Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Bock and Wallace, Reliability of the New Testament

Dallas Theological Seminary with Darrell Bock has what they call a table podcast, which looks like a decorated room with a table and a couple of microphones to do a video podcast.  I like the format and would like to do something like it myself -- stay tuned because in the next year, I think we might do this.  There's carpet in the room and it looks like Wallace has socks on.  That's fun.  You can see him rubbing his feet in the carpet.

I didn't watch the whole podcast.  I watched starting at 16:28 until the end.  The format is that Bock is an interviewer and he looks like he is winging it in an intelligent way, as well as Wallace in his answers.  I think they are fairly standard and common questions that these two must address all the time as professors in the New Testament department of a seminary.  This is not technical.  It's obviously done for lay people to provide what might be considered some basics.  There are some pastors that don't know this basic material, so they should at least watch and at least understand the answers.  You could learn something.  I learned at least three things from watching, and I'll let you know.

I'm posting this and commenting on it because it really is a standard presentation in defense of the critical text.  A lot of "King James Only" (textus receptus supporters actually) comes into the program.  Bock and Wallace are defending the reliability of the New Testament, which for them is a testimony for the critical text against criticisms from the left or the right of them over the same concerns about reliability.  The left would say that there is some doubt about the reliability because of the huge number of variants between manuscripts.  The right would say that this level of certainty isn't what believers should expect.  I think they do a very good job of answering the left, but a bad job of answering the right.

What I'm writing here about their podcast is motivated by the negative, but I want to start with some positives, not because I think I need to do that to be fair.  I mean it when I'm positive.  I'm actually positive, not using the sandwich method of criticism. I want to thank them.  Bock and Wallace are arguing for the reliability of the New Testament.  They are arguing from a naturalistic point of view, but even arguing with naturalism, depending on so-called science, the New Testament stands up to criticism.  I'm happy about that.

Bock and Wallace don't want people ejecting from the New Testament for textual reasons.  That's good.  Hurray for them!  Bravo!  They want people believing the Bible.  I think they mean it.  I'm happy that Wallace is taking pictures of every Greek manuscript and putting it online.  It provides a service.  I'm glad someone is funding that.  It is a gigantic, monumental task, that someone should do.  It's the Bible!  It's God's Word!  We should know what we have in the way of manuscript evidence.  When people challenge us on these means, which they do all the time where I live in our evangelism, we can point to something that debunks their lies, and they are lies.

The condition of the New Testament from a purely naturalistic viewpoint is very good.  Wallace is physically proving that by putting up all the textual evidence.  It hasn't been corrupted like the Moslems and atheists and others, who just want to discredit the authority of scripture, would say.  They are lying.

Within the talk between Bock and Wallace on reliability of the New Testament, they testify to faith in Christ as well.  At one point late in the interview, while talking about a short ending of Mark, Wallace says:
I think his intention is to get the readers to put themselves in the sandals of the disciples, and now what am I gonna do with Jesus? If I want to accept him in his glory the way Peter did in his confession of Jesus as the Christ, I must also accept him in his suffering, and I must carry my cross daily and follow him. 
That’s what Mark I think is doing is, “You’re persecuted Christians. You’ve gotta own this and not just read this and casually be a Christian. If you’re gonna be a follower of Jesus, you really better follow him, and that includes suffering.”
I was happy to read that testimony.  They were not rejecting the truth about Jesus Christ.  Bock says,
We’ve got the declaration of the resurrection. We’ve got the empty tomb. We’ve got those elements. Now I call this the “you make the call” part of the New Testament, and that’s how Mark’s ending. What are you gonna do with this? You’ve got an empty tomb. You’ve got witnesses to an empty tomb. You’ve got a declaration that Jesus is raised from the dead. What are you gonna do with this?
I'm happy they are saying these things.  This is not liberalism.  This is exalting Jesus.

I said I learned three things.  One, Wallace quotes an updated edition of Bart Ehrman's Misquoting Jesus, admitting the following.
“I don’t disagree with Dr. Metzger. There is no cardinal doctrine that is jeopardized by any of these variants.” And that’s on page 252 of the paperback version of Misquoting Jesus.
That was news to me, and helpful.  The other was this statistic from Wallace.
There’s about two-and-a-half million pages of Greek New Testament manuscripts, which means if we have only photographed 20 percent, it’s great job security for me.
Three, Wallace said this.
Now when you actually think about these variants, the other thing I would say is people who make this claim have not compared it to Greco-Roman literature. We have maybe half a dozen manuscripts for the average classical author, and let’s say we had as many as 15 manuscripts for the average classical Greek author that still exist. 
You stack those up, and they’d be about four feet high. If you stack up the New Testament manuscripts, the Greek ones as well as early translations which all count as manuscripts in Latin and Coptic and Syriac and Georgian and Gothic and Ethiopic and all that, it’ll be about a mile and a quarter high, four feet versus a mile and a quarter.
OK, so now I come to the negative.  When it comes to the reliability of the New Testament, Bock and Wallace, as is so often the case, argue in a naturalistic way.  They don't begin with theological presuppositions, which we should expect from conservative apologists of scripture, who are defending the reliability of the New Testament.  Our expectations for the New Testament find their trajectory in the promises of the New Testament.  What we should expect of the New Testament comes from the New Testament.  Bock and Wallace settle for something less that what believers should expect.  They don't even mention this.

Bock and Wallace argue against the teaching of the New Testament when it comes to what Christians should expect.  Why should anyone expect word for word perfection?  They don't deal with that.  They leave it alone.  Why?  Is it really that assumed?  The extent of their theological argument, biblical theology, is maybe four points.

To start, Bock and Wallace don't really say in this portion of their conversation what or who they're arguing against.  I guess it's supposed to be obvious.  They are burdened by something that motivates them to answer.  They should have a burden, because the basis of the criticism of their position is legitimate.

The four points are not necessarily in this order, but, one, the critical text doesn't diminish teaching on the deity of Christ.  Two, all the doctrines are preserved in the critical text, not in every individual passage of scripture, but all of them are in the critical text of the New Testament.  Three, the absence of "chunk portions" in the critical text, namely Mark 16 and John 8, is defensible theologically and textually.  Four, you've got more text than is in the Bible between all the manuscripts, so you aren't missing anything overall that you need, because it's all in there somewhere.  These four points are supposed to alleviate angst, provide calm, and really just be good enough for someone.  Question though:  is this what we are to expect when we read what we are to expect?  Absolutely not.

The textual problems are good enough for Wallace and Bock to deny a doctrine or preservation.  Is this a liberal position.  Usually this isn't associated with liberalism, but liberalism comes when doctrines of scripture are rejected for naturalistic reasons. The miracles of Jesus, He did them, but since someone hasn't seen them, they are rejected.  This is conforming the preservation of scripture, and also the degree of reliability, reliability of every word, to just reliability of "doctrines."  This changes the nature of scriptural teaching on reliability.  It is against historic doctrine of the church. Their defense is inadequate.

Scripture has a doctrine of preservation.  Our views of canonicity are guided by a trajectory that proceeds from expectation from biblical teaching, not naturalism.  What we consider scripture comes from scripture.  What we believe on preservation should also come from scripture, and Bock and Wallace just ignore that in this interview.

Men expect a perfect text, which is why they defend the textus receptus.  At one point, you can hear at least a little concern from Bock, when he says,
[I]t’s a question that does hang over this conversation, and that is the view of the fact that this has been a part of the passing on of Scripture for as long as it has. That actually applies to lots of texts, but this one is probably one of the more prominent ones to which that question gets pursued.
Notice he says, "a part of the passing on of Scripture."  This motivates a continuation of this kind of presentation from them.  Believers, true churches, continued to pass this along as scripture.  Moderns now reject this.  Their grounds are naturalistic, not theological.  Scripture doesn't teach a loss and then restoration of scripture, based on naturalistic grounds.  They need to go there, but as is so often the case, they don't.


Bill Hardecker said...

A fascinating podcast for sure. I appreciate technology and it's usefulness (the audio/visual is super clear, again, just fascinating). Dan Wallace's salvation testimony was also at the start, around 2:00. He talked about a "radical commitment" to Christ when he was 16 years old. This doesn't even come close to the many insipid reports of faith that many false teachers and false converts are saying today. So, like you, I too am glad to hear his testimony and the further elaboration of it where you cited around the short ending of Mark section of the podcast.

I sure hope you would do a tablepodcast or something similar. And while you are at it, perhaps you may want to invite listeners or interested persons to email their questions (or live-tweet or instant message em' - just saying) for further discussion but I digress. A simple straight forward podcast or audio/visual Q&A would be neat for sure, especially from your vantage point. I mean Doug Wilson's Q&A videos are just as good as this one, but he comes from a neo-reformed perspective.

As far as digitizing all the MSS. - certainly glad that Mr. Wallace is doing it! I don't believe a shred of conspiracy theory that he would do anything less than simply digitizing what is available. In a way, this video humanizes Wallace and even Bock. I like how Bock rescues Wallace in a couple of spots for clarification resulting in humor. Charity demands that we think the best even of folks we disagree with.

I looked up an older Dan Wallace video via YouTube (the Ankerberg KJV debate). And noticed that Wallace said that we (that is us, KJVo advocates) have sacrificed "truth" at the expense of "certainty." I was waiting for this line but I have only watched this video up until about 20:00 - so I still have some ways to go.

Thank you for sharing this and your thoughts about how their approach to NT textual criticism is mainly liberal. But we who do believe in God's inspired and preserved words ought to step-up to the plate and know the reasons for why we believe what we believe. A good place to start is TSKT; still waiting for part 2, hint, hint :-). Another good place to start is Dr. Strouse's book "The Lord God Hath Spoken."

Kent Brandenburg said...


I really do appreciate your studiousness and interest in spiritual things. this is a right comment. Thanks.

Todd (AV) said...

Dan Wallace is useful in demonstrating the 'empirical probability' preservation of scripture and thereby exalting science and philosophy over the scripture.

We corresponded a few years ago on the Presuppositional preservation of Scripture on the Jack Hammer site. I was wondering if you had time if you could give me some feedback- positive or negative on an article about the KJV and presuppositional approach I posted here:

Thanks for your time.
In Christ,

Kent Brandenburg said...

Hi Todd,

I don't agree with the means or the outcome of Wallace's method. I said that in the post, but we can still say that it is true that we have thus and thus number of manuscripts and whatever percentage of agreement, that does debunk what certain liberals or apostates say in attack on the Word of God. Perhaps I will read your post. I clicked there and scanned down to see how long it is, and it is very long. If it ends with the KJV being superior to the original language, that isn't preservation. If that is your outcome, and I'm not saying it is, I want you to know right now, that is faithless too. Hopefully you can agree with that based on biblical presuppositions.