Book Endorsement: The Doctrine of Scripture by Jason Harris

The Doctrine of Scripture by Jason HarrisToday’s book review post is special for two reasons. First, this marks the 150th book review I’ve posted here at Fundamentally Reformed. Second, this review includes the foreword I was privileged to write for this book.

The Doctrine of Scripture: As It Relates to the Transmission and Preservation of the Text by Jason Harris is published by InFocus Ministries in Australia. I’m excited to recommend this new book to my readers here in the United States as I believe this book can go a long way toward helping those confused or entangled by King James Onlyism.

My Foreward

Another book on the King James Only debate? Much ink has been spilled and many passions expended in what may be the ugliest intramural debate plaguing conservative, Bible-believing churches today. Fundamentalists and Evangelicals, Baptists and Presbyterians, Reformed and charismatic — all have been affected to a greater or lesser extent by those arguing for or against the King James or New King James Versions of the Bible. With each new book it seems the debate becomes more and more caustic, each group castigating the other in ever more forceful terminology.

Jason Harris enters the fray with the right blend of humility and tenacity, and turns the attention of all to the true center of the debate: the doctrine of Scripture. What makes this debate so passionate is that it centers on the very nature of Scripture. Rather than focus on technical facts and ancient manuscript copying practices, Harris takes us back to what Scripture says about itself: its inspiration, preservation and accessibility. In doing so, he demonstrates how those upholding the King James Bible and the Textus Receptus behind it, base their position not on sound exegesis of the Scripture, but on tenuous assumptions read into the text.

Harris’s pen is lucid and his grasp of the King James Only debate as a whole is masterful. He focuses his work on TR-only position which represents the very best of King James Only reasoning. He interacts with the exegesis of key TR-only proponents and marshals compelling evidence demonstrating their failure to measure up to Scripture’s own teaching about itself. And after explicating the doctrine of Scripture, Harris draws important conclusions which should protect the reader from making simplistic assumptions in a quest for textual certainty that goes beyond what Scripture teaches we should expect.

Harris wants us to be confident that we do have the inspired Scripture translated accurately in our English Bibles. He wants such confidence to be rooted to a Scriptural understanding of the Doctrine of Scripture rather than in the “supernatural-guidance” of a group of sixteenth-Century translators. Assuming that such a group of men made no mistakes is to expect something Scripture doesn’t teach, and ignore what it does. Harris is to be commended for such a clear, lucid defense of the historic doctrine of Scripture. I hope his book is received well and helps laymen and pastors everywhere to begin to rethink the basis for why they think as they do when it comes to the King James Only debate.

Bob Hayton
FundamentallyReformed.com
KJVOnlyDebate.com

[pp. 9-10]

Additional Thoughts

After re-reading this book and seeing the published version, I am more optimistic than ever about its promise to provide clarity to the King James Only debate. Jason Harris’s book has a few characteristics which together make it a unique contribution to this debate.

First, his book focuses on the alleged doctrine of the verbal, plenary accessibility of Scripture. This is where the root of the KJV and TR preference lies for many people. The argument is not so much based on texts and manuscripts as it is on what allegedly the Bible teaches – that the very words of Scripture (all of them down to the letters) would be generally accessible to believers down through the ages. Harris spends most of his time marshalling a Scriptural rebuttal to these claims and also demonstrates the difficulties such a position has when it comes to the history of the text as we know it.

Second, this volume carefully builds a theology of the transmission and preservation of Scripture. Such a careful, exegetically-based explication of the doctrine of Scripture has been lacking in this debate. And such a gap has often been used by KJV-only proponents to their advantage. It is KJV-only books which start with a Scriptural position and then look at the evidence, with the “anti-KJV” books starting with history and evidence and then moving to the Scriptural arguments. This book is different and starts where the debate starts for most of the sincere beleivers who get swept up into it — it starts on Scripture’s teaching about the very nature and preservation of Scripture.

Finally, Harris keeps a very irenic tone throughout. He is careful not to overstate his case and exaggerate the claims of his opponents. This is especially difficult to do when it comes to this heated debate, but Jason pulls this off well. Additionally, he backs up his book with the inclusion of a vast array of footnotes documenting the claims he is arguing against. I appreciate how he does not direct his argument toward the Riplingers and Ruckmans of this debate. He focuses on the TR-only position and the more careful wing of KJV-onlyism, men like David Cloud, D.A. Waite, Charles Surret, and the like. Harris has read widely in the KJV only literature, and his treatment avoids broadbrushing and generalizations that tend to give KJV-only propoents an easy out. It’s easy to dismiss a book as not being directed to their particular position, or to claim the author makes egregious errors and lumps their position in with that of heretical views. Harris’s book is not open to such charges. He directs his case against the very best arguments of KJV-onlyism.

Had I been exposed to such a book I would have been inoculated to the pull of the KJV-only persuasion. As it happened, I was swept up in a TR-only view that made it seem like we had the corner on truth and everyone else was compromising. By God’s grace I came to understand that Scripture does not support such a view of the transmission of the text.

Jason Harris is to be thanked for giving us a tool to recommend to those thinking through this issue from within, and to help the ones who are being pressured to join the KJV-only position. I highly recommend The Doctrine of Scripture and hope it makes its way into the hands of anyone struggling with this issue who will yet be open-minded enough to study out the issue from both sides.

You can pick up a copy of The Doctrine of Scripture at Amazon.com.

Disclaimer: This book was provided by the author. I was under no obligation to offer a favorable review.

~ cross posted from FundamentallyReformed.com, the author’s other blog.

Book Review: Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible (3rd Ed.) by Emanuel Tov

Book Details:
  • Author: Emanuel Tov
  • Category: Academic, Biblical Language
  • Publisher: Fortress Press (2012)
  • Format: hardcover
  • Page Count: 512
  • ISBN#: 9780800696641
  • List Price: $90.00
  • Rating: Recommended

Review:
Reading Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible by Emanuel Tov was both a joy and a challenge. I thoroughly enjoyed immersing myself in the world of the Hebrew Bible. Ancient manuscripts, Dead Sea Scroll finds, ancient versions, textual variants — all of these things stir the Bible-geek in me. At the same time, the state of current scholarship with regard to the Old Testament text can be a bit troubling to an evangelical Christian. While the New Testament stands affirmed by numerous manuscript discoveries to the extent that almost all textual critics can agree on the vast majority of the minute details of the text, the same cannot be said for the Hebrew Old Testament.

Emanuel Tov takes readers of all scholastic levels by the hand as he surveys the field of Old Testament textual criticism. This third edition of his classic textbook, explains things for the novice and scholar alike. Careful footnotes and innumerable bibliographic entries will impress the scholar, while charts, graphs and numerous glossaries keep the would-be scholar feeling like he is getting somewhere. I have no problem admitting that I am one of the would-be scholars, with barely a year of Hebrew under my belt. Yet I was able to work my way through this book, becoming sharper in my Hebrew and awakening to the many facets of the intriguing study of OT textual criticism.

Tov has departed from a more traditional stance in his earlier versions, opting instead to follow the evidence from the Dead Sea Scrolls and contemporary studies. He manages to keep away from a fatal skepticism, however, arguing that textual evaluation still has merit. The aim is still to recover the earliest possible text, but the recognition that there are often two or three competing literary editions of the text complicate the matter. An example would be the different editions of Jeremiah, with the Septuagint (LXX) Greek version differing drastically from the Hebrew Masoretic Text (MT). 1 Samuel provides another example with a Dead Sea Scroll offering perhaps a third different competing literary edition. Tov points out the two very different versions of the story of David and Goliath and Hannah’s prayer as he expounds on the problem.

Rather than trying to solve each exegetical or specific textual problem, Tov aims to illustrate the challenges facing the would-be textual critic. He surveys the textual data, and reconstructs the history of the text – giving more attention to the accidents of history, such as the destruction of the Jewish state in A.D. 70, as weighing into the nature of the textual evidence we have. Rather than the Masoretic Text gradually gaining dominance, it was the de facto winner of the “text wars”. The LXX-style Hebrew texts (which the Dead Sea Scrolls and other finds have confirmed existed), were ignored by the Jews as Christianity had owned the LXX as its own. The Samaritans had their version of the Pentateuch, and the existence of a variety of other text forms, such as those found at Qumran (the DSS) were forgotten with the cessation of a normal state of existence for Jewish people. The Masoretic text found itself with little real competition and over the years came to be further refined and stable. I should clarify here, that this is not to downplay the Masoretic text, as it manifestly preserves very ancient readings, and Tov repeatedly affirms the remarkable tenacity of the MT. Instead, Tov is saying that the majority position the MT holds among the textual evidence and in the minds of the Jewish communities in the last 1800 years should not prejudice the scholar to consistently prefer MT readings. Tov in fact claims that text types, such as are commonly discussed in NT textual criticism, are largely irrelevant in dealing with the OT text. Internal considerations are key in textual evaluation. I will let Tov explain further:

Therefore, it is the choice of the most contextually appropriate reading that is the main task of the textual critic…. This procedure is as subjective as can be. Common sense, rather than textual theories, is the main guide, although abstract rules are sometimes also helpful. (pg. 280)

Tov’s textbook goes into glorious detail concerning all the orthographic features that make up paleo-Hebraic script, and the square Hebrew script we are familiar with. His knowledge is encyclopedic, to say the least. The numerous images of manuscripts that are included in the back of the book are invaluable. His discussion on the orthographic details of the text should convince even the most diehard traditionalists, that the vowel points and many of the accents were later additions to the text, inserted by the Masoretes. Some still defend the inspiration of the vowel points, but Tov’s explanation of numerous textual variants that flow from both a lack of vowel points and from the originality of paleo-Hebraic script (and the long development of the language and gradual changes in the alphabet, and etc.) close the door against such stick-in-the-mud thinking.

Tov’s book details the pros and cons of different Hebrew texts, as well as discussing electronic resources and new developments in the study of textual criticism. His work is immensely valuable to anyone interested in learning about textual criticism, and of course is required for any textual scholars seeking to do work in this field.

Tov doesn’t add a theology to his textual manual, however. And this is what is needed to navigate OT textual criticism. After having read Tov, I’m interested in seeing some of the better evangelical treatments of the textual problems of the Hebrew Bible. I believe we have nothing to fear in facing textual problems head on. Seeing different literary editions of the text can fill out our understanding of the underlying theology of the Bible as we have it. Some of the work of John H. Sailhamer illustrates this judicious use of contemporary scholarship concerning the literary strata of the text.

Tov’s book is not law, and he sufficiently qualifies his judgments. He stresses that textual criticism, especially for the Old Testament, is inherently subjective. It is an art. And those who don’t recognize that, are especially prone to error in this field. This book equips the student to exercise this art in the best possible way. Tov walks the reader through evaluating competing textual variants, and his study will furnish the careful reader with all the tools to develop their own approach to the text. Tov’s findings won’t erode the foundations of orthodox theology. I contend that they will strengthen it. As with NT textual criticism, paying attention to the textual details has unlooked-for and happy consequences. It strengthens exegesis, and allows for a greater insight into the meaning of the text. And it can build one’s faith.

Bible-geeks, aspiring scholars, teachers and students alike will benefit from this book. Understanding the current state of OT textual criticism puts many of the NT textual debates into perspective. Christians don’t know their Old Testaments well enough, and studying the text to this level is rare indeed. I encourage you to consider adding this book to your shelf, and making it a priority to think through the challenges surrounding the text of the Hebrew Bible.

Author Info:
Emanuel Tov is J. L. Magnes Professor of Bible at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and Editor-in-Chief of the Dead Sea Scrolls Publication Project. Among his many publications is The Greek and Hebrew Bible-Collected Essays on the Septuagint (1999).

Where to Buy:
  • CBD
  • Amazon
  • Barnes & Noble
  • direct from Fortress Press.

Disclaimer:
Disclaimer: This book was provided by Fortress Press. I was under no obligation to offer a favorable review.

Originally Posted at:
This article was originally posted at my personal blog, Fundamentally Reformed.