We Do Have the Autographa

The question arose on the PB, “Why is it OK that we don’t have the original autographs?”

I respond:

As I understand textual criticism, we do have the autographa contained in the texts that we have. Because textual criticism isn’t perfect and never will be, we haven’t settled on exactly what the autographa is, within the textual variants, but don’t we say that it’s in there? It seems like an overstatement to say flatly, “We don’t have the autographa.” I know of no textual variant that changes a biblical teaching. Many, if not most, variants are easy to spot as scribal emendations. Some are quite obvious (e.g. the three witnesses). The variants have never been a problem for me. The quality of the NT text far surpasses any other such text in our possession, as I think someone else already suggested. Fear not: we have the Word of God in the original languages and we have the Word of God in faithful translations.

After more discussion and the questioner asks:

1. Yes, even if we had the autographa (not contained within a translation, but the actual documents themselves), they would need to be translated into different languages, thus the autographa would, in practice, only be available to those who could read greek/ hebrew.

2. And yes, even for those that could read the greek / hebrew / aramaic of the autographa, they cannot infallibly interpret an infallible set of autographs.

Is that correct?

If the above is true and if it is also true that the doctrine of Scripture is what is preserved through all of this rather than every single letter, then why should we reject a Barthian view of the Bible with respect to inerrancy? That is, why shouldn’t we be satisfied that we can know the doctrine without having to say we can’t know the doctrine unless inerrancy is held?

To which I reply:

I find a false premise or two in your summary.

1. We do have the autographa. They not a chimera but a reality.

2. The church has ministers whose vocation it is to read God’s Word in the original languages. (This is why it’s so important to well-taught ministers). We graduate 30-40 MDiv students a year who can read the original languages. I guess we’ve graduated close to 1000 students who can read the original languages. This doesn’t account for any other schools who’ve graduated even more. 

3. The concern about having autographa is to have God’s Word. We have faithful translations that accurately render the original in English such that those translations can be said to be God’s Word.

4. Your point about infallible interpretation is a red-herring. We don’t claim to have an infallible interpretation. WCF 1.4:

The authority of the Holy Scripture, for which it ought to be believed, and obeyed, depends not upon the testimony of any man, or Church; but wholly upon God (who is truth itself) the author thereof: and therefore it is to be received, because it is the Word of God.

WCF 1.7-10:

All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all; yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed, for salvation, are so clearly propounded and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them. 

The Old Testament in Hebrew (which was the native language of the people of God of old), and the New Testament in Greek (which at the time of the writing of it was most generally known to the nations), being immediately inspired by God, and by his singular care and providence kept pure in all ages, are therefore authentical; so as in all controversies of religion the Church is finally to appeal unto them. But because these original tongues are not known to all the people of God who have right unto, and interest in, the Scriptures, and are commanded, in the fear of God, to read and search them, therefore they are to be translated into the vulgar language of every nation unto which they come, that the Word of God dwelling plentifully in all, they may worship him in an acceptable manner, and, through patience and comfort of the Scriptures, may have hope.

The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture, is the Scripture itself; and therefore, when there is a question about the true and full sense of any scripture (which is not manifold, but one), it may be searched and known by other places that speak more clearly.

The Supreme Judge, by which all controversies of religion are to be determined, and all decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men, and private spirits, are to be examined, and in whose sentence we are to rest, can be no other but the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scripture.

We confess that Scripture interprets itself infallibly. There is an infallible interpretation. Your summary assumes a sort of skepticism we reject. We confess that Scripture is perspicuous. 

Once more:

…those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed, for salvation, are so clearly propounded and opened in some place of Scripture or other….

5. For the life of me I cannot see what Barth’s doctrine of Scripture has to do with this discussion. Have you ever read Barth? What connection do you see between the commitment to the authority of the autographa and Barth? Inerrancy is an objective fact not the result of our reception of or interpretation of Scripture. We don’t make Scripture inerrant. It is inerrant. 

Are you looking for some way to make some translation (as such) inerrant?

    Post authored by:

  • R. Scott Clark
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    R.Scott Clark is the President of the Heidelberg Reformation Association, the author and editor of, and contributor to several books and the author of many articles. He has taught church history and historical theology since 1997 at Westminster Seminary California. He has also taught at Wheaton College, Reformed Theological Seminary, and Concordia University. He has hosted the Heidelblog since 2007.

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26 comments

  1. I’ve found these sorts of comments usually to come from people who a) don’t like seminary trained ministers who can engage in the work of textual criticism, b) who begrudge the fact that seminary trained ministers have an important contribution to the life of the Church in being able to teach and preach from an understanding based in the languages of Scripture, and c) who don’t like seminary trained ministers (okay, this last point is a little facetious, but I did have a few of these in my congregation last year – and they weren’t necessarily quiet about it).

    I’ve never really had a problem with any of this, whether before or after seminary studies, and often wonder if questions such as given above are not merely the result of persons with too much time on their hands needlessly vexing themselves with angst-inducing questions based upon strained/false conceptions of a subject, for the benefit of the online community, and with the ultimate goal of contributing to their status as a scribe therein.

    But sometimes I’m just mean like that. I think that it comes from being a parent who regularly has to police up children with too much time on their hands – it gets them into unnecessary trouble.

  2. I’ve never heard anyone claim that we do in fact have the original autographs. When I was taught about inerrancy, it was stated that we did not have the autographs in order to also be able to say that there are indeed errors in the Bible due to copyists’ mistakes, but the original autographs were perfect. This is obvious a final hedge around the doctrine.
    It seems that this is the Chicago Statement’s view in Article X.
    “… We deny that any essential element of the Christian faith is affected by the absence of the autographs. We further deny that this absence renders the assertion of Biblical inerrancy invalid or irrelevant.”

    I think your position, if correct, could eliminate my questions about 2 Tim. 3:16. My question is, did Paul in that passage believe that the Scripture that is breathed out by God was what he had access to in his hands, or was it only the Scripture held originally by the author (the autograph).

    I’ve thought that the Chicago Statement’s take on the issue would leave 2 Tim. 3:16 to not be able to affirm that our copies that we have today are God-breathed.

  3. I should have added the first part of Article X.

    “We affirm that inspiration, strictly speaking, applies only to the autographic text of Scripture, which in the providence of God can be ascertained from available manuscripts with great accuracy. We further affirm that copies and translations of Scripture are the Word of God to the extent that they faithfully represent the original.”

  4. This is one of those questions that never goes away, isn’t it? I don’t see the problem, myself. In my university experience, it tended to come from people who were attacking the authority of Scripture, and the response was always the same as yours.

  5. The autographs “can be ascertained” is different from saying “we do have the autographa.” My understanding is that the reason there’s discussion about this among inerrantists is that there are admitted textual errors in our current texts, and the errors are not God-breathed. Those errors aren’t substantial, and have no change in real doctrine, but are nevertheless errors. We must say then that the original texts are the only perfect, God-breathed ones. I am wondering if this is the type of doctrine Paul has in mind in 2 Tim. 3:16. That is, did Paul refer to the copies that he and others possessed of OT texts as God-breathed, or was he referring only to those texts that were written by the hand of the authors?

    Sorry if I’m heading away from the topic at hand in these questions. I’ll also note that I have vowed that I believe in inerrancy as is required by my church and I don’t intend to stray from that.

  6. Benjamin Warfield has made the argument that the substance of the autographa is present in the multitudinous texts we already possess. So Scott Clark is not alone in making this salient point. What would textual criticism be all about if the substance of the autographa was inaccessible?

  7. Dr. Clark’s focus on what we in fact have is certainly commendable.

    At the same time, I continue to find the notion of autographs somewhat dubious. For example, which version of Jeremiah is or comes from “the autograph”? The version represented by the Masoretic Text (the one translated in our Bibles) is a theologically and ideologically motivated re-working of an earlier (and shorter!) Hebrew version of Jeremiah. Which version—and its ancestor—is “the autograph”?

    The textual history of Jeremiah is not the only one like this. We know different versions of Exodus, Samuel-Kings, etc., circulated back in the Hellenistic and Roman periods. Keeping this in mind and knowing that this is just how it was with ancient documents, this all seems to be a window on how the writings that make up our Old Testament (and New!) existed and were handled. There were numerous versions and, frequently, the ones enshrined in our Bibles are later re-workings. Where is “the autograph” in all this?

    Also, about scribes, changes not only happened by mistake, but scribes made changes on purpose—and even for theological reasons. In this way scribes who transmitted, copied, and re-worked early Christian writings were the same as scribes who handled other writings in the Ancient Mediterranean. Usually this is not because the scribes were consciously making the text say something they thought was different than what it said, as though they were consciously seeking to deceive. Rather, such alterations usually fall into a category of a scribe trying to bring out and make clear what he (she?) “knew” the text said. Obviously, we can detect many of these—which is how we have hard evidence that they did this. As an aside, Bart Ehrman’s technical monograph “The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture” is the best on this. Indeed, Moises Silva gave it a glowing review in the WTJ, mentioning how Ehrman shows himself to be an excellent and sensitive exegete, among other things.

    This is on a continuum with how the writings of our Bible were constantly updated and re-worked so as to be even understandable to ever shifting contexts. For example, if you accept Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch, you have an autograph-problem. Just at the level of language, Hebrew did not exist in the time of Moses. Beyond that, if it did, the difference between such Hebrew and the Hebrew of Ezra, for example, would be like the difference between Old English and the English we speak now. Moses and Ezra could not have even had a conversation. By the way, I am not even talking here about how in Ezra’s time there had to be translation into Aramaic so the people could understand the Law when it was read. So, if you hold to Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch (which I do not, by the way), you are immediately stuck with the issue of how the writings and traditions were updated at least linguistically (numerous times!). Even if you do not hold to Mosaic authorship, you still have these issues. Where is “the autograph” in all this—especially since we care about specific letters?

    When you start dealing with the almost endless editorial and redaction stages of the writings of our Bible, what layer conforms to “the autograph”? What stages of the writings making up the Book of the 12 (the Minor Prophets) are “the autographs”? Are the writings in their earliest separate forms or their later (final) together-edited forms; edited so as to fit them together as a unified Book of the 12?

    The Pauline corpus is another fun example. Many of the letters in the forms we accept them now contain interpolations and editings to make them seem (in places) as though they are more relevant to the church as a whole and less contingent and focused on one church. What stage(s) corresponds to “the autographs”? The Psalter is yet another fun example…

    So, basically, with all this “messiness,” at which points in the composition and textual histories do you locate “the autograph,” where we like to posit inspiration? Are there multiple “autographs” with inspired redactors, editors, and later authors? What is “the autograph” in the midst of these incredibly messy situations that defy notions of one “autograph”?

    For me it seems we need to focus more on how we have the Bible God wants us to have. This is not as satisfying an answer as I would like. But, it appears God worked/works throughout history without as much concern as we have that his people are working from “the autograph.” Indeed, it seems God works much more at the level of what we call translations and later re-workings. Please understand, I am not here trying to throw my lot in with those who think we can dispense with textual-criticism and locate inspiration in the ESV such that we do not need scholars and ministers who study the ancient world and ancient languages, etc. Neither am I advocating some limited inspiration theory wherein it only adheres to general ideas or something along those lines. I just want to point up how the notion of “the autograph” is somewhat (I think) problematic.

    How does all this fit in with our theology and doctrine of Scripture? Again, I greatly appreciate your focus on what we have and the very helpful results of textual criticism. I hope this comment is not too far off base. I would appreciate everyone’s thoughts.

  8. Joel,

    The text that Paul seems to have used, when he quoted a printed text–it’s not always clear which text he is quoting or whether he was working from memory which he could do, having memorized the pentateuch and which many ancient writers did regularly) is the LXX (Septuagint). The LXX is a far from perfect translation, yet it served as the text of Scripture for the early Christian church.

    When Paul says that the Word of God is inspired we don’t if he was thinking of the LXX or the Hebrew scrolls but we know what the Apostles quoted.

    I still don’t see what the problem is. No, textual variants, inasmuch as they are errant, are not God-breathed, but I don’t see why that’s a problem. We know what God’s Word is. We have multiple, harmonious but varied accounts of the life of Christ. We’ve known for a long time that we cannot set up some arbitrary standard by which to judge Scripture. We cannot judge Scripture at all. So we sit down with the relevant variants and we make judgments about the intrinsic and extrinsic probability of this reading or that. Some are easy, such as the three witness, for which there is no early reading. Some are relatively easy, such as the woman taken in adultery or the longer ending of Mark.

    There are obvious cases of scribes either reading one line into another or trying to fix a difficulty (“the only begotten God”) or the like. Virtually all the rest of the variants are different ways of saying the same thing as the text.

    Thus, Warfield was right. In the variants we have the substance of the autographa. We know what the Word of God says. We know the law. We know the gospel. We know the moral will of God. We know the narratives of our faith and we know “the narrative” of our faith. It’s in there.

    In this world there’s going to be ambiguity but in this case the ambiguities are remarkably inconsequential, given that Scripture was written over more than 1000 years in three languages in multiple locations and, under the inspiration of the Spirit, by multiple human authors. Remarkable indeed!

  9. I’ll continue to think about your answer and try to clear my thoughts before I ask more questions. I can see how you are handling this is different than what I was taught as a dispensationalist. Surprise, surprise. Perhaps I’ll have to sit at the feet of Warfield instead of Geisler for a while.

  10. As to the identity of the autographa, that question, I take it, reflects the differing definitions of what the goal of textual criticism should be. Here debate over the definition of “the original text” reduces essentially to two competing senses: the text “as issued by its author” and the text “as received by his audience.” As I understand it, in the end, the text sought via textual criticism, certainly of the biblical kind, is always the original text, whether we conceive that text as the one the author issued or as the one his audience received or both.

    For those who want to follow up on Warfield, check out B. B. Warfield, “The Westminster Assembly and Its Work,” vol. VI of The Works of B. B. Warfield; and his An Introduction to the Textual Criticism of the New Testament. Greg L. Bahnsen also has a helpful essay, “The Inerrancy of the Autographa,” in Inerrancy (ed. N. L. Geisler; GR: Zondervan, 1979).

    As to whether we have the autographa, Warfield, if memory serves, had a nuanced No and Yes answer, hinted at by a couple of comments above. No, we don’t have the autographa as such; Yes, we have the reading of the autographa preserved in the many manuscripts, not in any one manuscript. Of course, Warfield had the confidence that the reading of the qutographa was preserved in the many in the absence of the first because he believed and taught the doctrine of preservation.

    For a contemporary denial of the doctrine of preservation, see Daniel B. Wallace in Grace Theological Journal 12 (1992) 21-50.

  11. FTH,

    Bart Ehrman? Really? Are you sure you want to start with his assumptions?

    It’s been a long time since I did OT text criticism. I’ll have to refer you to my OT colleagues. I can question some of the premises of your questions, however.

    1. I don’t see why the existence of autographs is dubious. You might has well say that the existence of Scripture is dubious. We are dealing with ancient texts and these texts have been transmitted so there are likely to be questions. That’s in the nature of things. The fact that I have questions doesn’t mean that there aren’t answers and the fact that I don’t know all the answers doesn’t mean that the historic view is wrong. The Westminster Divines were aware of text critical difficulties when they confessed the preservation of the text. I don’t know what God is going to do tomorrow but I know God. I don’t have to know everything to have confidence that there is a resolution to difficulties, even if that resolution is not immediately at hand. I can’t solve the problem of Auschwitz and the divine justice — oh well, I guess I’ll just give up the faith —NOT.

    I thought we were all beyond the Enlightenment rationalism of “if it doesn’t fit in my net it isn’t a butterfly”?

    So, when Jesus took the scroll in the synagogue, he was plagued with text critical doubts and cried, “Who knows if it’s really true?” No, he said, “The word of God cannot be broken.” The idea of autographs is hardly a modern notion. The Jewish care for the preservation of the text of Scripture is well documented.

    2. As far as I know the MT is the received text because it has the best history. OT scholars typically modify and augment readings here and there, but the MT is the baseline OT text.

    3. As to ideologically motivated re-working of texts, I don’t see the problem. You aren’t assuming “ideologically” anything is irreconcilable with God’s Word? The Apostle John could be said to have “ideologically” re-worked the synoptics. So what? He did it by the Spirit. Chronicles ideologically re-worked Kings to tell the same stories from different perspectives for a different audience to make a different point. So what?

    4. Numerous versions? Really. My OT text critical apparatus is lot less complicated than my NT text critical apparatus and neither bothers me in the least. The text of Scripture is remarkably well preserved. I think I recall E J Young and R K Harrison making that point about the OT, particularly relative to other ANE texts and I know for a fact that the NT texts are well preserved because I’ve read much of the NT in Greek and worked through the major text-critical problems.

    5. Yes scribes made changes on purpose and those are pretty easy to spot, especially if one reads Greek. Have you ever actually examined the text-critical apparatus of the UBS or the NA? The deliberate changes are pretty ham-fisted and can be spotted on intrinsic grounds.

    The textual baseline for many of our readings, esp. since the discovery of the Oxyrynchus papryi is remarkably ancient.

    The various sorts of errors that copyists made are well documented and understood. It’s not a mystery. We know more about the text history of the NT than any other text– I guess– in human history.

    Foolish, I get the sense that you’re throwing a lot of sand in the air but I don’t understand why. Does Bart really trouble you that much? Ehrman is capable but I don’t share Moises positive evaluation.

    6. Maybe you have an artificial definition of what counts as an autograph? We’ve never claimed to have the scrolls written under Moses’ supervision. We’ve recognized for a very long time that Moses probably didn’t write his own death narrative. So what? God the Spirit couldn’t inspire a prophet to write Moses’ death narrative?

    7. The “problem” of the Hebrew of Ezra was answered a long time ago. These are old liberal canards. I’m surprised they’re still around. Next you’re going to tell us that there weren’t any Hittites.

    8. God the Spirit cannot supervise translation into Aramaic? Call me thick, but I don’t get it.

    9. The Pauline corpus? Forgive me but the critical reading of Paul, on which your questions rest, is shot through with problems. The first problem is the arrogant modernist critical assumptions with which they read God’s Word. The second their usually horrible exegesis. Interpolations? I read Paul in Greek regularly and I have no idea what you’re talking about. That’s a huge, unjustified assumption. Paul uses a variety of styles. Recent scholarship has also pointed out the role of secretaries to explain stylistic variations. E.g. I preached through 1-2 Peter not long ago. The critics all agree that 2 Pet isn’t authentic. Bunk. It’s a different secretary, different vocab choices, different style, but the very same theology and thought structure. The subjectivism of the critics never ceases to amaze me.

    You’re assuming all sorts of alleged “facts” not in evidence, which rest of sheer assumption (e.g. the old liberal assumption that there couldn’t be an elaborate ecclesiology by 60 AD ergo an elaborate ecclesiology means the text is late) for which there is strong counter evidence.

    9. If you’re looking for a reason to have a spiritual crisis, I think you can do better. I can give you some good things over which to have a crisis, but these seem piddling to me. Go on a hospice visit or a cancer ward and you’ve got much better grounds for a crisis — then go read Job.

    10. Foolish, learn Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek and maybe these issues won’t seem as daunting. It’s not as if no one reads Hebrew and Aramaic or Greek. I get the sense that the very existence of Scripture in ancient languages troubles you. Maybe if they were more familiar to you Scripture would seem less remote?

    I’m serious. Come on out. Let Bryan Estelle and Josh Van Ee teach you Hebrew and Aramaic and let Joel Kim and Steve Baugh teach you Greek. They work with these issues all the time (I’m just a church historian who preaches out of his Greek NT regularly and who reads Hebrew much more slowly) and I don’t see them downcast about them.

    Whatever you do, don’t end your reading with Ehrman! There are multiple responses to him.

    If you’re really serious about these things and want technically precise answers then you should contact our bib studies faculty and let them give you more detailed answers.

  12. Hi All,

    I deleted a nasty comment from some wacko and I deleted some follow-up comments because, in the absence of the first, they made no sense. Sorry about that.

    Have a blessed Sabbath.

  13. Scott
    FTH, as you may known, has a blog devoted to defending Peter Enns and his comments here are directly geared towards that end. Contrary to their claims to be broadly and widely read, they actually inhabit a cocoon and show no real awareness of the vast amount of material like you cited. A very good example of this myopticism is seen in the most recent post on FTH blog on the subject of the Covenant of Works.Oh,and this may have something to do with their dearth, they hold the study of Historical theology in utter distain.

  14. Dr. Clark,

    We appear to have had a miscommunication, on numerous levels. I offered the examples in question for the purpose of seeing how they might fit in with what we would consider a high view of Scripture—in your terms, perhaps, a Reformed view. I assume they fit in as I presuppose, of course, that everything about the Bible should inform our views of it (i.e., the source of our understanding of Scripture is Scripture), even when it comes to things that make us uncomfortable. This is along the lines of how God seems to be in the business of challenging his people and not working in ways that make us comfortable (i.e., the Cross, grace, etc.). This, to me, is a truly high and Reformed view of Scripture, one that tries to follow Scripture wherever it goes.

    Thus, again, I offered some examples of things about the Bible that tend to make us American Evangelical or Reformed uncomfortable. My point was not to share things that “trouble me,” they certainly do not (anymore). Nor was my point to mention such examples as things over which I am having (or wanting to have) a “spiritual crisis.” In my experience it is precisely neglecting and ignoring such things, and being told to do so by church leaders to whom one looks up, that leads people to have a “spiritual crisis” when confronted with them. Again, should we not expect this? Consciously making part of the Bible, part of God’s Word, and what it “is” off limits is dangerous for all involved.

    None of the examples I gave are really controversial, except to a small group of American Evangelical/Reformed folk (but not all of them) that said examples make uncomfortable. Coincidence? In fact, for most of the examples I confined myself to issues discussed in MDiv level courses at Westminster Theological Seminary. I am not “starting from” Ehrman’s assumptions, unless by that you mean the assumption that we should study the writings of our Bible in as rigorous and methodologically self-conscious historical way as possible. You seemed to agree with this in your reply to me on another post. I am not “starting from” the arrogant modernist assumptions of “liberal” scholarship. Perhaps you would disagree with me about where I am “starting from.” In that case, perhaps a dialogue about this would be better than you asserting something about me?

    If I may, it seems most of your points in response do not really address anything I mentioned. Or when they do, you are simply wrong. In some places you seem to be assuming my thought falls into certain categories that have been stereotyped and rejected by Evangelical/Reformed scholarship, even when what I am saying has nothing to do with the specific issues you mention.

    For example, your point about my supposedly outdated comment that Hebrew did not exist in Moses’ time seems to assume I am coming from what you understand as the older theories of Israelite Religion associated with 19th century versions of the Documentary Hypothesis. As most Evangelicals see it, said approach presumed Moses could not have written the Pentateuch since it questioned the existence of writing that far back—just as it questioned the existence of Hittites due to a dearth of archaeological evidence. My comments about Hebrew and the languages of Moses and Ezra do not come from said theory and have certainly not been “answered.” Just about any semitic philologist will tell you such basics of the historical development of Hebrew in the near East. They say this not because (as the Documentary Hypothesis did) they lack archaeological and other ancient data, but because they have an overabundance of such ancient data pointing to this understanding. This is not just a “liberal” thing either. The Evangelical attempts at answers I have heard do not argue for the earlier existence of Hebrew (earlier than the 11th, 10th, or 9th centuries), but rather for the existence of close antecedents to Hebrew at earlier stages. This is such an obvious point that I have no idea why it is argued—unless said Evangelical is going to try to pull a fast one on his listeners/readers and try to re-name some of these antecedents “Hebrew.”

    For another example, “The Jewish care for the preservation of the text of Scripture…” is not “well documented,” as you say. Evangelical apologists (and/or bible teachers) constantly talk about how if Jewish copyist made a copy that had 232 letters when the original had 231, he would throw the whole thing out and start over again. The Jews were supposedly all about accuracy and thus we can trust them to have preserved the text of the OT writings perfectly right up to our Masoretic Text, with few minor exceptions. I have read numerous, usually Evangelical/Reformed, discussions along these lines. The parade example is the Isaiah scroll from Qumran that is 1000 years earlier than some of our other earliest Hebrew Bible manuscripts and, behold!, it is remarkably similar. The problem here is that this is ridiculously selective engagement. Another Isaiah scroll was found at Qumran that was remarkably different than the one of the Masoretic text.

    Beyond this, again, we know multiple versions of different writings of the Hebrew Bible circulated in the Hellenistic and Roman periods. This is not debated, except by some (not all) American Evangelical and Reformed who do not like this. We have Hebrew pieces of such other editions from, for example, the Dead Sea Scrolls. We see that Jewish scribes handled their sacred writings in remarkably similar ways to other scribes in the Hellenistic and early Roman periods (before and around the time of our NT): they updated, re-worked, re-contextualized, etc., the writings as they copied them. The Masoretic text was not the dominant text type in the 1st century. It gained ascendancy later and that is why it is, now, “the best preserved.” Early Jews were apparently not bothered by the existence of multiple versions of different books. If they were, well, some were aware that that was the case even if they did not like it. The Word of God was the version they had when it was read. Perhaps they thought it was the best preserved version of “the autograph,” if they even had notions of (anxiety about) “the autograph” (something you would need to argue). Enough with focusing on specific examples…

    As an aside, but answering one of your points, knowing Biblical Hebrew, Biblical Aramaic, and Hellenistic/Koine Greek does not make the issues I bring up (in my initial comment and below) go away or somehow help one see they are not issues. I did study each of those languages and work extensively in our Biblical writings in said languages over the course of both my degrees at Westminster Theological Seminary: MAR Biblical Studies and ThM Old Testament. I will continue to use them, and to learn others, as part of my doctoral program (not at the University of North Carolina, in case anyone is wondering) in ancient Mediterranean Religions, especially Ancient Judaism and Early Christianity.

    Getting back to my concerns, how do such examples, which make the notion of “the autograph” problematic, factor into your nuanced understandings of Scripture and inspiration? In saying the notion of “the autograph(s)” is problematic I am not trying to question Scripture. My point, again, is that it is difficult for the Evangelical/Reformed to finger where exactly “the autograph” would be in the incredibly complex composition and transmission stages of the writings of our Bible. We like to locate inspiration and authority in an autograph from the hand of the earliest original author, whom we usually identify as closely as possible with the prophet with whom the book is associated or the apostle (or other writer) with whom the writing in question is associated. What do you do when, however, the form of the writing we have in our Bibles (in the Masoretic text, for example), is a form that has been re-worked, updated, redacted/edited, and is even a different version than whatever the so-called original human author wrote? Where is “the autograph” in all this? How can these examples, and numerous others, nuance our conceptions of “the autograph” and our attaching inspiration to it?

    Do we not come from the same basic starting place here? Do we not both desire to submit to God speaking in Scripture and follow him wherever he takes us? I would like to think we both have this common starting point and, for various reasons, see it working out in different ways. Do you, and others, agree?

    I am not trying to question Scripture here. Rather, I would like to let Scripture question us here. Perhaps in such a dialogue with Scripture (one in which we are submissive) Scripture will modify our conceptions of it, God, how God behaves in giving and transmitting his Word, etc.?

  15. GLW and everyone,

    Sorry, I missed GLW’s comment when I posted my last comment…

    Some of my friends and I do have a blog. It is not devoted to defending Enns, though recently some of us have criticized some of Enns’ critics, defended him, and expressed frustration with where Westminster Philadelphia appears to be headed.

    For my part, I seek to study the Bible in as honest and Christ honoring a way as I can as part of my church with a view to edifying the church. Interestingly, as I do this it seems Enns and I are on similar trajectories or paths—our concerns and ways of approaching the Bible as God’s Word are somewhat similar. But, this is not just an Enns thing. In this way Enns is part of a larger group of us in the Evangelical/Reformed world, including myself and MANY others. Enns is simply a flashpoint with whom many of our similar concerns have become associated.

    To put a little more on the table, Enns was in fact my ThM advisor, taught several of my classes and seminary, and is a friend. No doubt this accounts somewhat for how I approach the Bible. But, I did not “learn” my approach or gain a desire to go about things the way I do simply from him. I differ from him on various points. This is mainly because I do not do what I do as an Enns disciple. I do it as someone seeking to follow the Lord and it looks similar to how Enns, and many others in our traditions!, goes about it. Again, Enns is more of a flashpoint of larger issues of what the Bible “is” and how we should study it in the Evangelical/Reformed world than he is an initiator of some movement.

    I did not come here trying to bring the Enns-fight to this blog. I realize it seems that way to people who associate all sorts of things with Enns. But, again, I want to put some often neglected (in our tradition) aspects of our Bible in the mixing bowl of our conceptions of Scripture, what it “is,” and, in this case, our conceptions of “the autograph” and our doctrine of Scripture. After all, again, I think we are all agreed on wanting to have Scripture determine how we think of Scripture.

    As to GLW’s other charges, come and look at our blog. We really do want to engage in discussion. Also, we do not all agree on everything.

    On a specific point, I am not aware of a conscious disdain for Historical Theology on our blog. Rather, we have frustrations with people who seem to use historical theology primarily for the backdoor purpose of doing theology. In this I share the same concerns Dr. Clark voiced the other day http://heidelblog.wordpress.com/2008/07/31/on-olevian-calvin-and-union-points-5-and-6/ , the thread on which I voiced my appreciation for his approach to historical theology.

    GLW, I invite you to explain your problems with my covenant of works post, which was not (by the way) a critique of the covenant of works. Rather, it notes some of the earliest instances of the word “covenant” being explicitly applied to the relationship between God and Adam/man. Though I mention that I and others have issues with the doctrine, the post was more about asking what value there is in studying how ancient people used the Bible. So, in a sense, the value of ancient historical-theology (which I think to be great). But, I digress…

    I hope this is somewhat helpful.

  16. Fth
    Very interesting, huh,perhaps you would care to comment on you remarks about Westminister Calif. hiring Kim . a pupil of Richard Muller at CTS as an asst. professor of NT.

  17. p.s.
    Just wondering if your take on the Apostle Paul’s example of Abram and the various texts in Genesis that he uses in developing his understanding of justification -is Paul misusing the text and contradicting Moses ( assuming that you accept Moses as the author)?

  18. FTH,

    I did misunderstand you entirely. Since I saw this question first on the PB — not the usual hangout for evangelical progessives — I read your question as coming from a lay-seeker genuinely troubled by something he had read. I did not read your question as coming from someone highly trained in biblical studies who has definite opinions on technical matters. Had I known, I would have skipped the reply. I am concerned, however, that your questions–to which I believe there are good answers–could be a cause for stumbling by those without training who come to them. Surely that’s not your intent is it? Have you thought about that? I’m not saying that they should not be asked, but I do wonder whether the PB (you knew where you were right) or the HB are the right places for such discussions. A lot of laity read this blog and many of them have very little training in biblical studies. I get a surprising number of emails from people with genuine spiritual struggles.

    I might have taken a clue from the Ehrman reference, I had no idea that you are the fellow who runs “connversation” and that you’re a committed to particular positions in these discussions. Are you raising honest questions or pursuing a progressive evangelical revisionist agenda? Are you wasting my time?

    FWIW, I re-read portions of Young’s (c. 1946) Intro to the OT on Jeremiah and R K Harrison’s Intro and the latter had a hint about some of the questions you are raising. The approach suggested by Young and adopted by Harrison seems satisfactory in principle.

    Do we start from the same place? I have no idea. I start with God’s canonical revelation received and confessed by catholic church and confessed with more clarity by the Reformed churches. I submit to the Word of God confessed by the Reformed churches because (quia) I understand that confession to be the most biblical expression of the Reformed faith. I’m not a biblicist. I’m not seeking to re-write the faith. I confess both the ecclesia Reformata AND semper Reformanda. My impression of the progressive evangelicals or post-evs or post-cons is that they are mostly biblicists who only wish to talk about semper Reformanda.

    I still see a number of assumptions in your latest post that need to be queried. For example, EJY was willing to include within the formation of canonical documents editorial activity, as in the case of Jeremiah (ditto for RKH). Ned Stonehouse documented extensive editorial/theological activity within the formation of the gospels and comprehended it within the doctrines of inerrancy and canonicity. I’m sure someone has continued to do that sort of work. The principle here, I guess, is that where you seem to assume (maybe I misunderstand) that editorial activity creates a problem for finding the autographa, I don’t assume that. When I say “autographa,” I guess I mean, “that form of a document received by the churches as canonical in a given epoch of redemptive history.”

    You seem to conclude that if text-critical problems then the very idea of an autograph is in doubt. I don’t think that follows. Beside if there were no text-critical problems then what fun would that be?

    I’m not claiming to be a professional, vocational, biblical scholar. I’m a church historian and I’m quite conscious that my knowledge of the responses to these sorts of issues is dated, but I know that there have always been good answers to these sort of questions and have implicit faith there always will be. I think the underlying question to much of what you’re raising is: is there a canon? The churches have always said yes. The churches have always been conscious that there are textual variants but that has never stopped us, in any epoch, from holding that we have the canonical Word of God written.

    I’m not counseling anti-intellectualism but I am conscious of my own limitations and the limits on my time.

  19. Good post, Dr. Clark. You, Horton and others are fighting to defend the faith, and FV, Barthians, ecumenicists, etc. are not. Keep up the good work!

  20. Thanks for your lengthy reply.

    I tried to make quite clear my intention to engage in real conversation and to have some serious interaction about our Bible—in each of my comments. I am somewhat puzzled by your response of questioning my motives, agenda, and if I am “wasting your time.” As you are quite aware, we all have agendas in what we do. My hope in attempting a conversation is to be conscious about my possible agendas and still to engage in conversation seeking to understand, be self-critical, and go around the spiral (if you will). Are we all willing to be self-critical here? Are we all willing to be conscious of our agendas and realize that they may not always be the pious and edifying agendas we think they are? This certainly goes for me. This is how conversation and interaction works.

    I have thought, almost endlessly, about how “the laity” would view my points and questions. Interestingly, I think the points I make are only a cause for stumbling because we have a church culture that has decided certain things about our Bible are off limits—there are certain ways our Bible “must be” in order for it to be acceptable to us as God’s Word. While this may be the case, it seems our conceptions of what these things are should be open to scrutiny from Scripture. This is why I (and others) find it so important to engage the Bible and to allow it to shape our perceptions of it even in the places where it seems to be challenging us in places we never thought it would—just as we want the Bible to shape our understandings of God, salvation, our ultimate problem, and how we need grace and cannot contribute to salvation ourselves, etc.

    This is why I posted these points here on this post, to give you and others a chance to show how a sophisticated Reformed doctrine of God and Scripture engages such things about our Bible and how God gave it and transmitted it.

    Whenever I have taught on and/or incorporated such messy aspects of the Bible into teaching and interaction with people in my church and with other Christians I find greater excitement about Christ, the Gospel, and reading the Bible ensues—not stumbling. It is usually only when people looked-up-to as leaders tell “the laity” such things should cause them to stumble that they, in fact, “stumble” when confronted with, well, the Bible.

    Also, in no way have I implied that I do not believe there is a canon, or that we somehow do not have the Word of God written. In fact, it seems what I want us to focus on is similar to what you desire, the form of the Bible received by the church—i.e., the Bible we have (and perhaps not the supposed earliest or ‘original’ form of the various writings). Of course, this still does not make everything neat and tidy. For example, even though people around the Reformation and post-Reformation periods were aware of some textual variants, they were not aware of the extent of the issue—that the manuscript tradition they used was simply one of several others and, in fact, inferior to others that would later be unearthed. This is why many people have such a problem with Warfield’s approach to textual criticism, one that was congenial to moving beyond the “Received Text” to Wescott and Hort’s critical text. Again, my point is not to question if we have the Word of God, but to recognize the situation is not as neat as we would like it to be. This should be glorious to us, however—this is how our Lord worked, in ways that do not always make us comfortable (like the Cross!).

    About EJY and Ned Stonehouse and how they (more Stonehouse than Young) engaged issues of composition and redaction from a perspective of Scripture as God’s Word, the canon, etc., there are people carrying on that work. In fact, Stonehouse’s work along these lines (along with Dillard’s and Groves’) inspired me to do what I do and to study what I study the way I study it. I am troubled that it always seems to be assumed that people such as myself who bring up these sticky questions (for the purpose of helping us engage our Bible) are not doing so for the purpose of understanding the Bible as Scripture, as the canon, as inspired, etc. Even if you do not think I am ultimately doing that, for the purpose of conversation it could be acknowledged that that is what I (and others) am consciously trying to do.

    Finally, I also am not a “Biblicist,” or at least not consciously such. I became interested in studying the Bible the way I do as I worked from my rich Reformed-Theological heritage. I saw Stonehouse, Dillard, Groves, Enns(!), etc., doing what they did because of their strong and robust Reformed theology. Luther, Calvin, Turretin, Owen, Boston, the Divines, various Puritans, Warfield, Vos, Machen, Murray, Van Til, Ferguson, Gaffin, Berkhof, etc., these were the theologians whose writings nourished me and who had the most foundational impacts on me. My movement into Biblical studies more directly was fueled by such great theologians, by the desire to read the Bible as a part of my Reformed heritage and church as best I could. Where we find it challenging us should we not be able to allow it to do so without being accused of being Biblicists who read the Bible “on our own”?

    For you, Dr. Clark (and others here) are there parts of Reformed Theology that are beyond critique and never in need of Reforming? I ask this not because of a conscious desire “to rewrite the faith,” but because this is an important attitude check for us all, I think. How do we make sure we do not (even unconsciously) have a stricter view of tradition than Rome has ever had? I am not accusing but asking here.

    So, is it possible for us to have a conversation about these details in the Bible’s composition and transmission history(ies) and how they factor into our notions of Scripture and “autographs”? Again, it seems we may actually both want to focus on the same things as Scripture: the form of the Bible our church has received.

  21. Foolish,

    I’ve got a whole book coming out on ecclesia reformata, semper Reformanda. I’ve dealt with it at great length on the HB.

    Short answer: no, the faith is not beyond reformation but as Machen and Murray pointed out a long time ago it is one thing to revise the confession from within the church and it’s another to revise it from outside the church.

    One thing that none of the revisionists, going back to Ray Dillard, have never done, is submit their views to the churches for adjudication. That would have been a very helpful move. I did some ecclesiastical work in the late 80s on Dillard and others. I appreciated some of what Ray was doing. I’m not anti-intellectual — but I resent and resist the move by some to arrogate to themselves the “semper Reformanda” slogan when they simply no longer believe the substance of what the church has always believed. I resist and resent the move to label those of us who value the tradition as “anti-intellectual” simply because we value the tradition and have taken the time to get to know it on its own terms.

    I think we have to deal with our tradition, our confession, and the faith received from our forefathers in good faith.

    I’m pressed for time but as I’ve said you would be better served having a conversation who is better equipped to answer the technical particulars. If yoi want to engage Bryan Estelle or Josh van Ee, or our NT faculty, they are better equipped than a mere historian to carry on the technical side of a biblical studies conversation.

  22. Better late than never.
    1. As per the original thrust of this post, the Word of God was first given in the autographa and then faithfully preserved in the apographa. In other words, to have the last is to have the first. While the church does not ignore textual discoveries, the church of Christ still has right now, as she has in the past, the true and infallible Word of God. WCF 1:8 says:

    The Old Testament in Hebrew . . and the New Testament in Greek . . . being immediately inspired by God, and by his singular care and providence kept pure in all ages, are therefore authentical.

    Yet in that Warfield was mentioned above a couple of times above, it is of interest that he says in the West. Assembly and Its Work:

    “In the sense of the Westminster Confession, therefore, multiplication of copies of Scriptures, the several early efforts towards the revision of the text, the raising up of scholars in our own day to collect and collate the MSS., and to reform the text of scientific [?] principles – of our Tischendorfs and Tregelleses and Westcotts and Horts – are all parts of God’s singular care and providence in preserving his inspired Word pure (p. 239).”

    My question would be is BB talking about prov. preservation according to the historic understanding of the doctrine in the WCF? Or prov. reconstruction of Scripture by the priesthood of scholars who appeal to those texts providentially discarded by the church, however much Hort and Westcott tout those ‘older and therefore better’ discarded manuscripts, Aleph, A, B, C and D? What of the ‘Darwinian’ missing link and conspiracy theory of Hort’s Lucian Rescension? And if certain textual theories of W&H have been debunked, their skepticism toward the traditional text is still the foundation and basis for much of modern textual criticism, is it not?

    2. As regards Foolish’s concern, respectfully IMO we saw the same dog and pony show over at Green Baggins in the discussion on Enns and WTS. Yet for one, it never seems to occur to some that any similarity between Genesis and the ANE documents/Flood accounts does not automatically mean that Genesis had to conform to the ANE/pagan Flood accounts instead of the other way around. Likewise there was a vocal revelation of the Word of God before the Word of God was written by Moses and then later edited by Ezra. See Owen 13:464f for instance.

    Further, one gets tired of hearing the misuse of the semper reformandum slogan. Rather the primary meaning was that the reformed not only believed that an adequate knowledge of the gospel and Scriptural truth could be attained, but that it actually was attained and confessed at the Reformation. Further that the church constantly had to reform its preaching, teaching and practice to that confession, not that the confessional/doctrinal standard had to be continually revised/was continually evolving.

    Thank you.

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