Consistent Calvinism and Textual Criticism

Can one be a consistent Calvinist/ Reformed and use Textual Criticism to affirm the New Testament…? This major Calvinist scholar says no. Herman Bavinck says as follows:

“Those who make their doctrine of Scripture dependent on historical research into its origination and structure have already begun to reject Scripture’s self-testimony and therefore no longer believe that Scripture. They think it better to build up the doctrine of Scripture on the foundation of their own research than by believingly deriving it from Scripture itself.”

Source: Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics: Prolegomena, p. 424.

Bavinck on the self-testimony of Scripture (1--424)

For more information on Bavinck, please click here for his Wikipedia page.

When I initially posted this on my personal Facebook profile, I was immediately reproached by Dr. James White. His argument varied, but it began with claiming I didn’t understand what Bavinck was saying, it then moved to the claim that Bavinck was not referring to textual criticism and finally it moved on to whether or not historical criticism includes textual criticism or not.

The point being, that Dr. White was clearly uncomfortable with this quote and the consequences it bore on his position as recently rebuked by James Simpson, Sam Shamoun and other Christians. I was most disappointed with his response, because as far as I and other Muslims viewed his comments, it seems as if he took the post personally. Beside the point, when I tried to explain that Bavinck’s quote could be applicable and inclusive of textual criticism, I included this statement:

I don’t disagree, read the page, historical-critical, it absolutely includes higher criticism, no one doubts that. Then again, no one else disagrees that there is a distinction between higher and lower criticism, any longer. There’s a bit of both involved in each discipline. Thanks for the fruitful replies though!

I think my statement was quite clear, when it comes to historical-critical study, there is an overlap, a bit of both higher and lower criticism. For some reason, which we all now know why, Dr. White chose to ignore that qualifying phrase of  “a bit of both” and invectively chose to represent my argument as referring to absolutely no distinction between higher and lower criticism. It’s quite obvious that isn’t what I said but it’s the position he chose to stake his claim upon, shifting the goalposts if you would, and quite disappointing for someone who seeks to understand his opponents’ points of view. I forgive him for that.

In any case, yes, historical-critical research does include higher and lower criticism, which encompasses textual criticism. In the end, this quote does have ramifications for Reformed folk who choose to view the New Testament through the eyes of history to validate variant units. I gave one such example to qualify my point which was noted by all, that Dr. White intentionally chose to ignore:

With all due respect, when using philology to develop an authorial profile to help us with stemmata, don’t we have to refer to historical information/ data in that very process?

We look for language development, basically the way someone represents language changes over time and so we can demarcate eras of language use within the written tradition and delineate forms of writing over time. To do so, especially in textual criticism, we have to be aware of the language, its form, variations, standards, etc. In conclusion, distractions aside, this quote is damning for some of the more prolific Christian apologists and the untenable positions they hold to.

and God knows best.

Textual Criticism Versus Evangelical Beliefs

There has been a trend of late where evangelical apologists are trying to normalize the cc-2018-sitenews-clashingheadsuse of textual criticism in their understanding of the New Testament. This however, leaves them in an untenable position trying to balance the divergence of textual critical axioms, arguments and evidences with those of their normative faith. This can be seen with apologists such as Dr. White, Dr. Licona and Dr. Wallace. All three are studying or have studied textual criticism to some degree and there stands a myriad of obvious issues that need be sorted out.

Consider the case of the nature of revelation itself. On a recent Dividing Line program Dr. White along with Dr. Brown chose to argue that the Greek Septuagint was stronger in its wording than the Masoretic Text and Dead Sea Scrolls were when it came to prophecies about Jesus (John Calvin notably argued the same for Paul’s use of the Septuagint and its associated divergences). The obvious issue here is that according to their own classical beliefs, the Old Testament was not revealed (and written) in Greek. Surely then, according to the confessions, it is traditionally understood that inerrancy primarily refers to the autographs. In other words, God chose the men who wrote the “books” of the Old Testament in a specific language. God chose men, again, according to their beliefs to word scripture to the best degree of accuracy and understanding possible. How is it then possible that a translation by unknown people can represent scripture better than the people that God chose to represent His teachings for Him? That does not make sense. Yet this is the position they now hold to, a position that is absolutely advantageous for Muslims doing da’wah.

Then there is the other argument of the Old Testament (as per the program responded to here), that it descended to us in various streams and that different scribes (as well as copyists) chose one variant over another because they completed the exposition of a verse better, as Dr. White referred to it, “sermonic expansion”. So there was addition to the text, addition not by the initial authors whom God chose, yet somehow this is not corruption. Odd reasoning here. Clearly cognitive dissonance at work. What then do we make of the claim that there were different streams? Yes, we agree, but did God intend to give authority to each stream? If that was the case then the later Masoretic Text would have authorial primacy and importance, rather than a translation in the form of the Septuagint that came before it, if we were to consider it with respect to chronology. Yet we find most Christian apologists referring and giving importance to the Septuagint while wholly ignoring the Latin and Samaritan texts, are those too not viable streams? Who then, gave the scribes authority to choose from those streams? Those anonymous and unknowable scribes? Again, problems arise.

What then do we make of the claim that there existed actual men within the first century by the names of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John who would be considered the initial authors? Isn’t it the case in New Testament Textual Criticism through stemmatics and philology that each Gospel is a composite work, the result of more than one author in various periods throughout history? How then can Matthew be one man and yet many, not existing at one time, but many simultaneously? Yes, I do recognize such thinking to be absurd, which is why I find it almost impossible to take anyone seriously who argues for a singular, inspired authorship, yet still accepts – at the same time – that there were multiple authors to one text as is the standard position. Yes, you are right in asking that no right thinking evangelical would accept composite authorship, yet today in the Nestle-Aland Greek New Testament, the standard critical text that the aforementioned men believe in, contains conjectural emendations. These are instances where the textual critic has decided that their version of a passage best represents the original without any manuscript evidence for their version ever having existed. Surely, today’s evangelicals don’t hold to the position that the folks on the Nestle-Aland committee are inspired by God, so wouldn’t that then confirm they accept the words of multiple people for one Gospel, rather than one individual from the 1st century? It does, yet again we arrive at a problem.

So while I am happy that today’s Christian apologists are becoming more liberal towards the New Testament and affirming the Qur’an’s claims about their attitude to Scripture, I also mourn for the aloofness that abounds otherwise.

and God knows best.

Sin, Pride and Christianity

cc-2018-sitenews-pride

Coming closer to God. What exactly does this catch all phrase mean? It’s a question that has given rise to two distinct and competing ideologies, Islam and Christianity. Both of these faiths offer completely distinct solutions to this question, and at the heart of that solution lies salvation. How then, does one understand how these faiths address this question? In this article that is what I ultimately seek to answer.

Christianity answers this question in having God lower Himself, humble Himself by becoming a human being and taking on flesh. These beliefs are drawn from the crystal clear Biblical verses that follow:

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. – John 1:14 (NIV).

Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. – Philippians 2:6-7 (NIV).

The Christian solution to this question is to lower God’s stature amongst men, to make Him one of us, an idea that has pervaded the thoughts of mankind spanning more than a millennia. To the Graeco-Romans, humans shared divinity with God as is seen with Hercules and Apollonius, with the Hindus, divinity also shared humanity as is seen in the appearance of a “Murti”. Christianity finds this in the form of Jesus. This idea is not new, and as was explicated upon recently, the Jesus of Christianity finds its metaphysical basis in Aristotelian thought. Instead of us coming closer to God, God came closer to us.

Islam on the other hand offers a much more robust proposition. God is not one of us. We are not gods. God is not arrogant such that He has to “lower” Himself and “humble” Himself. Rather, we accept an unassailable axiom, that we are beholden to God and He needs no change. To come closer to God, it is our humanity that needs to be reigned in, our desires and sins, our evil actions that need to submit to the authority to the ultimate judge and jury, God and God alone. We are not in competition with God, we are not rivals to His divinity, we are and never will be equals. The problem is not with God misunderstanding humanity or having a need to manifest Himself in our likeness, that is the arrogance of man to assume the fault is with God, such that the solution is that He needs to be more like us!

It is ironic that both Muslims and Christians agree that the downfall of Satan/ Iblees was due to his arrogance, that he would not submit to God’s authority. Yet born out of that fall was the belief of Christians that the solution for our world is that God should be one of us, the direct opposite of submission, the sin that fell Satan himself. As the Qur’an then says:

Do they seek other than the religion of Allah (the true Islamic Monotheism – worshipping none but Allah Alone), while to Him submitted all creatures in the heavens and the earth, willingly or unwillingly. And to Him shall they all be returned.  – Qur’an 3:83 (Mohsin-Khan Translation).

The idea that God need not only “humble” Himself (this assumes God is inherently arrogant), but that He should also die due to our actions against Him, that is sin, is the height of arrogance itself. God need not pay for my sins against Him. God need not suffer due to my inequities. I need to humble myself and accede to His authority, His mercy and His love. This is why I believe Islam answers the question of how we come closer to God, by recognizing His authority over us, by submitting our souls to Him it is then and only then can we truly know Him.

and God knows best.

Is the Bible a Requirement for Salvation?

Five years ago, I wrote a quick article on questions that Christians do not like to answer. Recently, there’s been some controversy/ buzz about the first question I posed in that article. Here’s the question:

If the earliest Christians within the first two centuries after Jesus did not need a New Testament to qualify their faith, why do modern Christians have such a need? If they did not sanction or consider any other writing beside the Old Testament to be scripture, then isn’t it a digression from the ‘true faith‘ of the earliest believers to incorporate something new as scripture? The first New Testament was codified and canonized by the heretic Marcion who believed that the Jewish YHWH was not the true God, the first time the largest Christian Church sanctioned a New Testament was during the 2nd Ecumenical Council of Carthage in 397 CE, some 360+ years after Jesus.

One of the more telling issues with the questioned posed above is that those who have responded to it believe that the question was tricky to answer. I agree it is tricky to answer, that’s the very reason I asked it in the first place! I therefore, don’t find that description of the question to be a problem, it’s more an affirmation that I framed the question properly in the first place. I’m essentially asking one question:

Is the New Testament required to be believed in for salvation in Christianity?

In other words, can someone be a believing Christian without having need for, or being dependent on the New Testament? Can someone reject it and yet, still be saved? This is effectively how the earliest Christians lived, without a New Testament. Some have tried to respond with the following passages:

  • “Repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15)
  • “believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31)

These verses do not answer my question. What these verses teach is that you should believe in the good news, but it does not require belief in this or that or any other Gospel. The authors of Mark, over its centuries of development, never emended the text to say, “repent and believe in this gospel,” there’s a reason for that, the verse is conveying the point that it’s good to believe in what Jesus brought, i.e. his message, not the documents written by people decades later who never knew him. Rather, what is emphasized for belief is in him, Jesus, not any written work by any man. That’s the point I’m trying to make here. There is no requirement to believe in the New Testament as God’s inspired revelation to be saved in Christianity. Consider for a moment, this very important passage:

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. – 2 Timothy 3:16-17 (NIV).

It’s useful for lots of things, except for salvation. This passage does not state that belief in scripture is a requirement to be saved. Scripture is useful for many things, but it’s not a requirement. It’s like the difference between having an umbrella in the rain and not having one. Sure, the umbrella is useful and it is good for many things when it’s raining, but it’s not a necessity or requirement for when you’re going into the outside world. This is the distinction between something’s usefulness and it’s necessity, one is clearly not the other.

So then, the question begs itself, doesn’t it? Do you require the canonized and codified New Testament, to be believed in, as a requirement for your salvation in Christianity? The earliest Christians did not seem to think so, so why do you?

and God knows best.

Pagan Influences in Christian Theology

I recently read from a budding South African theologian of Ad Lucem Ministries that the New Testament’s concept of God is not based on Graeco-Roman philosophy. Yet this does not seem to be the case…(see attached photo), Acts 17:28 (NIV):

cc-2018-jw-acts1728

It is quite peculiar that the New Testament uses the term “ειμι” (to exist) for God but never in the present participle form of “ὤν” (being). What’s interesting is that New Testament’s translators continue to replace in their translations “ειμι” for “ὤν” in English, almost as if the allegedly inspired texts in and of themselves use insufficient language…

We see further examples of a dependency on Platonic-Aristotelian metaphysics in Philippians 2:6, where “μορφε” (form) is translated as “nature or essence”, a completely Platonic-Aristotelian pre-Christian concept in philosophy, referring to the “material whole”.

The Trivium Final

This is why in Christianity, God who is a “ουσια” (substance) can also be immanent, because it fits into the Aristotelian pre-Christian concept of an “accident” (a substance that exists in another substance), i.e. God (a being) in flesh (another substance). This can also be seen in the sense of passion, from the “Praedicamenta”/ 10 Categories of Being, where God (a being) uses a form and thus can experience pain in one sense and not in other because this Being can distinguish between itself (read as quantitatively, therefore “Persons” in the Godhead) and can have various forms (read as qualitatively) hence the hypostatic union.

The Trivium Final

While some Christian apologists deny these dependencies on Platonic-Aristotelian pre-Christian philosophies, by using these terms, they are implying an already understood meaning, which in this case would be the predominant Platonic-Aristotelian metaphysics for their onto-theology of “God”.

It should be noted that this is the reasoning behind Justin Martyr’s statement of:

“And when we say also that the Word, who is the first-birth of God, was produced without sexual union, and that He, Jesus Christ, our Teacher, was crucified and died, and rose again, and ascended into heaven, we propound NOTHING DIFFERENT from WHAT YOU BELIEVE regarding those whom you esteem sons of Jupiter.”

Source: Justin Martyr, The First Apology, Chapter 21.

Some apologists have argued that Justin was using “hyperbole”, this is an ignorant claim, without understanding of basic Graeco-Roman metaphysics.

and Allah knows best.

« Older Entries