At the most recent ACELC conference I met a layman. I will call him Leon for that is his name and he would not shrink from being identified. He was at a conference recently where the Reverend Doctor Jeffery Kloha was taking his view of the New Testament text to the layman. Leon was not pleased.
What bothered him the most was Kloha’s assertion that Elizabeth not Mary spoke the Magnificat. This is what the United Bible Society’s A Textual Commentary on the Third Edition says: “According to the overwhelming preponderance of evidence, comprising all Greek witnesses and almost all versional and patristic witnesses, it was spoken by Mary. On the other hand, according to a half a dozen witnesses, chiefly Latin, it was spoken by Elizabeth.” These Latin witnesses date from the 4th to the 7th or 8th centuries, i.e. hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of years after Luke wrote. The commentary goes on: “Although sympathetic to the supposition that perhaps neither name was present in the original text, the Committee was impressed by the overwhelming weight of external evidence, as well as by the balance of internal probabilities” and therefore preferred to read Mary not Elizabeth (130-131).
The sainted Doctor Harold Buls lamented that all the publication of the RSV did was force ordinary laymen to become textual critics because at the bottom of pages you find “some ancient manuscripts” do or don’t have this or that. I agree. It doesn’t help when our theologians seem to go out of their way to find textual “problems.” This no parish pastor would ever do. Why? Because as our Formula of Concord confesses any interpretation of a Scripture that militates against hope or comfort is ipso facto wrong.
Here’s what Leon, and any other interested layman, need to know about the manuscripts of the New Testament. The theology of all the fathers of the church from ancient times through Reformation was based on far, far fewer manuscripts than we have today. But none of these new ones say, “This represents My body” instead of “This is.” Not one of them says, “Jesus didn’t rise on the third day.” Not of them says, “Thou shalt not baptize a child before the age of accountability.”
If you are moved by the illustration, apparently true, that today’s smartphone has more computing power than we had to land on the moon in 1969, then you should be moved by this. The three Ecumenical creeds, Luther’s’ catechisms, and our entire Book of Concord were composed with what is called the Majority Text without any of the texts Kloha is so exercised over. In other words, we went to the great doctrinal moons of the Two Natures, the Trinity, Justification, the Sacraments and more with less “textual” power than in today’s pocket New Testament.
Three concluding thoughts: First, it is shame that something that has been virtually unquestioned among us and is a regular part of our worship life, should be made into a question. Second, Mary never Elizabeth is the one who refers to herself as a doulē of the Lord. This Greek word is only found twice in Luke in verse 38 and verse 48 of chapter 1. It’s Mary’s self designation of herself. Third, ultimately “my soul rejoices in God my Savior for He that is mighty has done to me great things” is true no matter who said it.
You layman ought not to let some academic come along and take your moon landing away from you. Instead send him to the moon the Ralph Kramden way.