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RE: [textualcriticism] Bart Ehrman's textual theory foundational presupposition - adoptionism is the early Christianity

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  • schmuel
    Hi Folks, Bart Ehrman ... Christology ... I certainly do think it was, Steven Thanks for the acknowledgement, which is your position as given in the Tony Costa
    Message 1 of 7 , Nov 13, 2011
      Hi Folks,

      Bart Ehrman
      >  the question of whether adoptionism was the earliest form of
      Christology ... I certainly do think it was,

      Thanks for the acknowledgement, which is your position as given in the Tony Costa paper.

      We are discussing the theory of text tampering by the "proto-orthodox".  This malleable group of doctrinalists, per Bart Ehrman in Orthodox Corruption, falsely presented themselves, as apostolic.

      Orthodox Corruption:
      These  forebears came to be quoted as authoritative sources for deciding theological issues, and were presented as true heirs of the apostolic tradition, as reliable tradents who passed along the doctrines of the faith from apostolic to Nicene times. ~ Chief among these were such figures as Ignatius of Antioch, Polycarp, Justin, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Hippolytus, and even Clement of Alexandria and Origen—the writers whose works were preserved by the victorious party and who continue today to influence students concerning "the" nature of Christianity after the New Testament period. (Orthodox Corruptoin p. 12)

      Yet in Bart' Ehrmans economy, as acknowledged above, the real true heirs were the adoptionists.  And these were primarily or largely ebionites, disbelievers in the virgin birth. The proto-orthodox may have been sincere, but their purported apostolic lineage was mistaken.  And these writers, and their supporters, are seen as the tamperers, corrupters, of the original NT text (maybe not always consciously and deliberately, however corruption was their bottom line).  They are also seen as foisting the canon as well, but that is not our concern teoday.


      Ignatius of Antioch
      Clement of Alexandria

      Rather an impressive list.  And based on the way the term is defined and used, I would say most or all of the following dozen writers and church figures also fit into Bart Ehrman's grouping of the proto-orthodox.

      Clement of Rome
      Shepherd of Hermas
      Melito of Sardis
      Theophilus of Antioch
      Dionysius of Alexandria
      Julius Africanus
      Gregory Thaumaturgus

      Also the Council of Carthage of 256 AD (Cyprian) and the Antiochan Councils of the 260s (Dionysius of Alexandria) contra Paul of Samasoata. I would be interested in knowing if Bart Ehrman agrees that this is a proper augmenting of his "Chief among these" group of proto-orthodox, the first list.

      One of the points of the book that I found most fascinating is that this group of proto-orthodox is seen as :

      Tampering the New Testament text in two opposite directions !

      In addition to scribal alterations that serve to prevent an absolute identification of Christ with God the Father ... others (scribal alterations) that work to "subordinate" him to God within the divine economy. These variants are also to be construed as the remnants of proto-orthodoxy, even though the explicit claim that Christ was not fully equal with God would at a later date be condemned as heretical. To be sure, even for the proto-orthodox, Christ was in one sense equal with God (although not identical with him). But this involved an equality of substance, not of function within the divine economy; with respect to the latter, the Father was, to use the words of the Fourth Gospel, "greater" than Christ. Not so for the Patripassianists, who saw Christ as God himself. Certain changes within the New Testament manuscript tradition work to dissociate the text from such a view by clarifying the relationship between Christ and God. (Orthodox Corruption p. 268)

      So the proto-orthodox were often making textual adjustments contra the adoptionists for the "complete Deity of Christ" (p. 78).
      On the other hand, they frequently made adjustments against the Sabellian full Deity of Christ concepts !

      This two-sided coin, the jewel of inconsistency, clearly is wonderfully efficient for flexibility in argumentation ! :)



      To give an example .. if today you want to argue that the following phrase has a deliberate corruption:
      (Or accidental corruption deliberately maintained.)

      1 Timothy 3:16 - "God was manifest in the flesh ..."
      It can be an orthodox corruption, contra the original adoptionist which/who/he, , the low Christology reading. .

      Or, if you prerer to argue that
      "God was manifest in the flesh ..." , high Christology, was original, it could be tampered by the proto-orthodox to avoid the Sabellian heresy of full Deity and identification of Jesus as God !

      Which one is more "natural" ?
      Depends as much on whether the moon is full or waning than any other markers .

      (Sidenote: which/who has, in other contexts, been considered a grammatically awkward gnostic corruption, due to linking grammatically with the mystery.)

      Bart Ehrman
       Interesting observations.   Very little in the book, Orthodox Corruption, hinges on the question of whether adoptionism was the earliest form of Christology....  I don’t think any “textual theory” rests on the question, however.

      Respectfully disagree. I believe the full-orbed range of Bart Ehrman contributions to textual theory in Orthodox Corruption involves the adoptionist originality presupposition. This is the primary lens.

      Either way, there is a base of Hortianism, and you even stay with Hort on the Western non-interpolations.  Now, if you remove the theory of adoptionism as original, if you allow the 20 writers above not to be doctrinal text tamperers, I simply do not see what you have left that is different or somewhat unusual or unique. Most of the unique arguments go poof in the night. Except perhaps a higher view of the quirks of Codex Bezae than is commonly accepted today.  Which is your position arguing occasionally for readings with almost no Greek Byzantine or Alexandrian support, and minor Latin support.

      > Bart Ehrman
      > Interesting observations. ...Thanks for passing this along,

      Thanks. My pleasure.  Always like to look closely at textual theories.
      The original post is archived at:

      [textualcriticism] Bart Ehrman's textual theory foundational presupposition - adoptionism is the early Christianity
      Steven Avery November 10, 2011

      And I especially want to thank Tony Costa for his paper, which is not widely known.

      Bart Ehrman
       as do most of the scholars who have worked extensively on Christology, outside the ranks, I suppose, of very conservative evangelicals and fundamentalists.

      Well it is understandable that unbelievers in the Bible would naturally drift towards theories that make the New Testament events not miraculous (virgin birth, resurrection, etc).  In a Jesus Seminar type fashion.  And I believe your theories in Orthodox Corruption should have a native appeal there.

      While thoughtful evangelicals would be more likely to see the events like the virgin birth, the temple prophecy of Jesus, the resurrection and appearances to the disciples, as historical as written in their Bibles. They will have more closeness to the historical theories of gentlemen like Richard Bauckham and Larry Hurtado. (Perhaps these are your "very conservative", although I do not see them in that way at all.  They are conservative compared to the Jesus seminar.) 

      Anyway, in Orthodox Corruption  I was surprised by the lack of a footnote saying what scholars you specifically follow for the adoptionist-ebionite as original early Christians perspective. Since so many renown scholars do not have that view, it seemed like it might be a vacancy of embarrassment.

      Steven Avery
      Queens, NY

      With a lot of interest in the last years, we have seen a lot of discussion of Bart Ehrman's nouveau approach to textual theory:
      The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture (1996) - Bart Ehrman
    • ron minton
      Is the Ehrman Wallace debate of October, 2011 available or mostly available online so we can direct students to it? Sorry if I missed this before. Ron Minton -
      Message 2 of 7 , Jan 7, 2012
        Is the Ehrman Wallace debate of October, 2011 available or mostly available online so we can direct students to it?
        Sorry if I missed this before.
        Ron Minton - Ukraine

      • james_snapp_jr
        Ron, DVD s of the debate are for sale at the CSNTM site for $15.50 -- http://www.csntm.org and at http://www.friendsofcsntm.com/smudebate/ I don t think
        Message 3 of 7 , Jan 8, 2012

          DVD's of the debate are for sale at the CSNTM site for $15.50 --

          and at

          I don't think anything was really resolved at the debate. The main question, rephrased, is, "Are the autographs perfectly represented by the archetype of all witnesses?" Wallace's position is, probably (even though we haven't quite got the archetype worked out yet). Ehrman's position is, probably not (since, even if we could make a definitive archetype of all witnesses, it would reflect a state of the text far along in the transmission-stream).

          A summary of the debate (by individuals associated with Dallas Theological Seminary, where Dr. Wallace teaches) is at




          you can read a review of the debate by someone who was there. (The author makes a very perceptive point about something Ehrman said about the Council of Nicea in the Q-and-A portion. (Was that a stupid question, I wonder, or was that someone's brilliant trap, upon which Ehrman stepped with his full weight?)

          Ehrman seems to be insisting that since we don't have enough evidence to reconstruct the autographs, we just can't be sure that the New Testament says what it appears to say even after being sifted through the text-critical canons. I would say that he is correct in this regard regarding a very small, tiny, minute amount of the New Testament text, and that the scientifically grounded options at those points do not go in any direction that the New Testament is not already taking us.

          And I might say something more:

          Suppose we had the autographs themselves. The objections of the person who does not want to believe that God has entrusted His guidance to the church in a definitive way via the New Testament Scriptures would still find an excuse not to be satisfied. He could always object, "What if Paul's secretary wrote the wrong word there in Romans 5:1?", or, "But who really wrote Hebrews, anyway?" and so forth. It comes down to faith, and to the understanding -- as expressed by Erasmus long ago -- that if God had wished to absolutely guarantee, so that everyone would have with mathematical certainty, that all His people in every generation would receive exactly the same message conveyed by the New Testament, then he would have to perpetually manipulate not only the hands of the scribes but also the minds of the interpreters (including textual critics). And who wants to be a puppet? [I can think of some who might volunteer, who might say, "Yes; disintegrate my self; overwhelm my will; batter my heart three-person'd God, and make me Thy puppet," so maybe it would be better to ask if your idea of a good God is a God who would dominate everyone's will regardless of whether they wanted to surrender to Him or not.]

          A text that has received small wounds in its transmission may nevertheless fulfill its purpose perfectly, whereas even a text reconstructed to its pristine state may yield a flawed interpretation, if the interpreter resists the truth. In the hands of a sincere and careful and Spirit-guided interpreter, words that have received small wounds from reed-bearing copyists are more likely to produce God-pleasing results than a pristine text in the hands of an interpreter intent on goring Christ in the heart. I don't think that Dr. Ehrman has anything to say that is capable of proving that the New Testament is incapable of delivering God's truth to the church; nor can Dr. Wallace prove that the New Testament, as reconstructed by (some) textual critics, always does so. (For even with the same text, interpreters disagree about how the church should understand it -- just look at the interpretations of some parts of the book of Revelation, for example.) So, although I was not at the SMU debate, I suspect that the verdict of the reviewer is very true: it was not about the New Testament text as much as it was about presuppositions.

          Yours in Christ,

          James Snapp, Jr.
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