One of the most important questions that we as Christian parents can answer for our children (and for ourselves) is, “Are the New Testament documents reliable?” While this podcast in no way represents a comprehensive answer, it is a good intro to the discussion if you have never heard it before.

Topics Discussed:

  • Who is Bart Ehrman?
    • Very popular in skeptic community
    • New Testament scholar – went from Moody (conservative) to Princeton (liberal)
    • Rigid understanding of the Bible that got rocked when he found out about textual variants
    • Doesn’t agree with the Jesus Myther movement
    • Books – Misquoting Jesus, Jesus Interrupted, How Jesus Became God
    • Doesn’t believe that Jesus taught that he was God, but followers embellished over time
    • His modus operandi (see definition below) is basically to not look at conservative scholar’s work, or to discount it as relevant
    • Seemed to have gone from a hyper-fundamentalism in Christianity to a hyper-fundamentalism in atheism
      • Refuses to grant that we can have reasonable certainty that we have what the Gospel writers originally wrote unless we were to find something that was written within 2 weeks of the events of Jesus. See Greco-Roman time gaps below to understand why this is a ridiculous criteria for ancient manuscripts.
      • Admitted that there were no other texts from antiquity that met his criteria
    • Arguments that he made at the debate and rebuttals
      • John is the only one that has Jesus overtly claiming to be God, but Matthew, Mark, and Luke didn’t
        • Phrase “son of man” causes Caiaphus the high priest to tear garments – this is an implicit claim to deity
      • All disciples fled and weren’t there to hear the questioning at the Sandhedrin
        • Both Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimethea were present
        • There were other believers in the Sanhedrin
        • There were people who were servants of Caiaphus who became part of the early church (still looking for a source…)
      • The amount of time between when the actual events happened and when the Gospels were recorded
        • The largest gap is 60 years for the Bible which sounds like a lot until you look at the other Greco-Roman historians
          • Pliny the Elder – 700 year gap
          • Plutarch – 800 year gap
          • Josephus – 800 year gap
          • Polybius – 1200 year gap
          • Pausanias – 1400 year gap
          • Herodotus – 1500 year gap
        • We have an “embarrassment of riches” when it comes to the number of ancient manuscripts for scripture in comparison to other Greco-Roman ancient writings
          • 4x more New Testament manuscripts in the first 200 years than in the average Greco-Roman author has in 2000 years
          • Average Greco-Roman author doesn’t have any manuscripts within 900 years of original writing
          • 900 years after the New Testament, we have almost 1000 manuscripts
        • Errors in the copying of the manuscripts
          • Vast number of errors are in inconsequential words
          • None of the core beliefs or doctrines are affected
          • When people bring up “huge” number of errors, make them tell you where they are.
          • Dan Wallace and Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts has the best library of all the manuscripts that have been found in the ancient world, including photographs
          • Variants are counted by how many documents have the variation. Someone could claim “1600 variants” when it is a single word that is misspelled in 1600 copies.
          • THE MORE DOCUMENTS YOU HAVE TO COMPARE, THE MORE VARIANTS YOU CAN CLAIM!!!
            • No other ancient document can have as many “variants” because no other ancient author has as many copies of their writing.
          • “There are more variations in the New Testament documents than there are words in the New Testament” – Bart Ehrman
            • See the point above – even if all have the same variant (like a misspelling), each document is considered it’s own variant.
            • Theoretically, you could have a million documents all with the same misspelling, and it would be considered a million variants.
          • Some Gospels say that there was one angel at the tomb, another says there were 2 angels
            • None of them are confused about the tomb being empty! This is evidence of real eye-witness testimony, not Biblical errors
            • The church could have changed these discrepancies in the 2000 years of copying. The fact that the church left these discrepancies in is proof of their commitment to faithfully copying the texts as they were passed down.
        • What is a more balanced way to look at some of the textual variants
          • Realize that the Bible is the best, most well documented book in ancient history. If we discount or discredit it, we have to ignore ALL of ancient history

People/Resources mentioned:

  • Justin Bass – did the debate with Bart Ehrman See it here
  • Daryl Bock – Dallas Theological Seminary professor; wrote Truth in a Culture of Doubt (see Rebekah’s book review here)
  • Truth in a Culture of Doubt – book by Daryl Bock, a critique of Bart Ehrman’s textual criticism
  • Dan Wallace – Dallas Theological Professor – Head of the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts (www.csntm.org)
  • Dan Wallace/Bart Ehrman debate video – this looks like it’s 3 hours, but it’s really under 2. Whoever uploaded it accidentally duplicated it. This is not the one where Justin asked his question. That debate is only available via purchase here.
  • Dan Barker – Freedom From Religion Foundation – admitted that even if Jesus had been raised from the dead, he would sooner go to hell than be with Him (during Q and A of the Bible and Beer Consortium debate with Justin Bass)
  • Upcoming podcast on memory, how memories are recorded, and whether or not it matches the way the New Testament documents were recorded

Unfamiliar vocabulary

  • Hubris – excessive pride or self-confidence
  • Ethnocentrism – evaluation of other cultures according to preconceptions originating in the standards and customs of one’s own culture.
  • Modus operandi (MO) – a particular way or method of doing something, especially one that is characteristic or well-established.
  • Fundamentalism – there is no one definition, but it is essentially a form of belief where one holds dogmatically to both major and minor tenets of the faith and rejects any diversity of opinion aside from the in-group’s established interpretation.
  • Skeptical fundamentalist – questioning everything except one’s own questions. Doubting everything except one’s own doubts. Refusing to admit any truth to a claim unless it meets an unreasonable level of “evidence” which one would not apply to normal claims. This unreasonable expectation of evidence only applies to claims that one wants to be skeptical of.
  • Volitional doubt – an unwillingness to believe

Quotes:

  • “Democracy is the worst form of government in the world… except for all the other ones.” – Hillary’s Dad (who was probably quoting someone else)
  • “If your criteria for judging history rules out all of history, you need to reevaluate your criteria… especially if you are a historical scholar.” – Hillary
  • “10% of people think, 10% think they think, and the other 80% would rather die than think.” – Rock Bryant, my old small group leader

Recommended reading for follow up:

Rebekah and I both believe that the place to learn about these discrepancies is from you!! Don’t let them discover these discrepancies on their own, and especially not as late as college. Otherwise they begin to ask “what else have you been hiding from me?” Some great lay level recommended reading is:

Hillary Morgan Ferrer

Hillary Morgan Ferrer is the founder of Mama Bear Apologetics, and has been married to her husband, Dr. John D. Ferrer, for over 10 years. She is working on her second master’s degree, and yet can’t seem to figure out the simplest cooking recipes.

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