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Bart Ehrman describes why he left the faith in his book Misquoting Jesus (8–9):
A turning point came in my second semester . . . . we had to write a final term paper on an interpretive crux of our own choosing. I chose a passage in Mark 2, where Jesus is confronted by the Pharisees because his disciples had been walking through a grain field, eating the grain on the Sabbath. Jesus wants to show the Pharisees that “Sabbath was made for humans, not humans for the Sabbath” and so reminds them of what the great King David had done when he and his men were hungry, how they went into the Temple “when Abiathar was the high priest” and at the show bread, which was only for the priests to eat. One of the well-known problems of the passage is that when one looks at the Old Testament passage that Jesus is citing (1 Sam. 21:1–6), it turns out that David did this not when Abiathar was the high priest, but, in fact, when Abiathar’s father Ahimelech was. In other words, this is one of those passages that have been pointed to in order to show that the Bible is not inerrant at all but contains mistakes.
In my paper for Professor Story, I developed a long and complicated argument to the effect that even though Mark indicates this happened “when Abiathar was the high priest,” it doesn’t really mean that Abiathar was the high priest, but that the event took place in the part of the scriptural text that has Abiathar as one of the main characters. My argument was based on the meaning of the Greek words involved and was a bit convoluted. I was pretty sure Professor Story would appreciate the argument, since I knew him as a good Christian scholar who obviously (like me) would never think there could be anything like a genuine error in the Bible. But at the end of my paper he made a simple one-line comment that for some reason went straight through me. He wrote: “Maybe Mark just made a mistake.” I started thinking about it, considering all the work I had put into the paper, realizing that I had had to do some pretty fancy exegetical footwork to get around the problem, and that my solution was in fact a bit of a stretch. I finally concluded, “Hmm . . . maybe Mark did make a mistake.”
Once I made that admission, the floodgates opened. For if there could be one little, picayune mistake in Mark 2, maybe there could be mistakes in other places as well. . . .
I am convinced that Ehrman is mistaken, not Mark. In the passage Ehrman describes, Mark 2:23–28, Mark presents Jesus making a sophisticated interpretive connection by using the name “Abiathar.” That is, neither Mark nor Jesus is in error. Rather, Mark is presenting Jesus using the name Abiathar in the service of a wider, typological connection. I would invite you to consider the questions I ask about this passage in “The Typology of David’s Rise to Power” (13):
Much discussion has been generated by the fact that Mark 2:26 portrays Jesus referring to “the time of Abiathar the high priest,” when it appears that at the time, Ahimelech would have been the high priest. Goppelt simply asserts: “Mark says Abiathar, but that is an error.” But perhaps there are typological forces at work here, too. David did interact with Ahimelech in 1 Samuel 21:1–9, but Abiathar is the priest who escapes from Doeg’s slaughter (22:20). Could the reference to Abiathar be intentional? Could Mark be presenting Jesus as intentionally alluding to Abiathar’s escape from the slaughter of the priests ordered by Saul and carried out by Doeg the Edomite? Could this be a subtle way for Jesus to remind the Pharisees (“Have you never read,” Mark 2:25) that the opposition to David was wicked and murderous? If this is so, the typological connection suggested by the reference to Abiathar in Mark might be that just as Saul and Doeg opposed David and Abiathar’s household, so also the Pharisees are opposing Jesus and his followers.
In the wider context of this paragraph I discuss the flow of the passage in Samuel and the kind of interpretation Mark presents. Thanks to the generosity of The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology, a PDF of the essay is free to you.
 Goppelt, Typos, 85 n. 106.
 Having come to this position, I was pleased to find a similar suggestion in Rikk E. Watts, “Mark,” in Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament, ed. G. K. Beale and D. A. Carson (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2007), 141: “If the point is to establish an authoritative precedent, then the actions of Abiathar, as Ahimelech’s son, in taking the ephod to David to become his chief priest and subsequent blessing underscore God’s affirmation of Ahimelech’s decision, his presence with David, and his abandonment of David’s opponent Saul. Not only are Jesus’ disciples justified, but also to oppose them (and, of course, Jesus) is to oppose both ‘David’ and ultimately God, who vindicated him and will also vindicate Jesus.”
Peter Enns assumes there was a dominant world-picture or cosmology in the ancient Near East, and Paul Seely published several articles advocating the idea that the earth is a flat disk and the sky a solid dome in Westminster Theological Journal.
In a comment on an earlier post, Steve Hays has drawn attention to an essay that also appeared in WTJ by Noel K. Weeks,”Cosmology in Historical Context,” WTJ 68 (2006): 283–93.
This essay demonstrates that it is impossible to maintain that there was a universal world-picture held by all people in the ANE, that the world-picture Enns assumes in the graphic to the left from this post cannot be conclusively constructed from Enuma Elish, and thus that Enns and others are assuming their conclusions when they speak of, among other things, all people in the ancient world thinking the earth was a flat disk floating on the waters or that there was a solid dome over the earth [Enns writes: “The biblical writers thought the earth was a flat disk. . . . Likewise, the Bible speaks of the sky overhead as a dome.”].
Some highlights from the essay by Weeks (footnotes deleted):
It is common to proclaim this or that element of Scripture as a reflection of views or practices of the time. The confidence with which this is said conveys to the reader that recovering what was generally believed or done at the time is easy. Often that is far from the case. If we are dealing particularly with the OT, then the problem is greater because of the lack of extra-biblical material from Palestine. One passage may be illuminated by another passage of Scripture, but it could be argued that both passages are reflections of common views of the time. Ideally, we need copious documentation external to the biblical text and rarely is that the case. Externally written material from Palestine that will illumine things such as cosmological beliefs is non-existent. The resort to Ugaritic material to fill the gap left by the lack of Palestinian material brings its own problems of being certain that Ugarit is fully representative of Palestinian beliefs and practices. Mute archaeological findings may somewhat fill that gap but material remains speak to a limited range of issues. The course of argument from mute archaeological findings to abstract beliefs is so problematic as to be not worth considering (284).
Is a distinction between the Cosmological and theological demonstrably part of the common conceptions of the world in which Scripture originated? The answer is an unambiguous negative! That distinction is a modern one and thus is part of what we bring to the past. It looks very much like a popular version of Kant’s distinction between the noumena and the phenomena. So an interpretation of the biblical text in which such a distinction is foundational involves an element of eisegesis, no matter how much the user may intend to put Scripture in its context (285).
Yet, one must concede a certain attractiveness to this distinction between the physical and the religious. It forms a way in which difficult passages of Scripture may be dealt with while the “theological” truths are apparently still maintained (286).
The force of Seely’s argument depends upon there being a uniform pre-modern belief. All that is needed to undermine the argument is an example of a different belief, preferably from a culture close to ancient Israel. The culture contemporary with the writing of the OT that gives us the most information about cosmological beliefs is Mesopotamia.
Since Seely published his views, a comprehensive review of Mesopotamian cosmology has appeared in Wayne Horowitz’s Mesopotamian Cosmic Geography. Significant Mesopotamian evidence exists in a text which shows a drawing of land surrounded by a circular ocean. In reference to this drawing, Seely does not mention that the map also shows regions beyond the sea. Horowitz is undecided whether these regions are islands or larger landmasses. Whatever the case, the drawing is not evidence for a simple picture of the earth as land surrounded by a circular ocean. We might postulate that the Mesopotamians believed that the landmass on which they lived was surrounded by sea, but that they also knew that theirs was not the only land (286).
Yet, there is not a consistent belief that below the solid surface was a watery Apsu. Building texts describe the foundations of a building being placed on the underworld or the surface of the underworld. The roots of mountains also go down to the underworld. Further complicating the picture is a text where the gods dig a ditch for the sea with a plough so that the sea would actually rest on the earth’s surface. These varying pictures should warn us that there is not a simple, uniform physical picture being presented (287).
Having discussed the details of Enuma Elish, Weeks writes:
What this examination shows us is that one can form a physical and geometric model if one is selective in what one chooses to quote from Enuma Elish, but not if one takes each passage that should be relevant. This situation raises a fundamental issue. Was the author thinking in terms of a physical and geometric model? For modern thinkers cosmology primarily implies a physical model. In trying to abstract the cosmology of an ancient text, we naturally look for what physical model we can extract. By selective quotation, we can obtain such a model. Yet, if all the details will not fit a physical and geometric picture, are we engaging in correct exegesis? (289–90).
On the raqia as a solid dome:
Seely argues that there is a common pre-modern conception of the sky as a solid dome. Hence, the writers of the Bible must have been thinking of the firmament of Gen 1:6-8 as solid. His primary argument from the biblical text itself rests upon the meaning of raqia. The root has the sense of stamping or beating out something. Seely’s view has been contested by J. P. Holding who points out that the raqia is called heaven (Gen 1:8). Birds fly in heaven (Deut 4:17) and God is enthroned in heaven (Ps 11:4), so it cannot be conceived as a solid structure. Seely attempted to deal with this in his original article by saying that heaven is wider than the raqia. However, the proof texts that he cites for that proposition are all texts which show that heaven is not solid. Thus, they prove that heaven is wider than the raqia only if we accept the point at issue that the raqia must be solid; therefore, a non-solid heaven cannot be completely synonymous with the raqia. This is a clear example of assuming the point at issue (291–92).
In other words, I am willing to confess ignorance as to the import of raqia. Since the expectation that a physical model must have been primary in the mind of the author leads in the wrong direction in other cases, I am reluctant to assume that it is primary here. In the case of the Mesopotamian text with a three-tiered heaven, the necessity of three heavens arises from the need to accommodate various gods. The biblical text has no such need; therefore, a greater indefiniteness about the arrangements of the heavens is not surprising. If the argument for a uniform pre-modern mentality is spurious, as I believe it to be, then Seely’s case really rests on one word. I think that is an insufficient basis for determining biblical cosmology (292).
G. K. Beale has shown that the arguments Peter Enns makes about the use of the OT in the New are based on a selective use of the evidence, and Beale has also demonstrated that Enns is reductionistic about how the Biblical authors appropriated ideas from their contexts. This article by Weeks, in my judgment, shows that those who hold the kinds of views on which Enns bases his theological program have rushed to judgment on the basis of cultural eisegesis and a selective appropriation of the available evidence. What can be known, however, will not support the weight of these conclusions. In addition to all this, Enns is trying to synthesize Christianity and evolution.
Proverbs 18:17 and 1 Thessalonians 5:21 apply here.
Rod Decker has drawn attention to the fact that the NIV 2011 puts the term Selah in the footnotes rather than in the text of the Psalms, and he suggests that the word should never be verbalized by those who read Scripture aloud. I like Rod Decker, but I think his post may be self-contradictory and seems to assume its conclusion. In my view, every word of the canonical form of the Psalter should be presented in the text of translations of the Psalter, factored into our interpretations of the Psalms, and verbalized by those who read the Psalms aloud. Far worse than Decker’s post is the NIV’s decision to remove something from the text of Scripture and place it instead in the footnotes.
Decker writes, “Selah is a bit mysterious, but probably is a musical notation that may have indicated a rest/pause.” What may be self-contradictory about this is the way that Decker first acknowledges that the term is mysterious (and see BDB 699–700 and HALOT 756) and then assumes the conclusion that it’s actually a musical term. [update: I made an honest mistake when I originally typed the next sentence. I did not mean to refer to translations but to those who read the text aloud and factor Selah into their interpretation.] He then
pillories translations that keep it with employs a false analogy, suggesting that reading selah aloud or allowing it to inform our exegesis would be
‘a bit like singing these actual words in the Hallelujah Chorus: “Hallelujah! rest Hallelujah! rest Hallelujah! rest Hallelujah! rest Hallelujah! rest.” I doubt Handel would be pleased!’
The truth is that we don’t ultimately know what this word means, and its use is not uniform. It may be a musical notation, or it may signify something else entirely. Our ignorance and uncertainty, however, does not give us warrant for removing from the text something that is in all the textual evidence in our possession.
For reasons textual, structural, intertextual, cultural, and theological the NIV 2011 should reverse itself on this point and put the word Selah back where it belongs: in the text.
Textual: If the NIV 2011 were following a Hebrew text that lacked Selah in the Psalms, you could make a text-critical argument that the term might have been added to the Psalter after the canonical form of the Psalter was fixed. If, however, the canonical form of the Psalter employs this term, and all the evidence in our possession indicates that it does, can we conclude anything other than that it belongs to the text inspired by the Holy Spirit? In other words, the term Selah does not appear to be some later notation added by the Masoretes. If it’s part of the canonical form of the text, the final edition of the book of Psalms which the Spirit inspired, then those who read translations of the Psalms ought to find that word represented in the translation–in the text, not in a footnote.
Structural: The use of Selah is not uniform in the Psalter, but in some cases it marks out the structure of the Psalm. For instance, the Selah’s in Psalm 84 seem to divide the Psalm into three sections: verses 1–4, verses 5–8, and verses 9–12. If the Sons of Korah put the word Selah into this Psalm to mark out its structure, what right do we have to remove it from the text and put it in a footnote? Are we helping those who would interpret Psalm 84 by doing this? Admittedly not every instance of Selah in the Psalms gives us a clear structure–in some cases it falls in the middle of a modern verse division (see, e.g., 55:20 [ET 19] and 57:4 [ET 3]). Even in these cases, though, this word is part of the evidence that needs to be factored into our interpretation. Does the fact that we don’t understand a bit of textual evidence, or worse, does our conclusion that it’s an irrelevant musical notation (which it might or might not be) give us warrant to remove it from consideration and place it in a footnote?
Intertextual: Selah also occurs in Habakkuk 3:3, 9, and 13. At the very least, keeping Selah in the text alerts someone who has read Psalms and then reads Habakkuk that Habakkuk 3 is written in the form of a Psalm. Would this help someone interpret Habakkuk 3? It should. This concern raises again the way that some translation philosophies are better than others at preserving connections between earlier and later Scripture. Not only does the NIV 2011 suffer from a translation philosophy that is inclined away from preserving such connections, evidently it isn’t even concerned to present the totality of the textual evidence.
Cultural: Which culture will determine how the Bible is understood? Better: which culture will determine how translations of the Bible are presented? Will the ancient culture in which the Bible was written be accurately represented by the texts that come down to us from it, or will our culture be allowed to emasculate those texts and reshape them into our own cultural image? Are those ancient texts allowed to say anything that seems foreign to modern readers, or are they only allowed to say things that we already know from our own culture? If they are allowed to say things that we don’t understand from our own culture, if they are allowed to be ancient and foreign to us, why the need to remove Selah from the text and place it instead in footnotes?
Our culture has been enriched by the presence of the word Selah in the text of the Psalter. We have something from the ancient world to examine, to ponder, and if we feel we’ve come to understand it, to adopt in our own usage. Selah
Theological: If the NIV 2011 does not reverse itself on this issue, can we say that it faithfully presents the text of Psalms as it has come down to us? If it does not, can we regard it as the word of God? Article X of the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy states: “We further affirm that copies and translations of Scripture are the Word of God to the extent that they faithfully represent the original.”
When I read an ancient text from a different culture, I don’t want to look into a linguistic mirror. I would like for that text to feel a little foreign, to feel a little ancient. I don’t want it only telling me what I already know. This word Selah occurs over and over all across the Psalter and into Habakkuk 3. One of the challenges of reading and understanding the Bible is paying attention to all the things the Bible says that we don’t understand, studying those things, and trying to come to a place where we begin to learn what the biblical authors were talking about and how they talked about it.
On the other hand, you could adopt the NIV 2011 as your Bible and it will lessen those unpleasant confrontations with things you don’t recognize from your own culture. After all, your culture is determinative, right?
In his crisp book, Words of Life: Scripture as the Living and Active Word of God, Timothy Ward points out that the suggestion that “Christians are not those who believe in the Bible, but those who believe in Christ” (so saith John Barton) forces “a false dichotomy on us. We do not have to choose between ‘believing in the Bible and ‘believing in Christ. As Christians we are called on to do both” (Ward, Words of Life, 11).
Ward seeks “to articulate, explain and defend what we are really saying when we proclaim, as we must, that the Bible is God’s Word.” He is “attempting to describe the nature of the relationship between God and Scripture” (11), and explains that:
“the kind of doctrine of Scripture this book will outline is one that aims to demonstrate that its every aspect is shaped from the bottom up by the character and actions of God, and is integrally related to God’s being and action, yet without the inert book coming to eclipse the living Saviour” (17).
I had a great time getting to know Tim Ward in the Grand Canyon, and I’m really enjoying hearing his voice in my head as I read his book. I wish I had read it earlier so I could have put it on my hermeneutics syllabus for this fall. I commend it to you.
When I was studying at DTS, my Hebrew prof, who is fairly well known, was really excited about dynamic equivalence translation. I heard his lectures and saw his work. It made me uncomfortable, though I wasn’t in position to show why. I suspected that the logical outcomes of the method he was teaching would be bad. I also suspected that if I was uncomfortable about what the teacher was doing, it would probably be worse when applied by the students to whom he was teaching this method, students with less expertise and experience.
Let me be clear: the particular practitioner of the method of dynamic equivalence is not the problem. My beef here is not with my prof. I only mention him and my experience in his class to say that I have been taught by a real live proponent of the method. I have heard his arguments. I am not reacting against “those anonymous people out there” with whom I have no real acquaintance. I disagree with him, but it’s nothing personal. I once gave him tickets to a Rangers versus Yankees game at The Ballpark at Arlington.
Moreover, my concern about this issue does not primarily arise from the treatment of gender language. This post is not me ranting against the NIV 2011. This post is me stating that I reject dynamic equivalence translation theory because of the logical outcomes of the method. The method is the problem.
The method bothers me because God inspired the biblical authors to write certain words, and translations can only be identified as the word of God insofar as “they faithfully represent the original” (Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, Article X). No translation is perfect. No theory is perfect. But let me give you an example of the logical outcomes of dynamic equivalence.
I preface this example with the simple observation that the gospel of John makes heavy use of the words “truth” and “glory.” In How to Read a Book, Mortimer Adler teaches that we must come to terms with the author we’re reading. What this means is that we want to understand how the author uses his words. Truth and glory are both major themes in the Gospel of John, and in order to understand how John uses those words, we will want to pay careful attention to where they occur and recur. In order to come to terms with him as an author, we must be able to see his distinctive use of significant language. That is, the commonplace uses of significant words are going to provoke less thought than the out of the ordinary uses of significant language.
Thus, it is interesting that when the Jews are going after the man born blind after Jesus has healed him, they say to him in John 9:24,
“Give glory to God. We know that this man is a sinner.”
This is an interesting assertion, is it not? John presents the Jews assuming that God is on their side, that Jesus is clearly not from God, and that God will receive glory when the man supposedly born blind states what, in their view, accords with reality: that Jesus is a sinner.
We learn a lot from John about the Jews in that phrase “give glory to God.” They clearly think they are honoring God, which in turn implies that they think Jesus is not honoring God.
Now how would someone who has embraced dynamic equivalence translation philosophy render that phrase? We don’t have to guess. Here is John 9:24 in the NET Bible:
“Promise before God to tell the truth. We know that this man is a sinner.”
The problem here is not that the translator failed his vocab quizzes. It’s not that he has confused the meaning of doxa (glory) with aletheia (truth). The problem is that the translator has decided to render what (he thinks) the text means rather than translate the words of the author. In doing this, the translator has eliminated one of John’s key words, removing this occurrence of glory, and created a non-existent instance of another one of John’s key words by putting truth in the text when John did not have it there.
The NET Bible is heavily footnoted, and in their footnotes they tell you what they’ve done. They put John’s actual words in the footnote. Why not put John’s actual words in the text and what they think it means in the footnote? In this case, the inspired words are in the footnote, and the translator has put the fallible interpretation in the text. Backwards, no?
People may have to give some thought to the phrase “give glory to God.” Human beings are made in the image of God. They have enormous capacity. Give them a literal, wooden translation, and they might be forced to slow down and think as they read. They might ponder. They might begin to recognize certain Johannine styles of phrasing things–if translators would give them John’s actual words.
“Promise before God to tell the truth” sounds like something we would say. It doesn’t sound like John. That is the problem.
Another example? R. G. Bratcher thinks that some references to Jesus being glorified in John are pointing to the resurrection of Jesus. On the basis of this interpretation, Bratcher suggests that rather than translating John’s words so that the reader can interpret them, the translator should embed his own interpretation in the translation. Thus, Bratcher argues that instead of rendering ἐδοξάσθη as “glorified” in John 7:39 (“Jesus was not yet glorified”) and 12:16 (“when Jesus was glorified”), the translator should communicate that “Jesus’ resurrection shows his divine status” (R. G. Bratcher, “What Does ‘Glory’ Mean in Relation to Jesus?: Translating doxa and doxazo in John,” Bible Translator 42 : 407).
Contra Bratcher, since the reference to Jesus’ glorification is not explained in these texts, readers of John’s gospel should have the opportunity to determine what “glorification” means in John 7:39 and 12:16 by “coming to terms with John,” that is, by analyzing for themselves what “glorification” means in the rest of the Gospel. This will be a matter of dispute, but it could be that these references to Jesus’ glorification point to the cross rather than the resurrection. If Jesus’ glorification in John 12:23, 28; 13:31–32; 17:1, 5 is the cross, his glorification in 7:39 and 12:16 may also be the cross rather than the resurrection.
These two examples come not from novices but from supposed experts. These experts have decided that rather than rendering what John wrote in his gospel, it is their place to render what they think John meant. Note, too, that this is not a case of these words or concepts being overly technical. These are not recondite vocables that most people have never before read. The terms “truth,” “glory,” and “glorification” are all over the place in the Bible and in every-day speech.
If I am going to read the Bible in an English translation, I want to read the words of the biblical author.
And I know the kinds of examples that are going to be thrown at me about necessary adjustments going from language to language. But changing something like the very literal “a name to him John” in John 1:6 to “his name was John” is not the kind of thing anyone is rejecting. Nor is that kind of thing represented in the examples above. I am rejecting the change of one understandable phrase, “give glory to God,” to another, “promise before God to tell the truth.” I am rejecting the change from “Jesus was not yet glorified” to “Jesus was not yet resurrected.”
One final example. A stock expression in the Psalms is an idiom that, rendered literally, would be something like “to tread the bow” or “to walk the bow” (e.g., Ps 7:12; 11:2; etc.). Even the most literal translations render this along the lines of “bend the bow.” But stop and think about the expression “tread the bow.” What does that mean? Doesn’t it give a visual image? Can you see the warrior placing one end of the bow on the ground, holding the other end in his hand, and stepping on the bow in the middle to string the bow? Can you see the warrior tread the bow?
Now what does poetry do? Doesn’t poetry enable us to see the world as it really is by describing it to us in fresh ways? The removal of the visual image of the warrior treading the bow removes color and life from David’s poetry.
Learn the Biblical languages if you can. If you can’t, stick with the literal translations, and be suspicious of the experts who tell you that words like “literal” really aren’t that helpful.
Man and Woman, One in Christ: An Exegetical and Theological Study of Paul’s Letters. By Philip B. Payne. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009, 511 pp, $29.99 paper. Published in Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, 54.1 (2011), 177–79.
Israel never had female priests. Jesus did not name any females as apostles. Peter instructed wives to submit to their husbands, as did Paul (repeatedly), and Paul expressly forbade women teaching or exercising authority over men. The history of the people of God has largely reflected the Bible’s clear teaching on this point. Male leadership is a given in the OT, and with few exceptions, the Christian church of all denominations has been led by males. Has the church been wrong about this for the whole of its history? Both Israel and the church have failed spectacularly at points—is this one of them? Put simply: no. Male leadership in the home and the church is taught in the Bible. Even a brilliant use of the evidence and an airtight logical argument would fail to stop the rising of the sun, but unfortunately Philip Payne mishandles the evidence and multiplies logical and rhetorical fallacies.
Payne begins with chapters on the backgrounds of Paul’s teaching, the women Paul names (begging questions by calling these women “ministry leaders”), and theological axioms Payne takes to imply his definition of equality. Payne then breaks Paul’s statements on women into two parts: “earlier” and “later” letters. Beginning with a chapter on Gal 3:28, Payne follows with a chapter on 1 Cor 7, then eight chapters on 1 Cor 11:2–16, a chapter on 1 Cor 14:34–35, another on Eph 5:21–33 and Col 3:18–19, eight on 1 Tim 2:8–15, another on 1 Tim 3:1–13 and Titus 1:5–9, and then concludes with “Paul Consistently Champions the Equality of Man and Woman in Christ.” Several reviews of this book have already appeared [see Blomberg’s and Schreiner’s]; therefore, because of space limitations, I will focus on Payne’s campaign against 1 Cor 14:34–35. Perhaps this focus will suffice as an example of the type of argumentation found in Payne’s book.
Payne makes a desperate attempt to show that 1 Cor 14:34–35 should be relegated to the theological dustbin as a non-canonical interpolation. He claims that “its suppression of a weak social group” counts as “evidence that 14:34–35 is an interpolation” (p. 262), and he explains that “Male chauvinist editorial patterns evident in the Western text demonstrate that these attitudes pervaded the church as well as society in general” (p. 264). Countering these injustices, Payne goes to war to prove that the text deserves no standing in Scripture. He writes, “If 1 Cor 14:34–35 is a non-Pauline interpolation, it does not carry apostolic authority and should not be used as such to restrict the speaking ministries of women, nor should it influence the exegesis of other NT passages” (p. 267). What, however, if it is not a “non-Pauline interpolation” and thus does “carry apostolic authority”? Should Payne continue to regard it as “restrictive”? Is there a way to view 1 Cor 14:34–35 as something other than an expression of male chauvinist suppression of a weak social group? Obviously complementarians are convinced that there is. Payne needs an unassailable case if he is going to evict 1 Cor 14:34–35 from its scriptural stronghold. He needs real evidence and convincing argumentation, and he has neither.
We have no manuscript that lacks this passage—not one. Payne so badly needs a text that lacks 1 Cor 14:34–35 that he invents several and then uses these imaginary witnesses to testify on his behalf. Payne has a long discussion (pp. 232–46) of the “distigmai” in Codex Vaticanus. These distigmai are “two horizontally aligned dots in the margin at mid-character height, by the last line of 1 Cor 14:33” (pp. 232–33). Payne’s view is that “the distigme by the last line of 14:33 is positioned appropriately to mark the absence of verses 34–35” (p. 233). Payne’s interpretation of this evidence has been analyzed and rejected by both Curt Niccum and Peter Head [see summaries of Head’s work by Tommy Wasserman, Part 1 and Part 2]. I simply observe here that this interpretation of unexplained features of a manuscript is very tenuous evidence, and if it is to help Payne’s case he needs everything to go his way. If the scribe did not put the distigmai there to mark an interpolation, as Payne believes, these distigmai do not support his edifice. What if the scribe put the distigmai there not because the text was lacking from a manuscript in his possession but because he was aware of several variants of the existing text? In addition, if it was not “the original scribe of the Vaticanus NT” who put them there, as Payne holds (p. 245) but someone after ad 1400 who added them, as Niccum and Head think, Payne’s claims collapse. So in order for the distigmai of Vaticanus to support Payne’s view, we must add the hypothesis of the date of the distigmai to the hypothetical reason the scribe put them there, and thus we arrive at the sum total of a hypothetical conclusion that these verses originated as an interpolation. This gives us one manuscript that hypothetically attests to the omission of these verses. Meanwhile, 1 Cor 14:34–35 remain clearly inked on the leaf of the manuscript in question. The verses are comfortably in the text of Codex Vaticanus, not as a hypothetical explanation of mysterious little dots but as a clearly written, universally attested reality.
Undaunted, Payne layers on more theoretical possibilities in his discussion of Codex Fuldensis. This manuscript is a sixth-century copy of the Vulgate that, like every other surviving manuscript, contains the text in question, 1 Cor 14:34–35. In Fuldensis verses 34–35 follow verse 33, neither dislocated nor in the margin but in the body of the actual text. In the lower margin, however, verses 36–40 have been re-copied. On this basis, Payne posits that “St. Victor, Bishop of Capua, ordered the text of 1 Cor 14:34–40 rewritten and corrected in the bottom margin of Codex Fuldensis with verses 34–35 omitted” (p. 246). Payne’s explanation is possible, but verses 34–35 are still in the body of the text of Codex Fuldensis, and the recopied portion begins with verse 36 and goes through verse 40 rather than beginning with verse 33, skipping to verse 36 and continuing to verse 40. Payne thinks that “the most natural explanation” is that Victor saw “a manuscript that did not contain 14:34–35,” then ordered the scribe to rewrite verses 36–40 in the lower margin. If Victor had checked any other manuscripts, however, the evidence indicates that he might not have concluded that verses 34–35 are an interpolation, since all the manuscripts in our possession have the verses—as did, evidently, the exemplar from which the body of Fuldensis was copied. Payne nevertheless makes an astonishing claim: “FuldensisVictor mg. thus fulfills the criterion C. K. Barrett posed, ‘If any significant MS omitted the verses altogether it would probably be right to follow [the view that] . . . verses 34f . . . were added later as a marginal note’” (p. 248, bracketed note and ellipses Payne’s). Yet Barrett’s criterion has not been fulfilled: Fuldensis is a sixth-century Latin manuscript that hardly registers as a “significant manuscript,” and in its case verses 34–35 are not “a marginal note” but are in the body of the text. The only manuscript that omits the verses altogether is the one that exists in Payne’s mind, which he thinks Victor saw. Payne also thinks that the twelfth-century manuscript 88 was copied from a text that did not have verses 34–35. The fact that we do not posses that manuscript does not diminish Payne’s confidence in his hypothetical reconstruction (pp. 249–50).
In light of the manuscript evidence, Payne’s argument against 1 Cor 14:34–35 fails. It simply will not do to excise evidence that goes against our conclusions. The removal of this passage is not even an acceptable “working hypothesis” for those who would regulate their conduct by Paul’s teaching. Those who desire to understand and embrace everything Paul taught will need to look elsewhere for an explanation of all he wrote. I do not have space to discuss Payne’s interpretations of the other Pauline texts, but in my view they are no more successful than his attempt to show that 1 Cor 14:34–35 is an interpolation. Payne lacks evidence for his conclusions and marshals arguments riddled with fallacies to advance them.
Payne holds that “the biblical evidence” for his position “is as strong as an avalanche” and that “the totality of the avalanche is inescapable” (p. 462). It is fitting that Payne chose the metaphor of an avalanche, which is a destructive disaster. Indeed, the adoption of Payne’s conclusions would cause a moving away from safe paths and solid ground toward calamitous consequences.
A friend of mine–I’m not sure he shares my views–asked me why I believe that the Bible is God’s revelation. Having typed up my answer, I decided to post it here as well:
I grew up with believing parents, and we went to believing churches. Unfortunately, the Bible was held up as authoritative more than taught or studied. In AP English my senior year of High School I was confronted with people who lived what they believed perhaps more radically than anyone I had ever met: the existentialists. Many of them were so certain that we are bubbles of nothingness on a sea of emptiness that they took their own lives. I had professed faith and been baptized when I was 7 or 8, but for the first time, I think, I was face to face with people who weren’t just hypocrites; they weren’t just flirting around with sin, either, they were rejecting the big story of the Bible and living out the implications of their rejection.
I didn’t know what to think or believe for about 2 weeks. The Lord brought me through, and I distinctly remember the day behind the high school when I prayed something like this: “God, if you don’t exist, there is no reason to live; life is just pain, and it might as well end. I can’t live without you. I need you. I want to trust you, to believe in you, to know you.” The Lord answered my prayer. I know he did: I felt a joy I could not explain, a joy whose only source could have been the Lord. And it was like a heavy cloud lifted, the sun broke through, and I felt joy and peace fuller than I’d known before.
I implicitly trusted the Bible. I had read it cover to cover my junior year of high school, and when the prophets said “Thus saith the Lord,” I believed them. The Bible formed in me, without me realizing it, the view of the Bible I still hold today. For instance, when Moses reads what he has so far to the people in Exod 24:7, the people recognize that though Moses has read this to them, it’s the Lord who spoke, and it’s authoritative: “. . . he . . . read it in the hearing of the people. And they said, ‘All that the LORD has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient'” (Exod 24:7). Gobs of texts like this one convinced me that when I read the Bible, I was reading God’s word.
I think the same thing that happened to the Israelites listening to Moses happened to me. They recognized that God had spoken, and the Spirit of God confirmed that recognition. They recognized that God was to be obeyed. I saw the same things they saw, even if I couldn’t have explained it at the time.
So going into college, the Bible had taught me what I was to think about it. I didn’t have the words or theological categories to explain it this way then, but I know I believed the Bible was God’s word. And I know that it wasn’t a result of indoctrination. It was from my reading of the Bible.
These things were confirmed as I studied and memorized the Bible in college. I remember standing in the office of one of my English profs who was incredulous that I actually believed the Bible. He said to me, “All of modern science is against you.” I responded in the language of the Bible: “If God is for me, who can be against me.” Reflecting on that since, I think the biblical authors are far more trustworthy than the modern scientists with all their scandals and sleights of hand.
At DTS we were exposed to unbelieving scholarship, but we were also exposed to believing scholarship. I get the impression that at many liberal schools, you only hear the liberal (unbelieving) side of things, and no one even bothers with the conservative (believing) scholars.
I think that my belief that the Bible is the word of God was probably most strongly challenged during the PhD program. It wasn’t challenged, though, by arguments so much as by the “peer pressure” of the academic guild. That is, the initiates in the guild weren’t producing evidence, logic, and an overwhelming case against the Bible. It was more like an unspoken entrance requirement: if you want to join the ranks of the real scholars, you can’t believe that the Bible is inerrant, and you can’t hold that the attributions of authorship are accurate. Those ideas aren’t allowed here. I actually had an editor of a semi-evangelical journal tell me that I needed to become a real scholar and stop betraying so many evangelical assumptions about the Bible in my writing.
Never, mind you, was any of this actually argued. The strongest pull seems to come from things so deeply entrenched that they don’t need to be argued.
I was disgusted by the “peer pressure” from the esteemed guild to reject the Bible. I was also enormously helped by Tom Schreiner, whose candor about these things, confidence in the Bible, and willingness to bear the reproach of the cross that attaches to believing the Bible made him a rock through the storm.
Helped through the storm by the Schreiner-rock, I began to look more closely at what I thought were the hardest cases. I was not at all impressed with the actual argument against the historical accuracy and reliability of the Bible. In fact, I think you would have to know far more than any human being could ever know to be in position to declare definitively that the Bible is in error. Would it be harsh to summarize the argument against the Bible as the whining of rebels?
So I think that too often the rejection of inerrancy is both un-historical and un-critical. It’s un-historical because it imposes on the primary sources foreign assumptions that prevent those sources from being properly understood, and it’s un-critical because the argument is so insulated by the unbelieving claque that the merits of the case aren’t ever really heard. So you have a one-sided, un-critical, un-historical, bad argument against the Bible, and this bad argument often winds up evaluating the morality of the Bible by some foreign ethic. Where did this foreign ethic get its authority? Or if it’s not ethical, it’s some “law of history”–where did that law of history get its authority?–those who reject the Bible have their own Sinai experience, it seems. And if it’s not ethics or history, it’s archeology, in which I have very little confidence. But somehow the tenuous conclusions of the archeologists with their fragmentary remains become so definitively authoritative that the Bible can be condemned as in error. I’m not buying it.
One final thought: I remember Dr. Danny Akin telling a story about how he was once asked why he believes what he believes about the Bible. I resonate with the answer Dr. Akin gave. He said that he had trusted in Jesus as his Lord and Savior and sought to be a disciple of Jesus, so it made sense to him to believe about the Bible what Jesus believed about the Bible. Jesus said God’s word is truth. He said not a jot or tittle would pass away, and that heaven and earth will pass away but his own words won’t.
The word of the Lord will stand forever.
The interview is mainly about God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment: A Biblical Theology, but the questions in Part 2 ranged from Inerrancy to the New Perspective with the SBC reformation in between.
Why I’m confident in the Bible (from the interview on the CBD Academic Blog):
I think that the Bible itself claims to be totally true and trustworthy, and that we would need far more information than we will ever have to overturn its claims or show its falsehood. Therefore, I want to approach the Bible not from a skeptical perspective but from a sympathetic one, trusting that its authors were neither stone-age idiots nor less-evolved troglodytes whose ethical and theological sensibilities are objectionable to modern, enlightened sensibilities. These biblical authors bore the image of God and communicated, I think, a coherent message in stunning artistry.
Congratulations to D. A. Carson on the appearance of his Collected Writings on Scripture. The publisher’s description:
God’s Word has always had enemies, but in recent years the inspiration and authority of Scripture have been attacked with renewed vigor. Respected scholar D. A. Carson has written widely on the nature of Scripture over the past thirty years, and here presents a timely collection of his work in two parts.
In part 1, Carson selects essays written on such themes as how to interpret the Bible, recent developments in the doctrine of Scripture, unity and diversity in the New Testament, and redaction criticism. Presenting a theologically balanced and confessional perspective, Carson defines the terms of a number of debates, critiques interpretive methods and theories, and suggests positive guidelines for future action.
Part 2 presents critical reviews of nine books dealing with the inspiration and authority of Scripture. Though substantial in content, Carson’s detailed reviews will foster careful thought and perspective in those who are relatively new to the debates surrounding biblical inspiration and authority.
This volume is a diverse collection that will prove to be a helpful resource to both seasoned pastors and scholars and those who are just starting serious study of the Bible.
This will be an important resource for those thinking through the nature of Scripture, and it’s a nice appetizer for the forthcoming Scripture Project.
I don’t think there are errors in the Bible, and I think that valid explanations can be given for difficulties that do exist. I started a new sermon series on Ezra – Nehemiah this morning at Kenwood, and I had planned to comment on some numerical discrepancies in the text. Because of time, I decided to cut this whole section from the sermon, so here’s the portion of my manuscript that got passed right over:
The material in Ezra 2 is repeated almost exactly in Nehemiah 7, but there are some differences between the two chapters. One of those differences is that in Nehemiah 7:7 there are 12 names. Many scholars think this indicates that there were probably 12 names in Ezra 2:2, and one of the names was not copied by mistake. If this is correct, the fact that there were 12 leaders of the returnees represents an intentional reconstitution of the 12 tribes of Israel. Even if this wasn’t originally the case with Ezra 2:2, it is the case with Nehemiah 7:7.
Let me be very clear about what I’m saying here. I am not saying that the author of the book of Ezra made an error. I am saying that it appears that those who copied the book of Ezra made an error. This kind of thing is why evangelicals say that the Bible is inerrant in the autographs. An autograph is the hand-writing of some famous person. The autographa or autographs of the biblical manuscripts are the hand-written copies made by the authors themselves. We believe that the authors of the books of the Bible were inspired by the Holy Spirit. The inspiration of the Holy Spirit kept the authors from making errors. God is true and trustworthy, and what he communicated in the Scriptures through the biblical authors is true and trustworthy. So when we say that the Bible is inerrant in the autographs, we are simply saying that God did not inspire every scribe who copied the Bible so as to preserve them from error.
This portion of Ezra, with the numbers at the end of chapter 1 and the names in chapter 2, seems to have been a challenge for the scribes. The reason for this is that when numbers were written in ancient Hebrew, they used a system of symbols that might not have been clear to later copyists. Derek Kidner refers to “many other indications in the Old Testament that numbers were the bane of copyists.” In the same way, the similarity of many Hebrew names could have caused scribes difficulty as they copied the text. We see difficulty with numbers in two ways in this section of Ezra:
First, if we add up the numbers of vessels in Ezra 1:9–10, they total 2,499, less than half the total of 5,400 given in Ezra 1:11. This could be because of scribal error, or it could be that though the total number is complete, the itemization is only an excerpt.
Second, if we add up the numbers in Ezra 2, we get a total of 29,818. The numbers in Nehemiah 7 total 31,089. The number in the Greek translation, 1 Esdras, totals 30,143. But all three lists state that the total number is 42,360 (Ezra 2:64; Neh 7:66; 1 Esdras 5:41). Kidner writes, “There is general agreement that the divergences are copying errors, arising from the special difficulty of understanding or reproducing numerical lists.”
How should we respond to this kind of information? One way to respond is the way Bart Ehrman does: “What good is it to say that the autographs (i.e., the originals) were inspired? We don’t have the originals! We have only error-ridden copies . . .” If you are looking for excuses to rebel against the Bible, you can go Ehrman’s way.
Another way to respond to this kind of information is to look at what we have and ask if what we have is enough to enable us to get at the message of Ezra? So the numbers of the temple vessels don’t add up, a name appears to have fallen out, and the numbers in Ezra 2 don’t match the total given at the end of the list. There may be valid explanations for each. The lists may be excerpts while the totals are complete. The copyists may have bungled the job. Can we understand the text in spite of these difficulties? I think we can. In fact, I think that going Ehrman’s way would be as silly as receiving a reliable written message from someone you trust, warning you about a nuclear attack, and rejecting the message because the word nuclear is misspelled. Would you risk being nuked because of a spelling error? Would you risk going to hell because there are difficulties (difficulties that have plausible explanations) in these lists in the Bible?
These difficulties do not keep us from understanding the message of the text. We can see, in spite of the question about the numbers of the vessels, that God kept his promise (Jer 27:21-22) and restored those temple vessels. We can see, in spite of the question of the numbers of the returnees, that the people of Israel are restored to their land.
 So Mark A. Throntveit, Ezra-Nehemiah, Interpretation (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1992), 18; Kidner, Ezra and Nehemiah, 37; H. G. M. Williamson, Ezra, Nehemiah, Word Biblical Commentary (Waco: Word, 1985), 24.
 Kidner, Ezra and Nehemiah, 38.
 So Charles Fensham, The Books of Ezra and Nehemiah, New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1982), 46–47.
 See Kidner, Ezra and Nehemiah, 35 n. 1.
 Ibid., 43. Cf. also Fensham, Ezra and Nehemiah, 57.
 Bart D. Ehrman, Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why (New York: HarperSanFrancisco, 2005), 7.
Erich Auerbach (Mimesis, 14-15) writes that the intent of biblical stories:
“is not to bewitch the senses, and if nevertheless they produce lively sensory effects, it is only because the moral, religious, and psychological phenomena which are their sole concern are made concrete in the sensible matter of life. But their religious intent involves an absolute claim to historical truth. . . . Without believing in Abraham’s sacrifice, it is impossible to put the narrative of it to the use for which it was written. . . . The world of the Scripture stories is not satisfied with claiming to be a historically true reality—it insists that it is the only real world, is destined for autocracy . . . The Scripture stories do not, like Homer’s, court our favor, they do not flatter us that they may please us and enchant us—they seek to subject us, and if we refuse to be subjected we are rebels.”
HT: A. Philip Brown II, Hope Amidst Ruin, 28 n. 23.
“Still Sola Scriptura: An Evangelical View of Scripture,” pages 215–40 in The Sacred Text: Excavating the Texts, Exploring the Interpretations, and Engaging the Theologies of the Christian Scriptures, ed. Michael Bird and Michael Pahl. Gorgias Précis Portfolios 7. Piscataway: Gorgias, 2010.
You can also get to the essay by clicking the cover of the book on the right hand side of the blog, or by going to the “Articles & Essays” page of this site.
As Jesus said, the word of God is truth, and may God sanctify us in that truth (John 17:17).
Newly released from Gorgias Press:
Michael F. Bird and Michael W. Pahl, eds. The Sacred Text: Excavating the Texts, Exploring the Interpretations, and Engaging the Theologies of the Christian Scriptures. Gorgias Précis Portfolios 7. Piscataway, N.J.: Gorgias, 2010.
Introduction: From Manuscript to MP3 – Michael F. Bird
The History of the Texts
The Septuagint as Scripture in the Early Church – Karen H. Jobes
Scripture in the Second Century – Tomas Bokedal
Scripture and Tradition: Seeking a Middle Path – Michael W. Pahl
Scripture and Canon – John C. Poirier
The Interpretation of the Texts
Scripture and Biblical Criticism – Jamie A. Grant
Scripture and Theological Exegesis – Thorsten Moritz
Scripture and Postmodern Epistemology – Robert Shillaker
Scripture and New Interpretive Approaches: Feminist & Post-Colonial – Jennifer G. Bird
The Theological Status of the Texts as Scripture
Catholic Doctrine on Scripture: Inspiration, Inerrancy, and Interpretation – Brant Pitre
Scripture in Eastern Orthodoxy: Canon, Tradition, and Interpretation -George Kalantzis
Still Sola Scriptura: An Evangelical Perspective on Scripture – James M. Hamilton Jr.
The Word as Event: Barth and Bultmann on Scripture – David Congdon
Can be ordered here.
- A Fresh Translation of the Nicene Creed July 11, 2018
- The Lord’s Supper July 9, 2018
- J. K. Rowling Tells the Truth . . . In Her Fiction July 18, 2017
- The Nicene Creed: A Not Too Difficult Greek Challenge November 28, 2016
- May Women Teach Men at Church? September 2, 2006
- Q & A on Paul and Jesus, Women and the Law January 21, 2007
- Three Objections Enns Makes to Mohler: Apparant Age, Authority, and World-Picture November 4, 2011
- How Often Should a Church Take the Lord’s Supper? May 3, 2011