Question: Is textual criticism of Biblical texts superior to receiving revelation on that text through a prophet of God?

Table of Contents

Question: Is textual criticism of Biblical texts superior to receiving revelation on that text through a prophet of God?

Textual criticism is still a discipline that is often controversial and unreliable in its ability to ascertain an original text

Let us ask ourselves-if God is continuing to reveal His will and word to men, either to individuals or to prophets through the Holy Spirit, which would you prefer? The knowledge of scholars who cannot guarantee truth, or the witness from God? And, which is more reasonable? The fact that God allowed His word to be corrupted, and then intended to reveal the truth of His word, over several hundred years of textual criticism in an effort to identify original truth? Yet, textual criticism is still a discipline that is often controversial and unreliable in its ability to ascertain an original text. The alternative is that it was God's intention that we study the scriptures and go to Him to gain a witness of the truth through His Spirit. While the LDS Church has never denied the importance of text-critical tools and language studies to more correctly understand the text, they also state firmly that only revelation from God can give us confidence in His Word and in any interpretation of it.

Scholarship is insufficient to produce the inspired autographs of the Bible

Consider this relevant question. It has long been recognized that the Greek Old Testament (frequently cited in the Gospels) is in many places grossly different from the traditional or Masoretic text. Because it was a translation, it was long believed that these differences were due, at least in part, to the translational process. Before the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, however, the oldest manuscripts of the Old Testament were all Greek (the LXX). [1] These included the Codex Sinaiticus, the Codex Alexandrinus, and the Codex Vaticanus. One of the more obvious differences in the text occurs within the Book of Jeremiah, where the LXX preserves a text that is approximately twenty percent shorter than the Jeremiah found in the traditional text and modern Bibles. However, at Qumran, amongst the Dead Sea Scrolls, the oldest copy of Jeremiah known to exist (4QJer b) is a Hebrew copy of the shorter form. [2] So, the question now arises, which version is more authentic? Both have claim to great antiquity, both are very well attested to in ancient times, and both cannot be original. So scholarship cannot yet determine the truth. Likewise, at the time of Joseph Smith, scholars were reasonably convinced of the originality of the Johanine Comma, and actively defended it. [3] Yet today, no serious scholar would ever propose that the text is original. Unless we are assuming that the science of textual criticism has been perfected, and that there will be no more discoveries that change the world of biblical studies, we can only conclude that scholarship is insufficient to produce the inspired autographs of the Bible. We can only turn to God. Yet, it is precisely this type of revelation that is denied by the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy.

Notes

  1. The LXX, or the Septuagint is a very ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament, translated into the Greek around the third century BC. Besides the traditional books of the Old Testament, it also contained the pseudo-canonical books of the Apocrypha. The Roman Orthodox Church adopted the Greek text, and from it was translated the Latin Vulgate. The LXX provides a great deal of information to biblical scholars not only because of its age and available early manuscripts, but also because it is a translation and thus provides assistance from time to time in understanding the original Hebrew. It is also worth noting that the New Testament, when it quotes the Old Testament, frequently quotes the LXX and not the traditional text.
  2. There are several publications that contain a discussion on this topic. For example, see Eugene Ulrich, "The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Origins of the Bible," Studies in the Dead Sea Scrolls and Related Literature (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1999), xviii, 309.
  3. See for example John Gill, An Exposition of the New Testament, Vol. 2 (Philadelphia: William W. Woodward, 1811), 662-664.