Higher Criticism as the old Gnosticism vis-à-vis Apostolic Succession

“The Gnostic appeal to a secret tradition embodied in its own Gospels or modifications of the existing Christian gospels thus highlights the situation of the “Two Churches within One Institution” Model, for the Gnostic “tradition” is esoteric, and can only be arrived at by initiation into methods known to the Gnostic.  The situation is all too similar to the claims of much modern textual criticism, which asserts the right of its own scholarly elite to modify the text of Scripture, or in actual fact, to reject the ecclesiastical texts, in favor of its own highly questionable conjectures and reconstructions of the “original autographs”.  Seen in this light, the Gnostic is little more than a second century textual critical peritus, and the modern textual critic as little more than a nineteenth or twentieth century Gnostic.”

“Specifically, by the latter part of the second century, when the orthodox insisted upon “one God,” they simultaneously validated the system of governance in which the church is ruled by “one bishop.” Gnostic modification of monotheism was taken—and perhaps intended—as an attack upon that system.  For when gnostic and orthodox Christians discussed the nature of God, they were at the same time debating the issue of spiritual authority. Thus, even the idea of apostolic succession is transformed in the hands of some Gnostic systems who claimed succession from different teachers, who form, according to Ptolemy, “an esoteric supplement to the canonical collection of Jesus’ words.” Bodily resurrection, apostolic succession, and the canonical and textual form of the Scriptures form a continuous strand of orthodox response to Gnosticism, as Gnosticism forms a continuous and total program of assault on each of these.  For both the Gnostic and the Orthodox, to imperial any of these elements was to imperial them all.  Again, the implications for the modern situation are dire, for faced as we are with Churches and hierarchies that all too quickly are abandoning versions of Scripture based upon some form of the Majority Text—the received ecclesiastical text underlying most versions of Scripture, in favor of versions based on critical constructions of what scholars think the early text to have been, constructions themselves based upon manuscripts in many cases of known Gnostic or heretic pedigree, the implication for apostolic succession is enormous.”

“[W]hen St. Irenaeus emphasizes the recapitulation of all things in Christ, including all stages of human nature, he is stating more than just Christological doctrine.  The unity of the Godhead and the inclusion of all of humanity in the effects of the Incarnation are double blows against the Gnostic proliferation of deities and authorities; his understanding of recapitulation is also a statement of ecclesiastical polity.  There are, indeed, he acknowledges, two traditions, but only one derives from the Apostles; the other derives from Simon Magus and ultimately from Satan. The importance of this will be lost unless restated in modern higher critical terms: the distinction of two kinds of tradition as regards doctrine, polity, and canonical Scripture means that any attempt to deal with early manuscripts of Scripture as an indistinct mass, without regarde to doctrinal content, is, from the orthodox Christian perspective, impossible, since it does not account for the historical fact of the existence of different kinds of tradition from the beginning.”

God, History, and Dialectic: The Theological Foundations of the Two Europes and Their Cultural Consequences, +Photius Farrell

8 Responses to Higher Criticism as the old Gnosticism vis-à-vis Apostolic Succession

  1. John says:

    (2) Your whole theory is one based on the authority of the bishops. When I mention what current bishops do you reject it as a mere argument of authority. I don’t get it.

    (3) The point is that the Orthodox church put its stamp of approval on a bible whose text was assembled by a non-Orthodox scholar (and I might add, protestant translators). Having updated the OT against the LXX (a job which must be about 50 times the work of updating the NT against the Byzantine text), they decided to publish a text based on the work of non-Orthodox scholars.

    And the OT was based on Rahlfs LXX – this is also a critical text compiled by western non-Orthodox scholars.

    And guess what – Rahlf’s LXX relies heavily on the same ancient Greek manuscripts of the LXX, whose NT text is _not_ the Byzantine text. These are LXX manuscripts that predate what could be called a byzantine LXX. So if you have problems with those texts, the same must apply to Rahlf’s LXX.

    I don’t see any bishops in the church who have a problem with this. That seems to indicate that what they are “passing on” is not a byzantine text.

    (4) I didn’t mention apostolic succession nor liturgical forms. You said in (1) that monks or laity in the church setting was sufficient to make it “ecclesiastical”. Well a manuscript like Sinaiticus is even better than that, its a manuscript that was very expensive to originally produce (and thus official), was used for a long period of time, was preserved by an Orthodox monastery (an autocephalous one at that).

    (5) Again, the bishops seem to be “passing on” various biblical traditions, and not just the Byzantine text.

  2. Fr. Maximus says:

    An example in action of bishops checking what text of Scripture the parishes are using is Theodoret of Cyrrhus. He went throughout his diocese and found more than 200 parishes (!) using Tatian’s Diatessaron, which he seized and replaced with real Bibles (his own words.)

  3. photios says:

    1) laity and monks preserving scripture as guardians of tradition is a eccesiastical matter not a secular matter. Non sequitor.

    2) Argument from authority. In other words, this isn’t an argument.

    3) The TR is based *mainly* on the Ecclesiastical text type. The KJV is not perfect but its the best in english. The Anglican translators carried over the nuances of greek to english the best they could. Much better than modern corruptions (e.g. Rom 5:12). I personally could careless of the body of official things that come out of SCOBA (look at their agreed statement and conclusions on the filioque and their programs of ecumenism), but their decision to go with a translation that is based on the TR is the best they can do due to limited resources.

    4) You are using the term bishop and apostolic succession too indiscrimanately. I have a different idea in mind other than just simply the correct liturgical form.

    5) I mean mostly from a historical stand-point vis-a-vis gnosticism. The bishops pass down the text and the apostolic hermeneutic, that’s what paradosis is.

  4. John says:

    This theory raises a lot of questions in my mind.

    1) How do you know? Since the laity have rejected what bishops have done in council, why should we think the bishops are the only ones who can pass on scriptures? And is this really what happened historically? There have always been some laity with copies, and I doubt monks always discussed it with the bishop before making another copy. And I doubt bishops always checked what their predecessor used before grabbing another copy from a monastery.

    2) There have been bishops using RSVs, KJVs, NKJVs, etc. should we now consider those scriptures to have been “passed on” to us? Or do only Greek speaking bishops get to partake in this awesome responsibility? If we can resurrect a Western rite, why can’t we resurrect the Latin Vulgate for example? Or a text from the Church of Caesaria? Or of Alexandria?

    3) Why was the Orthodox study bible approved by a bunch of bishops since it is based on the TR? The TR is a compiled text assembled by (non-Orthodox) scholars and laity. And what’s more, it contains quite a few readings that have no place whatsoever in the Byzantine text.

    4) Aren’t virtually all the manuscripts used by scholars to compile critical texts coming from Orthodox churches who have “passed them down”? To take one example, Sinaiticus was used at Mt Sinai monastary, which certainly has a bishop, for some 1500 years. Yes sure there are some papyrus that were dug up, but I think you’d be struggling to find many readings in them that don’t also exist in manuscripts with provenance in an actual Church setting. Even if we take later manuscripts, not all of them are Byzantine. Byzantine become more in the majority as time goes on, but they were never exclusive.

    5) Have bishops really been passing anything on in any sense since the invention of the printing press? Bishops get their bibles the same place everyone else does, from their local Christian book shop.

  5. John,
    It is the duty of the Bishop to guard the scriptures and to hand down (paradosis) the scriptures to his successor. The preservation of the text is not a “scholarly” or secular exercise.

    The Church that rejected Gnosticism, from its full inception in Origenism to the anathematization of the dialectics of the philosophers and theology as a secular exercise in the Synodikon, is the same Church that was rigorously pursuing the preservation of the manuscripts. I.E. the Eastern Church. Those same glorified saints who would split hairs over fine theological distinctions had the same type of scrupulosity in maintaining authentic codices. For an example, Mark of Ephesus at Florence maintained that the Latins used interpolated documents. The maintenance of codices was highly important.

    The idea is that “earlier” dating of a manuscript doesn’t ensure a closer proximity to the apostolic doctrine, because of the gnostic manipulation of texts. To entertain the idea, one is already beginning to monkey with their apostolic succession since being a bishop is dependent on handing down the faith.


  6. John says:

    And are these quotes suggesting the Byzantine text is the one to go with because (a) it seems to be the original _or_ (b) despite not necessarily being the original, it was very popular in the Greek church, thus it has been time tested.

  7. Yes, the Byzantine text type or the Ecclesiastical Text.


  8. John says:

    Err… Are these quotations you are favourably presenting in advocation of the majority text?

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