God should have protected later translators, as He had done so for the original authors--but He didn't, did He? [process1.html]
Point 00. This, is the part of a much larger question I have been wrestling with for many, many years...and no doubt will continue to do so into the future...but I thank you for asking the question...I always profit personally when someone else asks it, than when I ask it!...
Another way of stating the question, that conditions the way I approach it, is this:
"If God was interested enough in getting His urgent message to us to guarantee its inscripturation at a 100% quality level, then why did he not do so with all subsequent 'handling' of the message, through transmission, transliteration, translation, intake, interpretation?"
Here are my thoughts--seemingly random, often untested/unexamined, very raw--but at least it is a start for me...
Some caveats first...I am only discussing this WITHIN my idiosyncratic worldview, which is evangelical Judeo-Christian, somewhat intellectually informed, non-obscurantist, mostly conservative theologically, rigid in the core anchor points, non-committal on most minutia, flexible and learning on everything in between...the God of which I will speak is one who is ontologically ultimate and distinct from the creation (analogically related, of course), is conscious and has at least three centers of self-consciousness, has personal characteristics of a spiritual nature, interacts within his existence between the three Persons, has enough 'moxy' to interact within history and space-time WITHOUT being ostensibly detectable, has a passion for truth, honesty, other-centeredness, commitment to the worth, freedom and integrity of this creation; and a desire to communicate his offer of acceptance and friendship to his creation...I will really not attempt to defend the position much, but will focus on articulating it as coherently as possible...
I personally wrestle with this at a very deep level--intellectually and emotionally...I have had so little help in the history of thought in working on this problem...the theologians are typically not aware of the philosophical issues in epistemology, and the philosophers de-weight too much of the historical realities...
anyway...I will approach this by setting forth the epistemic chain between inspiration and receptor, and then develop some thoughts in connection with this, and then examine what I have said to see if in coheres at all!
The EPISTEMIC CHAIN:
The base 'message-text' seems to have been preserved at an almost obsessive level. (I have already given you the data on the NT mss, in which the number of MSS exceeds 24,000. In that case the abundance of mss is 'strange'. In the case of the OT, the situation is the reverse. The OT had a very, very tightly controlled transmission, and every defective copy was burned/destroyed...in that case, the few early OT MSS point to a special handling by the literate class of their sacred book...
The OT was basically finished around 400 BC., but the earliest full copies (of all the books together) we have are from around 900 AD....we have fragments earlier, and can historically reconstruct the text back to around 100 AD. (beginning of the Talmudist period)...in this regards, the mss tradition is comparable to other classical literature...but the means of transmission of that text is so bizarre as to suggest that its reliability is very, very high...
For example, in the Talmudist period (100-500 AD) a great deal of time was spent in cataloging Hebrew civil and canonical law...they had a very, very intricate system for the transcription of synagogue scrolls...some of the rules were:
As bizarre as these may seem, they certainly convey an attention (yay, preoccupation) with detail, that would go a long way to preserving the textual-form of the message (not meaning, just form)
By the time you get to the Masoretic Period (ad 500-900), the discipline and safeguards are full-blown...they attempted over this period to bring together the various mss, create a catalog of variant readings, add vocalization, etc...they added a huge overhead of checksums to the process...
The question was quickly raised: how did this mss, that was a full millennium earlier than the best Masoretic text of Isaiah we had at the time, compare with it? Let me quote from Geisler and Nix, General Introduction to the Bible, 1968.
Of the 166 words in Isaiah 53, there are only 17 letters in question. Ten of these letters are simply a matter of spelling, which does not affect the sense. Four more letters are minor stylistic changes, such as conjunctions. The remaining three letters comprise the word 'light' which is added in verse 11, and does not affect the meaning greatly. Furthermore, this word is supported by LXX and IQ Is. Thus, in one chapter of 166 words, there is only one word (3 letters) in question after a thousand years of transmission--and this word does not significantly change the meaning of the passage
and then Gleason Archer, Survey of the Old Testament, 1964:
[the Isaiah copies] proved to be word for word identical with our standard Hebrew Bible in more than 95 percent of the text. The 5 percent variation consisted chiefly of obvious slips of the pen and variations in spelling [by the Qumranists]
So the transmission methods, although apparently a bit overkill(!), seemed to preserve the text from the close of the OT period...
Last piece under this point...I find it interesting that the whole attitude of fidelity to the original by the copyists extended even to transliteration of foreign names into/out of Hebrew, and that this was recognized as early as 30 years ago:
"In 144 cases of transliteration from Egyptian, Assyrian, Babylonian and Moabite into Hebrew and 40 cases of the opposite, or 184 in all, the evidence shows that for 2300 to 3900 years the text of the proper names in the Hebrew bible has been transmitted with the most minute accuracy. That the original scribes should have written them with such close conformity to correct philological principles is a wonderful proof of their thorough care and scholarship; further, that the Hebrew text should have been transmitted by copyists through so many centuries is a phenomenon unequaled in the history of literature" (Robert D. Wilson, A Scientific Investigation of the Old Testament, 1959)
There are other data points on the OT stuff (e.g. NT quotations, targums, mishnah) but this is probably too much detail already. (The issue of how the texts came together BEFORE the end of the OT is a subject WAY beyond the scope of this email--but I may need to write some stuff down on that as well, I suppose).
The point was: the base of the text seems to have been preserved adequately as a vehicle for the subject steps in the EC (epistemic chain).
Point 02. There is ambiguity throughout the EC...in every step...variant readings (although less than 5%), variant cross-language translation problems, educational/cultural backgrounds of the RECIPIENT...I personally understand this ambiguity to be deliberate on the part of God...in an effort to avoid inflicting 'epistemic or volitional violence' to independent persons (i.e. humans)...and to evoke a whole-person response to His message of love and action...
I have often wondered when a true skeptic (not an open-minded seeker with intellectual questions--BIG difference!) has said "well, why doesn't God just show Himself every morning in the sky, or sky-write the Gospel every day, or carve it on our retinas or something?" what would be result IF GOD DID THAT? There are a couple of scenarios...
Option A seems to have some support from Luke 16. 19-31. In this controversial passage, you have a dead man in Hades having a conversation with Abraham. He is in torment and asks Abraham to raise someone from the dead and send them as a messenger to his still-alive brothers--to warn them of his fate. The end of the passage has an epistemic twist to it:
"Abraham replied: 'They have Moses and the Prophets, let them listen to them'
'No, Father Abraham,' he said, 'but it someone from the dead goes to them, they will change their minds.'
He said to him, 'If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.'"
So this exchange, taken at face value, would suggest that even 'miraculous' data, sky-writing quality, existential experience-quality, etc. would not be enough to produce a change of mind--if the scriptures were not enough to begin with...
Option B seems to have some support from Mt 11.20-22:
"Then Jesus began to denounce the cities in which most of his miracles were done, because they did not change their minds: 'Woe to you, Korazin? Woe to you, Bethsaida! If the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than for you."
This is a rather heavy passage, teeming with theological questions for me(!), but the point I want to draw out is that God knew that Tyre and Sidon 'would have believed' in the face of overwhelming revelation (i.e. Jesus' messianic miracles). When I couple that with the fact that they did NOT receive extraordinary revelation (as a nation) and hence, did NOT 'repent', I have to come up with a reason why...I conclude that in some way, it was INAPPROPRIATE for God to confront them with that intensity/clarity of truth...and that accordingly, their response to that revelation would have been inauthentic or illegitimate or something like that...
In other words, a volitionally-forced 'belief' even when actuated by epistemically vivid and effective revelation is somehow 'unreal' or 'detached' from the person...maybe even personal integrity (ontologically speaking, not ethically) would be compromised...or actually, maybe even culpability is somehow INCREASED (e.g. the more revelation one is given, the more responsible they are for how that respond--and in the case of someone who would NEVER respond, perhaps it is more merciful to withhold additional revelation beyond some 'starter set')
An alternate approach to this is through the vehicle of "parable" as a discourse form...Jesus used parables in many of his early public discourses (but by no means most) and said occasionally that it was so those who were honest and responsive to truth would 'get it' and those who weren't wouldn't 'get it'--in the context of a public revelation..
The point is that ambiguity--all the way through the EC--may be deliberate, to separate out those who only want excuses not to believe, from those who want to work through the issues to get at truth--whatever that implies for personal lifestyles.
Point 03. There are limits on the ambiguity; the truth must be accessible by ALL epistemic 'classes' of people...the core truths must be outside of the ambiguity range. So, for example, the fact that Christ was both God and man is attested to by OT and NT, arguments and passages from a wide variety of viewpoints, backgrounds, data references...whereas the arguments over should baptism be by immersion or sprinkling or whatever, are much less definitive, cumulative, and 'closure-producing'...Likewise for the textual variants--the variations are in minor points (enough for someone who wanted to reject it to do so, but not enough to be a show-stopper for open-minded seekers)
Point 04. The 'weakest link' in the EC--by far, in my opinion--is the linguistic competency or interpretive skill of the RECIPIENT (in terms of getting an 'infallible message' through history from the event of inspiration to the event of assimilation). EVEN IF God had implemented a plan whereby he preserved only one copy of the text, with no variants whatsoever, and had made the entire world share an unchanging language and culture, we WOULD STILL have this problem...people grow up with different interpretive grids--not radically so, but enough different to create an ambiguity and precision problem...this problem has dimensions of background, age, educational level, attitude toward issues, 'pre-existing conditions' etc. With the RECIPIENT being the 'variable' with the widest range(!), I am not sure that any efforts by God to eliminate the variables in earlier steps in the EC could ever be adequate to overcome this variation...nor is it clear to me that this is a limiting factor in transmission of a 'core message'. To be sure, there are variables that would render conveyance ridiculous (e.g. a Swahili NT to a typical Cupertino CA third-grader), but perhaps the denotative kernel might make it through, even if loaded down with tons of irrelevant connotative elements.
Point 05. In this conveyance work, God would provide means of refining one's level of certainty (or epistemic conviction) about the content and/or the reliability of the message, and would provide some flags of 'strangeness' to alert people of the uniqueness of the revelation.
In the refining of a level of psychological certainty, God could use several means that we use in other areas of our lives. In basic science, we 'try a theory'; if we get a match with the data, we feel better about it...We keep trying it until we get a contrary or stubborn negative datapoint...if we have a ton of confirming experiences, we tend to modify the theory slightly or we suspend judgment on that datapoint (hoping for later integrative insights)...we only throw the theory out if our confirming experiences were small, non-vivid, ambiguous; as opposed perhaps to the new, contrary data...
It is the same in the conveyance realm...we see the unfolding data of archeology vindicating the text's claims to 'strangeness' and/or reliability...there are so many examples of historical references that were 'mythical' or 'fabrications' or 'errors' that have been validated by subsequent archeology...examples:
disputed fact confirming discovery ------------------------- -------------------- writing at time of Moses Ebla texts multiple Pentateuch traditions, Qumran pointing to early orig. Early Domestication of Camels Byblos artifacts/Sumerian texts Abraham's selection of heir Tablets at Nuzi Transfer of Esau's birthright Tablets at Nuzi Israel early in Palestine Stele of Meneptah Unity of Deuteronomy Hittite tablets from Boghazkoy early develop. of legal codes multiple ANE sources
So Romans 1.18-23 (The Message NT):So truth is NOT 'irresistible' (like we don't know that already, right!) , is not 'volitionally free', and that some positions (pro and con) are probably motivated more by personal agenda than by a love for the truth...
"But God's angry displeasure erupts as acts of human mistrust and wrongdoing and lying accumulate, as people try to put a shroud over truth. But the basic reality of God is plain enough. Open your eyes and there it is! By taking a long and thoughtful look at what God has created, people have always been able to see what their eyes as such can't see: eternal power, for instance, and the mystery of his divine being. So nobody has a good excuse. What happened was this: People knew God perfectly well, but when they didn't treat him like God, refusing to worship him, they trivialized themselves into silliness and confusion so that there was neither sense nor direction left in their lives. They pretended to know it all, but were illiterate regarding life. They traded the glory of God who holds the whole world in this hands for cheap figurines you can buy at any roadside stand."
II Peter 3.5: "But they deliberately forget that long ago by God's word the heavens existed..."
Roman 1.25: "they exchanged the truth of God for a lie..."
Rom 2.8: "those who reject the truth and follow evil..."
2 Tim 2.10: "because they refused to love the truth..."
2 Tim 3.7: " always learning but never able to acknowledge the truth..."
Proverb 1.23ff:" If you had responded to my rebuke, I would have poured out my heart to you and made my thoughts known to you. But since you rejected me when I called and no one gave heed when I stretched out my hand, since you ignored all my advice and would not accept my rebuke, I in turn will laugh at your disaster; I will mock when calamity overtakes you Ñ when calamity overtakes you like a storm, when disaster sweeps over you like a whirlwind, when distress and trouble overwhelm you. "Then they will call to me but I will not answer; they will look for me but will not find me. Since they hated knowledge and did not choose to fear the LORD, since they would not accept my advice and spurned my rebuke, they will eat the fruit of their ways and be filled with the fruit of their schemes.
Psalm 50:17: "You hate my instruction and cast my words behind you.
Proverbs 18.2: "A fool finds no pleasure in understanding but delights in airing his own opinions"
"Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true."The net: diversity of opinion in this arena, as in other areas of knowledge, is not surprising, and might even suggest that the message has an ultimate character to it, in that it provokes such a wide range and depth of emotional and intellectual response.
Psalm 25.14 "The Lord confides in those who warmly respect him"Now, this data would suggest that as a person responded in openness and respect to the truth around/in them, God would 'get more information' to that person--as a personal disclosure. ("How" God could communicate in such a public forum WITHOUT the epistemic violence on others AT THE SAME TIME we will have to postpone to a later bullet--somewhere in the 30's I think).
Prov 3.32b "The Lord takes the upright into His confidence"
The first issue is very common in the translation process. Consider Isaiah 1:18 "Come now, let us reason together," says the LORD. Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool. " This classic text on forgiveness might be difficult to translate into tropical languages of peoples who have never even seen snow! But since the point is the 'whiteness' in this case, translators substitute relevant 'whiteness carriers' in that culture (e.g. 'white as coconut'). A different problem occurs when the cultural associations with colors get in the way (e.g. in some cultures, white may be associated with evil, and so the translator must fall back one level in the hierarchy of abstraction, as Hayakawa called it).[UNFINISHED]
Likewise are those cases such as languages that don't have words for similar concept-complexes in the original language. I remember studying in anthropology class about some tribe that did not have a word for 'forearm' and the implication was that it couldn't be talked about as such. Well, yes and no...We could easily construct such a linguistic referent by using existing base concepts plus descriptive operators (e.g. 'that part of the arm from the wrist to elbow'). So, this issue has not been a very serious problem in the history of translation.
The second issue has generated much more controversy. The argument goes something like this: "The worldview of the Buddhist (or Taoist or Hindu etc.) is so different from that of the western, Euro-world that the very concepts inherent in Judeo-Christian systems--even though it is near-eastern in nature, instead of European-- (e.g. a God with a personality or transcendence or incarnation) cannot be understood by those people"...
Now, at the surface this is VERY plausible, since many of us have experienced this issue first-hand. When a western-type speaks of 'god', the Hindu finds it puzzling that we would invest him with consciousness, for example.
But the issue here is whether radically-different worldviews can find enough 'common ground' from which to even identify that they are not speaking the same 'language'. This particular issue is very close to my heart--it is held by a very strong theological system in the history of Christian thought and has been a research interest of mine for some time.
This is, of course, not uniquely a religious issue. The debate actually arises primarily in the philosophy of science. The paradigm-nature of scientific theories first broke into academic limelight in the 60's with Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. The ensuing discussion has demonstrated that there are few 'brute facts' that are not already theory-laden by the time the scientist processes them. What constitutes 'significant and normative' data to one, may simply be written off as an unexplained anomoly by a rival theorist. In other words, the basic theory-position has a ..