Why We Trust Our Bible - Lesson 17

Challenges (1/6) - Dr. Wallace

In Part 1, Dr. Daniel Wallace addresses the challenges to the believability of the Bible brought by the issues related to the Greek manuscripts, and especially the influence of Dan Brown and Bart Ehrman.

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Why We Trust Our Bible
Lesson 17
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Challenges (1/6) - Dr. Wallace

1. What are the greatest challenges these days for people trusting the Greek texts behind our English translation.

2. What specifically have Ehrman and Brown done to raise these questions?

3. What are the general claims made by Ehrman in Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why

4. Ehrman says there are more errors in the mss than there are words. In general terms, how can we respond?

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Class Resources
  • Dr. Craig Blomberg begins by introducing the issue of the historical reliability of the New Testament documents, focusing on Dan Brown and some of the other recent "discoveries." He will cover 12 truths agreed upon except by the most liberal theologians. In this lesson he talks about the authorship and dating of the gospels.

  • Would the gospel writers have wanted to preserve accurate history? Why are there four Gospels, with all the similarities and differences?

  • Gain an in-depth look at translations, interpretations, oral tradition, memorization, Gospel stories, and the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy with this seminary professor's class.
  • In his series of reasons, in this lesson Blomberg answers 7 – 9.

  • Blomberg addresses the issues of the non-Christian testimony to Jesus, archaeology, and the testimony of other early Christian Writers. He concludes with a powerful discussion of three ways to believe, and what the relationship is between faith and reason.

  • This class provides an overview of the core beliefs of Christianity and the sources that back them up.
  • Are books in the canon because they are authoritative, or they are authoritative because they are in the canon? The Davinci Code and the common assertions about Constantine are historical fabrications. “Canon” can mean three different things. Has God given us a structure to know which books should be in the canon? Can you prove, or is the point to have sound reasons for what you believe?

  • A canonical worldview is a set of beliefs as to what the canon is and how someone “knows” if a book is canonical or not.  There are three models. According to the community model, a book becomes canonical upon its reception by the community.

  • In the historical model of canonicity, a book becomes canonical when it is examined historically, looking at issues such as authorship and reception. This model suffers  by the absence of an absolute criteria by which you can make this decision.

  • The self-authenticating model of the canon claims that the Bible is itself its own ultimate authority. All beliefs of ultimate authority are circular, otherwise the criteria for deciding would be greater than the ultimate authority itself. The real question is whether or not God has provided a means by which Christians can know what books are truly canonical. The self-authenticating model encompasses the other two, incorporating the best of each model.

  • A “defeater” is an idea that undermines your confidence in knowing something. Are there defeaters for our understanding of the canon? The New Testament books have unity with prior revelation and with each other, and in fact the New Testament completes the Old Testament in surprising ways.

  • Kruger shows that Covenants in the Old Testament needed written documents, and a new covenant required new documents. Writing was not an afterthought. The apostles saw themselves as agents of the New Covenant and saw their writings as having authority. They would have been surprised to be told that it wasn't until Irenaeus that people throught their writing was authoritative. They had to write to accomplish their apostolic ministry within their lifetime.

  • Even if a few of the books took a while to be accepted, there was a core canon of 22 books very quickly. Even the Muratorian Fragment, while including two non-canonical books, recognizes that they are different and may be listing them as such. Just because the early church read non-canonical books does not mean there was not a canon.

  • The early church was a culture of textuality; they liked and publicly read books. The frequency of ancient manuscripts shows us which books were the most popular and were therefore understood to be canonical. The church preferred the new codex format because they could group books together, especially the gospels. We can also tell that the manuscripts were written in order to be publicly read, which means the church knew which books were authoritative.

  • Eusebius described four types of books: accepted, disputed, rejected, and heretical. The early church was careful in what they accepted as authoritative, and there really was not that much of a question.

  • Answers to common questions about the canon, now that these question are targeted to the lay level. 

  • In Part 1, Dr. Daniel Wallace addresses the challenges to the believability of the Bible brought by the issues related to the Greek manuscripts, and especially the influence of Dan Brown and Bart Ehrman.

  • In Part 2, Dr. Daniel Wallace addresses discussion of the historical process that led to manuscripts and variants, with some examples of variants.

  • In Part 3, Dr. Daniel Wallace responds to three basic challenges by Bart Ehrman: the "black hole"; the quality of the copies; the effect of Constantine on the manuscripts.​

  • In Part 4, Dr. Daniel Wallace addresses how now that we understand why there are variants in the manuscripts, how does the art and science of textual criticism help us determine which variants are most likely to be original?

  • In Part 5, Dr. Daniel Wallace addresses a brief overview of why the King James Bible is different from all modern translations, and issues of the Greek texts behind it.

  • In Part 6, Dr. Daniel Wallace focuses in on variants, how many there are, how many significant variants are there, and how good of a job has textual criticism done.

  • You will gain knowledge about translation philosophy, including different methods, how to evaluate a translation, and a comparison of the NIV and ESV translation philosophies, with examples of their differences. Understanding translation philosophy is important when interpreting the Bible.
  • You will learn about the first principle of interpretation which involves determining the meaning of words by looking at the word's immediate context, broader context, and historical and cultural context. By accurately interpreting the meaning of a word, it can be applied to the passage as a whole.
  • In this lesson, you will gain a comprehensive understanding of the reliability and trustworthiness of the Bible by exploring topics such as the development of the canon, textual criticism, historical accuracy, and theological coherence.
  • You will gain an understanding of the principles behind why we trust the Bible, including the bibliographical, historical, and internal tests.
  • You will gain knowledge and insight into the process of canonicity, which is the recognition of which books belong in the Bible based on criteria such as apostolicity, orthodoxy, catholicity, and traditional use. Understanding canonicity is essential for recognizing the authority of the Bible and its significance in the Christian faith.

The uniqueness and authority of the Bible are always under attack. Professors and writers are claiming that Jesus never existed, Jesus never claimed to be God, the early church changed the basic preaching of Jesus, books were left out of the Bible, the copies of the Bible that have come down through the centuries are hopelessly corrupt

Dr. Blomberg discusses the reliability of the Bible. Dr. Kruger discusses the process of formation of the New Testament Canon. Dr. Wallace discusses issues relating to manuscripts and textual criticism. Dr. Mounce discusses the philosophies and process of translation. 

I. Trusting the Greek Texts behind our English Translations.

One of the major questions that we have today about the Bible is how do we know that what we have in our hands, is what they actually wrote back then? This has become a major issue in the last ten or twelve years. The big issue used to be, how do we know that the Bible is true? That is obviously a very important issue. But now there is this prior question, how do we even know that the Bible that we have is what was written two thousand years ago. If you will, it is a pre-apologetic issue. This is something that has become a concern for college students, to Christians and adults who get attacked for their faith from all over the world. The reason is due to the rise of post-modernism and certain levels of skepticism. Dan Brown’s da Vinci code has certainly contributed to it in a major way, in a non-scholarly way and Bart Ehrman in his ‘Misquoting Jesus’ has contributed to it from a scholar’s perspective. The question really revolves around the fact that we don’t have the original manuscripts of the New Testament and there are a number of differences between the copies of the original texts. There are no two manuscripts that are exactly alike. So how do we tell what the original would have said and can we even get back to it? Then, you have the nature of those variants, of which some seem to be fairly significant. So there are a lack of the originals, the number of the variants and the nature of those variants and then this aura of skepticism today. There are a number of people who are saying that we can’t possibly get back to the original text. This is what is affecting our attitude toward the Bible and especially causing college kids from Christian homes to think that it is too much for them to think about and they don’t want to be embarrassed about their faith and so I would rather just give it up.

II. What specifically have Ehrman and Brown done to Raise These Questions?

Dan Brown’s da Vinci Code was a fascinating book that came out in the early part of the 21st century. It was written by a novelist who essentially used another novel done by three British authors and at the same time Brown thought that what they were saying about the Bible and its corruption was true. We don’t even have the original text; we don’t have copies of copies of copies. The Bible has been translated many times; there has never been an authoritative text, even one so far as to basically argue it. He said that Constantine invented the deity of Christ; he got this out of this novel from these British authors and Dan Brown really believes it. These three British authors really believe it and this has impacted a number of people. They have even made a movie about this thing, a Holly Wood movie with Tom Hanks. It is going to have a huge impact and it has been translated into many languages. Yet, it is a novel, it is not a scholarly piece of work and so those who think a little more deeply about the Christian faith, write what Brown says off. However, in 2005, Bart Ehrman wrote a book about misquoting Jesus and this was a popular book that was based on an earlier academic work called the Orthodox Question of Scripture. Bart Ehrman is a bonafided New Testament textual scholar or textual critic. He went to Moody Bible Institute, and then he went to Wheaten College and got his degree there. He was an evangelical and then he went to Princeton Seminary to study under Bruce Metsker, who is considered to be the best New Testament textual scholar of the 20th century, a very fine evangelical scholar. Erhman did his master thesis there and then he did his Ph.D. He was Metsker’s last Ph.D. student. Along the way, he started to move away from the evangelical faith and moved further and further left as the years went by. So that today he says that he is an atheist.

III. The General Claims made by Ehrman in Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why.

In Misquoting Jesus, what Erhman has done, he has made a popular statement intended for lay audiences about the work he has done in the Orthodox Corruption of Scripture. His essential view is that early proto-orthodox that is before orthodoxy rose as a defined category. These early scribes were changing the text of the New Testament, especially about who Jesus Christ is and what they were saying about him, so it would conform more about their theology. When that book came out, a few months later he was interviewed by a John Steward on the Daily Show. Steward says in the interview, ‘man, this is one hell of a book,’ which is a strange adjective to use for a book about Jesus. The next day on Amazon, this book was number one of all books. Within three months, he sold a hundred thousand copies and by the following summer, it came out as a paperback book. It has had a massive influence and I would have to say that Misquoting Jesus by itself has probably led tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of kids in college who were raised in Christian homes to leave their faith. So, it has had a huge influence and he is a New Testament scholar. He has since written a number of popular books on other areas about the New Testament. He is the source behind a lot of others, like for example, C.J. Woliman, an atheist who wrote a book, Jesus Lied. Woliman like provocative titled books; his first book was, God Hates You, Hate Him Back. How can an atheist write a book about God hating you; doesn’t he mean, nothing hates you, hate nothing back? Woliman relies on a person by the name of M. Osomy, a popular British Muslim today who has written a book on the History of the Bible and the Quran, together. He uses Ehrman to make these popular arguments. These are just two examples.

IV. Ehrman Says There are More Errors in the MSS than There are Words.

Bart Ehrman’s principle argument is that early orthodox, what would become orthodoxy in his view is that scribes changed the text to make it say what they thought it meant. And at times, he thinks they changed it in a way that it no longer said what it really did mean, especially about the deity of Christ and the nature of Christ. That is what is driving this; he deals with a lot of other kinds of textual variants as well. He raises these questions in a way where he will give an answer that makes it look as if there are a lot of problems. He talks very frequently about the thousands of textual variants in the New Testament. In one place he says that there are so many variants that we could talk about them forever. And that is true and it would be boring, basically because they are so insignificant and don’t affect anything. And he knows this, and so people read that and they say, wow, there are so many variants, how can I possibly tell what the original said? Well, like Paul Harvey, I am going to tell the rest of the story while Bart Ehrman really doesn’t do that. It is an out of balance treatment by any means. So, we don’t have the original text, he says that we don’t have copies of copies of copies. There are thousands of variants and then he talks about the more important variants, but it is almost as if to say, this shows us that the New Testament has been corrupted beyond recognition. But he can’t say this because he knows that it is not true.

What I mean by orthodoxy is what the ancient church held in terms of the seven universal creeds, which starts with the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD. These are Christian Scholars who got together from the east and west and established ecumenical creeds; not just Catholic, not just Greek Orthodox or Eastern Orthodox but it was what the whole church embraced and said that this is what we believe to be the case. The Council of Nicaea in 325 AD defined what the church meant by the deity of Christ. And so, if you didn’t embrace this, you could no longer be a Bishop or Elder in a church. And Constantinople and others discussed the trinity of other things. But those were the basic things that they were discussing. Orthodoxy ultimately has to do with what all three branches of Christendom can agree on: Catholics, the Orthodox, and Protestants; all three groups can agree that Jesus lived and died; he rose from the dead bodily; he was the God-man; he did miracles, he cast out demons, he prophesized, he healed people and his death in some sense atoned for our sins. So that the basic core of orthodoxy that all three branches, except for some renegade Protestants; so that is how I view orthodoxy. I am saying that this is the historical view of orthodoxy by the church. Ehrman’s charge is that there were a lot of different views of Christ and what became the so-called Orthodox Church was the one that won the argument. It won because it conquered the others, not because it was right and that is where he has some issues to deal with. Bart Ehrman’s packaged statement says that there are more errors in the MSS than there are words in the original text. Of course, that pre-supposes he knows how many words were in the original text, which undercuts his own argument. He is absolutely right we have approximately one hundred and forty thousand words in the original Greek New Testament. And Ehrman has correctly said there are more variances in the manuscripts that there are words in the New Testament. There are far more than that but we will discuss this later. It is actually an understatement as it is much more than that. However, this is not telling the whole story. The nature of the variances that we need to deal with is to what counts as a variant. This is something we will get into when we talk about the number of manuscripts and what these variants actually imply. But if this is the only sort of information that somebody had, they would say, forget the Christian faith, there are just too many variants. I can’t tell what the original said so I am going to give up. But that is not the only piece of information and it is dis-in-genuine when Ehrman says that and doesn’t say that this isn’t really important.