Can We Trust the New Testament?/Program 3

By: Lee Strobel; ©2007
If You Can’t Trust the Bible…



Announcer: For 13 years Lee Strobel was the legal editor of the Chicago Tribune and an outspoken atheist. His wife’s conversion sent him on a two year investigation to prove Christianity was false. But the evidence led him to become a Christian instead. He wrote about the evidence he discovered in his bestselling book The Case for Christ.

But recently, new explanations have arisen claiming to refute Jesus’ resurrection. Lee went back to investigate the evidence for these new theories and today you will hear what he discovered. Join us for this special edition of The John Ankerberg Show.

Ankerberg: Welcome to our program. What a great one today. Lee Strobel is my guest. He is former legal editor of the Chicago Tribune for 13 years; won many awards. And he is also a best selling author. Many of you have read his book The Case for Christ, which kind of chronicled his journey and the evidence that he investigated that brought him to faith in Jesus Christ; and The Case for the Creator; and quite a few other books. But today in this program, what we want to look at is a book that is very popular in the newsstands today Misquoting Jesus by Bart Ehrman over at the University of North Carolina. And, Lee, what’s behind this book? I mean, the title is really a misnomer here, what is it?
Strobel: Yeah, it really is a misnomer. It really doesn’t talk about misquoting Jesus. What Bart Ehrman does, he is what is called a textual critic. A textual critic is someone who spends their life studying the text of the New Testament and trying to determine what Jesus actually said and what actually the original text said, because we don’t have the originals. I mean, think about that. That was frightening to me when I first started this investigation. It was like, “You are telling me you don’t have the New Testament?” Well, of course not. It was written on papyrus. It is long since gone, reduced to dust. The question is, can we have confidence that the Bible we hold today is an accurate representation of what the original said? Bart Ehrman tries to throw dust in our eyes and say, “Oh no, there are accidental changes through the centuries, because for the first 15 centuries or so it was scribes who were copying by hand these documents over a period of many centuries. And, of course, errors are going to creep in. And sometimes they intentionally made a few changes too, and we can talk about that. But he tries to make it sound like, therefore, we can’t trust what is in the Bible. And he personally has now become an agnostic.
Ankerberg: Yeah. Let me give you a quote. His conclusion, when you get done reading his book, the conclusion that this man came to, by the way, he says that in his youth he accepted Christ; he went to Moody Bible Institute, which is a Christian college, Bible school. And then he went to Wheaton College, which is an evangelical school. And then he went to Bruce Metzger at Princeton and studied there. And he said that one day when he was trying to explain away one of the so called variants in the text, he gave this great paper and the teacher came back and said, “You know, I just think Mark made a mistake.” And he said, “Well, maybe he did or maybe one of the scribes made a mistake in terms of this.” His conclusion in the book was, the message of this book is readers really can’t trust the text of their, Bible and that the common portrait of Jesus found in the New Testament might not be reliable after all.
So you have got two things: one, you can’t trust the text, and that would include doctrine; and the picture of Jesus, you can’t trust that either. Now, one of the things that he said was, he drew his conclusion from the fact that when he looked at the number of variants in the texts, okay, you have got these copies coming down and if they were copied, and copied, copied and copied and human errors came in, how many human errors came in? Well, he said there were 200,000 to 400,000 variants, more than all the words in the New Testament. And he says, “So, you see?” Now, that is just not fair. Tell the folks why.
Strobel: Yeah. You know, Bart Ehrman makes a lot of true statements in this book. And one of the true statements is there is a lot of variants. Well, what is a variant? As you said, if anybody, a scribe through the centuries misspells something, or accidentally misplaces a word, or one of the church fathers – we have a million quotes of the New Testament just among the church fathers in the first century and later – and if they quoted wrong or differently, just differently a word out of order or whatever, it gets recorded as a variant. So, of course we have a lot of variants. We have a lot of manuscripts. That’s a good thing, because when you have a lot of manuscript you can compare and contrast and figure out what the original said with a high degree of confidence.
Ankerberg: Alright, how many manuscripts do we have?
Strobel: Well, we have got about 5,700 Greek manuscripts, which are the earliest manuscripts. We have in total handwritten New Testament manuscripts about 25,000-30,000 of these. Now, this is extraordinary. When you look back, for instance in the first century, Josephus was an historian a Jewish historian who worked for the Romans. And he wrote a book called the Jewish War. And now he is a great historian of his generation. Well, today we have nine copies of his book, and the first one of them was copied in the 10th century. So you have about a 900-year gap between his original and the one that we have that somebody wrote in the 10th century. So that gives you an idea of what is typical. There are very few documents of historians from these early dates. Maybe if you are lucky you have 20 copies of your work if you were a Greek historian.
Ankerberg: I will give you another. One of my professors, he loved the poet Catullus. And there were only two manuscript copies left, and there was a gap of 1000 years, okay? So let’s get this straight for the folks. Now, I use my illustration I told you last night. The fact is, when I went to school if the teacher passed out the Gettysburg Address and it was printed, and she said copy this, okay? In my class there were A students, B students, C students and then my friends were there. And the fact is, if we all copied this, the A students would hardly make any errors. The C students and D students, theirs looked really something else. But if you collected them all and you compare them, the fact is, you could get back to the original. Now, if you only had two, an A student versus a D student, you might be up the creek in terms of, boy, the wording is really different. But if you have all the others, the more manuscripts you have, the better chance you have of getting back to the exact original.
Strobel: That is right. And the fact that we have 70-80% of these variants, 70-80% are spelling errors for which there is not even an English translation. These are meaningless. The name John is spelled sometimes with two “n’s” sometimes with one “n.” Who cares? We know who he is talking about. Another example is what is called a moveable nu. Like in English, if I say a book or an apple we put an “n” there before the word apple if it starts with a vowel. That is just how our language works. Well, the same in Greek. They put this nu in there. Well, sometimes it is there and sometimes it isn’t. Does it change things? No, if I say “a apple” you know what I am talking about.
Ankerberg: Yeah, so on these variants coming down in terms of what is a variant, okay, first of all you start off with 30,000 manuscripts then, oh, by the way, they also compare them with the Church Fathers.
Strobel: Yeah, a million quotations.
Ankerberg: That’s right. And so if everybody just made one error you have got a million errors, okay? We are only talking 200,000 to 400,000, alright?
Strobel: Exactly. I mean, this is good news, frankly, that we have so many that we can reconstruct the original.
Ankerberg: Alright. And then everybody admits that 70-80% of the 400,000 are what?
Strobel: Just spelling errors.
Ankerberg: Spelling errors.
Strobel: They don’t even have an English translation. This is stuff that shouldn’t even be dealt with.
Ankerberg: You know, I always tell the kids when I am talking about this, the fact is, if you guys write a love letter to your girlfriend, some of you guys aren’t the best spellers. But I bet you that she can look at your misspelled words and still get the original message, okay? And the fact is that I think that is true when you look at some of these things, it doesn’t make a practical bit of difference in terms of their meaning.
Strobel: There is a good example that Daniel B. Wallace,… I interviewed him for my book The Case for the Real Jesus, he is a textual critic too, every bit as prominent as Bart Ehrman. He does a little seminar at various places where he will get a bunch of people together and he will give them a 50-word document and then make six copies of it, handwritten and they make some intentional errors and some accidental errors. And then another group comes in and they end up doing six generations of copies, and they throw away the originals. Then they bring in average people and say, “Let’s figure out what the original said.” It is not that hard, even though these documents that they create have more errors in them than, proportionally, the New Testament would; far more, more corrupt. He said, “We are always able to get back to what the original said.” He said, “Only one time were we three words off, and never did we miss the essential message.” And so when you have this proliferation of manuscripts you are going to have a lot of variants; it is not a big deal. The important thing is this: can we, with confidence, get back to the original and have confidence what that is, especially when we deal with cardinal doctrines and the picture of Jesus?
Ankerberg: Yeah, I will give you another one. After you get through the misspellings and so on, then you come down to nonsense errors, okay? For example, the word Kai and Kurios; one means “and,” the other means “Lord.” Alright, if a scribe is going through and he is just looking and not thinking, he could probably put Kurios where he puts Kai, but in the sentence that would stand out pretty much.
Strobel: People would know in an instant that this is not what he wrote.
Ankerberg: It’s a nonsense error.
Strobel: Another example of how they changed it intentionally is, they began to produce what are called lectionaries, which are weekly readings or daily readings from the New Testament. Well, if you look in the gospel of Mark there is one place where he has 89 verses where it just uses a pronoun “he”; it doesn’t mention Jesus. And then 89 times it mentions he did this, he did this, he did this. Well, if you extract that and you’re going to put it in a lectionary, you can’t start out a daily reading with “He said this” because they say, “Who said it?” So they add the word “Jesus.” Well, fine. You are just clarifying it. That’s a variant every single time it is done in every single lectionary. Is it changing the meaning? No, not at all.
Ankerberg: I will give you another one, and that is there are 16 different ways in Greek to say “Jesus loves Paul.”
Strobel: Right.
Ankerberg: In other words, just by where you put the words. It really doesn’t matter; the sense comes out the same, but that is just the way Greek goes.
Strobel: Yeah, it’s different in English where the order matters.
Ankerberg: But every time the word is in a different spot, they call that a variant.
Strobel: It’s a variant, right.
Ankerberg: What else do you get?
Strobel: There is only, you know, when you get down to it, there is only about 1% of the variants that are both viable and meaningful. What that means is, meaningful means there is some degree to which it may change the meaning, and viable means there is some chance that it goes back to the original text; just 1%. And that kind of freaked me out, because I’m thinking, “Okay, what are these?”
Ankerberg: Yeah. Let me give you an example, okay? Romans 5:1: “we have peace” or “let us have peace.” What is the big difference?
Strobel: Yeah, exactly. I was talking to Daniel B. Wallace. I said, “Okay, I’m ready. Give me the biggest controversies. You know, what is this 1%?” And he said, “Well, there’s Romans 5:1: ‘We have peace’ or ‘Let us have peace.’ There is only one letter difference in the Greek.” Well, I don’t think that changes the meaning a hill of beans. Or another one: 1 John 1:4 says either “Thus we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete” or “thus we are writing these things so that your joy may be complete.” Well, you know what, I don’t really care in terms of the ultimate issue; it’s irrelevant in terms of any doctrine whatsoever. It is an interesting exercise for the textual critics to wrestle over this stuff. But here is the bottom line, John, there is no cardinal doctrine of the church that is all in jeopardy by any textual variant in the New Testament. Period.
Ankerberg: Right.
Strobel: They’ve been saying that since 1707, and it is still true today.
Ankerberg: Alright. We are going to take a break, and when we come back I am going to ask you, should the last 12 verses in the gospel of Mark, the last chapter, be there? What would you say if I told you that the woman taken in adultery that Jesus had brought before them and was forgiven by Jesus, that shouldn’t be in the Bible? And probably the most explicate definition of the Trinity in 1 John 5, that shouldn’t be there. Now, Ehrman thinks these are really big things that we ought to sit up and take notice, alright? I am going to ask you about whether they should be or they shouldn’t be there. And if they shouldn’t be there, how does that affect the text? And we will talk about that when we come right back. Stick with us.

Ankerberg: Alright, we are back. And we are talking with Lee Strobel, and we are talking about the question, can we trust the portrait of Jesus that is given in the Scripture? Can we trust the doctrines that are there? Some of the scholars today are saying, “No, you can’t, because the church along the way tampered with the text, changed it. And we’ve got these variants. And if you really knew what the guys put in there back in the beginning, it is not what we have today.” And, Lee, a couple of examples of this. Ehrman, in his book here, Misquoting Jesus, this thing that is such a best seller; it is hard to believe that he put this in there. But he says, “Well you know, you have got to be truthful about this. The whole account in John of Jesus forgiving the woman that was taken in adultery, okay? This is such a powerful story, but listen, it is not a part of the original text.” And everybody kind of gasps at this, but what about that, is it supposed to be a part of the original text?
Strobel: Well, one of the things that Bart Ehrman did is he exposed to the general public a lot of the things that scholars have known for a long time, and frankly are not controversial at all. But the average person, being unequipped to wrestle with this stuff, it is a gasp when you suggest that the woman forgiven for adultery was not in the original manuscript. Well, the truth is, go to your Bible and look it up. And what you are going to see is, it will say that this story is not in some of the oldest and best manuscripts. And so there is a footnote, some Bibles set it off in different type and so forth, to indicate yeah, this is in doubt. In fact, I interviewed Daniel B. Wallace in my book, The Case for the Real Jesus, and he pointed out that you wish this were true, because it is such a wonderful story. His belief as a textual critic is that there was a tradition of Jesus having forgiven a woman of some great sin; we are not sure what that was. The way it is in the Bible currently is not in the original, most likely. Does that change anything about Jesus? No, not at all. It would have been nice if that would have been exactly what took place.
Ankerberg: Yeah, and just like we wish it was in there, some scribe said, you know, I wish that was in there. It sounds so good.
Strobel: Sounds so good and some manuscripts have it in Luke, which actually, Wallace’s theory is that it is much more of a Luke origin than anything else. But they put it different places in the Bible and so forth. They wanted it to be true, and certainly there probably was some historical bedrock there somewhere, but we don’t know enough detail.
Ankerberg: Okay, two questions. How do we know that it wasn’t in the originals?
Strobel: Well, I think when the textual critics go through and they examine the manuscripts and they can go back to the earliest ones, they know which ones are the most reliable in terms of what geographic region they were from; the history, sort of the ancestry of each line of the documents. And, in their assessments, this is not likely something that was in the original.
Ankerberg: Yeah, those early manuscripts just don’t have it. Period.
Strobel: Yeah.
Ankerberg: Alright, let’s take another one that might shock some people, and that is the last 12 verses in the gospel of Mark. Ehrman is saying they shouldn’t be there.
Strobel: Yeah, this freaked me out when I first heard this years ago when I was first investigating Jesus, because I thought, “Wait a minute, scholars agree generally Mark is the first Gospel. The last 12 verses which talk about the resurrection of Jesus aren’t in the originals? Uh oh! Do we have no resurrection in Mark, and then legend develops in the later Gospels?” No, we don’t. People can rest easy; and the reason is, yes, most scholars will tell you that those last 12 verses are not part of the original of Mark. One theory is the original was lost. That is kind of unlikely because Mark was probably written on a scroll; therefore, the ending of it would have been secure on the scroll. If it was on a codex, which is on a book, it could have fallen out. But codices didn’t come until about 40 years after Mark was written. And so, most likely it wasn’t lost.
Most likely this is the way that Mark ended his gospel. Because he is talking about the most unique individual that every lived, and he is in a sense saying to people, “What are you going to do with Jesus?” But John, we have a resurrection. Take away those last 12 verses, we still have a resurrection. Number one, it is predicted five different times in Mark. Number two, we have an empty tomb. Number three, we have the testimony of the angel that the tomb is empty. Number four, we have the angel foretelling the appearance of Jesus in Galilee, which is subsequently confirmed in the other gospels. So we do have a resurrection in Mark. And, I want to add, Mark is not the earliest account of the resurrection anyway. We have this creed of the early church, dated back to as early as 2-5 years after the resurrection, that confirms that Jesus returns from the dead and mentions the names of eyewitnesses whose lives were changed.
Ankerberg: Yeah, most likely Mark read Paul’s writing in Corinthians, too.
Strobel: Exactly. It talks, at the end of those 12 verses that are in dispute, it talks about handling snakes and it talks about speaking in tongues. Well, those are things in Acts, you know, Paul had some things with snakes and speaking in tongues, so somebody probably had. Now, I did talk to one scholar, interestingly, once and he said, you know what, that is just more testimony, let’s say that’s an independent tradition about the resurrection. That is just one more confirmation of the resurrection. I wouldn’t go that far.
Ankerberg: Let’s take another one. The quotation in 1 John 5:7 which says, “For there are three that bear record in heaven: the Father, the Word and the Holy Ghost; and these three are one.” Here is an explicate definition of the Trinity. Ehrman says, boy if this goes out, the fact is, you know, you don’t have a doctrine of the Trinity. In fact, atheist Frank Zindler makes this crazy statement: “Deleting this inauthentic reference leaves Christians without biblical proof of the Trinity.”
Strobel: Yeah, this is so absurd. Number one, it is true that that passage, that explicate passage on the Trinity, was not part of the original Bible. It came from an 8th century homily. And it wasn’t found in any manuscript until about the 16th century. It is only in four manuscripts. It does not go back to the original. Now, what does that do? Does that erase the Trinity as a doctrine? No, absolutely not. A couple of things to be said: number one, in church councils dating back to the 4th century…
Ankerberg: Constantinople, 381; Council of Constantinople, 451?
Strobel: Yeah, they affirm the Trinity centuries before this was added to the text. Therefore, how did they find it if it wasn’t in there? That’s number one. Number two, the Bible confirms four things indisputably: it says 1) the Father is God; 2) the Son is God; 3) the Spirit is God: and 4) there is one God. That is a clear teaching in the Bible. That, John, is the Trinity.
Ankerberg: Alright. Ehrman says what is worse, though, if we look at the Bible and get a different picture of Jesus, we realize we don’t have an accurate picture of Jesus. One of the examples he uses is Mark 1:41. And he says, “Look, Jesus was really angry when He healed the leper. And that is not what your version says right now.”
Strobel: Right. The Bible says He had compassion when He healed. And Ehrman said, “No, if you go back and the best analysis is he really says He had anger. He was mad.” And I interviewed other scholars on this, and they said, “Yeah, Ehrman is probably right. That is probably what the original said: He was angry.” Does that change our picture of Jesus? Not one bit. Because, frankly, Jesus has righteous indignation other places. In the very gospel of Mark he expresses righteous indignation and anger at certain things. That is not a sin; that is an expression of His holy judgment about things. And it is not, you know, out of the realm of possibility that Jesus was angry when He healed the leper; because He had such love for the leper that His anger was at this world, a place of sin, and what sin has done in introducing pain and suffering and so forth. So, it could very well be that He was angry at the sickness. Certainly not at the person who was sick.
Ankerberg: Okay, you have Hebrews 2:9 and Hebrews 5:7. Ehrman says, did Jesus die screaming and frightened on the cross apart from God? It looks like that is the way it should be translated. And, if so, the fact is then Jesus couldn’t have been God, because we know He wouldn’t have been frightened and He wouldn’t have been crying out in terror.
Strobel: Yeah, this is just putting two things together that don’t belong together. Number one, Ehrman points out that there is a dispute over Hebrews 2:9, which is translated that Jesus died by the grace of God. And he says actually the translation should be He died “apart” from God. Well, even if he is right – and I don’t know if he is right – but even if he were right, how is that different from Jesus saying on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me”? [Matt. 27:46] And so, there is no theological problem.
Ankerberg: Right. Same thing.
Strobel: But then he weds it to Hebrews later, in 5:7, where it talks about Jesus prayed with loud cries and tears, and says, “Look, He is dying on the cross in pain and fear and suffering. And He wouldn’t have that fear if He was God.” Well, the passage that he is talking about there doesn’t say this is when He was on the cross. This says during days of Jesus’ life on the earth. And it is right after it is talking about Jesus being a priest in the order of Melchizedek. And what he is saying here is, this is what High Priests did. This is what priests did; they offered prayers of supplication on behalf of other people. And so he is tying together two things that should not be tied together. And the implication that this somehow changes a picture of Jesus just doesn’t withstand scrutiny.
Ankerberg: His teacher was Bruce Metzger. And you had the privilege of interviewing Bruce before he died. And the fact is, this is the chief of all the teachers in terms of textual criticism, and he spent a lifetime looking at all of these texts. And what did he tell you?
Strobel: Yeah, in fact Bart Ehrman dedicates his book to him. He taught Bart Ehrman everything he knows, virtually. He reveres him as his father doctor, as his leader, his mentor. And I asked Bruce Metzger how this study of the text in the New Testament has changed his faith? I said to him, “So scholarship has not diluted your faith?” And he jumped in before I could finish my sentence. “On the contrary,” he stressed, “it has built it. I have asked questions all my life, I have dug into the text, I have studied this thoroughly and today I know with confidence that my trust in Jesus has been well placed.” And then for emphasis he repeated, “very well placed.”
Here is the textual critic of all textual critics. The greatest guy of our generation, who taught Bart Ehrman. His conclusion is, “I walk away studying with an open heart and an open mind. The texts of the New Testament are my life, and I walk away saying Jesus is the unique Son of God, and He proved it by returning from the dead.” And Bruce Metzger put his faith in Him. And I remember, I asked Bruce Metzger, “What is the state of your soul?” And he gave me the most beautiful description of his commitment to Jesus Christ being his Savior, his leader, his friend. And at the end of it I was almost in tears. And I turned off my tape recorder and I said, “Let me just pray and thank God for you to spend a lifetime studying the text and walking away saying it is build my faith. I just thank God for the way that you have left this legacy.” And I prayed for him.
And it pains me that his student, Bart Ehrman, has just, you know, taken a far different path than so many of his colleagues, like Daniel B. Wallace, and so many others, whose faith is built by the fidelity with which the New Testament has been passed down to us over time.
Ankerberg: Alright, you have looked at the new attacks on the resurrection, you have looked at the new attacks that are coming from ancient documents, and you have looked at the attacks that have been leveled at the manuscripts, how they were copied. And what did you conclude?
Strobel: My conclusion was that my original investigation into the evidence for Jesus was well placed, to use the words of Bruce Metzger. In other words, there is nothing in these new attacks of Jesus that paint a new picture of Him that is historically reliable. My trust in Him being who He claimed to be, the unique Son of God, who rose from the dead and thus authenticated that claim forever, those are not shaken at all. That I feel just like Bruce Metzger, my faith in Jesus is very well placed.
Ankerberg: Folks, you can see this evidence in his book The Case for the Real Jesus. Lee, I just want to say thank you for coming and spending this time.
Strobel: I have enjoyed it.
Ankerberg: And all of this research. It is a tremendous, tremendous amount of information that you have given us. We appreciate it very much.
Strobel: Thanks, John. Thanks for all you do at this great show that you have.
Ankerberg: God bless you.

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