Monday, December 08, 2008

The Text

I am an unrepentant, unapologetic Fundamentalist.

Now, when I say that, I realize that we have to clarify terms; the word "fundamentalist" has become a pejorative in modern usage, somewhat due to the bellicose demeanor of those who self-identify with fundamentalism today, but more largely I believe due to the overall hostility of the world (and those within the church who are more world-friendly than is undoubtedly healthy) towards the very idea of Biblical fidelity.

I don't mean I that I am a fundamentalist in either of those two caricatured ways.

What I do mean is that I am a fundamentalist according to the original denotation of the word.

At the turn of the previous century, in response to the rising tide of Modernism in the church (Modernism is the father of Postmodernism, which in turn is really just Modernism with a new hairdo, spiffy spectacles, and a hep-cat-yo-dog-g-money way of presenting itself; see 1, 2, 3), a group of Biblically conservative scholars from a wide cross-section of current Christendom pooled their impressive intellectual prowess and issued a series of articles dealing with the fundamentals of the Christian faith once for all delivered to the saints, which in 1909 were printed in a daunting twelve volume set of books, and then re-issued in 1917 into a more concise four volume set, finally being re-edited and re-issued in 1958 in a one-volume book (this is the one that Warren Wiersbe was involved in).  That series of articles, when published in their respective editions, were collectively titled The Fundamentals, and it is from this seminal work that the conservatives who opposed the creeping unbelief of the Modernist movement took their name - Fundamentalists.

It is perhaps a very odd irony that those who tend to loudly self-identify with fundamentalism today would not much appreciate either the articles or (and perhaps more especially) the authors themselves; modern "fundamentalists" are almost universally KJV-Only cessationist Arminian Baptists, and though most of those are gracious and honestly convinced, some very prominent voices in modern "fundamentalism" are quite...belligerent.  And are not only very leery of anybody who's not a KJV-Only cessationist Arminian Baptist, but aren't too sure even of others who share the same cognomen.  It turns out that not only were a significant portion of the contributors not Baptists, but several were "baby-sprinkling" Presbyterians and Methodists, and even Anglicans!!!  (Note this article's defense of KJV-Onlyism includes the "baby sprinkling" canard as an argument against modern translations...and conveniently ignores the fact that the KJV translators were Anglicans themselves.  Turns out KJV-Onlyists are as impervious to contravening facts as are most Emergents that I've read...).

But it is in the very context of those original articles and the incipient Fundamentalist movement that these articles energized that I lay claim to the title.

I am a Fundamentalist.

I believe that the sixty-six Books of the Bible are the perspicacious, confluent, plenary, verbal, inspired Word of the Living God.  I believe it is, with the indwelling and illuminating of the Holy Spirit, self-interpreting and self-revealing. I believe that it is not to be reconstructed, deconstructed, or redacted in any fashion - only to be read, meditated upon, and obeyed.  It judges us - we do not judge it.  All things, all things entirely, are to be viewed, understood, and interpreted through it's infallible lens, not the converse.  We may not (indeed; we do not) fully understand it - unsurprising, considering its nature and origin.  But we do not come to it in a heart of doubt and unbelief; we come to it with a heart of humble submission, understanding that it is the infallible voice of the Shepherd.

Because of this, I believe in the Trinitarian nature of the Godhead, in the fallenness of man, in the creation of the universe by God ex nihilo, in the Virgin Birth, in Jesus' sinless life, in His death in my stead as an innocent, vicarious, propitiatory sacrifice, in His physical resurrection from the grave, in His bodily ascent to the right hand of the Father, in His eventual (and, secondarily, I believe soon) return to judge the living and the dead, in my own eventual bodily resurrection, in a conscious intermediate state between physical death and eventual resurrection, and in the eternal state.

I believe that the best possible hermeneutic (method for interpreting the Text) is through the grammatico-historical exegesis of that Text.

Given all that, the question of what is the Text in the first place becomes somewhat important.

You cannot be a reader of the Bible for long before you encounter the initially unsettling reality that what comprises the Biblical Text is a subject of some debate.  There are thousands of extant manuscripts and fragments of manuscripts of the New Testament Text from ancient times...but no two agree 100% in every particular.

There are many ways that this is understood, explained, and dealt with.  But one consequence of this is the rise of what has been called Textual Criticism.  That's not saying that dudes sit around and criticize the Bible (though doubtlessly some do); instead, TC is the science of taking the vast corpus of extant New Testament manuscripts, exhaustively studying them, and collating from the available evidence the original readings of the autographs.  This has become an entire science in itself, and like any field of research, there are many competing views and factions.

All methods of Textual Criticism use all available extant manucript evidence, but handle the corpus differently.

The ascendant TC position today is eclecticism.  In eclecticism, certain manuscrips are deemed "better" and "more pure," and are thus "weighted" differently than others.  It is from the eclectic text that most modern translations of the Bible derive, like the NASB, NIV, HCSB, ESV, and NLT.

Another position, by no means as prominent, is known as the Majority Text position.  This is the collational theory that I personally subscribe to; a brief explanation of the MT position can be found here.

Like any of the other Textual Criticism position, however, the MT has...issues.  It happens to have less than the others and has more explanatory power, in my opinion, but it's not without its soft underbelly.  So when I read this article by Dr. James White explaining the Byzantine-Priority position, I was fascinated.  After I dig into this further, I may need to adjust my views...

I love learning.

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