In the recent Kloha-Montgomery Debate, John Warwick Montgomery described thoroughgoing eclecticism as incompatible with the doctrine of Biblical inerrancy. What is thoroughgoing eclecticism? Jeff Kloha, quoting J. Keith Elliott, described it as “the method that allows internal considerations for a reading’s originality to be given priority over documentary considerations.” An illustrative example of thoroughgoing eclecticism in practice can be found in Kloha’s essay, “
’s Magnificat,” in the 2014 volume, Texts & Traditions: Essays in Honour of J. Keith Elliott (beginning
on page 200). Elizabeth
In that essay, Kloha offers a cumulative case for the theory that the original text of Luke had neither the name “Mary” nor “
but only “And said” (Και ειπεν). This
would imply, as I mentioned in the previous post, that (1) all the known Greek manuscripts of Luke contain a scribal
corruption at this point, and (2) it
was Elizabeth, rather than Mary, who spoke the Magnificat. A page from Codex
Vercellensis (late 300s)
In addition, in Jerome’s Latin translation of Origen’s commentary on the Gospel of Luke, we find this statement from Jerome embedded in the comments on Luke 1:46: “In a certain number of manuscripts, we have discovered that blessed Mary is said to prophesy. We are not unaware of the fact that, according to other copies of the Gospel, Elizabeth speaks these words in prophecy.”
A little-known contemporary of Jerome named Nicetas of Remesiana (335-414), who read both Latin and Greek, and who was known for his hymn-writing, attributed the Magnificat to
(1) he decides that in this case, an older witness should be given less weight than a younger witness,
(2) he decides that a non-Greek witness should be given less weight than a Greek witness, and
(3) he decides that patristic evidence is less important than manuscript evidence.
Via all three points, Montgomery employs internal evidence as the means by which to gauge the relative weight of the components of external evidence – that is, Montgomery is resorting to a consideration of internal factors even though he proposed that one should “only use the internal considerations where they’re absolutely necessary.” Why should the second-century composition of a Greek-writer such as Irenaeus, be given less weight than two manuscripts produced 150 years later? Why should Latin evidence be minimized, unless one can show that it was derived from some non-Greek source or was the result of mistranslation? Why think that a Latin translator detoured from the meaning of his Greek text? Why assume that the manuscripts used by a patristic writer in the late 300s (Nicetas) would be less accurate than Vaticanus and Sinaiticus? Why should manuscripts known to Jerome be considered lightweight?
Perhaps there are sound answers to all these questions – but to downplay them because they imply that “the Greek texts” contain a scribal corruption is to pretend as if our present situation (in which all the Greek manuscripts affirm that Mary spoke the Magnificat) is the same as the situation in the 300s and 400s. However, the external evidence indicates that if we were to situate our perspective in the fourth century, we could not so easily settle the question via a cavalier appeal to “the Greek texts” because the Greek manuscripts at that time did not all agree in Luke 1:46. We can either ignore this external evidence (as if disagreement with the Nestle-Aland compilation is a sufficient reason to consider a reading incorrect), or else we can analyze it and evaluate its possible implications.
Dr. Kloha has taken the second option, in a somewhat tentative way, declaring at the outset of his essay that he was making a suggestion about the text of Luke 1:46. He reaffirmed this at the debate, stating, when answering a question about his everyday treatment of Luke 1:46, that he never even brought up the text-critical question when teaching lessons from Luke chapters 1-2: “My judgments by themselves,” he stated, “are not decisive.”
This is a longstanding conservative approach to conjectural emendations – Greek readings imagined by the textual critic, which the critic suspects to be original, but which are not extant in any manuscript. Ever since the 1500s, scholars have made calculated guesses about hypothetical readings which are capable of explaining extant rival readings, especially in passages where such hypothetical readings interlock well with the context. For example, Erasmus suspected that the original text of James 4:2 might have said “you are jealous” (φθονειτε) instead of “you commit murder” (φονεύετε), in light of the reference to jealousy in 4:5. (This theory seems to have been adopted by Luther when he made his German translation.)
Theodore Beza, similarly, was convinced that in Revelation 16:5, the original text referred to the “One who is, and who was, and shall be,” even though the final phrase is not found in Revelation 16:5 in any Greek manuscript (although it recurs elsewhere in Revelation, such as in 1:8). Beza’s reasoning apparently was persuasive to the translators of the King James Version, for this conjectural reading is echoed in the KJV’s text of the verse.
One would think that Dr. Montgomery, having recommended that textual critics should “only use the internal considerations where they’re absolutely necessary,” would far prefer the conservative approach in which a textual critic may express some conjectural emendations, but does not put them in the printed text, instead deferring to the extant Greek manuscript evidence. But no. When observing that Kloha did not insist on advancing his theory about Luke as more than a detailed suggestion, however plausible, Montgomery stated, “I find it absolutely disingenuous when you will not follow through on what you wrote in your own article. If you believed in that article that the better reading, the better text, for the Magnificat, was
you have no business in the world just ignoring the problem now.”
Suppose, however, that Dr. Kloha, or any textual critic, resolved to turn the Sunday School lesson-hour into a lecture about every textual variant-unit that he considered worth re-examining. When would the actual lessons ever be taught? Sunday-school lessons are Sunday-school lessons, and instructors who are aware of many textual issues routinely ignore them, to avoid needlessly throwing their students into the deep end, so to speak. It is simply more efficient to reserve textual issues to venues specifically focused upon them, unless a specific question is raised.
Dr. Montgomery then continued: “Or it may be, Dr. Kloha, that you give papers in non-confessional contexts that really work very well in those contexts, and then when you come to us, we get this litany of orthodox Lutheran fathers which is supposed to give the impression that the kind of work you’ve done is consistent with Biblical inerrancy. It isn’t! It isn’t!”
At that point, it seems to me, shrill declaration usurped argument. For not only was Kloha very clear from the first page of his essay that his suggestion is a suggestion, but it should also be perfectly obvious that his suggestion does not imply that Luke made any error. Furthermore, it is contradictory for
Yet the Dr. Montgomery who called Dr. Kloha’s approach inconsistent with Biblical inerrancy is the same person who said that the variants between NA28 and the Textus Receptus are “not materially different from what you’re reading today.” I remind the reader that those differences consist of over 1,000 translatable points, including the inclusion or exclusion of whole verses, in the Gospels alone. Does it seen even-handed to observe a change in the printed text from “shall be burned up” to “shall not be found” in Second Peter 3:10, and a change from “Lord” to “Jesus” in Jude verse 5, and a change from “name” to “cause” in First Peter 4:16 (to give just three examples) and say that these differences in the text are “not materially different,” but when Dr. Kloha makes a suggestion about one word, he has done something “on the periphery,” something different than what the compilers of NA28 have done?
|One of Dr. Montgomery's slides.|
(I have to agree that Dr. Kloha has indeed done something different: he has suggested that a reading without Greek manuscript-support is original, while the compilers of NA28 have not merely suggested such a reading; they have inserted such a reading into the text! Yet Dr. Montgomery looks at Dr. Kloha’s suggestion and concludes that his approach is too subjective and has the consequence of rendering Biblical inerrancy impossible, and then he looks at the work of the compilers at Muenster and says that they seem to be moving toward a more objective approach, “and this is all to the good.” ?!?!)
It seems to me that nothing that Dr. Kloha wrote in his essay, or expressed at the debate, poses a problem for the doctrine of Biblical inerrancy. I am not persuaded by his meticulously researched suggestion that there was no proper name in the original text of Luke 1:46, but if someone were persuaded by it, that person would not be obligated to declare Luke to be in error; it would only follow that copyists made a mistake.
There is, it seems, only one subject of the debate yet to address: the question of the “plasticity” of the New Testament text. God willing, that will be the subject of my next post.