Sunday, December 07, 2014

Unattainable: A Certain Very Important Thing that God Promised Is Impossible with God to Evangelicals and Many Fundamentalists

In Matthew 19:26, Jesus said,

With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible.

"Impossible" translates the Greek word adunatos, which means, "incapable of happening or being done."  It is a compound word -- "a," meaning, "not," and "dunatos," meaning, "able" -- hence, "impossible."

On his blog, canon fodder (excellent blog name for the author and what he does), Michael Kruger (a professor who has dedicated himself almost more than anyone on the subject of the canon of scripture) writes on December 3, 2014:

Although we can acknowledge that absolute certainty about every single variant is unattainable, we can also acknowledge that absolute certainty is not necessary.

Kruger is concluding that man, the church, anyone, everybody, cannot know what God's Words are, that it is impossible for men to know what God's Words are anymore.  Has man ever known exactly what God's Words were, all at once?  Has anyone had a full Bible in his hand that had every Word of God's Word?  I'm interested in the evangelical answers to these types of questions.  I know they don't like answering these questions, even being asked them.

No one that I've read is rejecting Kruger's statement.  I haven't heard anything.  That's what evangelicals believe.  It is their go-to position.  It is also the position of many fundamentalists, strongly a segment represented by graduates of Bob Jones University, Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary, Central Baptist Theological Seminary, Maranatha Baptist Bible College, and others.  They would consider themselves to be the educated or academic wing of fundamentalism.  They also don't believe we can know what God's Words are.

For the sake of being all inclusive, all Ruckmanites, English preservationists, and King James double inspiration folks out there also see the text of scripture to be unattainable.  There isn't much difference on the doctrine of preservation between these two groups.  The former would hate to be lumped in with the latter, but they just deal with or react to the unattainability of the text of scripture in two different ways.

Many evangelicals, I think including Kruger, believe that we can and do know what the books of the Bible are, that is, we know what the canon of scripture is.  That is not impossible.  That is attainable. What is different between the canon and the text of scripture that makes one attainable and the other unattainable?

What makes the canon attainable is degree of difficulty.  Surmising the exact original text of scripture is unattainable because that is more difficult than deducing the canon of scripture.  To them, our knowing the Words of Scripture is impossible with God, but knowing the books of the Bible are possible.

Christianity is a supernatural outfit.  To be a Christian you have to be a supernatural.  You believe in hell and heaven.  You believe in bodily resurrection, virgin birth, forgiveness of all of someone's sins, and thousands of prophecies and their fulfillment.  A lot of Christianity is a high degree of difficulty. However, the things that are approved impossible things or unattainable things, that are still to be believed as not impossible and not unattainable, are those things that can't be inspected.  Speaking of fodder, this is really great fodder for those who would attack Christianity.

Christians believe there is a God and He intervenes in His creation.  You have to believe that to be a Christian.  They believe God is sustaining things on the macro and micro level beyond comprehension.  The sheer complexity of everything argues for God doing the supernatural.  But those things are like what I talked about in the previous paragraph.  There is no direct trace, like a fingerprint or DNA, that says that God is in fact doing them.  We just believe His Word, and that is what faith is like.  Those are acceptable presuppositions, like writing in the sand not being caused by waves -- it's reasonable that God must have done those things.

Enter the perfect preservation of scripture.  And that's not all, but at least that.  God promised perfect preservation, and there was at least a three or four hundred year period in which most to all Christians believed in perfect preservation.  That is what you read in doctrinal statements.  This is pre-enlightenment.  It is a presuppositional apologetic.  It is an apriori approach.   This way says that the Bible is truth, what we would call objective truth today.  So what it says, goes.

But along came more and more textual variants, more hand copies found, and along came a new epistemology.  How do we know what we know?  Before, it was faith.  Theology was the queen of the sciences.  Not anymore.  Now we know in different ways than those pre-enlightenment forefathers.  Their positions are called today, "less refined."  Or, "they didn't have the wealth of textual evidence then that we do now."  So now, knowing what the Words of God are, is unattainable. And now scripture doesn't teach the same thing about its preservation that it once did.  Everything changed with degree of difficulty and new DNA.

How would men have known scripture in the first place?  How would anyone be able to check on whether each one of those Words were scripture?   That's another impossible that just happens to be at a time that no one can prove wrong anymore.

The Mormons say their book of Mormon was written in reformed Egyptian on golden tablets.  There were a handful of men, long dead, they say, who said the book of Mormon was legit.  Why believe that?  There's no verification.  What verification do we have of scripture being true, of being legitimate?  I'm not asking these questions, because I don't believe it -- just considering degree of difficulty for attainability.  We can't disprove that scripture was given by inspiration any more.  That's very convenient for degree of difficulty.  Benjamin Warfield knew that, which is why Richard Muller writes about Warfield (p. 433, Post Reformation Reformed Dogmatics, Vol 2):

The case for Scripture as an infallible rule of faith and practice . . . rests on an examination of apographa and does not seek the infinite regress of the lost autographa as a prop for textual infallibility. . . .  Those who claim an errant text, against the orthodox consensus to the contrary, must prove their case. To claim errors in the scribal copies, the apographa, is hardly a proof.  The claim must be proven true of the autographa.  The point made by Hodge and Warfield is a logical trap, a rhetorical flourish, a conundrum designed to confound the critics --- who can only prove their case for genuine errancy by recourse to a text they do not (and surely cannot) have.

The degree of difficulty is a basis for rejection for Christians.  For instance, God answers prayers.  So if you pray for a man who lost a limb, to receive a new one, does he get one?  If you pray for a blind man to see, does he see?  No, you don't pray those prayers.  You pray for someone with the flu or someone with bad headaches, something that is attainable.   That is, in these instances you can't count on God for the unattainable.  Or is it that God hasn't promised to answer those prayers?

Yet, God has promised to keep His Words for every generation of His people.  That was always attainable for Christians, because they believed God's promises.  And then the discovery of even more textual variants, especially those between Sinaiticus and Vaticanus, rendered a perfect text of scripture to be unattainable, impossible with God.

Faith believes the impossible, the unattainable.  That's part of what it means to be a Christian. Christians believe what is impossible, as long as God says it.


Lance Ketchum said...

Excellent article with considerable substance!

For those claiming we do not have Scripture preserved in "any Greek text or group of Greek texts," I would ask a simple question. Why spend so much emphasis on exacting exegesis through parsing and syntax when you do not believe in perfect preservation? How dare you charge someone for that "education" when it is a contradiction in hypocrisy according to your proclamation of unbelief?

Kent Brandenburg said...

Thanks Lance.