How were the Changes Determined
A short history of the development of the critical apparatus used to analyze the Bible
Biblical textual criticism, called a science, is based entirely on theories developed by various scholars over several centuries. It is concerned with the origin of the text and the value of the text. The decisions are always based on human reason.
Quoting former Dallas Seminary Professor Zane Hodges, determinations made concerning the authenticity of biblical passages are not made on the basis of "factual data which can be objectively verified, , but rather upon a prevailing consensus of critical thought."
Here are some of the theories developed over time to analyze scripture and as a result, create doubt of its infallibility.
- The basic assumption is that the scriptures became corrupted through the transmission of time. The variant readings contained in manuscripts other than the textus receptus are believed to be the proof that biblical readings that have come down to us are not necessarily reliable.
- Note: According the the Encyclopedia of Religion & Ethics The Bible in the Church, the foundation of the new era of Biblical criticism beginning during the mid 18th century was laid before this time by the efforts of two camps.
First the Catholic church calling the Bible "the Protestants' paper Pope", took pains "to destroy faith in the infallibility of the Bible".
In the other camp were those who used "the strictly scientific method of investigation which was adopted by the Arminians."
These ideas from the Dutch Arminians were introduced later by Johann Semler of Halle University in Germany.
Richard Simon, a French Roman Catholic in the late 1600s, supposed that , Moses can not be the author of all the books attributed to him, a chapter heading in his book, Histoire critique . He belonged to an association of priests called the French Oratory who were in seminary training.
His reason for doubting the authorship of Moses was that there were duplicate accounts of the same events but written with different literary styles.
- He was the first to attempt to write a history of the Bible as a literary work.
- He developed the theory that from the time of Moses, there were among the Israelites, scribes and historians who recorded various events, oratory, and religious teachings for posterity, but that these writings were never put together and edited until after the Babylonian exile. This he maintained to be the origin of the Old Testament.
- He postulated that the Masoretic Text (the text of the Old Testament which has come down to us as opposed to the Septuagint which is a variant and not accepted) should be given a late date of origin due to the Hebrew vowel usage and the type of script.
Astruc, Louis XIV's physician, discovered within the Pentateuch (first 5 books of the Bible) two separate names given for God which he supposed to represent two separate sources of information. This gave him justification to believe that Moses could not be the author and that the accepted view of the origin of these books of the Bible was wrong. This is called the hypothesis of the two sources.
John Mills published an edition of the Greek Text, a work of 30 years during the later part of the 1600s. He brought together from Greek manuscripts, writings of early fathers, and early versions, thousands of variant readings for various passages.
Anthony Collins,a member of a growing sect called "The Freethinkers", on the basis of Mills writings, wrote in 1713 a discourse in which he made the following points:
- Because of so many variant readings, the Bible cannot be considered authoritative in history or dogma.
- Free inquiry using human reason is the only means for attaining the truth and that this will then help human society to progress.
- Biblical prophesy has only allegorical interpretation. The Old Testament contains no prophesies of Christ.
- The New Testament canon is not trustworthy.
- He denied the immortality of the soul.
Richard Bentley developed a canon of criticism still seen by textual critics today as a basis for their work. He was a classical rather than a biblical scholar.
During the early 1700s, he developed some principles for determining which variant readings were valid.
- He postulated that “the difficult is to be preferred to the easy reading.” If a passage was changed, he believed that a scribe would more likely have changed a passage to an easier, rather than to a harder, reading.
- He used a process called"conjectural emendation" to determine the right reading. This concept is simply the use of the critic's instinctive feeling as to what an author meant.
Another 18th century critic was Johann Bengel of Wurttemberg who published in 1734. He did not regard the number of witnesses containing a particular passage as evidence for its authenticity. He was influenced by John Mills.
(Note: The Textus Receptus, or the received text from which the Authorized or King James version was translated, as well as translations made in other languages, agrees with the majority of all documents - manuscripts, codexes, etc. - which are still available. When a verse or phrase is removed from the more recent versions, the reason given is that the oldest text available does not contain it. However, the majority of all extant documents do contain it but are ignored because of the theory developed here by Bengel.)
Jean Leclerc, also an 18th century critic, believed that man's reason was sufficient to determine all he needs to know of salvation.
The Textus Receptus is abandoned by the critics in the late 1700's
- Johann Semler of Halle was a critic of the late 18th century influenced by the Dutch Arminians and the discoveries of Richard Simon.
He rejected the deity of Jesus Christ and believed that revelation must be judged by human reason. The sophisticated mind should have no obligation to believe what is "unreasonable" in the Bible. He developed several critical theories.
- He developed the accomodation theory. This theory posited that Jesus and the Apostles accomodated themselves to the culture of their time, including the prevelant prejudices and errors.
- Another theory developed by Semler was the recension theory, which assumed that the Received Text (the Textus Receptus) was an editorial recension created several centuries after the Apostles. Therefore, he believed that all orthodox doctrines were late additions.
- Johann Jakob Griesbach was one of Semler's students and later in 1775 appointed Professor of New Testament at Jena. He adopted many of Semlers theories and like Semler denied the deity of Christ.
Greisbach was the first to abandon the Textus Receptus.
- He developed the critical principle that the shorter reading should be selected over the longer one. In his 1796 revised Greek Text, on this basis, he considered Mark 16:9-20 a spurious reading and rejected it.
- He adopted from Semler the belief that orthodox readings should be suspect. Orthodox readings (i.e. readings establishing dogma, especially the dogma of the deity of Christ) were thought to have been added to the text by textual editors in the early centuries.
Note: The influence of Griesbach's theories extended within 13 years of his publishing his critical Greek New Testament to Harvard. Joseph Buckminster “persuaded the officials at Harvard College in 1809 to publish an American edition of Griesbach’s critical Greek New Testament, because he saw its value in promoting text criticism, in his opinion, ‘a most powerful weapon to be used against the supporters of verbal inspiration’” (Theodore Letis, The Ecclesiastical Text, p. 2).
- Ferdinand Christian Baur, Professor of Theology at Tubingen, applied Hegel's philosophy of history (thesis, antithesis, synthesis) to the origin of the New Testament scripture.
His theories were:
- Primitive Christianity was a struggle between different views. The outcome or synthesis of this struggle was the Catholic Church.
- The only authentic letters of Paul were Galations, Corinthians, and Romans.
- The Gospel of John was a synthesis which reconciled the Christians and the Gnostics and was written during the 2nd century. According to Baur, it is therefore not historically valid.
- Karl Lachmann, a professor of philology in Berlin and described as a rationalist, was the first to reject the Textus Receptus in favor of 4th century manuscripts not part of the Textus Receptus.
He acted upon the suggestion made in the mid 18th century by Richard Bentley.
He established the principle that they should start to look at the ancient manuscripts of the 4th century instead of "the late printed text" which is how they described the majority of surviving manuscripts and witnesses making up the Textus Receptus.
He wrote works published in 1842 and 1850 which carried on many of Johann Griesbach's ideas.
He entertained these views:
- He did not believe that the original text of the New Testament could have survived to his day.
He believed it must be hopelessly corrupted.
- He believed that simply on the basis of age, the 4th century texts of Vaticanus and a few others were the best renderings.
- He believed that Erasmus' translation (the Received Text from which the authorized version in English and other languages was made) was based on only a handful of late manuscripts which because they were late must of necessity be corrupted. See note on this page about the Textus Receptus.
- Note: Lachmann's texts were rarely supported by more than four Greek codices and sometimes only one or two.
- Julius Wellhausen saw the religion of Israel as the product of an evolutionary process, starting from a heathen state and progressing to a form of monotheism. His theories included:
- The religion of the Israelites was of human concoction.
- Because the religion of the Israelites evolved, the prophetic movement must have come before the law.
Therefore, the Old Testament books are out of order.
- He proposed that the writing of the books of the law of the Old Testament did not occur until 621 BC and that the priesthood was not established until 450 BC.
- Gunkel was an Old Testament critic of the late 1800s. His theories were:
- There was a long oral tradition before the Old Testament documents were actually written. These oral traditions changed over time. As situations changed, the oral traditions were revised.
- The ancients were not able to distinguish between what really happened and what was story or saga. Therefore, the Old Testament cannot be historically reliable.
- The purpose of these Old Testament stories was to teach moral lessons.
This is only a sampling of the textual critics whose theories have impacted the belief in the infallibilty of the Bible text and the faith in God's preservation of His Word.
Here are some thoughts to counter the theories of the critics.
- A book fashioned by the means that these critics imagine could never be the Word of God. "..the things of God knoweth no man.." (I Corinthians 2:13)
If no man on his own can know the things of God, how can any man judge whether certain readings, chapters, or books are from God.
- Scientific investigation presumes an objective investigator with no bias towards the subject of his research. The bulk of these textual critics began as rationalists - rationalism being a movement which read the Bible no longer as God's word, but as a product of human composition.
Their theories were not based on irrefutable facts, but colored by their presuppositions.
- If the truths God wants us to know can be discovered through natural means, then we have no need for the truth to be revealed to us by God. We can determine truth on our own.
But the Bible is revelation and contained within the word, revelation, is the idea of revealing something hidden. If it is hidden, there is no way to discover it by natural means, and if it is not hidden, then it is obvious and there is no need for God to tell us.
- Paul writes in Ephesians 3:3-5 that "..by revelation he made known unto me the mystery,..whereby, ...ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ..which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit.."
"...which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God.." verse 9
Galations 1:11 "But I certify you...that the gospel which was preached of me is not after man. For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ."
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