Manuscripts and Misquoting

Cuthbert Gospel John 1“Manuscripts and Misquoting,

Inspiration and Apologetics”

[This paper was delivered at the Lutheran Concerns Association Annual Conference, January 19, 2015.]

Each Sunday we confess that the Holy Spirit “spoke by the prophets.” We learned from our youth that “we do not despise preaching and his word, but hold it sacred, and gladly hear and learn it.” These are confessions that have been handed down to us, which we receive, and which we pass along. They did not originate with us. Their truthfulness does not depend upon us or upon our reasoning. And they do not need to prove themselves to us. We receive them, we are formed into them, because they summarize for us the truth of the Scriptures. That the Holy Spirit spoke by the prophets is a confession, not an argument. It is not “provable” nor does it need proving. That preaching and the Word is sacred does not need to be tested – even if sometimes we preachers may make it difficult to hear that Word clearly.

“But not all have this knowledge,” to borrow, non-contextually, from the Apostle Paul (1 Cor 8:7). The reliability of the text of the New Testament has been called into question in the popular mind. An adjunct instructor at one of the Concordia University schools posted questions from his students about the origins and veracity of the Biblical text. Among these students’ questions:

“How or who initiated putting the writings of the Bible together as one book?”

“Whoever compiled the Bible, how did they decide which stories to publish and which ones to leave out?”

“How were the books of bible chosen to become the bible as we know it today?”

“How do we know that the word of God has not been altered by man throughout the years and in the years w[h]ere no word was written down in particular?”

These are not the questions of radical skeptics who are attacking the Bible. They are students at a Lutheran university who have heard bits and pieces—from who knows where—about the origins and transmission of “The Bible.” The last question in particular shows that these students have been exposed to the idea that the biblical text is unreliable. That it has been collected together, copied, and altered by people, and therefore, they think, we cannot be certain that we can trust it.

These questions have likely been prompted by the flotsam and jetsam of the fragmented media culture in which we live. In the torrent of information that is accessible from an astonishing array of sources, only the loudest, most virulent, and most outrageous claims will be heard. In the realm of religion, the iconoclastic depictions that flood movie theaters and Netflix (The Davinci Code movie and Bill Maher’s Religulous), the over-hyped claims of the Gospel of Judas and the so-called “Gospel of Jesus Wife” (both of which received severe criticism after initial sensationalist reporting), and the unregulated Wild West of Youtube and Facebook, voices that undermine traditional Christian faith and belief rise and embed themselves in popular consciousness. Even among the more informed—by that I mean people who actually read books—these questions are standard fare. [The entire 16-page essay is available here: Manuscripts and Misquoting – Kloha LCA 2015]

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  1. Scott Dirk Anderson on Facebook March 6, 2015

    Okay, I haven’t downloaded and read the entire thing yet, but I always cringe when theologians attack the questions rather than addressing them. To dismiss these questions as irrelevant because they’re driven by popular culture is remiss. They are not only valid questions, but the hard questions that provide the greatest struggle for critically thinking individuals in coming to faith. We need to admit they are hard questions and be prepared to talk about them, not just tell someone ’tis a silly question.

  2. Jeff Kloha March 6, 2015

    Thanks for taking a look, Scott. If you read the rest of the essay, you’ll see that it does address the questions. What is on the web is only the introduction, and the point is in fact that these are genuine questions that must be addressed. So, go ahead, download, and read.

  3. Matt Priem March 9, 2015

    I appreciate your continued work in this area, Dr. Kloha. I wonder what you think about a related argument concerning the empirical approach itself. A lot of people are conditioned today to say “well if you can’t prove it I’m not interested,” asserting that it is irrational and irresponsible to accept the Bible as inspired with anything less than concrete proof.
    A part of our response might be to point out the poverty and indeed dishonesty of this approach since the formation of unproven axioms is inevitable and advantageous. Our human nature forces us to adopt some truths without proof, and the most fundamental truths are often the ones we have the least proof for. This applies to everyone, not just Christians.

    • Jeff Kloha March 9, 2015

      Yes, Matt, this is an area that needs significant attention. Western culture has adopted an empiricist approach to all aspects life, not only in the sciences but also in morality. “Truth” is reduced to “what I can test, observe, and measure.” This is very reductionistic and dangerous–by definition, anything outside the universe is ruled out, and causation can only occur from within this closed system. Obviously, this system rules out God or any divine role in the world. There are many threads that come together here — most human interactions and emotions are described as coming from some evolutionary adaptation. Human life itself is devalued as having no purpose except in some economic or political role. We could go on. It is not that we cannot “prove” a good many things using human observation (including the veracity of the biblical text); but we cannot reduce human existence, or God and his ways, to the “provable.”

      Have you done some reading in this area? How have people responded to your discussions with them about truth?

    • Travis Scholl March 10, 2015

      There was a fascinating column in the New York Times recently that relates to this. It was written by the philosopher Justin McBrayer and concerns moral reasoning and how the distinction between “fact” and “opinion” is often taught in elementary school pedagogy.


  4. Daniel Buck October 15, 2016

    Dr. Kloha, I’m watching the live stream of your debate today in Chicago, and following through to the suggested links (one of which brought me here). I note an error on page 4 of your prepared remarks, “At other times they would discuss the differences, sometimes resolving them, sometimes, in fact, quoting both reading and the manuscripts and interpreting both,” which I would reconstruct as “At other times they would discuss the differences, sometimes resolving them, sometimes, in
    fact, quoting both readingS IN the manuscripts and interpreting both.”

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