A reader of our blog, "Todd" has left a new comment on an old post with a review of Ehrman's Misquoting Jesus (see the last comment). Among other things Todd says : "Ehrman speaks of the knowable truth which is all we really do have if we are being honest, as cold as it is to believers."
Sometimes, new comments are added to older posts, which are unlikely to be read by many, so I thought I would respond to Todd with this new post.
The knowable truth is what we would like to pursue on this blog, and therefore we seek to struggle with the evidence all the time. Let me take a brief example from the Epistle of Jude which makes me hesitate in relation to Ehrman's thesis of "orthodox corruption" that has been discussed on several occasions on this blog.
When I examined the complete Greek textual tradition of Jude, I found that some witnesses in Jude 5 said that "Jesus" saved the people out of Egypt ("the Lord" or "God" are among other readings). Was Jesus thought to be present in these Old Testament days? Well there is a similar problem in 1 Cor 10:9, where Ehrman thinks the reading "the Christ" (other readings "the Lord"/"God") is a doctrinal alteration attributing divine characteristics to Jesus Christ (Orthodox Corruption, 89-90). Interestingly, the MSS A (02) and 81 are among the very few witnesses that attest "God" here, but in Jude 5 they are among the few witnesses that attests to "Jesus". Now, if a theological tendency in one single direction were possible to detect on the level of individual MSS, one would not expect MSS A and 81 to be among the witnesses that read "God" in 1 Cor 10:9.
In conclusion, it is easy to attribute various variants to this or that orthodox tendency, citing various manuscripts (at best) without paying close attention to what manuscripts are cited when. What is necessary, however, if such a thesis is to be proven is to examine the evidence in closer detail, even on the level of individual manuscripts, unless one want to be guilty of "misquoting manuscripts." I have the greatest respect for Bart Ehrman, and I regard several of his works in textual criticism as very valuable, but on this major issue I simply think he is wrong. I do not deny that there are single manuscripts with a detectable theological tendency (two examples of early witnesses are P72, of which I have written at length myself, and Codex Bezae), but I do not think that "orthodox corruption" was ever a programmatic, large-scale phenomenon in the textual tradition.
As announced several times on this blog, there will be a debate in New Orleans in April 4-5 on the "Textual Reliability of the New Testament," featuring among others Bart Ehrman and Daniel Wallace. I hope we will have a report of how that proceeds. I also know that audio-files will be made available. Read more here.