Friday, June 3, 2011

Does Inerrancy imply Fixed Word-order?

‘One set of words in one set order is the Bible.’

What doesn’t appear to have been openly addressed in the discussion so far, is the source for this idea, and its implications for any theory regarding the original autographs.
If we believe in the inerrancy and precision of the original autographs, then the idea of a specific and unique word-order is inevitable, both historically – (a) Evangelist X and Apostle Y wrote or dictated specific words in a specific order at a specific time and place, and objectively – (b) The revealed word of God is stable and fixed for any reasonable time and place and language, and does not and should not require any re-ordering, word-substitution, or reorganization (i.e., it is ‘complete’ and ‘perfect’ in itself, and sufficient as given).
When these two necessary premises are seen as statements about the nature and objective reality of an original and initial revelation in a spoken and written (NT) Holy scripture, and their implications followed to their logical conclusion, we get a few more basic observations and perhaps even axioms:
(1) Although similar ideas can be expressed in different words, expressions, and idioms, God has chosen a specific expression for His revelation in 1st century Greek, and this was and remains adequate and complete for its purpose and task.
(2) In the first century, although God did give and empower translation into other languages (i.e., Pentecost), He gave no further instructions to modify or alter the expressions given through His apostles and evangelists, or suggestions, beyond oral preaching of the message as each was able.
(3) The early Church also was strongly aware of the dangers of paraphrase, and editing to the core Gospel message, and ultimately rejected “harmonies” of the Gospels like Tatian’s as replacements for the original written gospels. The impulse of the Holy Spirit was always conservative, preserving what went on before, and not replacing either OT or NT documents with innovations.
(4) Translations likewise should always then be based on the originals, and once made in a competent and sufficient manner, they ought to be left in their chosen form, so as not to unnecessarily multiply confusion or doubt as to statements in Holy Scripture meant to be taken at face-value.
From this perspective, the idea of a ‘fixed’ word-order and means of expression for an authoritative NT in any language is a normal and reasonable development of what has taken place historically and in light of early church practice.
This doesn’t require ‘demonization’ of other translations or arrangements or idiomatic expression, but only that these be left in their own place, in the hands of oral preachers and teachers, meeting the needs of those without the educational background to fully absorb the traditional text.



Panoplia Soljah said...

Well, accepting that premise, does that not mean that the LXX is more inspired than the Masoretic, since that is teh text that seems to get used in quotations in the NT? If not, why not?

Nazaroo said...

Hello Panoplia:

I think I agree with you, and probably against many hard-core Protestants, that the LXX (the ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament) was certainly considered inspired and respected by early Jews and Christians.

It seems that later Jewish authorities abandoned the ancient Greek translation, because of disputes with Christians, around the 2nd century A.D.

There were a few attempts at replacing this translation, by individuals in the 1st and 2nd centuries, with an altered and shortened version (e.g. Theodotus, Symmachius etc.), but these met with little interest or success.

The early Christians, as late as the 4th century A.D. clung to the LXX translation as their inspired O.T., and used it as a base for other translations too.

Origen (c. 200 A.D.) documented the differences between the LXX, other translations, and the Hebrew texts popular in his time, but his intent was not to change the LXX, but to assist Christians debating with Jews, in showing what parts of the O.T. were not in dispute.

It was not until Jerome (c. 400 A.D.) that any attempt was made to alter the Greek translation to conform to contemporary (4th cent.) Jewish Hebrew texts (e.g. the 'Massoretic text).

Jerome was not very successful in altering the text of the O.T. to conform with the Hebrew. For the most part, Christians retained the LXX readings, and restored the text in the Latin Vulgate back closer to the traditional LXX.

It was not until the Reformation that Protestants under Martin Luther (c. 1500s) adopted the Hebrew Massoretic text as a base for the Protestant O.T. This was in part driven by an attempt to convert the Jews of Germany to Christianity: a plan which backfired, and led Martin Luther to publish anti-Semitic pamphlets against Jews. This was a serious stain on the Reformation cause.

Today, many Bibles base their text on the Hebrew, not the traditional Greek O.T. translation (LXX). But the text is often adjusted to reflect readings in both the LXX, the Old Latin, and also the Dead Sea Scrolls.

The popular O.T. translations remain 'eclectic' in nature, although conservative. Some however, like the NRSV are heavily biased in favour of a historical interpretation of the Hebrew that does not reflect Christian understanding of the text, which causes contradictions and confusion when these texts are compared to quotations in the N.T.

I tend to think that the LXX is a valuable and inspired translation; it was used by Christians for the first thousand years of the Christian Era, long before the recent adoption of the Hebrew Massoretic text as a base.