Saturday, December 7, 2013

A Response and Critique to Dr. Jeff Kloha's Paper Regarding Textual-Criticism and the Inspiration of Scripture.

A few days ago, Rev. Todd Wilken of Issues, etc. fame put up a paper that Jeff Kloha of CSL gave earlier this year in Germany:  The topic was the question of how we relate the inspiration and authority of Scripture to the existence of textual variants in the NT texts.  It seems that there is going to be a new edition of Nestle-Aland and that some great strides have been made in establishing the text of the NT.  The approach of this new edition is apparently significant because it assumes that it's pretty much impossible to get back to the original text of the NT with absolute certainty.  So, the question is raised, what does this do to our understanding of verbal inspiration?  I have a few thoughts and some critiques of Kloha's position.  I would invite Dr. Kloha to respond to my piece and also to correct me where I might have misinterpreted him at any point.  Whereas I agree with Dr. Kloha that it is important to raise these question, I do not find myself in total agreement with him as to how he has resolved them.

1. Why do we posit Inspiration and what is its Theological Significance?:  This is an issue not really addressed by Kloha at all.  I think that we should clarify this a bit because there seems to be a lot of confusion on this.  Below, I give my own take on the issue which I think is faithful to history, Scripture, and the Lutheran confessional tradition.

To begin with, it should be observed that as Fracis Pieper points out, Jesus is himself the Lord of the Scriptures.  The Scriptures are Jesus' Word and the goal of Scripture is to witness to Jesus.  This is true of both the Old and the New Testaments.  In the OT, the pre-Incarnate Christ spoke with Moses and the other prophets.  The pre-Incarnate Christ authorized prophesies about his coming.  Belief inspiration in the OT is not something that people are supposed to be blindly follow.  It is something to be proven based on whether or not the prophet inculcated faith in the true God and whether or not what they said came true (Deut. 17).  In order to validate their prophesies concern the distant future, God fulfilled small prophesies that would come true relatively soon.  If these prophesies came true, then it was likely the other one would as well.  All the OT prophets were further validated by Jesus, who was the supreme fulfillment of all prophecy.  Not only did he literally fulfill the OT Scriptures, but he further validated their authority by affirming their writings as the Word of God and then demonstrating that he was both Messiah and God by rising from the dead.  Beyond this, he also authorized the Apostles to be infallible teachers of the Church ("those who hear you, hear me" "I will send you the advocate and he will lead you into all truth").  Their infallible testimony would serve as the basis of Church teaching until the end of time ("you will be my witnesses.. etc" "what if he remains until I come?").  Hence, the OT as accepted by the majority of Jews (the canon of the Pharisees) it in the time of Jesus was validated, and the teaching of the Apostles as they wrote them down or had their immediate followers write them down were invested by Jesus as being inspired and infallibly authoritative for the Church until the end of time.

For this reason, from the beginning, the Church held that the apostolic kerygma was in fact an infallible and inerrant authority.  In the first century, what the Apostles taught in their oral teaching and their writings (or those writers whom they had authorized) was considered authoritative for the faith and life of the Church.  By the second-century, we have the writings of the Apostles called "Scripture" by various Patristic authors.  Finally, in around the 4th century, there were a number of local synods (Council of Hippo, etc.) which were called to reject a number of texts that had been used alongside those of the Apostles.  According to these councils, in order for a text to be canonical it had to 1. be used by the Church in its public worship universally (i.e. the Spirit had commended it to the believing community)  2. It had to be from the Apostles, whom Jesus had authorized as infallible teachers of the Church.  It should of course not really disturb us that many people in the early Church used other texts (1 Enoch, Shepherd of Hermas, etc.).  When they did, they violated Jesus command and promise that infallible witness would only be found in the mouths of the Apostles and those they had authorized. 

Moreover, as we can observe, in determining what is revelation and the written Word of God, we judge on the basis of both an objective principle and a subjective principle.  On the one hand, we believe the Word of God by the work of the Spirit active in the proclamation of the Church.  We also recognize that there are many spirits and that we may be tempted by them (or our own heart) into believing many things that are false.  For that reason, we do not believe everything that is proclaimed and which finds a place in our hearts, but we test the proclamation of the Church and the works of the Spirit against what can be historically determined has come down from the Apostles ("test all things...etc.", "If an angel of light teaches you another gospel...etc.").  Recognizing both the objective and subjective principle distinguishes the historic Lutheran understanding of the canon (as well as the Patristic) from that of the Roman Catholic Church and the Reformed traditions.  Both of the latter groups rely on the Spirit inner testimony almost exclusively to establish the canon.  In the case of the Catholics, through Spirit's work in the magisterium (heart of the Pope and Bishops), in the case of the Reformed, in the hearts of individual believers.  By contrast, for the Church Fathers and for Orthodox Lutherans, the canon is both recognized by the work of the Spirit and historically testable.

For this reason, Eusebius and other Church Fathers made a distinction between what they referred to as the Homologoumena and Antilegomena.  The Homologoumena refers to books that the have a uniform attestation from the Church that they have come down from the Apostles.  The Antilegomena are texts that have mixed attestation- some said they were from the Apostles and others not.  Such a distinction was revived during the Renaissance by the Humanists, and was taken over by the Lutheran and Reformed theologians of the 16th and 17th century.  That being said, it was applied in different ways.  For Luther and Chemnitz, for example, the Antilegomena was largely illegitimate.  Whereas Luther kept it in his German NT as an appendix, Chemnitz advocated throwing it out entirely.  Later Lutheran Scholastics generally view the Antilegomena as canonical, but not scriptural.  Hence, the rule obtained that dogmas could only be established by a sedes doctrinae in the Homologomena.  Nevertheless, it could still be witnessed to (secondarily) by sedes found in the Antilegomena.  A similar use of the Apocrypha obtained (which the Lutheran Scholastics cite fairly regularly).  This was the case, even though the Apocrypha was not merely uncertain (as was the Antilegomena), it was by all accounts absolutely not the Word of God, since Christ had only affirmed the canon of the Pharisees which of course did not include the Apocrypha.  It was of course nonetheless recognized that there was much in the Apocrypha that agreed with and could witness to the truth of the Word of God and for this reason it was read and cited.

Again, these distinction show why historic Lutheranism (and the early Fathers) thought of Scripture as inspired.  Scripture is reliable prophetic and apostolic tradition.  The content of Scripture is authoritative because it has been authorized by Christ and recognized through historical investigation and by the inner testimony of the Spirit to be the inerrant witness which Christ authorized.  This approach to Scripture as capital "T" tradition can be observed in the first volume of Martin Chemnitz's Examination of the Council of Trent, where among the seven forms of valid tradition, Scripture itself constitutes one category.

2. Verbal Inspiration?: The Reformers (and the later Protestant Scholastics) spoke of Scripture as being verbally inspired, meaning that God through his Holy Spirit and by his providence in human history, had worked things out so that he himself actually chose the very words used in Scripture.  Despite 19th and 20th century attempts to make Luther into a gospel-reductionist, there are numerous passages where he refers to the words and grammar of the Bible as being the product of the Holy Spirit.  Of course with the Reformers themselves, this approaches tends to be more assumed and only occasionally spoken about.  It is generally not systematically developed.  According to Otto Ritschl, the first person to systematically develop the conceptual basis of the doctrine was Matthias Flacius.  See my writing on him and his ideas about Scripture here:

This description is how inspiration works is a little different than how inspiration was understood by the Medieval theologians.  For example, Thomas Aquinas thought that God had imprinted the human minds of the authors of Scripture with the ideas that he wanted them to convey, but had allowed them to select their own words.  Part of the point of this was to suggest that God's truth was primarily something intelligible, rather than sensible (a linger Platonism!) and so, in a sense, one could move up and past the letter and into the intelligible realm of the  Spirit.  Another part of this theory of inspiration was that it was attempting to take the Bible as a human document written by autonomous human beings seriously, while at the same time recognizing it as divine revelation.  It should also be observed that this theory of Scripture did not mean that the Medieval theologians viewed the Bible as anything less than inerrant.  Prior to the late 17th century, the Christian tradition was fairly unanimous that the Bible was inerrant, even if inspiration was conceptualized in a variety of ways.

By contrast, the Reformers held to verbal inspiration, not just an inspiration of ideas.  In the case of Luther, one suspects that this is an outgrowth of his belief in the sacramentality of the Word.  In other words, God was not to be encountered above his Word.  Neither were the sacraments signs pointing above and beyond themselves to God's invisible workings.  The Lutheran est and capax translated into a belief that in the concrete words and grammatical constructions of the Bible, one encountered the very Word of God.  The Word of God was not a word above the word of the Bible, but in, under, and with its human language.

Moreover, in light of the Augustinian notions of human agency and causation which the Reformers generally shared with one another (both Lutheran and Reformed), this by no means eliminated the reality of the Bible as a human book.  Human beings are both free in the sense that no force outside somehow manhandles them into doing what they do, and bound, in that they are shaped in their inner impulses by God's creative and sustaining acts (this would include both his general casual concurrence and his miraculous supernatural intervention).  This is the very Augustinian distinction that Luther makes in the Bondage of the Will between the "necessity of immutability" and the "necessity of compulsion."  God, in inspiring the authors of the Bible, did not manhandle them into saying what he wanted them to say.  Rather, through his providence and the supernatural creative power of his Spirit, the authors of Scripture were shaped into the sorts of persons who would want to write what God wanted them to write, in the words that he would want them to write in.  They did what they wanted to do, namely, choose the words that God wanted.  God's supernatural action of inspiration therefore supervened on the very human action of composition.

As Richard Muller points out, recognizing this determinate freedom with which the inspired authors worked was important for the Reformers and the later Protestant Scholastics because they had inherited from both the later Patristic authors and the Medieval theologians an aversion to the notion that inspiration meant a loss of consciousness and the onset of a sort of mania that would be more characteristic of pagan prophets.  In fact, early one many quarters of the early Church accepted this manic notion of prophecy, until the Montanist heresy of the 2nd and 3rd centuries discredited it.  Many of the early Apologists even use the language of the Greek poets that speak of Prophets being inspired by the gods to speak as a harpist plucks the string on a musical instrument.  Generally speaking (except for some extreme cases in the books of Judges and 1 Samuel) one does not find prophets in Scripture prophesying in this manner. 

3. Problems Raised by Kloha Regarding the Tradition Doctrine of Inspiration:  Kloha's difficulties with the traditional theory of inspiration are twofold.  First, is the issue of textual criticism.  There are a lot of manuscripts and a lot of variants.  This tends to be more true of the NT, than the OT, in that the Jews had considerably tighter rules about copying manuscripts than early Christians did.  Because this is the case, we apparently face a problem that did not come up during the 16th-18th centuries when people just assumed that the Textus Receptus was the original text (As a side note: I'm not certain this is entirely the case.  As Richard Muller points out with regard to the Protestant Scholastics in general, they were aware of divergences in the textual tradition and did try to make arguments about the difficulties in certain texts-even if their knowledge was considerably more limited than our own regarding the scope of the problem!  He concludes that it is a mistake to call them "pre-critical" in their exegesis.  Similarly, if you sit down and read the Chemnitz-Leyser-Gerhard's Harmony of the Four Gospels, one will observe that they authors recognize the Greek, Syriac, and Latin texts as separate witnesses to the purity of the original text, and attempt to navigate the texts meaning through comparing them.  But I digress).  For this reason, it's hard to say that we absolutely have the original text in all its details.  If we buy into the idea of verbal inspiration (which I think Scripture requires us to do!), then there is no absolutely certain verbally inspired text before us.  It is no help to say that the textual variation don't change any doctrines.  Perhaps we will find variation that will threaten our doctrinal position in the future!  So how do we cope with this?

The second issue is the one of the original (autographa) vs. the copies (apographa).  Historically, Lutheran theologians claimed that the original text was the directly inspired one, and then the copies were inspired derivatively insofar as they mirrored the original.  This makes total sense.  Similarly, people assumed that the authors of the Bible simply wrote a single copy (under the inspiration of the Spirit) and then people copied it and then it came down to us in more or less the shape of its original form.  But, the simple fact is that this isn't how people wrote texts in the ancient world.  People would dictate several copies of the text they were preparing.  They would then often read the text out loud to a patron or to an audience that would suggest changes or revisions.  Hence, Kloha claims, the "original" is something of a fiction, since there very well may have been multiple half-revised originals.  Similarly, if after finishing all their revisions, Luke or Paul dictated the final text to several scribes and so there were several originals (not just a single one as our ancestors supposed) which was is the inspired one?

These are all good question to ask and I am happy that Dr. Kloha has raised them.  That being said, I do not think he does a very good job resolving these problems and I believe I can offer some alternative solutions.

4. The Issue of the Original Manuscripts: When Kloha brought up the issue of the original manuscripts in his paper, I must confess that I was rather surprised by it.  Though I knew the information that he spoke of regarding the nature of ancient composition, it hadn't occurred to me that anyone would consider this a problem.  That being said, he does raise an interesting issue.  If Luke revised his Gospel a number of times, did inspiration finally kick in the final draft or was it operative earlier?  If there were four original copies of the Gospel of Luke, were all of them inspired?  From this, Kloha seems to conclude that there is no original manuscript to judge subsequent manuscripts by- just a bunch of different texts that could be called "originals" (autographa).  My question would be, would this not suggest that there was no there-there?  That is, is there no original revelation that we can judge subsequent proclamation on the basis of?  If there is no there-there, what should our standard for judging doctrine be?  For this reason, we must make an argument about what we can identify "back there" as a criterion and not simply throw up our hands and speak of a "plastic text" as it appears that Kloha does.  

First, I would suggest that Kloha hasn't really shown at all that an "original manuscript"(autographa) is a fiction.  Rather, he has merely shown that we need to be more nuanced in our definition of what constitutes an "original."  Obviously, even the 17th century Lutheran Scholastics knew that it was quite possible that Luke did not write his Gospel in one sitting and so, presumably, there was a half-Gospel of Luke at some point of the composition process.  Nevertheless, even if there were multiple versions and drafts, there was indeed a point when Luke stop tinkering with it and it was finished.  Also, when the Apostles wrote their letters, it may be that they had them written and rewritten, but there was a point when they were done and they actually did send them.  In both cases, those multiple copies of the final draft which they completed were the autographa.  Hence, even if there were four manuscripts of the original version, they were indeed the completed text and can be the criterion which subsequent versions can be judged (to the extent that we think we can get back there!).

But of course, the question still remains, were the other non-revised versions the Word of God and verbally inspired?  If we follow our supposition that inspiration comes from Christ's promise to guarantee the infallibility of the Apostles and those whom they authorized, the answer has to be yes, absolutely!  Why then would be prefer the final draft over the original drafts, if both were equally inspired?  For a couple of reasons.  First, although Luke may have said what he said differently in earlier drafts, it was still a statement of the same inerrant Apostolic truths, just said in different words or perhaps having few truths.  In that God supernaturally acted through the authors of Scripture in a way that supervened on the natural process of composition, multiple drafts or the use of the suggestions from others who heard earlier drafts, by no means negates the inerrancy or inspiration of such a writing process.  Since Luke (for example) says that he investigated sources to write his Gospel like any other historian of the era, we must assume that he went through the other normal stages of composition that were current in his culture.  If we suggest otherwise, not only are we contradicting what Luke says about how he wrote, but we are coming quite close to re-introducing the Montanist manic concept of inspiration.

Hence, even if there were multiple drafts that were all inspired and inerrant, we should look to the final draft as the autographa not because it is more inspired than the earlier drafts (which are lost to us anyways), but because God has in the final draft told us through Luke everything he wants to tell us.  The same analogy might obtain for the individual books of the Bible when compared with the whole Bible.  Individual books of the Bible are no less the Word of God than the whole Bible.  Nevertheless, God willed the writing of more books because he had more things to tell us.  Hence, it we must base our doctrine on all the books of the Bible, not just Jonah or Romans.  Similarly, half completed or half revised texts of the Biblical authors are simply half and incomplete versions of the fullness of what God wants to tell us through those works.  In themselves, they are no less in inspired and inerrant texts.

Finally, should we be worried that there were three or four final drafts, and so, there might have been differences between them?  I would say no.  Since they were all inspired by God, they would all have the same content and we have no reason to think that they in fact did not all have the same wording.  Moreover, even the most radical critics probably wouldn't say that among the final drafts of Paul's Letter to the Romans that there was a version where humans were actually justified by the works of the law and not faith.  No one thinks that Luke had a final draft where there were four persons of the Trinity and homosexuality was OK. 

5. The Issue of Textual Variants:  The issue that Kloha brings up regarding the existence of a significant number of textual variants is largely a non-issue for a number of reasons.  The first point that I would make is that these textual variant are for the most part largely meaningless.  They are misspellings of words, or sentences that a written in various ways with the same propositional or historical content.  Moreover, no variation threatens an article of the faith, although there are certain sedes doctrinae for given doctrines that have been called into question due to textual criticism (the Johannine comma, etc.).  The examples that Kloha uses vindicate this point.  For example, based on manuscript evidence from the Old Latin version, it might have been that in the original Magnificat was spoken by Elizabeth and not Mary.  Well, so what?  Again, none of this effects any of the articles of the faith.  Nevertheless, Kloha asks "Well, what if we find manuscripts that do?"  And it's a good question to raise.  He doesn't really seem to address it in a meaningful way though.  He does talk a lot about the work of the Spirit in preserving the Church, which is good, but this only happens in connection with concrete texts and propositional truth claims.  Otherwise, the Church has nothing to proclaim and so too, the Spirit will not do its work. 

There are several other points that should be made.  First, asking if we found manuscripts that would destroy the faith as we know it is like asking "What if we found Jesus' body?"  Many people consider one of weaknesses of orthodox Christianity that it's truth or falsehood is dependent on a series of historical facts.  I would make the counter-argument that it is in fact one of its strengths.  As we observed earlier, we believe the faith because of an objective and subjective principle.  The Spirit within our subjectivity testifies to the truth and gives us the gift of faith so that we can see the truth insofar as it is presented to us objectively.  The truth that the Spirit testifies to our inner being through concrete historical and physical realities (Word and sacrament).  Since our faith is actually connected to (though not wholly dependent on) facts that are subject to proof or disproof, it checks the natural human impulse to make a God in our own image and to believe what makes us feel good is true.

Secondly, much like the resurrection has a massive amount of evidence in its favor, so too the manuscript evidence for our texts is extremely good.   In fact, we quite literally have an insane number of manuscripts.  For this reason, it is virtually impossible that we will find manuscripts that will discredit any of the articles of the faith. That every text that supports the articles of the faith was somehow fabricated is impossible.  Similarly, because the Holy Spirit has always been working in the Church, we have evidence that the same truths have been taught in the Church from the beginning in (approximately!) the same form (read Ignatius of Antioch, or books four and five of Irenaeus' Against the Heresies!).  When the Church Fathers did error, it was largely (though not exclusively) because they had weird interpretation of texts we know from our canonical Scriptures or they introduced non-apostolic traditions into Church teaching (Tertullian's love of 1 Enoch and the Shepherd of Hermas, etc.).

Throughout the history of the Church, the Holy Spirit has preserved the Word and the articles of the faith even in extremely dark times.  Indeed, if one knows about their respective historical contexts, both Nicaea and Augsburg were theological miracles.  If the Word and sacraments are present (as they have always been) there will always be a small group confessing the true faith (at least in its fundamental form).  For this reason, the work of the Spirit through the Word is liken fittingly by Cyprian as a spring of water that moves throw an aqueduct.  At its source, it is pure.  But over time, as it moves through the aqueduct, it can become polluted and so we need to go back to the spring to find out what the pure water is really like.  For hence, the proclamation of the Church when it bases itself on the Scriptures (the pure spring) is derivatively proclaiming the same Word of God (aqueduct water).  Both are the Word of God, but the Word of God written and directly inspired (Scripture) serves as a check out the Word of God confessed and proclaimed (churchly tradition).  All of this is the work of the presence of the Word in its content historical form and the Spirit's animating power.

For this reason, I do find that Francis Pieper's analogy (Kloha attributes this to another author whom I am certain used it, but it was originally Pieper's analogy) between the function of the original revelation of the Scriptures in the life of the Church and the laws of the state of Missouri being in effect even if no one can find the original bill passed by the state legislature, to be quite apt. The Word has always been around in the life of the Church and has sustained the life of the Church. It has also served the purpose of checking additions to the apostolic kerygma. Even if one cannot find the original copies, or even if someone copied down the laws using slightly different wording, the principles of legislation embodied in it would still be around and in effect. Kloha dislikes this analogy because he says that it makes the Bible into a "legal" and "propositional" document.  Whereas I agree with Dr. Kloha that the Bible is centered in the gospel and not the law, I would also note that the whole Bible is not capable of being reduced to the living effectiveness of the gospel.  It is also contains many propositions and laws that God wishes us to believe and obey.  The only question is: do we read those laws and propositions as things that condemn us because we refused to believe and perform them, or, conversely, are they things that we are free to believe and do?  Moreover, the living power of the gospel would be meaningless without its propositional content.  Faith would have no object without propositions.  

Beyond this point, the recognition that there is continuity of the Church due to the proclamation of Word and sacrament is one of the reasons why I find Kloha use of the distinction between the Homologoumena and Antilegomena problematic.  Historically, Lutherans have gone different ways on this.  As I noted earlier, Luther and Chemnitz largely wanted to reject there being much of any validity in the Antilegomena, whereas the later Lutheran Scholastics merely wished to place the weight of the canon in the Homologoumena.  I find myself sympathetic with the later approach.  I can find nothing in the  Antilegomena which is not in the Homologoumena.  This does not of course make the Antilegomena (with absolute certainty) the Word of God written and inspired.  Rather, insofar as it has a mixed testimony from the early Church, it should generally be treated as the Word of God confessed and proclaimed.  For this reason, it may only witness to dogmas established by the Homologoumena, it must not establish them by unique sedes doctrinae.

By contrast, Kloha takes an iconoclastic stance (something I have detected in the writings of other faculty members at CSL) and wishes to categorize Antilegomena as "stuff we throw out."  In fact, he wishes to extend said principle to textual variants found in the Homologoumena that lack a scholarly consensus.  They are not to be used as a basis for doctrine or to be proclaimed in the Church until there is a scholarly consensus as to their validity. 

Whereas I agree that we should not establish doctrine using verses that textual criticism has demonstrated are not from the original text, or, for that matter, base an entire theological conclusion on a contested text, I would object to this overall approach for a number of reasons.  First, truth by consensus is a very poor principle.  Consensus is quite often wrong.  Hence, Kloha's suggestion that we should follow both the consensus of the baptized and the scholarly communities in sorting out these difficulties is faulty, and, I would suggest, implies an authority of the visible Church to say what is and what is not the Word of God based on its own inner impulses rather than by theological principles or historical facts.  I am quite certain that that is not what he intends to say, but such a stance implies this.

Secondly, I again, do not consider these textual variation to represent much of a real problem for establishing dogma within the Church.  The sedes doctrinae which have been called into question are usually icing on the theological cake.  The doctrines can be proven using other verses.  Moreover, instead of tabling them until there is a "scholarly consensus", a more helpful approach (in fact, the one I use in my own book: would be for the theologian or exegete to simply make an argument in favor of their preferred textual variant and let others decide if their argument is sound.  For example, I do this in my writings on Christology with John 3:13 (Textus Receptus version) as a proof-text for the absolute omnipresence of Christ's human nature.  I of course don't need this text to prove Christ's absolute omnipresence (there are other sedes), but I believe there is a strong case to be made for the Textus Receptus version of the verse.

6. Propositional Exposition and Unnecessary Provocation: The last two issues I want to deal with in the piece are Kloha's aversion to propositional exposition of Scripture and the example of this that he cites from CRTC's report on women's role in the Church.  In the report, the verses in 1 Corinthians regarding women's silence in the Church are used in order to set down ecclesiastical policy in the present.  Kloha holds that because the CRTC wants to make the verses applicable to our current situation, they end up distorting them.

First, Kloha rightly observes that not every passage in the Bible is understandable or applicable to us in our current situation.  Similarly, he decries the tendency of ripping Bible passages out of their original setting and making list of "inspirational" verses .  I completely agree with him on this point.  I can't tell you how tired I am of reading on someone's FB wall "I have plans for you says the Lord" (which has to do with God's covenant fidelity to Israel, and not God promising to make your love-life or career better!), or, hearing the passage about love from 1 Corinthians read at weddings!

Nevertheless, when it comes to the section on the silence of women, I (along with most LCMS theologians) think that Kloha is wrong in his exposition of the passage.  Paul is quite clear in it that it is his intention to instruct the Corinthians on something that is more than merely contextual.  That being said, I do not have the space to go through the passage and prove my point.  What I think it is important to highlight is that Scripture does contain within itself general principles that are to be followed in how we conduct ourselves.  Similarly, often times when Scripture is addressing specific situations, in most cases we can certainly abstract general principles for our current situation.  If we could not do this, then we would be left with virtually no basis for conducting ourselves apart from our own caprice- since most everything in the Bible is addressing a specific and historically contextual problem.  Kloha certainly decries this latter way of operating as characteristic of the ELCA, but he does not do an adequate job showing how his tendency to appeal to the amorphous work of the Spirit or a (somewhat) radical canonical criticism does not lead in a similar direction.  Moreover, yet again, Kloha has a weird aversion to propositional truth that is highly reminiscent of mid-20th century continental Lutheranism (I am thinking of Ebeling and Bultmann here).  Although God's Word has other dimension to it beyond the merely propositional, as we noted above, without propositional truth the "Word-event" (Ebeling) of proclamation is largely empty. 

The last point I will make in this very long post is that the use of the 1 Corinthians verses as his example was unnecessarily provocative.  Although I have been told by many people that Dr. Kloha agrees with the synod's understanding of Scripture on the issue of the role of women (and I have no reason to doubt them), it should not go unnoticed that Dr. Kloha has used an argument regarding these verses that is common to persons who advocate women's ordination.  Certainly there are other passages that one can appeal to regarding synod's policy (even if you don't think this one works!).  But my question would be: Considering the baggage that this passage has in our circles, why be unnecessarily provocative in using it?  This is especially case considering Dr. Kloha's important position within the hierarchy of the seminary and the synod.  Why give the impression that you buy in part into the arguments made by those who dissent from the synod's position?  This is very puzzling indeed.

Update: Dr. Kloha has responded here:


  1. I assume that you realize you are responding to unpublished speaker notes that were prepared in advance of a conference following the conference's agenda. According to Dr. Kloha, parts of these notes, including the last part, were not even used in presentation. I also assume that you have sent your comments directly to Prof. Kloha as I doubt he has the time to read and respond to every blogger on the internet.

    1. First, it doesn't look too much like unpublishing speaking notes to me. That being said, these are things that Kloha said in public and if you say a thing in public, then I believe you are responsible for it. Secondly, as I repeatedly make clear in the post that I invite correction from Dr. Kloha if I have mischaracterized anything which he says.

    2. And yes, just to be clear, I did send it to him. The whole point of writing it was to enter into a discussion of the piece with him.

  2. The Masoretic scribes developed tight rules about the copying of manuscripts but these rules developed long after the "original autographs" were written--far longer than the time period between the original autographs of the New Testament and the earliest copies we have. Medieval Jews canonized a particular form of the text. When Jesus and the Apostles quote from the Old Testament, most of the time they quote from the textual tradition that stands behind the LXX, sometimes from the textual tradition that stands behind the MT, and sometimes from an unknown textual tradition. In each instance, they refer to what they are quoting as God's Word. They don't seem to show any concern for original autographs but most likely are just quoting from the popular text in use.

    You are correct in noting that the Reformers were aware of textual variants. But the Reformers did not share in our modern obsession with the original autographs that nobody has. In "The Ecclesiastical Text" Theodore Letis demonstrates pretty convincingly that prior to B.B. Warfield, Protestants regarded the infallible apographa as authoritative. But Warfield shifted the authority away from infallible apographa to inerrant autographa. When liberals would point out an apparent contradiction in the text, Warfield would appeal to the autographa. William Arndt brought this to Lutheranism in the 1920's. Prior to this time, there was a general acceptance that the church faithfully preserved the text handed down by the Apostles. But textual criticism as it is practiced by those who put together Nestle-Aland assumes that the church intentionally corrupted the text. You can see this in Dr. Voelz's excellent commentary on Mark as well. He shows a preference for Codex Vaticanus but he says that in the second half of Mark when Codex Vaticanus agrees with the text transmitted by the church but the allies of Vaticanus differ from the text accepted by the church, we should follow those readings that differ from the text accepted by the church. The post-Warfield Protestant doctrine denies the preservation of God's Word and instead teaches it must be reconstructed by the modern scholar. Westcott and Hort were optimistic in being able to reconstruct the original autographs but serious textual criticism gave up on that a long time ago and as Kloha points out is no longer attempting to do that.

    There's a certain anabaptist-like view of the church and its history that leads people to conclude that the church is the corrupter of the text and there is no logical stopping point between Nestle-Aland and the Jesus Seminar. It seems much better to me to recover a more historic Protestant understanding of inspiration and adopt readings based on which are the most the catholic. The Eastern Orthodox have already done this to some extent with the Antoniades edition of the Greek NT based on the lectionary readings that have lived and breathed in the church rather than an artificially reconstructed text. If the church is understood to be the corrupter of the text, the historic Protestant doctrine of inspiration is destroyed although I'm happy that many have not taken this truth to its logical conclusion.

    1. Theodore Letis was not orthodox. He denied the inerrancy of the autographs and believed the Biblical text was "improved" over time. Even though he rightly admitted that the last twelve verses of the Gospel of Mark were an addition to Mark's gospel, Letis regarded the verses as inspired anyway:

      The above article reads: "However, if I understood our conversation correctly—and he seemed to enjoy mystifying—he basically accepted a fairly standard history of the text during the first four centuries, but believed that what the text that the church had come to receive was the locus of authority. For instance, he thought that Mark 16:9-20 was secondary and inspired. He was aware that some of his conservative constituency did not realize that his position involved this."

      For all his talk about "Anabaptists", Letis was their primary enabler. He gave lectures at Pensacola Christian College as well as the antitrinitarian Atlanta Bible College.

    2. "there is no logical stopping point between Nestle-Aland and the Jesus Seminar."

      Clearly you are confusing textual criticism with historical ("higher") criticism. They are not related, despite the false claims of Ted Letis and his mentor, Edward F. Hills (who was KJV-Only).

  3. he 17 th century Lutheran orthodox theologian, Lutheran Orthodox Father Dannhauer, said about the status of the “original autographs”:

    " is as needless and foolish to suppose that we must have the autographa today as to think that we need the cup from which Christ drank before the Eucharist can be rightly celebrated."

  4. Jack,

    This strikes me as impressive work – I complement you on your careful and thoughtful response. Thank you for your service to the church! Having read Dr. Kloha’s paper and your response twice now, I think you have done a very nice job replying to him. I hope that we will hear back from him as well, as this seems to me as a very important discussion to have.

    In response to Kloha’s concerns about the Bible being seen, at least in part, as a “legal document” this part of your response really stuck out to me: “The only question is: do we read those laws and propositions as things that condemn us because we refused to believe and perform them, or, conversely, are they things that we are free to believe and do? Moreover, the living power of the gospel would be meaningless without its propositional content. Faith would have no object without propositions.”

    I think this is most certainly true. As Robert Preus pointed out in his book on Inspiration (1957, second edition), “All the dogmaticians ….believed that the Word received its power from its union with the Holy Spirit”. And yet, of course going hand in hand with this is that God gave us (and sufficiently preserved for us) the texts of the Scriptures which the Holy Spirit uses, during the act of reading or hearing, to convict persons of the knowledge of sin (see John 16:8-11). In that way, it certainly can be seen to be a “law” document!


  5. Thank you for alerting me to your post, and thank you for your thoughts. I would note that you do not understand the nature of the problem that I am addressing, the nature of the NT text and the new edition. Also, I do not think it is fair to criticize a lack of discussion of "inspiration," since that was not the topic of my essay. Finally, I did ask several days ago that unauthorized use of my essay cease, which you did not honor.. Nevertheless, I hope that we can all learn to teach more clearly the authority of Scripture and the centrality of Christ.

    I posted a proposed way forward here:

    1. I was not criticizing your lack of discussion of inspiration, I was simply suggesting that a discussion of inspiration would be helpful to frame my own piece. Moreover, if you say things in public, you are again responsible for having said them. I think I very well do understand the problem you are addressing with textual criticism. If you don't think I offered a better solution, I would encourage you to be more clear where I did not do a good job.

  6. KJV/TR-Onlyism is one of the most insidious movements in some conservative Protestant circles today. It deprives us of the best defense of the accuracy and veracity of the Biblical text that we have, that being the oldest existent Biblical manuscripts.

    Dr. Dan Wallace has written on the differences between the autographic text and the "majority text" or whatever one wants to call it:

    1. Nicholas, I agree that King James Onlyism is pretty silly. Thanks for the helpful resources and you comments.

    2. Your welcome, Dr. Kilcrease.

  7. Nicholas Myra:

    I am not defending the totality of Letis's position. I had the unfortunate opportunity to meet Dr. Letis and engaged in some email discussion with him. He was an absolute jerk of a human being and perhaps suffered from mental illness. He's easier to appreciate now that he's dead. I'm not advocating for KJV-onlyism. I tend to use the ESV or NKJV most of the time. And as I thought I made clear in my post, I'm not advocating for the use of the Textus Receptus either. I use the Antoniades edition most of the time.

    I consider Dr. Letis's position to be a little bizarre and I'm not a big fan of Hills either. However, I do think that Letis does effectively show that there was a significant shift in the way Protestants understand the Biblical text beginning with Warfield. And I do think that it becomes impossible to maintain a doctrine of inspiration in regards to the text in front of you if you believe that the church corrupted the text. Whatever artificial barriers and or limitations you may impose upon yourself in the use of textual crticicism, there is no logical reason for doing so if the church is the corrupter of the text and if in fact the Protestant dogmaticians were wrong about God preserving His Word through the church.

    1. Thanks for clarifying your position. As to corruption, that term is used for any change (accidental or deliberate) to the text that has resulted in transmission. No two manuscripts agree together perfectly, although the vast majority of variants are inconsequential and many of them cannot even be translated differently. No variant effects any primary Christian doctrine. I don't know of any orthodox, believing Christian who doesn't believe that God's word has been preserved. Nothing has been lost.

    2. Nicholas Myra:

      Dr. Voelz argues against the idea that God has preserved His Word in his book "What Does this Mean." Voelz isn't really saying anything different than what you hear elsewhere when it comes to this. Voelz is arguing against the Majority text and specifically against Hodgest and Farstad. He says:

      "It is problematic, second, because it is nonhistorical. It claims, in effect, “What now exists is what is divinely ordained, or else God has abandoned his church.” It uses, in essence, the argument which Luther and the 16th-century Reformers faced. As with the Reformers, however, one can show that the readings which contradict the majority did exist early and never disappeared completely throughout the history of the church. It is problematic, third, because providential preservation is not a necessary consequence of inspiration.7 In the words of Harry A. Sturz (38): Preservation of the Word of God is promised in Scripture, and inspiration and preservation are related doctrines but they are distinct from each other, and there is a danger in making one the necessary corollary of the other. The Scriptures do not do this. God, having given the perfect revelation by verbal inspiration, was under no special or logical obligation to see that man did not corrupt it. … [T]o use [an] illustration, having created all things perfect, God was not obligated to see that the pristine perfection of the world was maintained." (Voelz, James W. (1997-03-01). What Does This Mean? (Concordia Scholarship Today) (Kindle Location 921). Concordia Publishing House. Kindle Edition.)

      I'm not defending all the methodology of Hodges and Farstad but Voelz's statement is the opposite of what Chemntiz and Quenstedt say.

  8. The second issue is the one of the original (autographa) vs. the copies (apographa). Historically, Lutheran theologians claimed that the original text was the directly inspired one, and then the copies were inspired derivatively insofar as they mirrored the original.

    Sort of a "quatenus inspiration"?! But that does not make all of the words in the copied documents inspired.

    But, the simple fact is that this isn't how people wrote texts in the ancient world. People would dictate several copies of the text they were preparing. They would then often read the text out loud to a patron or to an audience that would suggest changes or revisions.

    Was the audience to make suggestion on improving what the Holy Spirit inspired?!? Or were the changes and revisions of the audience also inspired? Associating ancient human epistle writing practices to divinely inspired gospel or epistle writing is really iffy, unless Scripture confirms that is how it was prepared.

    First, I would suggest that Kloha hasn't really shown at all that an "original manuscript"(autographa) is a fiction.

    Good point!

    Since Luke (for example) says that he investigated sources to write his Gospel like any other historian of the era, we must assume that he went through the other normal stages of composition that were current in his culture.

    We can take what Luke said about his investigation, but, without Scriptural evidence, we cannot extend as divinely inspired Scriptural doctrine the notion of any "other normal stages of composition that were current in his culture."

    First, asking if we found manuscripts that would destroy the faith as we know it is like asking "What if we found Jesus' body?"

    I think someone already wrote a novel about that.

  9. If Dr. Kloha had been Paul Revere in the American Revolution most of you would have shot him. He is not the enemy. He is sounding an alarm of what is coming our direction so that we can all be sufficiently prepared. LISTEN TO HIM!

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  11. I must admit I'm a bit surprised that some appear to be so concerned that Kloha's thoughts will result in the denial of a verbally inspired original autograph - as though if we do not have the EXACT words of Jesus or the EXACT words of Paul, etc., that were written down in some form we're in trouble! But the fact is that the Gospels do not even have agreement re: the EXACT words of Jesus relative to the institution of the Lord's Supper. But why is this a problem? Even though I don't think we ever had the IPSISSEMA VERBA of Jesus or Paul in written form in even the so-called "original manuscripts," we certainly do have the IPSISSEMA VOX of Jesus and Paul in spite of the variants we have in the various families of manuscripts that we have today. The early Church received and continued to recognize the IPSISSEMA VOX of Jesus through the apostolic teaching which led them also to affirm various writings as SCRIPTURE in spite of minor variants between manuscripts. Certain variants should be rejected because they conflict with the IPSISSEMA VOX of Jesus through His apostles and NOT because we are somehow able to figure out which variant might reflect the "original autograph" and which ones do not. This fact in NO WAY denies what we might call "verbal inspiration" because even the differences in the Verba as found in Matthew, Mark and Luke still give the IPSISSEMA VOX of Jesus re: the Lord's Supper. Just my two cents worth.

  12. @Tom Eckstein

    The "IPSISSIMA VOX" view is heresy: