Wednesday, August 05, 2009

So Theological Presuppositions Are Fine with Biblical Criticism After All?

I'm in no way endorsing Darrell Bock by playing this, but I enjoyed these questions by John Dickson. They're questions I would want to ask. The answer is interesting and it is something I want to comment on after you watch it. [Please pardon the worldly music in the introduction---these evangelicals lack in discernment in this matter. They think that it will make their presentation more credible. I do think it matches Dickson's outfit though.]

The first question is on textual evidence for the New Testament. Dickson brings up the criticism of Bart Ehrman, perhaps the foremost textual critic in the world, a student of the late Bruce Metzger at Princeton. The reasoning of Ehrman is this: depending on textual criticism to reconstruct the text, our preserved manuscripts were copied so many years after the completion of the New Testament, we can't even be sure that they are what was in the originals. Bock's answer: it's an exaggeration. (You could reduce the Ehrman-White debate to this very discussion.)

Textual critics say that we can't allow theological presuppositions to come into our criticism. We've got to take the evidence as it comes and lead us to the "truth." We do this by means of the science of textual criticism. Ehrman says that this is what he does and this is what other textual critics like himself are doing. And his and their conclusions are that we can't be sure what the original documents of the New Testament said. We're too far removed.

Well, evangelical textual critics have been too saying that we've got to let the evidence lead us to the truth, even if this has an impact on our view of inerrancy. We've got to adjust our doctrine of inerrancy to textual evidence. This is the position of Daniel Wallace from Dallas Theological Seminary. But now that the non-theological and mainstream textual critics are saying these things just like Ehrman does, we've got a split with evangelical textual critics. Why? They believe that Ehrman's theology is affecting his textual criticism. He is exaggerating textual evidence for the New Testament to fit his unbelief. Ehrman says he isn't. They say he is. And the evangelical textual critics, like Wallace, are calling Ehrman on this.

As you hear from Bock, textual critics of other ancient literature would "die" for the textual evidence we have for the New Testament. The conclusion from this is: if we can't trust the textual evidence for the New Testament, then we can't trust it for anything ancient. So to be consistent, and show no theological bias, we should conclude that we really do have very good textual evidence for the New Testament.

OK, so do you get this first part? Ehrman is allowing theological bias, the liberal variety (he's an agnostic), to color his conclusions from textual evidence. He's exaggerating the evidence as very poor, when he knows it is very, very good, and he does this only to support his lack of faith. Know what? I'm fine with that criticism of Ehrman. I think it is true. Understand though that Ehrman is going to say, as well as the other mainstream textual critics, that the evangelicals are doing the same thing as him, that is, making their evaluations with a theological presupposition. Their faith depends on the veracity of scripture, so they must have scripture have veracity. I think that White and Bock are true. We've got way more textual evidence than what Ehrman says and that he is allowing a theological presupposition to come in. I don't mind if a theological presupposition comes in, but they don't and they are calling Ehrman on it.

What's Ehrman's problem? He knows what the Bible says. He knows that it claims perfection for itself. He knows that inspiration taught in the Bible is verbal and plenary. So if the standard for scripture is perfection, then we have to have a different standard for its textual criticism as well. He would say that the Bible is far from perfect. So would Bock. But Bock is willing to adjust his faith to an error riddled Bible that has the right doctrine. Ehrman won't do that. He would say, "Don't claim inspiration for something that we don't even know for sure what it says." What evangelical textual critics have done is dumb their doctrine down to the level of their textual criticism. This is brand new, by the way, something that began occurring in the late 19th century. It is the heritage of Princeton Seminary passed from men like Warfield to men like Metzger. Ehrman is the proof of how this has eroded the faith.

Before we move on, notice that Bock expresses the evangelical textual critic's mantra that even though the teaching of specific verses are changed by means of a textual variant, you'll be able to find that truth somewhere else in the New Testament, therefore preserving the doctrines of the New Testament. This is the preservation of doctrine view that really is the view of preservation of most evangelicals scholars. Since they "won't be guided by theological presuppositions," they believe that what God preserved was "doctrines," even if the New Testament text itself says otherwise. You won't find a book on preservation that says, "our view is the preservation of doctrine, not the words," because that sounds bad and it clashes with the theological presuppositions of most church members.

By the way, what Bock is saying is not true here. They repeat this again and again, but there are doctrines that are changed if you rely on the textual variants. We have shown this clearly in our book, Thou Shalt Keep Them. Ultimately what evangelical scholars really mean is that there are no doctrines changed that will affect your ability to be saved and get to heaven. This is where we're at. All the doctrines are preserved that are necessary to become a Christian.

Now let's move on.

Then Dickson asks a great follow up. And this is what got my attention in this youtube interview. He asks, but some say that we're not even using the right gospels? So he moves to canonicity. Why aren't these gospels part of the New Testament? Why are they left out? In essence, why 27 New Testament books? Why these 27? This is a preservation question too. Why is it that we say these are the books of the New Testament and not the others? There is evidence of their existence. We have ancient copies of these.

Here's the answer from Bock: "What we've got here is that these other gospels reflect a completely different orientation to God."

I have to admit. I've never heard such ambiguous language used to say something theological. "Completely different orientation to God?" But that's where we are now in our discussion, because now we've got to make it sound like it isn't theological. "Orientation to God" sounds more scientific. But it is a theological answer. And it is basing our acceptance of only four gospels upon a theological understanding. So when it comes to accepting words, we have to let the evidence come to us. But when it comes to books, we make our decision based on theology. We are talking about the same process though, words the lesser and books the greater. It seems that Bock is attempting to keep theology out of how we determine what the gospels are, but he can't do it. Shouldn't that open the door for theological presuppositions as a basis for our determination of what the Books are and what the Words are?

Bock's answer, I think, could be debunked on a scientific level by some of the liberal, Biblical critics. Bock revolves the rejection of the other gospels around the Jewish understanding of creation that would be reflected in a book to be included in a legitimate presentation of Christ. In other words, if the authors were Jews, then the presentation should be at least Jewish and these other (non-canonical) gospels aren't Jewish in their view of creation.

I do want to give my take on the rest of this clip.

Bock's explanation of the veracity of the gospels then hinges on the ability of people to remember stories that have been told to them by people. This was an oral culture and they would have been able to remember stories from a few decades away and pass them down in the form of gospels. And we have a good example of how good they were at handing down oral tradition with the evidence of the Old Testament.

So is that what the gospels are? A collection of stories that were shared orally and then passed down through an oral tradition and then finally written down from these memories? Bock says that the Apostles were chosen because they were eyewitnesses and so they could pass down this oral tradition based on their own testimonies. Are we ashamed of the doctrine of inspiration? How about this view instead? It seems to me that we have been so affected by the world that we're afraid to take a position based upon faith.


Damien said...

"They think that it will make their presentation more credible."

How do you know that?

Anyway, I like both Bock and Wallace. I think they contribute much to certain aspects of Christian studies. (I posted this same video yesterday) But I agree that there is a striking lack of the supernatural in their works. I wonder if it's because they are trying to engage the skeptics on the same ground. Personally, I'm sure I have disagreements with their approach, but the substance of what they say is helpful.

I'm persuaded that Reformed presuppositional apologetics is the approach which best flows from a biblical concept of revelation. That being said, I like to start all sorts of defenses of the Christian faith with the supernatural. Christianity is primarily spiriritual, not intellectual. I don't think someone is going to get regenerated because they were persuaded by Darrell Bock. However, I do think those who are Christians can have their faith strengthened by some of the studies they've done. I think apologetics is primarily for the Christian, and I think Bock does a good job showing how the arguments of the skeptics are seriously wanting. If that's all I get from it, I'll take it.

Concerning theological presuppositions in books vs. words, I don't think what he said about the so-called lost gospels are the same kind of theological presuppositions to which you are referring. You're talking about a conviction based on scripture that something is true, and evidence being interpreted through that, hence your position on perfect preservation. But Bock is disqualifying these gnostic texts, not on conviction only, but on a shear historical problem: Christianity is a movement stemming from Judaism; the god presented in these psuedoevangelical works is not the god of Judaism but an extremely different figure, therefore they cannot possibly be considered as part of the canon whether or not Christianity is true.

Kent Brandenburg said...

Hi DT!

I know you are somewhat tongue in cheek about the music, but come on with the necklace and deco outfit and the drums. They're mimicking here pure and simple. Putting that aside, even as you did.

I can understand you enjoying Wallace and Bock. I haven't read much Bock because his kind of secular presentation doesn't hold my interest. I threaten his material with drool spots. But Wallace has good Greek material. His subjectivity enters into his syntax, but if you can cut through that, he is helpful in that way. I've read some good articles by him too on other subjects. Of course, I've had my clashes with him here and because of that, people interpret as hatred. I say, "Oh brother!"

I appreciate your noticing the lack of supernatural in their work and you saying it here at a place where you could garner some hatred for saying something positive (not from me). Do you think that I got it right generally in my take?

I think you're wrong on the theological presupposition. That's what they require there not to be. He gives a good cover with his "orientation toward God," but it is theological. Is it different than my presuppositions? I don't think so. I look for what I'm supposed to look for. They're looking for what they're supposed to look for. They look for a certain orientation toward God. I look for perfection.

And who is more loved and more orthodox to evangelicals? Bock, of course. You can see why, can't you? His position isn't historical or exegetical. But it is more scholarly!!!

Thanks for stopping by, DT.

By the way, I did not know you posted this at your blog. That is an amazing bit of coincidence. We have similar orienteering.

Damien said...

well, actually my first question was more serious than you took it. I have a problem with judging the motives of other Christians. I do it too and I'm trying to stop. I'm writing this as I'm sitting in a cafe. The secularists across the room from me are wearing jeans. So am I. I'm not mimicking them, though.

"I threaten his material with drool spots" <--- that was good.

I was one of those guys back when arguing with you about your Wallace posts. But I don't think you hate him.

As far as your take being generally right, well I guess overall I agree with you. In their striving to get inerrancy and preservation to jive with evidence, both Wallace and Bock seem to sacrifice the doctrine of inspiration as well. Was Luke inspired or not? If so, why would one even have to believe in Q? I read Dethroning Jesus was great delight, but I was disappointed that they didn't hold to a more independent witness of the gospel records.

The point about presuppositions and the gnostic gospels I still disagree with. I think what he says is purely historical and logical - it shows tremendous holes in the scholarship of Ehrman, Pagels, and Tabor. This camp is so quick to latch on to anything that opposes Christianity it seems like they aren't thinking. How can a credible historian believe that the gnostic gospels have a place in Christianity if Christianity is an outgrowth of Judaism? How credible would Jesus of Nazereth seem if he told the Pharisees that an angel named Sakla, one of the twelve ruling angels, was responsible for creating man (as the gospel of Judas proclaims)? yes, this touches theology, but I think the presupposition is more historical. One doesn't have to be a Christian to see the great chasm between the gnostic gospels and Judaism.

Bock presents a good orientation to Jesus studies. You may have to orient yourself more to his line of thinking, or consult an oriental friend in the process.

Anonymous said...

The problem with Wallace and thousands like him is he is in serious error, won't admit it, and continues to peddle his error, because, like evolutionists, academia is where the $$$ is at, and one can't make $$$ and have notoriety if he admits the truth.