Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Textual Criticism and Presuppositionalism

There's been an interesting dialogue between James White and Robert Truelove going on about textual criticism and presuppositionalism. One of my best friends goes to the latter's church. A few weeks ago, my friend mentioned that in a recent post on textual criticism (link), I unwittingly agreed with his and his pastor's position on the subject. After listening to both White and Truelove (here and here), he may be right. I would at least agree with many of the epistemological arguments he brings up which I don't think White addressed sufficiently.

For instance, I could be wrong, but it seems as though White thinks that our epistemic justification for our belief in the content of Scripture is inferential. That is, we're epistemically justified if we correctly reason to the correct content. Correct reasoning involves providing various textual evidences for a particular assertion. That's how we get to the knowledge of what the apostles said.

In that case, though, what justification we have for our beliefs about particular passages, especially those which have been differently codified in different manuscripts (textual variation) - which are questions White continually presses - would ultimately seem, on this view, to be probabilistic at best. After all, we may have more manuscripts and historical awareness than did previous generations, but our generations after us may have more than we do. What they will have may "correctly" overturn - on whatever White's own criteria is (he doesn't specify it) by which we can most correctly reason to a knowledge of divine revelation - what we now "correctly" currently think. What we now think to be the "best" manuscripts or evidence for a particular choice among textual variants may change.

I think this is why Truelove doesn't believe White is being a consistent presuppositionalist. Clark, Van Til, Bahnsen, etc. think that our epistemic justification for a belief in a self-authenticating, divine revelation is infallible. White seemed to take offense at the idea he wasn't a presuppositionalist, but I didn't hear him actually answer the method by which he himself weighs textual evidence - is the method one of his own making amounting to something like a cumulative case epistemology, one which he would purport to be supported by Scripture, our epistemological foundation... or something else? Perhaps he has answered this in one of his books or other videos, but it would have been helpful to someone like me to hear what that answer is.

And this is why I think both seem to be talking past one another. Truelove wants to press White into specifying how he knows what divine revelation is given what would seem to be prima facie evidentialism by White, not a presuppositional epistemology. White wants to press Truelove into specifying what divine revelation is, given Truelove's presuppositionalism.

I think Truelove hesitates to answer White's question because he doesn't want to give the impression that he thinks textual criticism is the ground for his epistemic justification in believing specific content, even though textual criticism could indeed have, say, an apologetic role in the life of a Christian. I don't really know why White hesitates to answer Truelove's question except other than that it hits the mark. While I'm not sure I would agree with what else he says, I agree with Truelove to this extent, if I've understood him correctly.


Beau Sutton said...

The reason that White does not want to deal with the Presuppsitions of the issue is that he indeed believes that the text is corrupted and must be restored to what the autographs said. The problem is that we don't have the autographs and the textual critics gave up on the enterprise of restoration to the autographs decades ago.

White's view simply does not square with an infallible text, which is self-attesting and preserved in all ages (WCF/LBC Ch1).

A J MacDonald Jr said...

White is embarrassed by the confessional view of scripture (=preservation of the infallible apographs) and wants to be seen as sophisticated and intellectual, which is why he defends the critical text and mocks those who hold to the confessional text. He has the same position as a liberal unbeliever, like Bart Ehrman, except that he wants to have his critical text and his orthodoxy too. Ehrman is intellectually honest enough to know this isn't possible, if one is to be logically consistent, and has rejected his faith. White isn't intellectually honest and tries to persuade people they can adopt the naturalistic methodology of unbelieving critical scholars while maintaining their faith at the same time. James White is what E.F. Hills referred to as one of "the brethren who are trying to carry water on both shoulders."

Ryan said...

To expand on your point, Beau, what's interesting is that in our not having the autographs themselves - and at this point in history, what even would be the non-revelational epistemological methodology by which we could know that an autograph is an autograph? - what that means is that given manuscripts may or may not accurately reflect those autographs, each to varying degrees. If our starting point requires us to justify from among these manuscripts which is and isn't authentic to the original autographs, as there is no text of which we can be aware that can function as an infallible standard of comparison, we face an insurmountable problem.

This doesn't seem to be a problem for presuppositionalists who believe they can ground their epistemic justification on the actually content encoded, content which historically has been encoded and preserved in various manuscripts. That is, while our knowledge of special divine revelation may have been caused by texts, it may not be epistemically justified for us on the basis of having "correctly" judged the "authenticity" of texts.

Of course, God's special revelation was encoded in physical media for a reason. There's no denying that, nor would I wish to. It's definitely providential that He did so. But if one takes a position that awareness of textual transmission (at the very least) is a precondition for the epistemic justification of one's belief in special divine revelation, then that means that his standard by which he evaluates the authenticity of texts - that he should appeal to earliest [available] or "best" manuscripts or whatnot - is not only made up by himself but also potentially subject to revision. Hence, the criticism of White.

Btw, I was talking to an elder at my church this past week about textual criticism and Mark 16 and John 8 after Sunday school, and we both agreed about the need to keep presuppositionalism in mind. He even mentioned Kruger's book and I told him I had it. It was just a bit funny to have that happen and then a few days later hear White and Truelove mention Kruger in a debate about the same issue. Tell your pastor I said hi and to keep up the good work.

A J,

I'm sure White would defend the idea of preservation, and in his comments made in his video, he does acknowledge that we need to keep in mind that throughout the historical process of textual transmission, God is in control. The issue, I think, is why White thinks this needs to be kept in mind. Doesn't that doctrine derive from special divine revelation and, if so, then how is it that White seems to think we are supposed to reason to rather than from special divine revelation?

Ryan said...

Thanks for the response, David. Sorry, but I accidentally deleted your comment in attempting to delete one of my own. Whoops!

I want to point out that I don't pretend to have a sophisticated view of the landscape of "applied" textual criticism. In other words, I'm sure that if White and I disagree about a textual variant, in more cases than not, he could provide arguments which are more convincing.

Even so, I would still have a problem with how he seems to think he knows what the apostles wrote. This post and others like it are just a product of my epistemology and apologetics. They are intended to deal with the proper role of textual criticism. I hope that comes across to the reader.

David Waltz said...

Hi Ryan,

Here is the deleted post:

>>Thanks much for this informative post. It concerns a topic that has been of great interest to me for a number of years now. Being born into the Jehovah Witnesses sect (4th generation), I was by default a supporter of the minority text position. After my exit from the JWs, the works of Aland, Carson, Metzger and Warfield kept me a solid advocate of the minority view. However, after purchasing and reading a two volume collection of John William Burgon's works, I began to have some serious doubts about the minority position. I subsequently learned of the works by Reformed scholars who built upon the formidable foundation established by Burgon—e.g. David F. Hills, Jeffrey Khoo, Theodore P. Letis—and after years of continued research, have moved from the minority to the majority position (which, as you have pointed out, is also the view defended by Gordon H. Clark).

Anyway, thanks again for your post. For what it is worth, I hope to share some of my own research into this topic next year at AF.>>

As for textual criticism proper, I think you will find some value in the following site:

Bible versions and text, preservation, manuscripts course

Grace and peace,


Ryan said...

Smart to copy and save your posts. You must be very organized! Thanks again.

Max said...


But when you bring up Burgon, James White will tell you that Burgon lived before the discovery of the papyri in 1898 and 1912, which invalidated basically all the arguments Burgon made in his books.

David Waltz said...

Hello Max,

Your post brought to mind the following:

>>THE more ancient testimony is probably the better testimony. That it is not by any means always so is a familiar fact. To quote the known dictum of a competent judge : 'It is no less true to fact than paradoxical in sound, that the worst corruptions to which the New Testament has ever been subjected, originated within a hundred years after it was composed ; that Irenaeus and the African Fathers and the whole Western, with a portion of the Syriac Church, used far inferior manuscripts to those employed by Stunica, or Erasmus, or Stephen, thirteen centuries after, when moulding the Textus Receptus.' Therefore Antiquity alone affords no security that the manuscript in our hands is not infected with the corruption which sprang up largely in the first and second centuries.>> (John William Burgon, The Traditional Text of the Holy Gospels Vindicated and Established, 1896, p. 40.)

Grace and peace,


Todd (AV) said...

I appreciate the attempt to apply presuppositionalism to the textual issue. I think it needs to be explored more thoroughly.
In the interest of apologetics I would like to invite you to prayerfully consider the case I advance for the logically consistent nature of a particular view of KJVonlyism here:
In Christ,

Ryan said...

It seems to me that when it comes to presuppositionalism, the issue shouldn't be so much about discussion of texts as it should be the meaning of texts.

The former is obviously important, as it is the medium through which we normally encounter the latter, yet it is not so important as to require such a dogmatic position as textual exclusivism.

Southern Israelite said...

Hey man. Long time no see. I am going through some issues with some guys and I remember years ago us having a dialogue on whether or not hypotheses are infinite. I think you rebuked me on it and I came around I can't remember. Did you write anything on the issue? Do you have any links?