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Tuesday, 7 January 2014

"Every word of God is pure,” or is it?

Recently I got involved in a discussion with a Christian friend on Romans 8: 1. We were trying to decide whether the second half of that verse (KJV) is spurious or genuine. Correspondence between us followed, and I have reproduced it here, so please make your own judgment [The recipient's name has been changed to preserve anonymity].

Hi William,

In our discussion at breakfast today, you implied you are not  sure it's sound to say that the Received Text (TR) – the Greek Text behind the KJV - could contain a perfect text of Scripture. The example you gave is the first clause of Romans 8:1. Here, according to the AV, the apostle Paul said:

“There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.” KJV

All modern versions based on the Bible Society's Critical Greek Text (4th Ed.,) leave out the second adjectival clause, thus:

“There is, therefore, now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (ESV)

You also implied, if you keep the additional clause in the Text, it qualifies Paul's thought here unhelpfully, in that it may suggest a person not walking by the Spirit is condemned, that is, unsaved, or, eternally damned.

The external textual evidence for keeping the clause in, or leaving it out, is ambiguous, as other language versions and 'Church fathers' etc., support either option. The main Greek textual evidence for the TR being in fact correct, consists in the fact that the majority of preserved manuscripts (MSS) keep it in. That is, there are nearly 800 Greek MSS of the Pauline Epistles, and the great majority of these keep, “who walk not after the flesh . . . etc.,” in the Text. Only a few (less than 50) leave it out, noticeably Prof. Hort's 'famous' MSS (Codex B [Vaticanus], and Codex Aleph [Sinaiticus]), with their few acolytes.

Condemnation or disability?

There are verses which show that Rom 8:1 (TR) does not necessarily mean, “There is no eternal damnation to those that are in Christ Jesus,” but can instead mean, (as per Griffith-Thomas' commentary on Romans), “There is no disability to those who . . .” Paul is saying a bad conscience no longer gets in the way of worship. His use of “katakrino” here means either “condemn,” or it could mean disqualify. The same Greek word (to condemn) is used in Luke 11:32 “The men of Nineveh . . will condemn [this generation]”; in Rom 2:1 it is also used for the believer incriminating himself when he judges another, “thou condemnest thyself”; and in Rom. 14: 23, again, for self-condemnation at the Lord's Supper - “he that doubteth is damned if he eat.” That is, because we are justified by faith, we have a clear conscience, and through Him we have free access to the throne of a holy God. The disability is gone. Paul thus is not thinking of the eternal consequences of sin at this point, but its existential consequences, the disabling effects of sin on our conscience, here and now.

If this is a correct way of interpreting “katakrino” here, then it makes sense for Paul to add, in verse 1, “who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” If I do not walk according to the Spirit. I am living merely in the power of the natural life, and obeying the law of sin in my members, rather than obeying the law of the Spirit. I will therefore as a believer easily get a bad conscience. This will obstruct my ability to “abide in Him,” and live in communion with the LORD.

Just because the disputed phrase is found in verse 4b, does not mean it was exported back into verse 1,  simply by the fact that it occurs later in the passage. It seems to me, the phrase became disputed because 8:1a was interpreted wrongly, first up.   If you say Paul had the eternal consequences of sin in mind in v. 1, then naturally the  second part of the verse does not fit. Whereas, if you say, Paul had in mind the way sin disables us from walking in the Spirit, and knowing God's presence in our lives, then it does fit.   But, Rom 2:1 and 14: 23 cannot possibly refer to  condemnation to hell, can it? There is certainly disability, however, if someone tries to live the Christian life in the power of the flesh (sinful nature) - you doubtless agree with that.

A resolution.

In summary, the textual evidence is divided, but I follow the majority Text here, as did the KJV translators. After all, they had a better knowledge of the Greek MSS (and the foreign language versions) and the early Christian writers, compared to contemporary scholars. They  soaked their every waking moment in them,  as compared to our more diversified occupations.   They knew how the early Christian writers had dealt with Rom 8:1, that is, some were in favour of the (allegedly) imported clause, and others were opposed to it. They knew the church worship reading calendar-manuals (lectionaries) had uniformly kept the phrase in the Text. In contrast, contemporary scholars claim they have applied some kind of 'scientific' standard to the Text, and thus produce so much better results than their predecessors. It's a furphy.

So, as I say, if you start with the position “MSS from Antioch (the Majority Text) are more reliable than MSS from Alexandria (Hort's Codex B and Aleph), then you keep the clause in the Text, believing the Holy Spirit preserved the Reformers from error, when they produced the first Greek edition of the NT MSS - into print for the first time. Syrian Antioch was the home of genuine Gentile Christianity; Alexandria was the home of Egyptian Gnosticism - with its pernicious effects on the Christian faith. The KJV translators certainly believed that, too, and thought very little of Prof. Hort's precious Codex B (Vaticanus)

If the Bible is our final authority in all matters of faith and practice, then we should go to the Bible to discover what it teaches us, as to how to decide what should be in the Bible and what should be out.   We are inheritors of the first Christians (named such at Antioch), and we reject the mystical symbolism of Gnostic (largely Egyptian) interference with the Text of Scripture.   We should expect that the Holy Spirit showed the same care in  preserving the  “apographs" (the copies) from error, as he did in  inspiring it in the first place.   That’s where I stand, anyway.

Your brother in Christ Jesus, Clive.

Correspondent's reply:

Hi Clive,

“I was prompted to look at the how the Darby Bible handled Rom 8:1 and it too omits the second half. Not sure what to make of that.

I merely take the stance of an observer as I, like perhaps the majority, at least for the present, lack the background and resources to research such matters independently, and thus I note with interest the various comments of Bible scholars but find myself wondering what to make of it all. So if we take a text like Rom 8.1 as an example, I note that there are differences of opinion among Bible scholars and I simply move on with what I am sure of in the way of the principles involved.”

Yours, William

Hi William,

Thanks for your email and your interesting comments.

I take the view that God has promised to "guide (us) into all truth” and that involves understanding and interpreting Scripture accurately. Whereas I get the impression that you are saying something different. That is, God guides the church into all truth in a very general sense, say, in getting major teachings right, but that doesn’t extend to getting all the details of the Text, and so on, right.   Yes, I realise it’s a problem when commentators differ in what they do with a Text. At that point do we throw up our hands and say, Well, as I don’t know the Greek and haven’t studied the technical aspects about differing manuscripts, etc., then I can’t possibly make a judgement. On that basis, you would say, perhaps, 'Who knows whether the Gospel of Mark ended at verse 8 or verse 20?   If the critical editors say it ended at verse 8, then I’ll just have to be agnostic about it!'   Whereas, if we believe God providentially preserved His Text the same way He inspired it in the first place, then we can confidently say, “No way did Mark’s ending get lost, with a shorter one possibly substituted.”   We should instead, be sure of every detail of Scripture.

JND the Textual Critic

I realise JN Darby and William Kelly and other brethren didn’t believe that, so the critics among them interfered with the Received Text, and changed it quite freely.   [Thus JND's 1890 edition of the NT omits Rom 8:1b without mention or demur!]. In my view this was a mistake of the Brethren movement, and of course the talented textual critic Samuel Tregelles - in fellowship with Exclusive Brethren - was a leading critic of his day, and brought out his own Greek Text of the NT!!  

JN Darby left out the second part of Rom 8:1 as you say.   In my view he had no good reason to do that.   In a similar way, he changed the threefold AV rendering of “krisis” in John 5: 22, 24, and 29, saying the translators got v. 24 wrong, when rendering the word as “condemnation,” rather than “judgement.” [Whereas it is clear, we all will be judged, but the saved will not be condemned – to which thought the KJV translators were calling attention in v. 24.]  

As to the use of the word in Rom 8: 1, Darby shows by his comments, that he took your earlier view of the matter (i.e. condemnation = eternal damnation). In his critical footnote he shows he rejects the clause, not because of the external evidence of MSS but because, he says, “The Greek, were it to stand as part of the text, must be translated, ‘There is no condemnation for those who, in Christ Jesus, walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.”   That is, he automatically assumes that “condemnation” means eternal damnation, whereupon incongruity results. However, as I said, if “condemnation” is better rendered “disability” here (for those with a clear conscience to worship God in sincerity), then there’s absolutely no reason why the way in thich the AV translates and incorporates the clause, within the verse, should not be accepted as accurate and helpful.

The Brethren’s mistake I believe was to assume, along with the rest of Christendom - with its growing habit of sitting in judgement on the Word of God in the Traditional Text - that the KJV men were not superior in their knowledge and scholarship, as compared to contemporary scholars.   In the KJV translators we see a group of over 50 men, subject to one another's judgement, and vastly saturated in all the relevant material. They thus made very well informed textual judgements - as between manuscripts, early writers, etc.

JN Darby prided himself on having won a Classical medal at Trinity College, Dublin, the prize which acknowledged his superior grasp of Greek and Latin. Because of that, some of his other brethren doubtless stood in awe of him.   What results from reliance on a handful of elite scholars? A reliance on men rather than on God the Holy Spirit. So much so, that William Kelly (who followed Darby closely) said his younger disciples didn’t need to study Greek and Hebrew for themselves, as they now had all they needed, laid out before them. Darby, however, said in later life he thought that somewhere along the way, he had got something seriously wrong. He was right. Thinking he could improve on the KJV translators' scholarship, in my view, was where he went wrong.   And, naturally, Kelly followed him closely.

A resolution

Whenever someone tells me a KJV reading is wrong and needs correcting, I have been constantly helped by responding sceptically to such comments, saying, “I’ll study the question for myself in the light of the KJV. I'll assume the latter is right, first working out why they rendered the Text in such a way. Then, I will decide if their rendering stands up in the light of all we know, and agree upon.”   I have yet to be shown the KJV translators were substantially wrong anywhere. Where can their rendering be improved in accuracy (I’m not thinking of style)? Scholars glibly refer to the mistakes of the KJV, but they don’t allow the criticism to be properly tested, it seems - assumed not proved!! QED.

I hope that helps, William, to show where I am coming from,

Your brother,