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Patristic Evidence: Why Time and Place Matter

In my previous post I indicated that there are three major kinds of evidence for reconstructing the text of the New Testament: the surviving Greek manuscripts (obviously our best source of evidence), the early versions (ancient translations into such languages as Latin, Coptic, and Syriac), and the quotations of the church fathers. Moreover, I indicated that one advantage of the citations of the church fathers is that this kind of evidence can be dated and located far more easily than can the Greek manuscript evidence. But now in looking back over the post, I realize that I never indicated why that might matter. As with all things dealing with textual criticism (which I use strictly in the technical sense: textual criticism is NOT simply the scholarly study of texts – e.g. as literary critics engage in – it is the *reconstruction* of texts, that is, the attempt to get back to the text as written by an author given manuscripts that have differences in them; textual criticism is used for every literary text of the [...]

The Irony of our Earliest Manuscripts

                It’s a little hard to get one’s mind around the irony of our early manuscripts, as I was alluding to in my earlier post.   To reconstruct the “original” text of the New Testament – by which, for my purposes here, I mean the text that the author himself produced and put into the public sphere by “publishing” (or sending) it – we would love to have lots of early manuscripts to look at.  Unfortunately, we don’t have lots of early manuscripts.  94% of our manuscripts are 800 years after the fact.  We have only a handful of manuscripts, at best, that can plausibly be dated to the second century.   These are all *highly* fragmentary (the oldest is just a scrap with a few verses on it).  And even these are decades after the authors were all dead and buried. The problem is that every time a manuscript gets copied, mistakes – either intentional or accidental – are introduced.   And then when that manuscript serves as an exemplar for the next scribe, its mistakes are [...]

2020-04-03T19:45:17-04:00May 2nd, 2012|Bart's Debates, New Testament Manuscripts|

For the “Original” Text: What Kinds of Manuscripts Would We Need?

                As I pointed out in my previous post, in my debates with Dan Wallace I have stressed that we simply don’t have the kinds of manuscripts we need in order to know with certainty (let alone complete certainty!) what the authors of the New Testament originally wrote.   Dan will typically argue that we have so many more manuscripts of the New Testament than for any other ancient author, that of course we can know the originals.  My reply is that what we have – even though we have 5560 or so Greek manuscripts – is not enough.   Out of some frustration, Dan or a member of the audience during the question –answer period sometimes asks, “Look!  What exactly do you want?!? ” It’s a fair question.  What do I want? Of course, what I really want are the originals.  But it seems unlikely that I’ll ever be getting them.   They disappeared long ago, probably within a couple of centuries of their being written, at the latest (the great textual scholar of the early third [...]

2020-04-03T19:45:26-04:00May 1st, 2012|Bart's Debates, New Testament Manuscripts|

The Text of the New Testament: Are the Textual Traditions of Other Ancient Works Relevant?

I have had three debates with Dan Wallace (author of Revisiting the Corruption of the New Testament and Reinventing Jesus) on the question of whether or not we can know for certain, or with relative reliability, whether we have the “original” text of the New Testament.   At the end of the day, my answer is usually “we don’t know.”   For practical reasons, New Testament scholars proceed as if we do actually know what Mark wrote, or Paul, or the author of 1 Peter.   And if I had to guess, my guess would be that in most cases we can probably get close to what the author wrote.  But the dim reality is that we really don’t have any way to know for sure.   Our copies are all so far removed from the time when the authors wrote, that even though we have so many (tons!) of manuscripts of the New Testament, we do not have many (ounces!) that are very close to the time of the originals, and it is impossible to say whether the texts were altered [...]

2020-04-26T23:34:56-04:00April 30th, 2012|Bart's Debates, New Testament Manuscripts, Public Forum|

First-Century Copy of Mark? – Part 1

On February 1, I had a public debate in Chapel Hill with Daniel Wallace, a conservative evangelical Christian New Testament scholar who teaches at that bastion of conservative dispensationalist theology, Dallas Theological Seminary. He is also the author of several books, including Revisiting the Corruption of the New Testament and Reinventing Jesus. I have known Dan for over thirty years, since we were both graduate students interested in similar areas of research: my field (at the time I too was an evangelical) was textual criticism, the study of the ancient Greek manuscripts of the New Testament and of what they can tell us about the “original” writings of the New Testament; his field was the grammar of the Greek New Testament. The term “textual criticism” is a technical term. It does not refer to any study of “texts.” It is specifically the study of how to establish what an author wrote if we do not have his or her actual writings, but only later copies of them. In the case of the New Testament we [...]

2020-06-03T15:41:12-04:00April 6th, 2012|Bart's Debates, New Testament Manuscripts|

Ben Witherington Critique

Probably more than any of my other books, Misquoting Jesus provoked a loud and extensive critique from scholars – almost exclusively among evangelical Christians, who appear to have thought that if readers were “led astray” by my claims in the book (in many instances, these critics pointed to claims that in fact I never claimed!) they might be in danger of losing their faith – or worse – changing what they believed so that they would no longer be evangelical. I’m not so sure there is really much danger in presenting widely held scholarship to a lay-readership, and so I was a bit surprised at the vitriol I received at the hands of some of my evangelical critics. There were four entire books written to refute my discussion: (1) Dillon Burroughs, Misquotes in Misquoting Jesus: Why You Can Still Believe; (2) Timothy Paul Jones, Misquoting Truth: A Guide to the Fallacies of Bart Ehrman's "Misquoting Jesus"; (3) Nicholas Perrin, Lost In Transmission?: What We Can Know About the Words of Jesus; and (4) Gregory Koukl, [...]

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