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RE: [textualcriticism] Question for BART D. EHRMANN

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  • Bart Ehrman
    Yasuf, The key thing to remember in a debate of this sort is that even if you were 100% sure of what the NT originally said, that still would not mean that the
    Message 1 of 104 , Nov 1, 2008
         The key thing to remember in a debate of this sort is that even if you were 100% sure of what the NT originally said, that still would not mean that the NT is reliable!  Suppose you could reconstruce with 100% certainty what John McCain said in a particular speech last month.  Would that mean that you could trust that his speech was *right*??  No, only that you knew what it was.
         With the NT, I don't know what percentage we have right -- and either does anyone else.  Whoever puts a statistic on it is simply trying to make people feel better about the issue.  But the reality is that we don't know how much the texts got changed in all those decades/centuries *before* our earliest manuscripts, and we have no way of knowing.
         I hope this helps.  All best,
      -- Bart Ehrman

      Greetings Professor Ehrmann

      As one of the undoubtedly leading if not one of the best Biblical scholars in the world today, you probably have seen almost every argument for and against the authenticity of the biblical text. Being an individual involved in debate on a limited level, I regularly come across the views of Christian apologists and fundamentalists whose chief line of defence for the textual accuracy and reliability of the New Testament is their subscription to the abundance of Greek new Testament manuscripts. They point to the abundance of NT manuscripts (5400) as opposed to ancient classics such as Homer’s Iliad (643 m.s.) People such as FF Bruce, Norman Geisler, William Lane Craig and Jay Smith even go to the extent of bastardising Bruce Metzger’s works by claiming that HE estimated the textual reliability of the NT at 99.5%. How accurate is this line of argument? When variations and omissions are pointed out to them, they appeal to the fact that this does not amt. to or have any effect on doctrinal issues. For eg. (The Ascension—if Marks and Lukes account are fabricated—Acts has a reference, or if the verse on The Trinity (1 John 5:7)is proved to be an interpolations one “still” has an implied reference in the great commission or “Baptising them in the name of the father, son and holy ghost”. The bizarre claim that all of the NT can be reproduced by means of the patristic citations if the manuscript are thrown away! The allegation that there is not much difference bet. The Byzantine text type and the Alexandrian text-type(?)

      Your clarity on these issues will be appreciated.

      Kind regrds

      Yusuf Ismail                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          &nbs! p;                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       &nb! sp;  ;                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  

    • Larry Swain
      ...       Well, I don t find this kind of polemical shotgun back and forth (he said / she said, on multiple fronts) to be all that useful as a mode of
      Message 104 of 104 , Nov 30, 2008
        Bart Ehrman wrote:

            Well, I don't find this kind of polemical shotgun back and forth (he said / she said, on multiple fronts) to be all that useful as a mode of discourse.<<

        Nor do I and I wish you'd cease from engaging in it. I made 2 points. That's all. In both, you've been quite defensive and even petulant.

        Nor is this present a mere "he said/she said" disagreement: its a "Bart said vs. Bart said" disagreement that you keep attempting to slide past. The best thing it seems to me to do would be either clarify the apparent contradiction, or just simply admit that your response to my comment responding to Tommy Wasserman was a bit overstated and in need of qualification. Easily done. In such a format, everyone makes statements that need qualification.

         >> But if you have a specific issue you'd like me to address, I'd be happy to.<<

        I believe I've already raised them. And let's recall that it was *you* who responded to my response to Tommy Wasserman regarding ancient and medieval scribal practices.
        >> I will, though, deal with the final question you raise.  Just to recount the conversation up to this point, to make sure we're on the same page.  You indicated that I claimed that there had been a "wholesale, seamless rewriting of the original" somewhere in the manuscript tradition; I asked you what gave you the idea that that was something I claimed, and your reply (below) is that you got the idea from me.  And you would like me to clarify.<<

        Good so far.

        >>  So to clarify: I don't know where you are getting the idea from that I think there was a wholesale seamless rewriting of the original;<<

        In hind sight, perhaps I overstated it. Are you not introducing the possibility that such happened when you claim that our ignorance is such that we have no inkling what happened after the autograph was made. Further you stated: "If someone can explain to me the logic of appealing to an author's style when you don't think you can get back to his words (hence his style), I'll eat my Westcott and Hort!"

        This suggests that it the author's text is unrecoverable in any real sense: i. e. that it was changed, that we can not recover it, and that such change is undetectable since we can not make appeals to the author's style etc. Now you state that "seamless rewriting" is not what you had in mind, ok, fair enough. But it doesn't let you off the hook. Your statements that you can't get back to the author's words and so therefore can't appeal to an author's style suggest that a) the process of reconstructing a text can not get back to the author and b) if we can not get back to the author, its suggests a stage or stages of more than mere interpolation and a few changes. If we take seriously the notion that in the period between author's copy and initial text considerable changes may have taken place that left no trace in the textual tradition, then we have to apply other tools, such as authorial style. If that isn't applicable, however, then we have to posit that those changes between authorial copy and initial copy were so thorough and complete as to be indistinguishable on close study of style, syntax, vocabulary etc. Possible, but given again what we know about ancient scribal practices (and even those making personal copies), is this likely on anything except a theoretical level?

        >> I don't recall ever saying such a thing, and don't recall ever thinking such a thing, and so I don't know what you're referring to.  If I *did* say this, I guess I'll have to defend it!<<

        That's illogical. There are many other responses possible besides defense.

        >> I just don't remember ever being certain that we know what happened in the early stages of the tradition.  So does that clarify it?<<

        It does somewhat, but not entirely. Certitude, however, was not what I was suggesting or after. Certitude isn't possible. Probabilities however are.

        >>  I don't *know* what happened in the earliest decades when the text was being copied (I certainly don't know that their was a wholesale seamless rewriting of the autographs; and I equally don't know that there wasn't).  And I don't believe you know either!  *Do* you think you know?  If so, how do you know?<<
        Do I know? Of course not. But I don't know that the planet on which I dwell will continue to rotate on its axis in the same motion and the same speed so that the sun will give the appearance of "rising" in the morning over what is to me my eastern horizon. But based on the current evidence available to me, I can make a probable prediction that no appreciable change will occur between now and then as to change the nature of that rotation. Likewise, given what we know, we can speak in probabilities about textual reconstructions too. With Dr. Wasserman, I think the best and simplest explanation is that there is no significant difference between authorial copy and initial copy, and that it is more likely that redactional activity between authorial copy and initial copy are detectable...and hence appeal to an author's style remains a valid tool.

        Larry Swain

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