Tuesday, February 18, 2014

High church versus lower criticism

In the interviews, I had to work hard to get the “Bible Hunters” people to understand that (contrary to what they seemed to assume) Tischendorf, the Smith Sisters, etc., were devout Christians, and that they didn’t find early manuscripts and the earlier readings they contained a problem at all.  Quite the opposite!  They were eager to find earlier manuscripts because they saw these as placing them closer to an earlier and more authentic form of what they regarded as the Word of God in written form.  That is, these people pursued early manuscripts precisely to obtain the earliest textual form of what was for them sacred scripture, and didn’t find the incidence of textual variants worrying much. 
To be sure there were others of the time who found the evidence of early manuscripts unsettling.  Among these were some who objected on the basis of “high church” views, reasoning that, to follow the early manuscripts over against the later ones would mean (to them) that for a 1000 years the church had been allowed (by God) to use and endorse a faulty biblical text.  This would call into question their doctrine of the church, and so they passionately defended the traditional wording of the biblical text based (based heavily on medieval-era manuscripts). 
But, as I say, for the “Bible Hunters” and other (perhaps most) Christians who looked at the question, the discovery of early manuscripts meant a firmer basis on which to establish the biblical text, and so an earlier and more reliable biblical text on which to preach, pray, theologize, etc.  That is, the discovery of early manuscripts was seen as great progress, both in scholarly investigation and in practical benefit to Christianity.  Contra one voice in the programme (who shall remain unnamed and from whom the TV producers may have got their somewhat sensationalist storyline), the discovery of early manuscripts didn’t actually shake Victorian-era Christianity to the core. 

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