A Layman’s Take on the Plastic Text of the New Testament — Part 2, Dr. Kloha’s Paper

Part 1 of this series set forth the premises and resolves of two overtures in the Convention Workbook 2016 of the Lutheran Church – Missouri synod concerning a paper by Dr. Jeffrey Kloha about ongoing revisions to the text of the Greek New Testament. Those two overtures triggered this series.

This part summarizes from a layman’s perspective the contents of what appears to be the final version the paper. A third part will give my layman’s issues and conclusions regarding the paper.

What appears to be the final version of the paper was published recently as a chapter in the 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.”

Here is the take-away garnered by me as one layman. As you read this, bear in mind, much of what Dr. Kloha is saying is simply his report of what others are doing or saying. Editors of editions of the Greek New Testament are doing things, textual critics are doing things, and skeptics are challenging Scripture. Those things would be happening even if Dr. Kloha had become a diesel mechanic and never said one word about the Greek New Testament. In assessing his paper, first distinguish between matters where he is only reporting versus matters where he is expressing his own views or proposals. It would be a mistake to shoot the messenger just to make it easier to bury our heads in the sand. Everyone concerned should read his paper itself.

The New Testaments that we lay people have in English are translated from Greek texts. Formerly, there was stability in the Greek text. Now the text is not stable.

The people who produce versions of the text are making changes more rapidly than in the past based on:

  • manuscript discoveries
  • study of patristic material
  • study of early translations (Latin, Syriac, and Coptic)
  • changes in methodology

 

The pace of change is too rapid for hardcopy editions to keep up. Electronic and online versions of the text have changes that outrun printed editions. Dr. Kloha states a challenge this situation poses:

How do we account for this in the teaching and preaching task? When we are writing commentaries? When dealing with apologetic issues? And, when the text is changing regularly, online, live before our eyes, if you will, how do we continue to pray Verbum Dei manet in aeternum [the word of God remains forever]? [p. 181]

All this is the result of something called textual criticism. When manuscripts have variations on the wording at some location in the New Testament, people who produce the Greek text make decisions about which variation is right.

In the doctrine of verbal, plenary inspiration of Scripture, plenary means the whole thing, and verbal means the parts right down to the very words. The whole of Scripture, and every part of it right down to the very words, is inspired by the Holy Spirit, and therefore it is authoritative.

This doctrine applies to the autographs, not to copies. An autograph is the original text when a document is first written and before any copies are made. The existence of variations in the copies means that the text used to make translations, besides not being the autographs, is not an accurate copy of the autographs. If we don’t have the words of the autographs, then wherever there are manuscript variations, we might not have the very words that the Holy Spirit inspired.

Some textual critics have given up on trying to recover the autographs. Instead they seek something called the Ausgangstext, or in English, the “Initial Text.”

This reconstructed text is not “what left the pen of the evangelist.” … Rather, the editors are producing the text from which all existing copies derive. This is a significant change. No longer are the editors proposing to reconstruct, say, the letter that Paul sent to Rome. Rather, they are constructing the form of Romans that became part of the Corpus Paulinum sometime by the end of the first century, and from which all extant manuscripts derive. [p. 177.]

In the case of the Gospels, the situation is even worse. The target is the text of, say, Mark that existed sometime, perhaps a long time, after the first century.

This opens the question, what becomes of the authority of the New Testament? How do we explain the inspiration and authority of the text when the text keeps changing, and we don’t know if we have the words that the Holy Spirit verbally inspired?

People challenge the text with such questions as this: If the Holy Spirit could inspire the apostles to write his very words, why couldn’t He protect the transmission of the text? One miracle, of inspiration of the text, is no greater than another, of preservation of the text. If we can see that the Holy Spirit did not inerrantly preserve the text, what does that say about his inerrant inspiration of the autographs?

Kloha says Lutherans have not adequately addressed such challenges. He asks, “How will a Lutheran theology of the Word deal with these new editions of the Greek New Testament, editions that will change on a regular basis?” [p. 181]

Kloha mentions a couple metaphors or frameworks for viewing the nature of Scripture. One is an incarnational view, and another is a sacramental view.

He briefly likens the nature of Scripture to the nature of Christ. In the incarnation, Christ is both divine and human. The Word is both God’s word and human words. This analogy has been used in Lutheran theology. Kloha passes quickly from this, saying, “it might be more helpful to use a sacramental framework.” [p. 182]

Kloha briefly states an analogy between the Word and the Sacraments, based on both being means of grace, and on the Word being operative in the Sacraments despite contingencies in the earthly elements. But, this leaves us with “more of a mess on our hands than we would prefer.” [p. 182]

Next Kloha enumerates and develops three prejudgments about Scripture. One is that Scripture is inspired and authoritative. The second is about avoiding two opposite errors. One error is not seeing the divine Word and its authority in the text. The other error is not seeing that God’s Word in the text is stated in human words. This section is interesting and valuable for refuting several varieties of foolish readings of Scripture in many quarters. But it does not directly advance against the problem of a text that changes before our eyes.

The third prejudgment is a core point of the paper.

I will state my third prejudgment, which must also be incorporated into our hermeneutics: The reality of the historical nature of the transmission of the text and canon of the Scriptures. My explicit concern is this: The theological a priori we have at times used to argue for the authority of the Scriptures does not address the historical data that we now have regarding the formation of the canon and the manuscripts of the New Testament. We need a way of understanding the Scriptures that is able to deal with the challenges raised by the historical questions of our day. [p. 187]

After a rendition of the a priori dogmatics such as by Quenstedt, Kloha says, “Critics of the Scriptures and their inspiration will be able to demolish, and in fact already have, this naïve argumentation. And it has caused doubt among our people.” [p. 189]

There is also an a posteriori dogmatic that says, as Pieper does, no doctrine has been affected by the manuscript variations. That is true, but it changes the subject from the reliability of the text to the reliability of doctrine. Consequently this argumentation also does not hold up against criticism.

Kloha says of these kinds of arguments for Scriptural inspiration and authority,

[Bart D.] Ehrman’s book [Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why] challenges the kind of argumentation for Scriptural authority described above. And the people in our classrooms and pews, who have been taught by us and by our students, have had their faith rocked to the core by Ehrman and his manuscripts, and Elaine Pagels and her gnostic gospels, and by the “Gospel of Judas,” and by The Davinci Code. [pp. 191-92]

Again,

We can comfort ourselves with our dogmatic formulations based on a single, original autograph, and repeat those formulations to our hearers, and in many cases that is enough. Soon enough, however, there will be another Bart Ehrman or Gospel of Judas or History Channel show that will cause the people in our congregations to question their trust in the Scriptures. [p. 201]

In a section titled, “Toward a Lutheran Approach.” Dr. Kloha begins, “I propose as a way forward that issues of the text are identical to issues of the historical development of the canon of the New Testament.” [p. 192] He recounts,

For Chemnitz, God is the source of authority, but that individual writings were in fact, from God had to be ‘judged’ and verified by the church, both as to the human authors and to their content. This took place historically, and Chemnitz goes to great lengths in his ensuing discussion to cite evidence from the church fathers, beginning with the earliest then available, that affirms this process of ‘judging’ the authorship and content of the writings. I would urge the same approach today: That we assume inspiration as an a priori, and then do the challenging and difficult work of going back to the earliest and most reliable sources in order to ‘judge’ and verify which readings are, in fact, apostolic. [p. 193-94]

This brings us to three classes or ranks of writings that are proposed to be Scripture, and the historical process of the church identifying which ones have what kind of authority.

  • homologoumena
  • antilegomena
  • notha

Homologoumena are writings that the church quickly recognized as inspired and against which no one or nearly no one in the church spoke. This happened very early with the 13 writings of Paul. It happened later, but still early, with the four Gospels.

Antilegomena are writings like Hebrews against which appreciable voices in the church speak, saying they might be valuable, but we cannot be sure they are inspired by the Holy Spirit. Of course, the world speaks against all Scripture. But here we are not concerned with that. We are concerned with witnesses from within the church against a writing.

Notha are spurious or apocryphal writings that have no authority, though they might be good, pious writings which a Christian may read with benefit.

Of the antilegomena, Chemnitz says, “No dogma which does not have a certain and clear foundation in the canonical books dare be constructed from these [antilegomena] books. Nothing that is in controversy may be proved from those books if there are no proofs and confirmations in the canonical books. But what is said in these books must be explained and understood according to analogy of what is clearly set down in the canonical books. [p. 196]

Lay people are accustomed to seeing the same 27 books in the same order in their printed and bound copies of the New Testament. They might never have heard of two ranks of books within what they call the New Testament. They might not realize that in Lutheran theology, we never have agreed that the antilegomena are Scripture. But it is so, and there is a messy historical process relating to this.

Dr. Kloha proposes that “we apply this traditional canonical distinction not only [to] the books but also to the individual words in those books.” [p. 196]

The variant readings by the manuscript tradition can be classified as to their canonical status. Individual readings may be classified as ‘homologoumena’ readings – those ‘used by all’ the manuscripts and firmly in the text. Others would have to be considered ‘antilegomena’ readings – those ‘spoken against’ by the manuscript tradition and not to be considered firmly authoritative. And finally ‘notha’ readings – those readings that are clearly spurious, secondary additions or alterations and therefore not to be considered authoritative. [p. 197]

Dr. Kloha calls this a “canonical-textual approach” and says it allow us to view the changing wording of new editions of the Greek text within the theological and historical framework that the church always has viewed the biblical text. He says, “It helps us to realize that we are still today sorting out the antilegomena from the homolegoumena as we continue to sort out the best readings from those which are later alterations in the manuscripts.” [p. 197]

An important feature to understand about his proposal is that where a phrase has variant readings in different manuscripts, a version of the phrase is antilegomena because “it is spoken against by not by the critic but by the manuscripts themselves.” [p. 198]

When that happens, the approach would treat both readings as antilegomena because each is spoken against by the other. “Therefore, in our teaching, neither reading is independently authoritative, but each has a secondary authority.” [p. 198] In other words, both readings have a rank like the rank of Hebrews, because Hebrews is antilegomena. You then do with it what Chemnitz said to do with antilegomena.

The question arises, can we teach and preach from, say, the Nestle-Aland text if it is not the autograph? Kloha says, “I am certain that we can, because the church has done exactly that from the beginning, even if we have not acknowledged it.” [p. 199] Already there have been 28 editions of the standard Greek New Testament, and the church has carried on even with the changes from edition to edition.

To receive the Bible from God’s hand as his Word, as it is, with all the messiness of its writing and gathering into canon and copying, is not capitulation to the skeptics. It is a statement of confidence. That here God does his work, here, in my space and time, by this his Word – even in this edition of the text – which makes us his people. [p. 202]

In part 3, I will give my layman’s issues and conclusions about Dr. Kloha’s paper. A layman’s view might seem irrelevant, but notice how much of Dr. Kloha’s concern and passion is about what the issues are doing to the faith of lay people. He treats the impact on lay people as relevant and important, so I will offer comment from a lay perspective.

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.

Comments

A Layman’s Take on the Plastic Text of the New Testament — Part 2, Dr. Kloha’s Paper — 16 Comments

  1. I find the topic of textual criticism interesting, but I’m no expert. I do have a colleague with great interest in this area (http://greekcntr.org/) and I asked him to watch Professor Kloha’s talk. His thoughts were as follows (1) the buy-in into this new method of textual criticism and (2) there was nothing “Lutheran” about the talk.

    Being in secular academia myself, I know that being on the leading edge of a discipline is important, but does that motivation carry an equal amount of weight at our seminaries? What expectation do we have of our researching seminary professors when collaborating with the leading experts in their fields? How do we recognize when a new methodology in this area represents itself (or is represented by others) as something it is not?

    I hope questions like the ones I initiate above are being pursued by the leaders in the synod and seminaries. After viewing Otten’s publications on the matter, it really comes across poorly and is not likely to ask the right questions, will not invoke sympathy to the complex matter at hand, nor will it promote recognizing the legitimacy of the concern.

  2. “It would be a mistake to shoot the messenger just to make it easier to bury our heads in the sand.”

    But any delegates trying to make a motion from the convention floor for further study on Kloha’s paper will likely have an analogous experience to the messenger.

    As previously noted in the June 2, 2016, BJS blog, A Layman’s Take on the Plastic Text of the New Testament – Part 1, Convention Overtures, the two overtures, “4-23, To Settle Prof. Jeffrey Kloha Controversy” (CW, p. 337, Salem Lutheran Church, Taylorsville, NC) and “4-24, To Request Public Clarification of Kloha Paper” (CW, pp. 337-8, Grace Lutheran Church, San Mateo, CA), were deep-sixed by Floor Committee 4, as respectfully declined, with the reason, “Already resolved by President of Synod and President of Concordia Seminary.”

  3. Dear T.R.,

    Thanks for this very clear summary of Dr. Kloha’s paper. I think you have accurately reproduced the gist of his argument. I think this will be useful to those who don’t have a copy of the revised essay, but those who are able to obtain it should still read the revised essay itself.

    Dear BJS Bloggers,

    I want to highlight one quote that T.R. made: My explicit concern is this: The theological a priori we have at times used to argue for the authority of the Scriptures does not address the historical data that we now have regarding the formation of the canon and the manuscripts of the New Testament. We need a way of understanding the Scriptures that is able to deal with the challenges raised by the historical questions of our day. [p. 187]

    I have told Dr. Kloha that this concern gets into the area of systematic theology, and that he should discuss the matter with his colleagues at Saint Louis and Fort Wayne. This is why I have stated that both faculties should study these issues and come up with some type of joint statement to settle the issues involved.

    The problems raised “by the historical questions of our day” are not new. They were raised at the beginning of the “German Enlightenment” by thinkers like Gotthold Lessing, Johann Herder, Immanuel Kant, and Friedrich Schleiermacher. These were some of the “rationalists” that Walther and his peers were rejecting. Much of my doctoral work and dissertation were in this area.

    “History” for these 18th and 19th century thinkers does not simply mean “what happened in the past.” It has philosophical adjuncts which also imply an inductive method which works contrary to the deductive method preferred by systematicians, implies hermeneutical problems, and even implies a cultural-relativistic view of the Scriptures and its teaching.

    All Liberal Protestant thinkers, including Bart Ehrman, work with this view of “history,” but we in the LC-MS do not. I think that Hermann Sasse even fell into this “trap” on occasion. The “trap” was summarized by “Lessing’s ditch.” Dr. Kloha has not, in my opinion, fallen into this trap, but he has become aware of the problem.

    I think it would be premature for the convention to rule on these issues before our theological faculties have had a chance to address them in a thorough way. In the meantime, reasonable discussion on the issues is helpful, so I appreciate T.R. series here and look forward to his next post on the subject.

    Yours in Christ, Martin R. Noland

  4. Dr. Noland,
    I agree that it would be well advised to take into consideration a well rounded, systematic, historical, and exegetical approach to the issue of the autographs as they relate to plenary verbal inspiration.

    From a historical perspective, it seems that the Lutherans of the 16th century were far less concerned with pinning inspiration to only the autographs, but rather that the word that was read and preached was the Word of God, and thus to be considered “God breathed.” (Luther v. Erasmus in the Bondage of the Will comes immediately to mind here) As rationalism began to set in in the 17th century the doctrine of inspiration was decidedly more systematized. This is the era in which Dr. Robert Preus surveys in his marvelous work on Scripture, but this is the era that in its systematic formulation laid the groundwork for the 18th and 19th century critics.

    Finally, I actually do find the consideration of variants through the lense of homolegomena and antilegomena to be useful in that it actually would have us not simply toss out a variant too quickly or flippantly. This is essentially how the old textual criticism has been taught. Find the inspired text, then toss out the variants to the floor… only to find that with further evidence, it may be that the variant that was tossed aside may likely be the more reliable one.

    I have yet to read the revised paper, which was written after consultation from the Synod President and Seminary faculties. To my knowledge the critiques offered here are from the paper that was presented a while back in its rough form. Do these criticisms even still apply?

  5. Dear Pastor Lorfeld,

    As to whether T.R.’s analysis is based on the original or the revised essay, you will have to ask him.

    I agree with Dr. Kloha’s idea that the ranking of variants is helpful, although I am concerned that the use of terminology from the doctrine of canon might be confusing. That is a very minor issue in my opinion.

    As to being systematized, most every Lutheran doctrine got systematized as soon as it took form in a confession. The doctrines of the inerrancy-and-authority and the clarity of Scripture were systematized right away in the Lutheran church by Luther himself, the former at the Diet of Worms (see Luther’s Works 32:11) and the latter in his Bondage of the Will, as you observe.

    The doctrine of inspiration (i.e., authorship by the Holy Spirit) had been held from biblical times, and was stated propositionally in the Nicene Creed (“… who spake by the prophets”). I agree that there was more elaboration of these doctrines in the 17th century, but that was necessitated by controversy with the Calvinists, Socinians, and Catholics.

    Luther, the Lutheran reformers, and the orthodox Lutheran theologians had no problem with assigning the attributes of inspiration and inerrancy to Scriptures. There are very useful discussions in Johann Gerhard’s “On the Nature of Theology and Scripture” (CPH) on the importance and divine character of the WRITTEN WORD of GOD. Gerhard also treats the matter of textual variants in a responsible way that is still relevant today. Now that Gerhard is in English, I always direct people concerned about this topic first to Gerhard in English. He is clear and irrefutable!

    The theology of Lutheran orthodoxy was abandoned, not because it was outmoded or in error, but because the kings and most of the noble-class of Europe saw the Lutheran church and orthodox Lutheran theologians as obstacles to their political goals. Lutheran orthodoxy was put down due to external political forces, and it often suffers the same within the church today.

    Yours in Christ, Martin R. Noland

  6. @Rev. Matthew Lorfeld #4

    I have yet to read the revised paper, which was written after consultation from the Synod President and Seminary faculties. To my knowledge the critiques offered here are from the paper that was presented a while back in its rough form. Do these criticisms even still apply?

    The article here says:

    What appears to be the final version of the paper was published recently as a chapter in the 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.”

  7. “The New Testaments that we lay people have in English are translated from Greek texts. Formerly, there was stability in the Greek text. Now the text is not stable.”

    Therein, my dear friend, lies the problem. Kloha’s paper has gotten you to believe that the text isn’t stable.

  8. @Rev. Matthew Lorfeld #4

    Matt, please provide the evidence that the Reformers were less concerned about the inspiration of the written words of the Bible as they were about the spoken and preached Word.

    That’s a false dichotomy, if ever there were one.

    Seems like someone has been reading too much Forde.

  9. @T. R. Halvorson #6

    TR, for some reason I thought the revised essay was in the Festshrift that runs about $170… a bit out of my price range. Is this (which I checked on Amazon) a revised, revised essay?

    @Robert #8
    Robert,
    I think you may be confused by my comment above because I never created a dichotomy. When Luther talks about the Word of God he either speaks of it as the preached / heard Word of God (heard being the Scriptures read in the service as most people did not have a copy of the Bible nor did they have it in their language), or he speaks of it as the text that is right in front of the reader, which could be the Greek and Hebrew (he even speaks of the less than ideal Greek texts he has available as the Word of God, knowing quite well that there are better manuscripts, just not available to him) or even the translation of the text into Latin or German. What you don’t hear from Luther is talk of “autographs” much if at all. That’s not to say Luther denied that the Holy Spirit inspired the very words that the authors of Scripture wrote, he did not deny that. It’s that he tends to be more concerned with talking about the Word of God as that which he, his students, or his parishioners hear/read it. As to Forde, that’s a red herring. I honestly hadn’t really been thinking of him or anything he had to say until you mentioned him. When Forde is good, he’s basically quoting Luther… which is to say, when I wrote my original comment, my mind was referencing Luther’s Works (mostly the works translated into English, though I have looked at a few Latin and German texts that have not been translated… but can’t recall anything relevant in those works that I have seen to this discussion).

  10. @Martin R. Noland #5

    I’d contend Luther didn’t really treat things systematically. Not like Melanchthon, Chemnitz, or Gerhardt did. He was an exegete and typically approached things from that way (I’d even include the Catechisms and Smalcald Articles… but that’s probably worth writing a paper on for another time).

  11. @Robert #7

    Where did I say that?

    Be careful not to read past the purport. The fact that I report him reporting that people say that, is not the same thing as me saying I believe it.

    This is a three article series. Which article in the series is this? Keep that in mind.

  12. @T. R. Halvorson #12

    This part summarizes from a layman’s perspective the contents of what appears to be the final version the paper.

    I completely missed that. My apologies for derailing things a bit. I am glad that you are looking at the [final?] published essay rather than an unpublished draft.

  13. @helen #14

    I wrote all three parts of this series before the first edition of Today’s Business was published, when it appeared the two resolutions still would be coming to the floor. Even though they have been left unreported to the floor out of the floor committee, controversy continues, such as in that one publication that, because I am a delegate, I now receive weekly. So hopefully this series still is useful. Prior articles have been by qualified theologians whom I respect, such as by Jack Kilcrease, John Warwick Montgomery, Timothy Rossow, Martin Noland, and others that are not coming to mind just at this moment. But mine, as coming from a lay perspective, hopefully adds a little something to the body of writings about Dr. Kloha’s paper.

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.