The Heresies of Higher Criticism



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  • The Heresies of Higher Criticism

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    The problem with many of today's more liberal or reformed "Agnostic" scholars is that they have gone from one form of fundamentalism to another. The so-called scribal errors have little or no impact on the text or theology of the New Testament. It's a misinformed argument to question the authority of the Canon of Scripture in consideration of the wealth of manuscripts and extra-biblical testimony we have supporting the authenticity of the bible. There are two types of biblical criticism. 1) Higher Criticism: authorship, dating, occasion, literary structure, contents. 2) Lower Criticism or textual criticism which is the attempt to determine how true the copies are to the original autographs.

    One example of content debate is the beggar that is taken from Mark 1:41 and only one "modern" translation uses this alternate reading of "anger". That supposed translation is from a poorly compiled 5th-century Greek text which is the most unreliable of all New Testament texts. Our oldest and best texts render the translation as "compassion". This is a text subject to a translation from a 5th-century manuscript Codex Bezae currently residing in the Cambridge University Library. The Greek text is unique, with many interpolations found "everywhere" else, with a few remarkable omissions, and a capricious tendency to rephrase sentences. Bezae is the principal Greek representative of the Western text type. There is no consensus on the many problems the Greek text presents. Since the Latin, however, occasionally agrees with Codices Codex Bobiensis and Codex Veronensis.

    Another example is the woman taken in adultery (John 8:1-11) is not a medieval insertion; it is in texts going back to the Latin Vulgate of the 4th century and is quoted from church Fathers from the 3rd century. It was likely in Luke's original gospel but moved to the margins in John's gospel. Scholars of high criticism here argue that it is found in the margin as a scribal addition. One reason that so many religious leaders and laymen oppose the inclusion of these verses called the pericope de adultera in theological-scholastic circles ("pericope" is a short selection from a book), is due to this theory of revisionism. However, neither of these mentioned passages have any impact on the overarching New Testament theology. Scholars of higher criticism didn’t discover these unique anomalies or even bring them to light, they simply made a career of discussing them with a new generation. The Jehovah Witness Watchtower for example removed this story among other criticized passages from their revised 2013 bibles.

    The early writers say that some unfaithful scribes were removing the account of the woman taken in adultery from John's gospel, saying at best it is harmful to persons to hear such things, or at worst feared it would encourage their wives to infidelity. That's why it has been moved into the margin of some copies, asterisks are written next to the lines, or a blank space is left for it to show the scribe was not including it, or the pages have been torn out altogether. But it is still found in the vast majority of Greek manuscripts. According to Augustine (c. 400), it was this moralistic objection to the pericope de adultera which was responsible for its omission in some of the New Testament manuscripts known to him. "Certain persons of little faith," he wrote, "or rather enemies of the true faith, fearing, I suppose, lest their wives should be given impunity in sinning, removed from their manuscripts the Lord's act of forgiveness toward the adulteress, as if He who had said 'sin no more' had granted permission to sin." Also, in the 10th century a Greek named Nikon accused the Armenians of "casting out the account which teaches us how the adulteress was taken to Jesus . . . saying that it was harmful to most persons to listen to such things."

    Modern textual scholars don't follow history, however. When they speak of "history" they speak of a history of their own making and make a living through generating controversy. An example would be Professor Bart D. Ehrman. Peter wrote against such people as these, warning that "In their greed, these false teachers will exploit you with tales they have concocted." (2 Peter 2:3 Berean Study Bible)

    The oldest texts are the primary source for all modern translations. They have more variation because the oldest texts are Alexandrian, and weren't used as the standard or "Received text" copied by the church for many centuries. The majority of our most recent hand copied Greek manuscripts have a 98% agreement with the oldest 2nd and 3rd-century texts.

    The oldest like the Codex Bezae are, in fact, the worst; that they are the primary source for all modern translations cannot be denied. However, this fact does not vouch for their character, which is quite poor. Codex Vaticanus B was so badly faded that it has been completely overwritten by a much later hand, and the Vatican is so closed about anyone examining it closely that if one stares too intently upon it, it is taken away. This manuscript suddenly appeared on a Vatican shelf with no prior history documented or known.

    Codex Sinaiticus (Aleph) is unlike virtually any other manuscript, also suddenly appeared in a monastery in Sinai, and was later confessed to having been forged by one Constantine Simonides, who is considered the most versatile forger of the 19th century, and who maintained it even on his deathbed in spite of the great damage the confession made to his reputation. The sorted story of how Constantin von Tischendorf found it is generally considered a work of fiction, so this is equally suspicious regarding the claim.

    Five prominent scholars of the 19th Century put forward a new theory to determine which Greek Text was the genuine text. These men were Lachmann, Tischendorf, Tregelles, Westcott & Hort. All of these men had a common basis for their theory. They all accepted the assumption that the oldest surviving manuscript is assuredly the most accurate.

    Tischendorf who discovered the Codex Sinaiticus (Aleph) in 1844 at the Convent of St. Catherine on Mt. Sinai, became so mesmerized by this discovery that he allowed this one manuscript to over-rule all other manuscripts. The results of this excessive and irrational difference to one of our chief codices, which he was so fortunate as to bring to the light, appears plainly in Tischendorf's eighth edition of the New Testament. That great critic had never been conspicuous for stability of judgment, where he was often driven by impulse. His third edition was constructed almost without any reference to the cursive manuscripts (the vast majority) which unless they are what no one asserts or imagines, merely corrupt copies, or copies of copies, of existing uncials, need to be the representatives of yet older codices which have long since perished: 'respectable ancestors' (as one has quaintly put the matter) 'who live only in their descendants.'

    In Tischendorf’s seventh edition, completed in 1859, that error was rectified, and the sum of textual variations between the third and seventh edition, in consequence, amounted to 1296, in no less than 595 of which (430 of the remainder being more matters of spelling) he returned to the readings of the Received Text, which he had before deserted, but to which fresh materials and larger experience had brought him back. In the eighth edition, another disturbing element is introduced, and that edition differs from his seventh in as many as 3369 places, to the scandal of the science of Comparative Criticism, as well as to his own grave discredit for discernment and consistency.

    "The evidence of Codex Sinaiticus (Aleph) supported or even unsupported by one or two authorities of any description, proved with him sufficient to outweigh all other witnesses, whether manuscripts, versions, or ecclesiastical writers" (Scrivener, Vol. II, pages 282, 283). Ttschendorf nearly rejected the testimony of the majority of manuscripts in favor of a few diverse manuscripts as the following quote reveals, "this text (the Received Text) differs in many pieces from the oldest authorities of the 4th, 5th and 6th centuries, and, therefore, must be replaced by a text which is really drawn from the oldest sources discoverable. The difficulty of finding such a text lies in that there is a great diversity among these texts; we have, therefore, to compare them closely together and decide on certain points of superiority on which to prefer one text to another." (Codex Sinaiticus by. Dr. C. Tischendorf, page 85). First students are instructed that the true text can only be found in the oldest manuscripts and then later the oldest manuscripts do not agree with each other!

    In order to bring these two into such high esteem, they are often hailed as two of Constantine's "Fifty Bibles" copied by Eusebius of Caesarea, also known as Eusebius Pamphili, was a Roman historian, who was considered the best script maker of his day. But this is impossible not only based upon the poor workmanship of their scribes, their many contradictions with one another, but also their provenance. Eusebius used the ancient texts of his mentor Pamphilus, gathered from his library in Caesarea, and they were specifically sent for use by the archbishop and churches of Constantinople (not Egypt) in the 4th century. Constantinople was the city of Byzantium, re-inaugurated as the capital of what would become the Byzantine or Eastern Roman Empire. Those texts were the foundation of the Byzantine text-type, not the Alexandrian. They did not come from neither did they go to Egypt. If Eusebius had held the Alexandrian text in such high regard, why do we find him not using them instead?

    If we check our historic record, we will find that both Aleph and B were purportedly written during the time period in which Alexandria, Egypt was heavily dominated by the Arian heresy. Arianism is a nontrinitarian belief that asserts that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, created by God the Father, distinct from the Father and therefore subordinate to the Father. Modern critics create their own history, that the Byzantine text was made (without evidence) by Saint Lucian of Antioch, known as Lucian the Martyr, and was a systematic revision and therefore inferior to the "pure" Alexandrian text. This is the problem with higher criticism. It doesn't depend upon history or facts of history or historic testimony. When they speak of the "history" of the text, they speak of a history of their own making.

    Someone reading this forum might debate saying, "The only legitimate issue with the Byzantine type texts is that most of the early church fathers don't quote from them." However, they do leave out the nuance used by critics who say this, which is "purely," just as no early writer quotes a "purely" Alexandrian or Western or Caesarean text. This is not a fault for assuming; they do make comments that are not outright false but do so in a manner that gives a false impression.

    For instance, a study done in 4,383 areas of dispute between the Westcott & Hort text back in the nineteenth century with the Textus Receptus showed that the "Byzantine" quotations of the early writers outnumber the Alexandrian/Western/Caesarean quotations combined by 2630 to 1753. Now, admittedly the vast majority of these differences don't even show up in the English, those that do are slight, and only a few are of any significance. Therefore above 60% of the quotations, of all text types combined, before Chrysostom actually do follow the Byzantine text. It then is incorrect to say "most of the early church fathers don't quote from it." "Most" of them, in fact, do to some extent.

    The similarities are much greater than critics admit, but there are many areas where modern critics have avoided the most obvious and simple conclusion and done more harm than good to the text. And the sensational claims about them, to generate revenue through controversy, are doing harm to Christianity: these are, mainly, the Pericope de Adultera, the last twelve verses of Mark, and 1 Timothy 3:16. There are others as well that are problematic, such as the poorly attested reading of John 1:18 which is straight out of the Second Arian Confession of AD 341, but these are the main.

    Also, their conclusions about who wrote the gospels and when is also a history of their own making; Papias, a first-century Christian, quotes the Apostle John himself ("the Elder") as explaining the origin of Matthew and Mark, in specific detail. And all the other early writers testify the same as he. But critics don't believe in prophecy, so they date the gospels after the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in AD 70 because Jesus successfully predicted it. Then they say they couldn't have been written by who they said they were, and generate an endless number of theories around the "Synoptic problem", which is really a problem of their own making, and decide which gospel is "first" based on its length.

    What I find equally as disturbing is the critics largely discount the testimony of the early fathers, i.e.: Papias of Hierapolis, Ireneaus, etc. about the authorship of the Gospels. When reading Mark, for example, it's obvious this is someone writing in a 2nd language (Greek) with Hebrew or Aramaic expression. This points to Mark as the likely scribe for Peter. Also, critics claim Mark was ignorant of Palestinian Geography, yet his descriptions are exactly how a 1st century Jew would describe the area of Galilee such as calling the Lake of Galilee a "sea". This fits with the Old Testament description of the "Sea of Kinneret". Mark was Peter's interpreter in Rome. The history was related by the Apostle John, one of Jesus' inner circle, as written down by Papias at the end of the first century. John says that Peter used the "Logia" (i.e., the Hebrew form of Matthew's gospel) which he preached in self-contained teachings, and afterward Mark wrote them down as best as he remembered them, but not necessarily always in chronological order. Additionally, Mark adds details to the account of the transfiguration and also in other places that Peter, another of Jesus' inner circle, would have been in a position to know.

    I have come to the conclusion that higher criticism is either a means to one's own personal ends or simply nothing more than a path to fame and fortune. This is the type of controversy modern textual scholars thrive on, and unfortunately, I have seen it overthrow or nearly overthrow the faith of some of our brothers and sisters.

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