Ehrman-Wallace Debate Wrap-Up

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Thanks to those of you who were following my tweets from the debate. As promised, here are some further reflections on last night’s debate between Bart Ehrman and Dan Wallace. First of all, both men did a good job presenting their case and responding to each other’s questions. Bart Ehrman is a skilled debater and a very gifted communicator. He took charge of the debate from the very beginning, communicating clearly and directly. He also effectively anticipated many of Wallace’s arguments, especially regarding the number of Greek NT manuscripts.

When it was Wallace’s turn, he showed some good use of humor (playing off the UNC-Duke rivalry), and an impressive command of the field of textual criticism, but he spent way too much time (in my opinion) on listing all the manuscripts and the number of copies we have. That would have been good for a lecture, but was too tedious for a debate format. He showed that Bart Ehrman understated the number of early manuscripts we have, but did not satisfactorily engage him on the theoretical question as to how we can say we have the original text of the NT.

Probably Wallace’s strongest moment was when he quoted from Ehrman’s Misquoting Jesus where Ehrman said that none of the variants affects a major NT doctrine. Wow! That’s a powerful point. If I’d been in Wallace’s place, I would have kept reiterating this point several times, especially since Ehrman never responded to it. Another golden opportunity missed on Wallace’s part, in my opinion, was that he never pressed Ehrman on his comment that there were several places in the NT where there were serious problems with the text. Amazingly, Ehrman just made this general statement in his opening presentation without giving even a single example. He should not have gotten away that easily with this unsubstantiated assertion.

Also, at times Wallace conceded too much, as when he acknowledged there were problems with the text of 2 Corinthians but maintained that 2 Corinthians was not representative of the rest of the NT. Some of the material on 2 Corinthians in our NT Intro, The Cradle, the Cross, and the Crown might have been helpful here. Also, when Ehrman claimed that the German scholar Gunther Zuntz’s theory of a Pauline letter collection reflects a scholarly consensus, I was waiting for Wallace to object (he did not). What about David Trobisch? And what about those who don’t think any such compiler modified the text of the letters he collected?

In my judgment, it may have been effective for Wallace to ask Ehrman early on what kind of proof he required to be persuaded that we have the original text of the NT. That would have brought out the fact that Ehrman sets the bar so unreasonably high that virtually nothing could ever satisfy him. Even though Wallace titillatingly dangled the prospect of a first-century MS of Mark in front of Ehrman’s nose (mysteriously hinting that he was sworn to secrecy), it was clear that even that discovery (if it checks out) is unlikely to sway Ehrman. Simply producing a few earlier MSS does not necessarily overturn Ehrman’s theoretical concerns.

Perhaps it might have been helpful at some point, without being unduly ad hominem, to bring out Ehrman’s agnosticism and overall skepticism toward the Christian faith. Ehrman certainly came across as very sensible and measured during the debate, but in some of his writings it is quite clear that he has taken a strongly adversarial stance toward Christianity (not least because of his concerns related to the problem of evil).

Finally, the closing statement cried out for an effort to transcend the stuffy academic issue that probably went over many people’s heads in the audience anyway. If I’d been Wallace, I might have said something like this in closing: “Friends, I think I’ve shown that for every skeptical argument Bart Ehrman advances, there is a reasonable response that shows the Bible to be more reliable than he makes it out to be. But in the end, how many of us believe in the Bible because of text criticism, or the number of manuscripts, or differences in the variants? The bigger questions, I submit to you, are these: Is Christianity true? Is Jesus divine? Did Jesus die on the cross for our sins? Did he rise from the dead? Is Jesus the only way? What is the gospel? Will you and I believe? There are many believers in this audience who have become convinced that the Bible is true and that Jesus is real. We’ll continue to advance arguments and counter-arguments on the minutiae of textual matters, and those matter, but let’s not forget the bigger picture. The Bible is trustworthy, and Christianity is true. Hopefully, we can all agree on that. Thank you very much.”

After the debate, I conducted an informal survey among those who had just witnessed the debate. I asked them who they thought won the debate. There seems to have been no clear winner. Some said Wallace, others Ehrman. It seems that those who were more conservative in the audience appreciated Wallace’s solid presentation of the textual MS evidence and felt confirmed in their belief in the reliability of the NT documents. Others, especially UNC students who have taken Ehrman’s classes or heard about him from others, were impressed with Ehrman’s debating skills and clarity of explaining complicated issues. Some seemed unsure why the issue even mattered. One girl told me that she believed there were errors in the Bible but that she believed in Jesus anyway. On the whole, Ehrman’s delivery was crisper and more lucid. Wallace had a lot of valuable information but wasn’t always able to drive home the relevance of the data he presented for the issue at hand. Perhaps he should contact Romney’s debate coach and get some tips?


  1. I am going to use this book in my teaching.

  2. Any new developments on this? Its been more than a year now.

  3. The counter-attack to such a reply as Bentley’s, and one Dr. Ehrman will use, is that it doesn’t matter how many manuscripts we have, since it appears that almost all current manuscripts descend from a corrupt ancestor (e.g., all manuscripts but two add 12 verses to the end of Mark). Then he, who knows those two manuscripts well, will tell of their thousands of differences between themselves (many of them very major), and then of all the wild differences among the earliest manuscripts of all (i.e. the papyri), and then one is left with the impression that the text is irrecoverably lost. For if the earliest and best manuscripts are in such a state, certainly the later manuscripts cannot be any better.

    I happen to disagree with this assessment, but that is how the argument will run.

  4. Good debate point, Brett.

    As most NT textual critics know (but perhaps not the common layman), the exact argument of B. Ehrman (i.e., the NT is unreliable because there are so many variants) was already argued completely in 1713 in Anthony Collins’s “Discourse of Free Thinking,” and ably refuted in Richard Bentley’s “Remarks upon a late Discourse of Free Thinking” (1713).

    Below is a quote from Bentley’s “Remarks” letter (quoted in Tregelles’s _An Account of the Printed Text of the Greek New Testament_ (1854), pp. 50-51, showing logically that the more MSS we have, the more variants, and from their combined testimony, furthermore, the more certain readings:

    “If there had been but one manuscript of the Greek Testament, at the restoration of learning about two centuries ago, then we had had no _various readings_ at all. And would the text be in a better condition then, than now we have 30,000 [referring to the number of variants in Mill’s GNT]? So far from that, that in the best single copy extant we should have had some hundreds of faults, and some omissions irreparable. Besides that the suspicions of fraud and foul play would have been increased immensely.

    “It is good, therefore, you’ll allow, to have more anchors than one; and another MS. to join with the first would give more authority, as well as security. Now choose that second where you will, there shall still be a thousand variations from the first; and yet half or more of the faults shall still remain in them both.

    “A third therefore, and so a fourth, and still on, are desirable, that by a joint and mutual help all the faults may be mended; some copy preserving the true reading in one place, and some in another. And yet the more copies you call to assistance, the more do the various readings multiply upon you; every copy having its peculiar slips, though in a principal passage or two it do singular service. And this is fact not only in the New Testament, but in all ancient books whatever.”


    Jonathan C. Borland

  5. I got an email from someone pointing out my error in my initial post above. I said 43% are attested by using the 2nd AND 3RD century mss. If the 3rd century is included, the percent moves to 57. The 2nd century alone is 43%.

    I have a suggesting regarding how to present the famous 400,000 varients. I call it the preemptive strike. In the opening argument, the Christian Apologist should state, and then restate, that we would like to have about 800,000 variants, but as of 2012, the number is about half that, 400,000. Prepare the audience with a 800,000 number as the “hopeful” number. So, when Bart gives the number at only half of that, the audience has already been “taught” what we are looking for.

    The 400,000 has a direct relationship to the number of mss. The 800,000 number is simply saying we wish we had twice as many mss. You have to play Bart’s game. The preemptive strike should be used in other areas as well.

  6. @James Snapp Jr.,

    Thank you for your undeserved pop-shots at Dan Wallace. Regarding this statement: “Could “most scholars” speak about specific text-critical variants spontaneously and in detail, without making embarrassing false claims? (Not if commentators’ statements about Mark 16:9-20 are any indication.)” Would you please describe some of these embarassing false text-critical claims made by Dr. Wallace, particularly in this debate, that don’t include your minority position on Mark 16:9-20?

    I must say I find your last comment quite ironic considering the position you take regarding Mark 16. And I quote “Most scholars are at the mercy of the resources they use. Scholars, like manuscripts, should be weighted, not just counted.” And now I quote from your church website regarding counting rather than weighing: “(The long ending of Mark) is in over 99% of the Greek manuscripts, and it can be shown to have been used as Scripture from the 100’s onward…There are over 1,700 Greek manuscripts of the Gospel of Mark. A small percentage of them, such as the very earliest copy (Papyrus 45, from around 225) has undergone damage and offers no evidence about the text of Mark 16. Of all the rest, only two Greek manuscripts clearly end the text of the Gospel of Mark at the end of 16:8. It would be very misleading to describe two things as ‘Some’ while describing over 1,500 things as ‘Others.'”

    Thanks again,

  7. As one trained as both an ancient historian and as an attorney, I find the direction of this critical text debate rather curious. Let us assume we found the signed and dated original autograph of the Gospel of Mark (or any other book of the NT). That would still not answer the fundamental questions as to how Mark gathered his information (first-hand witness, spoke to witnesses, collected third-hand stories, made stuff up?), what conceptual goals he had in editing, ordering and presenting the information he had, why his account differs as to sequence of events, geography, quotations, etc. from the other gospels, etc. To go to the extreme, the same sort of textual criticism goes on with the works of Shakespeare about the various kings of England, but nobody would argue that finding an autograph would prove any of his plays “factual.” More to point, even “historians” like Tacitus who tried to preserve facts nonetheless manipulated and framed what he had gathered to present his particular interpetation of the events. Finding the autograph of any NT work would at best merely firm up the starting point for the true investigative work, without resolving a single factual question about the life and teachings of Jesus. (Unless you are going to argue there was divine intervetion to create and preserve the dictated Word of God, a perspective that has to be assumed not proved and thus renders this or any other discussion rather pointless.)

  8. Dr Kostenberger,

    As one of Dan’s students who has not seen this debate, I will refrain from commenting upon it until I have (or at least have heard it – and we all know about the Nixon/JFK “heard/see” thing). However, thank you for bringing up this subject and allowing open commentary.

  9. Again in regards to Psalm 12:6-7 (as passage which, btw, has absolutely NOTHING to do with this issue barring the KJV Only advocacy).

    It would appear someone wished to deter others from reading Hill’s faith-inspiring, God-glorifying book.

    Hills’s book is available online. It’s free. Why would anybody want to pay for what they can read for free? (If Mr Kostenberger permits, I will link it, but as a new one here it might be best to learn what her allows).

    Hill’s scholarship was superb.

    An opinion – nothing more.

    But the difference is he never left his Biblical worldview when examining the evidence.

    Is that true when he took a pro-W/H stance in his dissertation? Or does it only apply after he left Harvard? In light of the inherent contradictions of Hills, I think an answer to this question would be very interesting.

    He refused to treat the Scriptures like any other document.

    In other words, he didn’t do textual criticism at all. He began with a theological a priori and used it to predetermine his position.

    He refused to profane the Scriptures–to make them common, like Westcott and Hort did, when examining the evidence.

    An opinion.

    He refused to forget, like modern textual critics do, that there is a God watching over his words, that His Providential hand can be sen in the transmission of the Text, and there is a devil that seeks to steal the word and pervert the words of God.

    All fine and good. Where was this perfect copy in 400 A.D.? I should point out to you that Hills himself referred to the TR as RESTORATION – and you can only “restore” something that was corrupted. Hence, Hills may not be as far from W-H as you insinuate.

    His book not only covers textual criticism in a Biblical way, the way any real Christian should view that “discipline”, but his book is so much more, as it gives God-exalting doctrine, biographical information about key people involved with the transmission and promulgation of the manuscripts, primers on Modernism, Rationalism and a History of Unbelief–things which are part and parcel of modern textual criticism.

    In short, he sets the stage for Fuller, Waite, and the KJV Only crowd by starting with genetic fallacies.

    His book prepares a Christian for what he will encounter when pondering this subject and field–that there are many unregenerate men and their theories in the middle of this “discipline”, and that many of the actual Christian ones have accepted the theories of these men, whose approach was to profane the Scripture and move from there.

    Another opinion and one I doubt very many serious students of TC share.

    Hills unveils all of this and prepares the believer for what is true about TC. It is a dangerous field, that can destroy faith, as has happened to Erhman, and many others.

    I hope you will correct this last statement. Bart Ehrman has been pretty explicit in his pointing out your last statement – that TC cuases someone to lose faith – is incorrect. Furthermore, there are simply too many (Holmes, Fee, Wallace, Sturz, Robinson, Hodges, Farstad, Scrivener) from across the spectrum to suggest this is the norm.

    I encourage all to read Hill’s book in a prayerful manner, and see what the Lord says to you.

    I’m not going to read any text other than the Bible itself prayerfully, and I suggest you do the same.

  10. Whenever a debate-participant appeals to the verdict of “most scholars,” as Dr. Wallace does in this debate (and in his comment), this should not be casually allowed to take the place of a serious argument.

    Do “most scholars” support Dr. Wallace’s own view of the composition-date of the Gospel of Mark in the 50’s? Do “most scholars” consider inerrancy to be an essential, as the website of Dallas Theological Seminary (where Dr. Wallace teaches) describes it? Could “most scholars” speak about specific text-critical variants spontaneously and in detail, without making embarrassing false claims? (Not if commentators’ statements about Mark 16:9-20 are any indication.)

    Most scholars are at the mercy of the resources they use. Scholars, like manuscripts, should be weighted, not just counted.

    Yours in Christ,

    James Snapp, Jr.

  11. Brett: Thanks for taking the time to comment and for your question. I hesitate to specify 3 or 4 specific points without giving this more careful and sustained consideration. Let me say, though, that when it comes to debates, I believe it is not only substance that matters but also the mode of presentation. One strategic question is how much should you play defense (i.e. present your own evidence) and how much offense (show flaws in the other person’s arguments).

  12. Dr. Kostenberger,

    You wrote: “I just wish a more compelling case could be made for the reliability of the text that we have in those kinds of debates.”

    Would you mind giving me your top 3 or 4 points that would accomplish this, or are you saying that such can not be done? I would very much like to see your knock out punches for accomplishing our case to be made.

    Brett Williams
    FYI, I am the individual (I worked with Dan at CSNTM) who calculated that 43% of the verses, partial or whole, in the GNT are attested in the 2nd and 3rd century mss. I did this some years ago in preparation for his debate with Bart.

  13. Amen Jonathan. That was my point in my first comment. Our premises have logical consequences. If one accepts the premises of Erhman, he has already lost the debate. The answer is as you state, which is lucidly explained in great detail by Dr. Hills.

  14. Unless you believe that the Byzantine textform of the NT manuscripts best represents the inspired canonical form of the NT that was thrust onto the church, I would suggest dropping any mention of numbers of manuscripts as an apologetic for the reliability of the text, since conceding that literally 99.9 percent of all surviving Greek manuscripts are corrupt over many verses of text is devastating to the reliability debate point because it demonstrates that certain people, God knows how, had their way with the thousands of surviving Greek manuscripts which when in virtual agreement elsewhere are purported to be the very words of God himself. I think high school kids with no background in NT studies could understand this.

  15. It would appear someone wished to deter others from reading Hill’s faith-inspiring, God-glorifying book. Hill’s scholarship was superb. But the difference is he never left his Biblical worldview when examining the evidence. He refused to treat the Scriptures like any other document. He refused to profane the Scriptures–to make them common, like Westcott and Hort did, when examining the evidence. He refused to forget, like modern textual critics do, that there is a God watching over his words, that His Providential hand can be sen in the transmission of the Text, and there is a devil that seeks to steal the word and pervert the words of God.

    His book not only covers textual criticism in a Biblical way, the way any real Christian should view that “discipline”, but his book is so much more, as it gives God-exalting doctrine, biographical information about key people involved with the transmission and promulgation of the manuscripts, primers on Modernism, Rationalism and a History of Unbelief–things which are part and parcel of modern textual criticism.

    His book prepares a Christian for what he will encounter when pondering this subject and field–that there are many unregenerate men and their theories in the middle of this “discipline”, and that many of the actual Christian ones have accepted the theories of these men, whose approach was to profane the Scripture and move from there. Hills unveils all of this and prepares the believer for what is true about TC. It is a dangerous field, that can destroy faith, as has happened to Erhman, and many others.

    I encourage all to read Hill’s book in a prayerful manner, and see what the Lord says to you.

  16. Thank you very much, everyone, for the stimulating discussion. My primary concern here is how we can minister as effectively as possible to young college students who don’t have the biblical training to follow some of the more technical points in the debate and who rely more on soundbites and outward impressions. In many ways, this is not so much about us as it is about the next generation.

  17. I’ve read Hills book. It isn’t really textual criticism at all.

    Btw – are you aware Ehrman’s Masters thesis has a section dealing with both Hills and Burgon? Hills possessed actual TC credentials but his writing is little more than starting with the KJV and working hisxway back. I wonder how many of the KJVOs who endorse Hills theological approach are aware: a) he was a Calvinist; b) his dissertation a decade before his popular level work took – basically – a WH position (something Letis acknowledges in his thesis about Hills).

  18. Dr. Wallace in his comment above: “Bart also mentioned Mark 16’s last page as having been lost, but I pointed out that the majority of scholars in the last fifty years would disagree with that viewpoint, . . .”

    But many competent German scholars, such as, e.g., Udo Schnelle in his Einleitung in das Neue Testament (7th ed.; Stuttgart: UTB, 2011), conclude that since textual scholars have decisively concluded that the ending that occurs in all the Greek manuscripts that have been handed down to us but two cannot possibly be original, then the original ending must be lost due to the authorial anticipation that Jesus would meet his disciples in Galilee after the resurrection (cf. Mark 14:28; 16:7), . So on this debate point Bart Ehrman is right yet again.

  19. Dear Jonathan:

    Thank you for your reply. Of course other things led to Ehrman’s defection, but if his faith in God preserving His word had not been shattered by the logial implications of modern textual criticism, those others things may not have had the power to draw him away.

    Parson withdrew the mockful response, but didn’t like the term “apostate” even though that is exactly what Erhman is, and apostasy is what happened to him. Curious how those who follow modern textual criticism or so sensitive of such a Biblical word and concept. Interesting, but not surprising. Have you ever read EF Hills book The King James Version Defended? Its a worthy read.

  20. Andreas: By no means do I think I am not biased in the situation (respectfully—I hope you might see your own bias in the matter). As my statement indicated I like Dan Wallace as a person and greatly respect him as a scholar. People do of course tend to see those they like and respect in the best light. I also have much more certainty in the recent finds than others. I believe it is important for the Christian community to wait for peer review before coming to a solid conclusion. Examples of this are the early dates of prior papyri as well as the James sarcophagus, etc. If we place our trust in bad information we give a bad witness to the world and what was meant to bring credibility ends up eroding it. I had a great deal of excitement waiting to hear the first public announcement of a papyrus penned before the closing of the canon. Perhaps the greatest find since Tischendorf. As I heard Wallace announce the find publicly for the first time I began to weep.

    In addition, I began my statement by stating that I was an intern at the Center. I also used the terms “I believe” and “I felt” rather than absolutes. If any complaint could be given it was that I did not use more absolutes.

    Michael Hansen

  21. First, I would like to recant and apologize for the unimpressive parody that I posted. In many ways it was out of line, off topic and for lack of a better word, proud.

    I posted the comment with two overarching goals in mind:

    (1) to show that unintelligible, unedifying name calling is indeed out of line (to this I am referring to the “apostate” comment) and not distinctly Christian. Herein I would like to propose that this critique is indeed detrimental to the unity of the Body of Christ as a whole and dishonoring to both God’s inscripturated word and the His glory;

    (2) to show how the attitude of many postings somewhat presented here, and pervasively elsewhere in the Evangelical bloggersphere, are deteriorating (even further) the very fabric of unity in the Evangelical church, not, as some claim, building up the Body and “protecting” it from gross heresy. Herein I would also like to propose a challenge to Christian men and women: to learn how to—in the midst of the fight for healthy doctrine—humbly present their words and attitudes for the purpose of edification of believers primarily, and subsequently present themselves and their respective positions humbly to a world who is alienated from God.

    When I first read Dr. Köstenberger’s blog, I was glad to see that he had attended the dialogue, engaged students on the issue, and continued the dialogue via the medium internet. To be sure, Dr. Köstenberger’s blog was intelligible, driven with candor and respect for Dr. Wallace, Dr. Ehrman, and the issue.

    But I have to admit, when I first read the blog, it was in my “judgment” that much of what he was bringing to the fore in his own critique of Wallace was, well, somewhat uniformed, as Wallace exhaustively pointed out.

    Another parody, if I may.

    Take myself for example, a 26 year old grad student, critiquing say something like, The Heresy of Orthodoxy. For me personally, I have not dedicated my life to studying such a topic, nor am I a scholar in the vast field of Bauer and his views or early church history. But let’s just say hypothetically for a moment that someone stood up to Bauer and questioned him about his position in a debate, and let’s just say for the sake of argument, I was in the audience and wrote a blog about it. I would say things like (with the limited time I have truly spent pondering and praying through the issue personally),

    “Bauer actually makes some really great points, points that Christians must wrestle with. In fact, there were multiple ‘Christianities’ early on, so much so that we get the first traces of it in the NT itself. Truly, it is not a question of if there were multiple ‘Christianities.’ History itself tells us this is the case, as does the NT. Both biblical and historical data point to such truths presented by Bauer. Further, the question is not, ‘Did the most dominant ‘Christianity’ win out in the end?’ This again is a no-brainer to me. Bauer again was indeed right that one truly did dominate when all was said and done. The real question is this, ‘Was that dominant Christianity—that which sprung forth from the many early on—present in the earliest writings of the church and was it actually representative of the Christianity that the Apostles and Jesus himself taught?’ Further, ‘The question of diversity in the NT is simply a reality in so many ways (great scholars of the NT know these hard issues), but how does that diversity speak to things like Jesus Christ—his person and work?’ ‘How does it speak to the nature of the church, the task of mission, and the mission of God himself to the nations?’”

    As a Christian, not a scholar of Bauer or a historian of the early church, I can confidently, humbly raise these questions. I am pretty sure the NT speaks to these issues and therein I, as any other Spirit-led believer, can make humble claims and ask intelligible questions of both history and the NT. But the fact is this: I am not a scholar on the Bauer thesis or an early church historian. Basically, I would not be the one to debate Bauer, nor be the one to really speak to the expert who debated Bauer. Can I have questions, form healthy, humble critiques, seek dialogue with the church about biblical doctrine? Absolutely. It is truly our tasks.


    Truth be told, I have not read Köstenberger’s book; I read the back cover. I am horribly unversed when it comes to the Bauer Thesis and of the arguments that Dr. Köstenberger sets forth in The Heresy of Orthodoxy. I am truly not the one to respond with critique of his book, nor, if the hypothetical situation were true, not the one to respond with critiquing each debater’s positions, at least not in the way that I have seen things transpire here.

    My goal would simply be to show how I am unversed, but also as a Spirit-led believer, that I seek to enter into dialogue with the church about the Bauer Thesis and what the New Testament speaks to in this regard, for the edification of church and to seek truth at all cost, in so doing honor both Christ and his word. At some level, I can speak also to the history of early Christianity and how it plays a vital role evaluating such a position. But again, as a wise man said to me once, “the end of the first century and virtually all of the second are just simply shrouded in mystery historically.” I would have to humbly concede to such truth, while realizing that great scholarship is coming out on the issue viz. The Heresy of Orthodoxy, and it is making it possible for me to understand such complex issues.

    Heck, I am probably totally off in how I think about the issue in general. To this I do concede.

    The issue I would like to raise here then, with many of the postings presented in this blog, and the present landscape of the Evangelical bloggersphere, is two-fold in nature: (1) the attitude of critique and the ramifications trickling over into the church; and (2) presuppositions when coming to the issues of theology and history.

    (1) As of late, I have been fairly disgusted with how Evangelical Christians are handling important issues over blog. Many who read this will understand what and who I am referring to. Regardless of issues of content (much of it is vastly important of the health and well being of the church, and hear me when we say we should absolutely engage), I will speak to the issues of the attitude of critique while speaking about content. In this, I would like to briefly dig a bit deeper too. So. Rather than speaking directly the attitudes themselves (we have had far too much of this anyway), I will speak to the ramifications taking place-that I have observed-inside and outside the walls of the church.

    In much brevity, inside the walls of the church, I have seen anger, dissonance, and disunity; discussions that stem from pride and frustration, a type of Christian Gnosticism and elitism (funny such words can be placed in the same sentence together; actually, not funny, quite miserable). Where does this come from? Who is bolstering such attitudes and actions?

    The answer to this question matters.

    Outside the church, it is much of the same. Basically, we look no different than our “apostate” skeptics who claim, rightfully so, that Christians are arrogant, disunified, and elitist (again, I must remind the reader that I am not speaking to issues of content with any preset Evangelical issue. They are very important, just as important as the ramifications of unhealthy critique, I believe).

    (2) This speaks to my first post, it is for Psalms 12:6-7, and for the purpose of the overarching issue of this point.

    I would like to be somewhat implicit and personal here. In good conscience, as I stand before the Lord, here and now, and at Judgment, I have to answer for my theoretical views of TC and the text of the NT. As for my understanding of the NT and the bible as a whole, a doctrine of the preservation is nowhere to be found in the pages of Scripture. In good conscience I cannot affirm that the NT or the bible as a whole contain such a doctrine.

    Rather, what I can affirm, I hope and pray, is based off God’s inscripturated word and vastly more importantly, the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. And—the very fact that God has condescended himself, stooping in space-time in the eternal second Person of the Trinity, our Lord Jesus Christ—this very fact beckons me to evaluate all historical data surrounding all issue of God’s inscripturated word. Here I stand, I can do no other.

    I truly thank Dr. Köstenberger for his work on many fronts. He is standing up for truth and our Lord. I thank him for his scholarship in multiple areas of the NT. I have benefited greatly from them. I am indebted to him.


    Bravo, Dr. Wallace for standing up for the text of the NT and consequently the church, the academy, and most importantly, our Lord Jesus Christ. For this I am indebted to you.

    Bravo, Dr. Köstenberger for standing up for the NT, the family, missiology, and consequently, the church, the academy, and most importantly, our Lord Jesus Christ. Thank you for standing up against the faulty implications and conclusions of the Bauer Thesis. For this I am indebted to you.

    In closing.

    I heard a story of Dr. Metzger once being badgered by someone claiming he was corrupting the text of the NT with his work. He humbly replied something to this degree, “Thank you for your input, Ma’am. When I study the Coptic and Syriac versions of the NT, I earnestly implore the Spirit for guidance.”

    I suggest we do the same when we study the scholarship of others who have dedicated their lives to any field. I suggest we do the same when we post things in blogs over the internet. I suggest we thank the scholars that have dedicated their lives to such issues and have now come under fire for it, sadly, inside the walls of the church.

    Lastly, I saw more humility once from an “apostate” than I did in many of these posts, including my first (possibly even this one). I would like to say thank you to those who do walk in these things, and encourage you to continue. This “apostate” I quote, and echo, as I conclude,

    “Thank you, Dan, for your very informative and hilarious presentation. It is a very impressive statement. And I think Dallas is well served to have such a competent textual critic in its midst.” – Bart D. Ehrman, Second Debate at SMU DVD, Can we Trust the Text of the New Testament? A Debate Between Bart. D. Ehrman and Daniel B. Wallace. CSNTM, minute 52:00.

  22. If I may offer an observation on American evangelical academics in general on this issue: they have a general lack of ability to think outside the box, almost as if they’ve somehow accepted certain German critical presuppositions but not always their conclusions. One example is their basis for the rejection of Mark 16:9-20, namely the tying of its inspiration to a verifiably “inspired” author, a concept reminiscent of J. J. Semler. Now I do not know if statistics can prove that Mark 16:9-20 is not Markan, since I remember well Eta Linnemann years ago at ETS using the same methods to “prove” that Paul could not have written large portions of the most Pauline epistle, Romans! But suppose for the sake of argument that Mark didn’t write it. Those who say it should be rejected on this basis are captive to German rationalism. They might as well reject the end of Deuteronomy and thousands of other passages and books like Hebrews, but they won’t, and in this sense they are reminiscent of KJVO proponents. “But Hebrews is in the canon, it’s a done deal.” Exactly, it’s in the canon, it’s a done deal. Read the appendix of Metzger’s Canon of the NT where he calls Mark 16:9-20 canonical without doubt. So the evangelical disconnect here is quite striking.

  23. Dear Psalms,

    I actually think textual criticism is an essential prerequisite to all exegesis. If theology is the queen of the sciences, then textual criticism is theology’s coronation, the starting point for everything based on the text, for if the text one expounds is wrong, then the exposition lacks foundational authority. I simply have a different theory of textual transmission than most. Still, the questions I posed reflect the adverse conclusions of the current prevailing theory of textual transmission regarding, in Dr. Köstenberger’s words, “the theoretical question as to how we can say we have the original text of the NT.” IF one accepts the current theory, obviously Dr. Ehrman’s answer to the question is more logical. But on possible answers to this question I would be interested to read some response from Dr. Köstenberger, whom I greatly respect and who is friends with my father, and from others who are interested. BTW, Dr. Ehrman’s “angry” skepticism arises from various roots, not just errors or apparent errors in the text, but also the problem of evil and other things. I honestly think his story is an indictment on the church and it’s failure to address important issues properly.


    Jonathan C. Borland

  24. Michael: Thank you for your comment and for the great job you guys are doing at CSNTM. I deeply appreciate it. No one questions Dan’s sincerity, hard work ethic, and preparation (I certainly don’t). Let’s remember, though, that it is not you or I who determine who won the debate – it’s the people in the audience. And you and I may or may not be representative of those people. I know I’m not, which is why I talked to some of the students who were at the debate, and as far as I was able to determine, the outcome was not quite as clear cut as you seem to suggest.

  25. As an intern at CSNTM (Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts) I attended the last two debates between Daniel B. Wallace and Bart Ehrman. In all respect to Bart Ehrman, I believe Wallace won both debates handily. At the UNC debate, Wallace’s information on textual criticism was often technical, which is a characteristic of such a meticulous field—collating manuscripts is a good reminder. Despite the technical nature of the topic, I felt Wallace articulated very dense information in an understandable manner, making a powerful and intelligent response to Ehrman’s views of Scripture. Having personally spent time on the UNC campus, I feel it was vital to have Wallace give a reasonable and intellectual response to the many textual “errors” undermining the Bible. Some need an intellectual, and even meticulous response to come to faith.

    As an intern I have had the opportunity to spend time with Wallace as he routinely allows others access into his home and life. On a personal level I have found him to be the hardest working scholar I know. For example—he doesn’t sleep much. In addition, I am sure after the fact, Dan would have said some things differently—this of course is always easier.

    I believe Wallace was twice asked to debate Ehrman on Textual Criticism, in part, because Wallace’s academic work has transcended the conservative realm. His grammar is known, used and respected throughout the world amongst liberals and conservatives alike. When Wallace wanted to debate Bart Ehrman he put up his own money and invited Ehrman to the SMU campus, though he was unsure if those costs would be recuperated. He did so through CSNTM, which he sacrificially started and maintains without monetary compensation—if anyone thinks this a small feat they should try it for themselves. Due to CSNTM’s worldwide actions to digitally preserve the manuscripts of the New Testament, Wallace’s Center has won respect in the field of Textual Criticism. For these reasons as well as his expertise in Textual Criticism, Wallace has obtained privileged information regarding the recent discovery of the first known manuscript to be penned before the closing of the canon—a first century copy of Mark (findings to be published through Brill- cough, cough).

    Wallace refrained from attacking Ehrman and I have become convinced he sincerely cares for Bart Ehrman. It was due to some heated scholarly exchanges between Wallace and Ehrman prior to the debate that Wallace cordially refrained from quoting Ehrman at the UNC debate, avoiding any feelings of ad hominem. For this reason Wallace used a single quotation to demonstrate the vital point, the point that even Bart Ehrman himself does not believe any textual data has shifted the grounds on which the core tenants of the Christian faith stand. Daniel B. Wallace is on the side of Christ and his life portrays integrity and sacrifice in his scholarly achievements.

    Bruce Metzger was a devout believer and arguably the greatest textual critic of our time. Bart Ehrman was his foremost understudy. Today it is crucial men and women holding to the foundational ideals of textual criticism (such as the restoration of the original text) take the torch as the onslaught of postmodern and liberal ideals continue to take hold in the field. When I first met Dan Wallace I recognized him as a man who had purposefully met this challenge. Wallace valiantly stayed his ground for Christ at the UNC campus- even as he incurred fire on all sides.

  26. Jonathan,

    Psalms 12.3, oh, Psalms 12:6-7, is right. None of your points are valid, nor are they historically accurate, nor do they seek the truth of all things which the resurrection of Jesus Christ beckons us to. It is obvious you have put in little time and effort with your study, especially TC and how it speaks to the apologetic issues surrounding Islam and the text of the Qur’an.

    You forget, TC is a theological discipline, not a historical one, primarily. Your categories are all off from the get-go. You have not honored the Lord.

    Repent, please.

    Of course the NT speaks of the doctrine of preservation. It is pervasive. Let’s use our mind here. Westcott and Hort are pagans, Elliot and Kilpatrick will get what’s coming to them, and Bengel, von Tischendorf and von Soden are demonically possessed (I mean, really, they have to be with the middle name “von”–doesn’t it mean “chief of the demons” in the TR?).

    Ps. 12 (Psalms? or Psalm?, not sure, oh well), to God and the TR be the glory. Can I get an, “A-men!?” For there are three that bear record in heaven to our theory—the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost, and these three are one, so make sure not to cast stones at the other theories and let’s go handle some snakes and drink poison…

    Too much? Not sure yet… I will take it down soon and respond. I took the bait this time………. . . . . . .

  27. It seems a KJV Onlyist (I suspect from the data Mr Pavkovic) has made an appearance. I hope he will at least come up to speed on the fact that Ehrman himself denies what the poster alleges: that TC was the cause of his defection. And as far as Dr Hills goes, fideism rules the day when one can start with “majority rules” and then say “well except in these 1500 or so places including Vulgate interpolations.” If this in fact Mr Pavkovic my offer still stands to debate your KJV Onlyism.

  28. Jonathan, you ask strong questions–questions that undermine the presuppositions of Wallace and demonstrate that those who take the Westcott-Hort-Aland, Metzger, Nestle Critical view of the text have no leg to stand on, they undermine inspiration and preservation, and cannot answer your questions. The idea that Mark ended with “for they were afraid”, and that 12 verse were added, and this addition became the norm everywhere, and that this addition was cited as genuine by early fathers–well it is preposterous. The right view, which will be greeted with scorn here no doubt, is the view of Edward Hills–the TR-KJV view. Hills had the right presuppositions to DESTROY Erhman, Wallace does not. He is half-way over to Wallace’s apostate position. Modern Textual Criticism is what DESTROYED Erhman’s faith in the first place. He followed what Metzger taught him to its logical conclusion and gave up on the idea that the Scripture is God-breathed and preserved. Modern Textual Criticism undermines that view, and your questions show exactly how! Sure, many believers don’t give up their faith, they simply hold to both contradictory and counter-intuitive viewpoints. Calvinists do this all the time.

  29. Thanks for being able to put the important issues in ways the rest of us theological pedestrians can understand. I still think more can be done to help folks, especially undergrads who are spoon fed Ehrman, be able to articulate a response to a liberal scepticism of the scriptures that is so popular today. I think these debates (and your summary Dr. Köstenberger) are certainly a step toward that.

    Thanks again.

  30. Hi Heathcliff,

    I do not think that Uthman’s burning of Qur’anic manuscripts was successful in wiping out the memorized portions of the Qur’an that differed from Uthman’s text. This is why we find al-Tabari, Ibn al-Jawzi, and Abu Hayyan al-Andalusi all referring to non-canonical readings in their works. Also, after Uthman’s text was considered the final version of the Qur’an, much debate arose over Qur’an readings of the Companions Abd Allah b. Mas’ud in Kufa (the Mas’ud text lacks the opening Fatiha). There were most definitely alternative readings to the Uthmanic text present after Uthman’s version was formally considered the standard. No one knows why Uthman’s text did not cross-pollinate with other readings since there is little historical evidence to work with. It is interesting, however, that textual variants do occur in some Qur’anic manuscripts which differ from the 1924 text (the Uthmanic text). On a small scale for example, in Surah 14:35-41 the manuscript BL Or. 12884 (British Library; 1000CE/400AH) has 30 more occurrences of a dagger alif than the 1924 text. The Mussaf Sharif facsimile (British Library; listed as dating to 1682/1093AH) has 17 more dagger alifs than the 1924 manuscript. That does not explain why Uthman’s text did not blend with other readings, but it does suggest that other manuscript traditions developed apart from the standardized text.

    Have you heard of a book by a scholar named Keith Small? He has published a great work in the area of Qur’anic textual criticism. The book is called “Textual Criticism and Qur’an Manuscripts” (Lexington: 2011). Small covers the existence of textual variants in known Qur’anic manuscripts – both vowel pointings and consonantal (rasm) variants. That may be a helpful resource for the issue you raise about why Uthman’s text did not cross-pollinate.


  31. if the uthmanic GROUP came in contact with the GROUPS OUTSIDE OF ARABIA, then wouldn’t we have a FOR/AGAINST SITUATION like what is WRITTEN BELOW

    For Matthew being Jewish:

    The fundamental affirmation of the Law (cf. Matt 5.17-20; 23.3a,
    The sustained reference to the Old Testament and the emphatic
    application of the idea of fulfilment (cf. e.g. Matt 1.22-23;2.5-6,
    15, 17-18; 3.3; 4.4-16; 8.17 and others).
    The fundamental limitation of Jesus’ mission to Israel (cf. Matt
    10.5-6; 15.24).
    The Matthean community still keeps the Sabbath (cf. Matt 24.20).
    The Matthean community still lives within the jurisdiction of Judaism
    (cf. Matt 17.24-27; 23.1-3).
    The Moses typology in Matt 2.13ff.; 4.1-2; 5.1 and the five great
    discourses in the Gospel present Jesus as having an affinity to
    The language, structure, reception of the Gospel of Matthew point to a
    Jewish Christian as its author.


    The Gospel’s offer of salvation to all clearly points to a Gentile
    mission that has been underway for some time (cf. Matt 28.18-20;
    8.11-12; 10.18; 12.18, 21; 13.38a; 21.43-45; 22.1-14; 24.14; 25.32;
    The nullification of ritual laws (cf. Matt 15.11, 20b; 23.25-26).
    The Matthean critique of the Law. Especially in the Antitheses of the
    Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5.21-48) Jesus places his own authority
    higher than that of Moses, for which there is no parallel in ancient
    Matthew presents a thoroughgoing polemic against Pharisaic casuistry
    (cf. Matt 5.20; 6.1ff.; 9.9ff.; 12.1ff., 9ff.; 15.1ff.; 19.1ff.;
    Matthew avoids Aramaisms (cf. Mark 1.13/ Matt 4.2; Mark 5.41/ Matt
    9.25; Mark 7.34/ Matt 15.30; Mark 7.11/ Matt 15.5).
    The Matthean community understands its life to be at some distance
    from that of the synagogue (cf. Matt 23.34b ἐν ταῖς συναγωγαῖς ὑμῶν
    [in your synagogues]; Matt 7.29b καὶ οὐχ ὡς οἱ γραμματεῖς αὐτων [and
    not as their scribes]).
    Ritual prescriptions for the Sabbath have lost their significance (cf.
    Matt 12.1-8).
    The rejection of Israel, i.e. that Israel has lost its distinct place
    in the history of salvation, has been accepted by Matthew as reality
    for some time (cf. Matt 21.43; 22.9; 8.11-12; 21.39ff.; 27.25; 28.15).

    Another possibility for explaining the for and against is that we are
    dealing with two different authorings which reflect different times
    and states of the religion in the locale of writing.

  32. “unlike Qur’an manuscripts, which Caliph Uthman ordered the burning of all manuscripts except his own chosen version, which is what Muslims read today”

    wait a second, if all muslims WERE READING KORANS IN DIFFERENT geographical LOCATIONS around arabia, outside of arabia , how DID UTHMAANs burning of Qur’aans IN ARABIA manage to WIPE OUT THE MEMORIES of RECITORS outside of ARABIA and AROUND ARABIA? HOW could his “chosen version” avoid cross fertilization?

    let me QUOTE something FROM Biblical Criticism & History


    “The point that you are missing Avi is that we do know that the mou
    was there. It is found in 95% of the manuscripts. There is no way to
    explain that away. Likewise we do know what the original manuscript
    said in 99% of the text because of the agreement among the thousands
    of manuscripts.”

    You haven’t been listening. You don’t know any such thing.

    An image. Have you ever played the game Chinese Whispers? Seriously,
    have you? One person is given a message which they whisper to the next
    person, who in turn whispers what is heard to the next person and so
    on along a chain people until you get to the last, the person who must
    finally tell everyone what their understanding of the message is. It
    is invariably extremely different from the original. This is the
    imprecise nature of human understand and transmission of knowledge.
    The SHORTER the chain, the CLOSER to the original is the last message.

    The written word gives the transmission a lot more stability but the
    same issues come to play. The individual scribe brings his own
    understanding to the transmission process. Think of a scribe who was
    working on a BEZAE type tradition in FRANCE, say at the St Irenaeus
    Monastery. The monk is SENT off to northern Illyria and works on
    copies of a DIFFERENT manuscript tradition. The FORMS of the Bezae
    tradition will CREEP into the transmission process of this different

    Say you are a scribe in Syria, working on copies within the AntioCHENE
    tradition. The Arabs invade and most christians are driven out
    including you. The Antiochene tradition suddenly disappears, though
    you as a refuge go to central Anatolia and work on another tradition
    inadvertently including your familiar Antiochene tradition into it.
    Cross-fertilization is evident in manuscript traditions. Why else do
    manuscripts that predominantly follow one tradition suddenly have a
    few features of another tradition?

    The Antiochene tradition has been exterminated because of the Arab
    conquest. This means that although you have some early manuscripts,
    that tradition will have no later manuscripts, except perhaps for
    early escapees such as the Bezae variation, which has already gone to
    France and started absorbing features of western tradition, because of
    the background of the scribes who work upon it. But then Bezae isn’t
    the common form there so it isn’t afrequently used manuscript so it
    doesn’t get much copying.

    We expect places such as Egypt, Syria, North Africa and Anatolia to
    suffer from the Arab conquests, causing havoc amongst the manuscript
    traditions found in those areas. We also expect the secure monasteries
    of Europe to churn out their manuscript traditions, while the
    Egyptian, Syrian and other traditions stop producing to any quantity
    if any at all. Hence a profusion of European texts.

    What is the relationship between those European produced manuscripts
    and the original? There is after all a vast number of manuscripts from
    Europe. That there is a vast number means nothing about the original.
    We just see the European SURVIVOR traditions REDUPLICATING

    Because there are very many German speakers can we assume that modern
    German better represents the original GERMANIC language than Gothic,
    Frankish or Lombard for which there are no speakers of those languages
    left in the world? Can we assume because there are more pizzerias in
    America than in Italy that American pizza is more genuine? The
    argument based on merely numbers is fallacious. You actually need to
    know the trajectory involved. All those pizza hut pizzas derive from a
    MODERN aberrant tradition.

    END quote

    UTHman BURNED his manuscripts, but PEOPLE were RECITING QUR’AANS outside of arabia .recitation BASED on BURNT manuscripts. Why DON’T we see UTHMANIC VERSION MIXED WITH VERSIONS OUTSide of ARABIA?

    with koran WE HAVE 1ST CENTURY manuscripts

    Dr. Alba Fedeli has researched the provenance of several early fragments of the Qur’ān located in various institutions around the world including the Chester Beatty Library, Dublin, Ireland, the Museum of Islamic Art, Doha, Qatar, the University Library, University of Birmingham and the National Library of Russia, St. Petersburg. In the process she has established the common origin for said fragments by relating them to fragments already known. We have thus taken the opportunity to provide the sixth interim update to our article Concise List Of Arabic Manuscripts Of The Qur’ān Attributable To The First Century Hijra. Also, an early ḥijāzī manuscript from Cambridge and one from Istanbul we had mentioned previously have now been included in the table due to the recent publication of high quality images allowing for a better assessment of their principal characteristics. Additionally, an early ḥijāzī folio unsold at Sotheby’s recent sale of Islamic Art, ‘tentatively’ dated to the second half of the 7th century has been included in the table also. We have brought to attention an early ‘ḥijāzī’ codex comprising 270 pages that has been put back on display at the newly renovated Museum of Islamic Art, Cairo, Egypt. Details of this manuscript are sparse and it would appear never to have been the subject of detailed study. All the relevant statistics and tables have been updated accordingly as well as providing a few additional references and comments. The total text of the Qur’ān in the manuscripts from 1st century hijra now stand at ~90.5%.

  33. Thanks, Jonathan!

    (Playing Dr. Ehrman for the sake of argument:) But the consensus of Greek manuscripts is quite irrelevant, since their agreement merely suggests the possibility that we have not what the original authors wrote but rather what the powerful forces that could contaminate all or nearly all surviving manuscripts wanted us to have. Appeal to versions is also futile, for the common source of all of them is corrupt (cf. the addition of “and fasting” to all the thousands of surviving manuscripts of every version of Mark 9:29 except a single Latin manuscript (Bobbiensis, k/1).

  34. Jonathan – it might be helpful to start with stressing that all copies of manuscripts are corrupt in some way. No two copies of a manuscript exist in exact likeness to another (from what I know). However, I think it’s best to understand what a corruption typically is: most are minor differences in spelling or grammar (the tendency of scribes over the years leans toward change certain phrases to produce what they thought be a smoother reading). I’m not sure if you are already aware of that, but I wasn’t sure by your response if you were or not. The apologetic value of having 5600 manuscripts is that we have a wide range of evidence spanning centuries and large geographic distances that show a relative stability in the NT text in comparison to the earliest NT manuscripts that we have available. This is impressive considering that there was no political or ecclesiastical control over the production of NT manuscripts (unlike Qur’an manuscripts, which Caliph Uthman ordered the burning of all manuscripts except his own chosen version, which is what Muslims read today). Pardon the length of the following, but I think it’s important to consider when thinking about claims on NT reliability). Would you humor me by considering the following?

    You mentioned the interpolation in Matt 27:49.That is a very interesting textual issue! When you read this verse in an English Bible you will not find Jesus being speared before he dies in Matthew. The reading you will find in an English Bible is supported by a variety of manuscripts covering a wide span of centuries and geography. To be technical (sorry Andreas!) here’s a list of manuscripts that does not carry the variant: codex A (fifth century, Byzantine text), W (late fourth-early fifth century, Byzantine), D (fifth century, Western), Θ (ninth century), 33 (ninth century, Alexandrian; known as the ‘Queen of the Cursives’ because of its outstanding text), families 1 and 13, almost the entirety of the Latin tradition (including the Itala, Western text), the Syriac text, and the Sahidic and Bohairic Coptic tradition (Alexandrian text). To put it in layman’s terms, this list contains some manuscripts that are high quality and early in date.

    Jonathan, here’s the important point (and what does not seem to be communicated by Ehrman): it is difficult to explain how these diverse text-forms all lacked this clause that normally occurs in John 19:34 unless their wording really does reflect the original text of Matthew. Also, the form of the Greek text in the variant from Matthew 27:49 bears such a striking similarity to the reading of John 19:34 that it cannot be ignored. The similarity between the two readings suggests that the verse from John was incorporated into Matthew’s text by a well-intended scribe in order to create a greater sense of agreement between the Gospels, particularly within the crucifixion material. In the Greek, there is some variation in the wording between the two readings, which is likely due to an early Alexandrian scribe inserting the verse into the Matthean portion by memory or transcribing a marginal note accidentally into the text during manuscript production.

    We can have relative confidence in what reading was contained in the original text. The problem with statements such as “If powerful forces could add 12 verses to EVERY surviving Greek manuscript but two in one place, why not all of them in another?” is that it communicates an attitude of total despair and pretty intense skepticism. It is as if it assumes that all manuscript readings are to be questioned because we lack the autographs (original manuscripts) to compare them to. In a sense, Ehrman promotes a liberal fundamentalism, demanding an absolute confidence in the original reading, when we all know that is impossible since we do not have the autographs. We can have a relative confidence in the text of the NT. The result from Ehrman’s rationale is his disregarding of any claim toward reasonable certainty on the basis of what an early manuscripts from the third to fifth century reads. Is that reasonable considering how willing we are to trust what classical Greek authors write when have just a few manuscripts of their work from centuries after they wrote it?

    Sorry for the length Jonathan, but I hope that instead of losing confidence since we don’t have the earliest manuscripts (and therefore throw the whole NT text out the window), that you would consider that manuscripts spanning several centuries and geographic distances generally agree with one another quite often. I think this gives us relative certainty that the NT text we have today is what the early church had in their hands. The major differences are few (though important and should not be ignored), but should not leave us in total despair as Ehrman tells us it should. I hope that is somewhat helpful. Thanks!

  35. What is the apologetic value of 5600 Greek manuscripts of the NT if all of them but one are corrupt in Mark 1:41 according to the NIV11, and at the end of Mark all of them are corrupt but two, the ancestor of which was itself was corrupt (cf. the interpolation at Matt 27:49)? One could posit many other examples, but the point is that if one accepts the theory of textual transmission that produced the “original readings” above (I do not, BTW), then faith in the accuracy of the text will always prove elusive. All Ehrman has to say is, “If powerful forces could add 12 verses to EVERY surviving Greek manuscript but two in one place, why not all of them in another?”

  36. I appreciate the above comments, but wanted to bring some perspective to some of the criticisms made earlier against Wallace. I think Wallace handled Ehrman quite well, judging by the fact that Ehrman himself admits that the debate was evenly matched. He is even quoted by one of his students to have said in a class last week that Wallace “demolished” him in the first debate. Has anyone considered how difficult it is to steer against the strong winds of rhetoric? Bart Ehrman is a skilled debater and quite experienced with swaying a crowd and directing a debate topic toward his advantage. Much of what Ehrman popularizes becomes diluted and in much need of elucidation with true facts (often quantitative, which to some critics may seem unappealing). The crowd is left unaware that much of what Ehrman presents to them has valid counter-arguments. In order to counter Ehrman appropriately, extensive evidence (i.e., mentioning lists of extent manuscripts) is necessary and vital to educating an otherwise uninformed audience. If Wallace did not respond with the material that he presented, he would not have been able to adequately handle Ehrman’s claims, which were presented in such a way that demanded intense, technical explanation. Such defense required Wallace to call out obvious errors in Ehrman’s argumentation, while simultaneously communicating the validity of the NT and remaining on the offense by presenting new material (i.e., the extensive data on classical Greek works which surprised much of the audience). It takes a tremendous skillset to handle such a situation.

    Handling Ehrman’s argumentation in a book is far different than handling his argumentation live in front of a packed audience. Considering how one’s tone can be misunderstood in responses such as this, I clarify that I do not mean to sound harsh or abrasive. However, I do admit that I am discouraged that such critique would take place (of which, there is already enough outside of evangelicalism). I would submit that criticism leveled against Wallace be checked with an examination as to whether or not one could handle Ehrman at the same standard you are measuring Wallace against. Yesterday’s 2012 Super Bowl took place where thousands of fans were yelling at players from the New York Giants and New England Patriots, shouting criticisms at what plays were made and sharing their opinions about what decisions they believed the referees, coaches, and team managers should have made. However, they shared their opinions without actually playing personally in the game and have no idea what it is like to play under such high-stress conditions with so much at stake. This sort of criticism toward Wallace sounds strangely familiar (sans the yelling). My hope is that rather than critiquing each other, evangelicals would be more supportive of those who aim to devote such energy toward upholding the trustworthiness of the NT text against hypercriticism.

  37. The text critical issue is really one where Ehrman is cheating. Because the question is not one specifically about the New Testament. The question is whether *any* ancient literary text is preserved.

    If the answer is “yes”, then the NT is that text.

    If the answer is “no”, then we need to point out that Ehrman has ceased to be a textual critic at all, and turned into an obscurantist. The consensus of all educated men since the renaissance is that the classical heritage *has* reached us, in somewhat damaged form. Text criticism is merely a set of rules designed to help people heal the damage.

    I suspect Ehrman is quite aware of this problem. His way around it is to fudge the matter. He knows that Christians need the NT to be perfectly transmitted (do we, tho?) and so is shifting the goalposts around between what is acceptable for scholarly purposes, and what is necessary for theological purposes, without ever clearly addressing what is what.

    Ehrman is going around convincing people that ancient literature has not reached us. We need hardly let him get away with this. Start pointing out the textual tradition of the Greek and Latin classics. If he wants to slag off Cicero, let him.

  38. Thank you very much, Dan, for taking the time to provide this substantive response. I am very grateful for your defense of the reliability of Scripture. It took a lot of courage on your part to debate Bart Ehrman on this topic on his home turf. I am united with you in trying to find ways to respond to Ehrman’s arguments as compellingly as possible. Thank you again for all you have done to hold Ehrman’s feet to the fire. It certainly was great to see hundreds of college students show up at a debate on textual criticism!

  39. Andreas,

    Thank you for your blog post. I felt Dr. Wallace did respond to Dr. Ehrman (as he states in the above comment). However, one thing I found interesting was that Ehrman spent so much time emphasizing the amount of variants in the 55 to 5600 Greek manuscripts we have, perhaps 400,000 or more. I felt he clearly sensationalized this issue to stir up people who are unaware of scribal errors. Then later, he easily conceded that none of these variants effects a major NT document. He even made a statement, which is misleading that there are textual variants in texts that involve the Trinity, the humanity of Christ, the deity of Christ etc. He says this as if the variant somehow would change theology. He is aware it does not. The topic of the debate was covered. We have adequate information to be able to say we have the original words of the New Testament, even though we do not have the autographs.

    The bigger question is, what do we do with those words? Are the words really the issue here? I would love to hear a theological debate between Wallace and Ehrman about the person and work of Jesus.

  40. I LOVE the issue of textual criticism. I mean, I like reading about it and it’s kind of a side interest. My formal training is an MDiv with an emphasis on NT, so it makes sense why I’d find it interesting.

    However, the difference between being a interested person and being as knowledgeable as you two are, is so apparent! I thought I knew a decent amount of information regarding NT textual criticism… and then I read you guys (Wallace and Kostenberger) and realize that I know nothing (ha ha).

    My point: Thanks a lot for your commitment to the NT documents, God’s Word. Your efforts truly do help me pastor, as I get asked questions related to these issues regularly.

    So I just want you both to know how much I appreciate you…


  41. Andreas, thanks for carving out the time to come to the debate, for tweeting during it, and for your “wrap-up” comments. I am deeply concerned for laypeople’s understanding of these crucial issues; your affirmations about the Christian faith are an excellent complement to what I had to say in the debate.

    I would like to take issue with some of your points (and agree with some of them, too), however, and also note a few items that you overlooked.

    1. I spent too much time listing all the MS evidence. I disagree. Laypeople have time and time again expressed surprise at the wealth of material we have for the NT. Several folks came up after the debate and told me this, too. It is important to not only list the evidence we have for the NT, but also to compare it to classical authors. Although Bart attempted to insulate the crowd from what I was going to say, I don’t think he was entirely successful.

    2. You said that Wallace “did not satisfactorily engage him on the theoretical question as to how we can say we have the original text of the NT.” I disagree. Here, again, are my five points:
    (1) If the early MSS exhibit wild copying practices, then we are in an excellent position for recovering the original since there was no conspiracy to make just one kind of text. Further, those that were carefully produced in Alexandria reveal a careful copying process that reaches back to the earliest times. I illustrated this with Sinaiticus, Vaticanus, and P75, and noted that when all three of them agree they probably reflect the original wording. Bart did not challenge this statement. I spoke at length about P75 and B, noting that the common ancestor was older than P75 and that B actually reflected a purer stream of transmission.
    (2) The standard critical text used today, the Nestle-Aland 27, only follows conjecture in ONE place, and even there the two senior editors disagreed with the rest of the committee. This shows that conjecture is not needed for the NT like it is for virtually all other Greco-Roman literature. And when the MSS display coherence, this indicates that there are not gaps in the MS tradition.
    (3) Not a single new reading from any of the 134 papyri has proven to be autographic. In the last 135 years, not a single new reading of any MS has such a pedigree either. This shows that the autographic wording is to be found among the MSS somewhere. I concluded this point by saying, “So, what would happen if we found MSS even earlier than our earliest papyri? They will no doubt confirm the wording that we already considered to be original. If all the NT papyri that have been discovered have not been able to introduce a single original reading, why should we think that more discoveries would be any different?” This cut into Bart’s main argument, and he did not respond directly to the point.
    (4) The copy of Mark that Matthew used is a first-century Mark, and yet it differs from what scholars think the original Mark said in only a handful of non-translatable places. Bart himself had indicated (in Misquoting Jesus) that we have a first-century copy of Mark, but he concluded that Matthew and Luke were ‘just like the scribes’ in that they changed the text significantly. I argued that they were not like the scribes and that the scribes hardly changed the text at all.
    (5) The first-century fragment of Mark was my final point. Not only does its existence contradict Bart’s claim that we don’t have anything from the first century of Mark, but “This papyrus fragment—just like the other new discoveries that we are preparing for publication—strongly confirms what most scholars have already said is the original text.”

    I believe that these five points quite adequately answered Bart’s claim that we have no idea what the original wording was.

    3. You claimed that my strongest argument was when I quoted from Misquoting Jesus to the effect that Bart agrees that none of the variants affects a major NT doctrine. Further, “If I had been in Wallace’s place, I would have kept reiterating this point several times, especially since Ehrman never responded to it.” I disagree. My quoting of Misquoting Jesus was technically outside the purview of the debate’s topic; I intentionally put it in because I knew that many Christian students would be concerned about the implications of what we were saying. So, to press this point would be counter to what the debate was purportedly about.

    4. “Another golden opportunity missed on Wallace’s part, in my opinion, was that he never pressed Ehrman on his comment that there were several places in the NT where there were serious problems with the text.” I disagree. There was no such opportunity because I agree with Bart on this front. I had made the point that they didn’t affect cardinal doctrines, but much more than that I cannot claim.

    5. As for 2 Corinthians, I actually did say that not all scholars agreed with Bart that it was a patchwork book. I did, however, state that 2 Corinthians is problematic (as you noted). I believe that it’s a unit, but also recognize that many good scholars have seen it as a patchwork document. I also focused on John 21, which Bart claimed was almost universally viewed as a later addition; I noted that a doctoral student at DTS is doing his work on this very question. Bart also mentioned Mark 16’s last page as having been lost, but I pointed out that the majority of scholars in the last fifty years would disagree with that viewpoint, and that it presupposes that the book was originally written on a codex, which most scholars who work in this field would find untenable.

    I should also mention that Bart’s arguments about 2 Corinthians, John, Luke, Acts, and Mark were all related to composition criticism, not textual criticism per se. It seems to me that Bart wanted to employ this tactic to divert the discussion from the real issue. I think he was partially successful at this, but not entirely.

    6. You are quite right that I should have asked Bart to lay out what he needed to believe that we had the original text of the NT. This was asked in our debate last October, and Bart said that he would need to see ten MSS of Mark, written within a week of the autograph, and having no more than a 0.001% deviation. I called him on that skepticism in the TC-List, and he conceded that he was speaking off the cuff and that it was an exaggeration. I noted that the question asked had to do with the minimum he would need to believe, so if he gave an exaggeration he was not really answering the question asked. Further, I noted that since there are only 57,000 letters in Mark, to require no more than 0.001% deviation would mean half a letter at most! Since then he has backed off on his skepticism, and this debate was the result.

    7. As for the mention of the Mark fragment, this actually was in direct response to what Bart said in his opener—viz., we have no first-century MSS of Mark. I also noted that this fragment, along with the other six second-century fragments, demonstrated that the text was stable.

    8. Regarding Zuntz’s collection theory in AD 100, you are right that I should have objected. However, Zuntz’s view has a great amount of scholarship behind it. What may well be its undoing is four of the new fragments discovered—all of Paul’s letters! But since the data are not out on them yet, I couldn’t comment on this specifically. However, you also have to keep in mind that we each had five minutes to respond to the other person. One has to choose what to focus on.

    9. As for Ehrman’s agnosticism, that was off the table. The rules of engagement laid down ahead of time specifically noted that we could not speak of each other’s faith or lack thereof.

    10. As for your suggestion that I speak of my faith at the end, this again was not part of the topic. But you didn’t note what I did say. When Bart spoke of the bloody sweat verses in Luke as a later addition, noting what the author’s viewpoint of the passion was all about, I pointed out that this presupposed that Bart knew what the original text of Luke was saying. I think this was perhaps my strongest point in the debate. Even Bart ultimately has to claim that the original wording is available to us. Further, I noted that the scholarship of the last two thousand years has presupposed that we have the original wording in broad strokes and even in most particulars. In that respect, Bart’s views are indeed those of a radical skeptic.

    11. Your comment that “some seemed unsure why the issue even mattered” is rather poignant. In many respects, it doesn’t. That is, I think that Bart was arguing on a technicality—viz., that some of the NT books may have been patchwork documents and thus the original form is difficult, if not impossible, to locate. But how important this is in terms of the real issue that people are wrestling with—whether we have a NT that is reliable—is a different matter.

    12. Finally, one other comment: I asked in my opening statement, “How does [Bart know that these early MSS do not give us the original wording]? What criteria does he use to determine that they made mistakes? Either such errors are patently obvious—like “Onion” for “Union”—or he is judging these early papyri by later MSS that have an excellent pedigree—later MSS whose wording reaches back to the time before our earliest papyri.” Bart said I pitched him a softball because he was able to determine that the MSS were defective by patristic comments from the second century. I responded that this was overstated—that is, he was using the great uncials as well as patristics to point to the autographic wording. And precisely because of the majuscules of the fourth century scholars have concluded—with Metzger—that the wording of their texts is hundreds of years older than the MSS themselves.

  42. Thank you very much, Jamie. That is very interesting. I haven’t seen the second debate yet, but picked up a copy of it at the UNC debate to watch soon.

    Thank you also, Kevin, for these additional comments. I take your point and agree with it. In order to write his books, particularly the two you mention (which happen to be the ones with which I’m least familiar), Ehrman has to make certain assumptions as to the proximity of the original text to the earliest available text (not to mention the proximity of the earliest available text to the historical Jesus, John the Baptist, etc.). I think this would be an excellent point to make in a debate with Ehrman as well.

    It’s ironic, isn’t it, that Ehrman is making a small fortune writing books mostly about what he thinks didn’t happen and isn’t the case (in other words, historical-critical skepticism), apparently without noticing the inconsistency.

  43. Sorry, I should have proofread that comment better. So, I do not think that this kind of debate is profitable for Christians or non-Christians to hear because it is very technical and hardly anybody in the audience is in a position to reliably judge the winner. Moreover, there are bigger questions like the ones you mention which Ehrman must agree can be answered by historically analyzing the NT which. However, given Ehrman’s presentation in his debates with Wallace, I don’t think anybody who isn’t more familiar with Ehrman’s work, and other areas of NT studies in general, would ever think that Ehrman would confidently say that we can know that the historical Jesus thought he was an apocalyptic prophet who was baptized by John the Baptist and all the rest. That is my impression at least. What do you think?

  44. Good to hear from you. I don’t mean to sound so bold as to suggest that I wold do a better job myself debating Bart Ehrman, but taking my cue from your hypothetical closing statement if you had been the one debating Ehrman, and from a point made in your co-authored book (The Heresy of Orthodoxy)about Ehrman’s other work presupposing the accuracy and precision of the reconstructed NT as we have it today. In particular (and Wallace brought this up in his second debate with Ehrman and Ehrman made no response), I think that the forest is being missed for the trees in these debates Wallace is having with Ehrman about reconstructing the ‘original.’ Ehrman is to knowledgeable and to good at debating to clearly lose that debate. However, Ehrman must think, he must think that the ‘earliest available text’ is close enough to the ‘original text’ in substance to meaningfully apply the criteria of authenticity, and various literary-grammatical criteria, in order to sincerely write all of this other books, and 2 in particular: Forged, and Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millenium. But then, that means that even if we cannot reconstruct the original text, the earliest available text is good enough to know things about the historical Jesus. In particular, we can know those important facts about Who Jesus thought he was, and the facts commonly used to argue that God raised Jesus from the dead (death, burial, empty tomb, post-mortem appearances, origin of disciples belief in a resurrected Jesus).

  45. I think it is interesting that Ehrman in his last debate at SMU said this in response to what it would take for him to believe: “Suppose next week…an archaeological find in Rome and we have reason to think that these ten manuscripts that are discovered were all copied within a week of the original copy of Mark and they disagree in .001 percent of their textual variations, then I would say, that’s good evidence. And that’s precisely what we don’t have.” He certainly sets the bar high!

    I really appreciated your analysis of the debate, especially your closing statement. As someone who has read your work, I think you have a gift of making strong arguments even in the midst of detailed analysis. Dr. Wallace is a great scholar, but by no means is he concise. One only has to have read his Greek Grammar book to see that! Great resource, but not for the quick study. I would love to see an interaction between you and Dr. Ehrman. I think you would do an excellent job.

    SWBTS Seminary student

  46. Thank you very much for this excellent comment, Kevin. I’m not sure who coaches Dan for these debates. I also know that it’s not easy to debate Bart Ehrman; I once was on a panel with him (along with Richard Hays and Norm Geisler), and found out that he has a way to connect with the audience and to explain complicated matters well so non-specialists can understand them. Agreeing with Dan on the issue (as I surmise you do as well), I just wish a more compelling case could be made for the reliability of the text that we have in those kinds of debates.

    When you think about it, it’s a lot easier for Ehrman to win this kind of debate than for those arguing for the reliability of the NT text, because all he has to do is keep casting doubt on a various aspects of the transmission process, in many cases using arguments from silence (i.e. what we don’t know). How do you positively prove that the NT text is reliable to the point that a skeptic like Ehrman is satisfied? I think it’s a virtual impossibility.

    As to your specific question, I don’t know the answer. Ehrman himself said at the debate that he has gradually moved further and further away from a belief that it is meaningful even to speak of the “original text.” He now prefers to speak of the “earliest available text.” My sense is that the matter cannot be resolved on the level of text criticism alone but that we also need to speak of other issues such as canon, the nature of early Christianity (the Bauer thesis), and other matters, which is precisely why Mike and I wrote our book.

    Let me know if you have any further thoughts on this. I am currently considering work on another project interacting with Ehrman, and hearing this debate has made me wonder once again what would be the most effective way to address the issues he raises.

  47. Hello,

    I have read the book you co-authored with Michael Krueger, The Heresy of Orthodoxy, and I found the last two chapters to be a better refutation of Ehrman than the approach Wallace takes, although I love the guy. So, I have two questions:

    1) Does Daniel Wallace take any suggestions or constructive criticism from his colleagues such as yourself? I mean, the guy has debated Ehrman 3 times now.

    2) It seems to me that Ehrman is a master confuser. What I mean by that is that despite the points he makes in these debates, it seems to me that he must think that the archetypal text that can be reconstructed by NT textual critics is close enough to the original in its essentials that the criteria of authenticity can be used to glean historical kernels of truth from the gospels, right? I mean, he thinks Jesus existed, that he was a failed apocalyptic prophet, and in his earlier work at least he affirmed the death, burial, and empty tomb as narrated in the Gospels. But, he leaves the audience with the impression that the transmission of the text was so poor that we cannot know anything about what Jesus actually said or did, or anything about his death, burial, post-mortem appearances, etc. Do you think that he really does believe, currently at least, that the archetypal text is close enough to the original that the criteria of authenticity can be meaningfully applied to the text of the NT that has been reconstructed, or does he think that his concerns about the textual transmission of the NT manuscripts should persuade ALL NT historians that they cannot meaningfully apply any of the criteria of authenticity to the gospels, or any book of the NT?

    Thank you very much for your time,
    Kevin V.


  1. Jesus in the News Again | Biblical Foundations - […] and Dan Wallace on the UNC-Chapel Hill campus where Ehrman teaches. To see the debate wrap-up, click here. I’m …
  2. Wallace-Ehrman debate + Early Fragment of Mark « Michael H. Burer - [...] a related note, I think Andreas Köstenberger’s analysis of the most recent Wallace-Ehrman debate makes some fruitful points. I …
  3. The Divine Conspiracy Blog » Blog Archive » Reflections - [...] Köstenberger shares his reflections from a recent debate between Bart Ehrman and Dan Wallace. Posted in Theology | …
  4. Around the Interweb | Blogging Theologically | Jesus, Books, Culture, & Theology - [...] Commentary: Andreas Köstenberger provides helpful commentary on the recent Ehrman/Wallace debate [...]
  5. Wallace vs Erhman: Round Three | Parchment and Pen - [...] Baptist Seminary, attended the debate and wrote up a review of it. You can access that here. Köstenberger offered a critique more …
  6. Flotsam and jetsam (1/3) | Everyday Theology - [...] Andreas Kostenberger offers his summary of the debate between Bart Ehrman and Daniel Wallace. [...]

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