Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Ehrman vs. White NT textual tradition debate

I would like to bring to the attention of my readers a new internet resource that just became available today: a pdf transcript of the recent Bart Ehrman and James White debate (January 21, 2009, Ft. Lauderdale, Florida: Can the New Testament Be Inspired in Light of Textual Variation?). [Note: a video dvd of the debate will be available 04/03/09, and can be pre-ordered HERE.]

I thought both men did an excellent job, I must give the ‘win’ to James. In his opening statement, James provided a quote from two of the foremost New Testament textual scholars of our time, Kurt and Barbara Aland. That quote, and James’ subsequent comments, established the most fundamental point concerning the very nature of the New Testament textual tradition. From the debate we read:

It is vital to understand a basic truth about the manuscript tradition of the New Testament, to quote Kurt and Barbara Aland, “The transmission of the New Testament textual tradition is characterized by an extremely impressive degree of tenacity. Once a reading occurs it will persist with obstinacy. It is precisely the overwhelming mass of the New Testament textual tradition…which provides an assurance of certainty in establishing the original text.” Basically what this means is that once a reading appears in the manuscripts, it stays there. That includes scribal errors and even nonsense errors. Why would this be a good thing? Because of what it means on the other side: The original readings are still in the manuscript tradition. This is key! When we have a variant with three possibilities, A, B, and C, we do not have to worry about D, “None of the above!” (Page 13 of the online pdf version -bold emphasis in the transcript.)

The above quote from Kurt and Barbara Aland is from their classic work, The Text of the New Testament. The following is a fuller context of the quote:

The transmission of the New Testament textual tradition is characterized by an extremely impressive degree of tenacity. Once a reading occurs it will persist with obstinacy. It is precisely the overwhelming mass of the New Testament textual tradition, assuming the hygiainousa didaskalia* of New Testament textual criticism (we trust the reader will not be offended by this application of 1 Tim. 1:10), which provides an assurance of certainty in establishing the original text. (Kurt and Barbara Aland, The Text of the New Testament, second edition, translated by Erroll R. Rhodes, 1989, pp. 291, 292 – pp. 286, 287 in the first edition - bold emphasis in the original.)

This “tenacity” of the New Testament textual tradition is maintained by another contemporary textual scholar:

The early New Testament papyri contribute virtually no new substantial variants, suggesting that all of the New Testament variants are preserved somewhere in the extant manuscript tradition. Kenyon (1958:55) says:


The number of manuscripts of the New Testament, of early translations from it, and of quotations from it in the oldest writers of the church, is so large that it is practically certain that the true reading of every doubtful passage is preserved in some one or other of the ancient authorities. This can be said of no other ancient book.


This tells us that it is very unlikely that we would find additional significant variant readings if other manuscripts were discovered—even if these manuscripts were from the first century. We can safely assume, then, that the original text has usually been preserved in the earliest manuscripts
. (Philip Wesley Comfort, The Quest for the Original Text of the New Testament, p. 56.)


Hope you enjoy reading the entire debate as much as I have.


Grace and peace,

David


*I have transliterated the original Greek; the English equivalent is: sound/correct - teaching/doctrine.

Note: The Fredrick Kenyon work quoted by Comfort is from the 5th revised edition of his Our Bible and the Ancient Manuscripts.

4 comments:

Doctor Steuss said...

Thank you so very much for this David!

David Waltz said...

My pleasure. Hope you are able to comment after you have had a chance to read the debate.


Grace and peace,

David

Doctor Steuss said...

I will attempt to take notes (when I do get around to reading it... lots of other stuff on my reading plate right now), and return to comment.

I just hope I am able to put aside my uncharitable opinion of White enough to evaluate his arguments on their own merits (without looking through my cloudy lens).

-Stu

Lucian said...

Link.