The Battle to Discredit the Bible/Program 3

By: Dr. Darrell Bock, Dr. Daniel B. Wallace; ©2007
Critics claim there are more than 400,000 textual variants in the Bible manuscripts – or three options for nearly word in the New Testament. But how many of those present legitimate problems with the text?



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: Alright. Welcome to our program today. Coming into the program you saw the fact that we had Bart Ehrman’s book up, Misquoting Jesus. In that book he’s saying if we don’t have the original copies, the original manuscripts of the apostles, and we don’t have copies, copies, copies, down the line, and then we’ve got 400,000 textual variants, how in the world can you say you know what the apostles actually wrote about Jesus? Didn’t this affect the view of the historical Jesus, and didn’t it affect doctrine in a big time way?
And to unscramble this for us today, Dr. Darrell Bock is one of the leading scholars on the historical Jesus in the world today. And next to him is one of the leading textual critics in the world, Dr. Daniel B. Wallace. He is also director of the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts, actually photographs digitally manuscript copies around the world, has even uncovered more copies that go into the pile of New Testament documents that have been discovered. He’s the senior New Testament editor of the NET Bible. He’s also written Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament.
Dan, I’ve got a quote for you from Bart Ehrman. And he says this, “This textual critic [Bart Ehrman] says, the more I studied the manuscript tradition of the New Testament, the more I realized just how radically the text has been altered over the years,” alright. You don’t believe that is the case. Tell me why.
Wallace: Well, I’ll use what Ehrman has said in another book that he wrote with Dr. Bruce Metzger, his mentor, The Text of the New Testament, that was just published in 2005, the fourth edition. And both of them said that the Alexandrian text stream, or these manuscripts that are our earliest and most important manuscripts, are a very pure stream of transmission. And when we look at those, which is what most textual critics rely on largely to get back to the original text, they’re very, very close to each other. When Ehrman is talking about wild manuscripts, or a disparate text, he’s talking about manuscripts over here, but not about the ones the textual critics would regard, for the most part, as going back to the original.
Ankerberg: Take us back to a few things you said last week. Let’s start off with the wealth of documents that we have for these New Testament writings compared to anything else in ancient history.
Wallace: Well, we’ve got far more material for the New Testament than we do for any other Greco-Roman materials or writings. If you took the average classical author and stacked up how many books he has written,…
Ankerberg: Homer, Aristotle, Catullus, Herodotus,…
Wallace: Well, those, I would not call those guys the average ones!
Ankerberg: Okay.
Wallace: But if you’re talking about, Homer’s way up there as far as he’s number two after the New Testament. But you take some of these average guys, and they have fewer than 20 copies of their manuscripts still in existence. You stack them up, it would be about four feet tall.
Ankerberg: And also the time, from the time they wrote it to the time that you guys discovered a copy, a lot of them, it’s what?
Wallace: It’s usually between 500 and 1000 years before we get any copies from them at all.
Ankerberg: Alright.
Wallace: We’re talking about, by the time you get to 400 years after the New Testament is completed, we’ve got 60-70 copies. I mean, by the time we get that far out we’ve already got dozens of copies.
Ankerberg: And 50-100 years from the time that the apostles wrote, how many copies do you have?
Wallace: We have between 10 and 15 fragments of the New Testament…
Ankerberg: Still in existence in your hands today.
Wallace: Still in existence, yes.
Ankerberg: Alright. So you’ve got a wealth of copies.
Wallace: Well, let me compare it if I can. I mean, you’ve got these classical writers, their materials stand four feet tall. Then you stack up the New Testament documents—wwe’re talking about the Greek manuscripts and the versions, I don’t even know how to classify the over one million quotations by the church fathers—that stack is going to go over a mile high! So no wonder we talk about an embarrassment of riches for New Testament studies.
Ankerberg: So this mile high stack is what your textual criticism is all about. This is your science over here of comparing all of these texts and going word for word and seeing, you know, you’ve got 29,000 manuscripts that have this word right there, and then you go to the next one, and the next one. Alright, now, of these manuscript variants, Ehrman says, you know, there are 400,000 manuscript variants, which you agree with.
Wallace: I agree with that number, yes. It’s our best guess.
Ankerberg: Okay, but then he says there’s 138,000 verses in the New Testament, so that’s like three different options for every word in the New Testament.
Wallace: Well, 138,000 words in the New Testament, yes.
Ankerberg: Alright. Okay, so now, let’s divide that again like we did last week. If you have 100% of the pie is 400,000 manuscripts, we want to say, how in the world do we get that, and does that really damage our looking back at Jesus or Christian doctrine? Let’s talk about what those variants are when you count them.
Wallace: Right. When you think about the numbers that Ehrman keeps spewing out about between 300,000 and 400,000, at one point he says maybe as high as a half million, we just don’t know. He’s constantly putting the emphasis on the quantity. But when you think about the quality of those variants, now it paints an entirely different story. My students at Dallas Seminary right now are taking this class on textual criticism. And they are what’s called collating ancient manuscripts. They have to go through and transcribe every single letter. And for the most part, they’re very bored with the job, because the biggest changes they get are spelling differences. If they see an actual variant that has meaning, it’s very, very rare. It’s a long time in coming. So they’re bored with seeing how much minimal variation we have.
Ankerberg: And you’re saying, as a textual critic, when you look at this mile high stack of documents, that you’re saying that 75% of all these variants is simply spelling errors,…
Wallace: … or nonsense differences. Seventy five percent, you throw it away. It doesn’t even matter.
Ankerberg: Doesn’t even matter.
Wallace: Every time you see the name John it’s spelled with one N or two N’s, it depends on the manuscript. And that’s a variant. The next largest category is the meaningful variants that are not viable, and those that are word order changes, synonyms. That’s almost 20-25%.
Ankerberg: Go back to this thing of “Jesus loves John.” How many ways can you say that?
Wallace: You can say it 18 different ways in Greek.
Ankerberg: You could write it 18 different ways.
Wallace: Write in different ways, yes.
Ankerberg: And each time it shows up in a different way, although the meaning doesn’t change…
Wallace: The meaning is exactly the same.
Ankerberg: …that’s a variant.
Wallace: That counts as a variant.
Ankerberg: And you’ve also got a million quotations from the church fathers that enter into it. If they quoted that verse a little differently, even though it’s got the same meaning, the fact is, that’s a variant.
Wallace: Right.
Ankerberg: You’ve got a potential for a big variant count here.
Wallace: You have a potential for in the millions, in the tens of millions of variants for the New Testament. The fact that we only have 300,000-400,000 is miniscule compared to what it could be.
Ankerberg: Astounding.
Wallace: Right. It’s amazing how stable the text has been over the centuries.
Ankerberg: Alright. Keep going on this pie here. You’ve got 75%, and then you’ve got…
Wallace: Almost 25% that are the ones that are these word order changes or synonyms. And the meaningful variants that are not viable. That is, they don’t go back to the original. That leaves us with one category left, and this is the one the Ehrman is really talking about, the meaningful and viable variants. That is, those that affect the meaning of the text and could possibly go back to the original.
Ankerberg: And these are less than 1%.
Wallace: Less than 1%. Smallest category we have by far.
Ankerberg: Okay, do any of these affect Christian doctrine or the history of Jesus?
Wallace: Well, this is the remarkable thing, is Ehrman makes it sound as if they do. But there is no essential doctrine that is impacted by any viable variant.
Ankerberg: What I find interesting is that, the people don’t know, is that going back as far as 1707, the textual critics already came down to the rule of…?
Wallace: In 1707 we had a fellow by the name of John Mill who had put together a Greek New Testament because there were critics who were saying, “Your Greek New Testament has a lot of variants, and we don’t know what the original text is.” So he spent a lot of time putting this together. A week before he died he gets this thing published, and it has 30,000 textual problems listed. In 1707, he had found that many, one man all by himself. Then you had Johan Albrecht Bengel who comes along, and he looks at Mills work, and he comes up with the statement of the orthodoxy of the variants. Bengel also lived in the 1700s. And he said, “There is no doctrine that’s impacted by any of these variants.” And from that point on, from Bengel’s statement on that has been pretty much the standard view of the textual variants, except for a few people that are really on the outside of this discipline in terms of what they’re claiming.
Ankerberg: That’s more than 200 years ago.
Wallace: Yes.
Ankerberg: You guys have known this all along.
Wallace: Right.
Bock: Yes. The only thing that’s impacted is whether or not a particular verse has a particular kind of teaching. Now, that’s happening in any one of these variants where there’s viability. There’s something about the passage that’s usually at stake that makes it a meaningful variant. But that’s different than saying when you put the whole package together we’ve lost something central about Christian teaching. Because if it isn’t in this passage, we can find it in this passage over here where there’s not a textual problem or a textual variant.
Wallace: Let me give an illustration to that if I can. In 1 Timothy 3:16 in most modern translations it says something about Jesus to the effect of “who was manifested in the flesh.” Now, the King James Bible says “God was manifested, or revealed, in the flesh.” And the difference between “who” and “God” in Greek is simply one bar in the middle of a letter. Who would be spelled, it looks like an OC, and God would be spelled, it looks like an OC with a line though the O, which is the letter theta, and it has a bar above it. So the difference between those two is one little bar, it’s a real minimal difference. But you can see how scribes could mistake one for the other. And at the same time you say, well, gee, if Paul originally wrote that God was manifested in the flesh, and this has been changed to who, do we lose the deity of Christ? Of course not! The deity of Christ does not depend on one verse. I think “who was manifested in the flesh” is the original. I know Darrell believes that as well. But the fact is that the deity of Christ, as we said on an earlier program, is just found throughout the New Testament. It does not depend on this passage. It’s not the doctrine that we’re talking about, we’re talking about how many verses we have that affirm that doctrine. And if you have 28 verses instead of 27 verses, that’s not a big difference.
Ankerberg: Alright, we’ve saved the big blast for last, okay. And part of Bart Ehrman’s book, Misquoting Jesus, which is a popular bestseller today, is that there are certain parts of the New Testament that our Christians are carrying around that do not belong to the text at all. And let me name some of them: the woman taken in adultery, that story has no part of the text, shouldn’t be in there; the last 12 verses of the Gospel of Mark, cut those out, those shouldn’t be in there; 1 John 5:7 that talks about the Trinity, that shouldn’t be in there; Jesus was angry when he healed the lepers, that’s a big change that’s supposed to impact the whole book of Mark, okay; Jesus crying out in terror on the cross, Hebrews 2:9, attached to Hebrews 5:7. Alright, he’s saying you got these examples out there, you cannot trust your Bible, alright?
Start with the last 12 verses of the Gospel of Mark. This is kind of a shock tactic, that he’s saying, “Look, do you realize that you ought to knock off the last 12 verses of the Gospel of Mark?” And like that is supposed to affect a whole lot of things. Tell us why you’re not impressed.
Wallace: This has been known for at least 125 years, that those last 12 verses are probably not authentic. And there’s no doctrinal statement for any evangelical school or church that I know of that says these 12 verses, Mark 16:9-20, must be in our Bible. It’s an important story. But the fact is, whether that’s part of scripture or not does not impact any fundamental doctrine…
Ankerberg: Actually, in every Bible that you’ve got out there, probably except King James, you’ve got a footnote that says it’s not part of the original text.
Bock: Yes. Most of our modern translations, except for King James and New King James, are going to have a marginal note that will say, “Not found in the oldest authorities,” which is true.
Wallace: The NET Bible actually gets into some details of this.
Ankerberg: Do you back that up? The fact is, if you got rid of it, you’re not missing anything?
Bock: Absolutely. I think if you’ll look at it carefully you’ll see that it’s kind of a composite of the other endings, and there’s almost nothing that is new that doesn’t come from somewhere else. So what I think it shows is someone read the ending of Mark as it likely existed, with this kind of open-ended ending where it’s challenging the reader about, what are you going to do with the resurrection? And they go, “Oh, that’s a little too difficult;” and so they fill it in with some appearance, etc., and a form of the great commission, so that the ending of Mark looks like the other Gospels.
Ankerberg: What do you say to those guys that say, well, you know, Mark didn’t know about the resurrection?
Bock: He couldn’t write about the son of God if he didn’t know about the resurrection.
Wallace: And if he didn’t know about the resurrection…
Ankerberg: And it’s also after….
Bock: Yes, yes. I mean, if he doesn’t know about the resurrection, that’s the craziest idea in the world. He fits into the church tradition that he’s a part of; he’s writing gospels that he’s a part of; he’s talking about the son of God, which assumes the exaltation. He’s got to have a resurrection.
Ankerberg: He’s also got an empty tomb, and he’s got…
Wallace: And he’s got Jesus prophesying his own resurrection three times in that Gospel. And so obviously it’s an open-ended ending here, that it’s inviting the reader to say, what are you going to do with Jesus?
Ankerberg: Also, if you’ve got Paul writing before Mark, you’ve got 1 Corinthians 15 on the table. He already knows about that and the resurrection appearances.
Bock: That’s precisely the point. You cannot talk about a son of God without a son of God who is still alive and impacting people, if you don’t have a resurrection.
Wallace: You also do have the resurrection, Mark 16:1-8, you just don’t have any resurrection appearances by Jesus to humans. That’s the distinction. So to say that there is no resurrection of Jesus in Mark 16 if it stops at verse 8 is not correct.
Ankerberg: Alright. Another one that people might be surprised at is that the story of the woman taken in adultery that’s brought before Jesus, okay. He says that is not part of the text. What do you say to that?
Wallace: I agree with him that it’s not part of what John wrote. It’s John 7:53-8:11. And here’s one of the questions I like to ask people. I say this is my favorite passage that’s not in the Bible. And the point is, if you had to make a choice between Mark 16:9-20 and John 7:53-8:11, you could put just one of those passages in the Bible and you have to take the other one out, so far every place I’ve gone and I’ve asked that question, universally people have said Mark 16 is gone, I’m keeping this story. And so it’s a passage that the ancient scribes wanted as well. It has less testimony for it than Mark 16 does, the longer passage. So on the basis of text critical principles, we have to agree with Ehrman, this passage is out.
Ankerberg: Alright, one more. No problem if we have 1 John 5:7 which explicitly defines the Trinity. Give us the verse and then, should it be in, or should it be out?
Wallace: First John 5:7 that’s found in the King James Bible says that “there are three witnesses in heaven, the Father, the Word and the Spirit, and these three are one.” This is a verse that was added to the Bible in 1522 when Erasmus, who was the first publisher of any Greek New Testament, got pressure from the church to add this Trinitarian statement because it had been found in some Latin manuscripts. And so there was some scribe by the name of Roy working in 1520 at Oxford, and he writes out this whole Greek New Testament, and it somehow gets into Erasmus’s hands. And Erasmus never made the promise that he’d put it in if he found such a manuscript, but he basically said the reverse, I didn’t put it in because I didn’t find any manuscript. So he finds this manuscript – I’m sure somebody brought it to his door – and he writes in that Greek text, and he actually changes the text from what Roy had written, because Roy didn’t know Greek very well. He translated the Latin into Greek, you now, and Erasmus had to make the fixes.
But it’s not found in our ancient manuscripts. It’s found in four 16th century manuscripts. And four manuscripts in the 12th century or later in the marginal note, with a 16th or 17th century hand. That’s a passage that I’d have to say, this is not authentic. And the ancient church never even thought about it being authentic. Ehrman talks about this passage as if there’s no way we could have ever come up with the doctrine of the Trinity without this, and therefore the Trinity is not true. But he knows what the church councils believed. He knows about the Council of Constantinople in 381 and the Council of Nicea and all the rest of these, the Caledonian Creed in 451, that clearly affirmed the Trinity without having this verse even in existence.
Ankerberg: And if it had been in existence they would have put that at the top of the stack.
Wallace: Oh, you bet they would. Yes. So they were able to determine the Trinity without that verse.
Ankerberg: So for 1500 years you stack up all the documents and the copies that you had and there’s not one copy that’s got that verse in it.
Wallace: Not one Greek copy. Right.
Ankerberg: Okay.
Wallace: We have it in a few late Latin Vulgate manuscripts.
Ankerberg: Yes. I mean, that’s astounding, alright. In terms of the reliability of the text, talk about Bruce Metzger, who was the mentor to Bart Ehrman, and what he said after a lifetime of study in terms of the text.
Wallace: Metzger was, he’s the kind of a scholar that most biblical scholars would say, well, look, we all put our pants on the same way except for Bruce Metzger. I don’t know how he does it, jumps into it from a parachute or something. But he was just, he was in a league by himself. And Metzger, at the end of his life, towards the end of his life, he says, you know, the more I’ve studied this text, the more I’ve come to believe that what it tells me about Jesus is true. And he had even greater certainly about the historical reliability of these manuscripts than he did when he began his study.
Ankerberg: What should students do with Bart Ehrman’s book?
Wallace: I encourage them to read it. He’s asking the right questions. But I encourage them to not to read just his book. I think they should read our book as well, Dethroning Jesus, and read Putting Jesus in His Place, that shows how strongly the deity of Christ is mentioned. This is by Komoszewski and Bowman. They should read Lee Strobel’s book, The Case for the Real Jesus. They should ask these questions, but they should not start with, as Darrell called it, a brittle fundamentalism or a hardening of the categories. What they need to do is have, “Let me wrestle with these issues and realize that the person of Christ is more important than what I think about the Bible.” And if they understand that, then they come to the place where they revere him. And it’s because of his attitude about the Bible that they can have, I think, the right attitude about scripture as well.
Ankerberg: Take us to that, Darrell. The fact is you start with the historical Jesus, just like you would look at any other historical figure. Do we have information about Abraham Lincoln? Was he a president of the United States at one time? You know, did he die in Ford’s Theatre, or did he slip on a banana peel and die in Peoria? The fact is, that’s historical information that you can look, and we don’t have to think that those documents are inspired.
Bock: Yes. I’ll take the Peoria option.
Ankerberg: And there’s reason why. And going back in history you come to a time of Julius Caesar, and you’ve got a person right next to him, Jesus Christ. And you’ve got all this information. So a student that’s looking at this, should he start with the inerrancy and inspiration idea that comes later on, or what do you start with?
Bock: Well, I start with looking at Jesus. And even take the view that if the New Testament has the gist of the story of Jesus right, which is likely, these people lived and walked with Jesus. They knew who he was, they knew what he taught. If they’ve got the gist of the story right, then I know that not only is Jesus’ teaching important to them, but Jesus’ person is important to the plan of God. And in that context, then, they will embrace him and his message, and take it seriously about what it has to say about the human condition. The human condition is really the object of Jesus’ work, along with the condition of creation. And if they’ll take a serious look at that, they will ask, would we invent a religion that says we all have a need that we ourselves cannot meet? It’s not culturally correct; it is cosmically correct. And in that sense then, the invitation is to enter into a relationship with God that we have broken, and that he has taken the initiative to fix. It’s a wonderful invitation. And I think when you come to Jesus and embrace that, and you see the respect with which he handles the Bible, that changes the way you think about the Bible as well.
Ankerberg: And also, from all you’ve told me, it’s historically correct.
Bock: Absolutely. I think I can make, now it’s not a case of certainty, but I can make a very plausible case, historically speaking, that what the Christian faith says about Jesus Christ and Christianity is in fact historically rooted and grounded.
Ankerberg: Alright. Next week we’re going to take conversation stoppers, alright. You’ve introduced this term, these terms, and the fact is, it comes from the books that have been written, the TV specials that have been done, that certain questions about Jesus have been introduced into our culture. And everybody seems to know the questions. So if you talk about Jesus, these conversations stoppers come out. What about all those other gospels that never made it in? Didn’t you know that history is written by the winners? Didn’t Jesus marry Mary Magdalene and have a kid going into France? I mean, all these questions. And we’re going to answer these questions next week. You won’t want to miss that program. I hope that you’ll join us.


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