Revisiting the Corruption of The New Testament

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Revisiting the Corruption of the New Testament is the first in what looks to be a promising series from Kregel called Text and Canon of the New Testament. The essays in this particular book are directed mainly towards Bart Ehrman’s claims about the corruption of the New Testament and specifically those made in his more academic work, The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture: The Effect of Early Christological Controversies on the Text of the New Testament.

Overview

Though originally released in 1993, a new edition just came out this summer and given Ehrman’s rise in popularity in the last 20 years, more people might find his arguments compelling. Certainly skeptics who read Ehrman’s more popular level works will gravitate towards his more academic treatment. To respond, and in a devastating manner, all you need is this collection of essays edited by Dan Wallace.

Originally, I had thought this was a new book by Wallace, having failed to notice the fine print on the cover that says “Editor” (different than pic shown). Instead, this collection of essays actually date back to 2008, and were written by interns of Wallace in the Th.M program at Dallas Seminary. Interestingly, as you might recall, 2007 was when I started my time at Dallas, so these essays were written by guys a few years ahead of me in the program and New Testament majors instead of Systematic Theology majors.

However, don’t let the fact that these essays were written by Dan Wallace’s former interns fool you. The paper were so well written they were actually allowed to be read at the annual Evangelical Theological Society conference in November 2008. These guys were also Wallace’s interns who went with him to the debate he had with Bart Ehrman in April 2008 (which has been published as The Reliability of the New Testament: Bart Ehrman and Daniel Wallace in Dialogue). I didn’t go to the debate myself, but being that it took place down the road in New Orleans during my second semester at Dallas, I heard quite a bit about it. One thing in particular that I remember hearing about it was that Wallace’s interns seemed to know more of the ins and outs of Ehrman’s argument than he did, and he was quite embarrassed at the debate.

Now, with the publication of this book, you’ve got the ability to read for yourself several former Th.M students at Dallas dismantling Ehrman’s arguments from a variety of directions. As Wallace explains in the preface:

All five chapters address, directly or indirectly, issues raised in Bart Ehrman’s The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture [OCS], a monumental work that has raised numerous questions about intentional corruption of the NT by proto-orthodox scribe in the early centuries. Two of the essays address a single verse (Matt 24:36 and John 1:1), one a methodological issue (whether the least orthodox reading is to be preferred), one an analogous matter (the textual transmission of the Gospel of Thomas), and one a foundational theological issue (whether the autographic text ever spoke of Jesus as Theos [God]).

On the following page, Wallace says that Ehrman had emailed him for critical input on OCS and so these essays might have had an impact on the second edition of the book I mentioned above. [If anyone knows whether or not Ehrman adjusted his arguments in light of the essays in this book, let me know!] As it stands, between Wallace’s introductory essay, and the essay on methodology (The Least Orthodox Reading is To Be Preferred: A New Canon for New Testament Textual Criticism?) I think Ehrman’s case is more or less devastated. In this book, I think it is consistently shown that the readings Ehrman is pushing for are agenda driven rather than the result of sensible scholarly decision making.

I realize that might be a false dichotomy, but what Ehrman seems to be doing is preferring the least orthodox reading simply because it is less orthodox. In other words, he carries a big presupposition to the textual criticism table, namely, that orthodoxy emerged as the champion by pushing out alternate views. Or, in other words, in order for orthodoxy to win the day, other readings had to be suppressed, therefore “orthodox” scribes would have intentionally altered the text.

What the authors in this books are collectively doing is bringing evidence to bear that shows that particular presupposition is not a valid one. They do so in a way that is charitable to Ehrman is very scholarly in tone. He is never belittled or ridiculed, but his scholarship is simply answered, and trumped with these authors’ additional scholarship. With that in mind, it’s worth noting that for most people, reading this book won’t be a walk in the park. These are essentially academic journal articles, and read more or less like them. It does help that they were edited to be read at a conference since that does improve readability. Because of that, the essays while scholarly and at times dense, are still very clear in their style and prose. The difficulty really comes at the level of familiarity the reader is expected to have with New Testament textual criticism. At times, short explanations are given for some of the protocols, but overall, the reader who has taken several semesters of seminary Greek is going to best equipped to interact with some of the material here.

If that’s not you, you still may profit from reading this book. Without a background in Greek it may be hard to follow chapters 4 and 5 (the former doing an exhaustive survey in patristic theology of Matt 24:36, the latter showing the textual development of the Gospel of Thomas), and perhaps even chapter 6, which is a thorough examination of John 1:1, 1:18, 20:28, Acts 20:28, Galatians 2:20, Hebrews 1:8, and 2 Peter 1:1 and whether or not it is likely the original readings of the text said that Jesus was God. On the plus side, Wallace’s introductory article and the following essay are very user friendly to readers not as familiar with Greek and New Testament textual criticism. Wallace’s essay is worth the price of the book alone, and the follow up by Philip Miller is perhaps the one out of the bunch that most undermines Ehrman’s overall project.

Conclusion

In the end, while I was initially disappointed this wasn’t a new book by Wallace, it is still a fine collection of essays that interact with Bart Ehrman’s thought on a scholarly level. It is a useful volume of essays that are handy to the apologist seeking to defend the text of the New Testament against accusations that “heresy” proceeded “orthodoxy” and it can be shown from “proper” textual criticism. I think these essays do a fine job of showing that in the end, sound textual criticism and a view of variants emerging from an orthodox consensus go hand in hand.


Daniel Wallace ed., Revisiting the Corruption of The New Testament: Manuscript, Patristic, and Apocryphal Evidence (Text and Canon of the New Testament). Grand Rapids: Kregel Academic, October, 2011.  288 pp. Paperback, $29.99.

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Thanks to Kregel Academic for the review copy!

Author: Nate

I'm an avid reader, musician, and high school Bible teacher living in central Florida. I have many paperback books and our house smells of rich glade air freshners. If you want to know more, then let's connect!

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