Welcome to the C.S. Lewis Society Blog. As a team we will be posting weekly blogs that will address or highlight key issues in Christian apologetics and Intelligent Design. Feel free to comment on these posts. Wherever you are on your spiritual journey, we encourage you to engage these issues / topics openly and honestly.
It has become fashionable as of late to make provocative claims concerning the origins of Christianity. Take the Da Vinci Code and the so called “missing gospels” (e.g., Gospel of Judas) as exhibits A and B. But recently, a book questioning the reliability of the New Testament has become a best seller, Bart Ehrman’s Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who changed the Bible and Why. What makes this interesting is that this book is basically a book on Textual Criticism written for a popular audience. Now Ehrman, who is chair of Religious Studies at UNC, is a well respected textual critic, and so many are being influenced by his book and his controversial claims. Here is just one of them:
“The more I studied the manuscript tradition of the New Testament, the more I realized just how radically the text had been altered over the years at the hands of Scribes….It would be wrong…to say—as people sometimes do—that changes on our text have no real bearing on what the texts mean or on the theological conclusions that one draws from them” (Misquoting Jesus, 207).
Now this raises some good questions because few things are as central to Christianity as whether or not the Bible–as we have it today–has been reliably copied. Ehrman’s claims have not gone unanswered. Fellow Textual Critic Dan Wallace, whose Greek grammar text book is used at 2/3 of the schools that teach Intermediate Greek (including Yale, Princeton, and Cambridge) and who is professor of New Testament at Dallas Theological Seminary, has responded at the popular level to Ehrman’s Misquoting Jesus. (FYI, these two scholars will be debating one another on the textual reliability of the NT on April 4-5 in New Orleans at the Greer-Heard Point-Counterpoint Forum).
It really comes down to two issues: (1) do we have an adequate amount of manuscripts to work with in order to recover the original writings, and (2) is what was written then, what we have now? We will briefly speak to (1) today and address (2) next time. Concerning (1), Wallace notes:
“The wealth of material that is available for determining the wording of the original New Testament is staggering: more than fifty-seven hundred Greek New Testament manuscripts, as many as twenty thousand versions, and more than one million quotations by patristic writers. In comparison with the average ancient Greek author, the New Testament copies are well over a thousand times more plentiful. If the average-sized manuscript were two and one-half inches thick, all the copies of the works of an average Greek author would stack up four feet high, while the copies of the New Testament would stack up to over a mile high! This is indeed an embarrassment of riches” (Reinventing Jesus: What the Da Vinci Code And Other Novel Speculations Don’t Tell You, 82).
Furthermore, Wallace observes that, “We have ample data to work with, enabling us to reconstruct the wording of the original New Testament in virtually every place. And where there are doubts, there is still manuscript testimony” (Dethroning Jesus: Exposing Popular Culture’s Quest to Unseat the Biblical Christ, 49).
So concerning (1) and contrary to what one might be led to believe reading Misquoting Jesus, Wallace represents what is the majority opinion among NT textual critics—there is plenty to work with and a significant number of these manuscripts are early. But whether these texts have been corrupted over time is what we will look at next week.
Now, I simply included the conclusions. I will leave it to you examine the evidence for yourself.
Here are some places to start:
- Dethroning Jesus: Exposing Popular Culture’s Quest to Unseat the Biblical Christ by Darrell L. Bock and Daniel B. Wallace
- Reinventing Jesus: What the Da Vinci Code And Other Novel Speculations Don’t Tell You by Komoszewski, Sawyer, and Wallace.
- Misquoting Truth: A Guide to the Fallacies of Bart Ehrman’s Misquoting Jesus by Timothy Paul Jones
- The Case for the Real Jesus by Lee Strobel- Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts
-Daniel Wallace’s Blog on Textual Issues