Saturday, January 28, 2006

Mark D. Roberts on Ehrman

Mark D. Roberts has recently been writing an extensive reflection on the text of the Bible, interacting with various points of view, but engaging especially with Bart Ehrman's Misquoting Jesus. See here. Mark is a pastor, but did his PhD at Harvard with Helmut Koester (I am delighted to know that Koester is involved in the training of pastors!).

Earlier comments: here.

16 Comments:

Anonymous said...

Roberts review is interesting, however, as he himself stated, Peter Williams and Danny Wallace have already provided useful critical insights.

What does interest me however is Roberts account of how Mulism understand their scripture. There are some interesting parallels, especially with regard to God given words.

On that point, Peter Williams may be interested in the realationship between Syriac Christianity and the text of the Qur'an. A good overview of the geography of the Syriac Inscriptions from Islamic times is noted here: http://www.islamic-awareness.org/Quran/Text/Mss/vowel.html#5

All in all, Roberts review is worthwile; the paragraphs on maps seem to me to be the least persuasive aspect of his article.

P J Williams said...

Thanks. There are also some points where I would see things differently from Roberts. For instance, I avoid arguments like: 'The Disputed Texts Are Not Terribly Significant for Christian Theology and Practice'. I would prefer to play up the significance of every iota, though the argument that nothing major is affected by variation has a long pedigree.

The www.islamic-awarness.org page was informative, as that site tends to be.

C. Stirling Bartholomew said...

PJ wrote :

"I avoid arguments like: 'The Disputed Texts Are Not Terribly Significant for Christian Theology and Practice'."

Theodore Letis would have agreed. I have been reading his letters and articles. His reading of Warfield has some merit. I wish I hand not given all my Warfield and C. van Till away decades ago.

C. Stirling Bartholomew said...

I am not sure if C. van Til ever directly addressed the epistimology of B.B. Warfield, he probably did and it would be worth looking into in light of the issues brought up by T. Letis.

Is this Roberts yet another apologist?

P J Williams said...

I think that Roberts is involved in apologetics. This is no bad thing in my books.

P J Williams said...

I never managed to get into Van Til, nor have I read as much Warfield as I should have liked. However, I'm sure that disposing of these two gents was errant! If I wasn't a Calvinist I'd say that whoever got them was lucky. What made the writings of Warfield I came across a better read than Van Til is that BBW engages with texts and things deemed as 'data'. I guess Machen was similar to Warfield in this.

NB, while on the subject of such Calvinists, I should mention the essay by W.G.T. Shedd, entitled 'The Westminster Affirmation of the Original Inerrancy of the Scriptures', which is chapter 13 of his Calvinism: Pure & Mixed: A Defence of the Westminster Standards (1893; repr. Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1986). The essay does seek to engage with mss data and to explain the term 'original text'. It contains such concepts as 'a relative in distinction from an absolute inerrancy', which it claims for copies of the original (p. 134). It also uses the term 'evangelical' of German theologians who, like Coleridge, sought to limit the spheres of inerrancy (p. 138)—an interesting move from someone as forthright as Shedd. Shedd (1820-1894) was also author of The Doctrine of Endless Punishment—available from the Banner of Truth. Though Shedd's essay on the Westminster Confession and TC was published in 1893, it may have been penned earlier. Since he was older than Warfield (1851-1921), Shedd could be an interesting figure to study.

C. Stirling Bartholomew said...

Two quotes from "Mark D. Roberts on Ehrman"

"Thus, no matter how marvelously inspired Scripture may be, it assumes a kind of secondary status as God's Word on earth, subordinate to the primary incarnation of the Word in Jesus Christ. This means, among other things, that we don't need every word of the Bible to be God's perfect, dictated word, because we believe the one and only perfect Word has come once and for all in Christ."

"God's primary purpose in inspiring the writers of Scripture was not so that people would have His words, but so that they would be drawn into a truthful relationship with Him. The words matter, to be sure, but only as a vehicle for a relationship of faith with the living God. Some modest uncertainty about the words might, it seems, cause one to lean more upon God and less upon the words themselves."

Does anyone else have a problem with these statements?

PJW wrote:
"NB, while on the subject of such Calvinists, I should mention the essay by W.G.T. Shedd ..."

I am far more "errant" than you might suspect. Other books that met the same fate as Warfield and Van Til include W.G.T. Shedd (Dogmatics 4 volumes) Calvin's Institutes (LCC edition), Works of Jonathan Edwards, C. Hodge, A.A. Hodge ... my memory fails me at this point.

P J Williams said...

Clay,
Yes, I do have a problem with these two statements.

Consider the second one:

"God's primary purpose in inspiring the writers of Scripture was not so that people would have His words, but so that they would be drawn into a truthful relationship with Him. The words matter, to be sure, but only as a vehicle for a relationship of faith with the living God. Some modest uncertainty about the words might, it seems, cause one to lean more upon God and less upon the words themselves."

I'm happy with the first two sentences, provided 'primary' is stressed and in the second sentence 'only' is replaced by 'primarily'. The third sentence is true for some people's experience, but it could also be said that falling into sin might cause one to trust in God more! 'Shall we remain in sin so that grace may abound?' Shall variants increase so that we may learn to trust more? μη γενοιτο!

This said, I still think that Roberts' review is generally helpful.

We often face the issue that apologetics is trying to persuade people that problems don't exist, whereas as researchers it is often the conviction that there is an issue that needs to be resolved that really spurs us on to research. Overly confident apologetics can discourage research in the church.

I'm sorry to hear about Clay's disposal of books—no doubt it was to make room for Text und Textwert or something similarly learned. However, whether or not we agree with the Old Princetonians and their ilk, it is important for evangelicals to consider carefully their heritage as they reflect on methodology in textual criticism.

C. Stirling Bartholomew said...

PJ,

I think my objections to M. Roberts' statements are perhaps a bit stronger than yours. Nothing good can come of making disparaging comparisons, setting off the written word against the incarnate Word. Roberts' statement does not reflect the Word & Spirit doctrine of the reformers. It reads like a sound bite from a Fuller professor talking about the bibliolatry of the "fundies", a pejorative lable what would include those who hold the historic reformed view of scripture.

The second quote is a bit of "Relational Theology Redux". Nothing good can come of setting off the written word against the exeistential experience of God in Christ. I am old enought to have read Bruce Larsen when he was new. He used to preach at UPres in Seattle before he went to the Crystal Cathedral (LA). I have seen decades of mischief worked in the church by following this line of thought to its inevitable conclusion.

You wonderful Europeans scholars (I like this forum because it is predominately European), you haven't lived on the west coast for fifty years so you don't hear the echos of the local culture in these statements. Read the articles and letters of T. Letis again. He offers a few rather brilliant insights into the American evangelical scene.

Thank you for your valuable comments.

*******

Two quotes from "Mark D. Roberts on Ehrman"

"Thus, no matter how marvelously inspired Scripture may be, it assumes a kind of secondary status as God's Word on earth, subordinate to the primary incarnation of the Word in Jesus Christ. This means, among other things, that we don't need every word of the Bible to be God's perfect, dictated word, because we believe the one and only perfect Word has come once and for all in Christ."

"God's primary purpose in inspiring the writers of Scripture was not so that people would have His words, but so that they would be drawn into a truthful relationship with Him. The words matter, to be sure, but only as a vehicle for a relationship of faith with the living God. Some modest uncertainty about the words might, it seems, cause one to lean more upon God and less upon the words themselves."

P J Williams said...

Clay,
Thank you for highlighting the false antitheses. Alas, I've not yet visited the West Coast and therefore may be unaware of the echoes of the local culture. Maybe one day I will become enlightened.

C. Stirling Bartholomew said...

PJW wrote:
"Maybe one day I will become enlightened."

I hope not. For me the value of following this forum is the serious evangelical scholars who do not think like people on the west coast.

CSB

P J Williams said...

Thanks for the positive comments. However, we're not going to place all people from any geographical region in the same boat! #At least according to my understanding depravity is spread pretty evenly.

Peter M. Head said...

Pete said: '#At least according to my understanding depravity is spread pretty evenly. '

I'm not sure why you would say this. Surely Scripture quite often describes particularly wicked localities.

Daniel Buck said...

Well, no, I agree that depravity is universal (isn't that a theological notion as well as a geographical one?), but the LUTS--the Scoffer, the Arrogant Fool--this critter has a certain habitat, and is usually concentrated in the Halls of Academe, which follow a definine geographical pattern (see an approximation thereof at http://www.usatoday.com/news/politicselections/vote2004/countymap.htm).

C. Stirling Bartholomew said...

PJ,

Your right. Don't lump people together. But there is a westcoast worldview which is really just a Southern California world view that has infected the whole coast all the way to Vancouver BC. If you were to go teach a class at Fuller in Pasadena and then teach a class at SPU in Seattle you would detect a sort of sameness about evangelical mindset in both places but would not be found in Dallas or Wheaton.

I am not talking about depravity. Just talking about a regional form of the evangelical subculture. There is all kinds of diversity here but even polar opposites like Chuck Smith (Calvary Chapel) and Hank Hanegraaff (CRI) share certain basic assumptions which are regional and identifiable.

So when I read a web site like M.Roberts' about 95% of what he says is absolutely predictable. The other five percent isn't much of a surprise either. But when a translation consultant drops in from Moscow for a visit. We have some stimulating dialog. This is what I am talking about.

That doesn't mean that M.Roberts is wrong. Just means I nod out reading him.

C. Stirling Bartholomew said...

Ok, I need to recant. I have been too harsh on M.Roberts. He is not 95% predictable. Actually he is rather innovative in his approach to Bart Ehrman. Who else would of dreamed up the idea comparing Ehrman to Islam.

However, theologically, Roberts sounds at times like he is riding a bit loose in the saddle. This may just be pastoral rhetoric.

For example:

M.Roberts wrote:
"... God whose ultimate revelation is a human being who also happens to be divine"

I wonder how this statement would have fared at Nicea and Chalcedon.

M.Roberts wrote:
"The God of Imperfect Textual Transmission is the same God who has chosen to use someone like me to pastor a church of His people. The God of Imperfect Textual Transmission is the same God revealed in the text of Scripture. The God of Imperfect Textual Transmission is a God who takes risks, a God who uses human partners, a God who gives us minds that can help us, however imperfectly, determine the original text of Scripture."

The expression "a God who takes risks" is the mantra of Open Theism. The context makes it abundantly clear what Roberts means by this. What sort of risks did God take by not leaving the bible carved in stone? This is a crucial question and for that M.Roberts deserves some credit.