Readers of the “Stop Press” in the previous issue of the Global Journal will be interested to know that Dr. Kloha has provided his critics with a “revision” of the “Plastic Text” essay that has produced such negative reaction in and beyond the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod. Here follows our reaction.
A new version of the Kloha plastic-text essay has just been published as a chapter titled, “Theological and Hermeneutical Reflections on the Ongoing Revisions of the Novum Testamentum Graece,” in a composite volume, Listening to the Word of God: Exegetical Approaches, ed. Jorg Christian Salzmann et al. (Göttingen [Germany]: Editions Ruprecht, 2016), pp. 171-206—with a “Response” by Dr. Vilson Scholz, translation consultant and professor at the Concordia Seminary, São Leopoldo, Brazil (pp. 207-210).
I am informed that at the January, 2015, Lutheran Concerns Association Conference in Ft. Wayne, Indiana, Dr. Kloha publicly stated that he did not wish to retract anything in his “plastic text” essay as originally delivered in Oberursel, Germany, but that he regretted using the term “plastic” throughout the essay. It should therefore come as no surprise that Dr. Kloha’s revision of his essay offers nothing new: he has removed plastic-text language—though Scholz, in his essentially positive “Response” that properly corrects Kloha’s treatment of Francis Pieper, still uses it (e.g., “what Kloha calls a ‘plastic’ text”)—showing that Scholz is responding to the original essay, and thus that the first and second versions are not significantly different. The substance of Dr. Kloha’s position remains precisely the same in the Ruprecht version as in the Oberursel original:
- Owing to the great number of manuscript texts of the NT and to the continuing possibility of finding more, there is no solid, standard text of the NT. Kloha: “We now have a text of the New Testament that makes no claim to being fixed and stable, for it is subject to continuous improvement and change” (p. 180).
- This being the case, one must rely on the church, led by the Holy Spirit, to provide—through the labors of its specialists in lower/textual criticism, the text that at the moment constitutes revelatory Scripture.
- Accepting, as he does, his doctoral mentor J. Keith Elliott’s philosophy of textual criticism, known as “thoroughgoing eclecticism,” that encourages the theologian to “select freely” amongst the available readings (including those poorly attested by the Greek manuscript tradition) those readings that best fit the literary context and style, the resultant Scripture becomes the product of the critic’s literary perspective.
The revision of the plastic text essay, taken together with Kloha’s “Magnificat” paper, thus leaves us where the first version of the plasticity essay did—with
- the subjectivism of the critic trumping the best Greek texts;
- the church as the source of Scripture and the Scriptures therefore unable to critique it (such an approach would have precluded, ab initio, Luther’s Reformation);
- the Holy Spirit reduced to a deus ex machina, providing a pseudo-spiritual, Schwärmerei, subjectivistic foundation for bibliology;
- rampant gospel reductionism—since a text forever in flux can hardly be relied upon for inerrant revelation (and—ironically—cannot even sustain a solid gospel message, in spite of Dr. Kloha’s apparent confidence in that regard);
- the loss of any meaningful doctrine of biblical inerrancy—owing to the obvious fact that texts understood as literary products rather than accounts of veridical historical events can never be treated as either “true” or “false.”
Two final comments: (1) Isn’t it strange that Luther’s German Bible and the Authorized Version of 1611, when read alongside contemporary translations—after four to five hundred years of textual activity since Erasmus’ Novum Instrumentum (the first printed edition of the Greek NT)—are practically identical? The vast number of variants at the basis of Dr. Kloha’s speculations is of such little consequence that we of the 21st century can affirm the inerrancy of essentially the same biblical text as Luther and the King James translators employed. The great modern textual scholars (B. B. Warfield being but a single example) have recognized this, stressing that scholarly advances will not undermine the historic, Reformation church’s confidence in the Sacred Writings. How sad that Dr. Kloha cannot be counted in that company.
(2) Would a revised essay constitute a satisfactory answer to the ruckus produced by the original essay—even if it removed the errors of the first version (which is not the case here)—when it appears as a chapter in an obscure European publication? The original essay was published on the internet, critiqued there and in scholarly journals (Modern Reformation) and at national theological conferences (the Evangelical Theological Society’s annual meeting in 2014), and extensively treated in several numbers of Christian News. Do the church leaders responsible for controlling doctrine in the LCMS and its institutions of higher learning really believe that this kind of non-retraction satisfies the concerns of a church body that was nearly destroyed a generation ago by a gospel reductionism and denial of biblical inerrancy deriving from the very theological seminary on which Dr. Kloha serves today?
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Readers of the Global Journal have special treats to look forward to in the present issue. Dr. Donald Williams, who has graced the pages of the Journal on other occasions, offers a superb treatment of Anselm and C. S. Lewis: “Anselm and Aslan: C. S. Lewis and the Ontological Argument.” This is accompanied by an article of high relevance by Dr. Mary H. Korte, professor at Concordia University, Mequon, Wisconsin, and fellow of the International Academy of Apologetics, Evangelism, and Human Rights: “Apologetics, Faith, and Science in Environmental Policy-Making.” Narnia and Mother Earth—a fine combination!