Textual Criticism & the Glory of God


Here is the summary of my final paper for the Textual Criticism portion of my New Testament Intro class.  Enjoy:

My ultimate goal in all these classes is doxological.  That’s how I’m judging my success; not by grades, but whether not I have a greater affection for Christ at the end of each course.  I can say I have that at the end of this course, but it’s not without a price, I feel.

What do I do with, say, the ending of Mark?  How do I preach that text?  Though I absolutely disagree with the Textus Receptus-only arguments, I must say there’s something romantic and (dare I say) “Reformed-sounding” in their arguments.  The idea that God is Sovereign and Providential enough to bring about a final text, even with all its textual errors is enticing (probably because it removes all further critical thought from the process).

It’s ultimately more difficult to reject these notions, though, because you’re forced to face a few realities.

Mainly, what do we do with these texts, then?  If we keep them, then we’re Catholic because we’re placing tradition over the Word as it originally was.  If we get rid of them we seem liberal because we’re subjecting and changing the Bible based on an authority outside of itself.

What about the hypothetical stay-at-home mom that comes to me with the ending of Mark, wanting to know what it means?  Do I unpack textual criticism on her and tell her it wasn’t original so don’t worry about it?

In that case, what if Jesus’ words in John 8:1-11 have been such a comfort to her through the darkest of times?  Is that the Word of God, while the ending of Mark (snakes and all) is not?  How much doubt will it give her to know that there are words in her Bible that John Mark didn’t actually write?  In short, what are the pastoral implications of textual criticism? I don’t know.

Personally, I’m fine with things as they are—keeping very unlikely readings out of the text and just footnoting much.  I’m facing no faith-crises because of this.  I see how far God would go to condescend Himself and thereby draw me to Him, even amidst the messiness of scribal error and change.

I’m just in that very good spot of wrestling through things to see how they fit in a context of proclamation and ministry.  I’m sure they do—they must.

I’m finding that seminary accomplishes its very interesting call of answering many of your questions all while giving you many more, bigger, and deeper questions to grapple with along the way.  This is good.  This will certainly give me more nuance in my ministry of God’s word and His people—a greater understanding of the depth and complexity of God’s Word.

I see now things aren’t so black and white, and that’s by design.  If it weren’t, then we would trust God and His Word on a basis other than Himself.  He will force us to live this life by faith and by no other thing will we be able to fully rest upon—not even the individual black and white text on the page of the Bible, but rather on the Sovereign, Supreme, all-Beautiful, all-Righteous, all-Knowing, all-Just, and all-Gracious God of the Bible.

One thought on “Textual Criticism & the Glory of God

  1. Is it possible to see these questionable texts in the same we we might view the mythical accounts in Genesis (assuming for argument’s sake that they are mythical)? In other words, do all the stories in the Gospels have to be literally true to be inspired? The more I study the Gospels, the more I find reason to consider the possibility that all the stories mentioned aren’t literally true. Thoughts?

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