Monday, August 1, 2016

Who's Making Your Bible?

David Trobisch
          When the 28th edition of the Nestle-Aland Novum Testamentum Graece was published in 2012, it was soon followed by A User’s Guide to the Nestle-Aland 28 Greek New Testament, released in September of 2013.  The author of this introduction to NA28 is David Trobisch, who in 2011 became a member of the editorial committee entrusted with the preparation of future editions of the Nestle-Aland Novum Testamentum Graece.  
          Trobisch’s User’s Guide to NA28 has been met with some concerns among evangelicals; Dan Wallace, for example, noted that Trobisch “got some facts wrong,” and recommended the removal of an entire chapter.  I too have some concerns.  
          One might expect all of the compilers of Novum Testamentum Graece to be Christians, since future compilations of this text will likely be the basis for future translations of the New Testament used in Christian congregations.  However, Trobisch is a fellow of The Jesus Project, an undertaking of a group called the Center for Inquiry.  His fellow-members include Frank Zindler (an atheist who is also a Jesus Mythicist, that is, he denies that Jesus ever existed), Paul Kurtz (President of the International Academy of Humanism), James Crossley (an atheist), James Tabor (perhaps best-known for his theory that the Talpiot Tomb is the tomb of Jesus), Robert M. Price (Jesus Seminar member, and also a Jesus Mythicist), and Richard Carrier (another Jesus Mythicist).    
          At the website of the Center for Inquiry, the organization is defined “A world-wide movement of humanists, skeptics, freethinkers, and atheists.”  And its members’ mission is plainly stated:  “To foster a secular society based on science, reason, freedom of inquiry, and humanist values.”  The website also states that it is a priority of the Center for Inquiry “to oppose and supplant the mythological narratives of the past, and the dogmas of the present.”  
          Somehow I suspect that the phrase “dogmas of the present” encompasses the historical doctrines of the Christian church.  One of the research-programs of the Center for Inquiry mentioned at the website is the Council for Secular Humanism.  It is rather surprising to learn that a member of that organization, which is clearly dedicated to erode and marginalize the cultural influence of Christianity, is also an advisor for the American Bible Society, and the curator of the Museum of the Bible which is scheduled to open in WashingtonD.C. in late 2017.

          An article by David Trobisch appeared in Volume 28 of the secular humanist magazine Free Inquiry (from Dec 2007/Jan 2008).  His article is mentioned on the cover and it is accessible online (via this link).  In that article, Trobisch expresses some unusual interpretations of some parts of the New Testament.  He proposes, for example, that John 21:24 was written with all four Gospels in mind:  “This sentence does not refer to only one author and one manuscript; instead, it talks about “books” in the plural. The reader of John will have just finished reading the fourth account of “things that Jesus did.”  A modern rendition of this sentence may sound like:  “If everything Jesus did was written down, I suppose that the world could not contain all the books that would have to be published.  Four books are plenty!” The last sentence of John does not refer only to the Gospel according to John; it refers to the Gospel collection as a whole.”
           Trobisch also states, “The New Testament was published by Polycarp of Smyrna between 166 and 168 C. E.”  As corroborating evidence, he points to Second Timothy 4:9-20 and proposes that this passage “may contain the names of the publisher and forger of this letter.”  He focuses on the two names in these verses (without mentioning the four names in verse 21) that do not appear elsewhere in the New Testament:  Crescens and Carpus.  The name “Carpus,” Trobisch proposes, “could easily be interpreted as referring to Bishop Polycarp.”  
          He then goes on to propose that the reference to Crescens in Second Timothy 4:9 was added as an acknowledgement of the role of Polycarp’s secretary (mentioned in Polycarp’s letter to the Philippians which introduced the Letters of Ignatius).  “Although this argument cannot carry the burden of proof,” Trobisch concludes, “it is a nice example of corroborating evidence.”
          That theory is not merely weak.  It’s quackery.  And it is not the only highly dubious theory of the origins of New Testament books that Trobisch has promoted.  In a speech delivered in 2015, he referred to the text about Jesus promoted by the second-century heretic Marcion as “the oldest Gospel,” and began his speech with the claim that “Scholars now know of a Gospel-book that is probably older than the Gospels that are part of the New Testament.”  Trobisch also claimed that the author of the Gospel of Luke used Josephus as a source.        
          One can harbor all kinds of unusual beliefs and still be a competent textual critic.  However, Trobisch apparently believes that the Gospel of Luke post-dates the works of Josephus, and that the earliest text of the four canonical Gospels descends from the 150’s-160’s.  That position, it seems to me, is very likely to have an impact on some text-critical decisions, just as different solutions to the Synoptic Problem yield different implications about some textual variants in the Gospels. 
          Trobisch has also written that the opening sentences of Acts refer, not to the closing verses of Luke, but instead to the closing verses of John – implying that the composition of Acts post-dates the collection of the four canonical Gospels.  He has also written, “Historically speaking Paul probably did not heal.”  Trobisch’s doubts about Paul’s healing-miracles might not affect Trobisch’s text-critical work.  But does anyone think that if a textual critic believes, as Trobisch seems to, that Acts was written in the middle of the second century, this will have no impact on his text-critical decisions pertaining to the text of Acts?
          And does anyone think that it does not matter that Trobisch believes (as he has recently written) that “scribes and editors felt free to revise the Greek text during the fourteen centuries of its manuscript transmission,” rather than the normal view that a scribes’ primary ambition was to make an accurate copy of the text of his exemplar?  Do any specialists besides Trobisch believe that a typical copyist “felt free” to revise the text of the Gospels?  There were indeed some reckless copyists, but to present them as if they were typical is like saying that human beings have six digits on each hand.
          In addition to the objection that Trobisch brings some strange ideas to the compilation-committee’s table, there is a pastoral concern here.  I have never met David Trobisch but from what I have read and watched, the religion to which he subscribes is very different from the Christianity which is taught in the New Testament.  It seems to be a baptized “social gospel” philosophy which does not remotely affirm – and which directly opposes – the statement of faith of the National Association of Evangelicals, which, among other things, affirms the infallibility of the Bible, Christ’s virgin birth, His bodily resurrection, His deity, His future return, the final judgment, and salvation through the work of the Holy Spirit in personal spiritual rebirth.  
          Yet very many evangelical leaders who consider those things to be essentials of the faith – people such as D. A. Carson, James White, Craig Evans, Bill Mounce, and Steve Green – seem perfectly fine when the task of compiling the text of the Greek New Testament is entrusted to someone who denies every one of those tenets of Christianity.  At least, I have not heard much protest from them so far.  Most evangelical preachers probably would not share their pulpits with hyper-liberals and atheists.  Why, then, do they seem perfectly content to have a hyper-liberal edit the book on the pulpit?  
          It may be that our wise evangelical leaders have reckoned that just because a fox is a fox, that is no reason why a fox cannot be a skillful guardian of the chicken coop.  Nothing but bias, they might insist, would elicit a suspicion that an unbeliever might – whether purposefully or unconsciously – render the base-text of the New Testament unstable, or introduce readings into the text which have very little manuscript-support (or even none).  “It would be a gross employment of the genetic fallacy,” someone might insist, “if Christian translators deliberately avoided using a base-text compiled by someone ideologically opposed to Bible-believing Christianity.” 
          Against such politically correct wisdom I protest in the name of common sense.  The gold of the king of Sodom was as solid as the next man’s; yet Abraham (in Genesis 14:21-24) refused to receive any of it.  There is a principle being illustrated there that should not be ignored. 
          Second Corinthians 6:14 says, “Do not be yoked together with unbelievers.  For what partnership does righteousness have with lawlessness?  And what fellowship does light have with darkness?”  Paul stresses this theme emphatically for several verses:  “What agreement has the temple of God with idols?” and so forth.  He utilizes two stirring passages from the Old Testament in his call to the church:  “Come out from among them.”  And what co-operation can there be between Christ-centered churches, and members of the Center for Inquiry?  No one can serve two masters.  Paul’s warning against being yoked together with unbelievers is often unheeded in today’s society.  Still, one might think that in the enterprise of compiling the text of the Greek New Testament, this principle should not be ignored when alternatives are readily available.



Unknown said...

This is some good information that I was not aware of. I've used NA28 for several years and never knew this. Thanks for sharing.

Daniel Buck said...

The pagan Gibeonites were given the perpetual task of hewing wood and hauling water for the temple. Not performing the sacrifices for sin. David Trobisch does a good job of wood hewing and water hauling when it comes to his contributions to codicology.

Kepha said...

I have been using the 3d edition for decades--along with a recently purchased secondhand copy of the TR with the KJV in parallel columns (dated 1953).

I am now wary of newer editions of the UBS text of the Greek New Testament.

OnlywaytoGod said...

Read about my problems with what David and Steve Green have to say here...

Daniel Kleven said...

Just FYI, all of the links to Trobisch on the website are no longer active (here and on your other pages). It appears that the Jesus Project wrapped up early in 2009 after only 2 years? I find your argument most compelling when you dismantle his actual positions, less when it feels merely like guilt by association. Still interesting, to be sure.

Al said...

David Trobisch's writings look and sound like a snake.