55 Open or closed Canon.
The concept of the canon time and again comes to the fore in the evaluation of the variations in the manuscripts. Therefore I handle a few questions that came up recently.
Under “canon” I understand the writings that the different denominations accept as measure for their spiritual life. I experience canon on two levels. 1) “Macro canon” concerning which books should be reckoned as canon. The Roman Catholic Church, the Greek Orthodox Church as well as the Coptic Church each have their own set of books that they accept as authoritative for their spiritual life. 2) The second aspect that relates to canon I see as “micro canon”. That entails the evaluation of variants to determine the most probable variant that would have been the original autograph. With proper scientific research, making use of acceptable and tested criteria the translator should determine what God had originally had written down as His word to us. “Micro canon” can relate to a single letter (Luke 2:24), a word (Mark 9:29), a clause (1John 5:7-8) or even a paragraph (John 7:53-8:11).
I received feedback and questions in reaction to my previous post on John 7:53-8:11. In short I would like to answer these questions and make it available to all, since the question living in one person’s heart, might as well be living in many others.
- Which parts of the Bible can I accept as true and authoritative, and what should be marked as “un-authentic” or as a later addition?
Modern official translations like the NIV and the Common English Bible are based on true scientific based source texts, and can be accepted as a 99% rendering of the original autographs. Specific ways of expression can differ due to the utilization of the Dynamic Equivalence translation method instead of the direct translation method. In John 7:53-8:11 the question to who might have been the original author. All indications are that it had not been John, and that this paragraph had been a floating piece of Scripture later inserted into the text of the gospel of John. As for the content, it is absolutely authentic to Jesus. Therefore we need not doubt it being authoritative to our spiritual life.
- Which parts of the canon can be accepted as “correct”?
Canon is all about that which we as believers accept as authoritative for our spiritual life. No where in the New Testament do we find any order by God to this respect, yet amongst all the confusing array of documents surfacing during the early years of the Christendom the believers had to decide which documents should be Canon. Their guideline was documents written by the apostles, including Paul. The incident concerning the woman caught in adultery had not been part of the original gospel of John, yet as an important witness it had been distributed together with the other documents of the New Testament, and therefore been accepted as canon at a very early stage. We accept it as authoritative for our spiritual life, though it might not have fulfilled the requirements of the Synod of Hippo in 393 A.D.
- Are persons, especially theologians who doubt the authority of the Bible partly correct?
Often the lie rests on the truth. It is a fact that there are variations in the manuscripts of the Bible – that we cannot deny. What we do about it is important. Even Jesus warned that there would be false teachers. That is why I rather provide the facts causing the variations, and as a person believing in and worshipping the Tri-Une God give guidelines on handling these differences. Then we will not be cast to and fro by all kinds of false teachings and/or abuse of these facts.
- How should we understand the inspiration of the Holy Spirit?
The Holy Spirit inspired, taught and lead the apostles from within, to understand the revelation of the will of God and how it was revealed in Jesus Christ. This means that they had not merely been reduced to “writing machines”! On the contrary we notice their own way of writing, preference for words as well as way of focusing on their intended readers. Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit would lead them in all truth. Even today the Holy Spirit “inspires” the proclaimer of the Godly Word. The difference is that today the Word of God is interpreted and applied to our present circumstances, being tested to the canon, and not writing or creating new revelation of God. God amply explained and revealed Himself in the writings of the Bible. Nothing more is needed!
- Does the decision a translator has to make, make the Bible subjectively influenced? (Subject to the translator’s own interpretation?)
A translation of the Bible should never be subjectively coloured. That can be accepted in a paraphrase. Translators of the Bible goes to great lengths to determine what the original message had been and how the first readers would understand it. Then he renders his translation in order that we would have the same understanding. He is not allowed to “translate” his own ideas, preferences or interpretations into his translation. This of course creates some problems with certain concepts that could be misunderstood or misapplied in our present time. The concept of a slave is quite different from that of a servant or even an employee, and for a woman to be subject to her husband, has a different application than in our modern marriages. Therefore the translator has to “translate” while the pastor or preacher does the exegesis, interpretation and application to allow the will of God to shine through. Both persons have to prayerfully be dependant on the voice of the Holy Spirit. Nowhere is there any space for subjectivism!
- Does the translator making a choice become the final say on the canon?
It is a true challenge to objectively look at the whole aspect of the canon. If we avoid this question, we in practice make Desiderius Erasmus the final redactor of the canon. This is not fair to him and his work. The translator has to determine on sound grounds which word had the greatest probability to be the actual word God let the original author of a document of the Bible write down. By that action the translator does not determine the canon, but confirm that which had been part of the original canon!
- Is it not better to accept the Textus Receptus as God’s “provisional preservation of the text” than a modern translator’s choice taken from the UBS-text as God’s “provisional determination of the text”?
The translators of the Bible do not create “facts”, and even so not I on my blog. That variations, mistakes and even deliberate alterations have originated in some manuscripts, is a fact. To blindly accept all alterations found in the TR as God’s “provisional preservation of the text” still puts one before the question: which alteration and which text should one accept as canon? The Textus Receptus differs in more than 2000 places from the Standard Greek Text of the Greek Orthodox Church! That God allowed people to alter His Word should not be seen as though God altered his revelation. No, in His great mercy He let it go unpunished. Yet that does not mean we now have to accept this text. God also kept safe thousands of Greek manuscripts, antique translations and quotes by the church fathers to enable us to determine with sound methods and open minds which variation represents the true original autograph, as God gave it to be written down.
- How does one determine which Version contains the truth of the original autograph?
I can understand that many would rather shy away from this question and rather cling to the version they prefer. But the facts are true, whether you confront and handle it or not. If you refuse to look at the facts, you are at the mercy of the propagators of the older Versions like the KJV, or that of the modern Versions like the NIV. That is why I rather put the real facts on the table and ask the difficult questions. All that is covered will come to light at the proper time. By struggling with these variations, one gets insight also in the huge responsibility with which the translator stands before God and man!
In my examination of the variants I often make use of three criteria: 1) Facts revealed by the manuscripts themselves. 2) Trying to determine how the variation could have originated. 3) Look at the usage of words and subjects that the author use elsewhere, as well as the context where the variation exists. These criteria helps one to be as objective as possible.
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