A Layman’s Take on the Plastic Text of the New Testament – Part 1, Convention Overtures

The Convention Workbook 2016 of the Lutheran Church – Missouri synod contains these two overtures:

  • 4-23 To Settle Prof. Jeffery Kloha Controversy
  • 4-24 To Request Public Clarification of Kloha Paper

This article is part 1 in a series triggered by these overtures. This part sets forth the premises and resolves of the overtures. The next part will summarize from a layman’s perspective the contents of what appears to be the final version of the paper. A final part will give one layman’s issues and conclusions regarding the paper.

Overture 4-23 says,

A controversy has arisen concerning Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, Prof. Jeffrey Kloha and a paper which he presented in Oberursel, Germany, titled “Inspiration, Authority, and a Plastic Text.”

Prof. Kloha’s use of a nonbiblical term “plastic text” suggests that a Christian layperson can never be certain that the Bible they have in their home is the true and complete inspired Word of God.

The overture seeks to have the convention set aside time for Prof. Kloha to speak about his view of Scripture, and to answer a number of particular questions:

  • Did Mary or Elizabeth speak the Magnificat?
  • Is the Bible lay people have reliable? Does it represent closely the original autographs? Is it the very Word of God?
  • Do sheep have a reliable Bible by which they can judge whether their shepherds teach true doctrine?
  • Is the “Brief Statement” a true understanding of the doctrines it discusses? Is your position the same as the positon of the “Brief Statement”?


The final resolution of the overture calls upon the convention, after hearing Prof. Kloha, to vote either to expel him from the LCMS or approve of him, lay to rest the controversy, and bring a God-pleasing peace to the Synod.

The second overture tells how this became a public concern.

Whereas, The Rev. Prof. Kloha’s initial paper, entitled “Text and Authority: Theological and Hermeneutical Reflections on a Plastic Text,” has caused serious concern to the conscience of many because, somehow, the entire paper was obtained and became a public document to be read by many (even if it was posted in copyright violation) via the Internet (http://thebarebulb.files.wordpress.com/2013/12/textand-authority.pdf).

If you try to access that URL today, you receive a 403: Access Denied message, saying the file requires authorization, and “You must be logged in and a member of this blog.”

Notice that the title of the paper in this second overture is different than in the first one. This does represent the fact that the paper was revised. Afterward it underwent still further revision. These versions were intended for and delivered to professional, academic conferences, and represented the state of Prof. Kloha’s research and formulations on each respective date of presentation. They were not intended for general dissemination, and particularly not for presentation to lay people.

The second overture expresses concern about the paper in the version available by the time the overture was written, that either:

  • It represents historical-critical method.
  • While not representing historical-critical method itself, it might suggest that Prof. Kloha is teaching historical-critical method at the seminary.
  • Even if neither of those is the case, it still gives people who read it or hear the presentations the idea that Prof. Kloha endorses higher-critical method, though without saying so directly.


Another concern of the overture is the apparent unavailability of any final version of the paper. The most current version available when the overture was written was delivered at a conference entitled “The Day of Exegetical Reflection,” held at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, Missouri, on May 8, 2014. Video of the presentation is available at http://concordiatheology.org/2014/07/doer14/. The overture expresses concern that the video shows the paper had become longer, and it was too long to be fully presented at the conference. Therefore those approving memorializing the overture to the convention could not find out what was the final form of the paper. They could not discover all changes, additions, and omissions that had been made.

The paper about a plastic text of the New Testament was itself plastic, and inaccessible.

Later, on August 15, 2014, President Harrison reported to the Regents of the seminary that he, President Meyer, Rev. Daniel Preus, and Prof. Kloha had met to discuss concerns about the paper, and Prof. Kloha had “made numerous changes and omissions to increase clarity and greatly decrease concern. We find no false teaching in the revised paper.” The overture says this shows yet a further revision and new version of the paper that was not officially published. The resolution of the overture is to:

direct the Rev. Prof. Jefferey Kloha to make available to the public his fully revised paper in which he “made changes and omissions to increase clarity and greatly decrease concern” (with corrections revealed through highlighted added words and line-through removed words included within the revised paper) so that all those who have concerns can read what the Rev. Professor’s clarifications are.

Since then, we see formal publication of what appears to be the final version of the paper. It is a chapter in the recently published book, Listening to the Word of God: Exegetical Approaches, Achim Behrens and Jorg Christian Salzmann, eds., Marion Salzmann, trans. (Göttingen, Niedersachs Edition Ruprecht 2016), titled “Theological and Hermeneutical Reflections on the Ongoing Revisions of the Novum Testamentum Graece.”

The term “plastic text” does not appear in the article, and the title speaks instead of “ongoing revisions” of the Greek text of the New Testament.

Having reviewed the overtures in this part, the next part of this series will summarize from a layman’s perspective the contents of what appears to be the final version of the paper.

About T. R. Halvorson

T. R. Halvorson was born in Sidney, Montana on July 14, 1953, baptized at Pella Evangelical Lutheran Church in Sidney, Montana on November 8, 1953, and confirmed at First Lutheran Church in Williston, North Dakota in 1968. He and his wife, Marilyn, are members of Trinity Lutheran Church (LCMS) in Sidney, Montana. They have three sons and six grandchildren. T. R. farms at Wildrose, North Dakota, and is Deputy County Attorney in Sidney, Montana. He has been a computer programmer; and an author, conference speaker, instructor, and consultant to industry in online legal information. He is among the authors of the religion column in the Sidney Herald at Sidney, Montana. He is the Editor of LutheranCatechism.com.


A Layman’s Take on the Plastic Text of the New Testament – Part 1, Convention Overtures — 19 Comments

  1. Mr. Halvorson,

    Thanks for tackling this. From the beginning I have tried to follow and understand the papers and I watched the 2014 video more than once; I look forward to your future articles.

    The first issue of Today’s Business is now available at https://www.lcms.org/convention/downloads#2016-todays-business and I don’t find anything about this issue. Unless I missed it.

    God’s blessings in Christ Jesus,
    Ginny Valleau

  2. Hmm, seems Prof. Khola’s paper itself is plastic.

    I can grant the charity of Prof. Khola working on a professional paper with his colleagues, as he refines his thoughts and words. The first foray can be a little rough, and interacting with his peers can help clarify and refine.

    Whether it is fortunate or unfortunate, we live in a computer information age. So if and likely when this gets out, how is it explained? And a person’s response to potential pushback can calm concerns or agitate increased tension. What does NOT help is lack of transparency. The longer and final version needs to get out, so people can accurately and appropriately digest how the topic came to fruition, and whether it is now kosher or heretical. Not all lay people are dumb sheep; some of us can figure out what is going on. But we are no always privileged (or allowed?) into clerical discussions, so help us out, so we don’t get into synodical fights at convention.

  3. @Ginny Valleau #1

    I looked at that last night. Perhaps the floor committee declined to report the two resolutions to the floor, which is perfectly within their function to do.

    A couple of things happened after the overtures were memorialized. One, the meetings with President Harrison, President Meyer, Rev. Preus, and Dr. Kloha took place. Two, the book was published with what appears to be the final version of the paper. These subsequent events could (I don’t know if they did but they could) make it seem to the committee that the overtures were rendered moot.

  4. @Jason #2

    seems Prof. Khola’s paper itself is plastic

    It seems so, up until the publication of the book. But that is normal for this kind of academic paper. Academics don’t work in isolation. They depend on collegial critique. It can take on the aspect of, “As iron sharpens iron.” That’s not a marshmallow sharpening a marshmallow. I have the impression that besides speaking, Dr. Kloha also did a lot of listening, and that is how academics work.

  5. Ask Floor Committe 4 what happened to Overtures 4-23 and 4-24. They didn’t even make it into an Omnibus Resolution.

    Committee 4: Life Together
    C: Dan Gilbert (NI);
    DP: Vice chair: Richard Snow (NEB);
    VOM: Christopher Amen (SW); Ronald Bogs (TX); Paul Egger (IW); Scott Schilbe (MNS);
    VL: Peggy Beyer (NEB); Kent Seetin (IW);
    ACM: Allen Piepenbrink (MDS).

  6. @Ginny Valleau #1: “The first issue of Today’s Business is now available at https://www.lcms.org/convention/downloads#2016-todays-business

    On p. 84 of Today’s Business there is Resolution 5-13, To Reaffirm Scriptural Teaching re Royal Priesthood and Office of Public Ministry, which references Overtures 5-25–28 (CW, pp. 352–354).

    However there is NO mention of the Royal Priesthood or the Office of Public Ministry in any of the referenced Overtures on any of the referenced pages.

    Furthermore, a Res. 5-13 WHEREAS states:

    WHEREAS, The Commission on Theology and Church Relations (CTCR) recently (May 2016) adopted an opinion titled “Response to Two Questions: Is the Gospel Effective when Spoken by a Lay Person? and Is Pastoral Oversight the Sole Criterion for Laymen Carrying Out Pastoral Functions?”

    There have been no such titled opinions in 2016 listed on the LCMS CTCR website or announced in the Reporter. The opinions are not included in the 2016 Convention Workbook or the 2016 Today’s Business-1st Issue To the contrary, in the 2016 Convention Workbook, the CTCR states (p. 69):

    2. The Priesthood of All Believers (2007 Res. 1-03)
    The 2007 Res. 1-03 directed the CTCR “to prepare a comprehensive study document which clearly presents the biblical teaching of the royal priesthood and Luther’s teaching on vocation in light of the mission challenges of today.” The CTCR continues its work on this assignment and expects to complete it in the coming triennium.

    That would mean 2017-2019.

    However in the President’s Report, Part 2 (Today’s Business, p. 27) there is a Specific Recommendation on: “Reaffirming a right understanding of the Royal Priesthood and the Office of the Holy Ministry, via Walther’s Church and Ministry as the position of Synod.”

    So Floor Committee 5 is presenting for a vote to the convention delegates a resolution based on unrelated overtures and recommended in the President’s Report. The resolution will approve of unpublished opinions on a topic that the CTCR claims it will produce its study document sometime in 2017-2019.

    Wouldn’t it be easier for the Floor Committees to just include with their Resolutions the numbers for what they think each vote tally should be? That would save a lot of time that would be spent reading and debating the resolutions. Also, the 2016 Convention Proceedings could be published in time for the delegates arriving at the convention to download.

  7. In order to give witness to our faith in Christ to a growing number of higher critical academics I believe we need someone who can speak their language. I do not think we should just write them all off as snobs. By in large the “critical” look at sources, variants, and internal integrity of the text assures us that the text is both historical (there have been copyist errors along with editor interpretations which prove it has been around) and accurate. Yet ultimately our faith in the inspired word of God is not about us (or human transmission) but about the Word made flesh Who has come among us to save us from ourselves.

  8. @T. R. Halvorson #7

    Your eyes are okay, at least when looking at the LCMS website. The 2016 LCMS Convention: Today’s Business: First Issue has indeed been purged from the LCMS website. No reason was seen.

    But you did download and save a copy earlier (didn’t you?), like some of us, who will be comparing the text to that of any version that may be put out later.

    BTW, earlier I had pointed out that Resolution 5-13 referred to a 2016 CTCR opinion, “Response to Two Questions: Is the Gospel Effective when Spoken by a Lay Person? and Is Pastoral Oversight the Sole Criterion for Laymen Carrying Out Pastoral Functions?”, even though no such titled opinions in 2016 were listed on the LCMS CTCR website or in the 2016 Convention Workbook or the 2016 Today’s Business-1st Issue.

    That CTCR opinion, “Response to Two Questions,” can be found here. Better download and save in case it’s deleted as well.

    Spoiler Alert:
    The answers to the two questions are, “No.”

  9. A Clarification: The answers of “No” in the CTCR 2016 opinion, “Response to Two Questions: Is the Gospel Effective when Spoken by a Lay Person? and Is Pastoral Oversight the Sole Criterion for Laymen Carrying Out Pastoral Functions?“, are NOT the answers to those questions, but rather the answers to these two questions within the opinion text:

    1. “Are the Word of God and the saving Gospel effective only when spoken by a pastor?” (p. 1)

    2. “Do the Scriptures, Lutheran Confessions and the public doctrine of the LCMS (particularly Walther’s ‘ Church and Office’) allow laymen to carry out the specific functions of the pastoral office (public absolution, public preaching and administration of the sacraments in the divine service) under the sole proviso that this is done ‘under the oversight of a pastor’?” (pp. 3-4)

  10. A May 11, 2016, BJS post refers back to a 2010 Convention-requested study on cremation, which was not completed by December 2015, as requested in the 2013 Omnibus Resolution A. Now on the LCMS website there is an undated LCC-CTCR document, “Cremation and The Christian,” with the LCC-CTCR link included in Resolution 5-17, To Commend the Lutheran Church—Canada CTCR Report, “Cremation and the Christian” (p. 88, in the now-purged 2016 Today’s Business: First Issue).

    While the LCC-CTCR document claims,

    “The Church does not seek to unduly burden the conscience of the Christian with new laws and so teach as doctrines the precepts of men.” (p. 7)

    it seems to do so in some pietistic sophistry after it admits no Scriptural prohibition of cremation (p. 6):

    Although there is no Word of the Lord that forbids the practice of cremation, clearly the traditional Christian form of burial is more in keeping with our faith. The intentional destruction of the human body after death may be free to us under the Gospel, but the practice is neither helpful nor up-building in making a clear confession of our faith in the bodily resurrection of the dead.”

    At least Resolution 5-17 and the LCC-CTCR document have no mention of Alvin Schmidt’s blasphemous, Regina-Orthodox-Press-published, anti-cremation book, as promoted in the English District’s Overture 5-09 (CW, p. 345). Back in 2011, the LCMS-CTCR removed from its FAQ on Cremation all references and discussions dealing with Schmidt’s book.

  11. @T. R. Halvorson #11

    Overtures 4-23 and 4-24 are included in Resolution 4-07, To Respectively Decline Overtures (2016 Today’s Business: First Issue, Version 2, p. 68). The reason given by Floor Committee 4 was:

    “Already resolved by President of Synod and President of Concordia Seminary”

    BTW, Resolution 4-07 was an addition in the revised 2016 Today’s Business: First Issue, Version 2.

    In addition to Resolution 4-07 To Respectfully Decline Overtures (p. 68), there are also:

    Resolution 9-06 To Respectively Decline Overture (p. 121)

    Resolution 11-16 To Respectfully Decline Overtures (p. 151)

    Resolution 12-10 To Respectfully Decline Overtures (p. 169)

    Resolution 13-05 To Respectfully Decline Overture (p. 176)
    Overture 13-48 To Bring End to District Licensed Lay Deacon (Reason: Did not discontinue lay ministry role and function [WAIT! Isn’t that what the Convention is to decide?!?]

    Resolution 15-05 To Respectfully Decline Overture (p. 189)

    Resolution 18-06 To Respectfully Decline Overtures (p. 202)

    However, Special Standing Rule No. 7 (p. 17) states, “Omnibus D refers to overtures declined by the floor committee.”

    So there may be another revision to Today’s Business: First Issue.

  12. @Carl Vehse #10

    [Not off topic if this is a general discussion of Day 1 business.]

    Has any committee discussing cremation as “intentional destruction of the human body” ever taken testimony from a mortician, exactly describing what goes on to produce that “Oh, doesn’t she look natural!?” shell of Aunt Edna?

    [My aunt Edna and no, she didn’t.]

    I am not personally in favor of cremation (today, anyway) but I do believe our Lord is as capable of resurrecting the dust of my [Navy] uncles from the depths of the sea as He is of bringing a carcass in a cement box, not allowed to decay, to stand before Him on the last day.

    Cement box liner for graves required, at least in Minnesota, because you never know where they’ll want to build a road and therefore move the boxes. Interred in pine, grandpa’s bones, if they remain, will be a little messier to shovel from here to there.

  13. Since the CTCR only referred to the LCC-CTCR’s cremation document (which appears to come from the LCC 2011 Convention Workbook), there’s no information on any LCMS-CTCR discussion about cremation. They don’t publish their minutes.

  14. @Carl Vehse #14

    Someone at Bible class asked me this a.m. if CTCR still existed. [Confessional church, currently studying BOC] I told her it did, although it couldn’t seem to get work out as directed, quoting BJS. 🙂

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.