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Why Do Are So Many Textual Critics Evangelicals? Readers’ Mailbag.

Here’s a good question about why so many New Testament textual critics (those who study the manuscripts of the New Testament) are evangelical Christians.

 

QUESTION:

Bart, is it fair to say that many textual critics chose their field of expertise out of a passion to find out just what did God really say? I’ve no axe to grind here, just wondering what you’ve observed working with so many in the discipline. It’s definitely something I considered ever since a street preacher pointed out my shiny new NIV had relegated Acts 8:37 to a footnote.

 

RESPONSE:

I need to begin by explaining what the questioner means by “textual critic,” so we are all on the same page.  Many people – including scholars in non-literary fields – think of “textual criticism” in very broad terms as the “detailed study of texts” – that is, the systematic attempt to interpret a literary text from a scholarly point of view, or to compare texts with one another to see their similarities or differences, or to point out their internal contradictions and inconsistencies, or to set them in their original historical context, etc. etc.  All of these endeavors are vitally important – not just for the New Testament, but also for Homer, Virgil, Beowulf, Shakespeare, Wordsworth, and, well, every author; but no, none of them is “textual criticism.”

Textual criticism is the attempt to establish what an author originally wrote whenever there is some uncertainty about it.  For example, if Dante wrote the Inferno by hand, and we don’t actually have the hand-written copy he produced, and different surviving copies of the work have differences among them – which one is most like what he actually wrote?  That is especially a big issue, for example, for Shakespeare (massively important for Hamlet and other plays) and … well, and the New Testament.

Textual critics of the New Testament all know full well that we have thousands and thousands of manuscripts not just in Greek, the original language, but in other ancient languages such as Latin, Syriac, Coptic, Armenian, Georgian, and others.  Moreover, these copies all have differences in them.  So how can we know what the author of Luke, or Hebrews, or Revelation originally wrote, if we don’t have the original copy or a faithful reproduction of the original or any obvious way of knowing the original apart from diligent and highly trained detective work?  Answer: we can’t know.  WE have to do trained work.  Textual critics are ones who have spent years getting the training.

Let me tell you, it ain’t easy.  Every academic field has difficulties.  But there are very few fields within the humanities as difficult as textual criticism, especially when it involves ancient texts.

The interesting thing about the discipline is precisely what this questioner is suggesting.  Evangelical Christians who believe the Bible is the inspired word of God down to its very words make up the majority of New Testament textual critics.  By a (very) large margin.  And so the question is why?  Why are most of the people who are engaged in this arcane, highly technical, and famously difficult field committed Bible-believing Christians?  Or another way of putting it, why do so many committed Bible-believing Christians who want to become biblical scholars choose, specifically, textual criticism?

I think I have a pretty good sense of the answer to this one, both because I (academically) know the history of the discipline and (personally) know most of the leading scholars — including the prominent evangelicals among them.  Even more, it is how I started out, as an evangelical who believed the Bible was the inspired word of God and wanted to become a textual critic.

So why do evangelicals so frequently go that route?  I would say that, as a rule, it is for one of three reasons.

First: theology.  It is precisely because of their theological convictions that many evangelicals want to devote their lives to knowing what the NT authors originally wrote.  If the original words of the Bible were inspired by God, then it is important to know what those words were.  Scribes occasionally (OK, often) changed the words.  But who cares what some anonymous scribe thought or wanted to say?  We want to know what GOD wanted to say!  And so we have to figure out which words come from scribal changes and which from God.  We can throw out the former and will revere the latter.  Any time a verse is worded in different ways, only one of those ways is original (assuming the original itself wasn’t lost along the way, so that *all* we have are various kinds of changes); we need to figure out which one it is.  For me, personally, this was THE MAIN REASON I wanted to become a textual critic.

Second: apologeticsThe term “apologetics comes, as you might suspect, from the word “apology,” which in this context decidedly does not mean saying you’re sorry.   Apology in its technical sense refers to a “reasoned defense” of a view  – say an ideological perspective, a philosophical position, or a religious claim.  Christian apologists make, or try to make, intellectual arguments for their religious views, trying to show, for example, what the actual evidence is that Jesus was really born of a virgin or raised from the dead, or that the human race was created not evolved, or that the Bible is the word of God without mistake.  In some periods of Christian intellectual history – including right now, as we speak – one reason often adduced for doubting that the Bible is the inspired word of God is that it doesn’t seem to be all that important, or even plausible, that God inspired the words of the Bible if we don’t’ know what the words are.  Evangelicals who go into textual criticism often do so in order to be able to show that we know the original words and that therefore there is no reason for doubt: we have the very Word of God.

Third: professional career.  Graduate students in New Testament studies, just like graduate students in any academic discipline, almost always do a PhD because they want to have high-level credentials and respect from colleagues in what they do.  There are very few disciplines in which a person’s theological views create real and serious difficulties.  If you are a Mormon, or Buddhist, or observant Jew – nothing about your personal religious views should have much bearing on your ability to do a PhD in physics, or anthropology, or French literature.  Your views do not prevent you from accepting the widely held premises of your discipline.

But there are other fields where religious views could in principal prove detrimental to a graduate student’s work.  Take fundamentalist Christians.  There is nothing stopping a fundamentalist from getting a PhD in applied mathematics, or medieval French art, or Latin.  But a committed fundamentalist who believe that the Bible was literally true and inerrant would have real difficulty doing work in, say, evolutionary biology (creation!) or, probably, geography (age of the earth!  The flood!).

The problem is especially intense, though, in the (much smaller) field of New Testament studies. There are certain assumptions, views, ideas, approaches, methods that simply do not work well with conservative evangelical understandings of the Bible.  If you think the Bible is without mistake of any kind, it is very difficult to engage in the kind of critical study of the New Testament that is promoted in research universities and non-Christian colleges (whether Princeton or Florida State or Appalachian State University, or Swarthmore, or Kenyon College or … or pick your secular school….) – work that admits that Paul may not have written Colossians, or that John may not be historically accurate, or that Luke has a different view of salvation from Mark, or that many of the teachings of Jesus in the Gospels are based on oral traditions that were altered over the years.   And that makes it difficult for evangelicals to get a PhD in many areas within New Testament studies.  But not all.

One of the famously attractive fields for an evangelical interested in the highest attainable degree in the field is textual criticism.  And that is because theological views, at least in theory, have almost nothing to do with the actual research, even at the PhD level.  The advanced student is learning how to deal in detail with ancient languages (not just Greek and Latin but possibly Syriac, Ethiopic, and/or Armenian); she learns how to “collate” manuscripts (determine a manuscript’s differences from others word for word, even letter for letter: I used to *love* doing that!); she learns how to evaluate reasons for thinking one reading is older and better than another, and how to argue for which one the author originally wrote.

In theory, theological beliefs have nothing to do with it.  And so the student’s beliefs don’t get challenged by their work.  And so there is less mental and emotional anxiety.  And so even though the training is technically more difficult than most other subfields of New Testament studies, it is personally easier.  And it achieves other aims, allowing the young scholar to get the highest level credential, and respect broadly in the wider field, and the qualifications needed to teach.

Such a student almost never would get a position teaching in a major research university, because these do not have positions in New Testament textual criticism, only broadly in biblical studies, or even yet more broadly in religious studies.  And if a prospective instructor does not accept the views, assumptions, and methods assumed and applied by everyone else in the field, that would create a problem.  But such students certainly can teach in Christian contexts.  And so many evangelicals go that route.

Some of the top research in the field of NT textual criticism is being done by evangelicals today, some of it astounding.  We all applaud that – at least I do.

A problem arises only when this kind of work gets turned on its head into some kind of “apology” for evangelical causes, as if showing what an author probably wrote originally has anything to do with whether what he wrote is true or not.  Textual criticism cannot say a single thing about the truth claims of an author’s text, about whether he was right or wrong.  It can only (try to) show what the author originally wrote.  People who claim that knowing what an author wrote somehow shows that what the author wrote is right (even if these people have have PhD’s in the field) are simply being duplicitous or stupid (or both).

And unfortunately, there are some of those out there, at least among the evangelical crowd, who sometimes say such crazy things as “we can trust the New Testament because we have more manuscripts than for any other ancient document.”  Good grief.   Our decision to trust an author is never based on the number of copies of his book.


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Comments

  1. NulliusInVerba
    NulliusInVerba  July 26, 2020

    Since the original NT was written in Greek, are the early Greek manuscripts more fertile ground for the textual critic than, say, Latin or Coptic or other ancient language? I’m not advocating ignoring any particular language, just wondering if the relative value of Greek is higher than the others.

  2. Avatar
    doug  July 26, 2020

    Do Evangelical Christian textual critics ever alter words to remove Bible contradictions?

  3. Avatar
    Todd  July 26, 2020

    Bart….first, this one of your best posts. I learned much from this regarding the process by which a scholar do textual research. Second, I have a question regarding how we get the texts that scholars study and we eventually read. I understand oral transmission and such. There is just one particular situation that puzzles me, and I will give an example. In order for a text to the passed along it needs to be heard by someone or written down when the event occurred. For example, there is a moment at Jesus’ trial when he is speaking with Pontius Pilate alone. The conversation appears in the New Testament. Who was there to take notes as to what was actually said by Pilate and by Jesus? There are many such situations throughout the Bible. I think that in these instances the conversation was simply invented. What then does the textual scholar do about the accuracy of the text if it was invented by the writer. This has puzzled me for a long time. Any thoughts on this? Thank you.

    • Bart
      Bart  July 27, 2020

      Yup, another way a text can be passed along orally, and that’s for someone to make it up. Happens all the time. But that issue has no relevance (weirdly enough, I know), for textual criticism. Textual criticism is focused only on figuring out what an author actually wrote, not on whether what he wrote was historically accurate, plausible, or a complete fiction.

      • Rick
        Rick  July 31, 2020

        Professor,

        Isn’t it actually a one edged sword? While deducing what is closer to the autograph certainly does not speak to a texts veracity does not the rejection of an alternate text at least cast significant doubt on the rejected alternate?

        • Bart
          Bart  August 2, 2020

          No, not necessarily. Some scholars — including my professor, Bruce Metzger — argued that the story of hte woman taken in adultery in John 8 was inserted by scribes long after the Gospel was published, but that it was a historically accurate story.

  4. galah
    galah  July 26, 2020

    Dr. Ehrman,
    People were very smart at the time. They may have wrote what we’re reading but wanted to say something else, but didn’t because they knew whatever they said could easily have been changed before it got very far. Is is possible that some authors could have used cryptograms in order to protect against this? I’m not a conspiracy theorist and I don’t believe a bible code can predict the future, but this seems possible at least. There’s only one scholar that I’m aware of that has written a book pertaining to a similar subject. Why do so many scholar rule this out?

    • Bart
      Bart  July 27, 2020

      Anyone who wants to propose that a writing is a cryptogram needs to demonstrate the reasons for thinking so, and give the true meaning. Whenever anyone has suggested that for the Bible (for example, through numerology) it is quickly and easily shown to be wrong.

      • galah
        galah  July 29, 2020

        Dr. Ehrman,
        Cryptogram wasn’t a good example. However, your mentor, Bruce Metzger even believed that the symbolic language of the bible was often used to maintain secrecy. For example, he believed the beast in Revelation represented Rome and its emperors. I know you’re not of the same belief as Metzger. Neither am I, but I do believe he makes some very valid points. I’d love to know your opinion about his book, Breaking the Code. Or, about your differences on this subject in general. Would you share something about that?

        • Bart
          Bart  July 29, 2020

          Yes, numbers were often used symbolically in antiquity, adn teh book or Revelation is filled with imagery, some of it mysterious. No question about htat. I’vbe talked about both things a good deal on the blog.

  5. Avatar
    veritas  July 26, 2020

    I feel an honest and sincere evaluation the way you laid out the scholarly route. I have to ask and It may be related to the post. How do Professors get a *status*or reputation of credibility and respect from their profession and other Professors? I often hear the phrase, ” one of the most respected Professor in N.T. studies”. Is it a personal thing(opinion) of liking one over another or is it based on the efficacy of someone’s work as being more thorough and complete?

    • Bart
      Bart  July 27, 2020

      It is almost entirely through their scholarly publications and their reception by other scholars.

  6. Avatar
    forthfading  July 26, 2020

    Dr. Ehrman,

    So, are you saying that most secular universities don’t need schloars of textual criticism because they really only need instructors for religious studies broadly and so textual critics end up having to go to Christian colleges to get positions? I am unclear of exactly what you meant in the post.

    Thanks, Jay

    • Bart
      Bart  July 27, 2020

      Secular universities tend to have small departments of religsious studies. Mine is very much on the large side, with 19 members. But that leaves room for only two who teach NT. And they (we) have to be *broadly* conversant with the field. Anyone who basically was an expert in Greek manuscripts wouldn’t have any classes to teach to undergraduates, who aren’t interested in that but are interested in such things as the Gospels, the writings of Paul, the historical Jesus, ancient apocalypses, etc.

      • Avatar
        forthfading  July 27, 2020

        One last question regarding this topic,

        If someone wants to devote their whole professional career to textual criticism and truly become an expert in the field ……. where would they find employment if universities really don’t need an expert in textual criticism? I am of course assuming that if you devote your life to textual criticism then you’re not very knowledgeable with the New Testament as a whole, at least not as a historian or theologian. But I know at one time you were considered a leading textual critic (and may still be), but you were still able to make a living at one of the greatest universities in our country.

        Thanks, Jay

        • Bart
          Bart  July 28, 2020

          They have to become expert in a broader range of topics as well. I spent a good deal of my graduate student career trying to publish articles in fields of New Testament studies unrelated to textual criticism, to demonstrate my breadth of expertise. Those without it are unlikely to get jobs, at least in liberal arts colleges and universities.

  7. Avatar
    JeffreyFavot  July 26, 2020

    That’s a misrepresentation. We speak about the number of Greek manuscripts because it gives us greater accuracy when determining the original. Example; if we only had two copies of a Gospel and they were both different, it would be hard to know the original. The NT can be shown to be much more reliable due to the vast amount of manuscripts. In which gives us an ability to point out the fugazi (Donnie Brasco term, Al Pacino).

    Secondly, theology is important when trying to understand what someone wrote. If Paul believed in faith alone, he wouldn’t write anything contrary. If I wrote a letter to a Church in North Carolina (say Elevation Church), then 2,000 year later, you’d want to know what I wrote or meant. You be served well to understand what I believed about God (theology). Understanding the Bible and knowing solid theology can’t be separated.

    • Bart
      Bart  July 27, 2020

      Sorry — it’s not true that the New Testament is reliable because of the vast number of manuscripts. Would you say that Hitler’s Mein Kampf is “reliable” because we have so many copies that are exactly the same?

      And yes, knowing Paul’s theology is extremely important for determining the actual words he wrote.

      • Avatar
        pwhite21  July 29, 2020

        Sorry to disagree, but poor use of terms. “Reliable” seems to refer to what we can rely upon as “what was written”, as opposed to what you seem to mean — what is factually true. Hitler did not report the factual truth in Mein Kampf, but we do have reliable copies of what he wrote.

        Sorry to bring this out, but it does seem a point you tend to bring out from time to time.

        Hitler did not give us what is factually true. It is possible that the writers of the Gospels did not either; we cannot decide the fact based on the number of copies that exist of either text — again, as you have repeatedly pointed out.

        • Avatar
          pwhite21  July 29, 2020

          please disregard, I did not read the previous post closely enough. You are correct, I agree, obviously.

        • Bart
          Bart  July 31, 2020

          The problem is that the term reliable does not (cannot) mean that in the sentence “The New Testament is reliable” since that would mean “The New Testament is what was written,” which doesn’t make sense. Thnk about it like this: would you say “Mein Kampf is reliable” if what you meant was “we know what Hitler wrote”? Used in the context that it is always used in , with respect to the NT, it means “The New Testament is trustworthy.”

      • Avatar
        JeffreyFavot  July 30, 2020

        I don’t know anything about Hitler’s writings. I try not to waste my time on psychotic mass murderers with unattractive mustaches.
        The NT is extremely reliable compared to any other work in antiquity. I am sure you’d agree with that statement. I’d like to think that’s the majority view among scholars. Maybe not your own. Yes, having 5,800 manuscripts makes it much easier in finding the original than having 5-10. I am confused on why you wouldn’t agree with that.

        • Bart
          Bart  July 31, 2020

          The New Testament is not reliable because we know what’s in it. You’re simply saying that we can (fairly_) reliably know what’s in it, and that’s a different thing! It’s not the NT that is reliable but our knowledge.

          • Avatar
            JeffreyFavot  July 31, 2020

            HA! “Our knowledge is reliable”?? I can’t think of anything more unreliable than looking back 2,000 and thinking you can know what an author original said or wrote by any academic method. That’s the most arrogant thing ever. I am saying that we know what the authors wrote because of how many manuscripts that are available to compare. We know what the authors wrote. We know their stories to be true as well. Jay Warner Wallace is the top homicide investigator in the U.S., he used the methods in his field to test the authors and the reliability of their stories. He found that all the stories were reliable. He’s an expert in this field. Much more reliable to hear what he has to say than a textual critic. He deals with liars and false stories on a daily basis. I’d recommend his book or watch some of his videos on YT. He was an atheist until he approached the NT from his own professional methodologies. Which are much more reliable than anyone else’s.

          • Bart
            Bart  August 2, 2020

            Yeah, I get that. But that is one of the leading academic pursuits of evangelical Christian new Testament scholars. If you have lots of manuscripts and they all differ from each other (as they do) you have to figure out which way of wording any verse or another is the “original.” Otherwise you have thousands of options, in every book of the New Testament. So which words did the author wrote? How are you suggesting we can know if we don’t do it through textual scholarly means?

  8. Avatar
    Poohbear  July 26, 2020

    Quote “Christian apologists make, or try to make, intellectual arguments for their religious views”

    On this forum someone said I don’t understand Job 19:25
    I replied:

    I looked this up in the Interlinear, and to be sure pasted some Hebrew text into Google Translate
    גֹּ֣אֲלִי means to Redeem, Deliver, Rescue
    I parsed the sentence:
    I… not someone else, me
    Know… not believe, not think, not suppose, but know
    My… not someone else’s, mine
    Redeemer… not a king, nor warrior or philosopher
    Lives … not did live, not will live, but live as in now
    He … coming as a man
    Shall… not maybe, not possibly
    Stand… not recline, lie down – but stand for something
    Earth … here, this place
    Latter day… in the future – for Job this about 500 to a thousand years before Jesus. Shouldn’t this be marvelous to everybody?

    I asked, “What do YOU read that is different”?
    The answer was to steer me to a book.
    A book (!) … by an expert who is a secular apologist. It’s Emperor’s New Clothes stuff. The bible is wrong, his book is right. The scribe now sits in Moses’ seat, as God himself, discerning right from wrong.

    • Robert
      Robert  July 30, 2020

      Poohbear: “I asked, “What do YOU read that is different”?
      The answer was to steer me to a book.
      A book (!) … by an expert who is a secular apologist. It’s Emperor’s New Clothes stuff. The bible is wrong, his book is right. The scribe now sits in Moses’ seat, as God himself, discerning right from wrong.”

      Ha! The only book I recommended to and quoted extensively for you was the book of Job so that you could better understand this verse in context.

      https://ehrmanblog.org/forum/the-historical-jesus/was-jesus-mission-suicidal/page-4/#p15606

  9. Liam Foley
    Liam Foley  July 26, 2020

    Excellent post. A few questions. Do you find that Evangelicals and Apologists object to a lot of textual criticism based mainly on how it may impact their theological beliefs? Also, is it possible to be an Apologist and a textual critic?….they seem mutually exclusive.

    Last question. I came across this quote by Marcus Borg and wonder if you agree with it or have any views?

    “Placing the gospels after Paul’s letters makes it clear that, as written documents, they are not the source of early Christianity, but its product. The gospel—the good news—of and about Jesus existed before the gospels. They were produced by early Christian communities several decades after Jesus’s historical life.” – Borg, Marcus J.. Evolution of the Word (p. 4).

    • Bart
      Bart  July 27, 2020

      I’m not sure I’m following you. I’m sayig that many evangelicals and apologists *are* textual crtiis. And yes, i do agree with this statement of Marcus Borg.

      • Liam Foley
        Liam Foley  July 27, 2020

        My basic question is wouldn’t being an Apologist and a Textual Critic create a bias in their work as a Textual Critic and therefore create a conflict of interest? If the role of an Apologist is to defend a specific theological belief and interpretation of scripture wouldn’t that bias hinder their work as a Textual Critic? On the surface to me it seems like dual loyalties where if the work of a Textual Critic uncovers texts that may challenge a certain theological view, it seems their role as an Apologist may superceed that as a Textual Critic.

  10. Avatar
    RichardFellows  July 27, 2020

    While evangelical text critics do a lot of good research, are there lines of inquiry that many of them avoid? If so, which ones? Do evangelical and non-evangelical text critics show bias when deciding which research should be published, or do you find both groups to be even-handed?

    • Bart
      Bart  July 27, 2020

      They tend not to like the idea of The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture!

      • Avatar
        fred  July 27, 2020

        You said, “They tend not to like the idea of The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture!”

        I’m surprised to hear that, because I thought it was solid scholarship (not that I’m in position to judge). Was the book not well received by textual critics – considering that most them are, as you’ve said, are evangelical?

        More importantly, I’m curious about whether these textual critics make biased judgments. For example, if there’s a controversy regarding which textual variant is original, aren’t they unlikely to choose an unorthodox variant?

        • Bart
          Bart  July 28, 2020

          Yeah, that’s kind of my point. Scholarship gets judged as “solid” depending on your personal views. And yes of course they make biased arguments. And they claim that’s what I’m doing! But if you read my book you’ll see that my textual arguments aer NEVER, ever based on whether a reading is more orthodox or not. The decision is always made on completely other grounds, and then the results are evaluated accordingly.

      • Avatar
        RichardFellows  August 1, 2020

        Almost all text critics are men, and many are evangelicals. Is that why so little has been done to explore orthodox misogynist corruptions of scripture? I have a forthcoming CBQ article on the subject, but I suspect that much more needs to be done.

        • Bart
          Bart  August 2, 2020

          Have you read Kim Haine’s Eitzen’s book? She was my student and I urged her and others to write a dissertation on it. As you may know, I’ve written about it in several places (e.g, Studies in the Textual Criticism of the NT, pp. 90-93, in the essay “The Text of the NT at the ENd of the Second centuryw”; the only relatively full treatment is Ben Witherington’s (he’s not a text critic, but he wrote this early in his career), with the highly unfortunately title “Anti-Feminist Tendencies inthe Western Text of Acts” (anti-feminist???). Metzger wanted to write an article or book on it, but said he couldn’t find enough. But Kim covered some good turf (not just on the NT)

          • Avatar
            RichardFellows  August 2, 2020

            Yes, I have benefited from all those works. Thanks for your contributions to the subject, and for encouraging others to pursue it.

  11. Avatar
    clerrance2005  July 27, 2020

    Prof Ehrman,
    The Christian religion centers largely on belief as your rightly pointed in your lecture on the History of the Bible. I think this bit of its being a faith or believe based religion sometimes equally demotivates people from approaching it from the scholarly/ historical approach. For them it is spiritual and should be treated as such. Sometimes, I think they don’t because of the fear of what they may find out (Cognitive Dissonance). I have even met people who believe that it shouldn’t make literal sense.

    My only concern with that approach (Montanism in nature) is that it gives room for heavily varied interpretation and not knowing which one is true. Although this is very much evident in the faith itself, I have a hard time convincing or sharing my insight on the ‘faith’ with my Christian friends. They rather think I am being canal, academic and in most cases that I’ve lost it.

    1. What will be your advice for me in dealing with the views of my friends whilst not destroying the relationship.
    2. What is the difference between these terms – Fundamentalism and Conservative Evangelism or they are coterminous.

    Thank you.

    • Bart
      Bart  July 27, 2020

      1. I think your friends should realize that God gave them a brain so they could use it, not bury it away! Coming to know the truth is hard work and refusing to do it is lazy and leads to ignorance. That can’t be good! 2. Fundamentalists are typically more extreme in their views and insistent on the complete and utter inerrancy of every word and thought in the Bible; evangelicals on steroids in a sense.

      • Avatar
        clerrance2005  July 28, 2020

        Prof Ehrman,

        Follow up please.

        Please, I did not get the bit on Conservative Evangelicals quite well. Kindly help out, please.

        Ref
        ME
        2. What is the difference between these terms – Fundamentalism and Conservative Evangelism or they are coterminous.

        BART
        2. Fundamentalists are typically more extreme in their views and insistent on the complete and utter inerrancy of every word and thought in the Bible; evangelicals on steroids in a sense.

        • Bart
          Bart  July 29, 2020

          Fundamentalists tend to be further to the “right,” that is, more conservative, and more vocal and militant and insistent in their views.

  12. Avatar
    GeoffClifton  July 27, 2020

    Thank you for a fascinating post, Dr Ehrman. I was wondering whether Evangelical Christians ever get involved in Old Testament/Hebrew Bible textual criticism and create tensions with Jewish scholars covering the same areas of research?

    • Bart
      Bart  July 27, 2020

      Yes they do and no, I don’t know of any particular disagreements of evangelicals as a whole with Jewish scholars as a whole in the area of textual criticism.

  13. Avatar
    AstaKask  July 27, 2020

    Unfortunately, there are Young Earth Creationists who have gotten a PhD in biology or geology – seemingly accepting the scientific consensus – and then use that PhD to give weight to their bogus claims about the nature of reality. I suppose it isn’t lying if you do it for God…

  14. JulieGraff
    JulieGraff  July 27, 2020

    Hi!

    I remember moving to the town I am living in (Sherbrooke) visiting the area before moving …

    There was a little chapel, just a couple of places to sit down… no places for mass, just a small place to sit down and be with G.od…

    At the door, there was a book where people could write, coming in or out…

    One entry in the book stood out to me.:

    WHY DIDN’T MARY WRITE ANYTHING, BECAUSE NOBODY WOULD HAVE UNDERSTOOD HER!

    I’m not talking about a virgin birth or not etc…

    I’m talking about the women who actualy gave birth to the person who is now known as Jesus…

    As many of DNE (Near Death Experiencers, and this is more common now with medical resuscitation with ambulances and ICU’s etc) pretty much all say: there are no words to explaine the Unconditional Love.. (look it up, I will not post any links as this is not an Add place) .. but I have lived it, and I know!

    So, we can amuse ourselves or limit ourselves with alot of critical studies ot texts .. But let’s remind ourselves that the best part of it is mostly unspoken yet, and mostly in our Heart!

  15. Avatar
    vox_clamantis  July 27, 2020

    Thanks for the thoughtful response! The professional aspects are especially interesting. A couple followups.

    1) Are you suggesting that some enter the field for reason 1 only to find post-doc opportunities are limited to faith-based schools with common views? Might that result in pressure to affirm certain views of the text or risk employment?

    2) I hope some take the road less traveled and do PhD work in Christian Origins for example. But then again how many of them end up with the same views they had going into the endeavor?

    3) You downplay theology here but for example understanding christological controversies would give insight into why scribes might have made particular decisions. Can one really do this sort of work in a vacuum? And if so would that result in a lopsided faculty that can handle really difficult text questions but has very little exposure to history of interpretation? I guess I’d hope for a certain amount of well-roundedness if you’re going to go this far, but maybe that’s not the case.

    And yes, I’m also grateful for all the work done here so we have an informed text and apparatus!

    • Bart
      Bart  July 28, 2020

      1. Yup; 2. Lots, I think. 3. I’m not at all downplaying theology in teh sense of knowing what an *author’s* theology is in order to help determine what he probably wrote. I’m discouraging the use of a scholars *own* theology in the attempt to determine what an author originally wrote. We have to bracket (our own) theology to do history.

      • Avatar
        vox_clamantis  July 28, 2020

        Ah now I see. So I just need to be able to distinguish my theology from Paul’s. A neat trick for fundamentalists!

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    GeoffClifton  July 28, 2020

    Thinking over this post, I was curious to know how devout Muslim scholars dealt with variant readings of early Koranic texts, of which there are several apparently. The book I consulted suggested that some scholars believed that the variant readings had been intentionally provided by God. Perhaps Evangelical Christian’s might wish to consider that approach unless they have already done so.

    • Bart
      Bart  July 29, 2020

      Yes, it was a view propounded by some of the early Church fathers, especially Origen of Alexandria.

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    janmaru  July 28, 2020

    Dante died in 1321. We don’t have the originals of the Divina Commedia.
    Notary Ser Tieri Degli Useppi transcribed some verses of the third canto of Hell on the cover of a register of criminal acts of the State Archive of Bologna on 1317.
    The same archive keeps other notaries’ reported verses from Purgatory. Verses were used to fill white spaces of deeds, to avoid additions and modifications by others. Probably the first example of a ledger read and append-only like in the cryptocurrency blockchains.

    The last thirteen songs of Paradise, lost at the time of Dante’s passing, were found thanks to a vision that appeared to Jacopo Alighieri (the son) in a dream. Giovanni Boccaccio says that once Dante had finished the third Canticle, he hid the last songs of Paradise. After a year the Poet appeared in a dream to Jacopo, indicating with accuracy their hiding place. A crack in the wall of the house in Ravenna in which the Poet had died.
    I challenge anyone to demonstrate that those verses from Paradise were written by Dante and not finished by his son.
    A textual critic is a liar who always speaks about his truth.

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    clerrance2005  July 29, 2020

    Prof Ehrman,
    In the Gospel story where Barabbas is exchanged for Jesus, is it historical that there was such a Roman/ Jewish custom that necesitated Pilate to grant amnesty to the Jews at the time OR the authors drew on a mythical symbolism of what happens in the Jewish Yom Kippur – two male goats where one became sacrificial and the other was freed to the Azazel as in Leviticus ?

    Hence, just as the author of John equates the day slaughter of the Passover lamb to be the same day Jesus is crucified for theological reasons, can same be said of this ‘Jewish Passover Amnesty’ ?

    • Bart
      Bart  July 29, 2020

      No there was no known tradition about that, and very good reasons for thinking no such think existed. Yes, the story was almost certainly invented to advance a theological point about Jesus. I talk about this specific issue in my book Jesus Before the Gospels.

    • JulieGraff
      JulieGraff  July 31, 2020

      clerrance2005 I love your question….

      This is one of the reasons I wrote in my comment “So, we can amuse ourselves or limit ourselves with alot of critical studies ot texts .. But let’s remind ourselves that the best part of it is mostly unspoken yet, and mostly in our Heart!”

      In Torah studies there is the study of the written text, and one of the “Torah she be al peh”.. the Oral Torah…

      It is said that there are more teachings from the white between each letters than the letters themselves… “It’s the read between the lines approach”… the one that you can feel in your heart, not in your head!

      In what you brought up, there is a whole universe… can you feel it?

      Just with the teaching of the sacrificial goat, it is so profound (you just prompted me to go back and study it again) and then you look into the name BarAbas etc..

      Anyways… limiting ourselves whith the first level of a text is like looking at a school building structure and thinking that that is what is taught in the school! 😉

  19. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  July 29, 2020

    The more copies there are, the more scribal errors and changes there are likely to be.

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    qaelith2112  July 30, 2020

    I see another opportunity for theological presuppositions to become a problem for the textual critic. As I read through Orthodox Corruption of Scripture some years ago, I compared your well reasoned conclusions on a number of passages to the variant selected by several popular evangelical translations including the NIV, the NET, and one other I can’t recall now. What I noticed was that too often these translations chose the variant that you had argued was less likely to be original but would be more aligned with an Orthodox theology. In at least one or two instances the footnotes even referred to OCoS but preferred the other variant nonetheless. While maybe there are also persuasive arguments for these other conclusions, the footnotes were generally not persuading me at least, leaving me wondering if either they only presented a cursory summary and a better argument can be found elsewhere, or what I’m suggesting here, that perhaps their theological perspective might possibly have influenced the conclusions they reached. They never actually say that this variant is to be preferred because theology, but it happened so often to coincide that I can’t help suspecting an influence.

    • Bart
      Bart  August 1, 2020

      Ah, yes, that would be a very intersting study — to do a thorough examination and see how consistent the evangelical translations are on that.

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