Lecture 22: Challenges
Course: Why We Trust Our Bible
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.