A Response to Dr. Jeff Kloha’s “Text and Authority”
By Dr. Martin R. Noland, Pastor, Trinity Lutheran Church, Evansville, IN
A number of people have contacted me since early December about my opinion of Dr. Jeff Kloha’s stimulating lecture titled “Text and Authority: Theological and Hermeneutical Reflections on a Plastic Text.” I have told them that I needed to read it carefully, and also consult with its author, before making my own views known. Having done that, I herewith present my own opinions on Dr. Kloha’s paper.
Dr. Kloha’s lecture manuscript was not published with his permission, it does not have the usual explanatory sections for a general audience, and so it could easily be misunderstood by a general reader. In fact, it has been misunderstood by people who have read only small portions published on the Internet, or who have not read his entire lecture carefully. Contrary to these misunderstandings, Dr. Kloha’s paper has statements which affirm in a straightforward way the LC—MS doctrine of Scripture.
For those unfamiliar with Dr. Kloha’s related work on the subject, his co-edited book on Sasse is very significant (see Jeffrey J. Kloha and Ronald R. Feuerhahn, eds., Scripture and the Church: Selected Essays of Hermann Sasse [St Louis: Concordia Seminary, 1995]). Dr. Kloha demonstrates in an affirming way that after 1951 Sasse “affirmed the inspiration, inerrancy, and authority of all the Scriptures, not only where it speaks of ‘theological matters’” (ibid., 422). As long as I have known Dr. Kloha, this has been his own position too.
I suspect that many more theologians will respond to Dr. Kloha’s lecture, which is a good thing, as long as they read his entire manuscript and his recently posted follow-up. Dr. Kloha raises issues that need to be addressed by the church. There are problems to be solved here, the solutions are not obvious, and they cannot be resolved overnight.
Kloha’s Affirmation of Biblical Authority
The biggest concern I hear from folks is that Dr. Kloha’s lecture undermines biblical authority. He addresses that concern in his paper here:
I want to make clear from the beginning that the confession of the Scriptures as the infallible Word of God given by the Spirit through the prophets and the apostles and the only source and norm for faith and life is not in question; this is not what I am challenging in this essay. (Kloha, “Text and Authority,” p. 8)
Is my Nestle text authoritative? Yes it is, because it is the church’s text, Christ her Lord is preached in that text, and the church recognizes that the Lord works through that text as the Lord of creation unfolds history. . . . I can use this text with confidence—so long as I recognize that some authoritative readings are in fact in the apparatus. This should not concern me because I know that the text as I have it has had most of the questions about which reading is authoritative worked out. We have more data, more evidence, and methodologies which make better sense of the data than did Tischendorf and Hort and far close than that used by Pieper and Erasmus and Luther. (ibid., p. 17).
These are the same positions about Scripture and its texts that I heard over thirty years ago from my own professors—the biblically-conservative and doctrinally-orthodox faculty at Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne when Dr. Robert Preus was the president there. If Dr. Kloha is in error in these statements, then they were wrong too.
The Twenty-Eighth Edition of the Nestle-Aland Greek Text
Dr. Kloha announces early on that the purpose of his essay is to explain the new features of the 28th edition of the Nestle-Aland Greek New Testament (ibid., p. 2). This is the most useful part of his paper and can hardly be faulted by anyone in any way. The advent of computer technology has multiplied the capabilities of the textual scholar, and this is in itself not a bad thing. The present Coherence-Based-Genealogical-Method (CBGM) breaks the text down into its smallest units of individual words or phrases and then brings to bear all of the textual variants for each unit, not just those considered significant by the editors (ibid., p. 3). The computer database that sits behind the printed versions of the 28th edition lets the textual scholar make his own decisions, based on his own methodology. Thus the 28th edition truly is malleable, i.e., it is a “plastic text” subject to the arbitrary whims of the textual scholar. “New media” is not always a good thing!
Dr. Kloha has some criticism for the editors of the 28th edition. For one, he disagrees with the distinction they make between the “initial text” in the textual tradition (i.e., the Ausgangstext) and the “original text” of the author (e.g., Saint Paul’s autographa). In other words, he believes this is a key flaw in their method. For two, he believes that this flaw rules out the full use of the other tools available to textual scholars, such as the patristic quotations, other-language-versions, and the use of conjectural emendation (ibid., p. 4). I agree with both of Dr. Kloha’s significant criticisms.
Pastors and theologians need to know about this 28th edition of Nestle-Aland. Liberal Protestants, liberal Catholics, unbelievers, and atheists are going to exploit its features in order to scare people away from the Scriptures or to leave them in a muddle regarding its authority. You can be sure that Dan Brown of the Da Vinci Code is working on it right now as we speak. If we don’t know how to respond to these challenges, we Scriptural theologians and pastors are going to get pummeled.
Kloha’s Lutheran Approach to the Text
One of Dr. Kloha’s answers to the challenge posed by the 28th edition is for Lutherans to treat textual issues like they treat the canon. That is, to classify text units and their variants as homologoumena, antilegomena, or notha (ibid., p. 12). He then explains:
In the vast majority of cases, when all the study and research is complete, there is really no question as to which is the Ausgangstext . . . these are clearly homologoumena. . . . In large measure, which passages are homologoumena and which are antilegomena are not difficult to sort out. Neither are the notha. (ibid., p. 13).
He then gives this sound counsel:
[This] should make me careful as a pastor and teacher and theologian that I turn first to the homologoumena, and only if I need to, then do I turn to the antilegomena. As a preacher, my sermon should not hinge on a difficult variant. As an exegete I make sure that my argument does not stand or fall on an uncertain text. As a theologian, I am careful that my arguments are based on the homologoumena texts and readings. (ibid., p. 17).
All of this is sound and very helpful! Although this is a new use of old terminology, in effect it is the same counsel given by my own professors of Old Testament and New Testament when I attended their seminary lectures.
Problems Posed by the Enlightenment’s View of History
In my opinion, the greatest challenge posed by the 28th edition of Nestle-Aland is that it gives the impression that the entire Scriptures are contingent, to one degree or another. Whether or not this is the Nestle-Aland editors’ intent, it is devastating when combined with “Lessing’s ditch.” In 1777 Gotthold Lessing created his epistemological “ditch,” which boldly asserted that “the accidental truths of history can never become the proof of necessary truths of reason.” In the universities, this soon developed into both anti-dogmatism and anti-rationalism in the ideas and methods of “historicism,” where it still reigns supreme today (see Frederick C. Beiser, The German Historicist Tradition [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011], p. 26, where the author asserts “we are all historicists today”).
Historical evidence is always piecemeal, by its very nature, and the discipline of history is always open to new discoveries. This would seem to make the construction of dogma, rules of ecclesial practice, and moral norms impossible on a Scriptural basis, due to the Scriptures’ “historical” nature. This conundrum is related to the “infallibilist” fallacy that I addressed briefly in: Martin R. Noland, “Walther and the Revival of Confessional Lutheranism” Concordia Theological Quarterly 75 no. 3-4 (July/October 2011), 214-216. My firm conviction has always been that dogma, rules of ecclesial practice, and moral norms can be firmly and invariably founded on a Scriptural basis that is also historical. Dr. Kloha says the same thing in different words:
I can see my text as authoritative within the canonical framework that the church has always, at least until rationalism, used to view its texts as authoritative (Kloha, “Text and Authority,” p. 17).
We have yet to really answer the problems of “Lessing’s ditch” and other challenges to Scriptural authority posed by the Enlightenment. These problems arose after the period of Lutheran orthodoxy and in part caused its decline, so our favorite authors from that period are often of little help. These same problems have not been adequately addressed by LC–MS theologians over the years, because they often relied on the orthodox Lutheran fathers.
One breakthrough monograph has been David P. Scaer’s The Apostolic Scriptures, but it almost stands alone in the field. The problems are not intractable, but they are very difficult because almost all secular academic scholarship is working against us. Our dogmaticians and exegetes at our seminaries and universities should be able to address these issues in a more thorough way than I can, since this is their area of expertise.
For those scholars interested in the historical problems posed by the Enlightenment and its heirs, I recommend my own poor contributions to the literature. On the matter of how Protestants determine the canon, see: Martin R. Noland, “The doctrine of the testimonium Spiritu Sancti internum as a Calvinistic element in Lutheran theology” (Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, M.Div. thesis, 1983). On the matter of historical hermeneutics, Martin R. Noland, “Hans-George Gadamer’s Hermeneutics” (Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, S.T.M. thesis, 1986; but note the retractions added to the beginning of this thesis). On the issue of historicism and historical method in theology, see Martin R. Noland, “Harnack’s Historicism: The Genesis, Development, and Institutionalization of Historicism and Its Expression in the Thought of Adolf von Harnack” (Union Theological Seminary, New York, Ph.D. diss., 1996). Please don’t ask me for copies; instead contact the relevant institution or current sources of academic theses and dissertations.
I encourage all interested parties–scholars, pastors, and laymen–to read Johann Gerhard’s excellent treatment of the issues surrounding the text of Scripture in: Johann Gerhard, On the Nature of Theology and Scripture (St Louis: CPH, 2006), pp. 282-362 [sections 305-393]. That entire volume is worth studying, since some of the issues about Scripture keep recurring in each generation. Gerhard is not an LC–MS product, and is recognized as orthodox by all present-day orthodox Lutherans around the world, so his dogmatics are a good starting point for this discussion.
What will we do about the 28th edition of Nestle-Aland? Dr. Kloha has already done his part in alerting us to the issues posed by the new 28th edition. The question thus really is—What are you going to do about it?
Jeff Kloha asked that this be appended to my response:
“I would like to thank Dr. Noland for his interaction with me on this topic, both in substance and in manner. We exchanged cordial and constructive emails some days ago, and I deeply appreciate his willingness to share this response with me before he posts it online. How we do theology together is a very important matter. The interactions with Dr. Noland and others who have contacted me directly have resulted in some very productive insights, and I gladly receive and learn from them. I also appreciate that Dr. Noland quotes my earlier work on Sasse, who “affirmed the inspiration, inerrancy, and authority of all the Scriptures.” Indeed, this is my own position also.
Dr. Noland correctly understands the point of my essay, and while we may disagree on the effectiveness of some lines of argumentation, both mine and others, we are agreed on the nature of the problem that challenges the church and on the direction that our responses must follow. As Dr. Noland writes, “There are problems to be solved here and the solutions are not obvious” and “Our dogmaticians and exegetes at our seminaries and universities should be able to address these issues”—together, I would add Exegetes and Systematicians often talk past, not with, one another, and that must end. In a brief conference essay one cannot hope to resolve all the issues; I look forward to further work in this area by Dr. Noland and others as we together seek to confess Jesus Christ as Lord, firmly rooted in his Word, in the midst of crooked and perverse generation.”
Editor’s Note: This response developed in interactions between Dr. Noland and Dr. Kloha over the last week.