Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Textual transmission and authority

The biblical manuscripts from the Dead Sea afford us a unique view into textual transmission during the Greco-Roman period. The habits and customs of the ancient scribes testify to their absolute fidelity to the text. Nevertheless, there was no single standard text, and alterations such as the one we have described were quite possible. Indeed, the manuscripts from the Dead Sea give the impression of considerable diversity. Thus, for example, the great Isaiah scroll (1QIsaa) represents its own text type in comparison to the version preserved in the Masoretic Text. Fragments have been preserved of the Book of Jeremiah, some of which follow the Masoretic version (4QJera, c, e), while some attest to the short, divergent text of the Greek translation of the Septuagint (4QJerb, d). At the same time, there are also harmonizing and standardizing revisions, to which the Hebrew and Greek manuscripts of the Twelve Prophets from Wadi Murabaʾat (Mur 88) and Nahal Hever (8Hevl) testify.

How to explain this diversity is a much-discussed problem. Some postulate an original text, or one as close as we can get to it, from which the diversity developed. Others, however, argue for textual traditions that originated independently of each other. Given the high percentage of agreement among the texts, the first possibility seems to be more likely. At any rate, it is clear that the diversity did not alter the authority of the text and the esteem in which it was held. There was anything but a slavish word-for-word fidelity. Even if readings differed, for the scribes and readers of the biblical books, the same text always contained the word of God for all time, and consequently for them and their time.—The Prophets of Israel, page 94

<idle musing>
I'm reminded of a snippet from a forthcoming book from Augsburg/Fortress, Isaiah Old and New: Exegesis, Intertextuality, and Hermeneutics:

…however uncomfortable it may make some modern interpreters of the Bible, in the NT era there was assumed to be a fluidity to these scriptural texts such that even the paraphrastic Greek versions of the MT could still be assumed to be the Word of God, and one was free to go with the version which more nearly made one’s point, in this case a christological point. The canon of the OT was relatively fixed and closed in the NT era for most books, such as Isaiah, but the text itself was not absolutely fixed at that juncture.
For some this is indeed a problem, isn't it? But my faith is built on Christ and his faithfulness, not on the Bible. Yes, the Bible reveals Christ, but I know enough about textual transmission to question inerrancy and it's straightjacket approach to the text. As the hymn says:
My hope is built on nothing less than Zondervan and Moody Press..
No, that's wrong; let's try again:
My hope is built on nothing less than Scofield's Notes and Moody Press...
Still wrong! How about this:
My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus' blood and righteousness
And the scripture bears witness to that, so I guess you would have to classify my hermeneutic as Christocentric.

Here's what Ron Hendel says in his recent collection of essays, Steps to a New Edition of the Hebrew Bible (from chapter 11, I don't have the page number handy):

As Roland Bainton observes, for Luther “inspiration did not insure inerrancy in all details. Luther recognized mistakes and inconsistencies in Scripture and treated them with lofty indifference because they did not touch the heart of the Gospel.” [Roland H. Bainton, “The Bible in the Reformation,” in The Cambridge History of the Bible. Volume 3: The West from the Reformation to the Present Day, ed. Stanley L. Greenslade (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1963), 12] Where minor errors occur, as when Matthew 27:9 mistakenly cites Jeremiah instead of Zechariah, Luther responds: “Such points do not bother me particularly.” [ibid., 13] Similarly, in his commentaries Calvin is not bothered by errors in the text where they are unrelated to matters of faith and salvation. [See Brian A. Gerrish, “The Word of God and the Words of Scripture: Luther and Calvin on Biblical Authority,” in The Old Protestantism and the New: Essays on the Reformation Heritage (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982), 62–63] He acknowledges minor errors without anxiety, as in the contradictions among the Gospels: “It is well known that the Evangelists were not very concerned with observing the time sequences.” [John Calvin, Commentaires sur le Nouveau Testament. Tome premier: Sur la concordance ou harmonie composée de trois évangélistes (Paris, Meyrueis, 1854), 319 (at Luke 8:19): “on sçait bien que les Evangélistes ne se sont pas guères arrestez à observer l’ordre des temps.” Cited in William J. Bouwsma, John Calvin: A Sixteenth Century Portrait (New York: Oxford University Press, 1988), 121–22]
So I stand in the finest tradition, lest you be tempted to paint me as a heretic : )

Just an
</idle musing>

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