Dividing the Word

By tag surfing and otherwise being a part of the WordPress blogging community, I have been places where I would not normally tread in the Orthoblogosphere and my other blogrolled regular reads. It has been an interesting time dabbling in liberal Christian and agnostic and even atheist blogs.

I have seen everything from “the Bible means whatever it means to me” to the more Dawkins-esque, “If I can find an error in the Bible, then the whole house of cards falls apart and God is a figment of the imagination”.

As I was reading James Arlandson’s “Review of Bart D. Ehrman’s Misquoting Jesus” in American Thinker, I thought about one of the advantages of being an Orthodox Christian. As a Protestant, I was well-versed in the ins and outs of Biblical inerrancy. When someone told me C.S. Lewis was an errantist, I picked myself up off the floor, tucked that tidbit away – way away – and moved on.

Lower textual criticism used to be very important to me. (I have never had any time for higher criticism.) Though for the Orthodox the Bible is just as much the Word of God as for other conservative Christians, it doesn’t matter so much whether you are looking at a New Testament translation from the Majority Text or the Alexandrian texts or an Old Testament translation from the Septuagint or the Masoretic text. It certainly isn’t necessary to have the “autographs.”

For the Orthodox, it is what the Bible says and not the exact conjugation or declension employed that is important. This is because the Bible is an expression of the Holy Tradition handed down by the Apostles, not something apart from it. While knowing the grammar is essential to an exegetical understanding of the text, valid exegesis does not exist outside the Tradition of the Church. (Or to put it in theological terms, there is no valid exegesis without eisegesis. I will now pause for a moment for all my Protestant friends to pick themselves up off the floor.)

There is therefore no theological argument emerging because one verb tense or preposition is used in the Alexandrian text (or the NIV and NASB) whilst another is used in the Byzantine texts (or the NKJV). The Church already knows what it says, because it says something the Church has been saying since before it was written down. It was written down by people who were a part of the Church and what is and isn’t inspired canon was decided by the Church.

The final list (which was never incorporated into the declaration of any Ecumenical Council) coalesced between the time of the First and Second Councils. The earliest document to show this was written 367, but there is no reason to believe that everyone had agreed on that list by that point. Most bits had been absolutely in for centuries and some bits were debated for a long time. But the Church from Pentecost still held onto the Faith once for all delivered to the saints.

The Protestants even threw out a bunch of Old Testament books that had been used universally by the Church for 1500 years, so that even now I don’t have a complete Bible in my house. I’m eleven books short. The Catholics and Orthodox even disagree about the books excluded by Martin Luther. We have I Esdras and III and IV Maccabees and they don’t. But even with an Old Testament missing 22% of its books (though I’m not sure of the percentage of actual text) Protestants have still managed (in all likelihood) to make it to heaven, some even leading what appear to be quite holy and Christ-like lives along the way.

I would say that missing 22% of the individual books would be a more substantial issue than even the occasional entire verse missing from the Alexandrian New Testament texts.  Likewise there are still many ethnic groups in the world who do not have the entire Bible (even in the Protestant sense) translated into their language. Yet they receive the Gospel and walk in the Light.

And yet none of this changes the fact that the Bible is the Word of God.

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9 Responses to Dividing the Word

  1. Michael says:

    You got me curious, so I took down my New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocrypha from the shelf and discovered that the Old Testament section has 1163 pages and the Apocrypha section (which includes all the books the Orthodox include) has 331, which totals 1494. Remarkably, 331 pages is indeed just over 21% of 1494 pages.

    Just a nitpick – it wasn’t exactly Martin Luther who threw the books out, though he was involved in one stage of the process, setting them in a separate section and giving them deuterocanonical status. In my old Lutheran-published copy of Luther’s German Bible the apocrypha is there, in a separate section. It was others who threw it completely out. Tobit & II Maccabees are quoted in the Lutheran Confessions.

    I’m not sure that they were used “universally”, as St. Jerome & others had some of the same doubts that the Protestants later did.

    Enough with the nitpicking. Arlandson’s analysis of Ehrman’s (il)logic is perceptive, and he is right when he says, ” … Ehrman is needlessly provocative. He sells fear to the untrained readers.” The disappointing thing is that he can do better. Ehrman’s response to The Da Vinci Code is one of the best books on the subject overall.

    As a Protestant inerrantist myself I’m saddened that Ehrman was so shaken by certain issues that never have really bothered me all that much. I may simply have a higher tolerance for ambiguity than some. I know it makes me cringe when inerrancy is explained, by both friends and foes, in terms that seem like an imposition of foreign categories onto the biblical text.

  2. Michael says:

    PS – even the (Chalcedonian) Orthodox don’t include some books that others include, such as I Enoch, part of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church’s Bible.

  3. Michael says:

    PPS – I meant to say that 331 is indeed just over 22% of the total text, page-wise.

  4. Huw Raphael says:

    While I *agree* with you… this one knocked me off my chair: ” there is no valid exegesis without eisegesis.” Because I was told by a priest that Orthodoxy forbids eisegesis. My claim – which got me in trouble – was that Orthodoxy permits Eisegetics – but, only approved ones. He claimed Orthodoxy was all in the text and no eisegesis was involved.

    It’s a curious circle… this Authority question. One must decide whose authority one is going to accept, by which one means whose exegetical authority. One must first decide on what basis one can accept claims to authority. To do this most folks, Prot or not, resort to Biblical texts… which require exegesis (which, ultimately assumes eisegesis) – which means, to some extent or other one has already answered the questions going in. You have to add the leaven to the loaf in order to make it rise. One can take the leaven of Anglicanism or Orthodoxy or the Charismatic movement… But one has decided that that’s the right leaven before it happens.

    Or else Orthodoxy forbids eisegesis.

  5. Dave says:

    Huw, what I meant was that saying that the Church defines what the Bible teaches in inherently eisegetical. The text does not stand on its own. It’s part of a greater whole.

    Michael, thank you for the statistical and historical information. I would not want to put anything underservedly at the door of Martin Luther.

  6. Huw Raphael says:

    Yes. I agreed. But which whole you plug it into – which frame you use to make sense out if it – is decided beforehand. You decide you want the Orthodox Church to be the reading you want to use and lo, the Orthodox reading makes sense.

  7. Grumpy Teacher says:

    Dave,

    Thanks for this post. I’ve been thinking over this very issue the past few weeks.

  8. IRISHBOY says:

    So what books are missing and why?

  9. Dave says:

    All of the books that are in the Septuagint and not in the Hebrew canon, have been relegated to the Apocrypha by Protestants. The Church throughout the early centuries (though, as Michael point out, there were some doubters such as St Jerome) used the Septuagint as the authoritative version of the Old Testament.

    I’m not sure of all the reasons that the Reformers reverted to the Hebrew canon. However, one misnomer that Protestant often seem to have is that the books not in the Hebrew canon were added by the Roman Church at the Council of Trent. Trent only reaffirmed the books of Scripture that had always been in use, as it specifically addressed issues raised by the Reformation.

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