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Don’t Put the Bart Before the Horse

Last month I flew to Dallas to attend a historic debate on the text of the New Testament between Bart Ehrman and Dan Wallace. These two scholars squared off three years ago in New Orleans at the Greer-Heard Forum, which I was also privileged to attend. Eight hundred people turned out in the Big Easy, breaking all attendance records for a debate on a subject that even the most gifted seminarian finds hard.  

On October 1, 2011, the record was broken again, but this time by almost twice as many people. Dr. Mark Chancey, Associate Professor of Religious Studies at Southern Methodist University and moderator of the debate, said that the crowd of 1425 people was the largest ever assembled for such a topic. Unfortunately, there was next to no media coverage. The debaters are well known and the event was well advertised; I suspect that the local media simply didn’t grasp the importance of the subject (which, incidentally, Ehrman parlayed into a New York Times bestseller back in 2006).

The throng in Dallas had a different make-up than the crowd in New Orleans, where the vast majority of attendees were, well, saints. Christians were still the larger number in the Big D, but not by much. A little more than half of the hands went up when Ehrman asked, “How many of you consider yourselves to be Bible-believing Christians?” Many people wore T-shirts with “Atheist” emblazoned on the front, and there were quite a few Muslims and Mormons there, too (they love what Ehrman has said about the supposedly hopeless theological corruption of the New Testament text). When Ehrman then asked, “How many of you want to see me get creamed?” he heard a chorus of laughs and saw just a few hands—perhaps a dozen, maybe two—go up. Ehrman seemed surprised for a moment, but proceeded as though most hands had shot into the air. It sure seemed, at least at that moment, like posturing took priority over straight-shooting for Ehrman.

The focus of the debate in Dallas was narrower than that of New Orleans: Can we recover the wording of the original text? The give-and-take wasn’t concerned with theological implications (though these were inevitably raised), the historicity of the Gospels, or whether the New Testament speaks truth when it talks about Jesus. Rather, this debate was purely focused on how confident scholars can be that the original text can be recovered. Ehrman took a radically skeptical position, whereas Wallace argued for a cautiously positive view.

Both men began with a thirty-minute monologue. Each had prepared a PowerPoint presentation, though I understand that neither got to see the other’s slides ahead of time. These presentations were followed by two rounds of questions and rebuttals of six minutes each. Then, thirty minutes were devoted to questions from the audience, capped by concluding arguments of five minutes for each speaker. The event lasted just under three hours. Continue Reading →

Louisiana Saturday Night: Day Two of the 2008 Greer-Heard Forum

I learned something really important on day two of the Greer-Heard Forum: fried fish and dark beer taste even better when you’re sitting around a bunch of theologues. Thoughts of blood barely trickling through my arteries were squeezed out by images of Martin Luther engaged in his famous "table talk" enjoying a catch from Katie’s fish pond and nursing a mug of her homemade brew. We didn’t have any famous scholars in our midst on Saturday night, but we were surrounded by great food and stimulating conversation about the theological controversies of our day. Indeed, the lectures we had heard just hours before provided plenty of grist for the mill.

Day two of the Forum featured Michael Holmes (Bethel University), Dale Martin (Yale University), David Parker (Birmingham University), and William Warren (New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary). Each man spoke for approximately 30 minutes, followed by 25 minutes of interaction with the keynotes, Ehrman and Wallace. In keeping with the spirit of the previous night’s dialog, Holmes and Warren took Wallace’s "side" while Martin and Parker were on Ehrman’s. Each lecture was quite different and made its own contribution, as I’ll try to briefly show below.

Michael Holmes
Holmes argued against three models of what the manuscripts would have looked like in the earliest period of copying—the models proposed by David Trobisch, William Peterson, and Kurt Aland. Trobisch suggests that by mid-second century there was controlled copying and that what was being copied was a canonical text somewhat different from the original text. There is no substantial evidence for this, and Wallace had already pointed out that this model fits the Qurâ’an better than the New Testament. Peterson has argued that the text had changed dramatically in the second century, but Holmes effectively debunked Peterson’s examples. Aland argued that every reading, both original and secondary, has been preserved somewhere in the manuscripts. However, Holmes showed that some readings were barely preserved, suggesting that there would be many that had not been.

Holmes’ basic point was that copying by its very nature is a conservative practice and that what the scribes would have done early on was good enough—good enough for preserving the essence of the original text and good enough for making clear what the original meant.

Ehrman responded that we can’t project back into the first century what happened in later centuries, but Holmes said that we have to go on the basis of evidence rather than conjecture. Wallace again brought up the relation of P75 to B and argued that we can see what some of the earliest copying practices would have looked like from those manuscripts. He also pointed out that the text of Mark that Luke and Matthew used is assumed to be almost identical to the original of Mark by virtually all redaction critics. Otherwise, they cannot make claims about Matthean motifs if such existed in Matthew’s previously corrupted copy of Mark. Ehrman continued to present himself as very skeptical about what we can know, while Wallace continued to take a moderating position: we cannot know for sure, but we need to base our views on what is most probable.

Dale Martin
Martin, who is one of Ehrman’s good friends (a point whose significance will soon be seen), was the only non-textual critic on the panel. He gave perhaps the liveliest lecture of the bunch. Although he was supposed to argue on behalf of Ehrman, he essentially ripped him for not having a theology of scripture, for leaving the faith with insufficient evidence to do so, and for ignoring interpretation and tradition too much. He especially picked on Ehrman’s spiritual journey. Though Martin unleashed a few curveballs, other aspects of his presentation were much less surprising. In addition to saying that scripture should be read for its narrative and not its theology, he declared that "the original text is a myth" and "there is no original text." Consequently, he argued that any work whose aim was to get back to the original (or the closest thing to it) was wrong-headed.

Ehrman responded first with the words, "Dale and I used to be friends"! He asked Martin why he thought it was appropriate to bring up Ehrman’s personal spiritual journey. Martin simply replied, "You made it public. You put it in your books." Indeed, Martin pointed out the fact that Ehrman chose to make his own spiritual journey the first chapter in two of his popular books, and thus set the tone for the whole of each book with his opening gambit. Ehrman’s spiritual journey was in print, in the very same books where he makes his most radical pontifications. So, according to Martin, it was fair game. Frankly, what Martin said about Ehrman made Wallace’s demonstration of Ehrman’s contradictions seem like a compliment by comparison! I think this clearly shows that Wallace was in no way using an ad hominem argument when he addressed Ehrman’s published views, especially since Wallace specifically said that he didn’t know what Ehrman’s views really are.

The exchange between Martin and Ehrman got a little heated at times. This made for an interesting scene, since Martin was on the right, Ehrman was on the left, and Wallace was stuck in the middle. Wallace was quiet for a long time, appearing to enjoy watching the volleys being tossed over his head. Finally, when the moderator asked if he’d like to say anything, Wallace asked, "Why should I? I’m having too much fun just observing" ! Wallace did, however, speak for a few minutes once the dust settled. He agreed with Martin that many evangelicals flirt with bibliolatry, that they often ignore both tradition and interpretation, and that they also can pour a later theology into the New Testament. But he criticized Martin’s argument about the myth of an original text: "Just because we don’t have one today doesn’t mean it didn’t exist at some point; the scribes were copying something."He also picked up on Martin’s narrative approach and asked that if it didn’t matter which manuscript was being read, then how could Martin explain that there are two more fairly lengthy narratives (John 7:53-8:11 and Mark 16:9-20) in the later manuscripts than in the earlier ones? Wallace followed that up by asking whether translators should simply not care which text they’re translating, suggesting that such a scenario would take us back to the days of Erasmus. Martin didn’t have enough time to respond to Wallace’s questions, but he acknowledged that they were significant and said he thought he could handle them all.

David Parker
Parker is one of the best textual critics in the world and has his own institute at the University of Birmingham in England. He has in recent years argued against trying to get back to an original text, even arguing that an original is irrelevant or meaningless since the original documents could have been modified significantly by the author several times. In such a case, which is the original? In his lecture he spoke about the work of Muenster and Birmingham of trying to get back to the earliest form of the text by using genealogical studies and tools to do so. He showed a couple of fascinating (but way too detailed) slides on this front, noting that scholars working on the human genome project have basically been involved in textual criticism, too. But he also argued that we can’t get back to the original, that it wasn’t particularly relevant, and that our job should simply be to get back to the earliest form.

Ehrman asked Parker why the earliest form was so important if it didn’t accurately reflect what an author wrote. Wallace pitched in and said that if Parker’s views are right, then not only should intrinsic evidence be abandoned but so should all of exegesis! He noted that Parker’s views are too narrowly focused, thinking of textual criticism as an end in itself. Parker simply said that he was not an exegete, just a textual critic.

It sure was interesting to hear Ehrman’s two team members arguing against his views! After all, when it came to Parker’s claims, Ehrman and Wallace were actually on the same side. (It’s also significant that much of what Ehrman has done in textual criticism is to appeal to intrinsic evidence, which presupposes that he has a pretty fair idea of what an author wrote.)

Bill Warren
Warren’s lecture was basically Textual Criticism 101. It would have been better placed, in my opinion, as the first lecture on Saturday, but since it was the last, people had already heard the gist of it many times over. Warren actually argued for tentativeness about several things. When Ehrman responded, he said that he basically had no problem with what Warren was saying. Wallace, however, said that he thought we could move toward greater certainty by observing what Matthew and Luke did with Mark. He used Mark 1:41 as a test-case, and enlisted Ehrman’s treatment of this in his argument. Here the text either says that Jesus was compassionate or angry when he healed a leper. Wallace noted that Matthew and Luke don’t have either word, but since they drop references to Jesus’ anger elsewhere while maintaining statements about Jesus’ compassion, Mark almost surely said that Jesus was angry in this place. If he had said that Jesus was compassionate, Matthew and Luke would surely have mentioned it. To borrow a cliche, their silence was deafening. But Wallace showed that, by using one of Ehrman’s favorite examples, textual critics are presupposing that we can get back essentially to the author’s words in order to do both redaction and textual criticism. Even Ehrman assumed this! And the fact that Wallace used an example from Mark—which Ehrman underscored as a book that had very few early copies, and thus could have been changed radically before it was found in our extant copies—showed that Ehrman’s skepticism about Mark in particular was unfounded. Wallace even mentioned p. 135 of Misquoting Jesus, where Ehrman had argued that even though we don’t have any second century copies of Mark, we do have books written within twenty years of Mark that utilize Mark.

Given its nature and placement, Warren’s lecture was the least invigorating of the weekend. But it did give Wallace a chance to articulate further his argument about Matthew and Luke’s use of Mark as a way for us to measure how the earliest copying of the manuscripts would have looked.

Ehrman’s Wrap-Up
Ehrman admitted that no cardinal belief of Christianity is affected by any variants (one of the chief points that Wallace had been arguing the whole weekend!). But he also said that since the second century is shrouded in mystery, and since almost all of our variants come from that period, the study of these variants is important and open to interpretation (as to which are closer to the original, why some variants arose, how the scribes went about their work, etc.).

Wallace’s Wrap-Up
Wallace likewise said that we can’t know exactly what the original text said, but we can have a bit more certainty than some skeptics would claim. He also argued that a high Christology was not the basic drive for the orthodox scribes; rather, historicity or harmonization in the Gospels was. (He gave a great illustration of this that would take too long to discuss here; get the recording!) Finally, Wallace summed up why he thought the study of the variants was important: because the Bible is the Word of God. Wallace was unashamed of his evangelical position on this, but he quickly added that he followed a doctrinal taxonomy that answers four questions:

1. What beliefs are essential for the life of the church?
2. What beliefs are important for the health of the church?
3. What beliefs are important for the proper functioning of a local church?
4. What beliefs should not be fought over, are speculative, and unimportant?

He pointed out the fact that textual criticism belongs to the last three categories, but that the Forum was essentially about numbers 2 and 3.

Q&A
The whole Forum concluded with some decent Q&A time. A couple of things really stuck out. First, a questioner asked Ehrman about his text-critical method, noting that Ehrman seemed to always find the least orthodox readings and argue that they were the original readings. What Ehrman said was, frankly, unbelievable. He basically said that he would find the reading that he liked, and then find the evidence to support it! This sure sounded as though he was starting from his conclusions rather than beginning with a question. Not surprisingly, some folks audibly gasped at this response.

Second, someone asked Wallace why he didn’t hold to a doctrine of preservation (which is something that he had mentioned earlier in the conference). He said that (1) the doctrine was recent, first articulated in the Westminster Confession; (2) the verses employed to support the doctrine don’t teach such a thing; and (3) the Old Testament text has not been completely preserved. There are, in fact, some places in which the Old Testament text requires some conjectures that have no manuscript basis whatsoever. Further, Wallace didn’t want to be a Marcionite, elevating the New Testament (in terms of inspiration) over the Old Testament. (In other words, he didn’t want to be bibliologically schizophrenic!) But, importantly, he added that although he had no doctrinal basis for believing in preservation, he has plenty of historical evidence that this is what God has essentially done.

Friday Night Lights: Day One of the 2008 Greer-Heard Forum

The Greer-Heard Forum is an outstanding stage for dialogue between evangelical and non-evangelical scholars with opposing views on controversial subjects. It got off to an interesting start in 2005, when Dom Crossan and Tom Wright debated the reality of the bodily resurrection of Christ. This year’s event kept the tradition—high-powered speakers and a highly-charged atmosphere—alive.

A Bird’s Eye View of the Forum

This year’s topic was the reliability of New Testament manuscripts as pointers to the original text, featuring Dan Wallace (with whom readers of Parchment & Pen are quite familiar) and Bart Ehrman. Ehrman, as is well known from his Misquoting Jesus (which made the New York Times Best Sellers List), is very skeptical about recovering the wording of the original text. He has even hinted that the original text did not affirm the deity of Christ or other cardinal Christian doctrines. Not surprisingly, then, this dialogue was (at least in many respects) about what Ehrman has published and said in the public square.

The event began Friday evening with a 40-minute presentation by Ehrman, followed by Wallace’s 40-minute salvo. About 800 people were in attendance, which is a very large crowd for something dealing with textual criticism! This was followed by a 10-minute response by Ehrman to Wallace’s lecture, then a 10-minute response by Wallace to Ehrman’s. Next, each scholar was given five minutes to wrap up. Q&A from the floor, lasting about 30 minutes, rounded out the evening.

Saturday morning, the "teams" for each scholar spoke. It had been raining very hard that morning, yet the attendance was terrific”about 500 people". Dr. Bob Stewart, the man in charge of the Forum, said that this was the best attended second day of any Greer-Heard Forum to date. Mike Holmes of Bethel University and Bill Warren of New Orleans Baptist Seminary were on Wallace’s team; David Parker of Birmingham University (England) and Dale Martin of Yale University were on Ehrman’s. Of these, only Martin was not a textual critic. But Martin is a brilliant scholar (and, I understand, one of Ehrman’s best friends). Each team member spoke for 30 minutes, and their lectures were followed by 25 minutes of interaction from Ehrman and Wallace. Holmes went first, then Parker. Martin and Warren followed after lunch. At the end of the lectures and responses by the main speakers, Ehrman and Wallace each summarized their own views in 5 minutes before fielding audience questions for the final 20 minutes.

Impressions from the Front Row: Friday Night

What follows are my personal impressions from Friday night. Most readers of Parchment & Pen will recognize me as a coauthor of Dan Wallace’s, as well as a former student of his at Dallas Theological Seminary. Though I can’t help but be unconsciously biased (who can?), I’ve tried to simply "call ’em as I see ’em." It’s also worth noting that I’ve tried not to “spill the beans†with respect to arguments given throughout the Forum. Audio and video recordings will soon be available through the Greer-Heard Forum website, and the presentations are slated to be published by Fortress Press. I simply wish here to provide a select taste of the event as I experienced it.

Ehrman’s Presentation
Ehrman’s opening address combined a simple PowerPoint presentation with a lively lecture. He’s an engaging speaker; witty, at times funny, and certainly provocative. What he had to say was right out of Misquoting Jesus. He noted that the earliest scribes were not professional scribes but made plenty of mistakes and would not necessarily be concerned to get the contents exactly right. He also argued that we don’t have "the copies of the copies of the copies of the copies of the copies of the copies of the originals. "(I counted six generations of copies before we get to our current manuscripts. Though I doubt that Ehrman was intentional in his repetition, this provides a taste of his rhetorical strategy.) He also noted that there are hundreds of thousands of textual variants among the manuscripts, a key point also made in his book. More precisely and provocatively, Ehrman said, "there are more variants than there are words in the New Testament." Ehrman capped off his lecture by discussing a few passages, but it was apparent that he ran out of time before getting to all that he wanted to say. Nonetheless, he discussed in some detail the story of the woman caught in adultery (John 7:53-8:11), the long ending of Mark (Mark 16:9-20), and the angry Jesus (Mark 1:41). Ehrman discussed each passage rather nicely, arguing that the first two texts were not authentic and that the last one (Mark 1:41) spoke of Jesus as being angry—rather than compassionate—when he healed a leper.

Though Ehrman was lively and offered some nice discussions, I was disappointed on a few fronts. For starters, he stammered far more than I expected. I could see that he was working from an outline rather than a full manuscript, and that might explain things. I understand, however, that he has given this same lecture many times since Misquoting Jesus came out a couple of years ago. (In fact, three people mentioned that they had heard the exact same lecture, almost verbatim, in Oklahoma, South Carolina, and California, respectively.) He did not impress me in person the way that he has in writing or short radio and television interviews. Second, and most disappointingly, Ehrman pitched his lecture at a high school (or, at most, college) level. Speaking at a theological seminary with world-class textual critics participating in the dialogue, Ehrman simply didn’t deliver an appropriate lecture. Third, he ran out of time before he could really make his major points, or at least discuss some of the disputable texts. Fourth, he spent the bulk of his time, (unwisely, in my opinion) on things that didn’t establish anything either way. Apart from some rhetoric about not having copies of copies and that we have more variants in the manuscripts than we have words in the New Testament, he didn’t make much of an argument at all.

Wallace’s Presentation
Wallace’s presentation was also lively and helpfully accompanied by PowerPoint slides. He began with some gravity-breaking jokes, even poking a little fun at Ehrman’s agnosticism. Wallace, however, made far more fun of himself. He declared that he and Ehrman had similar academic careers and showed (tongue-in-cheek) how this was so. For example, Wallace said that "while you [Ehrman] were cruising through your doctoral program, I was driving a truck to make ends meet. Similar activities and "By the time you [Ehrman] had written your 15th book, I had already written my 15th article!" Those who know Wallace were not surprised by his genuine self-deprecation, though many may have been surprised to see how much Wallace admires Ehrman and the contribution he has made to New Testament textual criticism. Wallace went on to list five points of agreement with Ehrman: (1) the high number of variants (as many as 400,000), (2) the lack of significance of the great majority of them; (3) that he and Ehrman would agree on the wording of the original text almost all the time; (4) specific agreements over special hot-button passages (Mark 16:9-20; John 7:53-8:11; Mark 1:41; 1 John 5:7); and (5) that orthodox scribes occasionally altered the text. This strategy had, as far as I could tell, the effect of removing the shock value of Ehrman’s comments about things like the enormous quantity of textual variants and the spuriousness of the story of the woman caught in adultery. (For more discussion of these points and others in Wallace’s lecture, see Tim Ricchuiti’s blog.)

Wallace then began addressing their disagreements, but he did so in a surprising way: he put up extensive quotations from Ehrman’s own writings and showed that what Ehrman said to professional colleagues was quite different than what he said to laypersons. In other words, Wallace showed that Ehrman disagreed with Ehrman! The implication was clear: Ehrman is too certain in scholarly circles and too skeptical in popular circles. He presents himself as an extreme modernist in one place and an extreme postmodernist in the other.

One of the sub-plots that laced Wallace’s lecture was his gibes at Ehrman, Southern Baptists, and his own tradition of dispensationalism. Wallace is known for his dry wit, and he was really on Friday night. He noted, for example, that Ehrman had listed six generations of copies before we get any manuscripts, which is more than Ehrman implies in any of his printed work. Wallace then commented, "I suppose if a story is worth telling, it’s worth embellishing!" He took jabs at the Southern Baptists, too. At one point he was speaking about how many words were in the Greek New Testament—"about 140,000 or so; but if you’re really anal, it’s 138,162 words." Then, he turned back to Dr. Stewart, who was still sitting on the stage and said, "Oh, Im sorry, Bob! Can I say anal in this place?" A good half dozen times Wallace did that sort of thing on different issues. It always got a good chuckle, yet I suspect that it was about more than humor. Wallace was innocuously distancing himself from the theological views of some Southern Baptists, who might be quick to argue for things like a doctrine of the perseveration of scripture. But the biggest laughs came when he took a swipe at dispensationalists (of which he, as a Dallas Seminary professor, is one). He was speaking about the number of the beast, and how a couple of early and important manuscripts have "616" (which Wallace said some might call "the neighbor of the beast" !) instead of "666." He asked how important such a variant is and noted that it didn’t alter any creedal statement, but that, if it proved to be the original reading, would "send seven tons of dispensational literature to the flames!"

Ehrman’s oft-repeated line that we don’t even have copies of copies of copies…†was challenged by Wallace. He said that such rhetoric comes dangerously close to saying that New Testament copying was like the telephone game. He then proceeded to show six ways in which the telephone game is not at all like New Testament copying practices. I think it’s fair to say that this evidence alone should have retired Ehrman’s non-nuanced quip, but Ehrman continued saying it for the duration of the conference!

Wallace then discussed the concrete example of the relation of P75 to Codex B. He noted that although B came 100-150 years later, it was not a copy of P75 because it frequently had older readings than those found in P75. This meant that, since these two manuscripts are very close in wording to each other, both had a much older ancestor—one that was probably from the early part of the second century. Coupled with Aleph, B’s readings are very ancient. This shows that even though we don’t have late first century manuscripts or very many 2nd century manuscripts, we can extrapolate what they would have looked like from the manuscripts that we do have.

Perhaps the most provocative part of Wallace’s lecture was his comparison of what Ehrman claimed was true about New Testament transmission with the transmission of sacred texts in another religion: Islam. Wallace gave three basic points that showed that what Ehrman wanted to see in New Testament manuscripts simply wasn’t there—specifically, an early, controlled text in which the earlier manuscripts were destroyed. Wallace noted that, You can’t have wild copying by untrained scribes and a proto-orthodox conspiracy simultaneously producing the same variants. Conspiracy implies control and wild copying is anything but controlled." As far as I was concerned, this was the silver bullet that ripped a hole through Ehrman’s entire thesis." Further, Wallace noted, the lack of controls that Ehrman argued for were only true of the Western text-type, not the Alexandrian.

Wallace then went on to discuss the nature of the variants. He argued that 99% are inconsequential, while less than 1% are both meaningful and viable (that is, possibly reflecting the wording of the original). He gave one example of this last category, the number 616 in Rev 13:18. He noted that although it may be significant, it did not affect any cardinal belief. Wallace reemphasized that no essential belief is in jeopardy because of the viable variants.

Finally, Wallace discussed the major variants that Ehrman had put forth in Misquoting Jesus. He was running out of time, so he concentrated on Matthew 24:36. Here he noted how Ehrman used it as his "bread and butter" example of orthodox corruption, but showed that there were some things in the text that Ehrman had not considered. For example, if the scribes had no qualms about deleting nor the Son why did they leave the word alone in the text? Without nor the Son the passage still implies that the Son of God does not know the date of his return: But as for that day and hour no one knows it—not even the angels in heaven—except the Father alone. Ehrman’s argument that this passage is clearly an orthodox corruption either shows that the scribes were rather inept since they didn’t cover up the Father’s exclusive knowledge or else they changed their mood once they got into the corruption and had second guesses about deleting the "alone." He concluded by saying that too often Ehrman’s views were only possible, but that Ehrman had turned possibility into probability and, at times, probability into certainty.

Overall, Wallace’s lecture was polished, focused, and clear. He dealt with the very objections that Ehrman raised (copies of copies, tons of variants) and offered a far more coherent and carefully nuanced picture of the transmission of the text. While Wallace was lecturing, Ehrman looked, at times, uncomfortable. I’m not a mind reader, but I’m guessing that he realized that he had come underprepared for this dialogue and had little time to rectify things in his remaining ownership of the floor. I was disappointed that Wallace also seemed to run out of time and couldn’t include all of his arguments. But he squeezed in far more than Ehrman, who essentially only rehashed material already in Misquoting Jesus.

Ehrman’s Response
After a short intermission, Ehrman gave a 10-minute response to Wallace’s paper. He started by saying, "I was under the impression that this was supposed to be on the reliability of the text of the New Testament, not the reliability of the writings of Bart Ehrman. "It got a laugh, but it was clear that Ehrman was not pleased with the evidence that Wallace had put forth. To be sure, Wallace never did anything that looked ad hominem, so it seemed as though this was a fair thing to do. Wallace later explained why he took the approach he did, and Dale Martin (Ehrman’s team member!) would defend this same approach the next day. Ehrman then critiqued Wallace’s lecture as simply a message meant to comfort Christians into not doubting their Bibles, even saying that Wallace had provided no evidence for his position. (This is a debater’s standard technique: instead of wrestling with the arguments that his opponent brings up, he simply says that the opponent never said anything worth saying. But in this instance, I can only conclude that Ehrman was blowing smoke.)

Ehrman then argued that we can’t, for example, really tell what the original text of Galatians looked like if it was sent multiple times to the churches of Galatia. That is, since they were churches (plural), each one of them probably got a letter, and thus the "original" of the letter would actually have been comprised of multiple copies. Ehrman suggested that such multiple copies would all look different from each other. Further, he argued that a secretary probably wrote the letter to the Galatians, with Paul signing off on it at the end of the letter. And the secretary could have made quite a few mistakes as well that would have gone uncorrected. He concluded by saying that in Wallace’s view the words of the New Testament mattered only for essential Christian doctrine—not for anything else. So he asked, Why devote your [Wallace’s] entire career to the study of the wording of the New Testament text if the words don’t matter?

Wallace’s Response
Wallace basically responded to Ehrman’s critique by asking what Ehrman’s theory about Galatians means for Revelation. In other words, if Galatians was sent to multiple churches with one copy going directly to each church, what would that mean for the Apocalypse? Was the latter sent to seven churches as seven different documents? Wallace also noted that when he “writes†a letter that a secretary actually types for him, the wording may not be close to his, but it still reflects his thoughts. Otherwise, he wouldn’t sign the letter. How much more likely is it that Paul, writing an angry letter, would take pains to double-check what he had personally dictated?

Ehrman’s Second Response
Ehrman camped on the 1% of textual variants that mattered and even said that it doesn’t matter how many variants there are that are significant, just that several hundred are very significant. But if they don’t affect a cardinal doctrine, perhaps he is overplaying their significance. Ehrman also said that Wallace had not really answered the question of why these variants mattered if they didn’t affect cardinal doctrines.

Wallace’s Second Response
Wallace said that the reason why doctrinal criteria are important is because Ehrman made them important in Misquoting Jesus. Wallace would revisit this point more specifically on day two. For the moment, he simply said that variants matter because they affect the meaning of the text (spoken like a true exegete!). But he reminded the audience again that the Bible that we have today—in all essentials—goes back to the original text.

All in all, Wallace had a better showing than Ehrman on Friday night. While Ehrman was initially content to summarize Misquoting Jesus, Wallace came prepared to tease out inconsistencies in Ehrman’s professional and popular writings and offer some fresh research en route. Anyone assuming that Wallace merely restated things said in Reinventing Jesus, Dethroning Jesus, or his published review of Misquoting Jesus would be mistaken. But I’ll leave discovery of that fact for those who purchase recordings or publications derived from the event. In the meantime, I’ll gather some thoughts on day two of the Forum and put them in a subsequent post

Jesus in Trinitarian Perspective

Jesus in Trinitarian Perspective Fred Sanders and Klaus Issler have recently edited an important book on the relationship of Jesus to the Father and the Holy Spirit. Jesus in Trinitarian Perspective: An Introductory Christology will be an outstanding follow-up volume for those of you who study the evidence for the deity of Christ that Rob Bowman and I have amassed in Putting Jesus in His Place: The Case for the Deity of Christ. Once you’ve got a solid grasp on the fact of Jesus’ divine identity, you’ll want to spend some time wrestling with how that fact fits into a larger Trinitarian framework. Continue Reading →

What Comes to Mind When You Hear the Word “Dispensationalism”? (Part 2)

Dispie chart

Twelve years ago this month I was digging trenches at an archaeological site in Israel. Unfortunately, I dug myself into a theological hole with my fellow excavators before we were even close to removing all the dirt from our square. One old-school professor at an East Coast college was particularly troubled by my admission of dispensational leanings. He gave me the predictable rundown of objections. “Doc, have you read Progressive Dispensationalism by Blaising and Bock?” I asked. “You might be surprised by some of the things that they say,” I quickly added. His response, which I’ll never forget, was both witty and warped: “I’m not interested in progressing in dispensationalism!”

Continue Reading →