DVD Review: Does the Bible Misquote Jesus?, Dr. Bart Ehrman and Dr. James White (Debate)
Does the bible misquote Jesus? When stated that way, the question â€“ intentionally â€“ sounds provocative. What Dr. Bart Ehrman means to call into question, by this incendiary query, is whether we can actually know what Jesus really did and taught, given the history of the transmission of the original gospel accounts, and the other New Testament documents. We do not have the original manuscripts that the authors of scriptures penned. We do not even have copies. We have, according to Ehrman, â€œcopies of copies of copies,â€ that have been so corrupted that we simply cannot know what the originals actually said with any degree of certainty.
The skepticism of highly-acclaimed textual critic Bart Ehrman has been seized upon by the non-Christian world with a great deal of alacrity. Distorting his nuanced theories, which he has framed, it would seem, in such a way as to be intentionally inflammatory, the news media across the world speak of how the greatest and most brilliant scholars have determined that the text of the New Testament is hopelessly corrupt. This is a distortion that Dr. Ehrman has not seemed interested in correcting, As Dr. White points out in the formal, three-hour debate between the two on the reliability of the New Testament text, which American Vision has made available on DVD.
Essentially, this intelligent and scintillating debate centers on the question of whether or not we must have an absolutely perfect, â€œphotocopied,â€ reduplication of the original inspired text of scripture in order for scripture to have any authority or reliability at all. In simple fact, that is not what we have â€“ we have a huge collection of largely consistent manuscripts that all have mistakes. Most of the mistakes are meaningless â€“ spelling errors, for instance, that have no effect at all on what the text is saying. Some of them actually change the text, but they are obvious mistakes so absurd that they are not even viable â€“ it's beyond any reasonable doubt to suppose that they were actually original. And a very few are both meaningful (impacting the meaning of the text) as well as viable. Those few variants do not realistically affect any major doctrine of scripture, there is no vital point that hangs entirely upon a disputed variant. But they do exist. Perhaps, in a few places, we will never know with a great deal of certainty what an original word or tense or construction was. But does this mean that the New Testament is not reliable or authoritative at all? That is what Dr. Ehrman would say. According to him, if God did not flawlessly (and miraculously) preserve the original texts, then he must not have perfectly inspired them either (a non sequitur, of course). And then, if we cannot know with perfect certainty every single letter originally penned, then we simply cannot be sure of anything at all.
Dr. White helpfully exposes the radical nature of such skepticism. The New Testament is far and away the best attested document of antiquity, and there is much, much more certainty of what it actually said than any other document ever written before the advent of the printing press. If we cannot trust the New Testament, then we can certainly not trust that we actually have anything written by Homer, or Marcus Aurelius, or Suetonius, Tacitus, Cicero, or anyone else. In fact, we can know nothing of history whatsoever, at least before the invention of the printing press, if not before the invention of the xerox photocopier. Is that radical nature of such a standard really something that the skeptic would want to live with? Or perhaps, the antagonism to the reliability of the best-attested document in ancient history comes from some other source, some deeper and more theological reason.
Not only is it unreasonable to suppose that we must have a perfect photocopy of the original texts for them to be authoritative; but furthermore, the nature of the transmission process actually demonstrates God's preservation and care of the documents in an amazing way. The texts we have come from multiples lines of transmission, they were copied out lovingly by persecuted believers in North Africa, Asia, Europe â€“ all over the known world â€“ who had no access to each other, as the Church lived out the Great Commission left to them by the Savior; and now, today, when we gather them together we have substantially the same document. This is certain proof that no one central, controlling body forced changes upon the originals, intentionally corrupting them to be more consistent with their own doctrines, and destroying all evidence thereof. No, the New Testament is essentially the same whether on a scrap of papyrus in Africa from thirty years after John's death or from the careful copying of the Medieval scribes in Europe a thousand years later. What a proof that God carefully preserved all his words in the multiplicity of manuscripts available to us today! We may not know with certainty every single letter â€“ but we have every letter, and to a high degree of accuracy, by comparing these multiple lines of transmission, we can piece together the authoritative Word of God, in what is by far the best-attested document from its time. And even in those places where we are uncertain of a word or phrase, there is no vital doctrine that can be changed or destroyed. For those who are uncertain of the reliability of our modern New Testament or anyone who may interact with such a skeptic, this debate will doubtless prove to be very stimulating and helpful.
Available at Monergism Books.