The Ecclesiastical Text

The Ecclesiastical Text

Theodore P. Letis 
The Institute for Renaissance and Reformation Biblical Studies
6417 N. Fairhill, Philadelphia, PA

Copies can be ordered from the author by writing
Theodore P. Letis
P.O. Box 870525
Stone Mountain, GA  30087
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Reviewed by Louis F. DeBoer


This book is collection of essays and papers By Dr. Letis on various aspects of what has happened to the Scriptures in our day. As such it provides not only a good assessment of where we are, but in its historical reviews, also provides a good rear view mirror, to show the reader where we have come from, and therefore what we have lost.

 In the Introduction Dr. Letis deals with the issue of declining educational standards and loss of literacy. He then explains the effect this has had on the translation and especially the marketing of Bibles. The effect of course should have been nil. The Authorized Version of the Scriptures is famous for lifting the level of literacy of the English peoples, rather than being in an exercise in catering to the lack of it. However, the Bible now having broken loose from ecclesiastical control, and having become the plaything of “for profit” commercial publishers, catering to ever declining levels of literacy is now part of the marketing game. The Bible is a tremendously complex and deep book, whose proper study is the labor of a lifetime. A proper translation can pierce the language barriers and present this book in English, but it cannot do more. The Scriptures remains a book that does not yield it truths without much study, prayer, and labor. God does not cast his pearls before swine. Only a corrupting paraphrase can simplify the complex language, rich idioms, and cultural expressions of the original, and offer a shortcut to those who are too spiritually lazy to study what God actually wrote. That this has resulted in a scandalous deluge of competing study Bibles, for every conceivable niche of would be Bible students, is Dr. Letis’ complaint. 

The first, and probably the most important, chapter in this book is also the most interesting. He shows how textual or lower criticism, once the domain of liberal theologians, was imported into Princeton seminary by B. B. Warfield. Tracing the Reformation view from the Westminster divines, through Turretin, and to the Hodges at Princeton, he carefully documents the theological revolution introduced in that institution by Warfield. The key switch was to place inerrancy only in the long lost autographs (the original manuscripts) and fail to defend it in the apographs (our current copies of the original text). Warfield believed that through the “science” of textual criticism the original inerrant texts could be reconstructed giving us an improved Bible over the one the Reformers had defended. Apart from the textual and historical issues involved, as a Calvinist Warfield should have known better than to trust unregenerate liberal textual critics to guide this process objectively to a successful conclusion. After all he was supposed to believe in “total depravity” and that men apart from the grace of God will “suppress the truth in unrighteousness.” As Letis documents the details and the history of this revolution and its ramifications to this day, the fascinated reader is brought to an understanding of how we got where we are today. 

In Chapter Two Letis documents how the Reformers and their heirs, both Lutheran and Calvinist, viewed the apographa, the extent copies of the Scriptures that the church had in their day. This not only defines and documents the historic and Reformed view, but demonstrates the radical nature of the revolution Warfield introduced at Princeton. When he takes this historical review right into the twentieth century and quotes Warfield’s critics this contrast is even heightened. Whatever criticism one may make of Letis’ writings, he does not sound an uncertain trumpet. The battle lines on this issue are clearly drawn. 

Chapter Three deals with issues of Biblical authority, that is the authority of the present day scriptures in the life of the church. First he reviews the traditional view of the absolute authority of the scriptures held by the churches since the Reformation. Then he documents the erosion of this position by theological liberals who subverted it with their higher criticism and attacks on Biblical inspiration and inerrancy. Finally he shows how evangelicals now waffle on this issue since due to their acceptance of the tenets of textual criticism they no longer really believe they have an inerrant Bible. The title of this chapter, “The Language of Biblical Authority: From Protestant Orthodoxy to Evangelical Equivocation” is particularly instructive of our current problems. 

Another issue that is broached is the consequences of our ecclesiology. Dr. Letis accurately demonstrates the Baptist (or Anabaptist as he puts it) nature of American culture. This, he points out, has contributed to the rise of a plethora of translations. He attributes this, at least partially, to the atomistic, individualistic nature of this Baptist culture, and the fractured state of ecclesiastical organizations that it has promoted. He notes that the Reformation model of an established state church gave us a single Bible, the Authorized Version. This is not presented as an argument for the establishment principle, and is merely meant to inform us of the consequences of the path American Christianity has taken over the last two centuries.  In point of fact, most Presbyterians would probably agree, and would  prefer to see a more consistent Presbyterianism replace the host of para-church organizations that have, along with commercial publishers, co-opted the whole Bible translation and distribution function. As Dr. Letis has argued elsewhere, when these functions cease to be a ministry under ecclesiastical control, and become driven by commercialism and it’s attendant profit motive, then we can expect a deluge of designer Bibles appealing to every niche market, and commercial appeal replaces faithfulness to God’s word, as the driving force for the whole process.   

The book goes on to cover a wide range of issues dealing with the text of scripture. There are eight chapters, four book reviews, and two appendices. 

If you are concerned about the present state of things with respect to the status of God’s word, and would like to have both an insight as to how we got here, and where we need to go from here, this book is good place to start.

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