Friday, November 18, 2011

Answering Bart Ehrman

Ps 12:6-7, Isa 40:8, Matt 5:18 and Luke 16:17 directly or indirectly refer to God’s promise to protect and sustain the written revelation of God. Yet, Bart Ehrman has sold thousands of books (e.g., Forged, Misquoting Jesus and God’s Problem), and has gained the approval of National Geographic, the History Channel and the Discovery Channel by denying the faithful transmission of New Testament text. Ehrman not only claims that the Greek New Testament text has been corrupted, but that all the extant manuscripts are polluted to the point that it is impossible to reconstruct a trustworthy critical Greek text of the New Testament.

Ehrman is quick to point out that there are around 400,000 variants within the extant New Testament Greek manuscripts, and that there are no two manuscripts which perfectly agree with each other. Given that the autographs (the original documents) have been lost, and given the fact that there are no error free Greek manuscripts, it may appear that Ehrman is right. As we analyze the historical and textual evidence, are we to conclude that God has failed in fulfilling His promise to perverse His Word? Some seek to save God’s reputation by closing their eyes to the textual evidence and denying that there are any textual problems. Yet, we do not have to close our eyes to the textual evidence to believe in the supernatural preservation of God's Word. The evidence is on our side.

Ehrman stands in opposition to the consensus of the community of textual scholars and the overwhelming textual evidence. Yes, there are approximately 400,000 variant readings, and there are no two identical manuscripts, but no ancient piece of literature can boast of a more faithful transmission than the Scriptures. First, no other ancient book has more extant manuscripts than the New Testament—close to 6,000. Second, no other ancient work has extant manuscripts that are so close to the original autographs—P52 dates between 100-115 AD, and we have a host of papyri manuscripts that date back to the 3rd and 4th centuries. Third, of the 400,000 variants, 75 percent are spelling errors, which do not do any damage to the faithfulness of the Greek text. Fourth, another 24 percent of the variants are concerned with word order, but this too does not create much of a problem seeing that the subject of each sentence in the Greek is determined by word endings rather than by word placement. Fifth, that leaves only 1 percent (around 400) of variants that are of any importance, yet of those 400 variants, the majority are concerned with minor issues such as gospel harmonization. Sixth, only around 15 percent of the 1 percent of variants (about 50) is considered of any major significance, yet there is no doctrinal compromise in any of the variant readings. The virgin birth, the Trinity, the gospel and every other doctrine stands firm in the textual evidence.

Considering that there are 27 books and approximately 180,000 words in the New Testament, it is amazing that there are only 50 variants of any major concern. The evidence is amazing! The harmony between the manuscripts and textual families is amazing! Thus, it is my belief that only supernatural providence can account for such accurate and thorough preservation of the Scriptures.

Note: The above material is taken from an appendix to the forthcoming Behind the Bible: A Primer on Textual Criticism, to be published by Solid Ground Christian Books.

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