Friday, December 9, 2016

Orthodox Christianity and the Original Manuscripts

Shane Pruit has been sharing his wisdom about out of context scripture use. It is a reasonably useful piece, although perhaps more helpful in critique than construction (but then the latter is always much harder to do). However he begins with a most extraordinary statement:
Orthodox Christianity believes that in the Scriptures in their original manuscripts are without error and fault.
Which just blows the mind. Clearly Shane is making a value statement here, "orthodox Christianity" is a judgement as to what Shane finds orthodox rather than a historical or sociological claim, but even so what are these original manuscripts he speaks of? Certainly, when dealing with a letter from Paul, e.g., we can posit at some point there was just one original version. But what do we do with Genesis, Job, Isaiah, or the Gospels all of which were composed over time, combining various sources, being edited and added to by different folk depending on the needs of the day and the Holy Spirit? What does it mean to speak of an original manuscript? At what point in the history of composition and editing do we say, "that's it, that is the original!"?

Even if we are comfortable positing the past existence of some final form of any particular Biblical book neither we, nor the historical church, have ever had access to such manuscripts. So how does any statement regarding their lack of error or fault help any discussion of anything? What would be much more helpful would be a statement about what the Bibles we actually have today are and what they can be relied on for.

Worse still, the doctrine of inerrancy encourages the sort of magic-book-from-the-sky thinking that is true of Mormonism or Islam. Instead orthodox Christianity recognises that God has spoken in many times and in many places through his prophets, and in these last days through his Son, and that his ongoing willingness to reveal himself through human beings and human processes (such as the formation of the canon) is far more wonderful, gracious and miraculous than any supernatural Kindle delivery could ever be.

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