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My Debate with Dan Wallace: Is the Original NT Lost?

On  February 1st, 2012 I had a public debate with Dan Wallace, professor of New Testament at Dallas Theological Seminary.   The event was sponsored by The Ehrman Project, which, despite its name, is something I’ve never had anything to do with (I believe it is now defunct); it is/was an attempt by conservative Christians to debunk what I have written and taught (and thought, and thought about thinking).   We held the event on my turf, at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Memorial Hall Performing Arts Theater. It was a large and responsive crowd.

As you might expect, I argue that even though we have thousands of manuscripts of the New Testament,  we do not have many *early* ones — and hardly any *really* early ones.  That is why we can not (always? ever?) know with absolute certainty what the authors of the New Testament originally said.   That matters for lots of reasons, one of which is that fundamentalist Christians but their faith in the very words of the Bible.  But what if, in some passages, we don’t know what those words were?   Dan, also as expected, argued that we have such extensive evidence for the New Testament — more than for any other book from the ancient world — we can trust that we have what the authors originally wrote.

This is the debate in which Dan announced that later that year (2012) a newly discovered first-century copy of the Gospel of Mark was to be published.   As readers of this blog know, to this point (March 7, 2015) the manuscript fragment has still not been published or made available for scholarly analysis.   It is now being said that the publication has been delayed for (another) two years.

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Comments

  1. Avatar
    Triassicman  March 7, 2015

    Is there a clean audio track to this video? The sound is dreadful.

    • Bart
      Bart  March 9, 2015

      Sorry — we can’t clean it up because it was *created* this way by the people doing the video-taping.

      • Avatar
        malospam  December 1, 2015

        Dear Bart, I can clean the audio and take out the hum and make it much more cleaner and easier to hear. Let me know if you want me to do this, I don’t mind at all.

        • Bart
          Bart  December 1, 2015

          Steve my tech guy is the one who takes care of all this, and does a remarkable job given what he is sometimes presented with.

  2. Avatar
    JacovZ  March 7, 2015

    Publication of the manuscript postponed for another two years… This happens when religiously-committed scholars are given preference in such inquiries – Committed Muslims’ treatment of the Sana’a Manuscript, and Wallace’s treatment of this supposed first century ms. of Mark. In this day and age still…

  3. Avatar
    Steefen  March 7, 2015

    Dr. Ehrman, please explain the substantial differences between this debate (Feb. 1, 2012) and the Oct. 19, 2011 Ehrman-Wallace debate at SMU in Dallas. (I attended that one and met you at the book signing table.) Thank you.

    • Bart
      Bart  March 9, 2015

      IN our opening statements there is not a WHOLE lot of difference, but some.

  4. Avatar
    Steefen  March 7, 2015

    Bart Ehrman: I argue that even though we have thousands of manuscripts of the New Testament, we do not have many *early* ones — and hardly any *really* early ones. That is why we can not (always? ever?) know with absolute certainty what the authors of the New Testament originally said.

    My Comment: “Hermogenes of Tarsus died because of some allusions in his “History”, and even the slaves who had acted as his copyists were crucified.” -Suetonius, Domitian 10

    Who knows how the writers and copyists of Pauline letters were treated and if they were treated as the writer and copyists of another man from Tarsus, what opportunity to run free with the redactions.

  5. Avatar
    jbjbjbjbjb  March 8, 2015

    Yes – the waiting game is not especially fun. My guess would be that Wallace underestimated the delays involved, as he seems like a really nice bloke as well as a skilled scholar 🙂

    I wonder if your earlier posts regarding precise dating have also been relevant.

    How are these kind of findings usually published? Just the text itself, with some technical explanations? Texts published alongside a translation and detailed defence of dating windows? Plus lengthy expositions of reliability of New Testament?

    Many thanks!
    John

    • Bart
      Bart  March 9, 2015

      The text will almost certainly be published in a scholarly book that will give the text, a transcription, a translation, and photographs, of this and other early papyri.

  6. Avatar
    jbjbjbjbjb  March 8, 2015

    BTW the ehrmanproject.com website seems to be running.

  7. Avatar
    FrankB57  March 8, 2015

    Thank you again, Bart. I’ve grown to really appreciate that in your debates you “always” mention that as a scholar you are not alone in your observations and opinions. The fact that CCC has targeted you specifically for their apologetics speaks volumes to your effectiveness and success at communicating that there are simply “lots of problems” with the text that many believers cherish and consider infallible. Why those “problems” must be discounted by the evangelical Christian community is beyond my understanding. In my opinion the real “loss” is that the practice of Christian philanthropy (compassion, mercy, love, generosity) has been ambushed by near militant adherence to a belief system that has become content with a message that is now just “personally” inspiring or motivational. The proceeds from your blog support meeting the needs of the hungry and homeless . . . the proceeds to CCCs “The Ehrman Project” do what again??

  8. Goat
    Goat  March 8, 2015

    That was very entertaining. In his conclusion, Dan Wallace stated that, while we can’t say that we have the originals in all of their particulars, it is fair to say that we have the originals “in broad strokes and in some of the particulars,” otherwise it would be a waste of time for scholars to study and write commentary on the motivations of the various authors. Might you and Dr. Wallace be somewhat in agreement on that characterization?

    • Bart
      Bart  March 9, 2015

      I agree that we *probably* have the broad strokes of what the authors originally said and may of the particulars. And I’ve never said anything different! But we don’t *certainly* have the original words in a whole lot of passages.

      • Goat
        Goat  March 9, 2015

        I thought that was your conclusion. Otherwise, you would not have been able to write “How Jesus Became God”, among other things. It sounded as though Dr. Walters essentially agreed with you in his concluding remarks. Even if the two of you were ultimately in agreement on the question posed, it was an excellent dialogue/debate all around. I would love to see round three.

  9. Avatar
    nichael  March 8, 2015

    Concerning the “Ehrman Project” and its announced effort to “debunk” your works
    (just to come back to a point made here, more than once):

    When you listen to your opponents in debates like this one, it’s clear that what they are arguing against are not the “ideas of Bart Ehrman”, but rather the whole of modern critical/historical NT scholarship.

    (Well, at least you’re in good company. Those of us who’ve had to argue with creationists recognize this pattern; I.e. that they and their listeners clearly hold the view that the “Theory of Evolution” is simply some idea that Darwin made up out of whole cloth one sunny afternoon. And if they can pull together enough good-sounding arguments the whole edifice will come crashing down.)

  10. Avatar
    Wilusa  March 9, 2015

    OK, I have a question. If I understood you correctly, you said uncertainties about the original text do have a bearing on important doctrines, like the Trinity. But Wallace later said that in some question-and-answer session dealing with “Misquoting Jesus,” you’d been asked whether the uncertainties affected any important doctrines, and you said no. I hoped you’d explain the contradiction, but you didn’t. (Maybe the question about “Misquoting Jesus” dealt only with some specific passages you’d mentioned in that book?)

    • Bart
      Bart  March 9, 2015

      That’s a complicated issue. Maybe I’ll address it on the blog.

  11. Avatar
    spiker  March 9, 2015

    “The event was sponsored by The Ehrman Project,…do with (I believe it is now defunct);”

    Hurray!!

    It might have been worth it if they saying anything of substance . The whole thing seemed to
    rest on not liking what you’ve had to say more than offering any substantial criticism: The videos I manged to see consisted in saying they disagree with you( I often felt they either misunderstood what you actually had to say). Since scholars often disagree , what exactly is the take away? I’m still wondering how Norm Geisler is qualified to assess your work (Ok, so I do that as well, but then I’m not presenting myself as an authority. and I am certainly not even qualified to asses much of what you write)

  12. Avatar
    Wilusa  March 9, 2015

    Someone else had a problem with the sound. I didn’t…on my computer, the sound was great!

  13. Avatar
    Tom  May 18, 2015

    I’m curious about how a scholar can keep track of the changes / nuances of the Greek language from 1st century to the last known Greek manuscript (4th or 5th century??)
    I am only curious after realizing how English evolved from Old English (e.g., Beowulf) to Middle English to Modern English. -I can only suppose the Greek language evolved similarly.
    Many thanks!

    • Bart
      Bart  May 19, 2015

      yes, it’s a difficult area. For my field, of early Christian studies, there is a separate lexicon dealing with words as used in later patristic sources when these are different from earlier usage.

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