Textual Criticism, Part Four

This is the fourth of a five part series in which the writer aims to make the basics of a scholarly discipline accessible to his fellow non-experts…

GLEANINGS — February 8, A.D. 2015

CANONICITY deals with the issue of whether or not a book, passage, or verse rightly belongs in the Bible. The four Gospels are CANONICAL, the four books of Maccabees are not. Moving toward a solid defense of the canonicity of verses 9 – 20 of the Gospel of Mark chapter 16 (denied by some), we have dealt with several considerations: The Bible’s own claims about itself, a proper view of variants, and the antiquity of MSS (handwritten copies).

In Part Three we also brought this to the table: There is but ONE divine Author of the entire Bible, as verses like 2 Timothy 3:16 plainly proclaim. Even though God spoke at “various times and in various ways” through prophets and apostles of old, it was ultimately God Who spoke! Because of this truth, comparing one passage of Scripture with others is a vital tool for anyone who wants to rightly divide God’s word. A simple example follows.

In Acts 20:35, the apostle Paul is speaking to the elders of the church at Ephesus: “I have shown you in every way, by laboring like this, that you must support the weak. And remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.'”

Reading this passage, the skeptic imagines that he has an occasion to assert that “Jesus did not really say that.” Why? Because no such words are recorded in any one of the four Gospels. So is this an AHA! moment of triumph for those who despise our precious holy Bible?

Hardly. The believer compares Paul’s words…quoting Christ…recorded by Luke in Acts 20 with an inspired comment written by John: “And there are also many other things that Jesus did, which if they were written one by one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that would be written. Amen.” (John 21:25)

And he also considers Mark 4:33 – “And with many such parables He spoke the word to them as they were able to hear it,” and Matthew 4:23 – “Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all kinds of sickness and all kinds of disease among the people.”

In other words, neither ALL the words Christ spoke nor ALL the deeds He did during the days of His humiliation are recorded in the Gospels! Many are not recorded at all. And what of that pearl of wisdom spoken by Him Who spoke as no other man spoke, “It is more blessed to give than to receive?” The faith that is ever zealous to vindicate God (Romans 3:4) concludes that the one divine Author saw fit to include in the book of Acts a saying of Jesus not recorded elsewhere. Simple. No problem.

Textual criticism – a valid scholarly discipline – has a “black eye” only because unbelievers have abused it, as unbelief abuses everything. Rightly used, it provides evidences for the divine nature and preservation of the Bible. For instance, the quantity alone of ancient MSS of the 27 canonical New Testament writings (about 5,700) testifies to the unique preservation of Scripture. It is vastly larger than the quantity of MSS for ALL other ancient writings. For example there are only 7 – yes SEVEN – MSS of the works of Plato! Hmm…why are there not hosts of Plato scholars vying to prove that “Plato didn’t really write that?”

Lord willing, we will call upon one more vital witness to defend the canonicity of Mark 16:9-20, in fact multiple witnesses. They are not inspired like the human authors of the Bible, nor do they claim to be. Part Five of this series is scheduled to be published next week.

Originally published elsewhere, February 8, A.D. 2015

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