Saturday, April 26, 2014

Bart Ehrman on textual integrity

There was a debate on this between Ehrman and Daniel Wallace. Here is what Ehrman said: 

To be sure, of all the hundreds of thousands of textual changes found among our manuscripts, most of them are completely insignificant, immaterial, and of no real importance for anything other than showing that scribes could not spell or keep focused any better than the rest of us.

37 comments:

Dan Gillson said...

That is definitely true.

im-skeptical said...

Bart Ehrman said a lot more than that. His work is far more objective than Matt Slick, who is an apologist, not a scholar.

planks length said...

Apologist and scholar are not antonyms. Or maybe you think C.S. Lewis wasn't a scholar?

A person can be both.

im-skeptical said...

Yes, a person can be both. But Matt Slick isn't.

Papalinton said...

THIS BOOK is in a class of its own and is largely the standard by which one can adduce the level of historical and textual integrity of the New Testament. Reading this book will put Erhman's comment smack in the middle of its rightful context without the need for Dr Reppert's misconstrual of Erhman's remarks. From Erhman's "Misquoting Jesus" [p207-208]:

"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, who were not only conserving scripture but also changing it. To be sure, all of the hundreds of thousands of textual changes found among our manuscripts, most of them are completely insignificant, immaterial, of no real importance for anything other than showing that scribes could not spell or keep focussed any better than the rest of us. It would be wrong, however, to say - as people sometimes do - that the changes in out text have no real bearing on what the texts mean or on the theological conclusions that one draws from them. We have seen, in fact, that just the opposite is the case."

The balance of his concluding remarks of this book are well worth the read.

The corollary to "Misquoting Jesus" by Professor Erhman is, "Forged: Writing in the Name of God. Why the Bible's Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are." It is a seminal work of an impartial historian that lets the evidence do the talking in follow-up.

Ilíon said...

"of all the hundreds of thousands of textual changes found among our manuscripts"

Hundreds of thousands? There are said to be 5600 known ancient copies of the NT. To make the math easy, let us pretend that "hundreds of thousands of textual changes" cashes out to 560,000 ... which would be an average of 100 scribal errors per individual copy ... not one of which alters any doctrine, and the vast majority of which are merely spelling errors.

Hmmm ...so, being very generous with Ehrman's non-specific number, we have at most an average of 100 textual discrepancies per copy of the ancient manuscripts (most of which are spelling errors, and none of which change doctrine). And why, exactly, is this supposed to leave us concerned, much less fearful?

planks length said...

This article ought to be sufficient reason for any reasonable person to dismiss Ehrman's nonsense without requiring any heavy lifting. The man is a joke. Anyone referencing him has weakened his case simply by doing so.

Ilíon said...

... just in case the point isn't obvious --

If it were the case that there are indeed as many as 560,000 known textual variations amongst the 5600 known ancient NT manuscripts, then I expect Ehrman would not have said "of all the hundreds of thousands of textual changes found among our manuscripts", but rather he would have said something like "of all the [over half a million] textual changes found among our manuscripts". If the total were even close to 250,000, I fully expect he would have said, "of all the [nearly quarter-million] textual changes found among our manuscripts". But, he said, "of all the hundreds of thousands of textual changes found among our manuscripts" … which means that the total (if not exagerated) is likely very close to 100,000.

So, again to simplify the math, let us suppose that the total number of known textual variations amongst the 5600 known ancient NT manuscripts is 112,000 … or an average of 20 variations per individual copy.

On what planet is this a problem?

im-skeptical said...

"This article ought to be sufficient reason for any reasonable person to dismiss Ehrman's nonsense without requiring any heavy lifting. The man is a joke. Anyone referencing him has weakened his case simply by doing so."

No heavy lifting going on here.

Ilíon said...

I-pretend-to-be-rational:No heavy lifting going on here.

Ancient skepmassa say: “He who argue only with ‘atheists’ and ‘free-thinkers’ get fat and lazy!”

im-skeptical said...

"just in case the point isn't obvious"

There aren't 5600 manuscripts. There may by that many fragments, the vast majority of which are tiny. The oldest complete manuscript dates to the fourth century.

Ilíon said...

So, is Ehrman using the technical meaning of 'manuscript' ... but intending to be understood by the layman as talking about complete (or nearly so) texts?

Ilíon said...

... and in his count of "hundred of thousands" of variations, is he "double-dipping"? Is counting not only an initial variation but also each propagation if as that manuscript was copied years later?

Oh, you know he is.

Dan Gillson said...

PL,

I really don't expect you believe that an essay containing no more than a thousand words could deliver a knock-down, silver bullet argument, do you? Surely you aren't that gullible.

Everyone else,

We have almost six thousand Greek manuscripts alone (a manuscript includes fragments, Skep). In addition to that we also have many Coptic, Latin, Ethiopian, and ancient Germanic manuscripts. We have a lot of copies of the New Testament, folks. Ehrman is right that most of textual changes are insignificant and that some of the changes do reflect the theological prejudices of the copyist. In fact, some of said changes, such as the Johannine Comma, have made their way into today's standard editions of the Bible. I'm not saying this to score points for Team Atheist, I'm merely pointing out the fact that the Bible itself has a history, and a rather interesting one at that.

Ilíon said...

"I really don't expect you believe that an essay containing no more than a thousand words could deliver a knock-down, silver bullet argument, do you? Surely you aren't that gullible."

So, it's the number of words used that makes an argument "a knock-down, silver bullet argument"?

BenYachov said...

>Ehrman is right that most of textual changes are insignificant and that some of the changes do reflect the theological prejudices of the copyist.

Well Dan as a former Protestant turned Agnostic, Ehrman has only the text of the Bible to go on to formulate doctrine. Not being able to nail down which text is definitely a problem for him. But if you have an Apostolic Tradition handed down with it & a Church with authority most of Ehman’s concerns if not all of them are non-starters for bead pullers like myself.

>In fact, some of said changes, such as the Johannine Comma, have made their way into today's standard editions of the Bible.

Of course Catholics don’t need the Johannine Comma for Nicea to settle the matter of the deity of Christ Infallibly. As you link notes many Father interpreted ! John 5 in Trinitarian terms even if they didn’t explicitly cite the Comma.

>I'm not saying this to score points for Team Atheist, I'm merely pointing out the fact that the Bible itself has a history, and a rather interesting one at that.

I agree with you.

BenYachov said...

>I really don't expect you believe that an essay containing no more than a thousand words could deliver a knock-down, silver bullet argument, do you? Surely you aren't that gullible.

Sorry Dan but Father Barron is on target here IMHO. There are many verses in the writings of Paul & the Synoptics that only make sense if you presuppose the deity of Christ. But Fr Barron clearly wasn’t dealing with the manuscript integrity issue but the theological interpretation of the text in regards to the deity of Christ.

I might add as I did in the past when Bob was posting here regularly on this topic the 2nd century Fathers testify to the deity of Christ.

Especially Ignacus of Antioch. who was a disciple of John and Peter.


Cheers.

Papalinton said...

Dan: "I'm not saying this to score points for Team Atheist, I'm merely pointing out the fact that the Bible itself has a history, and a rather interesting one at that."

Dan, I know it is difficult on a site like this to simply tell the facts. And while I can appreciate your use of the 'Team Atheist' epithet so as to not raise the ire of religionists and the high probability of being stigmatized as a 'them', you and I know it's not about atheism or the 'atheist side'. It is about centuries of historically unsubstantiated pablum that has skewed the historicity of the narrative. There is still much work to be done to quarantine the quantum of content from mischievous manipulation by Christian apologists that misleadingly characterise themselves as historians.

Thankfully the imbalance in biblical scholarship is being slowly redressed with ever more numbers of impartial researchers entering the discipline, genuine historians concerned with evidence, facts, proofs taken for what they are, rather than defending a tradition.

I am disappointed with Dr Reppert's sequestering the OP quote from its context, because clearly Erhman's position both immediately before and following that section of Reppert's citing clearly does not reflect Erhman's researched conclusion. I am disappointed because it shows either an egregious misrepresentation of Erhman's position through ignorance about the context, or an intentional attempt to deceive. Either way, both are unconscionable outcomes of sloppy scholarship.

B. Prokop said...

"I might add as I did in the past when Bob was posting here regularly on this topic"

Speak of the Devil, and the Devil appears (or, at the least, Ilion)...

Yeah, I've been lurking on DI for some time now. I'm selling my house, and my library is all boxed up and out of reach. Turned to the internet for diversion, and like a dog returning to his vomit, I ended up back here. But it is nice to know I am remembered...

So I'll add to what Ben just posted. There's no cause for worry because multiple writers may have participated in the authorship of various books of the New Testament. Heck, Romans 16:22 is explicitly attributed to Tertius, and not Paul. We get hints that other parts of the Pauline corpus may be from another hand when, in Galatians, Paul points out that he personally wrote every word of that particular letter (Galatians 6:11). Now why would he do that unless his audience assumed that it wasn't always the case? The ending of Mark is quite probably written by someone other than Mark. John 8:2-11 appears to have been written by Luke, and by some mysterious process ended up in its current location. Portions of 2 Peter are most likely attributable to Jude. And I have read plausible theories that Revelation was possibly composed by mashing together two originally separate documents.

But so what? Regardless of who wrote what, what counts in canonicity is not authorship, but inspiration. When we say "divinely inspired", what we are saying is "God breathed". The breath of God flows into these texts, giving them life, in the same way that God breathed on the primordial clay to vivify Adam.

"the Bible itself has a history, and a rather interesting one at that"

Yes, indeed. And I love it all the more for that "messy" history. We Christians are most definitely not Muslims. We do not possess a holy text that was dictated word for word by God Himself and infallibly written down by His scribe. We are not Mormons whose foundational document came down on golden plates delivered by an angel. What we do possess is a wonderful, sloppy, mysterious library of of God's self revelation to Man, written and compiled over centuries by God only knows how many writers, belonging to every conceivable literary genre other than the graphic novel, and encompassing every imaginable human situation, question, and desire.

I think it magnificent that we don't even know for certainty where the thing ends. Does the Comma Johanneum belong? Does John 5:4? Does Ecclesiasticus (Sirach)? How about the Prayer of Manasseh? All wonderful, wonderful questions that make it all the more likely that The Bible is really and truly the Word of God. (And which, by the way, drive a stake through the damnable doctrine of sola scriptura, but that's for another thread.)

And as Ben pointed out, we have, in addition to the New Testament itself, the witness of the Early Church Fathers, something that, when you come to think of it, (practically *) no other ancient text can claim.

* I included this parenthetical modifier, in case someone comes up with another instance of such testimony that I am unaware of.

Walter said...

Textual criticism is only going to be of interest to some fundamentalist/biblical-inerrantist type believers and their ideological opponents. Even if these texts contained no copying errors or intentional alterations whatsoever, it still wouldn't necessarily guarantee that the stories told within the original manuscripts are veridical. It would, however, have demonstrated an almost supernatural level of textual preservation if it had turned out to be the case that not a single scribal error or variation was ever found. Too bad that is not the case.

B. Prokop said...

"Too bad that is not the case."

Au contraire, Walter. Were that to be the case, it would be evidence for the documents not being divinely inspired. God does not work that way. He reveals Himself to us though a human medium, from fallible Moses to the stumbling and "slow to believe" Apostles. I wouldn't trust a text such as you describe for a nanosecond.

And by the way, even if we had such a "supernatural level of textual preservation", our understanding of it would still be subject to the vagaries of interpretation. This is one place where I heartily agree with so-called "post-modernist" literary criticism. The reader is an active participant in the content and meaning of any particular text, as is his culture, current events, and even the typeface used to present the material. The author and the original manuscript are only the beginning of the process.

I do, however, second your observation that textual criticism seems hyper-important only to fundamentalists and their mirror-image atheists (who, as Ben so often points out, are simply the B-side of fundamentalism's 45).

planks length said...

I think you're maybe a little harsh on sola scriptura there, Bob. As a fellow Catholic, I also do not subscribe to the doctrine, but it's probably a bit of a stretch to term it "damnable". How about we stick to "mistaken" and leave it at that?

Walter said...

Au contraire, Walter. Were that to be the case, it would be evidence for the documents not being divinely inspired. God does not work that way.

Bob, I guarantee that if textual criticism had shown that not a single variation existed in any biblical document ever discovered anytime, anywhere, believers would surely trumpet that as a demonstration of divine intervention by God in preserving His word (and I would probably be forced to agree). Your claim that the messiness of the textual transmission is better evidence of divine inspiration seems like a "heads I win, tails you lose" scenario to an outsider. No matter what we find we can always engage in post-hoc rationalization and make the evidence fit our worldview.

Ilíon said...

B.Precon: "Speak of the Devil, and the Devil appears (or, at the least, Ilion)..."

Oh. You're alive.

BTW, the quote to which you were responding has nothing to do with me.

==========
B.PreProt: and PL:
Concerning 'Sola scriptura', why don't one of you (actually, both of you) *explain* what is "damnable" or "mistaken" about 'Sola scriptura' ... without, you know, engaging in typical Rah-Rah question-begging.

A few days ago, in reaction to that prancing fool, Son-of-Confusion -- whom you "responsible" Catholics never seem want to rein in -- I threw together (over lunch) a quick demonstration both that you are wrong about 'Sola scriptura' being wrong/mistaken/damnable *and* that the One True Bureaucracy implicitly endorses 'Sola scriptura'. I've noticed that none of you anti-'Sola scriptura' fiends has deigned to address that.

But then, while Prokop likes to condemn me as "Hell's Own Constitutionlist", he does seem singularly uninterested in doing other than asserting my wickedness. I offered him the opportunity to *explain* my error(s) ... and he didn't seem all that interested in doing so.

Further, from my POV:
1) he also chickened-out concerning his very silly 2-nd go 'round accusation that I am a "birther";
2) and he also chickened-out concerning socialized medicine (or, to be more precise, from my demonstration that his accusation of intellectual dishonesty was the only intellectual dishonesty around by blog that day)

So, I'm not really expecting any substance from him.

Dan Gillson said...

Ilíon,

No, the word count has nothing to do with the quality of the argument. I was playfully teasing PL. But let's be honest: Barron's essay was a puff piece written for the faithful. It wasn't the knockout that PL claimed it to be.

Linton,

Despite your efforts to blame everything on apologists, I'm going to say that the reason that the historicity of the Biblical narrative was for so long skewed was because it didn't really occur to anyone to study history scientifically before the rise of modern science.

Ilíon said...

Walter: "Your claim that the messiness of the textual transmission is better evidence of divine inspiration seems like a "heads I win, tails you lose" scenario to an outsider."

One doesn't need to be an "outsider" to scorn that particular question-begging (ahem) argument ... and the mindset behind it.

Ilíon said...

B.Prelogic: "I do, however, second your observation that textual criticism seems hyper-important only to fundamentalists and their mirror-image atheists (who, as Ben so often points out, are simply the B-side of fundamentalism's 45)."

There are sincere, if simple, people -- let's call them "fundies", since that is the sort of language that you Rah-Rahs like to use -- who can't seem to grasp the concept that quoting Scripture to people who don't believe the Bible is the Word of God is, at best, counter-productive.

I wonder: IF we stipulate -- solely for the sake of argument, you understand -- that you anti-'Sola scriptura' Rah-Rahs are sincere in your anti-'Sola scriptura' Rah-Rahism, should we perhaps conclude that your question-begging appeal to the Mysterium of the One True Bureaucracy as being the refutaion of 'Sola scriptura' -- to people who do not believe that the One True Bureaucracy is God-on-Earth -- is, however sincere, yet another example of simplicity? Because, you know, if it's not that you're simple, it's that you're intellectually dishonest (for the only other option, 'honest ignorance', won't work here).

Ilíon said...

Dan Gillson: "No, the word count has nothing to do with the quality of the argument."

Ah! It must have been some of that famous nuance I've heard so much about.

Dan Gillson said...

I think that when I open up my own cocktail lounge, I'll have a drink called Nuance, which will purportedly add subtlety to the thinking of the drinker.

Ilíon said...

I've never been nuanced in just that way, but I hear the subtlety can be life-changing, or at least mind-altering.

B. Prokop said...

"damnable doctrine of sola scriptura"

My strategy worked! I was mainly trolling there to ensure that Ilion would appear. I didn't want to be the only demon summoned up.

"Oh. You're alive.

Yeah, the murderous leftists, despite their best efforts, haven't gotten me yet.

Actually, I've been spending the last few months going through rooms full of stuff that I've accumulated over the decades. A lot of it I've given away (to my daughters, to my wife's friends, to Goodwill). Much more I've just carted off to the dump (quite literally about 20 carloads so far). What remains I've been boxing up and stacking them in what once was my dining room. 90% of my furniture I gave to the Salvation Army. My piano is going to my church next week.

The FOR SALE sign goes up in my yard on Tuesday. It has become increasingly ridiculous for an empty nester widower to live in a 5-bedroom, 5-bathroom house on an acre of land all by myself. Once I've unloaded my house, I intend to put what possessions I still have into storage, hop in my car, and head West - Far West. I'll probably be on the road for 90 plus days, and only then will I start thinking about where I want to live for the rest of my life.

BenYachov said...

Bob

I missed you man.

Good to have you about.

grodrigues said...

@Bob Prokop:

"Once I've unloaded my house, I intend to put what possessions I still have into storage, hop in my car, and head West - Far West. I'll probably be on the road for 90 plus days, and only then will I start thinking about where I want to live for the rest of my life."

May God be with you.

Papalinton said...

Dan:"Despite your efforts to blame everything on apologists, I'm going to say that the reason that the historicity of the Biblical narrative was for so long skewed was because it didn't really occur to anyone to study history scientifically before the rise of modern science."

I think you're right. But despite putting the study of history on a more robust and scientific footing over the past 300 years the tradition of interpretive apologetics doggedly persists, not unlike the actions of japanese historians of today recounting their version of the history [or not, as the case may be] of WWII. Read a Japanese history textbook and one gets quite a different make of the period 1935-1945, to that of more scholarly historical accounts.

The word 'blame' has a stretch of hyperbole embedded in it. I am simply reviewing the scholarship of biblical historical research which clearly illustrates a fork in the road between those that have a deep personal and abiding interest in sustaining the tradition and those that seek to understand the historical account that relies on the facts, proofs and evidence of the narrative, rather than an emotive one of wearing one's heart on the sleeve.

Papalinton said...

Dan, I like this one: "I think that when I open up my own cocktail lounge, I'll have a drink called Nuance, which will purportedly add subtlety to the thinking of the drinker."

Could be a winner, except that I think ethyl alcohol needs no prompting to stimulate any kind of nuancing, indeed nuances limitless to the imagination. :)

B. Prokop said...

Dan,

I may actually have already seen a Nuance. I was in a bar in Hilton Head, South Carolina, where the drinks all had names like Subtlety, Elision, Quandary, and Misappropriation (amongst many others). There might possibly have been a Nuance in the mix, but I didn't notice.

Now I'm just thirsty! I'll go check to see whether there are any beers left in the fridge.

Papalinton said...

Welcome back, Bob. A great time in your life is on the move, Bob, and a good place to start is putting your past in order.

Keep coming further west and onto Australia and stay with me and Sally for a week or two. We live within a day's drive to Melbourne and Sydney, and an hour-and-half's drive from the southern beaches of the New South Wales' Sapphire Coast. You'll have unlimited use of a car although you'll need to adjust to driving on the opposite side of the road.

Think about anyway.

Cheers

Linton