To: David

I'm sorry that it has taken me so long to respond to you. You clearly put a lot of work into presenting your case, and I felt it only fair to study it before responding.

I am honestly honored by your engagement, but it seems obvious to me that I need to finish the series...some of the items you bring up were in the points 14-40...

1. The epistemic chain, and the question of originals I'm satisfied that we can establish from available manuscripts what the canonized text looked like, with a reasonably high precision. I'm also satisfied that at least some of the books -- you specifically mention Deuteronomy -- had attained this form quite some time before canonization. There are three areas where I perceive us still to possibly be in conflict:

a) Its canonization marks a singularity in the history of any given book; for instance, extant variant forms were probably deliberately destroyed at that point. Our picture of the work's overall state pre-canonization contains an immeasurable factor of pure speculation.

As I work through your point here, I realize that I have failed to define 'canonization' and that you are using the computer science/automata theory/logical discipline notion of 'canonical form' (I remember back in grad school, the course in Compiler Theory, where we had to parse the language elements into 'canonical form' and then into n-tuples!...and then again all the logic courses in my theol/philosophy study). My fault. There is no 'canonical form' OF THE TEXT ITSELF at all. The 'canon' refers to the delineation of what books were accepted by the church-at-large as being divine in origin.

(Strictly speaking, there was a canonical form of the OT arrived at by the Jewish Massorites around 1000 A.D., but we have textual variants and mss. from MUCH EARLIER than that, esp. Dead Sea Scrolls circa 200 BC-70ad) that give us the pre-form data we need to 'judge' the official form.)

What this means for your point is that the singularity (in form) NEVER OCCURS. In other words, we have 'tons' of variant mss. with all these minutia-changes for both canonical books(e.g. Romans, Gospel of Luke) and for non-canonical books (e.g. Gospel of Thomas). We are STILL uncovering variant mss. even of the most tightly controlled of books (i.e. the OT during the Masoretic Period-ad600 to ad1000).

b) The canonized form predates canonization, obviously. This is a far weaker assertion than your consistent claim that the canonized form is the *original* form. (See a.) Nor does it provide us with much assurance that the canonized form is factual, as opposed to merely accurately copied.

Obviously, the distinction between canonical form and canonical collection makes the question superfluous, but I need to comment on your statement that I make a "consistent claim that the canonized from is the original form"...Actually, since there is no canonical form, I cannot make that claim. What I do claim, though, is that somewhere in all the existing variants available today, resides the original form. The point is that we have 'too much' in the way of textual witness, not too little. Our problem is not "did we lose some of God's word?" but "which parts of this text are NOT God's word?". Now, I do not even maintain that we need access to 100% of that original, but only a proper response to what % WE DO HAVE of that original.

Your point about the EXISTENCE of the original NOT IMPLYING anything about the FACTUALITY of that original, is of course true...and I have not maintained that position at all. The validation of the claims of said text are INDEPENDENT of the EXISTENCE of that text altogether. (Although I tend to believe that the 'strange' overkill of its preservation constitutes at least some prima facie evidence of its 'oddness' or 'uniqueness'--this argument is not strong enough to demonstrate the divine character of the scripture, but it certainly functions as supporting evidence to me...compared to other ancient lit (religious or otherwise)...To really address this issue we need to get farther down the discussion, though...

c) This discussion was sparked by a clear example of a place where the KJV does NOT accurately reflect the canonized text. Is the KJV canonical? (Personally, I think Islam deals with this question much better than most Christian denominations do.)

Again, your question makes sense IFF there is a canonical form, and there is not. The KJV was the best we could do in 1611 (actually, it was a revision of the Bishops' Bible of 1568). I personally don't use it anymore, since we have learned SO MUCH more in the intervening 300+ years...but it is entirely adequate for someone to encounter the Living and Loving God through...(remember the minimum-needed points)...

Q for U: My knowledge of Islam is purely theological and philosophical, largely from 6-12 hours of graduate school education, (and with a smattering of the religious splintering of the 'one Muslim world' within the last 50-75 years)...I am unfamiliar with their dealings around canonicity. I would welcome a tutorial on the subject from you, if you are sufficiently knowledgeable in that area.

2. The receptor problem It seems to me that translators and interpreters are as subject to erroneous reception as are end recipients, with the *added* danger that their misreceptions pollute the source which becomes available to later receptors. So I have to rank the translation problem as an equally serious variant of the receptor problem, MULTIPLIED by some factor because it lies "upstream" in the epistemic chain. If an end receptor fails misreceives the message, that's one person. If a translator fails in exactly the same way, millions of end receptors may never have a chance to correct the error. But see below.

As usual, you are very much on target...Let's analyze this...couple of points:

1. The translators have, on the positive side, typically better training on these issues, better awareness of the dangers (which point has value IFF the system they subscribe to has a HIGH value on fidelity, truthfulness, etc.), higher awareness of the subtleties of the translation process, and knowledge of the history of such errors.

2. They have, on the negative side, a mission (read: "agenda") to accomplish, in some cases; a bias or interpretive grid that works subconsciously in the translation process, and personal limitations (e.g. they may have only made C's in Hebrew, had a distracting fight with the wife that day, never understood the Greek 'genitive of apposition', or they may be intimidated by the cannibals that they are translating for--e.g. Jim Elliot)...and God may have recently been 'working on' a specific area of their life at the time they are translating a specific passage and hence, that 'lesson for the day' shows up in the strangest translation.

3. These individual factors literally show up (in my opinion) in those translations that are done by individuals-only (e.g. Phillips, the Living Bible, Wuest's Expanded Bible, The Message). These works overall are fantastic in my opinion, but lop-sided somewhat...I really, really, really love the new Message NT--it is the best I have seen in 20+ years (I heartily recommend it, to blow away many of the preconceptions about Paul most of us have 'absorbed' from the culture-what a delight!). Fortunately, this whole science of Bible translation has been disciplined by the advent of world-wide-communications. In other words, a mistake a translator might make in a passage is QUICKLY seen and (often) criticized within the scholarly community BEFORE it makes it to the receptor community. The translations I use (New International Version and New American Standard) were literally done by 100's of scholars, of all educational and religious backgrounds, so that the 'checks and balances' needed to ensure that the translation said 'not too little, and not too much' are there. These versions are the product of inter-denominational efforts, with the benefit that the resulting translation is more 'agenda free' (but probably not totally) than those done by specific denominations (e.g. New American Bible--a group project, but within the catholic church.) This 'group pressure' and 'public forum' character of most modern arts and sciences does a lot to subject the limitations of the individual to the expertise of a group. I consider this 'public arena' nature of bible translation today to be the main safeguard against the disastrous errors that could occur (as you point out). [There are modern examples of your concern in the world today--in my guarded opinion. For example, the Jehovah's Witness' "New World Translation" is incredibly tied to their dogma...their treatment of the Greek in John1 , for example, DOES NOT do justice to the ambiguity inherent in many of the word choices God used, and does violence to the constructions that have a low-level of ambiguity...I have rarely seen a translation so deliberate in its revision of the wording, in my experience.] 4. A final point--there is a tremendous amount of redundancy in the scriptures. There are so many texts that can be appropriately used to support a particular doctrinal point, that a failure in one passage might not really cause a serious problem in the receptor downline...God seems to work well even within this imperfect world...but that's another subject...

3. The bible is not the message There's a passage -- I keep thinking II Timothy 18, but that could be wrong -- which seems to say that the Scriptures contain material useful to those who have already received Christ somehow. It doesn't seem that they were ever intended to furnish evidence with which to convince unbelievers. One derives benefit from reading the Bible because one has Faith in Christ (finessing the receptor problem), but there is no indication that one is supposed to acquire Faith in Christ from reading the Bible. If Faith is available from some other source, then perhaps it's not really important whether the Bible is true or accurate.

The passage probably was I Timothy 1.9ff: "We also know that law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious; for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, for adulterers and perverts, for slave traders and liars and perjurers;and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine"...

(I just realized that this verse says the opposite of your point--that the Law was NOT for believers.) The message of that passage is probably too limited in scope to apply to your point, but we can address the point nonetheless. (The passage itself refers to that character of the OT law as being that which shows us that we ARE NOT perfect, and therefore, that we need some way to establish a relationship with an ethically perfect God--i.e. a Jesus).

But on to your point...we do have a couple of data points to work with:

1. John 5:39 "You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me." This verse indicates a general theme that the scripture reveals or 'points to' Christ. If the main issue in our lives is to establish and grow a relationship with God (and that this is done through the work of the mediator Jesus Christ), then this function of scripture could be initiatory.

2. John 20:30f: "Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name." This verse looks at first glance to argue against my point that miracles are not to 'forcibly induce belief' but actually doesn't, when you consider the overall teaching of John on Jesus' miracles. Consider John 2:11--"This, the first of his miraculous signs, Jesus performed at Cana in Galilee. He thus revealed his glory, and his disciples put their faith in him"...the point here is that the miracles were not EVIDENTIAL to support the claims of Christ, but REVELATORY, to SHOW Christ's character and divinity. The miracle passages in the gospels (generally) display aspects of Christ's person (like God the Father) and so are not particularly designed for the skeptic, but for the seeker...

3. He DID use evidence when confronted with a believer who had a major skeptical problem with the resurrection--the famous doubting Thomas passage. He showed him the hands and feet with scars to demonstrate to Thomas that indeed it was He! (He has put up with far worse from me in the early years of my faith, I assure you).

4. "Faith" per se, doesn't come from the Bible, but "from" a response of a heart to the person of Jesus Christ. To the extent we see Him in the Bible (or in Christian friends, for that matter), to that extent we are called to respond. The bible furnishes evidence as to who Christ is and what he did for us, and it is to this that we are to respond. [There is a problem here, in that we use a strange metaphor of faith 'coming from' something, and this can trip us up. Faith/trust is a response (as far as I can tell) to a person (and cognitive predications about that person--e.g. "Jesus loves me" or "Jesus died in my place"].

5. One of the other issues that pops up is the range of meaning of "faith", esp as in your last sentence: If Faith is available from some other source, then perhaps it's not really important whether the Bible is true or accurate. In this usage Faith could either be the "content" of a belief system (which would need an accurate transmission medium, subject to more qualifications than I can get into tonite!) or it could be the "trust" as a personal response (which would be more or less independent of the bible).

There are some motifs in scripture that can be understood to run counter to my position, or at least to qualify/condition it significantly...I need to bring these up in fairness to the discussion.
1. On the volitional violence issue: There is a major stream of passages in which God apparently DID induce at least some volitional/emotional changes (some good, some bad)--Gen 39.21; Ex 12.36; and all the verses that talk about God 'putting something in someone's heart' or 'moving them to do something'. The context of each of these seem to be very detailed and non-salvific; and hence, I have understood those events as not particularly relevant to those individual's ultimate relationship to God. But, nonetheless, it is a factor that I must consider as I construct this worldview.

2. There ARE passages that seem to indicate that only believers can understand the bible (due to the localized activity of the Holy Spirit, operating from the central locus of the believer's personality)--I Cor 2:6-16; Prov. 28:5 ("Evil men do not understand justice, but those who seek the LORD understand it fully. ") As this last verse might suggest, I think this is more an issue of value-agreement-differences as opposed to cognitive-reception-differences.

3. There is a definite tension in this view between God's inordinate efforts to keep the historical deposit intact, the vagaries He has allowed in history around this issue (even allowing for the excellent self-correcting and check-and-balance data He has provided through archeology and communications), and the fact that so little of that expansive revelation is needed for a 'minimum' relationship with Him. To be sure, Jesus was abundantly clear when he said "I have come that men can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of" (John 10.10). This might necessitate more revelatory data than just 'How to start a relationship with God'--in other words, the Owner's Guide to Life on Earth would probably be a very large book! But still, the tension is there, and is present in my view of God's sovereignty over ambiguity. I am still working on so many of these issues.

Anyway...there are many other issues (hopefully I can get back to the series list), but I hope this helps in the processing...

thanks again for your questions--I learn so much working through these and open-hearted study of the issues..."The God of Truth is not afraid of my questions"...and He is the God of the whole person--will, emotions, AND intellect...

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