago in River Forest, Illinois.

The title of the debate is:  “Textual and Literary Judgments on the Biblical Text–What Happens to the Lutheran Commitment to Scriptural Inerrancy?

In recent years, several different philosophies of textual criticism have been offered to deal with the problem of textual variants in the biblical materials.  The debate will focus on the impact of one’s choice of textual theory on the classic Lutheran conviction that the Holy Scriptures, as originally given, are the inerrant Word of God.  This subject is of critical importance not just for theologians and Christian scholars, but also for pastors, teachers, and every Bible-reading layman.

There is no admission fee.  The debate will take place at the Chapel of Our Lord/Werner Auditorium at Concordia University-Chicago in River Forest (see  Starting time for the debate will be 9:30 AM Central Daylight Savings Time; closing time will be 1:30 PM, or 2:00 PM at the latest.  The audience will have an opportunity to ask questions of either or both lecturers for 45 minutes at the end of the debate period, which “Question and Answer” session will be moderated.

Parking is available on-campus in the multi-level University Parking Structure in the northeast corner of campus, on the west side of Bonnie Brae Place, with its entrance just south of Division Street in River Forest.  Other on-campus parking is available at: 1) Koehneke Community Center North Lot 5, which includes handicapped parking—entrance from the street is the same as the University Parking Structure; 2) Krauss Lot 3, entrance from Augusta Street, west of Bonnie Brae Place. For a map of the campus, see here.

There is food and coffee available at the campus Koehneke Community Center on Saturday from 9:00 AM to 2:00 PM, at the Starbucks and Subway venues, but no food or drink are permitted in the Chapel of Our Lord.

Dr. Kloha recently published a significant essay on Biblical textual criticism titled “Theological and Hermeneutical Reflections on the Ongoing Revisions of the Novum Testamentum Graece”, in: Achim Behrens/Jorg Christian Salzmann, eds., Listening to the Word of God: Exegetical Approaches, Oberurseler Hefte Ergänzungsband 16 (Göttingen: Edition Ruprecht, 2016). His doctoral dissertation at Leeds in England was on the topic of textual criticism: Jeffrey John Kloha, (2006), A textual commentary on Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians, PhD thesis, University of Leeds (see here). He is the co-editor of and contributor to the Festschrift for his doctoral advisor: Peter Doble and Jeffrey Kloha, eds., Text and Traditions: Essays in Honor of J. Keith Elliott (Leiden: Brill Academic Publishers, 2014). More information about Dr. Kloha and his work can be found here.

Dr. Montgomery, in addition to his position at Concordia University Wisconsin, is the Professor Emeritus of Law and Humanities, University of Bedfordshire, England. His academic degrees include Ph.D. (Chicago), D.Théol. (Strasbourg, France), LL.D. (Cardiff, Wales, U.K.), Dr. honoris causa (Institute for Religion and Law, Moscow). He is Pastor Emeritus in The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. Dr. Montgomery is the Director of the International Academy of Apologetics, Evangelism and Human Rights, Strasbourg, France. He is the author or editor of more than 70 books (including Crisis in Lutheran Theology) and 100 scholarly journal articles. He is a member of the California, D.C., Virginia, Washington State and U.S. Supreme Court bars; Barrister-at-Law, England and Wales; Avocat à la Cour, Paris. More information about Dr. Montgomery and his work can be found here and here.

The Montgomery-Kloha debate is being sponsored by the Lutheran Concerns Association, along with our co-sponsors: Balance-Concord, Inc., The Brothers of John the Steadfast, The Association of Confessing Evangelical Lutheran Congregations, Minnesota North Confessional Lutherans, and Texas Confessional Lutherans.

The Lutheran Concerns Association (a.k.a. LCA) offers an annual conference in January in Fort Wayne, Indiana, prior to the Concordia Theological Seminary—Fort Wayne Symposia and also publishes The Lutheran Clarion. The Lutheran Clarion is published regularly to support issues and causes within The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod which build faithfulness to true Confessional Lutheranism and to be a clear voice of Christian concern against actions and causes which conflict with faithfulness to the One True Faith (see


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About Pastor Joshua Scheer

Pastor Joshua Scheer is the Senior Pastor of Our Savior Lutheran Church in Cheyenne, Wyoming. He is also the Editor-in-chief of Brothers of John the Steadfast. He oversees all of the work done by Steadfast Lutherans. He is a regular host of Concord Matters on KFUO. Pastor Scheer and his lovely wife Holly (who writes and manages the Katie Luther Sisters) have four children and enjoy living in Wyoming.


Lutheran Theologians to Debate Textual Criticism of the Bible — 19 Comments

  1. Many thanks for posting, Pr. Scheer, and with enough lead time to plan the trip. This will be more than worth strapping on the leathers and riding to Chicago. I expect Dr. Montgomery’s zest, wit, and insight will be front and center, and Dr. Kloha will have the chance to test his mettle. Good on them for making the debate public, and free admission.

  2. For those of us not able to attend in person, is there any possibility of broadcasting it on the internet? I would assum CUC has this capability. Or, will there be video or even just audio available?

  3. BJS is in excellent company! And the “company” are not all retired….. God bless them!

    Oh, Pastor Vogts! On the internet, where pew sitters could listen, too!? 🙂

  4. @Brad #1

    Here’s hoping we can get a few of us from CTSFW together for the trip to watch the debate in person. I know I’ve read a whole lot more of Dr. Montgomery regarding Holy Scripture’s inerrancy, clarity and sufficiency than I have read Dr. Kloha’s work. Dr. Montgomery has always shown himself to be one of the most thorough authorities in exposing the real issues at hand, so I have no doubt he’ll bring this discussion back around to the key points He emphasized back in the 1970s when coining the term Gospel reductionism to describe the position espoused by the faculty majority, et al. Scripture is historically reliable, inerrant clear and sufficient. How else can it proclaim Christ and Him crucified for us and our salvation? Dr. Montgomery will, no doubt, show how the Christian faith is founded on defensible, demonstrable fact through and through. So, any analysis via text criticism, et al must always keep reason in its miisterial use rather than making it a magisterial determinant.

  5. Pastor Scheer, all

    Some thoughts that come to mind right away….

    “In recent years, several different philosophies of textual criticism have been offered to deal with the problem of textual variants in the biblical materials. The debate will focus on the impact of one’s choice of textual theory on the classic Lutheran conviction that the Holy Scriptures, as originally given, are the inerrant Word of God.”

    I wonder about the parameters for this debate. What kind of impression do they themselves suggest?

    “problem of textual variants” – How are textual variants determined to be problematic? Are not the vast majority of textual variants completely unproblematic? Why even take the chance of giving the opposite impression? How does this relate to the 1973 “LC-MS Statement of Scriptural and Confessional Principles” which states “We recognize that there are apparent contradictions or discrepancies and problems which arise because of uncertainty over the original text.” (note the word “apparent”).

    “impact of one’s choice of textual theory” – Are more modern, often Enlightenment-driven textual theories (i.e. very much focused on quantitative factors) – particularly those like “reasoned eclecticism” – really demonstrably superior to the approach taken by the church’s biblical scholars in its first 1800 years (which relied on protecting and passing on the texts received by the Apostles and their successors)? My pastor points out that a “coherence-based genealogical method,” which derives from “reasoned eclecticism” disregards a given manuscript in time and space, focusing solely on the grammatical composition of the text which it no longer calls a text, but a ‘witness’.” (a la Karl Barth – all we have are witness’ faith-driven accounts, and not necessarily real history). Are our approaches and methods really something that we should really talk about “choosing”, or something we should talk about receiving?

    “the Holy Scriptures, as originally given, are the inerrant Word of God.” – So, are the Holy Scriptures, as they are given to us today, somehow less the inerrant Word of God than they were when the prophets and apostles were inspired? The 17th century Lutheran fathers believed that God not only gave us the original texts without error, but that He preserved them without error. Even a modern text critic like Ernst Boogert can speak about the theological notion of preservation today: “…theological notions like providence and preservation need to be connected with the content of the New Testament and not with the letter. In that sense, the New Testament is historically and theologically fully preserved.” (p. 66 here) Without simply trusting that God has given us His clear Word, how do we really *know* that manuscripts that we have today still without error, and will they necessarily continue to be as we begin to talk about “plastic texts” with no discernible historical pedigree? Un-Pieper-like scholars such as Rudolph Bultmann distinguished between the “Jesus of history” and the “Christ of faith”. Now, are we facing the “Bible of history and the Scriptures of faith”?

    In other words, note that the way the debate has been set up would necessarily seem to bypass all of these important questions right away.

    And then, there is the title of the debate: “Textual and Literary Judgments on the Biblical Text–What Happens to the Lutheran Commitment to Scriptural Inerrancy?”

    For me, here, it is difficult to pin down the main issue. Montgomery has already earlier written against Kloha on the basis of his relying on “literary judgments”.

    In the same 1973 LC-MS document on inerrancy mentioned above, the following idea is rejected: “the use of certain ‘literary forms’ necessarily calls into question the historicity of that which is being described (for example, that the alleged midrashic form of the infancy narratives in Matthew and Luke suggests that no virgin birth actually occurred, or that the literary form of Genesis argues against the historicity of the Fall).” Therefore, the document is saying that if someone is talking about the importance of literary factors (literary = “associated with literary works or other formal writing; having a marked style intended to create a particular emotional effect.”), or even narrative factors (“a spoken or written account of connected events; a story”) they are not necessarily saying, or at least, to say this is not necessarily to say that something is not factual…. Phillip Hale, in his new book dealing with the divine and inerrant nature of the Bible, argues that the “literary factors” is a way to make the Bible just a story – and he has a point, I think. But even he, in the interest of pointing out the divine priority of things, says this: “The Gospel is a story, but one from God”.

    I think that a problem with Montgomery’s critique of Kloha on the basis of literary factors is that it gives the impression that literary factors are not significant to the Gospels in particular or the writing of history in general – and Dr. Kloha will be sure to point this out in the debate.

    Doesn’t everyone who writes history need to come up with a narrative, or story-line, on which to hang various events and reports? Otherwise, you would just have a jumble of unrelated historical facts. In all 4 of the Gospels their are distinct perspectives and narratives. Many of the facts are the same (in the Synoptics especially), but the way in which those facts are recounted and placed into the wider narrative is certainly significant for interpretation and otherwise. In short, even historical accounts are pieces of literature and have literacy factors, aspects, styles. Phillip Hale, in his book, recounts the early church’s analogy of God playing the Gospel writers like instruments, and quotes one early father talking about how each instrument sounds a little different. Here is the human factor, even accounted for there: these men did have unique personalities, education levels, writing gifts, and even intended audiences. We cannot insist that none of this is insignificant, can we? Why must the literary character of historical writing mean that the reports are fictional or in error?

    They don’t, and I wonder if this might be a weakness of Montgomery’s critique, and why the concerns that I listed above about the way the debate is framed is more significant than we might think. I wonder if Dr. Montgomery is not fully taking this into consideration and with his more “objective,” scientific approach (with all the weaknesses that those Enlightenment ways of doing business come with), might find himself looking like the loser in a debate with Kloha. This, of course, would not mean that Kloha is right about Elizabeth or that thoroughgoing eclecticism is anything like a responsible approach.

    Heartened to also see this excellent post from Dr. Alvin Schmidt on BJS: The quotes from Chemnitz’s examination are particularly important. Chemnitz’s approach is certainly very nuanced, and I think it is understandable how Dr. Kloha may have thought Chemnitz supported him. Ultimately though, Chemnitz’s approach does not differ from the whole of the early church, as the Metzger quote indicates. We must indeed recognize and “acknowledge the self-authenticating quality of these writings, which imposed themselves as canonical upon the church.”


  6. One sixtieth of Scripture has variants, and an even more miniscule number of the variants might cause pause for any concern. That’s 99.33% of the entire body of Scripture settled. The remaining .67 of 1% are questionable to begin with, and affect no sedes/doctrine whatsoever. Text Crit is a disciplined study (Studid it under Wally Degner for two years). Those variants in question at all are included in the apparatus if not actually in the text, so any fear of not holding the pure Word of God in our hand and our midst, is misplaced.

    What is of concern (spoken to by both Montgomery and Dr, Schmidt in very similar terms)(and notice Schmidt credited Montgomery), is treating Scripture to be examined as subjectively critical as is any other literature, and then subjectively judging it. Jack Kilcrease, (now on CTCR) likewise addressed the issue in quite some depth.

    The concern is the use of the same critical method used in the higher critical method (no fellowship can understand that better than should Missouri!), seemingly applied in a Lower Criticism sort of way. The text as literature is examined, and subjective judgments applied. No.

    For my part. I see no problem whatsoever with Montgomery, Schmidt or Kilcrease. If you ever had to privilege to sit at Dr. Schmidt’s feet for a class, you would know how focused he that man is. Montgomery the same, and Jack is a delight, in my book.

    For the record, one should should appreciate that Montgomery took his concern with Kloha back to his (Kloha’s) mentors – explaining how profs may not cross any lines per se, but their pupils on their own, may well carry out the impressions of what their mentors taught – of their own doing. We, no matter how intelligent or semi-all-knowing, are not permitted or allowed to somehow treat Scripture as mere “literature” – high or low. Anyone trying to make even more precise determinations of what is or what isn’t are to be commended for undertaking the effort. I know this a hard, serious task. But it must be free of any subjective judgments in any final determinations – otherwise the question always looms –

    Is this “really” Scripture I am holding and reading? I do not want believe Dr. Kloha means for us to come to that conclusion, but he needs to make himself crystal clear. I look forward to the debate, under whatever name. It will get to the matters at hand.


  7. What will happen after the debate? Will Dr. Kloha be granted a writ of “safe passage” to St. Louis, or has it been arranged for him to be whisked away to a “castle” in a remote, mountainous region for his own theological safety?

  8. @RK #9

    Well, it’s good to know that. Someone might want to have a B&B ready for him, just in case. Ever since the Becker situation went away, people are kind of looking for something else to do.

  9. @RevJimO #10

    Oh, come now– that was an odd backhanded jab at an awful lot of people. Dr. Becker was (is) a heretic on various significant points of theology, and his worst penalty after years of thumbing his nose at orthodox Lutherans was to be welcomed into a thoroughly heterodox synod much more in line with his convictions. Dr. Luther was making a stand on the central doctrinal claims of Holy Scripture, at the peril of death.

    Dr. Kloha dallies in a niche field of marginal significance (textual criticism, which though arguably, may have problematic implications for his students at an ostensibly Lutheran seminary) where his peers have already nodded approvingly at his methodology. What possible, rational connection can you draw between Dr. Becker the heretic living comfortably in the company of other heretics, Dr. Luther who stood and confessed the cardinal doctrines of the faith at the risk of his own life, and Dr. Kloha who is soon to debate his esoterica on a college campus without any risk at all?

    Seriously, dude…

  10. @Brad #11

    @Brad #11

    Well, like I stated, It will be interesting to see what happens after the debate. I’m not sure why they are even having it, given the fact that Dr. Kloha was cleared of any false doctrine. It just has the feel of a situation where people are trying to find error. As far as CSL being an “ostensibly Lutheran seminary,” you have joined me in making the “odd backhanded jab.”

  11. @RevJimO #12

    I think the reason they are having the debate, is because there are honest academic questions to shake out between various area specialists. Honest professors do these kinds of things in the regular light of day for all students and peers to weigh and ponder. For that, I applaud them both. A free public debate of Dr. Kloha’s new work and theories is a responsible approach to testing his theories. Hat’s off to them. Ideas freely discussed out in the open can be openly weighed, then accepted or rejected on their merits.

    And I wasn’t making a backhanded jab at CSL– I was giving them the benefit of the doubt concerning their own claims, for the sake of this current discussion. My lack of conviction regarding whether the LCMS and/or CSL are particularly Lutheran anymore, is not of consequence to this topic, nor is the fact that I have warned students away from CSL for years.

  12. Dear BJS Bloggers,

    I am going to try to attend this debate if possible. I highly respect both professors and it will be interesting to see how they come at these problems.

    Lectures like this used to be standard fare at Lutheran universities, dating back to the disputations in preparation for degrees at Wittenberg (see Luther’s Works, I think vols. 32 and 34 have some; also the new series will have a volume or two of the previously unpublished ones). Disputations were not only training ground for graduate students, but also gave the church a place to try out their arguments planned for use against the Romanists, Calvinists, Anabaptists, and Socinians. The disputations fell out of favor in the Pietist period, as far as I know.

    I am curious about the question about which of you have had formal classes in textual criticism. You don’t need to reveal your name, if anonymous or pseudo-, but I am curious as to which school you attended and when.

    When I attended CTS Fort Wayne in the early 1980s, Text Criticism was required as an adjunct course to hermeneutics–so everyone took the course. I think my class was taught the discipline by Walter A Maier II from the Bruce Metzger standard text, 2nd edition. I think Maier favored the standard Westcott-Hort approach–he was a Harvard doctoral graduate, after all.

    I have heard that text criticism is no longer required at LCMS seminaries. Is that true? What about ELCA, WELS, or ELS? Any Lutheran colleges offering it?

    Thanks for contributing to this informal survey–just mention your seminary, whether text criticism was required, and what years you studied there. If you want, add whom you learned the discipline from.

    Thanks very much!

    Yours in Christ, Martin R. Noland

  13. Took it with Wally Degner at the Fort and was able to use it in all my classes on various books of the NT which, as you know, were all from the Greek. He warned us regularly about the need to suppress any subjectivity doing the task.

    Pax – jb

  14. @Martin R. Noland #14

    Dr. Noland,

    My most concentrated exposure was during my undergraduate studies at Bethany College, Lindsborg, KS (ELCA). I don’t remember it as a specific requirement, but (higher) textual criticism was woven ponderously into almost every course in the Religion & Philosophy BA program.

    The MDiv program at (then) Faith Evangelical Lutheran Seminary, Tacoma, WA, (Independent) did not, to my recollection, have a specific requirement for textual criticism, though it was discussed in various courses… and I remember reading Metzger, as well. Often textual criticism was referenced from an apologetics perspective, and with a very skeptical eye (rightly so, in my humble opinion.) Very recently renamed Faith International University and Faith Seminary, it is a conservative inter-denominational school, and the Lutheran Track MDiv. or DMin. still do not have a specific textual criticism requirement I am aware of.


  15. Dear BJS Bloggers,

    First, thanks to JB and Brad for sharing their experiences in formal classes in text criticism. Perhaps more of you can share the same.

    I still have all of my class notes and prospectuses, so this morning looked up my class on the subject at CTS Fort Wayne. It was called PBI for short, full title “Principles of Biblical Interpretation.” On the quarter system, ca. 1980. Dr. Walter A. Maier II (Harvard M.A.; Concordia-Saint Louis B.A., S.T.M., Th.D.), Instructor. First unit out of three units was on textual criticism.

    Required texts for the first unit were: J. Harold Greenlee, “Introduction to New Testament Textual Criticism”, 1st ed; Bruce Metzger “The Text of the New Testament” 2nd ed; Milton Terry, “Biblical Hermenuetics,” 2nd ed.

    Dr. Maier included a bit of the modern history of textual criticism in his course. You can find a similar discussion in Metzger. My notes at that point read:

    “Tischendorf. Westcott and Hort 1881. Bernhard Weiss 1894-1900. Nestle 1898-1963. Souter 1910-1947. Von Soden 1913. Hoskier 1929. Legg. [paragraph] B. Weiss primarily an exegete, proceeded on the basis of internal context evidence. The results of his subjective method confirm the ‘objective’ procedure of Westcott and Hort.”

    This is where I remembered that Walter A. Maier II commended the methodology of Westcott and Hort to his students.

    Most folks may not remember that Walter A. Maier II was an adamant opponent of higher criticism. His “Form Criticism Re-examined” (CPH 1973) had this to say on the present subject:

    “All scholarly and critical study of the Scriptures begins with a mastery of the original languages (Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek) in which they were written. Of next importance is a Bible student’s capacity to engage in textual criticism. Many manuscripts of the Old and New Testament Scriptures have come down to us from antiquity, and they contain a host of variant readings. It is therefore necessary, by following certain accepted rules for the evaluation of manuscript evidence, to establish the correct Biblical text–that is, the text which conforms most closely to the original autographs, the first texts of the various Bible books.” (p. 7; emphasis in original).

    I believe that Dr. Maier held, based on my notes and this passage, that the “certain accepted rules for the evaluation of manuscript evidence” were best described by Westcott and Hort. So this is what was taught at CTS Fort Wayne during the Robert Preus years there.

    For those of you who might think that textual criticism is an unimportant subject–according to the passage quoted above, Dr. Walter A. Maier would not agree, and went on record with his conviction that it was a necessary subject for students of the Bible (which include scholars, pastors, and laymen).

    I am still curious as to whether textual criticism is still required at our seminaries and others, and how it is taught (see my comment #14 above).

    Yours in Christ, Martin R. Noland

  16. I took a course on the Gospels that dealt with it extensively at Regent University (Pat Robertson’s evangelical college). We were acquainted with Schweitzer and Bultmann, among others, and tasked with responding. The instructor, whose name I do not recall, followed Craig Blomberg slavishly. Also, both survey courses (OT and NT) incorporated elements of the discipline and the chosen texts were typically from late-daters. I have not yet had such a course at St. Andrew’s Seminary (Anglican).

  17. Is there any update on the live stream? I would like to be able to let people know about it Sunday in Church and maybe even host a viewing at Church.

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