Thursday, May 04, 2006

Misquoting Jesus update

Given the continuing interest in it, it is time to renew the list of critical reviews of Bart Ehrman's Misquoting Jesus. Peter Rodger's should have a review out in Christian Century soon.

Craig Blomberg, Michael Kruger, Mark D. Roberts, Jim Snapp, Daniel Wallace (earlier), Daniel Wallace (later and longer), P.J. Williams

Darrell Bock (just on issue of variants to do with women)

Ivo Tamm's Master's thesis (in German; on subject of theological motivation for variants, interacting with Ehrman's Orthodox Corruption of Scripture)

24 Comments:

Steve T said...

Dan Wallace now has a more recent, longer review available.

P J Williams said...

Thanks for the tip. Details now added in main post.

sjgathers said...

Notwithstanding the criticisms (or rather, withstanding them), it's now in its 9th week in the NY Times Bestseller list. Check out the other items in the list (e.g. no's 5, 6, 23).

http://www.nytimes.com/2006/05/07/books/bestseller/0507besthardnonfiction.html?_r=1&oref=slogin

James M Leonard said...

So, why is the Hebrew on the jacket printed upside down?

Jim Leonard

Anonymous said...

Codes are a big selling point. It adds to the mystery.

Anonymous said...

Anyone seen his new book?

Studies in the Textual Criticism of the New Testament
http://www.brill.nl/m_catalogue_sub6_id23861.htm

James M Leonard said...

I'm intrigued by the conclusion in Prof. Metzger's The Text of the New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration, in which Metzger and Prof. Ehrman take pains to correct the impression that the text of the NT was transmitted haphazardly. They write,

Lest the foregoing examples of alterations should give the impression that scribes were altogether willful and capricious in transmitting ancient copies of the New Testament, it ought to be noted that other evidence points to the careful and painstaking work on the part of many faithful copyists…. Even in incidental details one observes the faithfulness of scribes…. These examples of dogged fidelity on the part of scribes could be multiplied and serve to counterbalance to some extent, the impression that this chapter may otherwise make upon the beginner in New Testament textual criticism (4th ed., 271).

One wonders how this conclusion can be squared with Misquoting Jesus. Indeed, the foregoing two paragraphs in their entirety would seem to serve to contradict the most basic impression found in Misquoting Jesus.

Eric Rowe said...

"One wonders how this conclusion can be squared with Misquoting Jesus. Indeed, the foregoing two paragraphs in their entirety would seem to serve to contradict the most basic impression found in Misquoting Jesus."

The answer to this seeming inconsistency is that cautious scholarship with attention to detailed facts, of which Metzger is the dean in our age, does not sell as many books as the alarmist popular material which individuals like Ehrman, Pagels, and Dan Brown sell.

Peter M. Head said...

The basic answer to Jim's question is that Bart Ehrman's revisions of Metzger's material were very conservative (if you know what I mean). Bart is more himself in the new material in the book (see e.g. 282-286).

To me the reality is that the book is a revision of Metzger by Ehrman (only complicated by the fact that this is never stated in the book, which is presented as having dual authorship).

Peter M. Head said...

Perhaps I could also point out that Metzger's point about the conservatism of most scribes is also supported in the conclusion of my article: ‘Christology and Textual Transmission: Reverential Alterations in the Synoptic Gospels’ Novum Testamentum 35 (1993), 105–129.

Gary F. Player, Geologist said...

This discussion is fascinating. Bear with me while I quote an early American Church leader: "We believe the Bible to be the Word of God, as far as it is translated correctly..."
That was Joseph Smith in about 1844.

Anonymous said...

Why can't the Word of God be the perfect Logic contained in the medium of imperfect languages (Hebrew and koine Greek). Please understand, there are a thousand things I disagree with in "Misquoting Jesus" - but that doesn't mean that verbal inspiration or verbal plenary inspiration makes any sense either.

P.J. Williams said...

Anon,
Thanks for your comment on this old discussion. The answer to your question is 'it can', and that being in an 'imperfect language' in no way is a problem for verbal inspiration or plenary inspiration since it doesn't threaten truth. The imperfection of language cannot be easily defined (I write imperfect American English, but that's because I write British English) and many claims of language imperfection are simply saying that one person doesn't follow another person's rules.

Anonymous said...

"since it doesn't threaten truth."

That is because the Perfect and Holy Word of God should not be defamed by claiming that languages of the flesh are equal to it.

"The imperfection of language cannot be easily defined... and many claims of language imperfection are simply saying that one person doesn't follow another person's rules."

This isn't what I am referring to.
Our languages were developed as we "learned" more and more how to communicate and define terms. The
evolution of languages themselves occurred as we learned. Just because we may not be able to quantify a perfect language (you would have to be omniscient) doesn't mean you can't identify the inability of our present language to communicate certain actualities. Just look at Richard's paradox or the Berry paradox with respect to mathematics. The fact is..the
ancient Paleo Hebrew is an imperfect language for describing certain theological (atemporal) concepts.

This isn't about following rules..this is about the anthropomorphic limitations that are ALL through our languages.

The Perfect Word/Logic/Reason of God is contained in the medium of imperfect languages and can be translated (practically dynamic equivalent) into any of our imperfect languages.

Breckmin

Breckmin said...

I was actually hoping that Dr. Williams would address this in greater detail. Specifically as it relates to the nature of anthropomorphism and inexactism which is all through out the scriptures. Perhaps it is an old question that needs to be revisited thoroughly. I honestly believe that the evangelical community is in great need of scholarly reformation on this issue.
Verbal plenary inspiration and detailed inerrancy (and irenic)played an important part in church history...however the highest view of scripture is the one that is the most accurate.

P.J. Williams said...

Brekmin,
I'm not sure what you means by 'irenic'.

I don't see the issue with anthropomorphism. Inerrantists and non-inerrantists alike agree that there are anthropomorphisms in scripture.

I'm not sure what you want to say by 'inexactism'. Do you mean imprecision?

I take it that you want a more detailed response to Anon of 31 Jan on 'perfection/imperfection'.

We need to define a word like imperfect as it refers to language.

One possible sense might be the older sense whereby we simply mean 'incomplete'. Therefore, of course, all biblical descriptions of God are 'imperfect' in the sense that they do not thoroughly describe (Romans 11:33 says that his ways are unsearchable).
By that definition all descriptions of God necessarily would be 'imperfect'. That would also refer to any description of God as 'father' (whether spoken by Jesus or anyone else).

It is not that he isn't father, only that no word can ever be enough to express him fully.

But to say that would confuse most people because our word 'imperfect' now tends to entail the sense that there's something wrong with something.

However, Christians have always recognised that words cannot 'contain' (exhaust / do full justice to) God.

That sense of 'imperfect' really has nothing to do with inerrancy, since inerrancy simply says that something does not err (i.e. goes in the right direction) not that it is complete (i.e. always reaches its destination).

Another sense of 'imperfect' might be a sociological definition. People with social prestige tend to like to tell those with less prestige how they should use the language. Hence some people who are wedded to Classical Greek grammar might say that Mark's Greek is imperfect, or even wrong. However, that definition has nothing to do with truthfulness and is merely a question of convention. Mark doesn't follow their conventions. So what?

To say 'ee were' (i.e. 'he was') is not 'wrong' (in terms of morality or truthfulness) only something that is not allowed by convention in a whole number of contexts. Between friends who agree to that convention it's absolutely fine.

We might well not like the idea of God speaking with grammatical conventions we despise, but there is no theological reason to think that he couldn't.

Finally we may look at the language of perfection in relation to God's words as found in scripture (e.g. Pss. 12 and 19). These verses are not saying that God's words are exhaustive (i.e. complete) nor that they are in a dialect that all appreciate. In other words God's words are perfect but that perfection must be defined. They are not perfect for telling you how to bake a cake, etc.

Now to bring it back to debates about inerrancy: we need to be sure that we define terms clearly. 'Inerrancy' is only supposed to refer to errors in relation to truth, not to social faux pas, grammatical conventions, etc.

I maintain that Ehrman's argument is rhetorically effective precisely because many Christians have wrong conceptions about what historic Christian belief about the scriptures is supposed to be and because they don't think clearly about the multiple meanings of the terms he uses.

Breckmin said...

Dr. Williams, thank you for your
response.

"We might well not like the idea of God speaking with grammatical conventions we despise, but there is no theological reason to think that he couldn't."

That would be mechanical inspiration rather than verbal inspiration. Please understand,
other than maybe a dozen (or half a dozen) errors I think are clearly identifiable which have nothing to do with theology...there is NOTHING that I disagree with. The Holy Spirit fully convicts me that the scriptures are true. But this word "true" is with respect to meaning which would exist prior to medium...or independent of medium.
If we had a heavenly language which was God-given and more accurate RATHER than languages of the flesh which were developed by people who were learning..then perhaps this idea of inerrancy could be coherent. The bottom line is that all minor error is easily identifiable. We use logic to interpret texts and logic is the greatest hermeneutic we have (with the Power of the Holy Spirit to open our eyes to it).
I reject partial infallibility for a more "pragmatic infallibility" or perhaps "capides inspiration" when dynamic equivalence more carefully defined (with respect to meaning and intention to medium and error in minor details due to human participation).

The bottom line is that no inerrant texts exist anywhere. Claiming that their were Autographs that were once inerrant (in the face of all of the evidence) doesn't buy you anything anyway.

It is completely a reaction to a challenge to biblical authority in an evolving culture of contractual and constitutional detail on words.

The time has come to return to historical Christianity and allow for the Holy Perfect Word of God to be distinguished from the imperfect medium of languages of the flesh which were developed by depraved man who failed to understand an immutable Creator.
The prophets of God represented the truth of God to the nation of Israel...but they clearly wrote it down and did a pretty good job in doing so. It is the message NOT the details which is the word of God. (i.e. Judas Iscariot hanging himself or dying some other way is NOT the Word of God..it is a detail). Question everything.

Breckmin said...

"'Inerrancy' is only supposed to refer to errors in relation to truth, not to social faux pas, grammatical conventions, etc."

If we employ hyper-technicality we are going to find all kinds of "error" in the details often due to incompleteness or lack of clarification or specified exception.

An Omniscient God changing His mind is clearly anthropocentric and/or anthropomorphic..but a wrong name in a geneology doesn't mean we have to fabricate two names that are similar. Inexactisms could refer to the number of soldiers of an army always being perfectly 10,000 or 1,000 rather than 9,978 (etc, depending on how many died in transit or side altercation).

There are hundreds of biblical surface level contradictions I can point to which are easily resolved with logical explanation....BUT the fact is that more clarification is needed.

IOW, it wasn't worded perfectly.

Breckmin said...

"I maintain that Ehrman's argument is rhetorically effective precisely because many Christians have wrong conceptions about what historic Christian belief about the scriptures is supposed to be and because they don't think clearly about the multiple meanings of the terms he uses."

I can agree with this...but the imperfection of the Hebrew language itself still calls verbal inspiration into question, logically.

P.J. Williams said...

Dear Breckmin,

We disagree, but it would probably take a greater amount of time to come to agreement via internet exchange than would be justified in investing in a cyber-relationship. If you're ever in Cambridge, UK, I would be delighted to continue this exchange in person.

So, to summarize,

1) I think that you are using the word 'perfect' and its cognates in an unclear sense.

2) The burden of proof lies on you to demonstrate, rather than merely assert, that this statement is indeed logical: "but the imperfection of the Hebrew language itself still calls verbal inspiration into question, logically." To me this is no more logical than saying that the imperfection (undefined!) of the Aramaic language calls into question that the words Jesus spoke were the ones God intended him to speak.

3) "The bottom line is that no inerrant texts exist anywhere. Claiming that their were Autographs that were once inerrant (in the face of all of the evidence) doesn't buy you anything anyway." By contrast I would maintain that there are millions (possibly billions) of inerrant substantial biblical text segments in paper form, in minds, and on electronic media throughout the world :-) ENARXHHNOLOGOS 'In the beginning was the word' is just one such sequence, which I think it is reasonable to maintain has not changed since the autograph. The sequence is inerrant whether recorded on papyrus, mind, or electronic format. Since the autographs (physically) were not inspired but the text (wording) on the autographs was then the text remains inerrant when it is transmitted on another manuscript or in a different medium.

Breckmin said...

1) I think there is a difference between "the words of God" and the perfect logic/reason/word/logos that is found throughout the imperfect medium of scripture. Those who believe that the Autographs are somehow "without error" make this leap of faith in the face of all the evidence (the same evidence that allows us to identify textual errors).

2)The imperfection of a language can also refer to the non-existence of words which could express atemporal/transcendent concepts, as well as spiritual concepts which are expressed with symbolism and words which are both anthropocentric and anthropomorphic. "Open the eyes of my heart" is just one of many examples.

3)Text fragments which contain small sections with no identifiable error are NOT in dispute. It is the identifiable errors which are the evidence for the expectation of original error.

4)Thank you for your time in going through this. I would challange you to pray at all time for protection from that which isn't true and that which is not from God. I believe there is a fine line which must be walked with balance and wisdom...but most importantly prayer. The Holy Spirit convicts us that the scriptures are true..we don't want to misinterpret this conviction with the fabrication of glorifying the medium rather than the content.

P.J. Williams said...

Breckmin, Thank you for your exhortation to pray. If I may submit my own (less spiritual sounding) exhortation it would be that you don't reinvent the wheel. Matters of the nature of language in relation to how God speaks have been treated at length by theologians of the past and sometimes what we need is not a new solution but to reread an old and forgotten one! (I need to heed my own exhortation too.)

Breckmin said...

"it would be that you don't reinvent the wheel."

Wheels were improved upon when
we started using air pressure and tires.

Conservative evangelical Christianity needs to re-evalute its approach to languages and imperfections. We can have much stronger apologetics without being falsified with textual evidence which points to identifiable errors.

There is NO reason to believe in
verbal-plenary inspiration. We can fabricate reasons for this position all we want to in the face of all of the evidence...but
God has given us something much more powerful.

It is the Perfect Word of God that is not limited to Hebrew or koine Greek.

P.J. Williams said...

I'll leave you the final word.