Textual Criticism - Absolute Certainty Isn't Necessary

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josh p's picture

The last two quotes by Ehman were interesting. Based on a couple of debates I have watched of his I would not have expected him to say that. It seemed to me in his debates with White and Wallace that he was pushing hard to make the point that the text of the NT is totally in doubt.

TylerR's picture

Editor

I have Ehrman's book The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture, which is much more nuanced and less sensational than the more popular stuff he is known for. His point about the NT texts being unreliable goes back to this:

  • There was no real "orthodoxy" in early Christianity at all. What we now know as "orthodox" is simply the result of one faction eventually triumphing over all the others. There is no rule of faith. 
  • Therefore, the NT text is unreliable, not because scribes were evil or sinister, but because the presuppositions each brought to the table (wherever that table was) unconsciously influenced them to "re-write" and re-copy texts to fit their understanding
  • Ehrman writes, "When we rewrite a text in our minds so as to construe its meaning, we interpret the text; when a scribe rewrites a text on the page (i.e. modifies its words to help fix its meaning) he physically alters the texts," (p. 35). He summarizes, ". . . this nexus of [presuppositional] factors does more than influence the way texts are interpreted; it actually produces interpretations," (p. 34, emphasis his).

I have Misquoting Jesus, but I haven't read it at all. I think Ehrman basically wears two hats depending on the audience - (1) the popular-level guy who likes to cast doubt on everything in the NT, and (2) the scholarly guy who is much more careful with what he says. 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

josh p's picture

Thanks for the rundown. I should probably read some of his stuff at some point just so that I can interact with it. The problem is that there are so many good books that I have yet to read so it will probably be a while.