Bible study in light of textual criticism

I thoroughly enjoyed this dialogue between “conservative” New Testament text critic Dr. Dan Wallace and a “liberal” counterpart, Dr. Bart Ehrman. The dialogue was organized by The Ehrman Project, where I found the video.

I was surprised to hear how much agreement exists between Wallace and Ehrman.

Once you really, actually watch the video of the dialogue, consider the following:

1. I think Wallace makes a reasonable case for the reliability of the New Testament, but not in the same sense that a Bible study group might count on its realiability. The reliability of available New Testament documents — as discussed by Wallace and Ehrman — seems better applied to broad, thematic (and at times allegorical) views of the Bible. While many of the likely 400,000 discrepencies among available New Testament documents might be minor spelling and grammatical issues, those very discrepencies would seem to be grounds for a reasonable “epistemological humility,” to quote Ehrman.

2. Based on what I’ve said above, Bible studies that are more or less inductive don’t seem like a good idea. Some Bible studies are explicitly inductive, like ones that use the Serendipity inductive study Bibles. Others are implicitly inductive, meaning that they look at specific passages, sentences, phrases, and words in Scripture and try to draw conclusions from those instances within the Biblical texts. On a verse-by-verse basis, however, the available New Testament documents don’t seem reliable enough to bank-on in a rigorous sense. As a whole, the New Testament seems reliable enough to justify, say, the Nicene Creed or the Apostles Creed. In the video, note how Ehrman and Wallace agree that 2 Corinthians was likely stitched together from more than one letter, unlike 1 Corinthians, making an “original” 2 Corinthians difficult to pinpoint. Certainly, a reasonable person might ask, “Why is a collection of two or more letters representing itself to us as a single book?” Such a misrepresentation might be insignificant, but we’re talking about The Word of God doing the misrepresenting here. (Furthermore, in Ehrman’s Jesus, Interrupted, which I’m reading when I have time, Ehrman claims that liberal and conservative scholars agree that about half of the books attributed to Paul were not actually written by Paul.)

3. Consider, too, how some “conservative” pastors and ministers and public speakers address Christianity. Typically, their approach to the Bible is somewhat literary, meaning they seek evidence of certain themes among the Scriptural texts. Also, typically, their approach to the Bible is somewhat historical-grammatical, meaning that each Biblical narrative (with the usual exception of the parables of Jesus) is considered perfectly historical, and that the true meaning of the text can be found through grammatical scrutiny. Furthermore, typically, their approach to Christian apologetics is somewhat abstract, relying on mental reasoning rather than evidence. What Wallace and Ehrman are dealing with is totally different. Text criticism and historical research are more concrete endeavors than literary analysis and abstract arguments. That’s not to say that literary analysis and abstract arguments are of a lesser order — I actually enjoy both and depend upon them to make a living — but instead it’s just to say that those modes are limited compared to the more concrete matters of dating manuscripts and examining changes in various texts throughout history.

46 is the earliest (nearly) complete manuscrip...

46 is the earliest (nearly) complete manuscript of the Epistles written by Paul in the new testament. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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