Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Disputed Texts and the Doctrine of Scripture

Regarding the doctrinal significance of disputed texts, Robert Plummer writes the following:
“Furthermore, no text in question affects Christian doctrine. That is, all Christian doctrines are firmly established without appealing to debated texts. Most unsolved textual issues have little or no doctrinal significance.” (40 Questions About Interpreting the Bible, p. 48)
First, Plummer’s remarks here are incoherent. The first sentence, in effect, claims that questionable texts have no doctrinal significance. But the last sentence implies that some questionable texts do have doctrinal significance. Which is it?

But I think I understand what Plummer is trying to get across. Doctrines like the Trinity, or the incarnation, or salvation through Christ alone, are not dependent upon disputed texts. Nevertheless, I think it’s an overstatement to say that no text in question affects Christian doctrine.

In a way, disputed texts, by their very existence, affect Christian doctrine. Debating the authenticity of Mark 16:9-20 or John 7:53-8:11 means that one Christian believes these passages are the inspired words of God, while another Christian believes they are not. Sometimes the latter group even disparages such texts, going as far as to say that the long ending of Mark is akin to witchcraft. Call me crazy, but that seems like a rather significant point of disagreement with respect to the doctrine of Scripture. This is a disagreement about what is Scripture and what isn’t.

It would be functionally equivalent to debating the canonicity of 2 and 3 John. If some Christians accepted these letters as inspired Scripture, while other Christians didn’t, then we’re talking about the difference between a 25-book NT canon as opposed to 27. Which is a significant doctrinal disagreement in and of itself, regardless of the actual content of 2 and 3 John.

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