Monday, October 02, 2006

Robert Gundry Reviews Ehrman

Bob Gundry of Westmont College reviews Bart Ehrman's Misquoting Jesus over at Books and Culture (Sept-Oct 2006). The article is entitled: "Death by hardening of the categories". The article includes an interesting postscript which I reproduce here:

Despite the foregoing criticisms, my sympathies often lie with Ehrman. The rigidity of the fundamentalism in which I grew up far exceeded anything he has described concerning his own experience. His inveighing against homogenizing the distinctive messages of biblical authors for the sake of historical harmony strikes in me a resonant chord. And at an early stage of my doctoral research on Matthew's use of the Old Testament, what increasingly seemed to count as misquotations—the usual suspects: reversing Micah's description of Bethlehem as small into a strong denial of that description (2:5–6), quoting Hosea's reference to Israel's exodus from Egypt as though it predicted the Messiah's stay in Egypt and exit from there (2:15), and so on—led me at one point to say aloud in the privacy of my study, "God, it's not looking good for you and your book." So why didn't I arrive at Ehrman's "dead end"? I have no explanation except to say that "by the grace of God" (the phrase Ehrman judges a textual corruption in Hebrews 2:8–9) I was spared a hardening of the categories through which Scripture is perceived. Or since they were already hard—unreasonably hard—I should rather say that the Spirit of God softened my categories so as to give them an elasticity that accommodates the human features of Scripture without excluding its ultimately divine origin. I pray that Ehrman and all others like him may enjoy such a softening.


  1. A non evangelical critiques a non evangelical. How utterly resourceless will this blog become.

    If one thinks Robert Gundry is still an evangelical let him consider the words of Moises Silva: ..."probably not." They were good friends and fellow associates at one time.

  2. My master's thesis (which wouldn't have deserved a footnote in Gundry's excellent dissertation) was also on Matthew's use of the OT, particularly the fulfilment citations in chaps. 1-2. I defended the thesis that in every case Matthew's usage comports very well with the original meaning of each verse cited. What Gundry doesn't tell you is that, despite the low estimation of Scripture that gripped him in that moment of doubt during his research, he apparently decided to give God's Word a chance to vindicate itself upon further inquiry (as it has a tendency to do). In fact, despite his professed softening of categories, Gundry's dissertation is an excellent apologetic resource showing that Matthew wasn't importing foreign ideas into Scripture after all (at least not to the degree he is often charged, nor to the point that would invalidate the main points he makes when he uses it). I would recommend Gundry's Use of the Old Testament in St. Matthew's Gospel to anyone wrestling with that problem. I would also suggest that in this above quoted postscript, Gundry could improve the prescription he offers to those on the brink of leaving Christianity due to problems in the Bible. Allow the Bible the benefit of the doubt; be prepared to dig deeper to find details that may ameliorate the perceived problem; don't fall into the trap of accepting what the experts say. It's clear in Gundry's work that (in addition to his softening of categories) he has done these things. And it's not so clear in Ehrman's.

  3. I am not interested in vindicating Gundry as an evangelical, but his wording here seems friendly to an evangelical viewpoint, e.g.:
    "what increasingly seemed to count as misquotations"
    I think Gundry is interacting with a central issue we have as evangelical text critics. Fundamentalists have presented the text of the NT in such a simple (and factually incorrect) way that when someone says that there are 200,000 variants in the Greek texts, people are shocked.
    I do not think Gundry's quotation problems are parallel to the issues in Ehrman's books, but they do interact with a false sense of simplicity that surrounds biblical texts.

    ANON: I find your post to be harsh and out-of-keeping with the Christian character of the blog. Please consider framing your comments in a more constructive manner and using an account to post. The Anon. post should not be used as a sheild for those throwing darts.

  4. Categories have been softening through my research and education as well...

    For instance, I've realized the tremendous value that many apocrypha and psuedepigrapha offer and began adopting certain ones into my personal canon such as the newly discovered Psalms from the DSS, the Gospel of Thomas, and the Odes of Solomon. I've starting thinking that a story can be fictional and yet remain scripture because it communicates historical-theological truths indirectly via illustration.

    I think the thing that has most helped my categories soften is changing the way I approach and understand scripture itself. I used to approach it like your typical conservative Protestant...thinking every detail was meant to fit together into a whole. Therefore every little thing had to be true--inerrant--otherwise one wrong detail destroyed the value and validity of the whole. Now I see the narrative or metanarrative being the whole and the details branching out in different ways to bring that narrative into context in a multifaced and changing world. Therefore, details can change, conflict, contradict, or even be fictional--but that no longer means the whole is in jeopardy.

  5. Thanks Mike for this. An excellent crtique from Gundry. I also like the postscript.
    The Anonymous post is out of order.

  6. Clearly the word 'evangelical' is used in different ways by different people. This is the reason that the blurb about the blog includes the phrase 'historic evangelical theology'. The question of whether someone's position is in line with historic evangelical theology can be answered much more objectively than the question of whether they are 'evangelical', since this term is widely (wrongly) used as synonymous with 'born again Christian' or 'saved'. One can be 'evangelical' and not 'saved' and 'saved' but not 'evangelical'. Clearly there are definitions of the term 'evangelical' whereby the same individual (e.g. Gundry) might be given or denied the term (and one would not pretend that there was no history to such controversy.) His work clearly contains much that is helpful to evangelicals and also aspects where he departs from exegetical positions historically taken by evangelicals.

    My concern with his remarks about 'categories' is that it could be taken different ways by different people. People may need to rethink their categories when they are wrong. But in this case I would see them as 'sharpening' their categories, where Gundry has offered the opposite image.

  7. Mr. Head and Askeland,

    Thank you for your remarks. I don't repent.

    We you two or others like-minded come to grips with reality and the distinction between Christian struggle (at times) and pure doubt and unbelief I may consider posting as something other than I do now. If this is unsatifactory, then push the delete button.

    As far as "simple" dealing with textual issues go this characterization is utterly false. The sophist mentality and *borniertes Wesen* of the *natural man* with his rude and crude conclusions does not carry *any* sway with me what so @#%&$^! ever.

  8. i don't thimk anyone claimed Gundry was an evangelical. And I think Silva would appreciate Gundry's comments, wouldn't he? Based on my reading of his works, I'd say so.

  9. JB,
    There was a hubbub some years ago (like 20) in the Evangelical Theological Society that resulted in Gundry's being forced out. According to most of the membership at the time, some of his published opinions in his Matthew commentary did not fit with the required adherence to verbal innerancy. Apparently some want to continue debating whether someone like Gundry is or is not an evangelical. But, yes, I suspect that Silva would agree with his comments here. If anything, Silva would be easier on Ehrman. Silva praised Orthodox Corruption of Scripture (the book not the activity) quite highly in Rethinking New Testament Textual Criticism.

  10. Dr. Gundry's review was going well until I choked on the sentence that said, "These translations deserve censure when they include—in any format whatever—Mark's long ending [16:9–20] and the story about the woman taken in adultery [John 7:53–8:11]; for those passages have poorer manuscript support than many readings completely overlooked in such translations."

    For someone who wrote such a thick commentary on the Gospel of Mark, Dr. Gundry seems terribly misinformed about the manuscript evidence for Mark 16:9-20. A note to overly absorbent students at Westmont: put down those scissors! Your Scholar-in-Residence is not telling you the whole truth.

    In other (not-really-TC-related) news: the review shows, or at least suggests, how Dr. Gundry has managed to simultaneous salvage a high regard for, and reliance on, the Bible as a written revelation from God, and deny (parts of) its historical accuracy. It's a highly nuanced approach -- and whatever it may imply about his membership in the Evangelical Theological Society, it doesn't imply that he is no longer a member of the Church Universal. At least not yet.

    However, Dr. Ehrman's approach (written large in "Jesus: Prophet of the New Millennium") goes beyond what Dr. Gundry embraced; Dr. Ehrman does not just reject parts of the New Testament's historicity; he rejects a basic premise of the New Testament narratives (i.e., that miracles occur).

    Is Gundry's approach better than Ehrman's? In a way. It's better to meander humbly with thy God than to not walk at all. But in another way, perhaps it is only slower.

    Yours in Christ,

    James Snapp, Jr.

  11. Greetings,

    I rarely contribute to blogs because I have observed how they somehow manage to starkly reveal the darker sides of otherwise good-intentioned, religious folk. Therefore, before I ask my question I'd like to request that potential respondents keep their peace if their answer to my query mainly amounts to calling such an inquiry (and the inquirer) un-Christian, heretical and worse.

    Why does evangelical common knowledge seem to have it that one's belief in "historical accuracy" is a direct correlate of one's "walking" in fellowship with the Christian trinitarian God?

    -Carlos R. Bovell

  12. Carlos wrote:

    'Why does evangelical common knowledge seem to have it that one's belief in "historical accuracy" is a direct correlate of one's "walking" in fellowship with the Christian trinitarian God?'

    I'm not sure that I can speak for common opinion, and I don't think such a correlation would necessarily be 'direct'. However, evangelicals, in company with majority church opinion through history (excluding some allegorising church fathers), have historically believed in historical accuracy of the Bible. Of course it is known that there is now a significant number of scholars who see themselves as evangelicals and do not hold this position.

    If the premise that the Bible is historically accurate is true then it is only a relatively small step to suppose that believing it to be true is the response God desires of humans and consequently a response involved in 'walking' with him.

    That is how I guess I would see the logic as working. Of course, the logic could be accompanied with varying degrees of willingness to be involved in judging others...