As Dr. Daniel B. Wallace says, one thing we need to do when talking about the historicity of the New Testament is avoid two extremes: radical skepticism on the one end and absolute certainty on the other.
This is a continuation of my series on Christian apologetics. In these posts I’m making a systematic argument for Christianity in general, and Jesus Christ in particular. Again, I will use videos where it saves me verbiage and the author makes a better point than I could make. I’m neither a formal apologist nor a PhD Bible scholar, so I will appeal to them for authoritative argumentation. In this post I’m arguing for the reliability of the New Testament text that we have available to us.
Let me start by saying that for us to say that the original New Testament text is inerrant (without errors) is not helpful since we have no original manuscripts. To this, agnostics, atheists, and non-Christian apologists love to quote their favorite Christian deconvert and textual Bible scholar, Dr. Bart Ehrman. Here’s what he says:
“Not only do we not have the original, we don’t have the first copies of the originals. We don’t even have copies of the copies of the originals, or copies of the copies of the originals.” (Misquoting Jesus, p.10)
But we also cannot rightly say we don’t have a highly reliable reconstruction of the original wording of the New Testament. And we will see that even Ehrman agrees with this.
What we do have is over 25,000 manuscript copies (more are being discovered all the time) with over 5,800 in the original Greek language. Besides the manuscript copies, we also have over one million quotations from the New Testament by early church fathers.
Here’s what Dr. Wallace said about the early church fathers quotations of the New Testament:
“If you did not have any of these other witnesses, we could reconstruct virtually the entire New Testament many, many times over on the basis of these quotations by the Church fathers alone. And that is something that even Bart Erhman has said.” (Dr. Daniel Wallace, quote from this video)
To put this in context, there is no other classical work of antiquity that comes remotely close to what we have for the New Testament.
A lot has been made by Dr. Ehrman and his followers about the 400,000 + textual variants in the manuscripts. Here’s an excerpt from a debate between Wallace and Ehrman on the textual variants.
If you would like to see the longer version of this debate, you can go here.
But Ehrman’s scholarly, albeit extremely skeptical, position on biblical historicity is quite perplexing, as we can see in the following comments:
In a Q&A section of the paperback edition of “Misquoting Jesus,” Dr. Ehrman is asked, “Why do you believe these core tenets of Christian orthodoxy to be in jeopardy based on scribal errors you discovered in the biblical manuscripts?” Ehrman’s response: “Essential Christian beliefs are not affected by textual variants in the manuscript tradition of the New Testament.” (p.252)
Dr. Lane Craig recalls hearing a radio interview where the interviewer asks Bart near the end of the program, “Well, what do you think the original text actually said?” To this, Ehrman replied, “Well, it said pretty much said what we have today says.” The confused interviewer then wondered what he meant after having heard his description of all the changes that have crept in over the centuries. To that, Ehrman replied, “Right, but we’ve been able to reconstruct the original text with a high degree of certainty.” (You can watch and hear the quote here).
What Wallace, Craig, and Ehrman all know is that the New Testament text has been established with over 99% accuracy. As Dr. Craig says, “‘popular Bart’ [as opposed the “scholarly Bart”] misrepresents this to unsuspecting laymen by innuendo and implication, so as to make them think the text of the New Testament is highly uncertain.”
After all, being provocative sells books.
And now for the feature presentation…
This video is of Dr. Daniel Wallace, where he’s talking about the latest research on New Testament historicity. Besides being a New Testament scholar in textual criticism, Wallace founded The Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts (CSNTM), a non-profit organization set out to preserve ancient manuscripts of the New Testament. This aim is accomplished by taking high resolution digital photographs of all extant Greek New Testament manuscripts. This clip is much longer but worth watching if you really want to know why the New Testament is reliable. I queued the video up after his introduction.
The bottom line is that we can make a very strong argument that the New Testament text we have is highly reliable. And our position will only get stronger as new manuscripts continue to be discovered in the future.
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