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OPENING THE NEW TESTAMENT
Christianity does not regard the language of her sacred book as sacred by itself — however, two recognitions prevail.
For texts of major philosophical importance translations create original forms, more or less giving birth and shape to new meanings. The second recognition, valid in Orthodox Churches as in Roman Catholic and Protestant ones, is the appreciation of the organism of Greek thinking, the Greek language, from Homer to our days, as enormously important.
Reading the Bible in Greek, the New and also the Old Testament (cf. what I write about this in The Ancient Greeks, Athens 2012, p 12 ff), we prepare conditions for a deeper understanding of biblical meanings, while by itself a contact with Greek elevates our thinking.
Several ways to read are possible, but to evaluate the prospects and decide each time the proper way, a certain precondition besides all else is necessary, which is rather underestimated by Protestant churches in particular: we need to understand that the main priority is never in the Bible, but in the Church, since the Church decided the Bible. Without the Church or before the Church the Bible does not exist and is unthinkable. It may sound distressing to the Protestant soul, where the authority of the Church sinks in painful memories of the papacy, yet it remains accurate.
Any possible relationship with the sacred text is established in the quality of Church life, where one is informed about the very existence of the Bible. Our relation to everything, with most crucial and fundamental being the personal or potentially personal relationships, determines in the most essential dimensions the quality by which we approach the sacred text. In the first of John’s epistles (4.20) this primacy is considered as obvious: ὁ μὴ ἀγαπῶν τὸν ἀδελφὸν ὃν ἑώρακε, τὸν Θεὸν ὃν οὐχ ἑώρακε πῶς δύναται ἀγαπᾶν; Something similar happens in the study of the Bible — the quality of personal life determines the quality of the studying of the text, beyond what can be drawn by a disciplined intellect alone.
We can understand in the same way the difference between the text that the Orthodox Churches recognize as genuine without even official proclamations, and texts that various scholars try to establish under the pompous term of the ‘critical’ edition, as if the life and tradition of the Church were uncritical. This shows a surprising carelessness coming from those who are supposed to care the most, since they didn’t think to what extent the specific term and method, belonging to classical philology, can be applied to the study of the Bible.
In Platonic dialogues, for example, the so called critical edition, always under the precondition that research results to a single and certain text, may have a priority, since in Plato lies the only criterion of the genuineness of the text. If the criterion of authenticity lies in the Church, because the Church decided even the identity of the authors, only the Church can really know the accurate and valid text, in a discernment that is formed and extends through centuries of a living tradition of collective understanding. We can benefit from consulting ‘critical’ editions, thinking on possible variations of meaning, perhaps even equally important alternative meanings — however, valid in principle is the text we share in the tradition of the Church.
This doesn’t mean that the Church is continuously free of errors or that errors cannot persist even for centuries. History shows how Church errors are traced in the Orthodox world.
Anyone may have objections and in the course of time after a lot of discussion the faithful, the common opinion of the Church, realize what to keep or change. This common opinion may find also a synodic expression by the clergy, but in any case it is followed. Regarding also the biblical text, the (usually small) differences of the ‘critical’ editions can be evaluated in the course of time and be incorporated or rejected.
Having in principle denied the authenticity of the ‘critical’ editions in favor of the traditional collective discernment of the Church, we can see some consequences easily right now using just a single example of a difference that I chose because it is not insignificant.
We read in the Gospel of Matthew (5.22) that πᾶς ὁ ὀργιζόμενος τῷ ἀδελφῷ αὐτοῦ εἰκῆ ἔνοχος ἔσται τῇ κρίσει (=everyone who is angry against a brother without reason will be found guilty in the Last Judgment). The ‘critical’ edition of Aland, Black, Martini, Metzger and Wikgren removes the adverb εἰκῆ (=without reason): everyone who is angry will be found guilty…
 The priority of the Church as such in the formation of the text regards mainly the Greek speaking Churches — not because the other Churches are inferior, but because they use a translated text. We can not prepare a Greek edition by comparing manuscripts written in German or Latin — and if indeed the general opinion of the Church, not only that of scholars, is the most important factor of the formation of the text, then this opinion too should be Greek speaking, since it is about the preparation of a Greek text. However, if some change occurs in non Greek speaking Churches, even this change can be incorporated finally in the text, provided that in the course of time it proves to be ecumenically accepted. This is the reason, for example, that the passage 1 John 5.7-8, about the three witnesses, is incorporated in the current edition, according to the opinion of the Holy Synod of the Great Church, although it is missing from all without exception the manuscripts of the Greek speaking tradition of Christianity. The Churches are not re-writing the text at will, however, inside the limits of such a work, when decisions are necessary regarding the use and importance of the available manuscripts, forms to be kept, the delenda, etc., all those decisions that scholars make preparing a ‘critical’ edition, the most important factor is not what a scholar decides, but what the Church decides, just as happened in the case of the acceptance of 1 John 5.7-8 in the current text following the suggestion of the Holy Synod.
Following the ‘critical’ edition we have to presume that the specification of anger, the distinction between a bad and a good anger, is not due to the author of the first Gospel, but was added later — and this by itself, as we said, is not a problem, since the ‘augmented’ version is accepted by our common ecclesiastical consciousness. What we think now is the importance of the specification, with the ‘critical’ edition prohibiting absolutely a feeling that the text of the Orthodox Churches won’t reject except under certain conditions.
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