Monday, October 02, 2006

Snapp reflects on Ehrman interview

[The following is from Jim Snapp and is similar to a comment he posted earlier.]

A few thoughts about Dr. Ehrman's Comments in the Recent ETC Interview.

Kirsopp Lake wrote (p. 16, Lake’s Text of the NT), "The perfect textual critic will have to be an expert palaeographer and the possessor of a complete knowledge of all the bypaths of Church history." It’s no news that NTTC and the study of church history overlap, or that textual data and historical data complement one another. What is news is how Dr. Ehrman re-defines NTTC as a branch of historical research. He calls the goal of reconstructing the original text a "myopic" concern. However, the reconstruction of the original text is and ought to be the concern, the goal, of New Testament textual criticism. Reconstructing transmission-history is an important part of that task, but for the text-critic it’s relevant as a step toward the goal, not as a separate goal. When it’s a separate goal, a separate discipline is entered.

Misquoting Jesus was not the first book of its kind, unless one defines "well-marketed sensationalistic introduction to textual criticism for people who will never do any textual criticism" as a unique kind of book. J. Harold Greenlee’s Scribes, Scrolls, & Scripture was very, very much the sort of book that Misquoting Jesus was (where positive traits are concerned) — right down to the use of "abundanceonthetable" to illustrate continuous-script writing (see Greenlee, p. 62).

While inspiration was not the main subject of Misquoting Jesus, it was a significant sub-topic. Dr. Ehrman told his readers that a God who took the trouble to inspire the production of Scripture should have assured that the words of Scripture be preserved; a failure to divinely preserve Scripture must imply a failure to divinely inspire the Scripture in the first place. This was, if not the climactic pronouncement of the book, one of its major points. Dr. Ehrman did not try to develop a thesis, but he certainly made a sustained and obvious antithesis.

Dr. Ehrman still seems not to differentiate between having the original papyrus and ink, and having the original message that was communicated by the original papyrus and ink. He asked in the interview, as he did in his book, "What good does it do to say these original texts were inspired if we don’t have them?" First of all, we do have them. Where difficult variants are concerned, we have them along with competing alternate readings. How many variants does Dr. Ehrman think there are in which (a) the original text cannot be reasonably determined via textual criticism and (b) there is an appreciable difference of meaning between the variants? 40? 160? 400? It’s a very thin sliver of the Scripture-pie. The question ought to be more like this: "What good does it do to say that these original texts were inspired if we can only confidently eliminate 99.99% of the non-original meaning-altering variants from consideration?"

The premise that the authors of Scripture produced exactly what God wanted them to produce, when combined with the premise that God is a God of truth, implies that Scripture is a truthful and authoritative message from God. As an article of faith, taken on faith, this means that what disagrees with Scripture is not a truthful and authoritative message from God. Even in cases where we face competing, evenly supported variants, and are thus unsure of exactly what the divinely inspired words are, there is still an obvious limit as to what they could possibly be. Thus even a reconstructed New Testament text with 40, or 160, or 400 significant points of instability is capable of communicating God’s truthful and authoritative message.

Dr. Ehrman made a reference to "the fallacy of the view … that the intention of the author dictates the meaning of a text." That’s no fallacy. There may be more to the significance of a passage than the author’s intended meaning, but the task of seeking to discern what the author was trying to communicate remains a vital exegetical step. Without this premise, there’s hardly any point to having a text in the first place; it becomes an inkblot.

Dr. Ehrman said, "I insist that there are certain things that can be stated as factually true. I try to state these things as clearly as I can in the book." Where is the clarity in an estimate of the number of variants with a range of 200,000???

Dr. Ehrman said, "Some of the differences are very significant and can change the meaning of a passage or even of an entire book. Is there any textual critic who can say that these are not facts?" Some differences are very significant, and some variants can change the meaning of a passage, sure. But what variants change the meaning of an entire book? If one consistently adopted an array of poorly attested variants throughout a book, the meaning of the book could change, but that would not be sound textual criticism. The recovery of more of the original text of any New Testament book will not significantly change the message of that book from the message already communicated by the text with its points of instability.


  1. Ehrman and Snapp both should have interacted with Westcott and Hort more diligently so that they too could be more consistent. Bentley, as far as textcritics go, already knew this but this observation was and is already well known throughout the history of Christianity - and in fact the consciousness of OT Israel as well.

  2. Another helpful contribution from anonymous. So ... what are you talking about?

  3. You can't have it both ways Mr. Head. Let's begin with plagarism and then ....

    Has theological acumen and textcritical issues just now dawned? Has knowledge begun with this blog? Or was such a question and concern only valid in Job's day?

    I don't mean to belittle the value of anyone on this blog (make no mistake - only for Jesus sake), but I do not appreciate the fly who sat on the tree og the Chariot wheel and said "What a great dust do I stir."

    Get it?

  4. I think that we're all beginning to tire of these cryptic and carping remarks. I have considered putting on 'comment moderation' for an experimental period, but it takes too much effort to monitor. I think we will simply have to resort to deletion.

    Anon, whatever your intentions are (and I am not doubting your sincerity) your use of anonymity to provide cryptic criticism is not edifying and I can only beg you to reconsider the way you contribute.