Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Bart Ehrman and Dan Wallace on the Preservation of Scripture

Over at What is Truth, Kent Brandenburg has a series of posts on “The Erroneous Epistemology of Multiple Version Onlyism.” Inspired by a positive review of Bart Ehrman’s recent book, Jesus Interrupted in USA Today, opinion section (available here), he discusses the issue of the preservation of Scripture, and soon enters the area of textual criticism with a long discussion. Here is an extract:
With all that being said, a recent debate between James White and Bart Ehrman revealed only minutiae of differences between the two in their approach to the preservation of Scripture—they both have about the same view. They differ greatly as to the conclusions to be made, but their differences on preservation itself aren’t much. James White and Daniel Wallace are about the same too and here’s what Daniel Wallace said in an interview about textual criticism:

“I have quite a few heroes! Colwell for his method; Metzger for his learning and insights; Fee for his ability to burst bubbles with data; Tischendorf for his dogged determination in search of manuscripts; Kurt Aland for his vision for INTF; Jerome and Origen for their handling of the textual variants in the pursuit of truth; Sturz for his humility. The list is endless, frankly. I could add Michael Holmes, Bart Ehrman, . . . .”

Bart Ehrman is a hero to Wallace. He said it. There are some strong similarities between Ehrman and Wallace. Ehrman assumes the Bible must not be true if God promised preservation, because he’s looked at the evidence and that ruins everything about Christianity for him. Wallace has also shaped his view of inerrancy around evidence. Ehrman kept what he thought Scripture said, looked at evidence, and apostatized his beliefs completely. Wallace looked at evidence and then changed what he believed about Scripture. Both have allowed evidence to alter their beliefs.
Read the whole post here.

The interview with Dan Wallace that Brandenburg cites was made by Peter Williams for this blog. Read it in its entirety here.


  1. I assume the link to the Brandenburg post was for entertainment purposes? :) You certainly wouldn't want to offend his fedeism with evidence.

  2. I had trouble getting very far into Brandenburg's writing. I think it's one of the sadder and less helpful features of fundamentalism that holding onto a doctrine in defiance of empirically proof to the contrary is somehow thought to be the more pious or faithful thing to do. To my mind they're sacrificing truth on the altar of doctrine.

    They could learn from Catholicism, which learned from its mistake with Galileo and in Providentissimus Deus, declared that:

    "Let them loyally hold that God, the Creator and Ruler of all things, is also the Author of the Scriptures—and that therefore nothing can be proved either by physical science or archaeology which can really contradict the Scriptures. If, then, apparent contradiction be met with, every effort should be made to remove it. Judicious theologians and commentators should be consulted as to what is the true or most probable meaning of the passage in discussion, and the hostile arguments should be carefully weighed. Even if the difficulty is after all not cleared up and the discrepancy seems to remain, the contest must not be abandoned; truth cannot contradict truth, and we may be sure that some mistake has been made either in the interpretation of the sacred words, or in the polemical discussion itself; and if no such mistake can be detected, we must then suspend judgment for the time being."

  3. Let's make that:

    "one of the sadder and less helpful features of [some forms of] fundamentalism...."

    Generalizing based on one (or even a few) glaring case(s) of obscurantism commits a fallacy similar to Brandenburg's. Not all fundamentalists are fideists or obscurantists.

  4. Rod, the link was of more informative character.

  5. sure, I can accept that. Brandenburg's brand of fideism is, in my experience, very popular among fundamentalists, but I could accept that it's not shared by all of them.

    This does lead to the question though: how popular does a feature have to be before it can be considered definitive?

  6. This isn't the forum in which to discuss it, but there are quite a lot of fundamentalists that don't fit the anti-intellectual, fideistic, obscurantist stereotype. And with that I'll not presume upon the grace of the ETC blog any further. :)

  7. Hi Dr. Decker,

    I enjoyed your presentation in VA Beach last week at Colonial.

    I went to the same school as Brandenburg, but am a avid NT textual criticism fan. Go figure.

  8. I find it very interesting that despite their alleged preference for empiricism over fideism, no on yet has bothered to interact with any of Pastor Brandenburg's factual claims:

    - Ehrman assumes the Bible must not be true if God promised preservation, because he's looked at the evidence.

    - Wallace looked at evidence and then changed what he believed about Scripture.

    - Benjamin Warfield . . . revised the meaning of the Westminster Confession because of similar concerns as those communicated above by Wallace.

    - White and Ehrman . . . speculate that the Byzantine manuscripts . . . come from one copy that dates around the same time as Vaticanus and Sinaiticus in a different family or line of manuscripts.

    - All the textual critics believe in everything I've written so far.

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  10. The White Man: Not everyone has time to spend hours discussing and arguing about Brandenburg's views just because "someone is wrong on the internet."

    Blogs aren't conference panel discussions where you're expected/required to debate issues. Nobody needs to discuss the factual claims on his blog.

  11. Roger, thanks. I also did not understand all points Brandenburg was trying to make, and especially the conclusions, but, like you, I thought there were some interesting points so that is why I posted the link.

  12. It's not all that hard to understand Brandenburg's line of thinking if you know how the King James Only approach works. You start with the presupposition that God has perfectly preserved His Word, and that in the English language, this perfectly preserved Word of God is the King James Version.

    Therefore, the perfectly preserved Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic texts are those that provide a vorlage for the KJV. End of discussion, except to point out that textual critics, by tampering with the perfectly preserved text, are heretical at best and under the Revelation 22:18-19 curses at worst.

    Not to say that the KJO supporter doesn't look for textual evidence or engage in textual discussions, so long as it all serves to reinforce his presupposition.

    Very much like the evolution-only approach to explaining variants in the genetic corpus, but that, too, is not particularly of interest to the present discussion.

  13. P S Ferguson4/27/2009 4:03 am

    It is amusing when amateur philosophers opine here on fidelism on perfect prservationists as opposed to the "reason" of textual critics.

    A Christian epistemology begins with the Bible as the Word of God; this is the indemonstrable axiom, from which all true theories are to be deduced. There is no such thing as autonomous reason, i.e., reason that is unaided by divine revelation. There is fundamentally an antithesis in the way a believer or an unbeliever receives God’s knowledge. Textual Rationalists and Empiricists have merely traded the exchanged infallible propositional revelation for fallible sense experience based on secular axioms. The CT text position is a fallacy as it claims to reach conclusions that conform to the Bible, which are not derived from the Bible.

    The Roman Catholic theologian, Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) sought unsuccessfully to synthesize the rationalist axiom of sense experience of Aristotle, and the Scriptural axiom of revelation by arguing persuasively for human intellectual autonomy. However, true Reformed believers reject Rome’s soteriology and bibliology because they are both predicated on this synthesis which is doomed to failure.Thus all of our methodologies and conclusions as to the textual questions must be controlled by the explicit revelation of Scripture. The Scriptures make clear that God’s providential actions answers to no one, “He giveth not account of any of his matters” (Job 33:13; cf. Deut 29:29).

    A textual position that rejects the a priori presupposition that “The Bible is the final authority in all matters of faith and practice” is surely to be rejected. A Biblicist derives his ontology and epistemology from biblical theology rather than his own experience filtered through his own reason. It is an insult to God to argue that the only infallible written revelation of Himself so lacks clarity that man has to step in to determine the process. This inevitably leads to very different ideas about what is scientifically possible, morally just, or rationally plausible. We still have a rational account for holding a textual presupposition, but not for arriving at it, because by definition we must start with it. For if we declare the need to prove it true before we believe it to be true, we have simply admitted beforehand our lack of faith in it.
    Textual critical evidential arguments, by contrast, presuppose that man can approach the knowledge of God’s Words as if man is morally neutral. It is predicated on the idea that man has an unaided intrinsic ability to reach knowledge of Gods Words in making textual choices and conjectural emendations. However, any attempt to separate faith and reason is doomed to failure, as this construction violates Rom 1:18 and 1 Cor 10:31. Benjamin B. Warfield is a prominent example of those who turn to reason first over the propositional revelation of Scripture.

    Those who adopt this worldview consistently must believe that their faith is built upon nothing but the word of man. This worldview also assumes that man is alone in the universe and is capable of making independent, autonomous judgments about the world around him, with no reference to God. Such a view is to build an epistemological house on the sand. It assumes that we cannot be certain as to God’s Words, but we can have faith in our own supposed objectivity in determining those. Hence, someone who believes in perfect preservation by God of His Words and those who reject this look at the same extant textual data and come to radically different conclusions. However, what drives textual critics to their conclusions is not the evidence, but their presuppositions. They are trying to reinterpret the Biblical text (or simply ignoring it) in the hope that it can be brought into conformity with present non-biblical, historical models. By carefully questioning the presuppositional framework being used in the background, the spiritually sensitive scholar will avoid being led astray by the numerous details and technical jargon of the CT advocates.

    The Bible’s whole existence is due to the unique event that it is entirely inspired by God (2 Tim 3:16). From the first inscripturation we are confronted immediately with the reality and involvement of the supernatural, as well as its absolute authority. Therefore, those who reject the Bible on its own premised overview will invariably treat it as any other ancient book. Its uniqueness resides in the fact that while humans have been the vehicle of its production, it never ceases to be the Word of God, communicated by Him, developed, transmitted and preserved by him. The question then is who or what is the vehicle of agency that God providentially leads to receive these canonized Words.

    God does not preserve Scripture using men and methods rooted in a denial of what He has said. A textual position that is predicated on the theories and conjectural emendations of men of the character of Westcott and Hort who walk in the vanity of their minds and darkened understanding (Eph 4:17-18) must be rejected. Apostate textual critics shoul be accorded no higher authority than evolutionary biologists discussing Genesis or philosophical and rudderless Frenchmen on ethics - with a block of salt. To take a position that an unregenerate man can reason correctly and cogently independent of Scriptures as the foundation of his thinking invariably sets man up as the ultimate epistemological over what is true. Having ethically separated himself from the only source of knowledge, a textual critic unbeliever seeks to suppress truth in order to interpret everything without reference to God (Rom 1).

    Apart from the revelation of God in nature and in His Word, man is unable to rightly interpret reality. We must always start with God in all our thinking or we will become fools in attempting to rationally justify any knowledge claims. As Paul warned Timothy the approach must be presuppositional in respect of the Word of God, “keep that which is committed to thy trust, avoiding profane and vain babblings, and oppositions of science falsely so called” (1 Tim 6:20). Autonomous theories of knowledge are riddled with problems and are simply a crude synthesis between Christianity and post-Kantian thought.

    Another problem with the rationalistic Hortian approach is that if we are going to accept an old minority manuscript that is missing the first verses of John 8, but has the Epistle of Barnabas, then why not accept the Nag Hammadi codices as part of the Canon as they date from the 3rd and 4th centuries. This is the inevitable consequence of accepting minority readings based upon rationalistic presuppositions rather than Biblically established principles. Historically, believers when confronted by apparent contradictions in the Biblical text, have harmonized them out of respect for Divine authorship. Conservative scholars such as John Gill based their view in line with Scriptural presuppositions and other external evidence like grammar and patristic citations. If we argue that God did not feel it was important to preserve all of His Words for all generations, then why would we believe He preserved 66 books in the canon or even the “fundamental essential doctrines” either? Do anti-perfect preservationists really believe that God inspired the original, and then withdrew any intervention like a deistic creator of writing? However, this approach simply introduces other problems. We could not be certain that God did not inspire other books not in the Protestant Canon as we have accepted the premise that all God did was inspire and then was completely hands-off, leaving the rest to humanity to determine. With this pre-suppositional approach, we lose any ability to determine what is inspired and what is not. Indeed, if we believe God was involved how do we determine how much He was involved and if He stopped being involved or was only imperfectly preserving, when did He stop being fully involved?

    CT advocates need to explain why the Epistle of Barnabas, a treatise against a Jewish interpretation of the Law, which dates from the late first or early second century is included in the New Testament canon of the fourth century manuscript Codex Sinaiticus. Did God lead His people to recognize the Words here but not the Canon? We could never have even begun to argue from Scripture had not the Church given it to us. If we had been given a different canon or a tampered translation we would not know the difference. We would argue from that which we were given. Douglas Wilson illustrates the inconsistency,
    "Unbelieving criticism says that words, verses, pericopes, and books are all up for grabs. To grant this legitimacy with the first three, while drawing the line to keep 66 inspired books, is like being a little bit pregnant. 2 John has 301 words while the last twelve verses of Mark have 260. At what word count does the authority of science becomes illegitimate?"

    If it is unreasonable to lose a book, then why is at acceptable to argue that we have lost 7-10% of the Words. Indeed, 3 John is a lot smaller than the variants! It is disastrous for the church in a changing world to have a changing Bible in a state of perpetual restoration as how we define truth is inexorably tied to Words, not concepts or ideas. As a consequence, the CT cannot be the providentially preserved text, but a colocation done based on certain Enlightenment philosophical principles of the 19th Century. God has given us enough evidence in His Biblical promises, in a diverse and large group of extant manuscripts, and in the validation of a remnant of believers that we should assume that we have the exact Words. Frankly, the doctrine of inspiration would be far harder to believe than preservation.

  14. One reviewer criticized my views as follows: "Wallace looked at evidence and then changed what he believed about Scripture." Actually, I don't take that as a criticism, because the evidence I looked at was what informed how I should understand the text. It was both exegetical and empirical in nature. But one thing I found curious about Brandenburg's four-part treatment of my views is that, in spite of claiming that he had dealt with my views exhaustively, point for point, he only interacted selectively with my article. To see why fundamentalists don't care for my non-doctrine of preservation, it's best to read the original essay for yourself. It's at

    I'm off to the States in 8 hours after a 9-week stint in Athens. Altogether, we photographed nine NT MSS that Muenster has not yet catalogued; these will be posted on our site ( in a few weeks.

    Dan Wallace

  15. The endless fideistic illogic represented within the so-called King James Only position (and its Greek cousin, the TR Only position) never ceases to amaze me.

    Why the advocates of such continue to maintain their theological "debates" on this matter remains puzzling, particularly since nearly every major claim they have made has been soundly refuted somewhere, often through simple demonstration of the fallacy inherent within a specific claim.

    Case in point: Mr Ferguson stated, appealing first to the canon and then to the textual question:

    "If it is unreasonable to lose a book, then why is it acceptable to argue that we have lost 7-10% of the Words."

    But why could not the opposite hold true, particularly in light of the preserved textual evidence (MSS, versions, fathers) that we possess? A number of books are known that were at various points claimed as canonical, yet these "additions" were not accepted; thus, it would be no surprise were various textual critics to claim that the autograph text itself at various points was affected by non-original "additions" approaching some 7-10% of what is found in the TR text.

    Whether one concurs in toto with either statement is irrelevant. The point is that a one-sided fideistic appeal simply does not deal fairly or honestly with the factual data, but continually plays fast and loose with such. Our trust in the accuracy of the biblical text should rest upon a foundation more secure than the highly questionable theological claims of modern KJV/TR-only scholasticism which ultimately demand a response wholly based on blind faith apart from hard evidence.

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  17. Probably, you don’t know me until few moments. My name is Rodrigo. I’m twenty-three years old. I studied in Brasilia (the capital of Brazil) at Baptist University of Brasilia and at Presbyterian Seminary. But, during the rest of my life, I studied in Pio XII. I am a young agnostic who already read the Bible more than thirty times. During five years, I was locked at my bed room reading books about The Bible. I would like to explain my comments concerning the subject matter, textual criticism, with the sensitivity that it requires.

    In John 1, we have the assertion that Jesus is (or was because variants) The Word, Logos, Miltha, Davar, Verbum of God. Even though the pericope is written in the form of poetry and it was taken from an Aramaic hymn with all exegesis implications arising from the lyrical language, actually, The Bible works with the idea that Lord Jesus Christ is the Word of God (Verbum Dei). The Bible refers to itself as Sacred Scripture (biblorum Sacrorum), Scripture, and several other ways, but The Word of God is Jesus Christ. People who call the Bible as Word of God are ignorant. While a million variants contradict the bible, this will be irrelevant to doctrines of fide cristianae. However, the bible be called as Word of God is necessary to bibles experts be exalted in a condition beyond humanity, when, in fact, they are men in state of decadence.

    It is necessary to consider the unpleasant situations that we should avoid, we don’t want that a crisis doctrinaire cause religious hysteria in the world. This could influence the lives of pastors, scholars of textual criticism, writers, photographers of manuscripts…

  18. P S Ferguson5/05/2009 3:47 pm

    Despite his hubris, Dan Wallace’s paper's conclusions are wrong on both exegetical and historical grounds. The truth is that every believer, using either Biblical or philosophical presuppositions, is led to some conclusion as to the content of the original autographs. The Scriptures do not simply promise the preservation of God’s “truth” or “message” but the Words. The church has historically held fast to these promises concerning the Words of God; not only in respect of divine inspiration, but also in regard to perfect providential preservation throughout the ages. However, since the Enlightenment, Protestantism has granted science increasingly independent authority and has surrendered the Bible’s authority whenever any supposed conflict arose between the two. The Enlightenment brought the age of the “sovereignty of reason” which attempted to verify everything in Scripture by modern critical methods of historical research. Just as in the case of creationism, until the eighteenth century the Church held to the historic doctrine of the perfect inspiration and preservation of the Words of God in all ages.

    The zeitgeist of our contemporary apostate age now demands a “new and improved” version of everything including the Scriptures. Our places of worship have dropped the name “church,” reduced worship to entertainment, and promoted effeminate “preacher gurus” in Hawaii shirts to share the latest psychological fad. We have also now a marked subservience to scientism as the dominant cultural standard. Did the church make such a gross error in over 500 years of interpretation? What has primarily changed since the Reformation is the way man defines and uses science. Modern scientific opinion has been elevated to the status of general revelation giving it an absolute a priori veto over how we interpret Scripture. So much for singing, ‘Immortal, invisible, God only wise!’ Textual criticism is built on the intolerant foundation of prejudice against the promises of Scripture. Its motive is driven by the axiom that modern man always seeks out a way of removing His Creator from the source of truth, as autonomous man aspires to fill the vacancy.

    Dan Wallace’s facile position is not the historic position of believers and the Reformation and his objections are mere hand-waving. Critical Text (CT) advocates, such as Wallace, have no ultimate and certain standard for determining objective truth. Without the Biblical doctrine of perfect providential preservation, we are left with non-answers in these areas. This is not a minor shift but one of seismic proportions. Fortunately, most CT advocates of the past were better believers than theologians and have been able to live with the inherent contradiction of their system by simply declaring the gospel from the Textus Receptus (TR). They were incapable of following their own premises out to the end of the road they were on. This has now been challenged by the belligerent approach of the new breed of CT adherents, the proliferation of translations, and the ever mutating latest edition of the evolutionary Greek Text.

    The CT text position is a fallacy as it claims to reach conclusions that conform to the Bible, which are not derived from the Bible. It is true that some CT advocates talk about “preservation” but only by investing in their exegesis of preservation passages such as Matthew 5:18 entirely new meanings. In effect, they act like Humpty-Dumpty who retorted scornfully to Alice’s ignorance of his meaning, “When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean - neither more nor less .” Their position is not some imaginative or honest attempt to follow the truth where it leads, but radical interpretations of biblical texts based on Enlightenment premises. However, the preservation promises are clear to those that are willing to accept their conclusions. These fundamentalist and evangelical “scholars” need correcting for when theologically educated men make absurd statements they are no less absurd than when the lay person make them. We reject their arguments because they are fundamentally illogical, and believers should not utilise unsound arguments nor appeal to unbelievers to place their confidence in them. The objections to the doctrine of perfect preservation are rooted in philosophical pre-commitments and not exegetical concerns. True fundamentalists, especially those of the Reformed faith, will not surrender our historic faith for the gods of Enlightenment thinking just to be seen as acceptable by “progressive Evangelicals.” Like Ezra we will prepare our hearts “to seek the law of the LORD, and to do it” (Ezra 7:10) whatever the cost.

    It is axiomatic to even the most ardent critic of the KJV that the recovery of the “autograph text” is outside the possibility of recovery simply by a neutral Textual scientific methodology. Even the leading exponents of textual criticism candidly concede this. By eliminating God’s work of preservation, they have left the church disarmed, vulnerable and in total confusion. They are like those of old of whom God says in the last verse of the book of Judges “In those days there was no king in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own eyes” (Judg 21:25). These multi-versionists have no final authority, save for their own reasoning or outsourcing to a scholar to tell them what God probably said. They are attempting to compartmentalize their faith and their scholarship into separate worlds. However, since no one is viewpoint neutral and everyone has presuppositions, why do the CT advocates want to exclude Biblical presuppositions on the issue of the text?

  19. PART TWO
    That he is incapable of this is clearly demonstrated when he spends paragraph after paragraph bashing CT advocates - as if personally attacking them proves anything about his own position. His petulant response is made all the more remarkable when he proceeds to accuse CT advocates of a "belligerent approach." Maybe Dr Ferguson needs to consider his own approach before going any further.

    And has Ferguson never read Matthew 5:18? Has he never exegeted the text? I have never for the life of me been able to understand how anyone thinks that passage promises a perfect English (or even Greek) translation.

    Ferguson's rhetoric also sounds eerily similar to that of the late Theodore Letis, almost to the point of sounding like a plagiarism. Most of the rest of Ferguson's post is a childish rant devoid of substance. I must confess that it is the first time I ever heard Humpty Dumpty mentioned in a text critical context.

    His sole substance in the final two paragraphs can be found in his discussion of 'biblical presuppositions on the issue of the text.' Fine. But before he can continue his rhetoric, Dr Ferguson needs to tell us:

    a)What these are?

    b) How he determined this?

    The bottom line is this: because all of us use presuppositions in our work, Ferguson has gone one step further: he somehow thinks that he can presuppose that the KJV alone is the Word of God in English (that is what he believes; I downloaded his paper from Puritan Board). Fair enough. But if he then adds that we have had this 'perfectly preserved in all ages' then surely he must have an unbroken line of Bibles he can show us that are preserved down to the very jot and tittle - after all, that's what Matthew 5:18 "promises" in Mr Ferguson's fideistic methodology.

  20. There is much that I can and will say on this issue in light of Dr Ferguson's comments. Let's note that he immediately delves into the KJV Only 'defense' with the usual weapon of choice, the personal attack. In his THIRD WORD he accuses Wallace of 'hubris.' Never does he substantiate this. It's simply so because he says it. But the rest of his meandering reveals a serious deficiency in his ability to actually engage issues rather than people.

    For starters, Ferguson claims "the church has historically held fast to these promises concerning the Words of God; not only in respect of divine inspiration, but also in regard to perfect providential preservation throughout the ages." It is amusing how often this argument is invoked. However, I've NEVER seen this proven by any of those who make this claim.

    If this is a FACT rather than merely a statement of FAITH, it should not be too much to ask Dr Ferguson to tell us:

    a) WHERE is this perfectly providentially preserved Word of God TODAY?

    b) WHERE was it BEFORE 1611?

    and the most important question of all:

    c) What happened that moved the locus of authority from the prior version to the KJV?

    If this is truly a statement of fact on the part of Mr. Ferguson then it should not be difficult to answer each of those questions.

    Furthemore, he errs by claiming some monolith that he calls 'the Church' held this position of 'perfect preservation.' Yet even a mere look at the fact that most of the languages into which the NT was translated reveals the absurdity of this claim. For example, which version was the 'perfectly preserved' Syriac version? The Peshitta? The Harclean? Which? And how does he know this?

    Ferguson clearly knows his position is weak, though, because he focuses more attention upon bashing Dan Wallace and his 'facile positon' or accusing his position of consisting of 'mere hand waving.' But the only hand waving here is Mr Ferguson, who seems to be waving to his own rational faculties. The very objections Ferguson makes are answered in Wallace's paper on preservation. Rather than attempting to overthrow this with the wave of his hand, Ferguson needs to actually use his intellectual acumen to engage the issue.