Textual criticism and the Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew

Monday Musings for March 23, 2020

Good morning, Musers,

Textual criticism is near the top of the list of things I’d rather not talk about... yet here we are. What’s my problem? Many of you were brought up understanding that Jesus loved you and that the Bible was true... but few of you have ever looked at the Bible critically. Textual criticism will do that for us, but at the beginning, such a study can make a person feel like a six-year-old who just discovered that hamburger comes from cows and bacon comes from pigs.

Now, I feel your pain... but I do not let my affection for Wilbur (the pig in EB White’s Charlotte’s Web) keep me from eating bacon — and that’s how we should attack textual criticism: as mature Christians who have our eyes open and who are hungry for the truth.

So, what can textual criticism do for us Christians? It takes God out of the picture! — and yes, this is helpful. Suspending doctrines like biblical inspiration eliminates Christian bias. It allows scholars to look at biblical texts as if they were any other ancient text. This helps in apologetics.

You see, when we are talking to people who do not believe in God, the Holy Spirit or the inspiration of Scripture, we want to work with the minimal facts that everyone accepts rather than pad our case with unprovable things like miracles. But don’t worry: even with the minimal facts approach, the evidence shows that we have a remarkable Bible — but still, here’s a warning:

You will never be the same after studying textual criticism — and if you’re a KJV-only type of person, you will probably burst into flames on the first day! So, choose carefully whether or not to go forward in this area... because there is a threshold similar to the one you crossed when your parents gave you “the talk” about sex.

“The talk” was an awkward moment in your life that changed everything. After “the talk,” there was no going back in your knowledge about sex. All those innocent and uninformed ideas about sex lost their monopoly on your thinking after “the talk.” Unfortunately, many Christians look at the Bible with this kind of pre-talk innocence... and they wind up getting the dirty version of textual criticism from the street.

Still, textual criticism is an important part of the apologetics conversation; when we are talking about the Bible, the issues “Who says?” and “How do we know what was said is true?” will be monsters under the bed until you take a peek.

New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman took a peek — and he ran from the room! But he later responded by writing popular-level books saying that the monsters were real. He made a lot of money doing so — and in the process, wrecked the faith of more than a few. This is why we should take on the formal study of textual criticism: you should have a mature believer with you the first time you look under the bed.

So, if you’re up for a little adventure, join me in this threefold conversation with an earnest seeker — one with whom I’m trying to have “the talk”— and one who just kept coming back unabashedly with more honest questions.

However, if you think that God’s word floated down from the skies, perfectly translated from the Hebrew and Greek, optimized for the English language readers of 1611 — and that this is the inspired version of the Bible — you might not survive these musings. If that the case, please put these pixels down... back up slowly — and keep your hands where I can see them!

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