Posts Tagged ‘textual criticism’

Book Plunge: Truth In A Culture of Doubt

September 26, 2014

What do I think of Kostenberger, Bock, and Chatraw’s book? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

Bart Ehrman is described in this book as the rising rock star of the New Testament world. While more and more Christians are learning about him, too many are not, and sadly, the first time they often hear of him, they are unprepared for what he has to say. The tragedy is best described by the way Chatraw sums it up.

Later I was a bit surprised when I had a similar discussion with a couple of well-respected pastors in my community. These conversations helped me see once again that most people, even pastors, don’t know much about what’s going on in the world of biblical scholarship. The other authors of this book have had similar discussions.

In fact, just recently I was sharing some detail concerning the last 12 verses of Mark and a good Christian friend was concerned I might have caused some doubt for some. I understood that concern well and shared some information on textual criticism to help deal with it, but it’s a shame that that which is common knowledge is seen as detrimental to the faith of some simply because the pastors have shielded them from the academy. In fact, pastors are usually the worst culprits.

Thankfully, the lay people do have friends in the authors of this book. These authors have done the service of taking Ehrman’s popular works seriously and addressing the main concerns that are raised in some of the most well-known ones. The reader who goes through this book and learns it well will be much more equipped to survive a class from Ehrman or someone like him.

If you are familiar with the arguments, you won’t find much here that is new, but that’s okay. This is written for those who are not really familiar with Ehrman and his arguments yet. If you are familiar with them, you will find that you still have a good resource where the major arguments can be found listed together.

One important insight that the book has that I agree with and have noticed myself is that Ehrman most often is quite good at giving you one side of the argument. He ignores that which is against his hypothesis. They consider his latest book “How Jesus Became God” as a for instance. In this book, Richard Bauckham is not mentioned once. He mentions Hurtado but does not interact with his main claims. He does not interact seriously with the Shema. I’d also add that in his section on miracles, brief as it may be, there is no mention whatsoever of Keener.

Ehrman has been undermining the Christian faith of many for a long time and unfortunately he’s probably right that too many are just closing their ears and humming so they don’t have to hear what he has to say. This should not be the Christian answer. If you want to get the Christian answer, an excellent gateway to that destination can be found in this book. I highly recommend it.

In Christ,

Nick Peters

Deeper Waters Podcast: 4/26/2014 — Craig Blomberg.

April 24, 2014

What’s coming up on Saturday’s episode of the Deeper Waters Podcast? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

First off, due to a scheduling need of my guest, our episode will air a little bit later this Saturday. Instead of the traditional time of 3-5 PM EST, we will do the show from 4-6 PM EST.

So now, let’s get to the heart of the matter. What’s coming up?

Well I have as a return guest someone who has come to be an arch-heretic (if you believe certain parties heavily pushing an anti-intellectual view of Inerrancy) in the media. That is Craig Blomberg who will be back again to discuss his recent excellent book, “Can We Still Believe The Bible?” So who is Craig Blomberg? According to his bio:

“Dr. Craig Blomberg is Distinguished Professor of New Testament at Denver Seminary in Littleton, Colorado. He holds the B.A. from Augustana College in Rock Island, Illinois, the M.A. from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois, and the Ph.D. from the University of Aberdeen, Scotland.

Craig is the author of twelve books and has co-authored or co-edited seven more, along with dozens of journal articles and chapters in multi-author works. His books include three on the historical reliability and interpretation of the gospels (one specializing in John), two on interpreting and preaching the parables, three commentaries (on Matthew, 1 Corinthians and James), a textbook on Jesus and the Gospels and another on Acts through Revelation, and two books on material possessions in the Bible.

On Sunday mornings Craig regularly preaches and teaches in a variety of churches. On Sunday evenings, he attends and is part of the leadership team of Scum of the Earth Church in urban Denver, an outreach ministry to “the right-brained and left out” young adults of the metro area.

Craig’s wife, Fran, is currently adjunct professor of Intercultural Ministries at Denver Seminary and is pursuing her Ph.D in Missiology through the International Baptist Seminary in Prague. Craig and Fran have two daughters: Elizabeth (Little), who is married and is employed as a lay student worker at her Methodist Church in Canterbury, England; and Rachel, who is majoring in biochemistry at the University of Rochester, New York.”

Blomberg 2014 pic 1

Despite what his critics think, I find Blomberg’s book to be incredibly helpful and for those who were listening last Saturday, keep in mind that Daniel Wallace as well spoke highly of Blomberg. Blomberg’s book covers the areas of the text of the Bible, the canon of Scripture, the problems of translation, the issue of Inerrancy, questions about genre consideration, and finally miracles. All of these are incredibly relevant to our culture today and all of them have answers.

I really hope you’ll be there to listen to this important episode and also that you’ll go out and get a copy of Blomberg’s book. Remember that our show will be on a different time this week and that is going to be from 4-6 PM EST. We will naturally be able to take your calls as well and the number if you want to call in is 714-242-5180.

The link can be found here.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Deeper Waters Podcast 4/19/2014

April 18, 2014

What’s coming up this Saturday on the Deeper Waters Podcast? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

dbw at Qumran caves 4 7 8 copy 2

We’ve got a great show lined up for you this Saturday! You ever wonder how it is that we can have a reliable text of the New Testament when supposedly all we have is copies of copies of copies? Hasn’t Bart Ehrman pretty much demonstrated that we really don’t have what the NT authors wrote? If those are questions you’ve wondered about, then you’ll need to be listening to the Deeper Waters Podcast this Saturday when I interview Daniel Wallace.

As Wallace’s bio says

“Dan Wallace has been teaching the New Testament at Dallas Theological Seminary for more than a quarter century. He earned a B.A. from Biola University, a ThM magna cum laude from Dallas Seminary, and a PhD summa cum laude also from Dallas Seminary, focusing his studies on the Greek New Testament throughout his education. He has done postdoctoral study at Cambridge University; the Institut für neutestamentliche Textforschung (Institute for New Testament Textual Research), Münster, Germany, Tübingen University; Glasgow University; Bayerische Staatsbibliothek (Bavarian State Library), Munich; as well as various libraries and universities in Europe, Australia, America, and Africa. His Exegetical Syntax is the standard biblical Greek grammar in the English-speaking world, and has been translated into half a dozen languages. Dan was the senior New Testament editor of the NET Bible, and has been a consultant on four Bible translations. He has authored, co-authored, or contributed to dozens of books. He is a member of the Society of New Testament Studies, the Institute for Biblical Research, the Society of Biblical Literature, and the Evangelical Theological Society. He is currently the vice president of the Evangelical Theological Society.

In 2002, Dan founded the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts, an institute dedicated to taking digital images of all Greek New Testament manuscripts, making them available for everyone on the Internet (csntm.org). Dan and his wife, Pati, live in Frisco, Texas, where the surf is no good at all. They have four adult sons, three wonderful daughters-in-law, and two beautiful granddaughters. They also have two dogs and a cat. They like the dogs.”

We’ll try here to personally forgive them for not liking the cat.

Daniel Wallace has long been an excellent authority on the textual criticism of the New Testament including an interview in Lee Strobel’s book “The Case for the Real Jesus.” We’ll be asking him the kinds of questions that we can expect to see from skeptics of the New Testament today as to why they think that the New Testament cannot be seen as a textually reliable document and in turn find out that if any document is textually reliable, it is the New Testament.

Please be listening in this Saturday then from 3-5 PM EST as I interview Daniel Wallace to talk about his work in textual criticism and why it is that he thinks Bart Ehrman is wrong and that we can in fact have great confidence in the text of the New Testament. Call in with your questions at 714-242-5180.

The link can be found here

The text is as follows:

Book Plunge: Can We Still Believe The Bible?

April 1, 2014

What do I think of Craig Blomberg’s latest book? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

CanWeStill

I was one of those fortunate enough to get a copy in advance of Blomberg’s latest book for review purposes. As it stands, I was expecting to get a book on new findings that demonstrate the reliability of the Gospels and answers to atheist objections and matters of that sort. I was disappointed in that regards.

But sometimes, it’s good to be disappointed.

Blomberg’s book was not what I expected, and that’s a good thing, because he dealt more with issues surrounding the Bible. I don’t think he wrote this for skeptics of the faith as much as he wrote it for Christians to get them to focus on what’s really the most important, and there have been too many debates lately that have lost that focus.

The book moves in a gradual path from one point to the next connecting the chapters. There is a progression that the reader can easily pick up on that answers the major contemporary issues that are surrounding the Bible today. Also in this, Blomberg goes to great lengths to avoid extremes. There’s more of a happy medium in the topics that he raises that he encourages us to embrace.

The first topic Blomberg deals with is if we have the right words of the Bible or not. After all, if the text has just been so terribly corrupted, then how can we even begin to say we believe the Bible since we have no idea what it says?

We’ve seen those memes before that have the facts about the Bible about how the copies we have are late and there are only copies and copies and we possess no originals and since all of this is true, well we just can’t really trust the Bible.

The sad reality is that if the text of the NT cannot be trusted, the text of any other ancient document cannot be trusted. Now keep in mind at this point I am not saying the information conveyed in the text is true. I am simply saying that the text has been handed down reliably.

For every ancient text, we only have copies. Some of these are indeed centuries away from the original text. Sometimes, we only have a few extant copies. Yet the time span of the Bible is closer by far than other ancient texts and when it comes to the number of texts that we have, there is an embarrassment of riches.

In fact, we have more evidence of the reliability of the Biblical text than we did when Ehrman had his crisis of faith that he recounts in several of his books. Yet still, this idea persists that we can’t know what the authors of the Bible originally said. (Interestingly, Ehrman does think he can get to what the oral tradition was behind the text of the Bible. So Ehrman thinks he can take an inaccurate text and use that to get an accurate oral transmission?) A sign of this is that recently on Peter Boghossian’s Facebook page he put up a link to Misquoting Jesus by Bart Ehrman and said he was sure the apologists would not comment.

As if any of us were just unprepared for Ehrman and had nothing to say.

This is also especially so since there is always new information coming. A book that came out shortly after Blomberg finished the manuscript I’m sure is The Early Text of the New Testament. There is even a rumor that we could have a 1st century copy of Mark, which would really devastate much of this ideology.

For those interested, Blomberg even goes into Old Testament textual criticism. He notes that the skeptics would have a stronger case here, but it is not made. I suppose the NT is the one that most want to deal with and sadly, too many Christians do ignore the OT.

On the other extreme, Blomberg advises not heeding groups of people like the KJV onlyists. As he tells us, each generation it seems this movement arises again and must be dealt with. I won’t go into what Blomberg says here, but he goes so far as to say the KJV onlyists go past the Muslims in the way they choose one text and just exclude all others.

The next topic to consider is the canon of the Bible. Did the church get it right with the canon? Blomberg here shows how many of the books were debated for the OT and the NT both but eventually made it in. He makes a case for why the Apocrypha was not included in the sacred literature and discusses the books that were selected to possibly be in the canon but in the end, were rejected.

What’s the other extreme to having the canon be flexible entirely? Well it’s to say that the Bible stands alone and is our only guide for anything. This gets ridiculous when we see many books on a Biblical Guide to X, where the topic is concerning matters the Bible was never meant to address. One can find principles that are consistent with the Bible, but let’s not get that confused with what the Bible is really authoritatively teaching. If you want to learn algebra, your best bet is a math textbook and not the Bible.

The next section deals with the topic of translations of the Bible. Why are there so many? Blomberg points out that there are different theories on biblical translation. Some go for a word-for-word translation as much as possible. Some want to focus on getting the meaning across more than a literal translation of the words. Then some try to go in the middle. There’s a time and place for each. It would be a mistake however to always think that the literal is best.

Naturally, there are some translations to avoid such as the NWT of the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Joseph Smith Translation of the Mormons. I was also thinking Blomberg might have included something I read when I was in Bible College, which is the Scholar’s Version, the one put out by the Jesus Seminar which included the Gospel of Thomas.

Meanwhile, there is an extreme to avoid here and that has been a debate over gender-inclusiveness in the Bible. Now if we’re talking about turning God into a female for instance, then yes, I have a problem with changing that language, but when we talk about mankind in the generic sense, I really don’t have a problem. There are commands that are clearly wrong for men and women both and changing the language to indicate that is not an issue, yet sadly so many Christians have been ready to attack anyone that moves in a direction they don’t really like. This included an all-out attack on the TNIV.

Blomberg ultimately concludes that one can take any of the best-selling translations of the Bible and find the Gospel message in there. While I have my own preferences at times in translation, I do have to agree with that one.

Next we come to a big one. What about Inerrancy? As many know, I have been caught in the thick of this one having been someone who was a student at Geisler’s first Seminary he founded and even being one of his students for a time. I also happen to be the son-in-law of Mike Licona so when the Inerrancy wars started, I was right there.

One of the first points I really liked in this chapter was how Blomberg dealt with this idea that there is no academic freedom for many scholars since they have to agree to something in a statement such as Inerrancy. Blomberg points out that most scholars agree to that who teach at these institutions because in their background study for years, they’ve come to the conclusion that they agree and they don’t take such claims lightly. If they do change their minds, they move on from that institution to another. Unfortunately, stories like that don’t get attention. It’s when a professor gets “ousted” that the media suddenly show up.

Blomberg also says that “Inerrancy can be wielded as a blunt tool to hammer into submission people whose interpretation of passages differ from ours, when in fact the real issue is not whether a passage is true or not but what kind of truth it teaches.”

Too many times I have seen the idea put forward that because Inerrancy is true, a teaching is true. It could be young-earth creationism. It could be pre-trib dispensationalism. It could even be that the resurrection of the saints in Matthew 27 is a real historical event instead of something apocalyptic!

Consider for instance the doctrinal basis for being a member of the Evangelical Theological Society.

“The Bible alone, and the Bible in its entirety, is the Word of God written and is therefore inerrant in the autographs.

God is a Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, each an uncreated person, one in essence, equal in power and glory.”

So to answer someone like Geisler who would ask “Could Mary Baker Eddy join the ETS?”, the answer would be no. She would not agree with the second. Yet notice that believing in the first does not mean one automatically believes in the second. One can believe the Bible is Inerrant and still get the second question wrong in thinking the Bible does not teach a Trinity. Jehovah’s Witnesses do this. Yet they could certainly not join ETS.

If you want to know if a person denies Inerrancy, it is not to be found in looking at what that person thinks the Bible teaches. Where is the knowledge that they deny Inerrancy to be found? It is in saying that they think the Bible has errors in it.

It is not a surprise then that the opposite extreme in this chapter is someone like Geisler again. Blomberg points out that if Geisler and those like him had their way, there would hardly be anyone left in ETS. This is the same Geisler who likes to use ETS as a weapon in the Licona debate to point out how Gundry was voted against (Which is covered in the next chapter) but ignores that the vote didn’t go his way with open theism. At this, Geisler left the institution and called it the Formerly Evangelical Theological Society. Now that he needs the Gundry vote again for his case, then he can start using the ETS once more. Blomberg points out that Geisler has repeatedly left Seminary after Seminary, including the one he founded, because none of them were conservative enough for him. I concur with Dr. Michael Bird.

“I thought a big highlight was Blomberg’s critique of extreme views of inerrancy by Robert Thomas and especially Norman Geisler. It becomes clear that Geisler in particular is not a particularly pleasant chap to work with and has never found an institution that was worthy of him. Seriously, Geisler is the villain of this chapter and comes across as being slightly to the right of Atilla the Hun.”

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/euangelion/2014/03/craig-blomberg-can-we-still-believe-the-bible/

It is good to see evangelicals like Bird and Blomberg coming out and standing up to what has been going on and being willing to really use all the historical tools that we can to examine the Bible instead of imposing modern standards on the text.

Related to this is the fifth chapter on genre categories in the Bible. Again, Blomberg covers both testaments. He asks questions about the nature of Job, Jonah, and the authorship and dates of books like Daniel and Isaiah and asks if the critical approach to any of these would really be a death knell for Inerrancy, concluding that they would not.

When it comes to the NT, he brings up the Gundry issue that I hinted at earlier and again points out the way Geisler behaved in this one. Gundry had the idea that much of Matthew was midrashic and thus not meant to be read as historical. It was something the readers would have known about and thus would not be a danger to Inerrancy.

Geisler would have none of it and encouraged the ETS to oust Gundry from membership. Most of the society however said that Gundry should be allowed to make his case and let it be critiqued in the scholarly circles instead of by censuring him. If there was little to his proposals, they would not gain scholarly support and would die out. Yet in the end, Gundry was voted out of the society. How did this happen when so many were saying what they said?

Answer. Geisler started a political campaign and had friends show up who normally would not come to meetings. The views presented were not presented in their fullest and just barely over the 2/3rds needed voted to remove Gundry. Blomberg points out that someone as stalwart as D.A. Carson did not see a violation of Inerrancy here, though he certainly saw no credibility to Gundry’s views. No shock Geisler has followed similar tactics against Mike Licona.

The simple solution to all of this is to do what we encourage skeptics to do. Follow the evidence where it leads. If the evidence shows that the Gospels are Greco-Roman biographies for instance, and scholarship across the board tends to go this way, then let us go with it. Let us find a way to shape our worldview according to the facts. Let’s not shape the facts according to our worldview.

The final chapter is on miracles. Now I must admit this one was probably the one that I thought could be improved on the most as in dealing with objections to miracles, there are mainly endnotes referring to Keener and Hume. For a book like Blomberg’s I would have liked to have seen some of the argumentation take place, although I certainly agree that pointing to someone like Keener is the way to go.

In this chapter, Blomberg looks at the miracles in both testaments and focuses mainly on the purpose of the miracles and their nature in comparison to claims in other religions. He notes many of the accounts are rather restrained and are meant for a specific purpose instead of just show. This is especially so in the case of Jesus’s miracles in the NT. He also uses the NT time to go after the health and wealth word of faith teachers. Many people Jesus healed did not have faith.

There are two extremes to avoid. The first is to believe all miracle claims. All claims of miracles should be believed or disbelieved based on the evidence that we have available. The next is to be overly skeptical of all miracles, and this includes Christians who believe the miracles of the Bible, but stalwartly refuse to admit any miracle in any other religion. This becomes a double-standard.

Meanwhile, you can also have claims such as John MacArthur with the “Strange Fire” conference where all charismatic were painted with a broad brush. Now I am in no way charismatic, but I agree that MacArthur crossed a big line with this one. Naturally, one can be on guard, but one should always be open to being wrong, and I have many Christian brothers and sisters in the charismatic movement. I have no desire to question their salvation.

In the end, I think Blomberg’s book is an excellent one. It’s not one on biblical apologetics per se, but it does fill a necessary gap. Blomberg’s writing remains us where our true focus needs to be. I highly recommend this one for students of Scripture.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: The Early Text of the New Testament

January 31, 2014

What condition is the early text of the New Testament in? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

earlytextNT

I want to thank Oxford Press first off for sending a review copy of this book. This is an extremely scholarly work that is a great edition to the Christian apologist’s library and will be monumental to anyone who is seeking to understand textual criticism.

A word of caution however. This work is extremely scholarly and without having a great knowledge of the field, the layman will get lost in many areas. Part II will be exceptionally difficult as it deals with the early text of each of the Gospels, then Acts, then the Pauline Epistles, then the general epistles, and finally Revelation. The information here will be highly helpful, but those without familiarity will be easily lost.

Part 1 is a great benefit as the reader will learn much about the way books and the text were seen in the times of the NT. Most of us don’t think about questions of who will buy books and how the early texts would have been seen by the first Christians, but these scholarly articles will give an excellent look into that world.

Part II as I’ve said goes into the details of the condition of the early manuscripts and how well they’re established. It’s noteworthy to consider that you would not have such a book like this for a work such as Tacitus. Probably the only other work from the ancient world that you could talk much about the copies of the manuscripts that we have to such an extent would be the works of Homer. This should tell us enough in itself about the manuscripts that we have of the New Testament.

It’s important to note in all of this that nowhere in the book do you notice an attitude of hopelessness. There is no great fear I find that maybe we don’t really have an accurate representation of what the NT authors originally wrote. This is in contrast to Ehrman in his popular works. (Although it’s worth noting that in his scholarly works, Ehrman takes a rather different attitude to the reliability of the NT text.)

The final part involves the way the NT was cited in the early church and how those around the NT used the texts. The article on citation I found extremely helpful as we can often make the mistake of assuming that the ancients would want to cite a text the way we supposedly do.

Except many of us don’t even cite the text the way we supposedly do. How often when writing an email or making a post on Facebook or somewhere like that do we simply give a paraphrase of what a passage says? How many times do you hear a sermon where a pastor makes an allusion to a passage of Scripture without quoting it directly but giving what he thinks is the intended meaning.

Much of our modern criticism of the NT as it turns out is based on simply saying “The ancient world did not do things like us, therefore they did not care for accuracy.” The ancients just lived in a different world and in a world where the Scripture would be heard more than read, making an allusion or not using an exact quotation would work just fine.

Then, we move in to how the early text was used by the church fathers and even by Marcion. Part of this section will still be difficult for the layman, but there are benefits to be had and no doubt, the serious scholar of textual criticism will benefit.

I conclude that this is a fine edition to a library. Anyone who is a scholar of textual criticism absolutely must have this book in their library. While it will be difficult for the layman, they too can still get good out of this and hopefully it will drive them to read other works in the field.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Misquoting Jesus

August 13, 2013

What do I think of Ehrman’s work? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

Misquoting Jesus is an accomplishment and a shame to the Christian church both. It is not a problem in that nothing here can be answered. Indeed, it can be and has been. It is not an accomplishment in that new ground has been broken in textual criticism. There is nothing new in here about textual criticism.

It is an accomplishment in that it is the first book on textual criticism to stay for so long on bestseller lists, in fact, as far as I know, to even make it on the bestseller lists. It is a shame in that the church should have been writing such works that would have been liked by the popular audience and bought by them.

Of course, Ehrman knows that controversy sells very well. One could easily imagine a book hitting the bestseller list with the title of “The sex life of Jesus” or something of that sorts. Books that attempt to bring something “new” to the discussion of Jesus, like the Da Vinci Code or today, Zealot, are all the rage in the public sphere.

Unfortunately, these new works have something in common amongst all of them. There is nothing new in them. They are simply old ideas that are being repackaged for new people who have never heard of them. Those who read Zealot will not normally read someone like Craig Evans in response. Those who read Dan Brown will not likely read Ben Witherington in response. Those who read Misquoting Jesus will not likely read Daniel Wallace in response.

To that, it must be said the Christian church should be doing better. It is a shame we have Rachel Held Evans, Joyce Meyer, and Joel Osteen being household names in the Christian community, but we don’t have people like Dan Wallace, Ben Witherington, and Craig Evans being household names. This is because of a lack of reading and real study on the part of the Christian church where we are just interested in making “good” people.

So to get to Ehrman’s book on textual criticism, we have the natural start at the beginning of most Ehrman books where he shares his personal testimony of his deconversion and how it started with a Damascus Road experience in his studies where he was told that maybe Mark made a mistake.

As Evans has pointed out in Fabricating Jesus, Ehrman’s response seems out of proportion to what happened, unless one considers that perhaps Ehrman had put too many of his eggs in the Inerrancy basket. (And some of you wonder why I make it a case to tell people not to marry Inerrancy to their Christianity.) Unfortunately, his understanding of Inerrancy was also a modern western style that would have been foreign to the biblical authors. It would be amusing to see if we could somehow get the reactions to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John today to what we say are contradictions amongst their gospels.

In Ehrman’s story, he had written a paper defending the claim of Jesus about who the high priest was in the time of David in Mark 2. His professor wrote on his paper “Maybe Mark just made a mistake.” That it had a lasting impact on Ehrman is easily shown in that it is mentioned in so many works of his. Yet this initial charge is invalid. See Daniel Wallace being interviewed by Lee Strobel in “The Case for the Real Jesus.” More on that here.

Still, to be fair, Ehrman does present much information in this book that is highly valuable. For instance, on page 18, Ehrman points out that books played virtually no role in polytheistic religions. The Christians were different. They were people of books, as were the Jews who preceded them.

On page 29, Ehrman gives a contrast on how central books were to the lives of the Christians. While Ehrman doesn’t say it, the reason is the NT books were to be those that had apostolicity, antiquity, and authority. Of course, with antiquity, in this case, one means within the lifetime of the apostles.

Ehrman also points out on page 59 that a writer could dictate word for word to a scribe or simply give the main ideas to a scribe or some combination thereof. Both would have been used in antiquity. Unfortunately, this is the kind of idea that also works against Ehrman’s claim in Forged (See here also) that some Pauline epistles were not by Paul since he could just as easily have used a secretary, just as he did in Romans, a letter that is not disputed to be Pauline at all. In fact, a footnote indicates he knows of a leading work on this, that of E. Randolph Richards, one that is not heavily interacted with in Forged.

Ehrman’s thesis is that sometimes when scribes copied texts, mistakes were made. No one would dispute this. The most conservative NT textual critic would recognize and affirm this. The question is, were those mistakes really monumental ones that threaten doctrine? The answer is no. Let’s give some basic examples.

For instance in Mark 1 where we are told that Jesus was either moved with compassion or moved with anger in response to a leper. If anger, does this change our view of Jesus? Not really. Jesus had already had anger in Mark 3 and if Jesus is the embodiment of the OT God, the Jews would have no problem with that since they had in their history experience the anger of God.

But why would Jesus be angry at a leper wanting to be healed?

Probably because the leper chose an inopportune time. Jesus was speaking and healing was a private affair that could have been done later and not drawn attention to Jesus. Instead, the leper came forward while Jesus is speaking before an audience. Result? Jesus heals the man, but now his doing a healing causes people to come after him for that reason rather than for the message itself.

Another example given is Matthew 24:36 where there is a listing of who knows the time of the coming of Christ and we are told that no man knows, not the angels, nor the Son, but only the Father. Some manuscripts we are told omit “nor the Son.”

It is a puzzle why this should be problematic. If it is only the Father who knows and the Son is not the Father, then it follows that the Son did not know. Not only that, if this was wanting to be omitted because it’s embarrassing, why not omit it also in Mark?

Of course, we can bring in discussion on such topics as the long ending of Mark and the story of the woman caught in adultery. That these passages catch some people off guard is a testimony to the fact that we are failing in educating our church. This gets even more problematic with 1 John 5:7 where someone will be prone to use this to deal with Jehovah’s Witnesses only to be caught into the world of textual criticism that they never even knew existed.

Ehrman’s case is nothing new. The problem with his case is as in many cases, he has really only given one side of the argument, and that is the side that is meant to frighten his audience. That a book like Ehrman’s will spark concern among readers is problematic. That we did not educate our church enough to avoid it sparking concern, is an indictment on us. We must do better.

In Christ,
Nick Peters