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Hebrews 1:6 – An Argument for the Critical Text

In the field of textual criticism, there are some who advocate a position called the Confessional Textual View.  This view results in the assertion that the church should adopt the Bomberg Hebrew Bible and the Textus Receptus as it’s authoritative Hebrew and Greek texts respectively.  These two are considered to be the biblical texts chosen by the Reformers.  Together, these two texts are held up as the truly authentic, God-given texts of the Old and New Testaments.

But Hebrews 1:6 poses a serious problem for this “confessional” view, because it shows that there is a conflict between these two supposedly-authoritative texts.

The Textual Data

In the KJV, Hebrews 1:6 reads as follows:

And again, when he bringeth in the firstbegotten into the world, he saith, And let all the angels of God worship him.
Hebrews 1:6 (KJV)

This is a translation from the Greek of the Textus Receptus (coincidentally, Hebrews 1:6 is identical in the Textus Receptus and the NA27/UBS4).

οταν δε παλιν εισαγαγη τον πρωτοτοκον εις την οικουμενην λεγει και προσκυνησατωσαν αυτω παντες αγγελοι θεου

Hebrews 1:6 (Textus Receptus / UBS4)

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Reading a Hebrew Scroll

Two Serious Problems for Presuppositionalism

The Canon of Scripture

How can a presuppositionalist decide which books belong in the canon of scripture? The typically-accepted canon does not contain an authoritative list. What if I were to “presuppose” that 1 Maccabees or the Book of Enoch belonged in the canon? What if I wanted to eliminate Jude, Hebrews, Esther and Obadiah? It doesn’t seem like these changes would cause any great, internal inconsistency. If we say that some new book is inconsistent with the other canonical books, first we must ask how we know that our existing books are canonical? How can we use the Deuteronomy 18 test for prophets without first assuming that Moses was a prophet? Determining the canon by strictly presuppositional methods is the height of circularity. I realise that staunch presuppositionalists are not necessarily opposed to this. But I live in optimism that every person’s tolerance for irrationality must have a breaking point.

Hermeneutical Principles

Where does a presuppositionalist get their hermeneutical principles from? From scripture? What hermeneutical principles were they using to interpret those scriptures? They cannot have been scriptural principles, because scripture had not been read yet! The presuppositionalist wishes to believe that they only use the words of God as their axioms. But in practice this simply cannot be true. The words “hear O Israel: the LORD our God, the LORD is one” mean nothing at all, unless they mean that Israel does not have 2, or 20, or 200 gods. But the denial of many gods is not stated explicitly. For these words to have that meaning, the speaker and hearer must have a prior commitment to the law of non-contradiction. Logical axioms are absolutely required to do even the most basic hermeneutics. That is to say, the very act of reading scripture must presuppose certain logical axioms.

Presuppositionalism and the Problem of Evil

I sometimes hear Christian apologists of a presuppositional persuasion argue that when atheists bring up the problem of evil, they are necessarily borrowing a standard of morality from the Christian worldview in order to form their objection. The apologist then says that this means the objection is invalid, or that it is self-defeating.

But isn’t this exactly the methodology that these presuppositional apologists coach Christians to use? “Step into their world view and show them its inconsistencies.” Aren’t the atheists doing exactly that? Maybe the likes of Richard Dawkins and Michael Schermer use different jargon to the Christian philosophers you’re used to, but I think they’re arguing with fundamentally the same pattern. What they are really saying is “if you believe that God exists and defines morality, then it is inconsistent to believe that he himself often violates that morality. Step into our world view and you will see, since we don’t believe God exists, we don’t have this inconsistency.”

Now, I have problems with this argument for atheism. I think it is flawed and there are counter-arguments I would make. But if we say that the atheist cannot make the argument properly because they don’t believe in a God-defined morality, then I think we are missing their point.

In Defence of Individualism

The generation of pastors and teachers I have learned from have tended to be very down on individualism. They are often heard telling young whipper-snappers like me that “your generation is so individualistic!”. They seem to mean this as a harsh criticism. But if they are right (and I’m not entirely persuaded that they are), then I think they are wrong to find fault with us for it.

Individualism is a good thing. People feeling more free to make the conscientious decision to be Christians, as individuals rather than by default (e.g. because of family or national allegiance), is a good thing. A culture of individualism is the only possible solution to the twin evils of persecution and nominalism.

But, truth be told, I don’t think “defending individualism” is nearly as outrageous as it sounds. I think very few people who decry individualism really mean it. I think they are just confusing their words. Individualism really means the strong conviction that individuals ought to have responsibility for, and authority over, their own life choices. I think that often what people really mean when they say “individualism” is “selfishness”. But those two things are not the same. Individualism is the opposite of collectivism. Selfishness is the opposite of love. You can be a loving individualist and you can be a selfish collectivist.

I recommend the former.

Chase Faithfulness, Not Growth

I often hear church-growth gurus say “we have to care about the numbers, because those numbers represent real people.” This sounds well and good on the surface, but ultimately, I recommend ignoring that advice. Why? Because you first need to ask what price you’ll pay.

The nature of setting a goal is that you make sacrifices to achieve it. If you want to lose a few kilos, you will either have to sacrifice a few sweet treats, or else sacrifice your morning sleep-in to hit the gym. If you decide to set your ministry a goal in terms of numeric growth, what will you sacrifice to get it?

We’d probably like to think our only sacrifices would be the ineffective ministry activities we would drop to make room for better ones. But is that the reality? Once you’re about the numbers, you’re really trying to serve two masters: growth and faithfulness. The great mistake of the church-growth gurus is believing that growth and faithfulness will always go together. If we’re faithful, there will be growth. If there’s no growth, we must not be ministering in a way that is fully faithful.

But that kind of thinking is nonsense. Some of the world’s worst theologians preach in the world’s biggest churches. Joel Osteen, Rob Bell, Benny Hinn and Bill Johnson all come to mind. On the other hand, the best gospel preachers the world has ever seen have been met with terrible rejection at times. George Whitfield, Charles Spurgeon, Stephen in Acts 7 and Jesus himself in Matthew 11 and Luke 4. The relationship between growth and faithfulness is a tenuous one at best!

A man cannot serve two masters, he will love one and despise the other. Will your decisions be made to chase growth or faithfulness?

Of Prawns and Pride Parades

This is a question I get pretty often, in different forms.  Sometimes it’s an atheist who thinks they’ve found a grave inconsistency in Christianity.  They also seem to assume that it’s never occurred to Christians as they read the Bible, for the last two thousand years.

But it does occur to Christians, and so I sometimes get it in a more thoughtful form.  They ask about Matthew 5:17-19:

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

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