Friday, May 17, 2013

Clark, Scripturalism, and Textual Criticism

A recent question about what Clark thought of textual criticism prompted me to consult what resources I have access to. Of course, there is this article, which, while mostly containing actual instances of textual criticism, does make a few general statements, including, among modest disclaimers that "the present writer is not a textual critic" and that "textual criticism is a very difficult and delicate procedure, quite unsuited to the purposes of the present study and admittedly beyond the competence of the present writer":
Most Christians in this country know no Greek, but nearly all recognize that there are competing translations of the Bible. There is the King James Version of noble ancestry; there is the American and now the New American Standard Version; the New International Version; several versions that are more paraphrases than translations (all bad); the Roman Catholic Jerusalem Bible; and translations of all or parts of the Bible by individuals rather than by committees. Surely these different translations confuse the ordinary reader at several places. Can he find a basis for making an intelligent choice? Without guaranteeing infallibility, I think he can, sometimes.
Enemies of the Bible occasionally try to destroy the faith of believers by emphasizing the impossibility of discovering what the apostles actually wrote. The four or five thousand Greek manuscripts differ in many places. Once when I quoted a verse from John’s Gospel to a modernist, she quickly replied, “But how do you know that he actually said that?” By the grace of God, I was able immediately to shoot back, “How do you know Jesus said anything?” The other faculty members at the lunch table gave vocal evidence of a point scored. The modernist woman professor and missionary to India wanted to use some verses, but not others. But she saw then that if she insisted on her verses, she could not object to mine. At any rate the attempt to destroy Christian faith by an appeal to the difficulties of textual criticism has been based on considerable exaggeration.

Then too there are a few places in Clark's other writings in which he mentions textual criticism:

God's Hammer (1995), pgs. 122-123:
The innuendo begins with the suggestion that attempts to explain discrepancies are (usually always) suspiciously twisted. Thus the mind of the reader is prejudiced against the truthfulness of the Scripture. The author hides the fact that the burden of proof lies on the critic to show that no explanation is possible. So many alleged discrepancies have by now been removed by archaeological discoveries that the person who accepts the Word of God needs no longer be terrified by the unsupported doubts of the unbelieving critic. 
There is also another flaw in the argument. The author suggests that there is no use discussing whether the alleged error was missing from the original until we have the original. This seems to betray a forgetfulness of textual criticism. The differences between the Greek New Testament which we have and the autographs are few in number and of slight consequence. Most of them are differences in spelling, or in word order, or in some small detail that does not affect the sense. To suppose that we are so ignorant of the original wording as this argument requires is to cast aside the whole science of textual criticism.
Ancient Philosophy (1997), pgs. 343-344:
In the case of Aristotle we are not dependent on fragments, for we have his complete works; we are perfectly familiar with the usages of his language; the only difficulty is textual, and whoever bases a skepticism on textual criticism asserts that not only nearly all philosophy, but nearly all history as well, before the Renaissance, is forever unknowable. This is a reduction ad absurdum. We can with tolerable certainty ascertain the exact wording of Aristotle; but to understand his thought we need also to know the arguments and discussions of previous men which were the motives to his solution. Are these unknowable? My answer would be, try and see. 
Of course there should be caution. Philological changes should be ascertained and if relevant taken into consideration. But a priori doubts with regard to the possibility of the problem do not provide the right approach. What is needed is a careful induction of the individual passages. If all of them are entirely buried in doubt and difficulty we are condemned to skepticism. But if the knowledge they give is slight, let us not for that reason despise it. Our conclusions may be far more limited than our desires, but I cannot consent to a complete skepticism. We must study each passage and in doing so determine the limits of our knowledge.
Readers should keep in mind, though, that this last reference was originally written in 1929, when Clark was in his late 20's and cannot reasonably be expected to have had his broader philosophy fully developed. With that in mind, there is not much I think we can learn from it in respect to what Clark thought about textual criticism in the context of Scripturalism.

Aside from that, the other references seem to coincide with the conclusion I came to in this post. In short, Clark's philosophy of language and knowledge is such that textual criticism was not likely to be a focal point, for textual criticism has to do with texts, texts have to do with physical objects, and physical objects are not sources of knowledge.

Textual criticism therefore falls under the apologetic category of "for the sake of argument." Obviously, this is not to say "there is no use" for it, simply that it cannot "guarantee infallibility." This cuts two ways: non-Christians use textual criticism to undercut a Christian's epistemology, and Christians can't use textual criticism as a basis for a knowledge-claim, though it could function as a basis for opinions; as Clark remarked in Karl Barth's Theological Method (1997), pg. 147, "Must not all people act on the assumption that their beliefs are true?" The question of how then we do know Scripture is a separate one, one which Clark went out of his way to particularly answer. From Modern Philosophy (2008), pg. 272, in response to those who asked him, "don't you have to read your Bible?":
Explicitly in I John the object is the truth or proposition, “God is light.” This proposition cannot be seen in any literal sense. Therefore, since words are arbitrary signs, whose meaning is fixed by ordinary language, the hundreds of Scriptural verbs to which empirical apologetics refer do not support the role of sensation which presumably – though they are never clear on what this role is – those apologists desire to give it.
 To finish, once and for all, with the question “Don’t you read your Bible?” Abraham Kuyper in The Work of the Holy Spirit (I, 4, 57), beginning with a quotation from Geuido de Bres, says,
“That which we call Holy Scripture is not paper with black impressions.” Those letters are but tokens of recognition; those words are only clicks of the telegraph key signaling thoughts to our spirits alone the lines of our visual and auditory nerves. And the thoughts so signaled are not isolated and incoherent, but parts of a complete system that is directly antagonistic to man’s thought, yet enters their sphere.
 The analogy may still be too Behavioristic, but the main thought is sound.
The original autographs of Scripture and the copies thereof are texts, so according to Clark's epistemology, the reading or hearing of the message of these texts would merely provides the occasion upon which God mediates the propositional knowledge that the text signifies to our mind. God has preserved the signs throughout the various physical transcriptions. But even if not all individual copies precisely signify what the original did - and again, the person who alleges this must presuppose and therefore defend empiricism if this is supposed to be a death blow to Christianity rather than a mere opinion, though what Clark says in the God's Hammer quote above is sufficient regardless - that would not prevent God from illumining His people, for God does not need to rely on physical objects to communicate knowledge of truth to us.

1 comment:

Max said...

Yup, the Bible does not lose power, even though translated differently (or even badly) into all languages. However, I think all the English translations today could have been done better. I am currently focusing on reading the Bible in the original languages, and it has been very revealing.

Also about the Septuagint (the OT of the Eastern Church) - the most troubling textual differences are in showing different digits of a person's age, or the length of a king's reign; especially in Genesis, Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles. I've decided that the Septuagint is 99 percent the word of God. lol.