Tuesday, June 30, 2015

"Collected Writings on Scripture": Blogging Through Carson - On Redaction Criticism

"Collected Writings on Scripture": Blogging Through Carson - Introduction 
"Collected Writings on Scripture": Blogging Through Carson - The Canonization of Scripture"Collected Writings on Scripture": Blogging Through Carson - The New Hermeneutics
"Collected Writings on Scripture": Blogging Through Carson - Faith and Practice
"Collected Writings on Scripture": Blogging Through Carson - Walter Bauer Thesis
"Collected Writings on Scripture": Blogging Through Carson - Progressive Revelation
"Collected Writings on Scripture": Blogging Through Carson - On Redaction Criticism


Chapter 4 of DA Carson's book Collected Writings on Scripture evaluates redaction criticism. Admittedly, this is the most difficult chapter of the book as Carson is dealing with challenging, academic issues. Through it all, Carson proves to be an elite scholar.

In this post, I want to highlight a few of the points Carson makes regarding redaction criticism.   First, point eleven states:
We speak of redaction criticism as a tool, a word that somehow conjures up images of scientific precision. In fact, a glance at the available redaction critical works on any Gospel reveals how terribly subjective these literary tools usually are. "Of course," Hooker comments, "NT scholars recognize the inadequacy of their tools; when different people look at one passage, and all get different answers, the inadequacy is obvious, even to NT scholars! But they do not draw the logical deduction from this fact" - viz., that the tools are incapable of providing an entirely neutral and agreed judgment as to what is authentic. (160)
Carson raises an important issue here worth fleshing out a little more. Behind the sciences is a bias subject: the scientist. It is strange that postmodernity applies personal bias to virtually every area of life except regarding the sciences. Many liberal scholars that use "tools" like redaction criticism as a means to justify their liberal theology. Of course liberal theology is a means to justify certain subjective preferences (especially on the moral and political side).

When entering the world of academia, do not forget that every scholarly paper, academic work, and guest lecture has some bias behind it.

Point twelve reads thus:
It is methodologically irresponsible to pit history against theology as if the two could not be compatible. Moreover,t eh oft-repeated claim that faith is independent of history is reasonable only if Christianity is reduced to purely existential categories. If, however, Christianity is grounded in what god in Christ did in history, and if faith is related in some way to propositions about God's acts in history, then even if historical recital or historical evidence is not sufficient to call faith to life, yet nevertheless faith under such premises is so bound up with historical events that ahistorical faith is both nonsensical and heterodox. Paul certainly thought so (see 1 cor. 15:1-11). (160-161)
I appreciate Carson's words here. One cannot severe Christian doctrine from the Christian story. Liberalism is often guilty of believing in the Jesus of history as opposed to the Christ of faith yet the New Testament will not allow us to do that. If Jesus was raised from the dead, the story of Jesus matters and cannot so easily be disregarded.

Christianity is unique in this regard. Islam does not stand and fall on historic events. Neither does Judaism or Buddhism. Christianity, however, stands and falls on the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. If proven false, the faith is false.

Finally, point thirteen reads:
It is too often forgotten that whatever else Jesus was, he was an itinerant preacher. As anyone who has done much itinerant preaching knows, minor variations of the same messages or rearrangements of them come out again and again. Form and redaction critics have developed no methodology for distinguishing between, on the one hand, similar sayings in separate gospels that do reflect a trajectory of interpretation and, on the other, similar sayings in separate gospels that are actually both authentic. (161)
Often more liberal scholars will point out differences (some of them significant) between the Gospels regarding parallel accounts. As Carson argues here, scholars fail to adequately explain these differences. Differences do not question their authenticity. It is very possible, for example, that the Sermon on the Mount was  both one sermon and multiple sermons. That could explain some of the differences between Matthew and Luke.

Carson makes other points regarding redaction criticism of course (twenty in total) but I consider these three worth passing along here. It remains, in the end, that various criticisms, though they have tried, have not undermined orthodox Christianity.
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