history and stuff

So I was just now thinking about Elliot’s post about not believing anything from before 1983.

The other night, I was at my friend Leah’s wedding reception. It went very well. Everything was lovely. I sat at a table between my friend Jenn’s husband Scot and Henry Vanderleest, the father of some friends, most notably Erin Racine. We were talking about the burden of evidence that the New Testament documents were written by the men whom tradition says they were, or at least for their early authorship. But many people still choose to disbelieve that any of it is true, sometimes taking “rational” arguments, such as the genre of the gospels didn’t need the stories to be literally true, or more often simply saying “meh.” Henry mentioned that there are people now who doubt history so radically that they disbelieve anything from before the past 100 years.

This strikes me as shocking, but not entirely surprising, for the whole discipline of history has recently been cast into doubt because of the inevitable bias of historians. History, after all, is manmade. Therefore, it is fallible. Therefore, it is not to be trusted. Hence Elliot’s alleged disbelief of anything before 1983.

Then Scot shocked me with one even bigger.

He has a cousin who married a King James Version-only girl. This girl takes it to the farthest extreme I’ve ever heard (farther even that av1611.org). Since history is manmade and fallible, we can trust nothing it tells us. This includes ancient Greek and Hebrew; these languages have been passed down to us through history. Our knowledge of them is largely historical. Since ancient Greek and Hebrew are historical, the truth is that Jesus spoke in King James English.

I protested that this language did not even exist while Jesus was alive. Scot pointed out that my evidence would all be historical, and she doesn’t trust history. Historical linguistics are of no value, here.

Henry noted that it’s folks like her who give all of the more level-headed, rational Christians a bad reputation for unthinking superstition and ignorant. Often we are all painted with the same brush. Sad, but true. (Not that Christians don’t paint other faiths and worldviews with the same brush at times.)

I’m trying to think of how on earth one could seriously think that Jesus spoke Jacobean English. You’d have to deny the reality of Tyndale and Wycliffe’s translations, first of all–except that 60% of Tyndale’s that is the same, of course. You’d have to deny that English literature before the Reformation did not even exist, since this would be the historical linguistic evidence against the theory. You see, we have literature that traces the development of English from the sturdy Germanic language of Beowulf to the sponge it is today. In this person’s view, said history is all untrue. It would have to be, since Jacobean English did not exist until the 16th-17th centuries.

This view of Scripture also means that everyone has to learn English–and an archaic form at that! If non-anglophone scholars wish to truly delve into the Scriptures and seek Jesus, they’ll have to learn English. Greek simply won’t cut the cheese. This, of course, is a sturdy blow to all my Greek Orthodox friends who, due to their mistaken belief in history, think that their ancestors were writing before English had probably differentiated from the mass of Germanic languages, and who have always believed that the Old and New Testaments in ancient Greek as they have allegedly had them for centuries before the King James Version was supposedly written. Quite a blow, indeed.

And I’ll have to put aside my Greek NT as well (not to mention my most heinous other English translations–NIV, NRSV, JB Philips, NASB).

A new age of scholarship and learning would have to dawn in order for this hypothesis to operate. Shall we be among those who set things aright?

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