The Battle to Discredit the Bible/Program 2

By: Dr. Darrell Bock, Dr. Daniel B. Wallace; ©2007
Since we don’t have any of the original writings, how can we possibly know if the Bible we have is even close to what the authors originally penned? Hasn’t it been corrupted over the years?



Today, network television specials, bestselling books and magazines are causing Christians and non-Christians to ask many questions about the Bible. For example, how did the early Christians know which books to include in the canon of the New Testament and which to keep out? What about the other missing gospels that never made it into the Bible? If we don’t have the original manuscript copies of the New Testament books and letters that the apostles wrote, how do we know we have what they originally wrote? And how can we know what Jesus truly said, if Church scribes intentionally tampered with the words in the scriptural text?

Today you will find out. My guests on the John Ankerberg Show are two well-known scholars. First Dr. Darrell Bock, professor of New Testament research at Dallas Theological Seminary. He has appeared on NBC, ABC, CBS, CNN, Fox, and the Discovery Channel as an authority on the historical Jesus. Second, Dr. Daniel B. Wallace, one of the world’s leading authorities on textual criticism and the Greek manuscript copies of the New Testament. He is director of the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts, the senior New Testament editor of the NET Bible, and Professor of New Testament Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary. Listen as they present the evidence that every Christian needs to know to answer the questions of those who are trying to discredit the Bible.

Ankerberg: Welcome to our program. Our question today is, if we don’t have the original manuscripts of the New Testament, how do we know we have the original words of the apostles? That is a question that is bantered around in society today on television, in novels, in scholarly books. And I bet you want to know the answer to that. Well, we have got the guys that can give you the answer. Dr. Darrell Bock is professor of New Testament Research at Dallas Theological Seminary. You have noticed his picture on ABC, NBC, CNN and Fox on a multitude of documentaries. He is the authority on the historical Jesus. Right next to him is Dr. Daniel B. Wallace, and he is one of the world’s leading authorities on textual criticism and the Greek manuscript copies of the New Testament. He is director of the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts. He actually photographs digitally manuscript copies around the world and has even discovered some new ones, new in the sense that people didn’t even know about these copies, alright. He is the senior New Testament editor of the NET Bible, he has also written Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament, that is used in almost every seminary across the country. Guys, we are really glad that you are here.
As we were coming in we put up a picture of a bestselling book by Bart Ehrman that is called Misquoting Jesus. You actually went to school with him, Dan, you were buddies. You know about him?
Wallace: Well, I met him at Princeton his first year of the doctoral program there.
Ankerberg: Tell me about him and tell me about the book Misquoting Jesus.
Wallace: I have always found Bart to be a very congenial fellow, nice guy, fun to talk to. And yet he has moved very far to the left since his days at Princeton. He started out at Moody, then he went to Wheaton, got his master’s degree at Princeton and his doctorate at Princeton. And his book Misquoting Jesus is kind of the latest coming out of where he is on these issues that are very dear to his heart, which is the text of the New Testament. And the essential thing of Misquoting Jesus is, we can’t tell what the original text said, but what we can tell is it probably was not as fully orthodox as most of our manuscripts seem to suggest that it is.
Ankerberg: Yeah. I mean, people are concerned about the things that he said. They raised questions. And now in your classes, I mean, you used to say that people used to sleep through textual criticism and when you talk about the copies coming down and so on. They don’t sleep any longer, and even lay people in the church are asking what kind of questions?
Wallace: Well, they are asking question like, “Can we really know that we have the Bible, what was written originally or something very close to it?” “Are doctrines being played with because of these differences?” That kind of thing. You know, Bart’s story is not unusual. The introductory chapter to Craig Evan’s book Fabricating Jesus – which is a terrific book on Jesus –in the first chapter he goes through the biographies of many people writing about Jesusanity and writing against Christianity. And almost every one of those stories belongs to someone who grew up in a home that was Bible believing and was very conservative Christianity. And what you see as he goes through these biographies is a kind of what I call brittle fundamentalism, where there is a particular view of the way the scripture operates, and if there is one violation of it, it isn’t just that your view changes, it shatters. And so you go from one end of the spectrum and move very, very quickly to the other end of the spectrum. And you feel so burned about the experience that you want to turn around and make sure no one goes through what you went through. I think that is an element of Bart’s story. I think we see that in many people who write in this area, who have ended up teaching in the university settings. And so these questions are, at one level, very legitimate questions that deserve answers. They deserve to be engaged and not simply said, well, that reflects liberalism; or that’s disrespectful; or whatever. No, in some cases these are very sincere questions that deserve careful attention.
Ankerberg: Yeah. I mean, there are different question that come up here. And let’s start with the manuscript copies themselves. One of the criticisms that Bart has is that it seems to him – and you tell me if he is giving an implication or if he really understands this, okay – and that is, you know, we don’t have the original copies, and we don’t have copies of the original copies, and we don’t have copies of those copies. And he makes it sound like we are so far down history before we get a copy. And then he hooks that up to the fact that we have a certain amount of words in the text, and we have got three variations for every single word in the New Testament text. And so he says, “Voila! How in the world can you say that this is what the apostles said?” And then he draws some conclusions, namely, this affects the historical picture of Jesus, and it also affects Christian doctrine. So let’s start, first of all, do we have manuscripts that go back very close to Jesus and the apostles?
Wallace: I think what we need to say is Bart gives this image that we don’t have manuscripts almost for hundreds of years at all. And at one place when he was on a TV or radio show he actually said that. But he knows that that is not the case, I am not so sure he can say we don’t have copies of copies of copies of copies. We don’t know how many generations there are between the copies we do have and the original. But this we do know. We have in the second century, between 10 and 15 manuscript copies. All of them are fragmentary, they are all papyri, but they are all from the New Testament. That is absolutely unheard of for any other Greco-Roman literature. You don’t have any other ancient Greco-Roman literature that has copies that come within decades of the original documents. And yet people are saying we can’t possibly know what the original New Testament said. If that is true about the New Testament, it is 100 times more true of all these other ancient documents.
Ankerberg: Yeah, one person said if you are going to throw out the New Testament documents on that basis, you have to can all of history, period – ancient history.
Wallace: As far as the manuscript evidence is concerned, absolutely.
Ankerberg: Yeah. Alright, tell me about this evidence and how full it is.
Wallace: Well, let me address this question of copies of copies, if I may.
Ankerberg: Okay.
Wallace: The imagery that Bart is trying to present with this, I think, is an imagery that we are all familiar with. It is the telephone game that we all played as kids. And the whole point of the telephone game is you whisper something in somebody’s ear, it goes down nine or ten people until you get to the last one, and he garbles the whole story, everybody laughs. The whole point of the game is to see if it can get garbled badly. And so it is not necessarily a coherent message to begin with. And there is this sense of, we don’t have copies of copies of copies of copies until we get to this point. There’s the sense of this single line of transmission…
Ankerberg: Like the telephone game.
Wallace: Like the telephone game. But there is a lot of problems with using that analogy, whether Ehrman uses it explicitly or implicitly. First of all, we are dealing with written documents. We’re not dealing with oral tradition in a parlor game.
Ankerberg: In other words, if you asked a guy, “Listen, instead of conveying that orally, just tell me,” you are saying, “Write the message down and give it to me.”
Wallace: Exactly. And so if you have got a document like the Gospel of John written down, and the next guy is supposed to write it down, is he going to garble it as much as the guy who is hearing these words? And that is not likely. Secondly, you have multiple lines of transmission. It is not just an original person going through a single line. Now you have three or four lines going out.
Ankerberg: Because the Gospel of John would be written say three, four, five, six times from one manuscript going out to different parts of the empire.
Wallace: Exactly. And so you have got these lines of transmission from these original documents. Now, if you compare just the last person in each one of those lines with their documents and compare them to each other, we would have a far better sense of what that original document actually said. But thirdly, you do have not just the last person that we have to consult. We can consult several of the intermediate agents getting back much closer to the original. So if I say I am going to pick number three guy in this line, and number four guy in this line, and number six guy in this line, out of 300 guys now we are getting very, very close to the original. We can make those comparisons. And finally, that original document would have been copied far more than just one time. So again, it is not just one line of transmission, but it is several lines, maybe even 10 or 20 lines where this document is being copied. And those developed their own streams of transmission. When you see it in that light, it tells us that, oh, that is so different from the telephone game and so different from the impression that I am getting from reading Misquoting Jesus, that I think what we have here is something that tells us what the original text said.
Ankerberg: Alright. I mean, you have actually gone around the world and you’ve photographed these copies from the different time periods. How much variation have you found and how much similarity have you found?
Wallace: I think Ehrman is absolutely right when he says there are as many as 400,000 textual variants among our manuscripts. But what he doesn’t communicate very clearly is that these differences are, for the most part, absolutely irrelevant. Seventy five percent of them are spelling differences or nonsense errors. There is one, for example, in 1 Thessalonians 2:7 where we have a famous textual problem there where Paul says that we became “gentle” among you or we became “little children” among you. And the difference between “gentle” and “little children” in Greek is one letter. It is either hpioi or nhpioi. Well, there is one manuscript that has “we became hippoi,” which is, we became horses among you. Well, that’s what you call a nonsense reading. Nobody is going to think that is authentic. That still counts as a textual variant, even though the guy had too much caffeine that day and didn’t know what he was doing. But the fact is, all of those variants, nonsense or not, count as textual variants. And 75% of them are going to be nonsense variants or simply spelling differences. And the most common is what’s called the moveable nu. It is the n at the end of a word, just like our indefinite article “a” or “an,” a book or an apple. To put the “n” on the end of an indefinite article doesn’t change the meaning, it just changes how much the guy knows grammar.
Ankerberg: And I think we need to tell the folks why we are talking 400,000, why that’s not a big deal to you. And that is that the number of manuscripts that you are starting to compare at the beginning is close to 30,000 manuscripts.
Wallace: Yeah, exactly. And I would argue that what we have for New Testament textual criticism is an embarrassment of riches. Any classical scholar would give his eyeteeth and his left arm to own the kind of manuscripts that we have to be able to sift out the original. When you look at just the Greek manuscripts alone, the numbers as of last week are 5,752 that we know of, that are still existing: 5,752. Compare that to the average classic Greco-Roman author: we are dealing with fewer than 20 copies.
Ankerberg: I think for Catullus when I was in school, they had two.
Wallace: Yeah. It’s just minimal material you are dealing with.
Ankerberg: Yeah. The thing is, it is like in my class at school. There were the A students, B students, C students, and my friends, okay? And let’s say they gave the Gettysburg Address for us to copy, okay? You had this one page and we all copied it. Well, the A students, they were zipping right through this thing and they got the punctuation and the spelling just about right, okay? And the B students weren’t far behind. And then the C students and the D students, they were very interesting. But if you took all of those together, instead of having just two – if you had an A student and a D student, you might be in trouble – but if you have got 50 kids, the more the better. In other words, the more documents you have, the more you can compare. And not everybody’s making an error in the same word, same letter, same space, alright? If you start off with 5,000 plus Greek manuscripts and you add…what?
Wallace: Well, with the Latin manuscripts, we have over 10,000 copies of those, almost twice as many Latin manuscripts as we do of Greek. And then you have got Coptic and Syriac. And we don’t know how many Coptic and Syriac we have, but it is probably in the thousands for those. We have gotten Georgian; we have Armenian; we have got Old Church Slavonic; we have got languages that nobody knows, have never heard of, except for two guys who know this today; and that is it. But altogether I think what we are dealing with, between the versional witnesses and the Greek manuscripts, is somewhere between 20,000 and 30,000 manuscripts altogether.
Ankerberg: Alright. Now the other thing is, you’ve got, correct me if I am wrong, you have got a million quotations from the church fathers.
Wallace: Over a million of the New Testament, yes.
Ankerberg: Okay, so let’s put these numbers together. You have got 1 million there, and you have got 138,000 words 30,000 times, okay.
Wallace: Not really, because not all these manuscripts have the whole New Testament. Most of them are selections.
Ankerberg: But it gives the folks an idea of what we are talking about, because we are just giving numbers here. But you have got a ton of words. I don’t know what that number is, but it is big.
Bock: And most of them are, as we said, typos. They are like if you ever get an email from me and you get one that doesn’t have a typo in it, it means that I didn’t type it.
Wallace: These wouldn’t be called typos. These would be called handos.
Bock: That’s right.
Ankerberg: Well, the thing is, in all of that stuff if there is one difference in a letter, that is a manuscript variant.
Wallace: That counts as a variant. Every letter difference counts as a variance.
Ankerberg: So 400,000 out of that total number, which is probably three billion plus or so on, I mean, that is minuscule to start with. And then out of that you say 75% becomes spelling and nonsense stuff.
Bock: Something that a reader, when they see it, would immediately be able to recognize what is going on, for most cases, and know how to fix it.
Wallace: Exactly. Just like we do this kind of thing every day when we read the newspaper and we see what the box scores for the sports and say “Oh they flipped the scores between these two teams.” You know, this is a natural tendency for us to be able to make these corrections on the fly when we read this material. Well, that largest category is just spelling and nonsense errors. But the second category still is not significant; it has to do with transpositions or the use of synonyms. Like…
Bock: In other words, word order.
Wallace: Yeah. When you think of synonyms, you think of like John 4:1 where it says “the Lord” or it says “Jesus.” Big debate among textual critics which one is the original there. But it doesn’t say the Lord or Peter, it’s the Lord or Jesus both times. It refers to the same person. And yet that is an important enough textual variant to be listed in the apparatus.
Ankerberg: Alright. The Jesus Seminar says this, “Even careful copyists make mistakes, as every proof reader knows. So we will never be able to claim certain knowledge exactly what the original text of any biblical writing was.” Now, Dan, they are saying you have got these 400,000 manuscript variances, differences, in all of these texts. You have got 30,000 texts, 138,000 words in every text, or close to that. You add all that up, you add a million quotations from the church fathers, and you only got 400,000 differences. And let’s go through the list again. Out of the pie of 100%, representing 400,000 manuscript variants, you are starting off with 75% are what?
Wallace: Seventy five percent are spelling errors or spelling differences or nonsense. And the next two chunks would be almost 25%, and that is going to be word order changes. Because in Greek, you can change the word order without changing what the subject is. If you say “Jesus loves John,” you can actually have the word order “John loves Jesus,” but anybody who knows Greek knows that Jesus is the subject and John is the object because of the endings on those words.
Ankerberg: You also are saying that there is, every time there is a difference in word order, even though the meaning doesn’t change, like in “Jesus loves John.” How many ways could “Jesus loves John” be written in Greek and each one of is a difference?
Wallace: There is at least 18 different ways to write “Jesus loves John” without any spelling variations between those two at all. If you have spelling variations you have just doubled it to 36 in terms of one of the names. And then you have got some other little particles and then some differences in terms of how you have the word love. My estimate is you have got somewhere between 500 and 1000 ways to say “Jesus loves John” in Greek without essentially changing the meaning at all. That is the potential number of variants we have on that three-word text.
Ankerberg: And then you have got 30,000 manuscripts.
Wallace: Yeah.
Ankerberg: Okay. The other thing is that… I’ll go back, and maybe you have already said this, but the fact is, they used to have the definite article in front of names. So it would be The John, The Mary, The Philip, okay? And when you translate that over, the fact is, it doesn’t make any difference at all. We all know we are talking John, Mary, Philip, right?
Wallace: Yeah.
Ankerberg: Alright. What else?
Wallace: Well, then the next largest category is those textual variants that are meaningful, but they are not viable. And by viable I mean they cannot go back to the original text, because they are found in one 14th century manuscript, or a 12th century manuscript, that has no history that suggests that it goes back to the original. That is a fairly large group. The smallest group of textual variants we have by far, it’s less than 1%, it is those variants that are both meaningful and viable. And that means we are dealing with much less than 1% of all these 400,000 textual variants are going to impact anything. And the question is, what do they impact?
Ankerberg: Alright.
Bock: So you are saying that 99% of that text, it is like snow white, we have 99.4% pure.
Ankerberg: Yeah. And if you just stopped right there, that is fantastic, but we can go even further. But let me give the audience an illustration. Listen to what I say. If I say John 3:16 is this, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Begotten Son that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” And let’s say you have got 29,000 manuscripts that come down with that wording, okay? And you have got the rest, up to 30,000 that say, “God so loved the world that He gave His only Begotten Son that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” Okay, you have got 29,000 that leave the word “for” in there, and you have got all the rest that don’t have it, okay? Now, as a textual critic, you simply say take a wild guess here, okay? If you have 29,000 that have it in there, it probably ought to be in there. But even if it wasn’t, it doesn’t change the meaning of John 3:16.
Wallace: Right. It changes an explicit connection with the preceding verse, but that is all it does. And those are plenty of the variants that we have are the little conjunctions. Those are meaningful and viable variants. Did he say “for” or did he say “and”? You know, those kinds of things.
Ankerberg: Alright. Now, give me the conclusion of what do you hear him saying?
Bock: Well, what I hear him saying is that when it is all said and done – and by the way he is not the only one saying it; virtually every textual critic in the last few centuries has been saying this- when it is all said and done, no doctrine, central doctrine, of the Christian faith is impacted by this remainder. We might discuss whether a particular verse has a particular teaching, that’s impacted by these differences, but the sum total of what Christianity teaches is not touched by this pool of variants.
Ankerberg: Yeah. I mean, this goes back to the criticism. These manuscript variants are supposed to change our historical view of Jesus, or they are supposed to touch Christian doctrine in some way. Do they?
Wallace: Well, I think this is the impression Ehrman tries to give, but he doesn’t produce the evidence that shows that. And so people read his book and they have this Chicken Little mentality that says, “My gosh, the sky is falling. I don’t know what to believe anymore.” But you start looking at the evidence. You say, the deity of Christ is untouched by these viable variants, the virgin birth is untouched, the resurrection of Christ is untouched. Everything that the Bible teaches that is a cardinal truth, an essential truth, is found there in the manuscripts and is untouched by the variants.
Ankerberg: Alright. We are going to save this over until the next program, because we have got to get to the next big thing that he says. And a lot of Christians, they have questions about this, too. They shouldn’t, but they do. Ehrman says that the woman taken in adultery, that story doesn’t even belong in the Bible. He also says the last 12 verses of the Gospel of Mark shouldn’t be in the Bible. He says 1 John 5:7, which explicitly defines the Trinity, is not part of the Bible. And he says the stuff that we have about Jesus in Hebrews, about crying out, and his dying on the cross, as well as what is said in the Gospels about him healing the lepers, did he do it in terms of he cared or he was angry, alright? Ehrman says these are examples, which we’re going to get to next week, these are the examples that there has been a big screw up and there has been a big change. In some sense he says the scribes intentionally did this. So you can’t trust that Bible of yours. That is wrong, but we are going to tell you why it is wrong in our next program. I hope you will join us.

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