Ehrman's central message is that the New Testament is a human book, written by different people in different situations with different audiences and different objectives. Is this a bid to disabuse believers of their Christianity? Absolutely not, Ehrman says.
What a bold-faced lie. He knows exactly what he's doing. That's all that he wants to do, that is, pull people away from Christianity, well, besides making money and being the beloved pseudo-scholar of the atheist and Islamic. He more than others, because of his background in evangelicalism, understands that he is trying to get people to forsake Christ. I'm thinking that his chair at UNC motivates him to say he isn't trying to get people (college kids) to leave Christianity (that would be a separation of church and state issue too, wouldn't it?).
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. Wallace has said:
Up until the last few years, I would say—and have said—that the practice of textual criticism neither needs nor deserves any theological presuppositions. For example, I am not convinced that the Bible speaks of its own preservation. . . . As for the broader realm of the integration of theology and scholarship, . . . sometimes that pursuit seems to be in conflict with bibliology. My own views on inerrancy and inspiration have changed over the years. I still embrace those doctrines, but I don’t define them the way I used to. The evidence has shaped my viewpoint . . . . What I tell my students every year is that it is imperative that they pursue truth rather than protect their presuppositions. . . . When they place more peripheral doctrines such as inerrancy and verbal inspiration at the core, then when belief in these doctrines start to erode, it creates a domino effect: One falls down, they all fall down. . . . The irony is that those who frontload their critical investigation of the text of the Bible with bibliological presuppositions often speak of a ‘slippery slope’ on which all theological convictions are tied to inerrancy. Their view is that if inerrancy goes, everything else begins to erode. I would say that if inerrancy is elevated to the status of a prime doctrine, that’s when one gets on a slippery slope.
Since Wallace starts with evidence, which is in his case the textual variants and then the theories that he believes in, he submits his view of preservation and inerrancy to evidence to arrive at what he believes about the perfection of Scripture. He suggests that in order not to push the eject button on Christianity like Ehrman, everyone should dumb down their doctrine so as to spare themselves the falling away from the Christian faith, essentially adjusting Christian doctrine to external evidence.
What Wallace has done isn't anything different than what Benjamin Warfield did to come to his view of an old earth and a day-age creation account. He also revised the meaning of the Westminster Confession because of similar concerns as those communicated above by Wallace. Warfield was also afraid that once men saw variants, they would sort of freak out theologically and not hang on any longer to what they believed. Warfield also had history to deal with, so like is often the case with modern historians, he revised the history of the doctrine of preservation and extrapolated new beliefs for the reformers and the post-reformation divines. We call this revisionist history (sometimes also called politically correct history). Now Warfield's belief, altered by evidence, also had a "history." D. G. Hart and John R. Muether write:
For a variety of historical reasons American Presbyterians throughout the nineteenth century were fully committed to the Enlightenment and scientific methods as the surest means for arriving at truth. Though still believing in the authority of Scripture, the best—or at least the most widely accepted—way of demonstrating the truth of the Bible was by appealing to reason and Scripture's harmony with nature and the self-evident truths of human experience. Even though the Presbyterian theologians who taught at Princeton Seminary, such as Charles Hodge and Benjamin B. Warfield, believed in and defended the sinfulness of man, including human reason, their fundamental acceptance of the Enlightenment also produced apologetics that in many cases deemed the mind to be a reliable and authoritative guide to truth, including the truths of the Bible.
James White in his debate with Ehrman decries Ehrman's unbelieving presuppositions. The USA Today article makes mention of this:
One of Ehrman's chief critics is the theologian and author James White, a leading practitioner of apologetics, the branch of theology devoted to defending and proving the orthodox faith. White denounces Ehrman as an apostate guided by deep anti-Christian bias. He charges in one Internet post that Ehrman has "moved far beyond the realm of his narrow expertise in his last three most popular books, all of which are designed to do one thing: destroy Christian faith."
This was White's biggest point in the debate. It was really all he had to debate, since they were both in such agreement on textual criticism. The key phrase from White in USA Today is "an apostate guided by deep anti-Christian bias." He is saying that Ehrman shouldn't be guided by theological bias in his view of the text. White and Wallace would say that they don't have a theological bias at all, only Ehrman. I again point you to these words from Daniel Wallace:
Evangelicals tend to allow their doctrinal convictions to guide their research. It is better to not the left hand know what the right hand is doing: methodologically, investigate with as objective a mind as possible, allowing the evidence to lead where it will.
Wallace's statement agrees with the idea of not having a theological bias in our approach to the text. Of course, this isn't the historic position, the one recorded in the Westminster Confession and London Baptist Confession, but it is the view of textual critics. The biblical and historic Christian approach to the preservation of scripture, and, therefore, the identity of the New Testament text, has been guided by biblical presuppositions, so a presuppositional epistemology.
Bart Ehrman, even by testimony of White and Wallace, is one of the foremost textual critics in the world. Ehrman comes to his conclusions through evidence. Since they themselves do not rely on scriptural presuppositions, White and Wallace must rely on evidence to overturn Ehrman. Credentials are an important factor in modern textual criticism. White and Wallace aren't as credentialed as Ehrman. That hurts any argument they make in a world that depends on credentials.
White and Wallace live and die by textual criticism, since they both hang on it so absolutely. Textual criticism, as a science, turns and shifts. New discoveries and then conclusions are made. Consensus is reached in the scientific community. We can see a new kind of paradigm being reached in the textual criticism world. The outstanding textual critics seem to be splitting from the evangelicals. It is obvious that something is driving this, and based on what White has plainly said and Wallace has intimated, it is their theological presuppositions that seem to be causing the split.
If one is guided by theological presuppositions, then those must be what we see in scripture. Wallace has done a couple of things to make sure that his textual criticism and his beliefs are compatible. First was this:
I am not convinced that the Bible speaks of its own preservation.
If you have a hard time believing your eyes, then consider what Detroit Baptist Theological professor, William Combs, wrote about Wallace's position on preservation:
In an article entitled “Inspiration, Preservation, and New Testament Textual Criticism,” by Daniel B. Wallace, we find what is apparently the first definitive, systematic denial of a doctrine of preservation of Scripture.
But what is the epistemology of William Combs? Notice what he wrote as a comment to someone asking him about Matthew 5:18 and his approach to its interpretation:
I think perhaps you are correct--Matt 5:18 probably does deserve more attention than I gave it in the article. . . . As far as it being a hyperbole, I also cited Robert Stein in support, and there may be others, but I can’t remember. But I wonder how it could be anything else but hyperbole? Taken literally, it would seem to demand perfect preservation, which, of course, the evidence flatly refutes.
Even if the Bible does teach perfect preservation (which it does), Combs isn't going to believe it, because "the evidence flatly refutes" it. Do you see how he is willing to make his interpretation of Scripture depend on external evidence? This is not presuppositionalism. It is the equivalent of Thomas not believing in the bodily resurrection until he could physically touch Jesus. Whatsoever is not of faith is sin (Romans 14:23).
We see Wallace go to a brand new "Christological-incarnational based" approach to the text, which is very difficult to understand and is a brand new doctrine. Wallace has said:
As for the broader realm of the integration of theology and scholarship, I would fundamentally disagree with Michael Fox’s definition of faith as having nothing to do with evidence. Genuine Christian faith is a step, not a leap. The driving force in my pursuit of truth is the Incarnation. Unfortunately, too many evangelicals make Christology the handmaiden of bibliology, rather than the other way around. But the Incarnation requests us and even requires us to investigate the data. And sometimes that pursuit seems to be in conflict with bibliology. My own views on inerrancy and inspiration have changed over the years. I still embrace those doctrines, but I don’t define them the way I used to. The evidence has shaped my viewpoint; and I must listen to the evidence because of the Incarnation.
Maybe you have a hard time wrapping your brain around that too. Shouldn't evangelicalism be questioning this new position? I wonder why we don't see other evangelicals criticizing something that has no historic basis, and I speculate it is the evangelical credentials of Wallace that are the reason.
On the other hand, White just attacks Ehrman's anti-theological bias without mentioning that he himself has his own bias. Why? Textual critics aren't supposed to have theological bias. It's a science. You can see the problem. Do we have theological presuppositions or do we not? Of course we are supposed to and they are the basis for what we believe about preservation of the Bible and, therefore, the text.
One word that stuck out to me in Wallace's quote was the word "integration." It is quite fitting for him, "the integration of theology and scholarship." Integrationism is a big problem in evangelicalism. Normally when we think of integrationism, we think of the integration of the "science" of psychology with biblical counseling. This is the new Christian psychology. The critique of this would be the same as for Wallace's integrationism. He mixes his science of textual criticism with biblical doctrine. We will corrupt the Bible, in this case the teaching of God's Word and its text, when we practice this integration. And this all relates to epistemology. Can we trust man's observations in either of these fields? The consequence as related to the text of Scripture is a lack of certainty in the text of God's Word.
In integrationism, there is an attempt to find truth in two places: in God's revelation and in human observations. Often this act is justified by a misused mantra from history: "All truth is God's truth." This raises the level of man's observations to "truth," the same authority as scripture. Nowhere in the Bible do we see science to have a role in enhancing what God has said. We have no scriptural model for submitting the truth of Scripture to man's findings or discoveries. Man's discoveries do not even rise to the level of general revelation, let alone the truth of Scripture. By nature man doesn't discover something that is authoritative.
Examining the Explanations
Examination of the explanations of Ehrman and White (Wallace would be like White) indicate the failure of being able to make a significant point of certainty about the text of scripture by means of evidence. I've been watching this closely and let me tell you what's happening. To start, everyone knows that we have no original mansuscripts, so we're all depending on copies for the preservation of God's Words.
Both sides, White and Ehrman agree that the earliest even fragment of a hand-written copy of Mark dates to around AD 220, called P45, only eight chapters of the gospel of Mark. If Mark was completed as late as AD 70, P45 is 150 years after its original writing. P45 might be six generations of manuscripts after the original.
Both also believe that the worst copying and the greatest errors came into the earliest manuscripts. The explanation is that the copyists were not trained as scribes and neither did they have the right conditions for copying like men did three hundred years later, when scriptoriums were built. Therefore, the most errors came into copies in those early years. This theory is backed up by a comparison of the two oldest manuscripts of the New Testament, Vaticanus (AD 300) and Sinaiticus (AD 350). Those two manuscripts differ in thousands of places and yet they provide the primary basis for almost all of the modern versions of scripture. There are as many differences between them as there are verses in the New Testament. Despite the fact that most of the mistakes were made early on, according to their theories, they say that still means that the oldest manuscripts are the best, because more years equals more errors. Period. They speculate that the Byzantine manuscripts, those that are the basis for the textus receptus, come from one copy that dates around the same time as Vaticanus and Sinaiticus in a different family or line of manuscripts.
Since we don't have the original manuscripts, we don't know how much different the copies are from the originals. Hypothetically, they could be vastly different. We don't have the evidence to make that decision. But we are talking about one bad copy being made from another bad copy, which is made from another bad copy, and so on. Even by the time they were trained in copying and had good resources to accomplish the task well, they were starting from poor copies with unknown numbers of errors because a lot of bad stuff happening before anyone knew what he was doing.
All the textual critics believe in everything I've written so far. White's theory for what happened next is that by looking at vast numbers of copies with similarities and at translations that match up with those manuscripts, we can extrapolate what the original text was enough to give us assurance that none of the doctrines of scripture are lost. So we look at copies that look similar, have most of the same words, and we get attestation from that of what the original words likely were.
Ehrman says "no." He says that we can't come to that conclusion. He contradicts that with a few points. He says that the similarities between copies just mean that they were made from the same manuscript and probably the same very corrupt manuscript. He also says that we're talking about books that were copied based on a bias of those copying. They had a particular view of Jesus that they wanted to support with the words that they wrote down. Their understanding of Jesus may be different than what we might read in the originals if we had them. Therefore, we can't be absolutely sure what was even the content in the original copies, let alone the words. On top of that, Ehrman would say that other books written at that time and refused by the churches will give a fuller texture and description of the people and times than what we see in only the apocryphal books.
White says that Ehrman gets his position based on his own "anti-Christian bias." Ehrman says again, "No, I got it from looking at the evidence, allowing the evidence to lead me, like the evidence leads all major textual critics. And who are you to criticize me? What have you done and who do you know?" Ehrman says that the bulk of the experts agree with him, their all reaching the same conclusions the same way that he did. And, therefore, Ehrman means that White's position is based upon White's own bias to give more accreditation to the Bible, because he needs what the Bible says in order to support his faith.
When White says that Ehrman is wrong, he says that Ehrman is holding the Bible to a higher standard of preservation than he does other secular writings. He says that the Bible has more textual attestation than Tacitus for instance. Ehrman retorts that all textual critics hold their particular texts, whether secular or scriptural, in a great deal of doubt, so they shouldn't handle the books of the New Testament any differently. Ehrman goes further in his writings by saying that we're not even sure that the gospels themselves are the true version of Christ's life, but just the ones that made it through the scrutiny of some very biased followers who wanted to keep His story alive to give them hope.
So between White and Ehrman you get two interpretations of the evidence. Ehrman says we really don't know what exactly Jesus said because there are so many variations. Based on this, he gets the title of his book, Misquoting Jesus. White counters by saying that, based on earlier textual critics, who came to different conclusions than Ehrman, we should think that there is great textual attestation for the Bible, enough to say that at the bare minimum all the teachings are intact. Both of the views depend on the interpretation of the evidence by men, irregardless of doctrine or the Holy Spirit.
No matter which side you believe in the battle of the textual critics, you get a 150 year period that we have no evidence whatsoever, a time from the originals to the first fragment. Both sides say that we should assume lots of corruption. One side says that it could be amazing amounts of alteration. The other says that we should conclude that it is very little change in content. Both are relying on naturalistic, humanly-derived process and analysis, probably coming at it from a certain bias, but both not admitting that they do so.
How Certain Are They in Their Science?
I'm going to use Ehrman for this, because he would be the one between White and him, who would be the most sure about his methodology. He's the expert. He's the one who other experts have on speed dial. Consider these lines from Ehrman in Misquoting Jesus:
It appears (emphasis mine) that Erasmus relied heaviy on just one twelfth-century manuscript for the Gospels and another, also of the twelfth century, for the book of Acts and the Epistle---although he was able to consult several other manuscripts and make corrections based on their readings" (p. 78, this last part, saying that he consulted other manuscripts, is often left out).
All of these texts, however, relied more or less (emphasis mine) on the texts of their predecessors" (p. 79).
Erasmus's edition princeps, which was based on some rather late, and not necessarily (emphasis mine) reliable, Greek manuscripts (p. 80).
It appears that someone copied out of the Greek text of the Epistles, and when he came to the passage in question, he translated the Latin text into the Greek (p. 82).
One of the reasons that someone must say "appears" and "necessarily" and "more or less," as well as other qualifiers, is because he isn't completely sure. First, we don't have the originals, so based upon evidence, we can't say that a certain wording isn't in there. If we aren't sure about a text that has thousands of copies, then how can we be sure about a history that has far less validation? As a basis for textual criticism, the textual critic must perform the function of erasing what was the text received by the churches in order to create the new text received by the scientists, based upon their theories. They do this by attempting to break down what Erasmus, Bezae, and Stephanus did in the sixteenth century.
Normally in a dialogue between textus receptus believers and critical text supporters, we get a pushing match over Erasmus versus Westcott and Hort. I think this happens mainly because of the critical text side. Why? The method used by men is what they depend upon to come to their conclusions. To establish how good their work is, they start by bashing Erasmus. In response to that, the textus receptus side often smacks around Westcott and Hort. Then you get a tit-for-tat walloping of both sides. In the end, Erasmus played with silly string and Westcott and Hort were demon worshipers. This is the textus receptus side arguing on the same terms as the critical text side. It's not good.
I don't think I've ever written in all of my work one critical word about Westcott and Hort. I don't reject the critical text because of who Westcott and Hort were. I reject it because it doesn't fit the presuppositions that we read in scripture. I believe God would do what He said He would do.
The bigger problems should be that the position of the textual critics doesn't fit what God said about the preservation of His Word. Instead, we should believe what God said He would do, not what men speculate had happened. Faith is what pleases God. Since everyone is in different degrees of doubt based on evidence and since no one can prove what happened between AD 70 and 220 anyway, we trust in the Lord as our evidence. This includes the intangible witness of the Holy Spirit. His truth is good enough.