Thursday, December 25, 2008

Who "owns" the Bible?

That's a misleading question, in one sense, because properly speaking the owner is of course God. It is, after all, his written revelation. But inasmuch as he does not exercise a direct supervision of it in history, it does seem proper to ask: to whom has God granted stewardship of Scripture?

Now on the one hand some folks might object to that question, supposing that God hasn't granted that responsibility to anyone: on this view, to ask the question is to beg the question. But denying the validity of the question doesn't really settle things. It's not a question of whether there will be a steward of Scripture. There is going to be some steward(s) or other, whether we like it or not.

Now there are at least three ways in which someone might act as steward of Scripture: as to the books that comprise it (that is, with respect to the canon), as to the meaning of it (that is, with respect to hermeneutics), and as to the words of which it consists (that is, with respect to textual criticism). I've seen more than one argument between Protestants and Catholics about the question of the canon, and I've seen more than quarrel about hermeneutics. But I can't recall seeing one that addresses the question of textual criticism.

Let's set aside the canon and hermeneutics questions for a moment. We live thousands of years after the Scripture was first written. We have a huge number of manuscripts, and many variations among them. who decides which version of the text is correct?

Well, for the Catholic there can be only one answer to this question. Scripture has been entrusted to the Church. Consequently only the Church has any valid standing for establishing the exact text of Scripture. Hence Vatican II says:
Sacred tradition and Sacred Scripture form one sacred deposit of the word of God, committed to the Church [Dei Verbum §10; emphasis added].
But the Protestant has an issue here. Who decides what the text is, and what is the basis of the authority to make that decision? I don't know of any answer that they can make to this that doesn't boil down eventually to subjectivism. Hopefully they would say that "the church" must do this, but that demands that we know what is meant by "the church". If by this they mean "my denomination," that's certainly a better answer than others that might be given. But it's hardly one that can stand historical scrutiny, since (obviously) no Protestant denomination existed before the sixteenth century.


Paul Hoffer said...
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Paul Hoffer said...

Hi RPI, Happy New Year to you and to yours!

The question you ask here is an interesting one. By happenstance, over at "Beggars All" Carrie touches upon this issue over at "Beggars All" in writing about the low opinion Catholics supposedly have of Scripture. As proof of that low opinion that Catholics have of Scripture, Carrie cites to a book written by Father George Searle in 1895, "Plain Facts for Fair Minds." Her problem is with a question he poses in the book,"If Christ had intended His religion to be propagated and preserved by means of a book, can any conceivable reason be urged why He should not have written one?"

It is a question that a Protestant can not answer because they have such a low opinion of Church.

God bless!

Reginald de Piperno said...

Hello Paul,

That's an excellent observation. They put more stock in the individual than they do in Christ's Church, since a man's conscience trumps anything and everything that the Church might say. In the present context, this means that the Sovereign Individual has the duty and power to determine what the text of Scripture is. It's pretty appalling. Unfortunately I have to say shamefacedly that it's an error to which I subscribed as a Protestant.

As bad as that is, I think that there are even worse examples of error in this regard. Thomas Nelson, for one example, "owns" the text of the NKJV, by virtue of copyright and having financed the translation. In my book it doesn't matter whether they've been responsible stewards of their product; the more significant issue to my mind is the question of authority with regard to the whole project.

Thanks for stopping by!


[Disclaimer: I would have to concede that what I've said in this comment doesn't apply to every color of Protestant to the same degree, although I think that the issue cannot be entirely surmounted by them.]