Help People Trust Their Bibles

I was just reading a post by Bill Mounce on the Koinonia blog (to see it click here.)  He offers a simple and graciously toned introduction to textual criticism set in the context of a natural question raised by folks in the church . . . “why is verse 4 missing in my Bible?”

Some textual critical questions would probably only be asked by people already heavily interested in the subject with apparatus in hand.  These kinds of questions may intrigue us, but usually shouldn’t find their way into the pulpit!  However, if people in the pew are looking at their Bible and asking a textual critical question, then we need to offer help.  Just a few brief thoughts in light of Bill’s good post:

1. Textual criticism can be explained relatively simply. People probably don’t need to know about every textual family, how to pronounce homeoteleuton, or the full rationale behind lectio difficilor potior.

2. Textual criticism can be explained with grace. This area of study can really stir up the tension, especially between adherents to different textual families.  Such tensions won’t help if shown from the pulpit.  Be gracious to people who disagree with you on Majority Text vs Critical Text issues.  Often you’d be fighting an unseen opponent anyway since people in the same church often tend to use the same version of the Bible (and most of these without any real understanding of text critical issues underlying the options)!

3. Textual criticism should be explained at the right time. Just because you’re enjoying a textual critical excursion in your personal study, or even in your sermon preparation, doesn’t mean the people are needing a dose of it.  But when a verse is missing and they are wondering, or when you’re going through Mark or John and you get to the square bracket sections, then is probably a good time to offer some explanation.

4. Textual critical explanations should build trust in our English Bibles. This has to be paramount.  What have you gained if you’ve showed off your knowledge, perhaps won a debate against an opponent not present, but undermined the confidence of every listener in their English Bible?

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7 thoughts on “Help People Trust Their Bibles

  1. As an outsider looking in, I feel that the best thing is to help people understand their English Bibles and what lies behind them. Trust should be up to the individual.

  2. Well said, particularly the last point. The whole purpose of any textual criticism is to heal texts damaged in translation; to make them more reliable, to allow us to have confidence in the texts so that we can use them.

    Any supposed textual criticism that consists of weakening our trust in the texts — in any text that has reached us from antiquity — is corrupt. That is a perversion of what tc is for.

    When we get a learned man like Bart Ehrman try to tell us that we can’t be sure that we even have the bible — as if a text extant in 5,000 mss is somehow less reliable than most classical texts, extant in 1 copy — we can only shake our heads and murmur “obscurantism”.

    Textual criticism is a technical discipline, a minor discipline. Imagine we are stood in a dark shed with a window which is flawed. The job of the text critic is to fix the flaws in the glass, so we can look through the glass into the window. But if instead he tells us that we just cannot be sure — despite the obvious evidence of trees and grass! — then we need to fire him and get one who can do the job a text critic is hired for; to fix the glass, to heal the text, and allow us to look at the garden.

  3. I agree wholeheartedly! I am a pastor and have tried to do as you describe.

    How would you do this? Can you give me an example how you do it as you describe it above in a few sentences to a lay person?

    I think my approach has probably been too long-winded!

  4. The whole thing of course! 😉

    When someone says, “Hey, how come verse 4 isn’t in my Bible?” what would a relatively simple(#1), gracious(#2), reply that helps build people’s trust in their Bibles(#4), look like?

    You are absolutely right about #3 also, but I don’t need help with that one. 🙂 So let’s assume it’s the right time and place, what would your answer look like?

    In my mind, it shouldn’t take longer than 2 minutes to reply. Any more than that, and it starts to work against being simple, gracious and trust-building.

    I have tried to do as you suggest here several different times. I think you are right on. I’m hoping you might be able to help me improve.

    • Ok, I’ve had a go and it should appear on the site next Tuesday. Sorry for the delay, but I’m preloading a few days as I’ll be away from the internet for a week or so!

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