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Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Did Jesus command his disciples to “raise the dead”?

A few days ago I was visiting the Emmanuel Centre, Westminster for an OM event (Operation Mobilisation) , and was impressed with the golden-varnished texts displayed around its walls. Matthew 10: 8 was one of the texts featured, which had me thinking: for over three hundred years the Church has believed Jesus said these words to his chosen few:

“These twelve Jesus sent forth, and commanded them, saying, . . .[G]o rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. 7And as ye go, preach, saying, The kingdom of heaven is at hand. 8 Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead,cast out devils: freely ye have received, freely give.” Matthew 10.

It is sometimes believed (wrongly) that the great defender of the Traditional text of Scripture, Dean John Burgon, - of Chichester Cathedral, and an Oxford don – believed every word of the King James Version was accurate. This may be because the Dean Burgon Society, founded by Dr. Donald Waite in New Jersey, USA, rejects all English versions (including the NKJV), other than the “Authorised”. Burgon believed no text should be changed until all the evidence was in; but this involves a comprehensive study of the thousands of cursive NT manuscripts (MSS), which have been preserved through the centuries. Burgon also insisted on the same attention being given to all the church fathers' writings, whose evidence for the correct text is as important as that of the Greek MSS themselves. Also important are the thousands of lectionaries, which are service manuals, preserved from the fourth century onwards.

Truth is, Burgon was not entirely true to his principles, for in his “The Revision Revised” he dismissed the supposed instruction of Jesus to raise the dead, because, as he said, 'not 1 in 20 of the MSS support it.' But, all the evidence is not in on the Text, so he was a bit naughty to plead the majority argument at that point, as if that settled the matter. I suspect he rejected the phrase, not only on textual grounds, but for theological reasons. He probably thought it was intrinsically unlikely that Jesus would have expected an ability from his disciples to actually raise the dead, when their faith seemed at times so frail or fragile.

On the theological point, there are several reasons to explain why Jesus commanded them to raise the dead. First, Jesus expected his close disciples to do the same work of healing etc., as he did, however little or much faith it took. Thus, in Matthew 16:

“Then came the disciples to Jesus apart, and said, Why could not we cast him out? 20And Jesus said unto them, Because of your unbelief: for verily I say unto you, If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you. 21Howbeit this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting.” Matt. 17: 19- 21.
Secondly, he taught them they would be able to do just what he did, which as we know included raising the dead. St. John explains:
“Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father. 13And whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14If ye shall ask any thing in my name, I will do it.” John 14: 12-14

The fact that the disciples lacked the faith to do such an extraordinary thing as raise a dead person to life is not relevant. They had watched him raise the son of the widow of Nain (Luke 7: 11), and the daughter of Jairus (Luke 7: 12 - 15), and multitudes of those terminally sick (Matt. 12: 15) had been healed. When Martha and Mary complained to Jesus that he had been tardy in responding to their pleas to come and heal Lazarus before he died, he didn't apologise for the delay. Instead, he said he expected better of them:

“When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home. 21“Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.” 23Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” 25Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?” John 11.

He even chastised them severely in Matthew 17:14 ff. for their lack of faith:

“And when they were come to the multitude, there came to him a certain man, kneeling down to him, and saying, 15Lord, have mercy on my son: for he is lunatick, and sore vexed: for ofttimes he falleth into the fire, and oft into the water. 16And I brought him to thy disciples, and they could not cure him. 17Then Jesus answered and said, O faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you? how long shall I suffer you? bring him hither to me. 18And Jesus rebuked the devil; and he departed out of him: and the child was cured from that very hour.”

So, if John Burgon was dismissive of the Text on theological grounds, he was out of order, for it's easily possible that Jesus was challenging the disciples to exercise extraordinary faith. If he dismissed the phrase on text-critical grounds, then he breached the rules he recommended to others, when he argued that no KJV text should be altered (does that not include, 'or propose to be altered'?) until a comprehensive (exhaustive) study of the primary sources has been undertaken. Such a thing will apparently never be done, as there is little taste for such minute study in scholarly circles, except by the very few. The task is gargantuan, and there's so much else to attract our attention.

Why did Burgon argue against the phrase, “raise the dead” on the textual evidence? Because he wanted to make the point that the later cursive MSS were far too easily dismissed, when textual critics weigh up the evidence, for including a verse or phrase in. These miniscule MSS proliferate as the centuries proceed, and they bear witness to the united testimony of what was later called “the Received Text” (TR). “Received” means 'believe to have been received by the churches all down through the centuries as authentic', starting with the Apostolic autographs. The Reformers rightly believed (e.g. John Owen) that God the Holy Spirit was concerned to preserve every word of the original text (St. John 16:13), in spite of human carelessness, whether by the copyist or some other. Had not God said:

“He (Jesus) answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.” St. Matt. 4:4.

That's every word, and:

“Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.” Matthew 24:35

Jesus is indeed ”the Word,” and, as the preincarnate 'logos' (Gk. word), he is in a real sense the author of it all. By what reasoning do we accept, then, that Jesus neither meant “every word” literally, nor that God failed to do what he promised (Psalm 12: 6-7).

Such are the vagaries of New Testament criticism, that with industry and artistry it is possible to make a reasonable (or plausible, depending on your presuppositions!) case for every verse of Scripture in the TR. If you have a knowledge of textual criticism, then you will be interested to read my rationale below, for keeping Matthew 10:8 in the Text. Don't be deceived however. I would not have the same confidence to defend it, did I not already believe, prior to study of a text, that (a) God intended to preserve every word, and (2) The KJV translators had a superior understanding of the main sources available (early Christian writings, lectionaries, Versions) to achieve textual certainty.

As far as the textual evidence – for or against “raise the dead” – is concerned, one would have thought that the KJV translators would have omitted the reading from the Text, because the Traditional text (Byzantine), which they believed in, largely omits it. Only a comparitively few miniscules have the command in - Burgon thus opposed it. “Raise the dead” is supported by the uncials AlephABCD but that cut no ice with Burgon, as he lamented the five Uncials are so at loggerheads with one another in the Gospels, and in so many places, they were totally untrustworthy as witnesses to the genuine Text. This is in sharp contrast to the views of Westcott and Hort - and todays critical editors of the Text - who still adhere to the old line that Hort's theories are essentially 'kosher', and the readings of the two codices AlephB are therefore a necessary default position, where the correct Text is difficult to decide upon. This is said to be the case, even though AlephB readings are followed by, at most, 47 Greek MSS compared to over 5000 Greek MSS, which largely reflect the Traditional text, that Text believed to be handed down from the apostles.

Thus, the case for not leaving the words out is: that the major early Uncials have it in (01, B, C*, D, N, P, W, D, 0281vid,) and several of the cursives also (f1, f13-part, 22, 33, 157, 372, 565, 700mg, 892, 2737, pc, L2211). The Old Latin and the Vulgate have it in, as well as the Syriac Sahidic and the Syriac Bohairic (Lat, Sy-S, Sy-H, bo).

The case against the words lies in the fact that the major Uncials are untrustworthy (01, B, C*, D) and most of the preserved MSS through the centuries leave them out. If we follow Burgon's view here, we will not only say most of the MSS omit it (not an unimportant consideration). Several Uncials also omit it (C, K, P, L, X, G, Q, 124, 174, 788 (=f13-part), 118, 700*). The Syriac Palestinian MS omits, the Syriac Peshitta omits (this is an important early Version); the Egyptian Sahidic omits, and one church father omits, Basil (4th AD).

Which is the correct reading?

Burgon, in my view, got it wrong - it should be kept in the Text. Wrong, not because Burgon was a poor scholar (far from it!), but because he lacked a certain belief that God had promised to preserve every word of Scripture. If we are to grow to true maturity, spiritually, we need every word, not simply most words. There are several readings in the TR, which the KJV translators followed, even though they are not in the Majority text. The TR got its first orientation from Erasmus's first printed NT Greek edition. Erasmus was willing to follow the Latin text when it seemed to reflect the common text (ie readings accepted by most churches in the West). But, why should we trust these readings when they fly in the face of the choices of the copyists of most of the MSS? Because a belief in the superiority of the traditional text is essentially a “faith” position. This consists in saying: (1) God promised to preserve for us every word of the Bible (KJV Psa 12: 6-7 says so). (2) The TR should be followed implicitly, because God would have not abandoned His detailed concern to preserve for us every word of God at the critical moment of printing (1516 AD) when the hand-written Text became the first printed Text, through Erasmus. (3) It is therefore logical and spiritually astute to believe that the Holy Spirit guided Erasmus in his initial choices – his work was later taken up by other TR editors (Stephens, Beza, Elzevir – the KJV used Beza's text as their base text).

I should distrust my own judgement, when someone casts doubt on any word in the KJV. I should study it seriously on any and every particular point, to know whether my trust in it is justified. It's a life-changing translation. Don't let its influence escape your intellect. No, we should let it shape our minds on a daily basis. The next generation needs to see us reading it, and they will then follow our example. But, if you leave it on the shelf unread, and ban it from public use, don't expect the younger generation not to follow your example, and so they will neglect it.

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