Charles Spurgeon and Textual Criticism

Elijah Hixson has a fascinating article published in the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society titled, “New Testament Textual Criticism in the Ministry of Charles Haddon Spurgeon,” (JETS 57/3 (2014) 555–70) I found a pdf here. In it he notes that “one of the most paradigm-shifting events in the discipline of NT textual criticism happened during Spurgeon’s ministry: the publication of Westcott and Hort’s NT in the Original Greek [1881]” (555). It was Hort who “dethroned the Textus Receptus,”and Spurgeon found himself having to account for this shift.

Spurgeon offered this in Commenting and Commentaries: “Do not needlessly amend our authorized version. It is faulty in many places, but still it is a grand work taking it for all in all, and it is unwise to be making every old lady distrust the only Bible she can get at, or what is more likely, distrust you for falling out with her cherished treasure. Correct where correction must be made for truth’s sake, but never for the vainglorious display of your critical ability.”

Hixson then gives examples from 9 texts containing significant variants and how Spurgeon handled them. Sometimes Spurgeon kept with the traditional reading (the longer ending of Mark), other times he went with the “oldest manuscripts.” In one case, he preached a whole sermon point on a variant that he rejected as original. (“In Christ No Condemnation,” point III.): “Now we come to the third point, upon which we shall speak only briefly, because this part of my text is not a true portion of Holy Scripture.” It reminds me of John Piper’s approach to texts like John 7:53–8:11.

At one point Spurgeon preached an entire sermon on a textual variant: “And We Are: A Jewel from the Revised Version.”

Spurgeon preached eight sermons from Mark 16:9–20, and four expositions (Hixson, 562).

Hixson concludes with three observations: “First, Spurgeon was an independent, critical thinker, knowledgable in the discipline of NT textual criticism, and he weighed the evidence and made his own judgments, rather than taking the word of any one individual… Second, Spurgeon only discussed variants when necessary… Finally, to Spurgeon, evangelistic preaching of the gospel of Christ was preeminent. NT textual criticism was merely a servant to this goal” (568).

He closes with a quote which is worth repeating in full. The sermon was from Luke 4:18 which Spurgeon did not believe contained the full quotation from Isaiah 61:1. “Spurgeon’s solution to this problem was simple: rather than preaching from the text in Luke, he preached from the same text in Isa 61:1” (562):

“Concerning the fact of difference between the Revised and the Authorized Versions, I would say that no Baptist should ever fear any honest attempt to produce the correct text and an accurate interpretation of the Old and New Testaments. For many years Baptists have insisted upon it that we ought to have the Word of God translated in the best possible manner, whether it would confirm certain religious opinions and practices, or work against them. All we want is the exact mind of the Spirit as far as we can get it. Beyond all other Christians we are concerned in this, seeing we have no other sacred Book. We have no Prayer Book or binding creed, or authoritative minutes of conferences. We have nothing but the Bible and we would have that as pure as ever we can get it. By the best and most honest scholarship that can be found, we desire that the common version may be purged of every blunder of transcribers, addition of human ignorance or human knowledge so that the Word of God may come to us as it came from His own hand. I confess that it looks a grievous thing to part with words which we thought were part and parcel of Luke, but as they are not in the oldest copies and must be given up, we will make capital out of their omission by seeing in that fact the wisdom of the great Preacher who did not speak upon cheering Truths of God when they were not needed and might have overlaid His seasonable rebuke. Although we have not the sentence in Luke, we do have it in Isaiah, and that is quite enough for me.

The whole article by Hixson is fascinating, and I commend it to anyone interested in textual criticism or Charles Spurgeon.

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“Kill Your Darlings”

I’ve come across the phrase “kill your darlings” several times in articles about writing (most recently this one over at Scribblepreach)

How surprised I was when in my daily Bible reading last week I came across Hosea 9:16 in the NKJV:

“Ephraim is stricken,
Their root is dried up;
They shall bear no fruit.
Yes, were they to bear children,
I would kill the darlings of their womb.”

That’s not in any of the older English translations–KJV (“yet will I slay even the beloved fruit of their womb”); ASV (“slay the beloved fruit”); RSV (“slay their beloved children”)–nor any of the modern translations either–NIV (“I will slay their cherished offspring”); ESV (“I will put their beloved children to death”); NASB (“I will slay the precious ones of their womb.”); H/CSB (“I will kill the precious offspring of their wombs.”)

From what I can tell, the NKJV is totally unique in this rendering.

The phrase is most popularly attributed to either Allen Ginsberg (cf the 2013 film “Kill Your Darlings” starring Daniel Radcliffe) or William Faulkner, both of whom lived prior to the publishing of the NKJV (1982). This article traces the history back even earlier to Arthur Quiller-Couch in 1914.

The phrase has a fascinating literary history, and whoever translated the NKJV may have intentionally alluded to this phrase.

“Resolve to be Known for Gentleness”

Carson on gentleness (nailed me again):

What do m41jbjfe--sLost of us want to be known for? Do you want to be know for your extraordinary good looks? Do you want to be known for your quick wit, for your sense of humor, for your sagacity? Do you want to be known for your wealth, for your family connections? Or perhaps you are more pious and want to be known for your prayer life or for your excellent skills as a leader of inductive Bible studies. Many a preacher wants to be known for his preaching.

How appalling. The sad fact is that even our highest and best motives are so easily corroded by self-interest that we begin to overlook this painful reality. Paul cuts to the heart of the issue: Be known for gentleness.

The “self-sins” are tricky things, damnably treacherous. In one of his books, A.W. Tozer writes:

“To be specific, the self-sins are these: self-righteousness, self-pity, self-confidence, self-sufficiency, self-admiration, self-love and a host of others like them. They dwell too deep within us and are too much a part of our natures to come to our attention till the light of God is focused upon them. The grosser manifestations of these sins, egotism, exhibitionism, self-promotion, are strangely tolerated in Christian leaders even in circles of impeccable orthodoxy… Promoting self under the guise of promoting Christ is currently so common as to excite little notice.”

That was written almost a half a century ago. What would Tozer say now? He goes on:

Self can live unreduced at the very altar. It can watch the bleeding Victim die and not be in the least affected by what it sees. It can fight of the faith of the Reformers and preach eloquently the creed of salvation by grace, and gain strength by its efforts. To tell all the truth, it seems actually to feed upon orthodoxy and is more at home in a Bible Conference than in a tavern. Our very state of longing after God may afford it an excellent condition under which to thrive and grow.” (The Pursuit of God, 45-46)

Basics for Believers: An Exposition of Philippians, 107

“Motivated by Humility”

This cut me to the core:

Jesus was the perf61vLALqkIHLect Servant. His greatness is seen in the lowliness He was willing to experience in order to serve the most basic needs of His twelve friends.

“So when he had washed their feet, taken His garments, and sat down again, He said to them, ‘Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you say well, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you. Most assuredly, I say to you, a swerving is not greater than his master; nor is he who is sent greater than he who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.” (John 13:12-17)

With astonishing humility, Jesus, their Lord and Teacher, washed the feet of His disciples as an example of how all His followers should serve with humility.

In this life there will always be a part of us (the Bible calls it the flesh) that will say, “If I have to serve, I want to get something for it. If I can be rewarded, or gain a reputation for humility, or somehow turn it to my advantage, then I’ll give the impression of humility and serve.” But this isn’t Christlike service. This is hypocrisy. Richard Foster calls it “self-righteous service”:

Self-righteous service requires external rewards. It needs to know that people see and appreciate the effort. It seeks human applause–with proper religious modesty of course… Self-righteous service is highly concerned about results. It eagerly wants to see if the person served will reciprocate in kind…The flesh whines against service but screams against hidden service. It strains and pulls for honor and recognition. It will devise subtle, religiously acceptable mans to call attention to the service rendered.” (Celebration of Discipline, 112, 114)

By the power of the Holy Spirit we must reject self-righteous service as a sinful motivation, and serve “in humility,” considering “others better” than ourselves (Philippians 2:3)

Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, 121-22

Karl Barth: Integrating the “Theology of the Cross” and Deus Absconditus

From a paper I recently wrote on Luther’s “Theology of the Cross”:

“No theologian receives a longer entry in the index volume to Karl Barth’s Chruch Dogmatics than Martin Luther… It suggests that Luther was a towering figure in Barth’s mind.”[1]In this article, George Hunsinger details several aspects of Barth’s theology that are heavily influenced by Luther. “Theology of the Cross” is one of the specific areas of influence, but the other areas are directly related to it as well: Christocentric theology, primacy of the word of God, simul iustus et peccator, and grace and freedom. In fact, Barth’s most distinctive theological notes can be seen as a transposition of Luther’s theology of the cross: “The christocentrism for which Barth is so famous would hardly have been thinkable without Luther’s reformation breakthrough.”[2] He follows Luther in using paradox to explicate this: “This One is the true God… the One whose eternity does not prevent but rather permits and commands Him to be in time and Himself to be temporal, whose omnipotence is so great that He can be weak and indeed impotent, as a man is weak and impotent.”[3] Yet, Barth refuses to follow Luther into his “hidden God” dilemma:

What is not so obvious, however is how far Luther really thought he could overcome this difficulty by his advice that we should worry as little as possible about the Deus absconditus and cling wholly to what he called God’s opus proprium, to the Deus revelatus, and therefore to the God revealed in Jesus Christ. For how can we do this genuinely and seriously if all the time…there is not denied but asserted a very different existence of God as the Deus absconditus, a very real potential inordinate in the background?[4]

The cross is “the deepest revelation of God’s being, not its contradiction.”[5] Barth is able to avoid this because he relativizes all of theology, including the cross, to the person of Christ himself: “The articulus stantis et cadentis ecclesiae is not the doctrine of justification as such, but its basis and culmination: the confession of Jesus Christ, in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.”[6]Christ is the starting point of all doctrine, not merely one aspect of his work, whether justification or his accomplishment on the cross. By shifting theology from a cruci-centric to a Christo­-centric theology, he is able to include the absolutely necessary piece which is “Theology of the Cross” within a framework in which it can do its best work. “In a way that was foreign to Luther, he integrated the hidden God and the revealed God, making them two different aspects of the one God taken as a whole… yet such powerful themes as substantive christocentrism, the theology of the cross, the primacy of God’s work… are no small legacy for one great theologian to have bequeathed to another.”[7] In seeking to appropriate the Theology of the Cross, Barth, and not the Lutherans seems to be our best example.

[1] George Hunsinger, “What Karl Barth Learned from Martin Luther.” Lutheran Quarterly XIII (1999), 125

[2] Ibid, 132

[3] Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, IV/1, The Doctrine of Reconciliation (ed. G.W. Bromiley and T.F. Torrance, trans. G.W. Bromiley; Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2010), 129

[4] Barth, Church Dogmatics, vol. II/1, The Doctrine of God , 542

[5] Hunsinger, “Barth,” 135

[6] Barth, Church Dogmatics, IV/1, 527

[7] Hunsinger, “Barth,” 147

Barth on Luther; Luther on Aquinas; myself on neither

Karl Barth, in preparing for his discussion of Calvin’s theology, sets the historical stage with reference to “The Middle Ages”:

An even more striking example is the way i71IhRVGCeNLn which both Luther and Calvin avoided the man in whom they must have recognized, even if he was not then the most widely read author, and whom they ought to have fought as their most dangerous opponent, the true genius of the Catholic Middle Ages. I refer to Thomas Aquinas. We have in his case a demonstration how often even the greatest among us, precisely in fulfilling their deepest intentions, often do not know what they are doing. The reformers engaged in close combat with late scholastics of the age of decline, about whom we say nothing today, when all the time behind these, and biding his time, stood their main adversary Thomas, in whom all modern Roman Catholicism has come to see more and more definitely its true classic; and apart from a few inconsequential complaints by Luther [here Barth footnotes Seeberg, Lehrbuch Der Dogmengeschichte, 74 and n. 2], they left him in peace, apparently not realizing that their real attack was not on those straw figures but on the spirit of the Summa, on the Gothic cathedral and the world of Dante. How could it be possible that in the first half of the 17th century a Lutheran theologian from Strassburg could write a book entitled Thomas Aquinas, veritatis evangelic confessor! All this shows strikingly, however, that the reformers did not see their work in the context of a great philosophy of history but in a fairly relative pragmatic context. Perhaps it is precisely the manner of truly creative people to take this view

The Theology of John Calvin, 22

Luther in “Against Latomus”:

His [Latomus’s] discussions of penance and of indulgences are worthless, for he proves everything from human writings. Neither Gregory nor any angel has the right to set forth or teach in the church something which cannot be demonstrated from Scripture. I think I have sufficiently shown from their own writings that scholastic theology is nothing else than ignorance of the truth and a stumbling block in comparison with Scripture. Nor am I moved when Latomus insinuates that I am ungrateful and insulting to St. Thomas, Alexander, and others, for they have deserved ill from me. Neither do I believe that I lack intelligence [to understand them]. This Latomus himself will admit, and it is certainly not difficult to see that I work hard. My advice has been that a young man avoid scholastic philosophy like the very death of his soul. The Gospels aren’t so difficult that children are not ready to hear them. How was Christianity taught in the times of the martyrs when this philosophy an theology did not exist? St. Agnes was a theologian at the age of thirteen, likewise Lucia and Anastasia–from what were they taught? In all these hundreds of years up to the present, the courses at the universities have not produced, out of so many students, a single martyr or saint to prove that their instruction is right and pleasing to God while [the ancients from their] private schools have sent out swarms of saints. Scholastic philosophy and theology are known from their fruits. I have the strongest doubts as to whether Thomas Aquinas is among the damned or the blessed, and would sooner believe that Bonaventure is blessed. Thomas wrote a great deal of heresy, and is responsible for the reign of Aristotle, the destroyer of godly doctrine. What do I care that the bishop of bulls has canonized him? I suppose that my judgment in these matters is not entirely ignorant, for I have been educated in them and have been tested [in debate] by the minds of my most learned contemporaries, and I have studied the best writings of this sort of literature. I am at least partly informed concerning Holy Writ, and besides I have to some extent tested these spiritual matters in experience, but I clearly see that Thomas, and all who write and teach similarly, have neglected this. Therefore I advise him who would fly to take warning. I do what I must, so with the Apostle I again admonish you: “See to it that no one makes a prey of you by philosophy and empty deceit”–this I confidently and emphatically apply to scholastic theology–“according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the universe”–these are the laws of the bulls and whatever is established in the church apart from Scripture–“and not according to Christ” [Col. 2:8]. Here it is clear that Paul wants Christ alone to be taught and heard. Who does not see how the universities read the Bible? Compare what is read and written in the Sentences [Peter Lombard] and on philosophy with what they write and teach about the Bible–which ought to flourish and reign as the most important of all–and you will see what place the Word of God has in these seats of higher learning.

found in Luther’s Works, vol. 32, 257-59

Might Barth have misread Luther, slightly? Might Luther have misread Aquinas, ever so slightly?  I’m not up for adjudicating this one, but I find the material fascinating.

“The crucifixion was clearly a first-century lynching”

The lynching tree–so strikingly similar to the cross on G71TL6ZHN0zLolgotha–should have a prominent place in American images of Jesus’ death. But it does not. In fact, the lynching tree has no place in American theological reflections about Jesus’ cross or in the proclamation of Christian churches about his Passion. The conspicuous absence of the lynching tree in American theological discourse and preaching is profoundly revealing, especially since the crucifixion was clearly a first-century lynching. In the “lynching era,” between 1880 to 1940, white Christians lynched nearly 5,000 black men and women in a manner with obvious echoes of the Roman crucifixion of Jesus. Yet these “Christians” did not see the irony or contradiction in their actions.

As Jesus was an innocent victim of mob hysteria and Roman imperial violence, many African-Americans were innocent victims of white mobs, thirsting for blood in the name of God and in defense of segregation, white supremacy, and the purity of the Anglo-Saxon race. Both the cross and the lynching tree were symbols of terror, instruments of torture and execution, reserved primarily for slaves, criminals, and insurrectionists—the lowest of the low in society. Both Jesus and blacks were publicly humiliated, subjected to the utmost indignity and cruelty. They were stripped, in order to be deprived of dignity, then paraded, mocked and whipped, pierced, derided and spat upon, and tortured for hours in the presence of jeering crowds for popular entertainment. In both cases, the purpose was to strike terror in the subject community. It was to let people know that the same thing would happen to them if they did not stay in their place.

The crucifixion of Jesus by the Romans and the lynching of blacks by whites in the United States are so amazingly similar that one wonders what blocks the American Christian imagination from seeing the connection.”

James H. Cone, The Cross and the Lynching Tree30-31