Saturday, January 08, 2011

On Bible Manuscripts, Bad Arguments, and Honest Abe

This is from Robert Price's "The Case Against the Case for Christ." It was used in response to a discussion of the textual adequacy of the Bible in comparison to the Qur'an by Arizona Atheist. 

[…] Since the autographa have not survived and nobody has laid eyes on them for 2,000 years, how could anybody possibly know what was in them – much less, which copies approximate most closely to them? Since there is nothing to which existing manuscripts can be compared, the very ideas of theoriginal manuscripts and which manuscripts approximate most closely to them are useless ideas and should be abandoned. I can judge that a photo is a good likeness of you if and only if I have seen you and know what you look like. If I have not, then I am the last person on earth to ask. The situation is not improved by assuring me that there are thousands of photos of you. The fact is that I have never seen you, so tell million photos would not help. (98-99)

I am not claiming that rebutting Price on this point refutes AA's overall response to me, which I have been slow to respond to, even though I have meant to post on it for a long time. However, may I point out that this is a horrendous argument. I have never seen Abe Lincoln in person. I can't dig him up and see what he looked like. But his picture is on the penny and the five dollar bill, there's a statue in the Lincoln memorial, and plenty of other likenesses. By Price's logic, however, I have no idea what he looked like. In fact, since I've never seen George W. Bush, but only TV images and pictures, I have no idea what he looks like either. 

Really. This is a much-admired Bible scholar in the Infidel community, and a contributor to The Christian Delusion. How does he get away with such arrant nonsense?





73 comments:

David Parker said...

Even granting Price about the autographs, surely he must still think one can:

a) show that one reading is more probable than another to be original

b) show that one reading is earlier than another

If he doesn't think textual critics can do that, how can the thesis of ancient ancestry get away with it?

Mike Erich the Mad Theologian said...

By this logic we would have to throw out all ancient literature and much of literature after ancient times. We might as well throw most of our history books in the garbage. I am not sure what the first book is that we have an authenticatable original manuscript for that is still preserved but I imagine it is rather late.

Arizona Atheist said...

Hi Mr. Reppert,

I don’t get your argument since the likeness of Lincoln on all of those examples are virtually the same. The biblical manuscripts, though, are not the same and have many changes that have occurred to them over time. The argument fails because in the case of Lincoln all of the sources of his likeness agree; with the bible they do not, so by having multiple, differing copies, how would we know which one was closer to the original writing? That’s the point.

David B Marshall said...

This is a remarkable piece of historical nihilism. How do we know Robert Price wrote it? Do you have a hand-written copy from him? Have you compared that autograph with other specimens of his hand-writing? Do you know the person who wrote any of them is really Robert Price? Have you checked his driver's licence? How do you know it wasn't forged? Can you be sure your hand-writing expert is qualified? Did you check his educational certificates? How do you know they weren't forged?

The regress can be infinite. Machen predicted the "search for the historical Jesus" would end in such foolishness, generations ago.

David Parker said...

Arizona Atheist,

Textual criticism could be defined as the science of answering your last question.

There are a variety of things that come into play here. A couple of things that come to mind:

a) Scribes often wrote in the margins, indicating their thoughts on a passage, or their doubts about a passage's authenticity. Once this kind of information is "data mined" there are probabilistic theses about the direction that the data is pointing.

b) Regardless of who authored each text, these authors have tendencies just like everyone else. A certain reading can be shown to be more in line with what the author has said elsewhere.

c) The wide geographical distribution of these texts suggests that "tampering" with what the text said for theological purposes will not be as effective. You can't track down all the copies if they're being pumped out at such a high rate.

Islam, on the other hand does not enjoy this status. There text tradition actually was purified, so we can't do textual criticism the same way on the Koran.

David B Marshall said...

At least, I think he did.

Victor Reppert said...

AA: The point is that Price's argument isn't about the variations and differences amongst the early texts. He says that however many likenesses you have, it's still no good because we don't have the original. The objections as you have stated them are more interesting, though, I believe, quite answerable. But they do not seem to be identical to what seems to me to be the howlingly bad argument that Price actually gave.

Landon Hedrick said...

Victor,

For some reason I get conflicting intuitions here. On the one hand, if I'm asked to pick a complete stranger (who I've never seen before) out of a line-up, I have no clue. But if I'm asked to pick Abraham Lincoln out of a photo line-up, it would be easy.

Now how can this be, unless there's a dis-analogy between the two cases? I think there is. When it comes to the complete stranger, nobody showed me what he looked like before I was asked to pick him out of a line-up. When it comes to Lincoln, I was taught by credible people precisely what he looked like.

Now it's true I can't compare a photograph of Lincoln to the real guy. But other people presumably did just that--e.g. the photographer. In this case maybe we can defer to other reliable people having made the connection for us. Can we do that with the Bible manuscripts?

Anonymous said...

I do not have that book, but I have heard or read Price say something like that elsewhere. In the context I heard/read it, his point was to rebut the claim the the original manuscripts are inerrant. Which is a useless idea, since all we have is all we have.

Is that the context from which you have lifted this quote?

Arizona Atheist said...

Mr. Reppert,

Price quotes John Beversluis from his forthcoming book The Gospel According to Whom? and is discussing whether or not it’s possible to sort out the various manuscripts and get at least close to the original text, if not the original text. I quoted Price’s book from chapter 3, titled “Do We Have What the Evangelists Originally Wrote?” so I think it’s pretty clear what he was arguing. I believed I had quoted enough of the passage so a reader could discern context but maybe not.

Prior to the quote Price writes,

“But isn’t it evident that the early Christian environment was charged with theological disputations that made it mighty tempting to alter biblical texts to safeguard orthodoxy (or heresy!) in early debates? As we will see, early Muslims found the same situation in their frustrating debates over texts of the Qur’an that varied - no doubt edited to make it easier to win! If we had reason to posit something like this in the case of the New Testament, it would mean all bets are off.” (97-98)

[...]

[after quoting Beversluis, Price writes] Metzger, Geisler, and Fee would no doubt reply that, to maintain such suspicion, one must posit some conspiracy by which another’s portrait has been substituted, and that we are being tricked into believing all the other pictures really represent you. But where is the evidence for any conspiracy on the part of early Christians so to hide and misidentify the true nature of the New Testament text?”

“As it happens, there is reason to question the optimistic estimate of the evangelical text-apologists. For the evidence for how the text once read comes to a screeching halt at about 200 CE, with the conjecturally dated Chester Beatty Papyri. Before that, there is no textual evidence, no manuscripts at all.” (99) [emphasis in original]

It’s clear he is discussing the various changes that occurred to the texts.

John Fraser said...

Victor,

"This is a much-admired Bible scholar in the Infidel community, and a contributor to The Christian Delusion. How does he get away with such arrant nonsense?"

I think the first sentence here answers the question!

Walter said...

I don't think that Price is arguing that the autographs are radically different from what we possess today. But even minor changes in the right spots can have a major impact on later theology derived from the texts.

David Parker said...

Arizona,

Most text critics are comfortable saying we've worked back to the second century. And they might agree with you that we can never get back to the original (unless new manuscripts pop up of course).

There is the possibility that the manuscripts differ (in some significant way) from the autographs. But historical work is done probabilistically.

What could have changed, and how? If these text were being copied and distributed so rapidly, what kind of change could have uniformly been applied so that the second-third century manuscripts would agree on it? It doesn't seem probable, honestly does it?

John W. Loftus said...

Maybe this post might help you understand the problem.

Blue Devil Knight said...

These science worshippers should study some evolutionary biology. We could use his logic to throw out molecular cladistics.

No idea how central that claim was to him, or whether it was just a brain fart, or perhaps he has additional arguments.

Defeasible inference does not imply invalid inference.

John Fraser said...

Courtesy of Loftus:

"Do you know what percentage of the New Testament we have conclusively dated on Papyrus prior to the Third Century? A portion of 18 verses. That is it."

This is simply misleading. Manuscripts are generally given a range of dates. So Loftus is obviously not counting manuscripts whose possible date range do not fall entirely before the third century. The first example I can think of without having to look a bunch of stuff up is p46, which is part of the Chester Beatty papyri. The probable date range is 175-225, and it includes most of the Pauline epistles. Given that range, there's a strong possibility that it comes from before the third century, but even if it doesn't it's still from the very early third century. I'd like to hear why the difference between 200 and 225 is significant (other than that it gives the skeptic an additional 25 years to make up stories about conspiracies to tamper with the texts.

There are other manuscripts in similar situations which Loftus has obviously excluded from his misleading count.

Another reason this is significant is because of Tertullian's statement in The Prescription Against Heretics 36 in which he exhorted his theological opponents to go for themselves to the apostolic churches where the "authentic" writings are read. The Latin authenticae, according to Darrel Bock and Daniel Wallace, would normally refer to the original manuscripts. In that case it's possible that p46 is a copy of the originals. But it's certainly far closer in time to the writing of Paul's letters than most other ancient manuscripts for other books. The skeptic's game is simply to introduce doubt - "for all we know, it could have all been tampered with". "It might be a copy of a copy of a copy of a copy of a copy of a . . ."

That's nonsense, as there was a great concern in the early church to preserve the words of the apostles accurately. The skeptical position is not based on evidence, and actually goes against the evidence. And as we see from Loftus, it's often deliberately misleading.

John Fraser said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
John Fraser said...

Apologies for the deleted comments. I inadvertently posted the same one three times while I thought my browser was messed up.

David Parker said...

Not to mention P45, which includes all four Gospels and the book of Acts. (Koster, Introduction to the New Testament Vol 2, p. 17). Even a liberal dating puts it around 250CE.

Victor Reppert said...

I want to separate two questions. My main claim is that even if we have reasons to believe that there is a substantial difference between the content of the original text and the earliest manuscripts, Price's argument for that is a nonstarter, since it seems to be arguing that whenever you have one copy or a million copies, and you can't get your hands on the original, you don't have any reason to believe that the copy resembles the original. That's what I took from his argument. What I take from that is that this is another instance where hostile critics of Scripture are so hostile that they will accept any argument that undermines anything an apologist might say, no matter how bad the argument. In other words, I am suggesting that skeptical scholars can. and often do, suffer from a hostility bias toward Scripture. That was the main point of my post. The only way to rebut that would be to argument that I was taking Price out of context, (since I did just lift the post out of Arizona Atheist's response to me), and that if you read the rest of what he says, he isn't really making the claim I am attributing to him. If there are other ways of argument for doubt about the manuscripts we have, that doesn't alter the claim I was making about Price. Ehrman's arguments, I take it, are better, though I don't buy them by any stretch of the imagination.

I think a lot of "movement atheists" put confidence in people like Price and Carrier on the grounds, presumably, that they are "outsiders" (and in Price's case, he's an exbeliever), and not subject to a Christian bias. Such confidence is, I believe, unjustified. It is also possible to be biased against Christianity, a concept that is hard for some people to digest.

Landon Hedrick said...

Victor,

Some people probably are biased against Christianity. When I met Bill Craig a couple of years ago for the Craig-Carrier debate I organized, I had an opportunity to speak with him one-on-one for a few hours during a long drive across Missouri. One of the things he told me was that he didn't think Carrier could be trusted to get things right, and he thought this was partly due to an anti-Christian bias. I suggested that the same thing goes for evangelical Christian apologists. I'm not sure I can trust their appraisal much given their obvious pro-Christian bias. So this is something that probably affects everybody to some degree or other.

That said, I'm not sure your response to Price's argument works. As I said in an earlier comment, there is a dis-analogy between picking out a complete stranger and picking out Abraham Lincoln, and that is based on reliable people telling us (actually showing us) precisely what Abraham Lincoln looked like.

When it comes to the New Testament manuscripts, which situation are we facing? Are the originals like a complete stranger, or is there a reliable chain of transmission (going back to the originals) telling us precisely what the originals said? If we had numerous reliable people from the ancient world telling us they saw the originals, and this is precisely what they said, and they all agree, then that would be similar to our situation with Lincoln, wouldn't it? And we don't have that, do we?

John Fraser said...

Victor,

You make a number of very good points here. You say that "Price's argument for that is a nonstarter, since it seems to be arguing that whenever you have one copy or a million copies, and you can't get your hands on the original, you don't have any reason to believe that the copy resembles the original."

I wonder what Price says about the manuscript evidence for Diodorus, who is the earliest existing writer that we have for Alexander. He wrote around 50 BC, but the earliest manuscript we have for him is from about 1000 AD.

I think the best approach to this kind of argument is to simply show that it would produce results which no historian would ever accept in any other field. Would any historian accept that we can have absolutely no confidence in our manuscripts of Diodorus because we don't have the originals and the earlies copies are from 1000 years later? You only have a slightly better situation with Lucian, whose earliest manuscripts are from around the 9th-10th century. By Price's reasoning, we can't say anything at all about what Lucian wrote. But of course no scholar would suggest such a thing - they simply get to work using the science of textual criticism, they don't throw up their hands and say, "we don't have the originals, so we have absolutely no idea how close these are." So by strictly historical standards, Price's argument simply falls apart.

I don't know that Ehrman's argument actually fares much better even though he obviously presents it in a more sophisticated way.

I think what this whole argument presumes is that Christians were especially dishonest, more so than most everyone else. I see it often accompanied by mistrust of the Church, and usually from people who have been burned at some point. Thus we can't have any confidence in the transmission of the text because it was being transmitted by people who weren't trustworthy. In fact Christians believed they were transmitting the Word of God, and thus were strongly motivated to get it right, but even if you simply say that Christians were no more biased than anyone else, Price's argument still fails because of the textual criticism of other sources.

Dirk Jongkind at Cambridge has an excellent response to Ehrman. While skeptics often make a lot of hay about the number of variants in the NT manuscripts, Jongkind points out that we have an estimated total of about 2,600,000 handwritten pages of Greek NT manuscripts up to the invention of the printing press, and aboout 300,000 to 400,000 variants. What that means is that there is on average about one variant for every 8 pages of handwritten manuscripts, and the vast majority of those (about 99%) have to do with things like the spelling of proper names. But those didn't have standardized spellings. What the evidence actually shows is the care with which these manuscripts were copied. But the skeptical argument is to take any gap in the record and introduce groundless suspicion. It is, in my opnion, a very dishonest argument, and it isn't based on evidence.

Jason Engwer said...

We have a lot of evidence for the textual record that predates our earliest manuscripts. For example, we have descriptions of the textual record from Christian and non-Christian sources predating the year 200. What do men like Justin Martyr and Celsus tell us about the contents of the documents and the textual standards of the early Christians and their opponents?

Here are several factors not often mentioned concerning the New Testament textual record:

- We have many early references to the possession of New Testament documents by non-Christians (see here for some examples), so any argument for textual corruption would have to explain how copies possessed by non-Christians were changed or left no trace in the historical record.

- We can judge the reliability of Christian scribes by how they preserved other documents, not just the New Testament. As the Josephan scholar Steve Mason notes, "in general, Christian copyists were quite conservative in transmitting texts" (Josephus And The New Testament [Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 2005], p. 232).

- Not only are patristic quotations of the New Testament relevant, but so are patristic (and other) descriptions. If a skeptic wants to raise textual issues to cast doubt on Jesus' resurrection, for example, then it's significant if a patristic source describes a New Testament document as making reference to the resurrection, even if he doesn't quote the document.

(continued below)

Jason Engwer said...

(continued from above)

- It was common for documents in antiquity to exist in two or more copies before being sent out to circulate more widely. Authors often kept a copy of their document before sending out another copy (Stanley Porter, in Craig Evans and Emanuel Tov, edd., Exploring The Origins Of The Bible [Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2008], pp. 189-190, 195, n. 106 on p. 195). Thus, an author didn't entirely give up control of the transmission of his text to other people. He kept a copy himself and could restart the copying process anytime he wanted with his own edition of the original.

- Authors often took steps to ensure the preservation of their text and to monitor the status of the text's circulation. Thus, ancient authors often commented on subjects like what titles were being applied to their works in libraries, how some people were interpreting their work inaccurately, how some people were altering their text, etc. Their concern over the text didn't end once the first copy was sent out.

- Documents were read publicly (1 Thessalonians 5:27). Thus, even those who were illiterate could become witnesses to the original text by means of hearing it read publicly. That increases the number of witnesses involved.

(continued below)

Jason Engwer said...

(continued from above)

- Ancient non-Christian sources corroborated the reliability of the New Testament text.

- Many of the objections non-Christians raise against Christianity in modern times depend on the textual accuracy of ancient extra-Biblical sources. For example, when a critic appeals to an alleged contradiction between Luke and Josephus, suggesting that we have a reliable text for Josephus, he's accepting the Josephan text on the basis of less evidence than we have for the New Testament text.

I address these and other issues in a series I did on the textual record at Triablogue in 2009: here, here, and here.

Walter said...

In fact Christians believed they were transmitting the Word of God, and thus were strongly motivated to get it right

Did all early Christians believe that Paul's corpus of letters to his churches was the absolute Words of the Creator, or just some edifying words from an early missionary?

Marcionite Christianity considered Paul to be THE only true apostle, and used some of his letters to support their belief in a phantom, docetic Jesus who only appeared human. Did Marcion corrupt the letters of Paul, or is it possible that the proto-orthodox Christians edited Paul's letters to make him more orthodox? I would think that differing factions of Christianity might have ample motivation to alter texts to support their own particular theology.

Even if our current bibles are a carbon copy of the autographs does not really matter that much too me. What matters is whether the original documents are telling the truth or not.

GREV said...

Landon Hedrick from back in the days of Facebook at Confident Christianity if I remember correctly?

Landon Hedrick said...

The very same.

GREV said...

Landon:

Thought it twas you. Completely off base but ...

I'm reading a great biography of Nietzsche right now and rereading Keith Ward's Why There Almost Certainly Is a God: Doubting Dawkins.

The Nietzsche work is getting me interested in reading a book called The Rise and Fall of Soul and Self. Twas all too Greek too me until the quotes from Nietzsche began to make a few things fall into place.

Jason Engwer said...

Walter wrote:

"Did all early Christians believe that Paul's corpus of letters to his churches was the absolute Words of the Creator, or just some edifying words from an early missionary?"

Belief in the scriptural status of Paul's writings wouldn't have to be held by "all". Many copies of what Paul wrote could be preserved even if some professing Christians rejected the scriptural status of Paul's letters.

And it's not as though the early Christians were neutral or favorable toward altering the text of documents that were lesser than scripture. See my quote from Steve Mason above and my citations of Dionysius of Corinth and Irenaeus here, for example.

Clement of Rome refers to Paul's first letter to the Corinthians as having been written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit (First Clement, 47), and Polycarp refers to Ephesians as scripture (Letter To The Philippians, 12). Clement, Ignatius, and Polycarp repeatedly cite Paul as an example for Christians to emulate and appeal to his letters to communities like Corinth and Philippi as standards of orthodoxy (e.g. Polycarp, Letter To The Philippians, 3). Ignatius patterned some of his letters after those of Paul. That practice suggests that both Ignatius and the communities to whom he was writing thought highly of Paul's writings and would recognize Ignatius' allusions to those documents. It also suggests that many of the details found in Paul's letters today were present at the time when Ignatius wrote.

(continued below)

Jason Engwer said...

(continued from above)

Though I disagree with him about the authorship of Ephesians, the liberal Jesus Seminar scholar Clayton Jefford wrote:

"His [Ignatius'] letters are replete with Pauline ideas and letter structure. The most obvious example of this may be found in a comparison of the bishop's letter to the Ephesians with the Pauline letter of Ephesians, which I assume to be a product of the Pauline school and not of Paul himself. The elaborate greeting that Ignatius offers to the Ephesians, which is typical of his other letters as well, undoubtedly has been modeled upon similar Pauline forms. Numerous terms and phrases that Ignatius has employed in this greeting bear striking similarity to those that appear in the Pauline salutation (Eph 1:3-14). The themes and movement of ideas that follow throughout the bishop's letter show further parallels....we discover here a certain acknowledgment by the bishop that the church at Ephesus knew and revered Paul as well....The fact that Ignatius had modeled his own letter to the Ephesians so closely upon the pseudo-Pauline letter to Ephesus suggests that this form would have gained a happy reception by the Christians there....To some extent, he [Ignatius] specifically patterned his letter [to Rome] upon Paul's own letter to Rome....Ignatius borrows constantly from Pauline literary style....Ignatius makes special mention of Paul as a faith link between his own journey and that of the apostle (Ign. Eph. 12.2)." (The Apostolic Fathers And The New Testament [Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 2006], pp. 41-42, 138-139)

You write:

"Did Marcion corrupt the letters of Paul, or is it possible that the proto-orthodox Christians edited Paul's letters to make him more orthodox?"

On the face of it, the larger number and diversity of sources who disagreed with Marcion suggest that he was the one who did the altering. Why should we think that the much larger number and diversity who disagreed with Marcion (both mainstream Christians and non-Marcionite heretics) were the ones who were mistaken? Why did the early Jewish and Gentile critics of Christianity either not notice that the documents had been significantly altered around the middle of the second century or choose not to make an issue of it? The idea that all of these Christians and non-Christians were apathetic or mistaken, while Marcion and his followers were correct, is highly dubious.

(continued below)

Jason Engwer said...

(continued from above)

Harry Gamble writes:

"More recent studies have shown, however, that Marcion's Pauline corpus is derivative in both content and structure from another early edition of the letters. With the exception of Galatians, Marcion's arrangement of the letters follows the principle of decreasing length, with letters to the same communities being counted together. Since this principle was not maintained by Marcion and apparently had no importance for him, his edition must have depended on another for which this principle was fully constitutive....Such an edition emphasized by its arrangement the number of communities to which Paul had written, namely precisely seven churches....This arrangement of the letters [with Galatians at the head] is presupposed by the old prologues to the Pauline letters. While they have long been regarded as Marcionite, it is now clear that they are catholic products, and thus the edition itself must be catholic. Marcion's edition was not only substantively and structurally derivative from an earlier one, but also textually derivative....his [Marcion's] text of the epistles belonged to a common pre-Marcionite form of the Pauline text that was already current around the beginning of the second century....Marcion's importance for the history of Pauline texts has been substantially diminished....most recent studies offer more moderate estimates of his [Marcion's] influence, suggesting that he prompted the church to become more self-consciously reflective about the scope of its scriptures and the basis of their authority, or that he only accelerated a development that was already underway. Even this, however, may concede too much. It is quite uncertain, for example, that Marcion considered his canon to be closed and exclusive; his followers, in any case, apparently did not....The Gospel-Apostle framework of Marcion's canon was certainly not his creation." (in Lee McDonald and James Sanders, edd., The Canon Debate [Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 2002], pp. 283-284, 292)

John Barton notes:

"Franz Stuhlhofer has shown by a detailed statistical analysis that, proportionately to their length, the New Testament scriptures were already cited considerably more intensively than the Old by the early second century, and no difference in their use can be established following Marcion." (ibid., p. 343)

Furthermore, we know that Marcion's edition of Luke is implausible, which reflects poorly on his trustworthiness regarding the Pauline letters:

"[the theory] that Marcion used a 'Proto-Luke' which has been expanded by the church for the purpose of anti-Marcionite polemic not only completely fails to recognize the historical context of the Third Gospel but also comes to grief on its stylistic and theological unity. Moreover there is no manuscript evidence for such a hypothesis. Such a manipulation of the text would have had to find a record around 150; moreover it would no longer really have been generally recognized." (Martin Hengel, The Four Gospels And The One Gospel Of Jesus Christ [Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: Trinity Press International, 2000], n. 131 on p. 230)

Tommy said...

I think alot of people are forgetting that their beliefs are based on these manuscripts so shouldn't it matter what they said? If we're not able to find that out, wouldn't you think that would make problems for your beliefs? If this is god's message wouldn't you want it to be accurate? This is a problem with the bible and it's theology. It's contradictory, illogical, and often distrustful of outsiders to the religion.

For instance you've got 2 John 10:11 which says "If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not take him into your house or welcome him. Anyone who welcomes him shares in his wicked work."

The very cornerstone of Christianity the resurrection accounts, are contradictory and you’ve got talking donkeys and other assorted supernatural phenomenon that likely didn’t take place.

I think Price has a point. If we cannot know what what originally said and written then your faith is in vain. You’ve got to remember also that a lot of this was handed down by oral tradition and this methods is just as bad as the manuscripts, if not worse, at remaining accurate as it gets passed from one person to another. These are all problems that I haven’t seen addressed satisfactorily by anyone.

Walter said...

@Jason Engwer

Thank you for that detailed response. That is a lot to take in. The point of my comment was that we do have evidence of certain Christian factions that did indeed alter the texts of the gospels and the Pauline corpus to further their own theological views. Who is to say that the "heretics" were the only ones that engaged in textual manipulation? I have read that E.P. Sanders believes that the canonical gospels were redacted for theological purposes, so the idea that the autographa may differ somewhat from our current texts does not seem quite so far-fetched. Even the Evangelists themselves seemed to have no problem with altering (correcting?) details in the gospel stories written by another author. In other words, each later author of a gospel apparently did not consider the compositions of earlier Evangelists as being the immutable Word of God.

Jason Engwer said...

Walter wrote:

"The point of my comment was that we do have evidence of certain Christian factions that did indeed alter the texts of the gospels and the Pauline corpus to further their own theological views."

That's not the only point you made earlier. And the point you're now making has little significance. The fact that a text is altered by some people in some circumstances doesn't prevent us from reaching probable conclusions about the original text. Nobody who knows much about textual transmission should think that the point you're making above is disputed or more than marginally significant.

You write:

"Who is to say that the 'heretics' were the only ones that engaged in textual manipulation?"

That's the wrong question to ask. Just as finding Americans who murder people doesn't tell you how most Americans behave, finding Christians who altered texts doesn't tell you how most Christians behaved. We've provided a large amount of evidence in this thread for the general trustworthiness of the New Testament text. Why would you ignore that evidence and repeatedly ask questions like whether "all" Christians viewed the text one way or whether "only" heretics altered the text? If a minority of people altered the text of the Annals of Tacitus or a letter written by Benjamin Franklin, would the behavior of that minority prevent you from trusting the overall textual transmission of those documents?

(continued below)

Jason Engwer said...

(continued from above)

You write:

"I have read that E.P. Sanders believes that the canonical gospels were redacted for theological purposes, so the idea that the autographa may differ somewhat from our current texts does not seem quite so far-fetched."

That's a vague and undocumented claim with little significance. What is "may differ somewhat" supposed to prove in a context in which we're concerned with probability (not what "may" have happened) and textual changes of a particular nature (not whether the text "differs somewhat")?

You go on to refer to whether the gospel authors "altered" their accounts. That's not an issue of textual transmission. You keep changing the subject while leaving the argument you're responding to untouched.

John W. Loftus said...

Jason, you sure seem to have most all of the answers.

Tell me this Jason, have you ever taken a philosophy of history course?

You should, It'll wipe that smug assurance you seem to have right out of your writings.

Cheers

Walter said...

@Jason Engwer

You may very well be correct that our current bibles are virtually identical to the original documents. It really does not matter all that much to me. The more important question is whether the claims found in the original documents are true or not. That is the real question of the day.

And lets be honest: historical evidence can never lead to absolute certainty. Do you think that is is just probable that Jesus rose from the dead, or do you consider it an absolute certainty? Is it likely that 66 human authored books are the authoritative Word of God, or are you utterly convinced that they are? Even the best of NT scholars are simply making educated guesses concerning the events surrounding Jesus' life and death. Basically, I think that you are a fundamentalist playing as an "objective" biblical historian.

John W. Loftus said...

Albert Nolan in his book "Jesus before Christianity":

“To imagine that one can have historical objectivity without a perspective is an illusion. One perspective, however, can be better than another, [but] the only perspective open to us is the one given to us by the historical situation in which we find ourselves. If we cannot achieve an unobstructed view of Jesus from the vantage point of our present circumstances, then we cannot achieve an unobstructed view of him at all.” (p. 4)

In my world miracles do not happen, folks.

What world are YOU living in?

Earth to Jason.
Earth to Jason.

You see there is a vicious circularity in your appeal to historical evidence. You cannot believe without historical evidence and yet you must approach said evidence from our present day perspective. The only way you can reach your historical conclusions is by special assuming what needs to be shown based on your upbringing in a Christian culture and that's it. There can be no other reason why you conclude what you do.

If in our world miracles do not happen then they did not happen in first century Palestine either.

GREV said...

This seemingly amazing argumentation that one can arrive at some sort of unbiased view of Jesus and until I do that through the use of reason I cannot believe, is amazing.

No one is neutral. Everyone has a philosophy of history and thus a worldview. To deny so and to say I must only trust reason and the sciences for instance, is to play a game of not being honest with the readers of these posts.

The Apostle Paul in writing to the Colossians, that they not surrender to vain human philosophies but be rooted and built up in Christ, was at least being honest.

Walter said...

No one is neutral.

Agreed.

Everyone has a philosophy of history and thus a worldview. To deny so and to say I must only trust reason and the sciences for instance, is to play a game of not being honest with the readers of these posts.

If we cannot rely on our reason to determine what happened 2000 years ago, then what can we rely on? Spiritual revelation? I am not convinced that there is any such thing as a Holy Ghost flitting around "revealing" the truth to certain predestined individuals. 'Reason' is the only tool in the shed. If one cannot discover the truth through reason, then why discuss historical evidence at all? According to Calvinists the predestined elect cannot help but believe, while the unregenerate man will never believe no matter what, so why bother with evidential apologetics in an attempt to appeal to the "reason" of a totally depraved unbeliever?

GREV said...

Walter:

Thanks for replying. I on the other hand, do believe in the idea, concept and reality of spiritual knowledge.

David Parker said...

John Loftus said, "The only way you can reach your historical conclusions is by special assuming what needs to be shown based on your upbringing in a Christian culture and that's it. There can be no other reason why you conclude what you do."

What assumptions from Christian culture are you seeing?

GREV said...

To add further, reason is not the only tool in the shed and it is inadequate. I believe that an honest reading of history demonstrates this.

Walter said...

To add further, reason is not the only tool in the shed and it is inadequate. I believe that an honest reading of history demonstrates this.

Care to elaborate?

GREV said...

Walter:

Sure ... I would not mind elaborating. Not sure where or when.

I am mulling over teaching a course on worldviews through an Extension Program of the College I graduated from. I am awaiting their approval for this year or next. So, talking about the inadequacy of reason and the reasonableness of the concept of spiritual knowledge are items I am thinking about these days.

Also, the Question of God, an adaption of a widely successful course offering of the same name, taught at Harvard for years is also on my radar.

Victor Reppert said...

John: The arguments Jason was presenting were arguments that we have good reason to suppose that the New Testament documents are, at least for doctrinal purposes, virtually identical in content to the original autographs. There's nothing in there about miracles. So, I don't understand why your comments are an objection to what he said here.

John W. Loftus said...

Vic, my comments have been to the larger point. You see, there is a reason why Jason thinks as he does, and it doesn't have to do with the available evidence. These same questions led a staunch believer to become an agnostic, and I'm talking about Bart Ehrman, who specializes in these very questions. Hector Avalos also deals with these same questions in his book, "The End of Biblical Studies," which were relevant to his leaving the faith.

What is there about these questions that lead some people to factor them in when leaving the faith? Surely textual criticism should be a rather mundane type of study, right? Why does it lead believers, yes believers, away from the fold?

It's faith itself, you see. Jason believes. He did so long before looking into these questions. Since he believes he looks at the evidence through believing eyes. I'm trying to show, albeit by soundbites (which is all we can offer here) that how he sees the evidence is because he already believes.

I have maintained that all it takes is different set of eyes to see the evidence differently. It's not about more knowledge. It's about seeing that available evidence in a different light. I argued this most forcibly in WIBA. At some point with both Ehrman and Avalos they realized that given the history of a lying church, especially seen in the infamous Donation of Constantine, and the fact that the earliest whole manuscripts are very late who knows what was inserted into the text? Ehrman has shown several significant insertions in his book "The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture." These are things we know. The questions of doubt arise at that point especially since we also know there are clear forgeries in the canonized NT. We know this!

What else is corrupted based on what we know to be the case? It causes a great deal of room for doubt. That's the point.

David Parker said...

Bart has said on multiple occasions that his stumbling block is the problem of evil, and not text critical issues.

Walter said...

Bart has said on multiple occasions that his stumbling block is the problem of evil, and not text critical issues.

That is correct. Text critical issues caused him to leave fundamentalism, but the the problem of evil turned him agnostic.

John W. Loftus said...

Leaving the fold usually takes place in steps, especially for scholars. I know of Bart's two step reasons for leaving the fold. The first step was the inauthenticity of the Bible. This was the first chink in his armor, so to speak. This was indeed a factor for both Avalos and for Ehrman, although I should have said it like that.

That's what happens once believers are free to think more for themselves rather than be shackled by a historically conditioned interpretation of a ancient historically conditioned set of canonized texts written by superstitious and barbaric pre-scientific agency detectors in the Middle East. This is why my goal is to drive a wedge between the brain of the believer and the Bible. That's the first step. What happens after that is a more liberalizing theology for people, some of whom become agnostics and even atheists.

David Parker said...

I'm still curious what "special assuming" you see in Jason's responses?

Jason Engwer said...
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Jason Engwer said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
John W. Loftus said...

Jason, what Paul Tobin and I do is make the case against those who think the Bible is the word of God. You think the Bible is inerrant? Okay, then we're testing that idea and finding it wanting. That's all.

You see, it's much easier to smell a rotten egg than it is to lay a good one. We egg smeller kind of fellas. The debunking is easy. We all do it.

John W. Loftus said...

You say the Exodus and the Conquest and the Nativity stories are all true and other things like that. All we do is show your claims are not supported by the available evidence. After the debunking we may suggest what might have happened, if anything did at all, but our suggested alternatives to the Biblical account is not part of the debunking itself. We're saying this did not happen as recorded in the Bible. That's it. It easy to do.

JasonTE said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
John W. Loftus said...

Jason if neither Bart Ehrman nor Hector Avalos can convince you why should I bother? Please tell me you understand this. What I'm doing is talking about the larger issues that explain why you are not convinced by them.

David Parker said...

Victor,

If you mark someone's name as "not spam" in the spam folder, I think blogger will quit blocking that username.

John W. Loftus said...

Jason, again for emphasis: You personally are shackled by a historically conditioned interpretation of a ancient historically conditioned set of canonized texts written by superstitious and barbaric pre-scientific agency detectors in the Middle East.

In my world miracles do not happen.

What world are YOU living in?

Earth to Jason.
Earth to Jason.

If in our world miracles do not happen then they did not happen in first century Palestine either.

You see there is a vicious circularity in your appeal to historical evidence. You cannot believe without historical evidence and yet you must approach said evidence from our present day perspective. The only way you can reach your historical conclusions is by assuming what needs to be shown based on your upbringing in a Christian culture and that's it. There can be no other reason why you conclude what you do. You do not get it from your historical conclusions, for in order to get to them you can't have any so-called "priors" that allow you do so, except perhaps that a god of some kind exists (if you are persuaded that the arguments work, which is another debate). I maintain there is no way to conclude the Bible is reliable even if it is, that there is no way to conclude Jesus arose bodily from the grave even if he did. I can even grant you the existence of Yahweh and that he does miracles too, but this changes very little. For the evidence shows us that an overwhelming large percentage of the Jews in Jesus' day did not believe even thought they knew their Scriptures and even though they were there. So why should I believe? Why should anyone?

GREV said...

"If in our world miracles do not happen then they did not happen in first century Palestine either."

The response to the issue of miracles that I have more respect for was made by an atheist on a Facebook site a couple of years ago, and I saved it to a file.

The person essentially said that even if the miracle was proved true they would find some other explanation.

If your worldview doesn't allow for miracles prior to a discussion beginning then miracles will never happen.

John W. Loftus said...

Furthermore, there are people out there like Jose Luis de Jesus Miranda who has quite a following to live a lavish lifestyle in Texas. He was highlighted in Bill Maher's mockumentary Religulous.

You don't see any parallel's with these other religious groups at all but that's utterly ignorant.

The very existence of these religious groups shows us something about people. We want to believe.

You say the people in an ancient superstitious era who believed were not like that. I have shown in the longest chapter in WIBA from the Bible itself that the ancient world was superstitious to the core.

You just don't get it. You believe because you were raised in a Christian culture to believe.

John W. Loftus said...

Grev, that's utter nonsense. If a miracle was proved true then a reasonable person could not dispute it, otherwise is was not proved true. Who was this idiot anyway? I have never claimed that atheists are more rational than believers. Or, are you mischaracterizing what he said?

We must judge the past by the present. we cannot do otherwise. Since miracles do not take place today we cannot conclude they took place in Jesus' day either.

Or, do you want to run one past Joe Nickel for analysis and scientific testing?

John W. Loftus said...

Damn but I wish Blogger had a spell checker.

Walter said...

Damn but I wish Blogger had a spell checker

That's why I use Firefox browser instead of Internet Explorer. Firefox has a built-in spell checker.

Now if I could just find a browser that would improve my punctuation and grammar. :-(

Victor Reppert said...

Ah, the all-purpose refutation of any and all pieces of evidence that might in some way tend to support Christianity.

"You only believe that because of your Christian upbringing."

And if someone says they didn't HAVE a Christian upbringing, then it's

"You only believe that because you grew up in a Christian culture."

Gosh. Two can play this game. I can say to skeptic about Christianity "You only believe that because you want to justify your own adulterous conduct." But if someone says "Yes, but I have been faithful to my wife for the last 30 years," you can say "You are trying to justify the adulterous conduct you wish you could engage in."

Foolproof method. C. S. Lewis had a name for it. He called it Bulverism.

David Parker said...

John,

Judging from the emails, Jason is not able to post a comment due to spam filter. He was trying to direct your attention to a previous post of his:

http://triablogue.blogspot.com/2010/11/miracles-in-modern-world.html

John W. Loftus said...

Vic, I have made several good comparisons here under this post and in my books. I have made good arguments too. Part of making these arguments is in also explaining why believers would want to believe despite the overwhelming evidence. It's part of the case I make based upon the sciences, especially psychology, anthropology and sociology, but also neurology. In these arguments I'm not telling you that you are wrong about Exodus or the Nativity stories. I do that elsewhere. What I'm doing is offering some very good arguments why people are not reasonable about such things. Hell, we're not reasonable about much at all, especially when we have a vested interest in what we believe. In fact it's been shown that to the degree someone has a vested interest in some belief then the contrary evidence will actually convince that believer he is even more right than he realized. That is a proven fact.

Now work with me here so you can understand me. If you are deluded then the evidence to the contrary, even if it is overwhelming, with not convince you otherwise. So, in order to help complete my case I must also show you from the sciences that you are not being reasonable with the evidence.

The sciences conclusively show that this is how we all think for the most part. Except that there are people who are better critical thinkers than others because they understand this about themselves. For once someone understands what the sciences tell us then that person will question what he claims to know. Such a person will be more demanding of hard evidence before concluding much of anything. Such a person will, in the end, be a skeptic.

The major implication is this: We are all in the same boat THEREFORE we should all be skeptics. It's the only reasonable position to take based on the sciences. The only way to escape this conclusion is to reject the sciences. Good luck with that.

GREV said...

"If a miracle was proved true then a reasonable person could not dispute it, otherwise is was not proved true. Who was this idiot anyway? I have never claimed that atheists are more rational than believers. Or, are you mischaracterizing what he said?"

Too funny and sad.

Assumes reasonable people always act in a reasonable manner. Did you grow up and still live in Mr. ROGER'S NEIGHBOURHOOD? Miracles are not accepted as true because people with a closed worldview system do not wish to accept them as true. The implications are just too uncomfortable.

Mischaracterizing ...?

Statements like that are reasons again I don't engage much anymore with fundamentalists.

People unwilling to grant that something truthful might be said by the other said that they disagree with.

John W. Loftus said...

In other words Vic, none of us are very reasonable when it comes to the evidence. That is a fact and it's part of the reason you should be skeptical of that which you believe and trust the sciences. This is my argument, not some kind of Bulverism or chronological snobbery.

John W. Loftus said...

Vic, here's one scientific study showing that we are not very reasonable with the evidence. Check it out.

That's what we know. We all prefer to believe what we want to be true, all of us, about most anything. Just watch contestants on "America's Got Talent." They all think they have what it takes.

The only antidote to this is the sciences. It's our best and only hope.

And then we don't even accept these results when we're deluded otherwise. Or, perhaps you can explain to me why Mormons still believe even though it's been shown through DNA evidence that Native Americans are not descendants of Semitic peoples.

Come on now. Think about this and then apply it to the records of archaeologists who have shown there was no Exodus, etc.

ἐκκλησία said...

John W Loftus said: "In my world miracles do not happen."

John, that's not true. In your world, at some point, non-living things were imbibed with life. In other words, living things have arisen from non-living things.

That would be a miracle. Everyone knows that living things come only from living things.

You should have said: "In my world miracles do not happen naturally."

Believers would agree with you, on this point.

However, if your presuppositions do not allow for "supernatural" miracles, you're compelled to deny them whether or not they exist.

Personally, I believe miracles happen every day. When a mother's body takes non-living organic nutrients to construct a little body,then bestowed with life; when a little brain obtains its mind, that is a miracle!

Of course you cannot see it as such. It lies outside the realm of your narrow material universe, just as logic and ethics do.

But, though science has never witnessed a living thing arising from a dead thing apart from this miracle, even your world presumes that life imbibes a material body.

Additionally, science cannot reproduce this miracle on its own, but merely copy what had previously been designed into the system. Science cannot, for example, take a still-born and bestow it with life.

So I find it strange that you deny miracles happen, when your world view relies on them as much as a Christians.

Ilíon said...

I can think of at least one more application of this very argument (and I leave it to you to decide what you think are the odds that Mr Price, and those impressed with his argument, will reject the very argument when applied to a set of claims to which it may be appropriate) --

"Since the LCAs (last common ancestors) and so-called “missing links” have not survived and nobody has laid eyes on their genetic codes for umpteen-million years, how could anybody possibly know what was in those genomes – much less, which extant descendant genomes approximate most closely to them [i.e. which are more ‘conserved’ versus which are more ‘evolved’]? Since there is nothing to which existing genomes can be compared, the very ideas of the original genome(s) and which genomes approximate most closely to[, or diverge most radically from,] them are useless ideas and should be abandoned. …"