Dr Jeffrey Kloha and Textual Criticism – A Post Convention Report

Two Overtures to the 2016 synodical convention of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod presented questions concerning a paper by Dr. Jeffrey Kloha about ongoing revisions of the Greek New Testament. Overture 4-23 was titled, “To Settle Professor Jeffrey Kloha Controversy,” and Overture 4-24 was titled, “To Request Public Clarification of Kloha Paper.”

The questions or controversy erupted on the internet when a preliminary and provisional draft of the paper for academic discussion was disseminated without permission.

The overtures were written before publication earlier this year of the final version of the paper 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.”

Prior to the convention and prior to the floor committee’s meetings on the two overtures, I wrote a three-part series of articles about the overtures, about the content of the final, published version of the paper, and about my conclusions and issues regarding the paper. (See Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.)

The two overtures were assigned to Floor Committee 4, “Life Together.” Like all floor committees, Committee 4 met before the convention to consider overtures assigned to it. As a result of its consideration, the committee placed both overtures about Dr. Kloha’s paper into Resolution 4-07, titled “To Respectfully Decline Overtures.” Original Today’s Business, p. 68. This meant that unless something more happened, those overtures would not be reported to the floor of the convention.

The day before the opening of the convention, the floor committees held open meetings where practically anyone could speak to any matter assigned to them. Committee 4 held its open meeting from 8:30 to 10:00 a.m. Even a person who is not a member of an LCMS congregation and who publicly opposes Dr. Kloha attended.

The room was more than large enough for those who attended. The location was well advertised and the location was easy to find. The committee was seated at a table at the front. The doors were standing open. People could and did walk in and out as they pleased. The chair recognized anyone who raised their hand to speak. There was no announced time limit for each person to speak. Various committee members responded to questions and comments. When any person who already had spoken raised his or her hand again, the chair called on that person to speak again. I never detected anything suggesting or creating an atmosphere of limiting debate, comments, or questions. The interaction between commenters and the committee was engaging. Committee members asked some commenters follow-up questions, and noted recommendations commenters made. Even with strong opinions on differing sides of the Kloha overtures, throughout the discussion, all participants were kindly and respectful to one another in a manner well-fitting to a meeting of a committee called, “Life Together.”

There were a few who either wanted the two resolutions taken off the declined overtures resolution and reported to the floor, or some other action by which Dr. Kloha would be called upon “to explain himself.”

In contrast to my sense of satisfaction with the committee’s procedure and tone was my disappointment with something about most – but not all – of those who spoke against Dr. Kloha: they had not read his final, published paper!

Several things made it plain that they had not read it. One of their complaints was that the paper is not available. (It was, but that was their complaint.) They spoke about historical-critical method and higher criticism, even though Dr. Kloha’s paper is in no way promoting either of those. They made other statements that gave away a lack of information about the content of the paper. Several said they had not seen the final paper.

Part way through the hearing, and after most of the negative things about his paper had been said, Dr. Kloha entered the room. The chair recognized and introduced him. He made himself available to answer questions either to the meeting or to individuals afterwards. Following the meeting, he engaged with numerous people. He continued this type of engagement throughout the convention.

The main points of discussion in the open meeting were:

  • The unavailability of the paper.
  • That Dr. Kloha should explain himself
  • Who said the Magnificat, Mary or Elizabeth

Let’s look at each of these in turn.

My sense of the discussion was that the issue of availability was laid to rest. The publication of the book containing the paper as a chapter was mentioned, and everyone could see that Dr. Kloha was carrying a copy of the book. The committee recognized that it would be helpful for the whole convention to know that the paper is published. In the original version of Resolution 4-07, the committee stated the reason for declining the two overtures as, “Already addressed by President of Synod and President of Concordia Seminary.” The committee amended the resolution to add to the reason for declining the Kloha overtures, saying, “and by publication of the author’s fully revised paper.” Resolution 4-07A, Monday’s Today’s Business, Issue 3, p. 352.

Sure, you’ve got to pay $38 for the book. It’s an academic book. That is not a high price for an academic book. It is as available as any academic book. It can be bought through Amazon and other common outlets.

As to explaining himself, Dr. Kloha has been doing that for more than two and a half years since internet outbreak of the controversy in November 2013.

First, he continued engaging in the normal academic process by which his paper was revised and refined as a result of his constantly explaining himself within the academic world. A list presentations he gave to district pastors’ conferences, theological professors’ conferences, theological symposia, and a lay conference is in the footnote.[1].

Second, he published the final version of the paper, in which he fully explains himself.

Third, he responded to the congregations who submitted the overtures. Overture 4-24 was submitted by Grace Lutheran Church of San Mateo, California. On May 2, 2016, Dr. Kloha wrote to the voters’ assembly of that congregation. He provided the congregation gratis with a copy of the book. He provided a print copy of a piece he wrote that responded to a Newsweek article on the topic. His piece was published by the LCMS Reporter online in January, 2015: “Commentary on ‘News’week on the Bible.” He provided a copy of an essay that he delivered on the topic at the Lutheran Concerns Association conference in Ft. Wayne, Indiana in January, 2015.

Overture 4-23 was submitted by Salem Lutheran Church of Taylorsville, North Caroline. On May 3, 2016, Dr. Kloha wrote to the voters’ assembly of that congregation. The letter is 7 pages and addresses overture 4-23 point by point. He provided an internet link to a list of dozens of presentations he had given, both to pastors’ conferences and to lay conferences, numerous essays and reviews he had published, and widely distributed Bible study video projects in which he had participated that all confess the inspiration and sole authority of the Scriptures. He provided his curriculum vitae and the same materials that he provided to Grace Lutheran Church.

Fourth, Dr. Kloha responded to the invitation of Lutheran Concerns Association and wrote a paper specifically for their conference to address their concerns. Manuscripts and Misquoting, Inspiration and Apologetics,” 2015 Lutheran Concerns Association Annual Conference, Ft. Wayne, IN, Jan. 19, 2015.

Fifth, he met with the president of the synod, the president of the seminary, and the first vice president of the synod. When the article was fully revised, they determined that it contained no false teaching. They reported that conclusion to the regents. The report to the regents was published.

Sixth, on May 4, 2016, Dr. Kloha wrote to the secretary of the synod, with copies to the president of Concordia Seminary, the president of the LCMS, the first vice president of the LCMS, the chairman of the board of regents, the president of the Missouri district, and the office of secretary of the synod. He enclosed all the same materials as he provided to the two congregations along with copies of his letters to the congregations.

Seventh, there have been many who have written to Dr. Kloha. I first wrote to Dr. Kloha on December 5, 2013, and he answered me the same day. He shouldn’t have to explain himself to me, but he did. At the convention, readers of my previous articles talked to me about Dr. Kloha responding to them.

UPDATE: Eighth, as reported in the comments by one of the members of Committee 4, Dr. Kloha made himself available to the May 2016 floor committee hearing.

Following the open committee meeting, my meeting Dr. Kloha in person at the convention, and talking with many delegates about the paper, the matter of the Magnificat, Mary, and Elizabeth was the sole remaining problem that needed to be explored. That is something people kept mentioning. It has a symbolic character. Lay people feel that we own the Magnificat, partly because we use it liturgically. It raises a reaction almost like flag burning does.

The question is, why is it said that perhaps Elizabeth spoke or sang the Magnificat? Is it for reasons of historical critical method? Does it arise from higher criticism? Are we standing below the text or are we standing above it?

Before leaving the convention, I spoke with someone who had put that exact question to Dr. Kloha. Dr. Kloha answered the question directly, and emailed to the questioner documents about the question. That made it easy for me to ask for those same documents. After reading the information, I conclude that in this matter, Dr. Kloha is standing below the text. The issue arises from the text. It is not being put upon the text.

The question of whether Luke 1:46 reads Μαριάµ or Ἐλισάβετ is presented in the manuscripts and early church evidence themselves.

Let’s see if I can make this plain. The following is not the case:

All manuscripts and early church quotations of or discussion about the text say that Mary is the one who said the Magnificat, but for historical or other reasons outside the text, an argument is made that the text must be mistaken, and a nontextual argument is made for saying it was Elizabeth.

That would be standing above the text. We can’t tolerate that.

Instead, this is the case:

Some manuscripts themselves say Elizabeth, and some early church writings that quote or discuss the verse say Elizabeth. So the reason for someone making an argument that it could have been Elizabeth is the text, or early church evidence of the text where the verse is quoted or discussed.

That is not standing above the text. That addresses an issue of what the text itself originally said.

For my part, I am sure Mary is the one, and the manuscripts and early church writings to the contrary are mistaken. But see, that right there is the matter about which textual criticism concerns itself. There are manuscript mistakes. When the manuscripts themselves disagree, and when early church quotations or discussions of the text at a point of manuscript disagreement also disagree, we’re not rebelling against Scripture. We’re just trying to find out which manuscript version is Scripture and which one is the mistake.

We shouldn’t be too put off by the word criticism in the phrase “textual criticism.” We should not lump it in with other things that have that word in their names, like historical critical method or higher criticism. Unlike those things, in textual criticism, the basis of the criticism is the manuscripts themselves and early church evidence. The basis of criticism is not something outside the Bible that would be used to criticize the Bible. Textual criticism done rightly honors the Word of God by taking care to know what the Word says.

Having said that, I continue to view textual criticism as something on which we must maintain a steady, vigilant watch. It is something that needs to be done, but it would be easy to do it badly. The picture that comes to mind is walking the edge of a razor blade. The edge is so thin and sharp that it would be easy to slice off on the wrong side of the blade. But, this paper by Dr. Kloha doesn’t do that, and it is about high time he gained wide acceptance of this fact.

Let’s keep watching what Dr. Kloha says, since textual criticism is a tricky area, but when we have concerns, let’s treat him like a brother.


[1] “Text and Authority: Theological and Hermeneutical Reflections on the Ongoing Revisions of the Novum Testamentum Graece,” Day of Exegetical Reflection, Concordia Seminary, May 8, 2014.

“Text and Authority: Theological and Hermeneutical Reflections on the Ongoing Revisions of the Novum Testamentum Graece,” LCMS Theology Professors Conference, Concordia University, St. Paul, May 27-29, 2014.

“The Text of the New Testament.” New England and Atlantic Districts Fall Pastoral Conference, Hartford, CN, October 27-28, 2014.

“Manuscripts and Misquoting, Inspiration and Apologetics,” 2015 Lutheran Concerns Association Annual Conference, Ft. Wayne, IN, Jan. 19, 2015.

“Manuscripts and Texts of the New Testament: A Case Study on the Textual Tradition of 1 Corinthians 14:34–35,” 30th Annual Symposium on Exegetical Theology, Concordia Theological Seminary, Ft. Wayne, IN, Jan. 20-21, 2015.

“Text and Authority: The Origins and Reliability of the New Testament,” Minnesota South District Pastors Conference, Mankato, MN, Oct. 26, 2015.

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