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Is the Original New Testament Lost? Ehrman vs Wallace (Debate Transcript)

Is the Original New Testament Lost

Is the Original New Testament Lost?

What: A Debate
Thesis/Resolution: Is the Original New Testament Lost?
Who: Dr. Bart Ehrman, Dr. Dan Wallace
Where: The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Memorial Hall Performing Arts Theater
When: February 1st, 2012

Is the Original New Testament Lost
These pictures were taken at different events several years after their debate.

Dr. Ehrman’s Opening Argument

Well thank you very much. Thank you Miles for organizing this event and for flying in Dan Wallace to beat my rear side all over the stage. Appreciate that very much.

So, it seems like there are a lot of students here. Am I right? How many of you have had a class with me before? Ha ha! How many of you never want to take the class with me? Right. Okay. [audience laughter] How many of you in here, students or otherwise, would consider yourselves to be Bible believing Christians? Ha! Right. That would be all of you. [audience laughter] How many of you do want to see me get creamed? Right. [audience laughter]

Let me stress something at the outset. This debate is not a debate about the validity or the importance of the Bible. Nothing that I say will be directed against anybody’s belief. I will not be arguing a view that opposes the Bible in the least.

Quite the contrary. The position I will be staking out is the view held by a very wide range of Bible scholars many of whom are deeply committed Christians as well as a number of deeply committed Christians who are not Bible scholars.

The initial question seems to be missing from our overhead.


[audience laughing]

Yes we’re sailing in Greece trying to find our togas.

So far I’m having fun. How about you?

Thank you very much.

[audience applauding]

And with that, let me conclude.

The topic of our discussion is, “Is the original New Testament lost?” There is a very simple and forthright answer to that question and I think Dan Wallace, in fact, will not disagree. The answer is, yes. We do not have the originals of the New Testament. Period.

In order to understand what I mean by that we have realize how books were made in the ancient world.

In the ancient world when the Bible was produced books could not be mass produced. This was before electronic publication, Kinkos, or the printing press. Books were written by hand and they were copied by hand. If you wanted a copy of a book somebody had to copy it for you or you had to copy it yourself.

You copied it one page, one sentence, one word at a time.

What happens when somebody sits down to try to copy a book by hand? Invariably what happens is they make mistakes. Either on purpose or accidentally.

Scribes who copied texts in the ancient world changed their texts.

Let me explain how it worked by giving an example from the New Testament, the Gospel of Mark.

We’re not sure who Mark was, when he lived, where he lived. Whoever he was the wrote a Gospel. If anybody wanted a copy of this Gospel of Mark they had to make a copy by hand and so they did so. But invariably they made a mistake, or two, or three, or twenty.

When someone came along who wanted a copy of that copy they copied the copy and they replicated the mistakes that the first copyist made.

And they made their own mistakes.

And then when a third person came along to copy the copy of the copy they replicated the mistakes of both of their predecessors and made mistakes of their own.

And it went on like this, week after week, month after month, year after year, decade after decade, century after century.

The only time mistakes got corrected in the process was when somebody was copying something and realized that there was a mistake and thought that his predecessor had made a mistake and so tried to correct the mistake.

The problem is there’s no telling whether a person who corrected the mistake corrected it correctly.

It’s possible that he corrected the mistake incorrectly. In which case you have three forms of the text, the original text, the text that was changed, and the incorrect correction of the change.

Things like that go on for a very long time.

We don’t have the original copy that Mark made. We don’t have the first copy. We don’t have copies of the copy. We don’t have copies of the copies of the copies of the copies of the copies of the copies. The earliest copy that we have of Mark dates from around the year 200. Probably about a hundred thirty years after the original. That’s the first copy that we have. A hundred and thirty years after the original.

We don’t have the originals of Mark, or of any other book of the New Testament.

The bigger question though is not whether we have the originals; the question is whether we can reconstruct the originals that have been lost.

Can we reconstruct them or not?

For many years I thought that the answer was yes. That’s going to be Dan’s answer.

But scholarship changed and it became widely thought among scholars that we cannot reconstruct the original and that it does not even make sense to talk about the originals.

I started to understand why and now I’m convinced. I can’t give the full argument here, but I can mention three major questions that all point in the same direction. These are 3 problems in dealing with what I’m calling the original text.

Problem one will be, what does it even mean to use the term, “original text”?

Problem two, where are the early manuscripts of the New Testament?

And problem three, why can’t scholars agree?

So these are the three problems that I’ll talk about in my 30 minutes with you.

What Does It Even Mean to Use the Term, “Original Text”?

What does it even mean to use the term, “original text”? I’m going to use one book of the New Testament as a particular example, 2nd Corinthians.

2nd Corinthians is one of the letters written by Paul to his congregation in the city of Corinth. One of the Pauline epistles.

It can illustrate well why scholars are reluctant these days to talk about the original text on theoretical grounds.

The Time Gap

To begin with we’re missing the original. Whatever Paul wrote we no longer have it. Our earliest copy of 2nd Corinthians is a manuscript called P46. It dates from around the year 200.

2nd Corinthians was probably written sometime in the 60’s and so we’re talking about a manuscript that was a hundred forty years after the original, is our first manuscript of it, and it’s not a complete manuscript. Our first complete manuscript of 2nd Corinthians does not come until about the year 350. In other words, nearly 300 years of copying, copying, copying, copying, with mistakes being made everywhere along the line, before we have the first complete copy.

So that’s obviously a problem, but it’s not the big problem I want to talk about.

Written, Dictated and Corrected

There are theoretical problems with even imagining what it might mean to call a text the original text of 2nd Corinthians for several reasons.

First, this first thing might seem a little picayune and sort of trite to you but in fact it’s actually kind of interesting. We have good evidence that Paul dictated his letters to scribes who wrote down what he said. In other words, he didn’t write himself, he dictated. We have solid evidence of this in the New Testament itself. We also have solid evidence from antiquity that when scribes took dictation they often made mistakes. They misheard a word, somebody in the room coughed and they didn’t hear it right, they weren’t paying attention, they wrote something down wrong.

Suppose Paul dictated what we’re calling 2nd Corinthians and the scribe wrote down wrong words. What is the original text? Is it the words that Paul spoke or the words that the scribe wrote down? We don’t have access to what Paul spoke just what was written down but what was written down might have had mistakes in it.

Moreover, suppose what happened was what happened frequently in the ancient world which is that the author looked at the written text once it had been written down and made corrections to it. Then what is the original text? Is the original text what the scribe originally wrote or is it what Paul corrected? If it’s what Paul corrected then we’re in the ironic situation that the later form of the text is being called the original text. And that could have happened a lot. But as I said, you might think that’s kind of a minor matter, and it’s not the biggest problem. It’s just an interesting problem.

The Problem of Splicing

There’s a bigger problem with respect to Paul writing 2nd Corinthians which is that Paul did not write 2nd Corinthians.

Paul did not write the letter of 2nd Corinthians as it has come to us today. Scholars have long recognized for over a century that 2nd Corinthians is made up of at least 2 different letters that have been spliced together. Chapters 10 through 13 do not come from the same letter as chapters 1 through 9. Not only that, there’s a large number of scholars, in both the United States and in Europe, who maintain that 2nd Corinthians, in fact, is made up of 5 separate letters that Paul wrote.

In other words Paul wrote 5 letters and they were put in circulation and were copied. And changed. Five letters. These were circulated and changed until somebody created our 2nd Corinthians by taking parts of these 5 letters and cutting them and pasting them together.

This is a standard view in scholarship. You will find this taught in every major research university in North America, what I’m telling you now. This is not some kind of crazy idea that a particularly liberal professor at Chapel Hill thinks. Although it is that. But it’s not just that. This is standard fare, virtually everybody who’s a critical scholar agrees with what I’ve just told you.

But what does that mean then? Somebody created the letter some years, maybe a couple decades, after Paul wrote, so that Paul didn’t create 2nd Corinthians Paul created up to 5 letters that had been in circulation probably changed that were then combined into 2nd Corinthians with a lot of the stuff cut out and other stuff put together.

Then this letter, this amalgam is put in circulation and it’s changed over time.

The Published Collection Theory of Günther Zuntz

And then something else happens that equally significant, even more significant.

It was argued over 50 years ago by one of the great scholars of the world of textual criticism, a man named Günther Zuntz, that around the year 100 some editor came along and collected the letters of Paul into one manuscript. That there were separate letters that were floating around, being transmitted here, there and the other… and somebody collected them into a collection and this collection was published.

This editor who collected the letters put the letters together and possibly put his own stamp on them. In other words, edited these letters to make them fit together into the collection. And then it was the collection that was put in circulation. Zuntz argued that all of our letters of Paul go back to that collection.

This is not a weird point of view by just one particular scholar. Günther Zuntz’ view has been supported by scholarship ever since. Most recently supported, for example, by a very important book written by Harry Gamble, who I am sorry to say teaches at the University of Virginia. But he’s a nice guy anyway and he’s very smart and he’s one of the most recent people to argue this; that the Pauline letters were not circulated just individually but around the year 100 they’re put into a collection and that all of our manuscripts of the letters of Paul go back to that collection.

Or there may have been even more than one collection. But the Pauline letters were not circulating individually they were circulated in collection and as they circulated in the collection of course they got changed as scribes changed the manuscript. And so this leads us to the very pressing problem, what is the original of 2nd Corinthians? It’s a great question and there’s not an easy answer.

There are a couple obvious options. You could say that 2nd Corinthians was the original letter that Paul wrote. Well apart from the problems of dictation you’ve got the problem that Paul didn’t write a letter. Paul wrote 5 letters, or 3, or 2. He wrote several letters and 2nd Corinthians was not one of them. Second Corinthians was a later amalgam made by a later editor of Paul.

So the original writing of Paul is not the original 2nd Corinthians, so maybe you could say that the copy that was later created by cutting and pasting is the original 2nd Corinthians. Well you could say that but Paul didn’t write that. He wrote the individual letters that were later cut and pasted together.

Moreover we don’t have access to this letter that was made by combining these various letters what we have access to is the collection. Because we don’t have manuscripts that go back to the letters that were circulating independently before the collection. All of the manuscripts that we have go back to the collection. We can’t get behind the collection. And so, what is the original? And who is to say?

We can’t reconstruct anything before the collection was made because we don’t have any manuscripts that go back to those individual letters before that event. But if we try to reconstruct the original form of the collection that’s not the original form of the text that Paul himself wrote. Moreover the one letter we’re interested in in the collection, 2nd Corinthians, was not one letter but 3, or 4, or 5.

This is a very confusing situation but it’s the historical realty which is one of the reasons – one of the reasons – why top scholars throughout the English speaking world have abandoned the idea that we can reconstruct some kind of original text. It’s impossible to know even what it means to speak of an original. And 2nd Corinthians is not the only problem.

The book of Acts in the New Testament, the fifth book of the New Testament, appears in two different forms in our manuscripts. Two major forms of the text. One form of the text of the book of Acts is 8.5% longer than the other. Many scholars think that whoever wrote Acts, call him Luke, published two editions of the work; a shorter one and a longer one that he later edited. If so, what is the original? The shorter or the longer?

The Gospel of John, scholars have long recognized that the epilogue found in John chapter 21 where Jesus has several resurrection appearances before his disciples was not originally part of the Gospel of John but was tacked on later. It wasn’t originally there. Again, this is just a common view among New Testament scholars throughout Europe and North America. But all of our manuscripts have it so what is the original text of John? Is it with 21 or without 21?

And what about the prologue of John? That very famous passage, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” This passage, the prologue of John, has numerous themes found nowhere else in the Gospel of John and the writing style is radically different from everywhere else in the Gospel of John so that many scholars [garbled] chapters 1 verses 1 through 18 were added to John after it had originally been published. Yet all the manuscripts have it so which is the original text?

The Gospel of Luke. Luke begins with the story of Jesus’ virgin birth in Bethlehem, chapters 1 and 2. But scholars have long recognized that chapter 3 looks like the original beginning of the book, that it didn’t originally have chapters 1 and 2. But the manuscripts all have chapters 1 and 2. So what is the original text? If it was originally published without chapters 1 and 2 shouldn’t we begin our Bibles with Luke chapter 3?

Or the Gospel of Mark. Mark’s Gospel ends with the women going to the tomb after Jesus has been raised from the dead, seeing a man there who tells them that they’re to go to Galilee, tell the disciples to go to Galilee, where Jesus will meet them. But the women flee from the tomb. They don’t say anything to anyone for they were afraid. Period. End of Gospel.

Many scholars think that the Gospel ends too abruptly. You can’t end a Gospel without the Jesus showing up to the disciples after the resurrection. And many scholars think that a page has been lost. If a page has been lost from the end of the Gospel what’s the original Gospel? If it’s the Gospel with the original page we don’t have any access to it. If you say it’s the Gospel without the original page than you’re saying a later form of the Gospel is the original Gospel and that hardly makes sense.

And so we have it.

A problem with the original. How do we know what the original is? Does it make sense even to talk about the original? This is the theoretical problem we have in even mentioning the original.

So that’s problem one. What does the “original text” even mean.

Where are the Early Manuscripts of the New Testament?

Problem two, where are the early Manuscripts of the New Testament?

The Number of Manuscripts

Let me say something about the surviving copies of the New Testament. Today we have some 5,500 copies of the New Testament. By last week the official count was 5,560 manuscripts that had been catalogued of the Greek New Testament. And the New Testament was originally written in Greek. That is far more than for any other book in the ancient world. Far more than any other. Way more than any book of Homer, or of Plato, or Aeschylus, or Sophocles, or Euripides, or pick your author. We have far, far more manuscripts of the New Testament than any other book in the ancient world by a long shot.

So, just take that as a given.

And the reason’s obvious. Because the people copying books in the Middle Ages were monks in monasteries. They’re the ones who gave us our surviving books. And which books were they interested in? Where they principally interested in Aeschylus or Plato or… not principally. They were principle interested in the Bible. So they copied the Bible. That’s why we have thousands of these manuscripts.

The Age of the Manuscripts

The problem is not the number of manuscripts or the fact that we have more than for any other author of antiquity. The problem is the ages of these manuscripts.

How many manuscripts of the New Testament do we have from the first Christian century? None.

From the decades after the books were written, how many do we have? The years afterwards, the decades… none! Zero.

How many do we have from the early second century, say manuscripts that clearly date up to around the year 150? We have one scrap.

This is it.

This may look big because it’s a big screen. This is the actual size. It’s the size of a credit card. It’s written on both front and back. It’s from John chapter 18. It has several verses on it. You can see this little scrap has parts of seven lines on it. It’s a very important manuscript because it’s the earliest one we have. It’s the early 2nd century. And it is the only manuscript we have from the early 2nd century. That’s it!

How many complete manuscripts do we have from the 2nd and 3rd centuries? We’re not just talking about decades now after these things were originally written and copied, and mistakes made and mistakes replicated, and then more mistakes made and more replicated. We’re not talking about years or decades we’re talking about centuries.

How many complete manuscripts do we have from the 2nd and 3rd centuries? None. Zero.

Well, if we have 5,500 manuscripts where are they from? When are they from? Well, 94% of our surviving manuscripts come from the 9th century and later. 94% come from the 9th century… which is great if you want to know what the Bible looked like when Christians were reading it in the year 890. But if you want to know how they were reading it in the year 70, you’ve got a problem. Because you don’t have manuscripts from that period.

If you wanted to make a stack of the Bibles that are available to scholars today in manuscript form the stack would go up the ceiling. If you want to make a stack of the manuscripts that were made within, say, 60 or 80 years of the production of these books, you wouldn’t be able to see the stack if we put it on the stage.

Cause there’s hardly anything.

The Number of Mistakes in the Manuscripts

Let me say a few more things about the surviving copies of the New Testament and point out some of the problems we have with the surviving manuscripts.

First, number of mistakes. I’ve told you that when scribes copy manuscripts they make mistakes. And maybe you’re thinking, “Yea well says you. Is there like evidence of this or is this just one of your other crazy opinions?” Well again, it is one of my crazy opinions but there turns out to be evidence.

We have 5,500 manuscripts of the New Testament. It is striking that when you compare these with one another in detail no two of them are exactly alike in their wording. They all differ. Well how do they… why do they differ? Because people are changing the text. Well, how many differences are there exactly? So, scholars have wondered about this for over 300 years. In the year 1707 there was a famous scholar named John Mill who was an Oxford scholar (not related to John Stuart Mill whom you may have heard of before). This is a different John Mill.

John Mill spent thirty [garbled] years of his life studying the manuscripts available to him. He had about a hundred Greek manuscripts that he could examine. And he had the quotations of the New Testament in the ancient translations of the New Testament into Coptic, and Syriac, and Latin and so forth and he had some quotations of the New Testament in the writings of the church fathers. And he had a bunch of evidence and he looked this evidence and in 1707 after 30 years of labor he published a book called the Novum Testamentum Graece the Greek New Testament.

In this book he gave a few lines of the text of the New Testament and then below it indicated places where the manuscripts he looked at differed from one another.

So this was an apparatus of readings. The apparatus showed were the manuscripts differed from one another. To the shock and dismay of many readers, John Mill’s Novum Testamentum Graece, in the apparatus, he indicated 30,000 places of difference among the manuscripts that he had examined. 30,000 places where the manuscripts differed from one another. And he was looking at a hundred manuscripts.

We have 5,500 manuscripts today. Well how many differences are there among these manuscripts exactly? No one knows. Because no one’s been able to count them all. Some scholars say 200,000 differences. Some say 300,000 differences. Probably more accurately 400,000 differences. It’s easiest to put it in comparative terms. There are more differences in our manuscripts than there are words in the New Testament. That’s a lot of differences. Well, those are the differences we have.

What about difference that were put into the manuscript before our surviving copies started appearing? Our New Testaments today, our Novum Testamentum Graece, are largely based on manuscripts produced in the 4th century. Sometimes manuscripts in the 3rd century are help… sometimes they’re extremely helpful, sometimes they’re relatively full. But for the most part, our Greek New Testaments agree with manuscripts found in the middle of the 4th century. Two manuscripts in particular.

These 4th century manuscripts differ significantly from the manuscripts of the 9th century. The 4th century manuscripts we rely on differ significantly from the ones from the 9th century. If they differ significantly from the 9th century manuscripts why should we think that they are very similar to the manuscripts of the 1st century? We simply can’t tell because we don’t have any 1st century manuscripts to compare them to. But there are several things that we can say.

Our earliest surviving manuscripts, the papyrus manuscripts that are very old, older than the 4th century, differ from one another more than the later manuscripts differ from one another. And the early manuscripts differ more from the later manuscripts than the later manuscripts differ from one another. This shows that the early transmission of the text was not carefully controlled.

Moreover, the scribes who produced these earliest manuscripts, as a rule, appear to be much worse than the later scribes. As a matter of fact, it is generally conceded by textual scholars throughout the world that the most radical changes to the text of the New Testament were made during the first 150 years of its transmission.

During the first hundred fifty years is when most of the changes were made, but those are the centuries for which we have no manuscripts. The later manuscripts that we do have were all based on those earlier ones that were lost that appear to have been quite different from one another.

What possible grounds could we have for assuming that the earliest manuscripts, whose copies we don’t have, produced highly accurate accounts? What evidence could we have? We don’t have evidence.

How important are all these mistakes? 400,000 mistakes. How important are they? Two things to say.

First, most of these mistakes, in fact, are not important at all. Let me stress this point as I think Dan will probably want to stress it as well, most of the mistakes we have in our manuscripts are completely insignificant, immaterial, and matter for nothing more then to show that scribes in the ancient world could spell no better than students can today.

And scribes didn’t have spell check.

I mean. I don’t know about Dallas Theological Seminary, but at UNC it’s a complete mystery. How do students turn in papers with misspelled words? The computer tells you it was misspelled! How smart do you have to be? It’s got a red line under it.

[audience laughter]

Anyway. Scribes didn’t have that luxury. Scribes didn’t even have dictionaries. Scribes often didn’t care how they spelled words. We know that scribes didn’t care how they spelled words cause sometimes you have a scribe writing the same word on 3 lines in 3 different ways. He just didn’t care.

And all 3 would count as a difference.

Lots of differences don’t matter. Sometimes scribes will leave out a word, they’ll leave out a line. Sometimes scribes would leave out a page. I mean that would matter but you can tell when it’s happened and so it’s not a big deal. Most things don’t matter. There are some changes though that matter.

Some of the differences in our manuscripts matter a lot. Not 400,000 of them. But a lot of them do as we’ll see in a minute.

Let me summarize what we have. We have lots and lots and lots and lots and lots and lots and lots of copies of the New Testament as Dan will no doubt stress. We have lots and lots and lots more copies of the New Testament than any other book in the ancient world without any other book even coming close. That’s absolutely true. That’s what we have.

What we don’t have are lots of early copies which are the copies that we want. And we don’t have lots of accurate copies. What we want are early and accurate copies and we don’t have them. So it’s not good enough to say we have lots of manuscripts if you can’t say that we have reliable manuscripts and early manuscripts.

Why Can’t Scholars Agree?

My first problem was… my timer… my second problem… my first problem, what does the “original text” even mean? Second problem, where are the early manuscripts? And my very quick final third point, “Why can’t scholars agree?”

If we can get back to the New Testament reliably, if we can reliably reconstruct the original Greek New Testament, why haven’t we? It’s not for want of effort. Scholars have massive disagreements on this, that, and the other thing up and down the line, year after year, decade after decade. Scholars can’t agree on what the original text is supposed to be.

Over the centuries these disagreement have been very important. They have involved such crucial doctrines as the doctrine of the Trinity—which relates to textual problems. The full divinity of Christ, effected by textual problems. The full humanity of Christ, effected by textual problems. The atoning sacrifice of his death, effected by textual problems. Favorite stories of Jesus’ life, effected by textual problems.

The proof of the pudding is in the tasting.

In the year 2005 there were two scholars who put together an edition of the Greek New Testament which they claimed was the original New Testament, the original Greek. Five years later in the year 2010, another scholar put together an edition of the Greek New Testament. It differed from the 2005 version in nearly 6,000 places.

After all the manuscript discoveries we’ve made, after all the technological developments, after all the methodological developments, after all the research we have two editions that differ in 6,000 places.

And that’s only counting the places that are mentioned in the apparatus. No one knows how many times they differ overall. At least the 2 editors don’t because I asked them yesterday.


Let me draw conclusions very quickly. I have addressed the question whether the original New Testament is lost. And the answer is absolutely, yes. It is lost. I’ve asked can we reconstruct the lost originals and here I have pointed to what I consider to be insurmountable problems.

The three questions I’ve asked are questions that Dan is going to need to answer for us.

It will not be good enough for him to say that we have lots and lots and lots of surviving manuscripts. Or that we have more manuscripts than for any other writing from the ancient world. Both things are true. But they do not address the problems. The problems are that we don’t even agree among ourselves what it means to talk about the original text. That even though we have many thousands of manuscripts from later periods we do not have any manuscripts from the early periods that we’re interested in. And that even though we may want to reconstruct the original text, however we define it, we have shown ourselves unable to do so, time after time after time.

Thank you very much.

Textual Criticism by Dan Wallace

Dr. Wallace’s Opening Argument

Well good evening.

Bart and I have known each other for nearly 30 years.

He’s had a stellar career in New Testament studies especially in the field of textual criticism. I have the highest respect for his scholarship and more than that I’ve come to marvel at his quick wit, impressive rhetoric, and clear communication skills.

Not only that but he’s a really nice guy.

And I want to begin by saying that I’m deeply honored to share the stage with him tonight at the world famous Chapel Hill.

[audience applause]

Just wanted to see if you were paying attention.

The topic of this dialogue is “Is the original New Testament lost?”

If the question means are the original New Testament documents lost then yes, of course they are. Only quacks and charlatans, people who got their diplomas from a Cracker Jack box would argue otherwise. Bart and I don’t disagree on that point. But if that was the real topic it would make for a pretty boring dialogue and a good waste of your time and money.

But if the questions is, “Is the wording of the original New Testament lost?” as it certainly must, then Bart and I part ways on the answer.

I believe that we can be relatively certain that we can recover the wording of the original text. The operative words here are relatively, and confident. I believe that the wording of the originals is not lost but can be found somewhere in the existing manuscripts.

But the question of how certain we can be that we have found it really is a different matter which is in a sense a response to his last question, “Why do scholars disagree?”

I will also argue that although scribes changed the wording of the text for all sorts of reasons, they were unsuccessful in eradicating the wording of the original. It was both the orthodox scribes and the unorthodox who tampered with the text.

Two Extreme Attitudes to Avoid

But before we get into the topic directly I should mention two attitudes that rational people will avoid. Total despair or radical skepticism is the first. And absolute certainty is the second.

Absolute Certainty

On the one-side are King-James-Only advocates. They’re absolutely certain that the King James Bible, in every place, exactly represents the original text. I’ve actually heard them say, “If the King James Bible was good enough for Saint Paul it’s good enough for me.” [audience laughter] Usually with a West Virginia twang. [audience laughter increases] But this attitude is also one that many church-going Bible-believing Christians embrace without realizing that their modern translations change with each new edition.

Radical Skepticism

On the other side are a few radical scholars who are so skeptical that no piece of data, no hard fact is safe in their hands. It all turns to putty because all views are created equal. If everything is equally possible than no view is more probable than any other. Their mantra is, “We really don’t know what the New Testament original really said since we no longer possess the originals and since there could have been tremendous tampering with the text before our existing copies were produced.” Such skepticism over recovering the wording of the original text flies in the face of both reason and empirical evidence.

These two attitudes, absolute certainty and radical skepticism are like driving on the mountain roads in Greece. Drive too far to the left and you will have a head on collision with a tourist bus. Drive too far to the right and you will end up flying off the cliff where the guard rail should have been.

Rational people recognize that both extremes result in disaster. And that the only proper course is one of moderation.

Now, there’s four questions that I want to address tonight.

First of all, how many scribal changes are there?

What kinds of textual variants do we have?

What theological beliefs depend on textually suspect passages.

And finally the bottom line, is the original New Testament lost?

The Number of Variants

Well, I want to begin then with the number of the variants.

Let’s begin with a definition of a textual variant. It’s any place among the manuscripts in which there is variation in wording, including word order, omission or addition of words, even spelling differences. The most trivial changes count and even when all the manuscripts except one say the same thing that lone manuscript’s reading counts as a textual variant. And if a thousand manuscripts read “Jesus” in one place and another thousand read, instead, “Christ” that also counts as only one variant.

The best estimate is that there are between 300,000 and 400,000 textual variants among the manuscripts. I’m inclined towards the higher number. And yet there are only about 140,000 words in the New Testament. Now if this were the only piece of data we had it would discourage anyone from attempting to recover the wording of the originals.

But that’s not the whole story.

Why So Many Variants

The reason that we have a lot of variants is that we have a lot of manuscripts. It’s simple really. No classical Greek or Latin text has nearly as many variants because they do not have nearly as many manuscripts. If there were only one copy of the New Testament in existence it would have zero variants. Yet several ancient authors have only one copy of their writings still in existence and sometimes that lone copy is not produced for a millennium or more. But a lone, late manuscript would hardly give us confidence that that single manuscript duplicated the wording of the original in every respect.

This was recognized 300 years ago by the brilliant textual scholar Richard Bentley in his work, Remarks Upon A Discourse of Free-Thinking. Now Bentley was commenting on John Mill’s work of 1707 that Bart had mentioned where he discovered the 30,000 variants after collating a hundred New Testament manuscripts and Bentley sees this as a very positive thing for helping us to get back to the original.

If there had been but one manuscript of the Greek Testament, at the restoration of learning about two centuries ago; than we would have had no various readings at all. And would the text be in a better position then, than now that we have 30,000 variant readings? […] It’s good therefore, to have more anchors than one. And another manuscript to join the first would give more authority as well as security.

Bentley penned those comments in 1713 when only a hundred New Testament manuscripts had been examined.

Today, in Greek alone we have more than 5,600 manuscripts. Many of these are fragmentary especially the older ones. But the average Greek New Testament manuscript is over 450 pages long. All together there are more than 2,500,000 pages of text leaving hundreds of witnesses for every book of the New Testament. And Bentley was right. The Greek New Testament of his day has about 5,000 differences from the critically reconstructed Greek New Testament of today. As more and more manuscripts have come to light we are getting closer and closer to the wording of the original.

Because of the early Christians’ desire to spread the good news about Jesus’ death and resurrection, the New Testament was early on translated into a variety of languages: Latin, Coptic, Syriac, Georgian, Gothic, Ethiopic, Armenian, Old Church Slavonic and a host of others. There are about 10,000 Latin manuscripts of the New Testament alone. No one really knows the total number of these ancient translations, but the best estimates are that there are more than 5,000 plus the 10,000 in Latin. All together including Greek we have at least 20,000 manuscripts of the New Testament in various languages.

Now if someone where to destroy all those manuscripts, we would not be left without a witness. And that’s because leaders of the ancient church known as church fathers wrote commentaries on the New Testament and they did not have the gift of brevity.

To date, approximately 1,000,000 quotations of the New Testament by the father have been recorded. If all other sources for our knowledge of the text of the New Testament were destroyed the patristic quotations going back to the second century and in some cases even the first would be sufficient alone for the reconstruction of practically the entire New Testament wrote Bruce Metzger and Bart Ehrman.

Far more important than the number is the date of the manuscripts. How many manuscripts do we have in the first century after the completion of the New Testament? How many in the second, the third?

Although the numbers are significantly lower they’re still rather impressive. Last October when Bart and I have a debate in Dallas I said that we have today as many as a dozen manuscripts from the second century, all fragmentary, 64 from the third and 48 from the fourth. That’s a total of a hundred and twenty-four manuscripts within 300 years of the composition of the New Testament.

Most of these are fragmentary but collectively the whole New Testament is found in these manuscripts and several books are found in them multiple times. That’s what I said last October. But those numbers now need to be revised significantly in light of some recent findings and I’ll come back to these at the end of the lecture.

How does the average classical author stack up? If we’re comparing the same period of time, 300 years after the composition of the book, the average classical author has no literary remains. Not a single manuscript. None! Zero! But if we compare all the manuscripts of a particular classical author, regardless of when they were written the total would still average less than twenty. And usually less than a dozen and they would all be coming much more than three centuries later.

Stack them up and they’re about four feet high. Now how high would the stack of New Testament manuscripts be?

Well, let’s take a look.

I think that’s probably not high enough. Bart, I think said it went to the ceiling of the auditorium. It certainly think it would go that high I believe. It’s getting closer. That’s better. That’s even better. And that’s as much as I could do in Powerpoint.

[audience laughter]

There should be eight times as many New Testament manuscripts as you see here. And you put them in one stack and they’re over a mile high.

Now perhaps this seems a bit abstract. Let’s use money as an analogy. Let’s say the average Duke graduate represents the average classical author. And he earns $20,000 a year. Now, it’s a shame that that’s below the poverty level. [audience laughter] But, he made a choice to go to Duke and he has to live with it. Now if the average Chapel Hill graduate represents the New Testament she is earning $20,000,000 a year. [audience applause]

The skeptic repeatedly note that the vast majority of New Testament manuscripts come from at least 800 years after the completion of the New Testament. The implication they draw from this is that none of these manuscripts are trustworthy and that the New Testament is in no better shape than the other ancient literature.

But what they don’t tell you is that these later manuscripts add only 2% of material to the text. If we could envision the New Testament as a snowball rolling down a hill picking up alien elements through the centuries it is remarkable that it only picks up 2% more material over fourteen centuries.

Imagine a stock broker advising you to invest in a stock that grows only 2% every millennium and a half. Probably got his degree at Duke. [audience laughter]

What skeptics don’t tell you is how this compares to other ancient writers. For many important authors we only have partial works. Livy and Tacitus were two of the most important Roman historians of the first century.

We base most of our understanding of Rome on these two authors. Livy wrote 142 volumes on the history of Rome. Only 25% of them survive today. Only a third of Tacitus’ writings are still with us.

What we have of Pliny the Elders’ writings are 200 copies which is really significant. But we’re waiting 700 years for the first one. Plutarch’s Lives are found in manuscripts no earlier than 800 years after he wrote. Josephus’ Antiquities of the Jews, a really significant work and vital for us to understand Judaism of the first century, is found in more than 20 copies, none earlier than the ninth century C.E.

The earliest copies of Polybius the historian produced 1,200 years after he wrote. There are massive gaps in Pausanias’ Description of Greece, all of them coming more than 1,400 years later. Herodotus’ Histories has 26 copies, the earliest coming half a millennium after he wrote. That’s the earliest copy. We’re waiting 1,500 years for the first substantial copy. And we’re waiting eighteen centuries for any substantial copies of Xenophon’s Hellenica.

Now these are not obscure authors. They are some of the most important historians and biographers of the Greco-Roman world. Even for some of the better preserved writings there are gaps galore. One scholar complained that the surviving copies of some of these writings are filled with gaps, corrupt, dislocated, and interpolated. He then proceeds to lay out procedures, principles to fill in the gaps with nothing but his own reason because he can’t find the original wording in any manuscript.

Another scholar notes that for manuscripts of his author the chief blemishes are gaps in the text where the manuscripts tradition fails us entirely. The task of filling the gaps without manuscript testimony is absolutely necessary for most of Greco-Roman literature. And almost entirely unknown for the New Testament.

Now let me repeat that, the task of filling the gaps without manuscript testimony is almost entirely necessary, it’s absolutely necessary for most of Greco-Roman literature. And almost entirely unknown for the New Testament.

The very fact that we don’t have these gaps for the New Testament tells us that the manuscripts present a coherent picture. And if it’s coherent even among our earlier manuscripts it means that the text was stable even from the earliest times. That it didn’t radically change from one generation to the next. Did it change? Yes. But radically? I would disagree with that.

Skeptics also don’t tell you how many New Testament manuscripts we have in those earlier centuries. I’ve already mentioned the date or the data for the first three centuries. Here are the statistics through 900 C.E. We have at least three times more New Testament manuscripts today that were written within the first 200 years of the composition of the New Testament than the average Greco-Roman author has in 2,000 years. Three times as many within the first 200 years than the average Greco-Roman author has in 2,000 years.

Although only 10% of the Greek New Testament manuscripts were copied before the year 900, that’s still more than five hundred manuscripts. To argue that we don’t have very many New Testament manuscripts from the early centuries is only true in relation to later New Testament manuscripts. Not to anything else in the ancient world. J.K. Elliot, a meticulous New Testament textual critic, correctly notes, “We have many manuscripts and many manuscripts of an early date.”

Bart is right however that New Testament scholars have a serious problem on their hands. But it’s not the problem that plagues Greco-Roman scholars. New Testament scholars are confronted with an embarrassment of riches. If we have doubts about what the original New Testament said those doubt would have to be multiplied at least a thousand fold for the average classical author.

Now think about that. Are the skeptics really going to say that they have no idea what Plato, or Demosthenes, or Suetonius, wrote? Those of you who are history majors of ancient Greece and Rome, you might as well give up because we have no idea what they said. If these skeptic applied their skepticism of the New Testament text to the rest of Greco-Roman literature then we might as well kiss goodbye all our ancient history books. Because we would know next to nothing about the Caesars, Alexander the Great, Cicero, Plato, the glory that was Rome or millions of other facts that are preserved for us only in our manuscript copies of these authors.

Our modern democracy, medical ethics, mathematics, would all be eradicated. And most importantly Russell Crowe could never have played the lead role in Gladiator. [audience laughter] This kind of skepticism would thrust us right back into the dark ages where ignorance was anything but bliss.

Put simply the New Testament is far and away the best attested work of the ancient world. And precisely because we have hundreds of thousands of variants and hundreds of early manuscripts, we’re in an excellent position for recovering the wording of the original.

What Kinds of Variants Are There in These Manuscripts?

What kinds of variants are there in these manuscripts?

More than 99% make no difference at all. For example, the most common variant involves spelling. And this is a very common and is far and away… oh sorry… I was at Duke earlier today. [audience laughter]

The most common spelling variant involved a moveable nu. You know when you put “n” on a word in English and the next word starts with a vowel, “an apple”, “a book” that kind of thing. Greek does the same thing. But not all the scribes put that nu on there. And so some of them said “a book, a apple”. But it means the same thing.

The smallest group of variants are those that are both meaningful and viable. What I mean by meaningful is that they change the meaning of the text to some degree. And viable means that they have a good chance of representing the original wording. Less than 1% off all textual variants fit this group as Bart and I would both agree.

For example, I’ll just give a couple of illustrations. Mark chapter 9 verse 29: Jesus’ disciples went out to cast out some demons and they were unsuccessful. And Jesus said, “This kind can come out only by prayer.” Some manuscripts—most later manuscripts—have “…and fasting.” So were those demons the kind that needed to be cast out by prayer and fasting, or would prayer do it alone? It’s an important variant, and you can tell just by looking at me that I go with the shorter reading. [audience laughter]

That’s why I’m hiding behind the podium so you really can’t look at me.

Revelation chapter 13 verse 18: “Let the one who has insight calculate the beast’s number for it is the number of a man and his number is six-six-six.” Well everyone knows that the number of the beast, the number of the antichrist is six-six-six. But a hundred and seventy year ago a scholar deciphered an early manuscript that says the number of the best was six-one-six. And that manuscript has proved to be one of the most valuable texts of Revelation. And just fifteen years ago another manuscript with six-one-six was discovered. And it happens to be the oldest manuscript of Revelation chapter 13. Now most scholars think that six-six-six is the number of the beast and six-one-six is the neighbor of the beast. You know he lives just a few doors down. But it’s not a settled matter. And if six-one-six proves to the better reading it will send seven tons of popular Christian literature to the flames.

Although the quantity of textual variants among the New Testament manuscripts numbers in the hundreds of thousands, those that change the meaning pale in comparison. Less than 1% of the differences are both meaningful and viable.

Now there’s still hundreds of texts that are in dispute. I don’t want to give the impression that textual criticism is merely a mopping up job nowadays, that all but a handful of problems have been resolved. That’s not the case. There are hundreds of passages whose interpretation depends to some degree on which reading is followed. And this fact leads us to our third question.

What Theological Beliefs Depend on Textually Suspect Passages?

In the appendix to Bart Ehrman’s Misquoting Jesus there’s a Q and A section.

The most telling question asked of Bart is this, “Why do you believe these core tenets of Christian orthodoxy to be in jeopardy based on the scribal errors you discovered in Biblical manuscripts?” Bart’s answer might surprise you, “Essential Christians beliefs are not affected by textual variants in the manuscript tradition of the New Testament.” I agree with him. So that question is dealt with pretty quickly I think.

The Bottom Line, Is the Original New Testament Lost?

Finally, the bottom line, in the original New Testament lost? [audience laughter] I offer five arguments that we can be relatively certain that we have the wording of the originals today somewhere among the manuscripts.

Chaos Not Conspiracy

First, Bart speaks of the first to hundred years as uncontrolled, giving the impression that all manuscripts of this era are riddled with mistakes both unintentional and intentional. The scribes, it seems, were undisciplined and wild, freely adding or subtracting words whenever they wanted to.

But if that is the case then scholars are in an excellent position for finding the original. Because there’s no conspiracy only chaos. Early copies were made in Alexandria, Rome, Antioch, Jerusalem. Then copies were made of those copies. And copies were made of those copies. We may not have the earliest copies, but we do have the copies of the copies of the copies. The very fact that they differ from one another shows that there was no conspiracy to produce just one kind of text.

We have Greek manuscripts, early translations and comments on the New Testament by church fathers that span the ancient Mediterranean world as well. The fact that they disagree often, as much as 10% of the time, means that there was no conspiracy and that most likely the original wording can be found in them somewhere. And when they agree we have the highest certainty that they represent the wording of the original text.

But what happens when these witnesses disagree? How can we determine which of them are better than others? Well the standard introduction to New Testament textual criticism by Bruce Metzger, the man who Bart describes as the best textual critic of the twentieth century, puts things in perspective.

It would be a mistake to think that the uncontrolled copying practices that led to the formation of the western textual tradition were followed everywhere the texts were reproduced in the Roman Empire. In particular there’s solid evidence that in at least one major sea of early Christendom, the city of Alexandrea, there was conscious and conscientious control exercised in the copying of the books of the New Testament. Textual witnesses connected to Alexandria attest to high quality of textual transmission from the earliest times. It was there that a very ancient line of text was copied and preserved.

Now we can illustrate this pure Alexandrian stream with three manuscripts that Bart and I would both agree are there of the best manuscripts of the New Testament and he’s already talked about two of them.

Two of these, Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Vaticanus, are both from the fourth century. Here’s a picture of Codex Sinaticus to begin with. They were produced by professional scribes. There are thousands of differences between them. The vast majority of these of no consequence and yet together these two manuscripts attest to a very ancient, very pure form of text. The fact that there are so many differences between them shows that neither one was copied from the other and their remarkable similarities between them shows that they share a common ancestor but one that is several generations older than these two manuscripts. It must have been produced in the second century and most likely early in the second century. That’s the conclusion that two British scholars came to a hundred and thirty years ago before any of the early papyri were discovered.

And remarkably their judgement has been vindicated by the discovery, sixty years ago, of a very important manuscript, P75. This manuscript is closer to Vaticanus than it is to any other manuscript. P75 is a hundred to a hundred and fifty years older than Vaticanus and yet it is not its ancestor. Instead Vaticanus copied form an earlier common ancestor that both Vaticanus and P75 were related to. the combination of both of these manuscripts goes back most likely to early in the second century. And in combination with Sinaiticus this is a strong argument for the authenticity of the words in question.

But is P75 an anomaly? Are there any other manuscripts that are like it, that are both early and accurate? Yes. At least 17 of them. And they include portions of 14 New Testament books with nearly 500 verses found among them. Although many of our early papyri were done sloppily not all of them were. These 17 papyri confirm that Codex Vaticanus and Codex Sinaiticus are excellent manuscripts who’s ancestry reaches back to the earliest times. Even though these two manuscripts are from the fourth century their wording is that of a text that is hundreds of years earlier.

Now, P75 is valuable in another way. The scribe who produced it was not a professional. He wasn’t trained in copying literary documents. His writing was legible but it looks pretty much like chicken scratches. But he was careful. He wrote one letter at a time. And the mistakes that he made are easily detectible.

In fact, almost all of the oldest manuscripts were made by scribes who were not professionally trained. But the kinds of alterations they made are almost always unintentional.

It would be like a scribe who copies out the preamble to the Constitution by writing, “We the people of the United States in order to form a more perfect onion.” Mistakes of this sort, as every textual critic knows, are the easiest to detect and the easiest to correct. It’s a simplistic and misleading argument to claim that since the earliest scribes make the most mistakes that these mistakes hide the wording of the original. It doesn’t take much of an imagination to change “onion” back to “union.”

The Original Is In the Manuscripts Tradition

And second, the standard Greek New Testament in use today is known as the Nestle/Aland text. It not only produces what the editors believe is the wording of the original New Testament but it also list tens of thousands of variants.

Here’s a picture of the text.

The editors list a hundred and sixteen places where scholars have thought that none of the Greek manuscripts have the original wording. Of those 116 places the editors accept only one: the addition of a single letter to the end of a word in Acts 16:12. Yet the two senior editors, Kurt Aland and Bruce Metzger, felt that even in that one place the original wording was not lost but was to be found in the manuscripts.

What Aland and Metzger were arguing is that when it comes to the wording of the New Testament it can be found either above the line or below the line in the Nestle/Aland text.

In other words, the original text is found in A, B, or C, but never any of the above, I mean none of the above, sorry.

The Papyri Confirm Later Manuscripts Finds

Third, let’s consider the papyri in another way. In the last one hundred and thirty-five years, one hundred and thirty-four New Testament papyri have been discovered. Some of them have been sensational discoveries. And they are, collectively, our earliest manuscripts of the New Testament. Some of them have very interesting wording in several places. Bart has argued that the earlier we go the worse mistakes the scribes make. The question I have is, how does he know that? 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 manuscripts that have an excellent pedigree. Later manuscripts who’s wording reaches back to the time before our earliest papyri.

Significantly, not a single new variant found in the papyri has altered what scholars believe the original New Testament said. Not one. The papyri do not point to any variant that scholars have claimed, “Ah ha! We didn’t have that wording before and it must be original.” No the original wording was already found in the manuscripts that they knew about a hundred and thirty-five years ago. So what would happen if we found manuscripts even earlier than our earliest papyri? They will no doubt confirm the wording that we already consider to be original. If all the New Testament 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?

An Early Copy of Mark in Matthew and Luke

Fourth, Bart has used the Gospel of Mark to illustrate his skepticism about the original wording. He pointed this out in our previous debate that our earliest manuscript is from the third century. And he said that again tonight. About a hundred and thirty years after Mark wrote his Gospel. Do we really have no idea what Mark’s Gospel originally said? Most scholars believe that Matthew and Luke borrowed heavily from Mark’s Gospel to write their own. In fact, 90% of Mark is found in Matthew. So we actually do have a first century copy of Mark, it’s the one that Matthew used. However, Matthew not only copied Mark he also changed it. Matthew removed Mark’s redundancies, smoothed out his awkward phrases, cleaned up his grammar and portrayed Jesus in a different light. But did Matthew have a perfect copy of Mark’s gospel to work from? Neither Bart nor I think he did.

One of my graduate students is writing his thesis on what this copy of Mark must have looked like. And remarkably he has found only two kinds of changes in just a handful of verses. The use of a word that means “and” in the place of a word that means “and” or “but.” And what’s called a “historical present” for a simple past tense verb. That’s it.

Yes it’s true that the copy of Mark that Matthew used is not identical with the original Mark. But the differences are so trivial that they can’t even be translated.

A First Century Fragment of Mark

Fifth and finally, to take Mark’s Gospel as an illustration again, even if we had no rock solid evidence of what Mark’s Gospel looked like in the first century we have overwhelming evidence that it is hardly different from what scholars have constructed from the available evidence.

Of course to demand a first century copy of Mark goes far beyond what is demanded for any other ancient literature. However, in the last few months several very early fragments of the New Testament have been discovered. These will be published by an international scholarly publishing house in a book one year from now.

By way of background, prior to this book, I mentioned that we knew of as many as a dozen second century manuscripts from the New Testament that were in the second century. Once the book is published the numbers will changes dramatically. As many as 18 New Testament manuscripts from the second century. Among the finds was also a fragment of Luke that is from the early second century; it thus rivals P52, that fragment that Bart showed you, the manuscript traditionally considered to be the oldest New Testament manuscript know to exist. And yet, this new Luke fragment is not the oldest New Testament manuscript. The oldest manuscript of the New Testament is now a fragment from Mark’s Gospel that is from the first century. How accurate is the dating? Well my source is a papyrologist who worked on this manuscript a man who’s reputation is unimpeachable. Many consider him to be the best papyrologist on the planet. His reputation is on the line with this dating and he knows it. But he is certain that this manuscripts was from the first century.

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.

Well in conclusion, is the original New Testament lost or is it found somewhere among the manuscripts? The evidence I have presented indicates that we have it in the manuscripts today. To be uber skeptical about this in the face of the mountain of evidence is to take a leap of faith where the guard rail should have been.

Thank you.

Textual Criticism by Dan Wallace

Dr. Ehrman’s First Rebuttal

Okay, thank you very much and thank you Dan for a very lively and interesting presentation.

It’s always enjoyable to have a dialogue with somebody who’s completely competent in the field.

I want to deal with several things in the short time that I’ve got.

First of all, I believe that when Dan kept saying “radical skeptic” I think he was referring to me. [audience laughter] I’m not completely sure about it but I think that’s what he had in mind. The term radical refers to… a radical view is a view that is so extreme that very few people hold it.

The views I laid out for you are not radical in that sense at all. In fact, the are widely held among scholars in this field. Arguably the most erudite scholar in North American in recent decades is the lately deceased William Peterson whose book Collected Essays came out two weeks ago, who argues in essay after essay that it does not make sense for us any longer to talk about the original text.

The senior person in the field of New Testament textual criticism in North America is named Eldon Epp. He teaches the text criticism seminar at Harvard University. He also has written essays arguing that it no longer makes sense to talk about the original text. The chair of the New Testament Textual Criticism section of the national Society of Biblical literature meeting is AnneMarie Luijendijk who is a professor of religion at Princeton University. She also does not think that it makes sense to talk about the original text. Her predecessor was Kim Haines-Eitzen who’s chair of the Department of Religion at Cornell University. She also does not think that we can talk about getting back to the original text. The leading scholar in the field in the English speaking world is David Parker who teaches at the University of Birmingham in England. He’s written an entire book arguing that you cannot get back to the original text and it doesn’t make sense to talk about the original text. These are not extreme views. These are the views of the leading scholars in the English speaking world.

What about Dan’s comments? He made several points that were, in fact, were points that I stressed, he stressed them a little bit more. He wanted to stress that we have lots and lots of New Testament manuscripts that you could stack them up a mile high. That’s absolutely right. He also insisted that we have more texts than we have for the classical authors. That’s absolutely right. I agree with both points. But they are notreally the key point.

Most of these manuscripts date from after the ninth century and they simply don’t help us if we want to know what the text was like 800 years earlier. And the irony is that Dan agrees. Dan has written numerous articles arguing that these late manuscripts are not accurate representations of the original text as he calls it. If we want to know the original text we need early manuscripts.

I don’t know where Dan is getting the figure of twelve manuscripts from the second century. I have in my hand the official listing. Put out by the Institute for New Testament Textual Research in Münster Germany. I checked it again last night. They date only four manuscripts defiantly going back to the second century. Four, these four, make up forty-two verses altogether. Forty-two verses out of the nearly 8,000 in the New Testament are what is represented in these second century manuscripts.

Dan has wanted to argue on several occasions that the fact that we have so many variants is a good thing not a bad thing. I don’t buy it. If we wanted to have a copy of the Declaration of Independence and what we had instead were 5,000 copies and these 5,000 copies of the Declaration of Independence differed from one another in 400,000 ways would you seriously think that was better than having 5,000 copies that didn’t disagree at all?

And it’s not necessary for hand written texts to have this many errors. If you know anything about Jewish copying practices through the middle ages, how Jews copied the Hebrew Bible as opposed to Christians copying the New Testament, Jews made sure there were no mistakes. And there were not variant readings. We don’t need these variant readings. We could do with out them. We’re not happy we have them because we have to weed through them.

Dan has argued that in Alexandria, all east, we had an accurate text. That’s true for when we actually had a text that came to Alexandria. My time is virtually up I’m going to leave with three questions for Dan.

First I want him to answer the question that I raised throughout my talk, “What does he mean by the original text?” For example, of 2nd Corinthians.

Second, some of the worst scribes on record were the earliest scribes. Everybody agrees on this. How good then were the scribes copying the text before the worst scribes? That is, what evidence do you have that the earliest scribes were competent at all. It won’t do for you to say that we have a copy of Mark in Matthew and Luke precisely because Matthew and Luke differ in numerous places when they’re citing Mark. I too, as it turns out, have a doctoral student doing a dissertation on this and he’s finding much more than trivia. They in fact were widely different.

My third question, how do we know that our earliest surviving manuscripts were based on highly accurate copies instead of truly awful ones that were full of accidental and intentional changes? What is the evidence?

Thank you very much.

Dr. Wallace’s First Rebuttal

Well I’m at a bit of a disadvantage because Bart got to present first and then got to ask questions of me and now it looks like I am supposed to answer his questions, and I’ll do that. But I’ll also ask him some as well.

What do I mean by the “original texts”?

I mean the text as it left the hand of the author when it was dispatched to his readers. 2nd Corinthians is a particularly difficult problem because it is true that many scholars, probably most scholars, believe that chapters 10 through 13 were added later but were also written by Paul. And that it was seemed together. But by no means do all scholars hold to that. But either way it is a difficult problem and I fully admit that to Bart.

But I don’t think 2nd Corinthians is representative of most of the New Testament books. It’s an exceptional book in that respect. The original text then is the text as it left the hands of the author.

Now, Bart mentioned that sometimes the original scribe who is copying it down for the author may well have made mistakes. And I would agree with that too. I think that the author would have corrected those places because Paul notes, for example, that he signs off on his letters and if he’s signing off on them just like a business man who’s signing off for his administrative assistant who’s typed up a letter, he’s signing that document to say this really is authoritative, it really is from me.

Bart mentioned also Mark 16 as an illustration along these lines, that we don’t have the original text of the end of Mark, Mark’s Gospel anymore. That may be true. However, it’s by no means the only opinion out there and I would say that it’s not even the majority opinion. He suggested that perhaps the last leaf of Mark’s Gospel fell off. That would be true if Mark’s Gospel were originally—or could be true if Mark’s Gospel were originally written as a codex. That’s our modern book that’s bound on one side with pages.

Most of you have not seen a codex because you only know the scroll on your computer screen. That’s older technology. But if Mark’s Gospel was written on a scroll as it almost surely was, than that last leaf would be the most protected. It’s like turning back your scrolls into the Blockbuster Video. You have to rewind the darn thing. That’s before everybody’s age here isn’t it? It goes back to VCR times. But Mark 16 would’ve been written on a scroll and consequently the last leaf, most likely, would not have been lost. But I think Mark intended to end it at 16:8. Nevertheless, that’s a minor point.

Bart also wants to know where the early manuscripts are and I would say that they are still being discovered and Myles I think you said that we’ve discovered 7 manuscript, it’s really 70 that we’ve discovered in the last ten years covering over 18,000 pages of text.

Bart also asked why can’t scholars agree. And he said there’s two texts that came out in 2005 that both presented the text as original, the original New Testament, the disagree in 6,000 places. Well, I think that’s overstated. I think that’s terribly overstated. The vast majority of New Testament textual critics are going to agree on the vast majority of textual problems.

Bart mentioned that when he, in one place, that if he and Dr. Metzger were to sit down and discuss what variants they thought were original, which ones were not, he said there’d be probably no greater difference than maybe a couple dozen places. So most scholars are going to agree with the text that we have today except in, at most, a few hundred places. Not a few thousand places. It’s the kind of a group that follows those ninth century and later manuscripts where they see as many as 6,000 differences from the earlier ones.

Well that’s how I would respond to some of these questions. But I have a few of my own as well.

First of all, I want to know if Bart can offer a convincing scenario in which the wording of the original text disappeared without a trace. Kurt Aland, Germanys best textual critic in the second half of the twentieth century at the University of Münster which is the epicenter for all New Testament text critical studies, whose institute poured thousands of hours looking over manuscripts claimed that no reading had ever made it into the manuscripts that had disappeared.

Bart is claiming that not only did several spurious reading have disappeared but so has the original wording. The very fact that we have a rather large amount of variant readings in the existing manuscripts is evidence that no one group was able to conform all the manuscripts to their own standard. That no one group was able to suppress the original wording.

And I have a second question, if Bart is this skeptical about the New Testament text, how skeptical would he be about the rest of the ancient Greco-Roman literature? I want to know if he thinks that we have no clue what these other authors said.

And just for the record, no I did not think of you when I wrote those notes about radical skeptic. But if you fit that’s okay.

Dr. Ehrman’s Second Rebuttal

Well I don’t know if any of you all have done these debates but let me tell you these rebuttals are not fun.

The one problem is, the five minutes when you’re giving one of these things seems like it lasts for a totality of about 20 seconds. Dan thinks that the original text is the text as it left the hand of the author. So what is the original text of 2nd Corinthians? What is the original text of John? Did it have chapter 21 or not, even though all the manuscripts have it? Did it have the prologue or not? What about the two versions of Acts, one eight-and-a-half times longer than the other? Which is the original version? Did Luke originally have chapters one and two? It’s in all the manuscripts.

Dan wants to point out that textual critics basically all agree on most of the text that they look at. The deal is this, all of these scholars who agree with me that it doesn’t make sense to talk about the original text don’t give up and go home. What they do is, they try to decide what the earliest available form of the text is. That’s the language the scholars use, the earliest available form of the text. And yes, it’s true, based on the surviving evidence we have, we can get back to what looks like the earliest form of the text. That’s not the same thing as what Dan is calling the original text. Even the scholars in Germany that he’s talking about have admitted quite clearly that when they talk about reconstructing the earliest form of the text, what they call the “initial text”, that it might be significantly different from the text that the author produced. So, yes, we agree on attaining the earliest form of the text, what we don’t agree on is the original text.

Dan has asked me two questions. Can I come up with a scenario to explain how a text has disappeared without a trace.

This is a softball. Look, the Gospel of Mark, suppose Mark was done in Rome sometimes around the year 70, somebody wrote something that we call the Gospel of Mark. Suppose it was copied twice, by scribe A and scribe B. Scribe A was obscure and his copy got lost. Unfortunately he was a very accurate copier. Copyist B was not a very accurate copier and he made a lot of mistakes but he was a well liked guy and everybody knew about his copy and his copy got copied five times. And then that… those five copies each got copied ten times. And then those fifty copies each got copied another ten time. You’ve got 500 copies all going back to B which was filled with mistakes and the accurate copy is lost. So it’s completely possible that that copy, copy B, has incorporated a mistake that got transferred to all of the surviving copies. So I mean it’s not hard at all to imagine a scenario where that happened.

Dan secondly wants to know how skeptical am I about the rest of ancient literature. I’m no more or less skeptical than the scholars who work on that literature. Scholars have long recognized that we simply cannot even talk about an original copy of The Iliad and The Odyssey of Homer. The Iliad and The Odyssey like parts of the New Testament, were passed along through the oral tradition. They were passed orally and they came down to different authors, who wrote different accounts at different times. And what we call Homer was a compilation of different forms of the text. There is no original form of Homer. There may be an earliest attainable text of Homer which is what we talk about. We don’t know exactly what Plato wrote in the Republic. We don’t know. How can we know? We don’t have the manuscripts. Am I skeptical about that? No, I don’t actually consider this to be radical skepticism. I consider it to be epistemological humility. There are some things we know and there are some things we don’t know. Epistemology is the science of knowing what we know. And sometimes we should simply be humble enough to admit that we don’t know something. We don’t know the original text of Homer, or Plato, or Aeschylus, or Euripides it’s absolutely right. Though we can reach the earliest attainable form of those texts.

I asked Dan three questions. He answered one of them. Let me ask the other two again.

If some of the worst scribes on record were the earliest scribes how good were the scribes copying the text before them? That is, what evidence do you have that the earliest scribes were competent at all. Dan asked me, well how do I know that they were incompetent? I know because we have the quotations of the church fathers that he talked about, we have church fathers from the second century who quoted the New Testament all over the map and in virtually every instance that they quote, every instance that you have an author quoting the New Testament the author has a different text from the text that’s come down to us in the manuscripts.

He wants to talk about Alexandria. Look at the quotations of the New Testament in Clement of Alexandria in the second century. Radically different from the form of the text that came down to us even in the Alexandrian manuscripts. We know these scribes in the second century were changing the text. And so my question to him is, what is the evidence that he has that the earliest scribes were competent at all. And the second question, how do we know that our earliest surviving manuscripts were based on highly accurate copies instead of truly awful ones that were full of accidental and intentional changes? What is the evidence?

Thank you very much.

Dr. Wallace’s Second Rebuttal

Bart raises some good questions. It’s not going to be easy to cover this in five minutes as he acknowledged. When it comes to things like the ending of John’s Gospel, chapter 21, it seems that for a number of the points that Bart is making, not just for John 21 but Mark 16, 2nd Corinthians, the book of Acts, it’s as if all scholars all critical scholars agree on their opinions. But what he means by a critical scholar is somebody who is defined as agreeing with him on these issues. And I think that’s a bit circular.

Kurt Aland, again as I said the man who is the head of the Institute in Münster, and the most important German textual critic of the last half of the twentieth century, said that, as far as the manuscripts reveal we don’t have any evidence that John 21 was detached from the rest of Gospel or that chapters in the middle of John were transposed in a different direction like Rudolf Bultmann thought. He was saying we have to start with the manuscripts evidence and that’s what we have to do. I think that’s epistemologically humble, I agree with Bart on that. But whether John 21 was added to John’s Gospel or not is a really significant question that has not been settled. We have a student at Dallas Seminary who is doing his doctoral dissertation on this and he’s gone in various directions on it. And we just want him to pursue the evidence as best he can.

Now, Bart has also said he cites authorities as if all over the place everybody’s agreeing with him that we are not trying to recover the wording of the original text. Well, on the one hand, just to cite authorities is not the best kind of an argument, you have to have the evidence for that. And part of the problem we’re facing is that within New Testament textual criticism there is a direction that is going where scholars are moving away from trying to recover the original text while as in classical studies they are not moving in that direction as severely. There are certainly some who are going that direction. But not all. And some of the most recent critically constructed classical works, the author says in the introduction this is the best we can do to try to attain the wording of the original text of this author.

And again, not all authorities agree with him on this. In Germany not all do. Holger Strutwolf, who’s the head of this Institute now in Münster that Kurt Aland was the head of says our goals is to try to recover the wording of the original text. Gerd Mink who’s done a phenomenal job on the text of the New Testament would say the same thing. And at Cambridge University there’s three scholars who would argue this way.

When it comes to these Greco-Roman scholars as I said, they don’t all share Bart’s skepticism about trying to get back to the original. At least the scholars on the Greco-Roman books. Many of them are trying to get back to the original. And yet they are working with material that is simply not nearly as complete as we have for the New Testament.

When he said the way he knows that the text of our later manuscripts, or our earlier manuscripts, the earlier papyri, is inferior because he compares it to the church fathers… I don’t know if that’s all that accurate. I’m sure that’s a part of it. But we have also compared it to those great manuscripts from the fourth century and those manuscripts are the ones that time and time again have a superior reading. And that’s known as internal evidence where scholars try to examine the stuff on the basis of, is it “onion” or “union”? Would onion work in this context or would union be the most likely word. And consequently those manuscripts have a proven pedigree over, and over, and over again. And when these early papyri were discovered they confirmed what Westcott and Hort, two scholars from a hundred and thirty years ago, had been saying about the text of these two great fourth century manuscripts. That they do go back very closely to the original in almost every place.

Thank you very much.

Dr. Ehrman’s Closing Remarks

Well, right, so, ha, wrap up, right, so.

There are a lot of things that Dan and I agree on. We agree that one of the tasks of the discipline of text criticism is to find the earliest available form of the text. And we agree another task is to find out why the text got changed and how it got changed over history.

One of the fundamental disagreements we have is whether the earliest form of the text is rightly called the original text. I understand Dan’s motivation for wanting to think of it as the original text and I respect it. That is a point of view that I also at one time had. But it strikes me that there are serious theoretical problems to even knowing what it means to call a text the original text and our evidence simply is not sufficient to get us back to anything like what the authors originally wrote. And I’m very pleased to announce that my mind has not changed after hearing Dan.

Dr. Wallace’s Closing Remarks

It’s good to see you’re learning.

I’ve enjoyed the time tonight with you all. And the dialogue with Bart. This is always fun to do with him. It seems to me that over the last 2,000 years New Testament scholarship has always assumed that they have had access in broad strokes and in many particulars to the original text of the New Testament.

If we don’t we might as well burn all the rest of our books on the New Testament. Because we talk about an “author” and what his intentions are. We talk about why he writes this way and even what Bart was talking about Luke, whether he, I know he doesn’t think Luke wrote Luke, but that author still has some viewpoint that he’s trying to present. Well, how does he know what that author’s viewpoint is unless he’s talking about the original text of that author?

We may not know in all the particulars but I think in order for us to make any kind of progress, in order for us not to tread backwards into the dark ages we have to assume that at least in broad stokes and in many particulars we do, in fact, have the original text of the New Testament in front of us.

Thank you.

Textual Criticism by Dan Wallace

Editors Note: A special thank you to Jon Winsley for his help with this transcript.

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Is the Transcendental Argument Fair?

The Transcendental Argument - A Common Misunderstanding

In our ever more secular world, arguments for the existence of God are always vital. Christians are called to be ready to give a reason for the hope that is in us. In a culture that has tried to forget God, that reason begins with simple truth: “God exists!”

Our heritage is rich with proofs of God’s existence. Romans 1 says that God’s invisible attributes can be clearly seen in His Creation. Christian theologians and philosophers alike have found no shortage of them:

  • Objective moral standards point to God’s righteousness;
  • The creation of the universe points to God’s power and eternal nature;
  • The design of the universe points to God’s wisdom;
  • The resurrection of Christ points to His divinity and involvement in the world.

One argument stands out as especially controversial, perhaps second only to the infamous ontological argument: The Transcendental Argument for God, or “TAG” as it’s colloquially known. If valid, TAG is one of the most powerful arguments against atheism. But some Christian philosophers have dismissed it as irrational and “viciously circular.”

Let’s summarize TAG in its most basic logical form:

p1. If God does not exist, then the laws of logic do not exist.
p2. The laws of logic do exist.
c. Therefore, God exists.

For a more thorough analysis of TAG, check out the breakdown at CARM.

Now, at first, this sounds like it’s basically a parallel to the Moral Argument. Take a look:

p1. If God does not exist, then objective moral standards do not exist.
p2. Objective moral standards do exist.
c. Therefore, God exists.

But many apologists who champion the Moral Argument dismiss TAG as “viciously circular.” Why?

It’s because of an interesting consequence of the Transcendental Argument.

“God Exists; Therefore, God Exists.”

TAG proposes that the laws of logic hinge upon the existence of God. Let’s think about what that would mean. If TAG is true, then whenever someone appeals to the laws of logic, they are also unwittingly assuming the existence of God.

And we appeal to the laws of logic every time we argue for the existence (or non-existence) of God.

This means you could say that, in a sense, we are assuming that God exists in order to use the laws of logic to prove that God exists. Naturally, that sounds a lot like a circular argument.

That perceived circularity puts off a lot of people who are fine with similar arguments like the Moral Argument, above. Take, for example, William Lane Craig, a prominent classical apologist:

Where presuppositionalism muddies the waters is in its apologetic methodology. As commonly understood, presuppositionalism is guilty of a logical howler: it commits the informal fallacy of petitio principii, or begging the question, for it advocates presupposing the truth of Christian theism in order to prove Christian theism. Frame himself says that we are “forced to say, ‘God exists (presupposition), therefore God exists (conclusion),’” even though such reasoning is “clearly circular”. (“A Classical Apologist’s Response,” Five Views of Apologetics)

The key phrase in Craig’s summary is “As commonly understood.” As it turns out, this “circularity” is merely a popular misconception of the Transcendental Argument.

If TAG was actually circular, it would look like this:

The Transcendental Argument - A Common Misunderstanding

p1. God exists.
p2. If God exists, then the laws of logic exist.
c1. Therefore, the laws of logic exist.

p3. If God does not exist, then the laws of logic do not exist.
p4. (from c1, above) The laws of logic do exist.
c2. Therefore, God exists.

It’s easy to see how this is circular. You go from the premise “God exists” to the conclusion “God exists.” But if you look back up the page, you’ll see that TAG actually doesn’t use the first half of the circle. That’s because we already know that the laws of logic exist. They’re a “properly basic belief.” We don’t need to prove the laws of logic exist in order to use them.

The Transcendental Argument from the Laws of Logic

Now, a complete worldview will have a rationale for properly basic beliefs like the laws of logic. That’s what the “first half of the circle” gives you: an explanation for why the laws of logic exist. Since we know that the laws of logic exist, we now know that God exists. And now that we know that God exists, we can explain why the laws of logic exist.

The Transcendental Argument from the Existence of God

But because the laws of logic are a properly basic belief, the circle is broken. The Transcendental Argument is merely semi-circular: It remains logically valid.

The Transcendental Argument Complements the Moral Argument

Atheism has always been weak on morality. It’s really hard to find a secular basis for ethical commands like “Don’t murder.” That’s one of the reasons the moral argument is so effective: We know that right and wrong exist, and it’s hard to reconcile that with atheism.

But atheism has also always prided itself on its rationality. Reason was the goddess of the secular French Revolution. Contemporary atheists like Richard Dawkins pit “rationality” against the “irrationality” of religion.

TAG hits atheism right where it seems to be the strongest.

The reality is, atheism is even worse at giving a rationale for logic than for morality. Most atheists don’t even think about where the laws of logic come from – they want to believe logic just “is.”

Of course, that’s not a rationale. That’s a Rudyard Kipling “just so” story. But being confronted with the truth that atheism can’t account for the laws of logic is a jarring experience. It’s like looking down and realizing there’s nothing below you but empty air.

It’s the kind of moment where God convicts a soul.

TAG sometimes gets a bad rap because it’s been misunderstood in the past. But it’s a valuable tool for every Christian. You never know when it’ll be exactly the argument someone needs to hear.

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Bible Reading Plans: Super Simple, Chronological, Audio, and Intense

How Words Are Distributed in the Bible

Holy Books

The Bible is the most important book in Christianity.

The Bible is a collection of 66 books (for protestants) and 73 (for catholics) written by 39 authors over a period of 1,500 years.

Other religions have their holy books:

  • Islam has the Quran
  • Mormonism has The Book of Mormon
  • Buddhism has the Tripitaka
  • Judaism has the Torah
  • Hinduism has the Vedas

Christians (of the Protestant flavor) hold the Bible as their ultimate authority in all maters of faith and practice. Roman Catholics also hold to a high view of scripture but alongside it they place the authority of the church.

How Words Are Distributed in the Bible
How Words Are Distributed in the Bible

Because the Bible is so important to Christians there is a lot of emphasis on reading and studying.

Bible Reading Plans

Picking A Bible Translation

If you’re looking for a short list of solid Bible translations, here’s mine:

  • NASB
  • ESV
  • NIV
  • KJV

But as long as you stay away from the few bad Bible translations you can’t go wrong.

When I say “bad” I mean those done by individuals or small groups. These translations lack the sorts of checks and balances that come from a large diverse team.

Related Reading: How a KJV-Only Pastor Picks a Bible Translation

Divide and Conquer the Bible in One Year

This plan is simple and popular.

The reading plan breaks down like this:

There are 1,189 chapters in the Bible and 365 days in the year.

Read four chapters a day (technically 3.26) and you’ll get through the whole Bible in one year.

The One Year Chronological Bible

The One Year Chronological Bible is organized in two ways at once:

  • The order in which the events happened in history
  • Into chunks long enough so that you’ll get through the Bible in a year

It doesn’t get much easier than this.

I was able to find an NIV and NLT version. There’s also an audio version as well which is a nice segue into the next section.

Audio Bibles

The book is so much better than the movie. Or so they say.

For audio learners there is no shortage of Bibles.

From Alexander Scourby’s sonorous tones reading the King James Bible to the fully dramatized NIV with orchestrated soundtracks.

I would recommend that you get an audio version that’s available in AAC format (this is common for audio books). The AAC format allows you to pick up where you left off which is really useful when you’re trying to get through the whole Bible but want stop and start on your own time.

The Intense Plan

For those who really want to take their Bible reading plan to the next level this is for you.

This plan consists of reading 10 chapters a day.

Here are the details:

  • 1 chapter in Proverbs every day of the month. In the months that have fewer than 31 days double or triple up on the first day of the month. This will get you through Proverbs twelve times in one year.
  • 5 chapters in the Old Testament per day. This does not include Proverbs. This will get you through the OT twice in a year.
  • 4 chapters in the New Testament per day. This will get you through the NT six times in a year.

How Bible Reading Plans and Diets Are Similar

There are a lot of diet plans. Many (maybe most) work. But the reason why the people who get on those diets aren’t fit and trim is because they don’t stick to the diet.

Pick one of the plans above or come up with your own and then stick with it for the entire year.

After all, whether you read the Bible all year or not the time is going to pass.

You might as well put it to good use.

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The Crazy Street Preacher (Don’t Be That Guy)

Crazy Street Preacher

There’s nothing wrong with street preaching. In fact, it does a lot of good.

But today street preachers have a bad name. Sometimes it’s justified and sometimes not.

I’ll grant that all of the pop-culture depictions of Christians and Christianity that I’ve seen are wildly inaccurate. And a short clip on YouTube that shows a street preacher acting out isn’t the whole story. However, I think I’ve identified three distinct kinds of crazy street preaching you’ll want to avoid.

Crazy Street Preacher
Image Credit:

Street preaching was popular before the Internet, TV, radio, the printing press. It was a powerful way to spread a message.

Even after the printing press many could not afford books but tracts became popular. And so public preaching remained common.

Today it’s much more efficient to upload a speech to YouTube where it can reach millions vs speaking to a few dozen people on a street corner. I would grant that there are significant differences between an online interaction and one that’s face-to-face.

Despite this apparent disparity efficiency you’ll still find street preachers on the corners of most if not all big cities.

There are at three kinds of street preachers that give the rest of them a bad name: the screecher, the offender, and the hype man.

The Screecher

Definition: Make a loud, harsh, squealing sound.

The louder the better, yes? This is the impression you might get if you listened to some street preachers.

There are different variations of the screecher:

  • Loud & Proud: They start loud and maintain their ear splitting level.
  • The Ramp-Up: They start soft but get louder as they get into a rhythm and gather a crowd. Pretty soon they reach a level of diminishing returns.
  • The Passive-Aggressive: They get loud then instantly softer when confronted with a heckler. The purpose is to make their opponent look irrational.

Example: Ruben Israel

The Offender

Definition: Being offensive to your audience merely for the sake of gaining attention.

Saying something outrageous is a time tested way of getting attention. The purpose is to get the attention of your audience so you can communicate something.

For example, think about a commercial where humor, sex, violence, was used to get your attention and sell you an unrelated product:

  • Sex used to sell perfume
  • Violence used to sell a children’s toy gun
  • Humor used to a new sitcom
  • All of the above used to sell beer

Example: Westboro Baptist Church

Example: Jed Smock

Jed Smock has been around for a long time preaching on campuses around the country. He’s so famous he’s even had a documentary made about him. Jed uses a combinations of offensive or shocking speech.

The Hype Man

Definition: Someone who supports the primary speaker with exclamations and interjections, and who attempts to increase the audience’s excitement with call-and-response chants.[1]

Example: Hebrew Israelites

They’re entertaining to watch and their colorful clothing make them impossible to miss even if you’re deaf. Hebrew Israelites are self-professed racists who take to the streets to “wake up” their people.

The Tools of the Hype Man:

  • Call and Response: When Hebrew Israelites preach they have one speaker and one or more men ready to look up and read scripture out loud, like really loud.
  • Amen: When their speaker says something especially important their “crew” goes into action the same way a crowd cheers a rapper who spits a particularly good line.
  • Being Loud: Hebrew Israelites are really loud. They don’t seem to use bull horns or portable microphone/speaker setups.
  • Cutting: Hebrew Israelites like to say that they “cut” people by using Scripture against them.

Don’t Be the Crazy Street Preacher

Street preaching has its place but don’t be a screecher, offender of hype man.

Instead follow the advice of these verses:

Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person. —Colossians 4:6 (NASB)

Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear. —Ephesians 4:29 (NASB)

He who guards his mouth and his tongue, Guards his soul from troubles. —Proverbs 21:23 (NASB)

Please comment if you think I’ve missed a species.

  1. My definition is taking almost entirely from the Wikipedia definition of a Hype Man in the context of Hip Hop and Rapping  ↩
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Christian Truth Seekers, Myth Busters, and Trolls

Mother Teresa

Mother Teresa was a horrible person. Mother Teresa was a wonderful person. Which statement you believe is important. We should want to believe as many true things and as few false things as possible. But it’s also important why you believe something. Christianity puts a premium on truth.

A friend posted a link to Tim Challies’ The Myth of Mother Teresa on Facebook and a mini-debate erupted.

Just what Mother Teresa would have wanted.

Mother Teresa
Mother Teresa © 1986 Túrelio (via Wikimedia-Commons), 1986 / , via Wikimedia Commons

An argument on Facebook? Say it isn’t so!

What surprised me were the reasons people didn’t like the article:

  • The article was based on a suspicious source, notably the late Christopher Hitchens.
  • The results of Mother Teresa’s work was positive not just to those she helped but to those who were inspired by her example to serve others. Therefore, we souldn’t smear her.

What should concern people, especially Christians, is whether or not the article was true. The objections on FB were like shooting at the flags atop a bastion rather than storming the gate.

Bad Sources (Objection #1)

Suspicious sources should always make us… suspicious. But suspicious doesn’t mean untrue. Christopher Hitchens was mistaken about a lot of things. He was philosophically weak as can be seen from his dialogues with Douglas Wilson and William Lane Craig. But boy could Hitch land some real zingers. Zingers can win an audience but not a debate.

Christians should avoid biased thinking that goes something like this:

  • Christian always tell the truth.
  • Non-christians always lie.

What gives a statement is truth value is whether or not it corresponds to reality not the source (except in the case of God).

It’s okay to attack a source but proving that the source was Hitler (to take an extreme example) doesn’t prove the argument that cites that source incorrect. For example, people have argued that Naziism was anti semitic. To prove their point they cite a speech by Hitler in which he rails against Jews. It would be silly to respond by saying, “You can’t cite Hitler because he was a really bad guy.”

Christopher Hitchens may have told hundreds of lies a day and still be a reliable source when it comes to Mother Teresa.

Incidentally, Hitchens was not the only source for Challies’ article.

The Ends Justify the Means (Objection #2)

Some objected to the smearing of MT because of all the good she did. They might say, “Even if we grant that she wasn’t all that great she certainly inspired a lot of others to do  good works.”

There are two problems with this objection:

  1. Whether or not MT did a lot of good is exactly what’s being questioned.
  2. The ends don’t justify the means.

Circular Reasoning: #1 is a problem because it’s an example of circular reasoning. Circular reasoning assumes what the argument is trying to prove. This type of argument isn’t very persuasive because it often sounds like, “Because I said so!” to the listener.

Demonstrably False: #2 is a problem because it’s demonstrably false. For example, suppose a person robbed a bank and gave the money to a children’s hospital. Donating stolen funds doesn’t justify the theft. For something to be moral it should have a good result in mind, but a good result (even if you can accomplish it) does not by itself make something moral.

Temporal vs Eternal Worth: Some say that those arguing that MT did some good may have an escape hatch. by distinguishing between deeds that have temporal worth vs eternal worth. I don’t accept that something can have temporal worth without having eternal worth. I’d rather stick with the idea of good in the eyes of man and good in the eyes of God.

None of these objections or my answers to them answer the question of whether or not MT was a good person, with good motives, who did good things.

The claim “MT did a lot of good” is an ontological claim.

I want to encourage Christians to support their ontological claims with sound epistemology.

If you reject the stories about MT because of bad epistemology or accept them because of bad epistemology you both have room to improve.

Truth Seekers, Myth Busters, and Trolls

I wasn’t trying to convince my Facebook friends that Tim was right and MT was a horrible person. I’m not trying to convince anyone of that now.

The goal is to help Christians focus on their commitment to truth.

Ben Shapiro in a speech at the University of Missouri made it very clear what he cared about:

I want to go through all of these specifics because I think it’s important for people to actually assess whether or not these things are true in the United States at current. Let me put one thing first, I don’t care about your feelings.[1]

Christians may choose to use different language to express the same idea. Truth trumps tone. A lie spoken sweetly is no better than one brutally expressed. Truth is objective. Tone is subjective.

Todd Friel talked about the number one sin in evangelical churches today:

Trolls stir things up. People don’t like trolls. Christians should be good trolls. They should stir things up. Not just for the sake of it but because the things we need to talk about are out of bounds. Whenever you see a Christian leader’s life exposed those doing the exposing are often despised and attacked. There’s a right and wrong way to deal with sin. I’m not arguing against that. But let’s not vilify those exposing false doctrine, theology, or practice.

I couldn’t tell if I got through to the folks on Facebook. I hope I did.

Christians are followers of Jesus. Jesus called himself “the way, the truth, and the life.” That should matter to us.

You can see seven other reasons why Christians should care about truth and education here.

  1. Shapiro, Benjamin A. “Ben Shapiro Destroys the Concept of White Privilege.” YouTube. November 28, 2015. Accessed December 28, 2015.  ↩
  2. I have to give a shoutout to my friend Jon Winsley for his helpful feedback and critique.
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Mining for God by Brandon McGuire (Review)

Mining for God

Mining for God is one of a new breed of Christian films. This hybrid genre has a retro, even hipster, feel. They’re edited for punchy-ness and made by small, independent, studios or teams. They may even be crowd funded, like this one.

Mining for God

Here’s how the film describes itself:

This film will investigate the different ideas within American culture that have shaped the way we think and distorted our understanding of who God is. This film will bring back to the surface the story about man and about God that we were born to understand.

These new kinds of films focus on apologetic issues:

  • The existence of God
  • Abortion
  • Health Care
  • The Historicity of the Bible

Mining for God Timeline

Mining for God is a 63-minute trek with a who’s-who of apologists at the center. I recognized most of them but resorted to Google a few times. Here’s a complete list of the named interviewees:

  • Lee Strobel
  • William Lane Craig
  • Gary Habermas
  • Jim Warner Wallace
  • Mike Licona
  • John Stonestreet
  • Paul Copan
  • Mary Jo Sharp
  • Nabeel Qureshi
  • Curtis Bowers
  • Alan Shlemon
  • Donald Williams
  • Michael Sherrard
  • Craig Hazen
  • Mark Mittelberg
  • Grant Lewis
  • Darren Davis
  • Gerald Wright
  • Connor Dealy

Mining for God pretends to use questions to move the film forward. But they seem more planted than genuine. It would be like watching a Ray Comfort video where the man-on-the-street is a plant. He gives all the right answers and objections so that Ray can work his script.

00:00:00–00:04:15Mining for God starts with a montage of people talking about Christianity and how it’s viewed in culture.

00:04:16–00:11:16 — The voice over by Brandon McGuire begins. We’re shown a bunch of man-on-the-street interviews. The first question, “How is Christianity viewed in America?” or more simply, “What is Christianity?” The potpourri of answers forces us to take a deeper look at what Christianity is. Contradictory answers about God and Christianity can’t both be true so we need to take a closer look.

I can identify with the confusion Brandon encountered about Christianity. Years ago I had to survey our community to learn what people believed about ethics, God, the after life, etc. Most of the folks said they were Christian. But when I asked them how they know what’s right and wrong they didn’t appeal to God or the Bible. They cited culture, conscience, and the government.

00:11:17–00:19:10 — Here the film takes a hard turn from cultural questions into apologetics. Brandon used Twitter to learn why there’s so much confusion about Christianity. What he learned forms the first apologetic issue the film addresses: naturalism.

Definition of Naturalism from Mining for God
Definition of Naturalism from Mining for God

One of the best quotes of the film comes from John Stonestreet in this segment. He say, “We’re not animals and we’re not Gods. We’re made in the image of God and we act like animals.”

00:19:11–00:23:00 — A video from (the ministry of William Lane Craig) is played. I’m not sure how it’s related to naturalism except as a veneer to present the cosmological argument. Having shown that there must be a cause for the existence of the universe we’re ready to discuss what that cause might be.

00:23:00–00:24:59 — We’re given just under two-minutes on personhood, intelligent design, and information theory. Because of certain features of the universe, we’re supposed to conclude that the cause of the universe must be a person.

00:25:00–00:33:37 — We zoom out from naturalism to look at relativism. There’s also a lead-in to the next big question, pluralism.

Definition of Relativism from Mining for God

00:33:38–00:44:05 — How do the different world religions account for pain, suffering, and sin?

This segment starts off with Nabeel Qureshi and William Lane Craig talking about how a person can get right with God. It’s a bait and switch. If I was a skeptic bothered by the problem of evil I’d feel like my question wasn’t being answered if someone started talking about my personal sin instead. This segment goes full-on gospel. It’s clear that this part of the film is meant more to convince unbelieving viewers than to explain the gospel to Christians.

I do take issue with Donald Williams’ description of the gospel story. He tells it this way,

But think about it. You’ve got you’re damsel in distress, the human race. You’ve got your basic villain, Satan. You’ve got your basic epic hero, Jesus. Hero goes on epic quest, at great personal sacrifice, rescues damsel in distress from villain. They ride off into the sunset and live happily ever after.

Jesus death on the cross saves us from the penalty of our sins. It satisfies the righteousness and justice of God. It doesn’t save us from Satan. Yes, Satan is our enemy. But Satan doesn’t send us to hell, God does.

00:44:06–00:59:40 — Having established what the gospel is, the film then asks if the story about Jesus is true or not. The order is odd. A lot of thought goes into deciding how to arrange the content of a film so I’ll presume Brandon had a good reason.

00:59:41–01:01:31 — Now that we’re at the end of the film McGuire starts drawing conclusions. Visually we’re also brought full circle as well. McGuire shows us more footage from his trip to Africa. He seems to be saying that the difference in the Christianity in Africa and America has to do with how we view Christ and what he did for us.

Mining for God: Constructive Criticism

Video Issues

There’s some really nice b-roll in this film. By “nice” I mean that it helps illustrate the point. For example, when talking about unbelievers imprisoned by sin we see a prisoner using a piece of chalk to mark off time in his cell. But some b-roll seems out of place or generic. I thought some of it looked stock and the credits confirmed this.

The footage of Jim Warner Wallace seems to be slightly out of focus.

There’s an odd lack of narration from 00:44:23–00:44:34. Perhaps there were similar gaps elsewhere but I didn’t notice them.

Audio Issues

The audio is inconsistent. In particular the interview with Gary Habermas has problems. I’ve had to work with problematic audio myself so I can sympathize. It stands out because the rest of the audio is solid.


Mining for God is a good film. You can buy it here. If you’re not familiar with apologetics this film is for you. If you’ve read an apologetic book or two, watched a few lectures, or attended an apologetic conference you can skip it.

Brandon will get better with time. In fact, even over the course of making Mining for God Brandon got better. In an interview with the folks at, Brandon explained his growth this way:

By the end of production, things came much easier. I was able to see out through a larger window into the world, and to recognize, almost immediately, the ideologies influencing the person across from me. Mining for God has been a highly educational experience for me, both from a story telling perspective, and an apologetics perspective.

I look forward to Brandon’s next project. I hope their work shows other Christian filmmakers that we can do better than cartoonish presentations of Bible stories.

Disclaimer: Brandon McGuire sent me free copy of the movie for review. No consideration or incentive was given or promised in exchange for this review.

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David Hume’s Problem of Induction in Debate and on TV

Portrait of David Hume by Allan Ramsay

Will the future be like the past?

All of life seems to be connected. Cause and effect. If I touch a hot stove today and get burned I can safely assume that I’ll get burned if I do it again. And that goes for different kinds of stoves, open fires, barbecues, fireworks, etc. This kind of thinking—from specific instances to generalizations—is inductive.

So what’s the problem? Inductive thinking seems to be pretty useful so why all the hubbub?

Blame Davi Hume. It all started when he wondered how we could be justified in assuming that the connections we perceive between events, cause and effect, actually exist. We certainly feel like we see the connection between events. That’s not Hume’s point. He acknowledges that we all do that. He’s asking a much more basic question.

How do we justify our expectation that the future will be like the past?

This is the problem of induction.

The Problem of Induction on TV

An exchange between Jonah and Amy on NBC’s show Superstore is an example of how we use the inductive principle in everyday life. It’s a short clip.

David Hume the Trouble Maker

David Hume (Scottish philosopher and historian) clearly stated the problem on induction in An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding:

To recapitulate, therefore, the reasonings of this section: Every idea is copied from some preceding impression or sentiment; and where we cannot find any impression, we may be certain that there is no idea. In all single instances of the operation of bodies or minds, there is nothing that produces any impression, nor consequently can suggest any idea, of power or necessary connexion. But when many uniform instances appear, and the same object is always followed by the same event; we then begin to entertain the notion of cause and connexion. We then feel a new sentiment or impression, to wit, a customary connexion in the thought or imagination between one object and its usual attendant; and this sentiment is the original of that idea which we seek for. For as this idea arises from a number of similar instances, and not from any single instance; it must arise from that circumstance, in which the number of instances differ from every individual instance. But this customary connexion or transition of the imagination is the only circumstance, in which they differ. In every other particular they are alike. The first instance which we saw of motion, communicated by the shock of two billiard-balls (to return to this obvious illustration) is exactly similar to any instance that may, at present, occur to us; except only, that we could not, at first, infer one event from the other; which we are enabled to do at present, after so long a course of uniform experience.[1]

Portrait of David Hume by Allan Ramsay
Portrait of David Hume by Allan Ramsay

Dr. Peter Atkins Tries to Answer Hume

An audience member asked Dr. Peter Atkins what his solution is to the problem of induction. Atkins’ response make it clear he had no idea what he was talking about. There’s a transcript below the video player.

Questioner: Dr. Atkins, a philosopher from Scotland, David Hume, pointed out that we as human beings don’t really have a rational basis for believing in the uniformity of nature—that the future will be like the past. Dr. Atkins, as a Christian, I can believe that the future will be like the past, or that nature is uniform, because I believe that God created the universe and this universe reflects the uniformity which God has imposed upon through his governing.

I’d like to ask, in the atheistic worldview the presupposition that there is no God and that all we have is mater in motion what is your basis for believing that the future will be like the past?

Dr. Atkins: Well I don’t believe that the future will be like the past because I believe in continuing evolution. I believe that the universe is expanding and therefore the universe will in the future will not be like the universe in the past. I also believe but at a deeper level—if I could respond there—on the cogency and the continuity of the physical law. Physical laws are commentaries on the behavior of mater and of radiation and whatever else you want to include. And so I see, because matter and radiation don’t change their character, physical laws do not change their character. I see the universe evolving into the future, changing as it goes, but the physical laws that underlying the universe will not change.

Dr. Bahnsen Cross-Examines Dr. Stein on the Problem of Induction

You can read a full transcript of the debate here.

Dr. Bahnsen: Okay, Dr. Stein you made reference to David Hume and his rejection of miracles, have you also read David Hume and his discussion of induction or more popularly the uniformity of nature?

Dr. Stein: A long time ago. I can’t recall the… exactly what he says. I have read David Hume.

Dr. Bahnsen: Okay, were you convinced a long time ago that you had an answer to Hume’s skepticism about induction?

Dr. Stein: I can’t answer that question honestly. I don’t remember what…this was at least fifteen years ago that I read this.

Dr. Bahnsen: Scientific laws were, the validity of scientific laws were undermined by Hume when he contended that we have no rational basis for expecting the future to be like the past. Or, if you will, to be…for there to be types of events so that one event happening can be understood as a type of event so where it’s seen happening somewhere else the same consequence can be expected from similar causation. Hume said we had no rational basis for that…

David Agopian: Excuse me Dr. Bahnsen can we have a question please for Dr. Stein.

Dr. Bahnsen: Yea I’m trying to setup the question.

David Agopian: Okay. Okay.

Dr. Bahnsen: Hume suggested that there was no rational basis for expecting the future to be like the past in which case science is based simply on convention or if you will habits of thought. Do you agree with Hume?

Dr. Stein: Not on this issue I don’t.

Dr. Bahnsen: Do you now have an answer for Hume?

Dr. Stein: I think he was wrong about that one thing. But he was also right about a lot of other things. Nobody’s perfect.

Dr. Bahnsen: What is the basis for the uniformity of nature?

Dr. Stein: I went through this but I’d be glad to reiterate it.

Dr. Bahnsen: Okay.

Dr. Stein: The uniformity of nature comes from the fact that matter has certain properties which it regularly exhibits. It’s part of the nature of matter. Electrons, oppositely charged things attract, the same charges repel. There are certain valances that can fill up the shell of an atom and that’s as far as it can combine.

Dr. Bahnsen: Do all electrons repel each other?

Dr. Stein: If they’re within a certain distance of each other, yes.

Dr. Bahnsen: Have you tested all electrons?

Dr. Stein: All electrons that have ever been tested repel each other. I have not tested all.

Dr. Bahnsen: Have you read all the tests on electrons?

Dr. Stein: Me personally or can I go on the witness of experts?

Dr. Bahnsen: Have you read all of the witnesses about electrons?

Dr. Stein: All it takes is one witness to say “no” and it would be on the front pages of every physics journal and there are none so therefore I would say yes in effect by default.

Dr. Bahnsen: Well, physicists have their presuppositions by which they exclude contrary evidence, too. But in other words you haven’t experienced all electrons but you would generalize that all electrons under certain conditions repeal each other?

Dr. Stein: Just statistically, on the basis of past observation.

Dr. Bahnsen: And we don’t know that it’s going to be that way ten minutes after this debate then?

Dr. Stein: No, but we see no evidence that it’s switched around either?

Paul Manata with Dan Barker on the Problem of Induction

Dan’s Opening Statement

In Dan Barker’s opening statement we responded to some of the comments Paul Manata made in his opening statement (although such a response should have been reserved for Dan’s rebuttal). Here’s what Dan said:

Logic and morality, the inductive, the problem, the so called problem of induction, these are false problems. These are phony problems.

You don’t have to define or give a source for these things any more than you have to give a source for digestion. Digestion is one of the ways that a stomach functions. First you have to have a stomach and the stomach functions. And one of the functions of the stomach is to digest food.

Digestion is not a thing out there that has to be justified for its existence. Digestion is just one of the things that a stomach does. Logic and reason and induction are not things that have to be justified or sources given for them. They are one, or some of the ways that an organ called the brain functions properly.

Even the simplest animals, at a simple level, at a primitive level are using logic and reason. As data comes into their brains they process that data and they make decisions based upon, you know, they’re not even conscious of it. We more conscious animals will sometimes formalize the logic and pretend like it’s a big subject, and it is, you know to formalize the steps of how you would go from A to B to C, and to specify that A is not not-A, you know, the excluded middle, all those things which is fun to do.

But logic and induction and reasoning itself don’t have to be justified. They don’t even have to be presupposed. They are not things that you presuppose. You don’t presuppose digestion. Digestion is the way the stomach works. So Paul is asking a non-question when he demands that we atheists somehow have to justify our presuppositions. In my book, I did not say that logic is a presupposition that atheists make. What I did say was that when we’re gonna solve an argument using logic we have to first examine the underlying assumptions.

Paul Cross-Examines Dan

Paul cross-examined Dan about the problem of induction. Here’s how that exchange went:

Manata: Are you familiar with the problem of induction?

Barker: Yes I am.

Manata: What is your secular answer for how you resolve the problem of induction?

Barker: By saying that the conclusions that we derive from induction are tentative, weak conclusions. They are much weaker than deductive conclusions. The concussions that we draw from induction are useful but not necessarily true. You can have an inductive conclusions that is false and in fact science has repeatedly come up with inductive conclusions that have turned out to be false. So I do not pretend that a conclusion based on induction is a solid fact.

Manata: Right but how do you justify the problem of induction. You said you’re familiar with the problem of induction. How do you justify… what’s your secular answer… was it, that it works?

Barker: Well, I just told you. It works enough. It doesn’t work perfectly. It is useful. It works, you know. That’s how we know that snakes don’t talk. We’ve never seen a snake that doesn’t [sic] talk. But if we do find a snake that talks. If we do find one in reality, then that tentative law by induction would have to go. We would have to adjust our thinking. Induction is not a very, I mean it’s useful but it’s not a very important logical principle.

Paul’s Rebuttal of Dan

When it was time for Paul’s rebuttal he addressed Dan’s solution for the problem of induction by pointing out three errors:

Lastly, induction. There are also many problems with Mr. Barker’s attempted resolution of the problem of induction. First, it’s a pragmatic justification and not an epistemic one. He said it just works. Secondly, the question is what justifies you proceeding upon the expectation that the future will resemble the past? To say it’s worked in the past and since it’s worked in the past I can assume, with probability, that it’ll work in the future, is to beg the question. Lastly, even Mr. Barker himself thanks that his secular answer doesn’t cut it. In Losing Faith in Faith on page 61 Mr. Barker relays a story by Mr. Bertrand Russell. Basically the story says that in the town of Changsha, China during a lunar eclipse blind men would beat gongs to frighten the heavenly dog who was attempting to swallow the moon. This practice has worked for thousands of years. The point is that just because something works does not mean it’s rational. Dan Barker’s basic justification for the problem of induction is basically beating a gong.

Solutions to the Problem of Induction

Think you can do better than Peter Atkins, Gordon Stein, or Dan Barker? You may want to think again.

The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy ends their section on the problem of induction this way:

None of the many suggestions is widely accepted as correct.[2]

This isn’t very encouraging. Do you know who’s tried to come up with a solution to the problem of induction? The list reads like an A & C Black list of philosophers: Karl Popper, Immanuel Kant, Rudolf Carnap, Hans Reichenbach, and Nelson Goodman.

You can read a detailed discussion of the various proposed solutions here[3] and here[4].

Suffice to say, Christians cite the unchanging nature of God as the reason why we can reliably expect the future to be like the past. To those who say this is a copout please feel free to present your own solution. If you don’t have a solution to offer please remain in your seat until the house lights come up.

Non-Christians have proposed many solutions none of which has the weight of the philosophical world behind it.

  1. Hume, David. “An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding.” Accessed December 09, 2015.  ↩
  2. Audi, Robert “Problem of Induction.” In The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy, 745–46. 2nd ed. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1995.  ↩
  3. Anderson, James N. “Secular Responses to the Problem of Induction.” Analogical Thoughts. Accessed December 09, 2015.  ↩
  4. Vickers, John. “The Problem of Induction.” Stanford University. November 15, 2006. Accessed December 09, 2015.  ↩
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Did Jesus Exist? Non-Christian Sources and Historical Jesus Studies (Video)


This blog is a transcript (not verbose) of the first session of Dr. Darrell Bock’s Credo Course, The Historical Jesus. You can buy the digital audio download for this course here.

Did Jesus Exist?

Welcome to this class on the historical Jesus. It’s my pleasure to be with you today and our goal is to walk you through a course on the historical Jesus, explain a little bit of its background where historical jesus studies came from, the roots of it, how it works, because it doesn’t work in a way that particularly many people in the church are used to. Is it born out of a skepticism? And then to deal with a look at particular key events, particularly through the lens of how a historical Jesus discussion might deal with it.

So to start to talk about the historical Jesus you’ve got to begin with asking a very basic question, “Did Jesus exist?”

And we start here because there are some people who claim that Jesus’ story is completely a myth, that he has no historical reality what so ever, and you see this popping up occasionally in the public square particularly around Christmas and Easter when we’re reminded of core Christian events such as the birth, and the death, and the resurrection of Jesus. And so this comes up sometimes as the idea that Jesus is a completely created, theological entity with no roots in history what so ever.

Non-Biblical Sources for the Existence of Jesus

A question I often like to ask my students is (I do this in entrance exams for doctoral studies occasionally), if I were to ask you to show me that Jesus existed and you could use the Bible, you couldn’t use the Old Testament, the New Testament, anything in between the testaments, nothing Christian, you can’t appeal to the Christian fathers, I’m taking away everything all at once, could you make a case for Jesus’ existence using non-biblical material?

And that’s where we’re going to start and that’s where we’re going to begin.


The first citation that tends to come up in relationship to Jesus’ existence is a citation from Josephus.


Josephus is a first-century Jewish historian who actually, originally was a general in terms of his function. He fought for Israel against Rome initially in a place called Gamla. If you go to Gamla today it’s remains are still there. It was never rebuilt after the Romans overran it in 67 A.D.

The breach in the wall that looks like a kind of cut out cannonball out of the side of the wall is still there. You can march in to the city through that wall, through the breach in the wall. And one of the few remaining evidences of a synagogue in the first-century exists there. It’s an interesting site.

It’s located kind of up on a hill with a plateau area all around it and then hills on the edges so militarily it is a wonderful pearch to see what’s going on in a large area of the region.

Well Josephus was the general who’s job it was to defend Gomla and he was eventually captured by the Romans. He predicted that Vespasian would become emperor. Kind of viewed as a prophecy, the emperor took it as a prophecy when he did become emperor and so he thought very positively of Josephus; if this guy could predict that I’m going to be come emperor then he must be an OK guy. He took him into his house and Josephus wrote various works in defense of Judaism in the face of Gentile skepticism about Jews. And among those works (he wrote four work) one of them is his life his biography which basically the theme was what a great guy I am. The second work is Against Apion. It’s a defense of Judaism in the face of Gentile skepticism. He wrote a work called The War which was a description of the events leading up to the war with Rome. An attempt to explain that this wasn’t the fault of all Jews but a particular sect of Jews that were responsible for the problem. And then Antiquities which is a history of Israel literally starting from Genesis 1 and going up to his own life.

Well in Antiquities book 18 unit 63 and 64 there’s a citation about Jesus and the moment I read it you will understand why it is that this text, even though it exists, has been disputed. Here’s what the text says as we currently have it:

At this time there appeared Jesus a wise man if indeed one should call him a man[…]

That’s the first hint that this text has been played with. Everyone agrees that what we have today is not exactly all that Josephus wrote because of some of these differences. The idea of “if indeed one should call him a man” suggests that he might not be just human.

Josephus was not a Messianic Jew. He was Jewish through and through. He never converted to Jesus. And so, as a result, we know that would be unlikely to write something like that last phrase.

Anyway, picking up the citation:

[…]for he was a doer of startling deeds[…]

We’ll come back to this when we discuss miracles.

[…]a teacher of people who received the truth with pleasure. And he gained a following both among many Jews and among many of Greek origin. He was the Messiah.

The second part of the citation we don’t think goes back to Josephus. Because it’s a confession that Jesus was the Messiah of Israel.

And when Pilot because of an accusation made by leading men among us condemned him to the cross those who had loved him previously did not cease to do so[…]

And then the third injection into the citation that we think we have is:

[…]for he appeared to them on the third day living again just as the divine prophets had spoken of these and countless other wondrous things about him.

You can almost hear the Messiah, Handel’s Messiah going off in the background as he cites this portion in fulfillment of the resurrection and a declaration of the resurrection. That doesn’t go back to Josephus.

And up until this very day the tribe of Christians named after him has not died out.

And that’s the end of the citation.

Well what does it tell us? Extracting out those portions, those three portions that are very unlikely to go back to Josephus, we think the citation very much does take the outline of what remains. Namely, that there was a recognition that Jesus was a teacher of wisdom, that he was a doer of unusual deeds that got him attention, that he produced in his wake followers from the Jews and the Gentiles, that Pilot and the leading Jews were responsible for his crucifixion, and finally that Christianity (and those who are called Christians) emerged from his presence in the world as a result.

So this is an extra biblical citation from a first-century Jewish figure from whom we know more about the history of Israel in the first-century than almost any other source that we have, and he in the midst of going through this chapter this book 18 is a discussion of various people who disturbed the peace in Judea during the time of Pilot’s rule among others. And Jesus is one of the people who’s mentioned in this section. So that’s one reason we think Jesus existed.


But the Jewish testimony to this idea is not the only citation that we have. We also have a citation from Tacitus.


Tacitus wrote in a work called The Annals the following description of Christians and in the midst of it eludes to Jesus. Here’s his citation:

They [that is the Christians] got their name from Christ who was executed by sentence of the procreator Pontius Pilate in the reign of Tiberius. That checked the pernicious superstition for a short time but it broke out afresh not only in Judea where the plague first arose but in Rome itself where all horrible and shameful things in the world collect and find a home.

Not exactly a ringing endorsement of Christianity or that which Jesus was responsible for founding. He calls Christianity a pernicious superstition. Whenever Romans didn’t like a particular religion they called it a superstition. He talks about it being a plague, he talks about Rome being the, how can I say this, the host of all kinds of horrible and shameful things. But in the midst of it all is the note that Christ was executed by the sentence of Pontius Pilate in the reign of Tiberius. This is exactly where the New Testament has Jesus as well.

So this is part of a large discussion about Christians and particularly the great fire of Rome which Nero blamed on the Christians. And he goes on in this citation actually to note the amount of sympathy that was created for Christians as a result of Nero’s blaming the great fire of Rome on them and the kind of persecution that he put them under as a result.

So that’s the second citation from Tacitus that’s a Roman historian of the early second-century.


The third piece of evidence that we have comes from Suetonius. I always liked the way the great pastor W.A. Criswell pronounced the name of this historian. He didn’t say Suetonius he said Sweeeee-tonius. That’s S-w-e-e-e-e-e-t-o-n-i-u-s.


Suetonius also was a Roman historian of the early second-century. This citation is also controversial. It’s debated because he doesn’t refer to Christ but to Crestus. And so the question is has Suetonius erroneously referred to Christ by messing up his name or is this someone else? And so that is discussed among classical scholars. Although many classical scholars do accept that this testimony does talk about Jesus. Here’s what the citation says it’s short:

He expelled the Jews from Rome on account of the riots in which they were constantly indulging at the instigation of Crestus.

Now this is a very indirect allusion. It actually tells us nothing about the life of Jesus if it goes back to him. It simply connects the disturbances in Rome probably between Jews and Christians to the presence of belief in Christ (assuming that Crestus equals Christ) and that’s really all that we get. So there’s not much here. And that’s why whether it actually refers to Christ or not in the end doesn’t matter all that much because it doesn’t tell us all that much other than to point to the origins of the Christian group in Rome going back to Christ.

So those are our three citations.

Why Accept the Entire Josephus Citation?

I want to come back to the Josephus citation because it is an important text and mention one reason why some people do think this is an authentic text as opposed to being a total insertion into the Antiquities. There’s an allusion and a discussion of Jesus being the Christ in the text and later on in the same book, in book 18 (not unit 63 and 64 but unit 200) Josephus again alludes back to the Christ when he discusses the death of James, Jesus’ familial brother (technically half-brother if you’re a member of the Christian faith and believe in the virgin birth).

The point is that Josephus alludes to James and then he talks about the brother of the so-called or alleged Christ. Now this is further on down and the argument is that the allusion to the so-called Christ seems to presuppose a previous discussion where the issue of the Christ was raised in one way or another.

And people think that in the earlier citation (in the one discussing Jesus) rather than Josephus saying something like he was the Christ (as we have it now) he probably said, alluded, to the fact that Jesus claimed to be the Christ or that people believed that he was the Christ, something like that. And it sets up this later citation and is a later allusion back to this text. So the idea is you wouldn’t have this almost throw away line related to the Messiah unless there was an earlier discussion in the book of the Messianic claims associated with Jesus.

So that kind of wraps up our discussion up into a kind of nice bow and suggests why it is that we think Josephus actually said this about Jesus.

So in pulling this all together here’s what we have

  • We have a citation from Josephus a Jewish historian of the early first-century that points to Jesus as a wise teacher, a doer of unusual deeds, executed under Pontius Pilate by pressure that came also from the Jewish leadership and the founder of a movement that became Christianity with Jews and Gentiles participating in it—really a pretty full outline of kind of the most core elements of the story of Jesus.
  • And then we have the citation of Tacitus confirming or corroborating the fact that Jesus died under Pontius Pilate during the time of Tiberius.

So here are our core reasons for thinking that Jesus existed. Most scholars, almost without exception, accept the fact that Jesus existed. You can’t explain, it would be hard to explain where the christian movement came from without some historical catalyst for the origins of that movement. The likelihood that he would be a complete fabrication is not very credible at all. So almost all historians of any stripe whatsoever recognize that Jesus existed and that this testimony testifies to his existence.

Origins of Historical Jesus Studies

Born Out of Skepticism

So with that assumption in place we can now begin to raise the question, “Well what about the historical Jesus?” Where did that come from? So let’s talk a little about where this category comes from and why it exists and what makes it important, because it is a very important questions to raise. In fact, some people who are Christians dismiss the entire discussion of historical Jesus studies with the claim—which is actually quite true—that the historical Jesus study, the entire operation, the entire effort, the complete agenda, was born in skepticism. And that’s absolutely correct.

The reason you discuss the historical Jesus is because people say “How can we know if the real Jesus did ‘x’ even though the Bible says it?” So it’s born in skepticism. It’s designed to ask the question, “How can we know what’s in the Bible is so?” That’s the question it’s designed to deal with. So it deals with doubts about the accounts. It deals with doubts about the sources. It’s born in a complete skepticism.

Now the reason historical Jesus studies is important is because if you have a conversation with someone who doubts the contents of the Bible and you say “The Bible says…” what they will say back to you is “Well that’s the question. The Bible may say it but did it happen?” And in a world of skepticism where the Bible is not viewed as the answer but where the Bible is in fact in question, knowing how to discuss and bring forward rationale and reasons for why you think what the Bible says is true is actually an important conversion to engage in even in the face of skepticism. So this makes moving into this area almost kind of necessary. Particularly if you’re dealing with people who have doubts.

Presuppostionalism vs Evidentialism

Now, a form of apologetics called presuppositionalism will say “No what you do is you continually simply challenge the presuppositions of someone who doubts the scripture and present the Bible as the Word of God being true because it comes from God.” And from one perspective you can see how that very logically follows. If the Bible is the Word of God it has the authority of God who can, you know, adjudicate God? No one can.

So at one level you can see how this would work. But the other reality is that when you’re having a discussion with someone for whom revelation may not being a warrant (it may not be a reason to believe because they don’t believe in a God of they don’t believe that there’s such a thing a revelation) what are the things that you’re going to put on the table for people to discuss and to consider in order that they might open themselves up to consider who Jesus is, what he did and what he said?

This other approach to apologetics, sometimes called evidentialism, has it’s limits (and we’re going to be talking about that) but it also has value it dealing with someone who’s coming from a more skeptical frame of mind by really trying to give them pause and get them to think about the reasons and rationale that anyone would use (in some cases without some presuppositions) to consider the evidence for who it is that Jesus represents, what it is that Jesus represents, and who it is that he is. Those kinds of things.

So the historical Jesus approach is a flawed approach but it’s a necessary approach. It has difficult origins from the standpoint of someone who has faith, but it also has necessary origins because it kind of pushes you to see what you can corroborate about Jesus on standards that anyone might be willing to deal with and accept. And that’s always valuable when you can accomplish that kind of a goal.

Are Historical Jesus Studies Inherently Blasphemous?

So the apologetics question that rotates around historical Jesus studies is the question of, you know, is there evidence that we can put forward, is there a reason or a set of rationales, that we can put forward for at least taking some aspects of what we see in the Bible about Jesus as being corroborated in some other ways and being reflected on in some other ways?

So if we ask the question, perhaps a little more controversially, is the historical Jesus method inherently blasphemous (or an offense to God) in one sense, theologically, we might say, well yes it undercuts the belief in the idea that he speaks, that he exists, that there is word that he has given to people. That certainly is a challenge to the biblical worldview.

But on the flip side God is gracious, he tends to meet us where we are and to approach us in light of who we are and sometimes he meets us in the midst of our doubts, and in the midst of doing that the role of evidence in dealing with the historical Jesus is a very very important kind of conversation to have about Jesus. And the fact is that the kind of fact checking (if you want to think of it that way) that the historical Jesus studies has often done has issued in observations and in some cases corrections of our view of Jesus and where it comes from that sometimes are very healthy as people have made the Bible in some cases overreach what it says about Jesus.

So this kind of study has a very positive spinoff as part of the process that tries to make sense out of Jesus in his historical context and his historical background. And as we move through and turn later on in the course to discussing particular events and looking where it fits culturally, politically, socially in terms of what Jesus did and why he did certain things those elements and observations of background often have come to us through the kind of study that historical Jesus studies has engendered and has resulted in a positive for us.

So Why Study the Historical Jesus?

So the short answer to the question, “Why study the historical Jesus?” you study the historical Jesus, in part, to deal with the skepticism that some people have, their inherit distrust of scripture and to begin to get them to think about maybe that scripture actually is telling us something that we need to know about history. And does it matter? It obviously does matter in that kind of a context because it offers us another way to have conversations about Jesus with people who may have questions about Jesus, may have heard skeptical things said about Jesus that kind of thing. And so we need to be aware of that.

Do Historical Jesus Studies Have Limitations?

Does historical Jesus studies have its limitations? Absolutely.

The process of doing history is about probability it’s not about certainty. And because you’re dealing with events that are so displaced and are unrepeatable (this is not like science where you can do an experiment and repeat things), and because you’re dealing with only a handful of sources of what originally existed, you’re always dealing with limitations when you work historically in trying to determine something. And you’re always making judgments about your sources, about the cultural context, about the conflicts that come up and arise as you study those sources that kind of thing. This is not a slam dunk category of discussion.

I find myself often reacting to some of the things Christians do popularly as a result of thinking about this for example there’s a very famous apologetics book, very well known, it goes back to Josh McDowell, it’s a book I benefited from when I was growing up in the Lord, it still has a lot of usefulness in it, but the title of it is Evidence That Demands A Verdict. And the “demand” part of that does too much with what historical evidence does. It isn’t evidence that demands a verdict it’s evidence that calls for a verdict. It’s evidence that suggests a verdict. It’s evidence that points in a certain direction. But it doesn’t demand a verdict.

There are all kinds of issues and objections that come up that if you answer in a certain kind of way the evidence may not come together in the way in which it’s often presented in the context of Christian apologetics. So we’ve got to recognize the limitations of what it is that historical Jesus studies gives to us. And those limitations are rooted in the historical reconstruction process that anyone goes through writing a history of any period particularly an ancient period where the artifacts or the remains what we have of that history are very piecemeal, we don’t have the recordings like we do today. You’ve got to remember that in the first-century you know there were no computers, there was no printing press, there was no Xerox machine. None of that existed. Everything that was done was either written down on things like papyri or was passed on orally until it was recorded in one form or another. And so our ability to dig back into the past is always piecemeal and has to be reconstructed.


So here’s what we’ve said in this first session. We have said that Jesus existed, that Josephus, Tacitus, and perhaps Suetonius give us evidence for Jesus’ existence in sources that have absolutely nothing to do with the Bible: a Jewish historian, a Roman historian, are the sources for those remarks. They place Jesus in the first century. They place Jesus in a time when Pontius Pilat ruled in Israel. They place Jesus in a time when Tiberius was emperor. They place Jesus in a setting which drew Jew and Gentiles to a message that he gave that was both teaching on the one hand and unusual events on the others. That’s the first thing that we said.

The second thing that we’ve said is this, that historical Jesus studies is necessary in a world that has skeptical questions about the Bible. Yes, it’s a challenge on scripture. Yes, it doesn’t reflect a theological worldview. Yes, it was born in skepticism. But there still is value in trying to get over the bar that skepticism sometimes sets and to make the case for at least the core elements of what is associated with Jesus. In fact, that’s one of the things we’re going to see is that historical Jesus studies has the potential to actually corroborate some of the core things that we see about Jesus from just the standard kinds of ways that people would argue for any kind of event. That’s a helpful thing to be able to do for someone who has questions about the sourcing and the history of the development of the gospels.

And the last thing that we’ve said is that the nature of the historical pursuit itself is a reconstructive exercise that’s rooted in probability not certainty. You’ve got to understand the kind of investigation you’re engaged in and the way in which it works. You’ve got to be aware of what it’s able to give you and what it’s limits are. And we will be talking about this dimension of history as we talk about the historical Jesus all the way through the introductory part of the course as we’re setting up our discussion of how we’re going to look at the events of the life of Jesus.


You can read the first quote from Josephus here and the second quote here.

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A Primer on Knowledge? Rationalism vs Empiricism

The Consituents of Knowledge

Humans are knowing creatures. Our mental capabilities are vital to our existence and full of amazing possibilities. Our ability to expand our knowledge spurs science, culture, and religion forward. But how do we know what we know? Maybe we should back up a little. What is knowledge? How do we grow what we know? Can we justify what we know to others? Knowledge—what seems to be a basic feature of everyday life—is a complex subject.

What Is Epistemology?

All these inquiries fall under the philosophical branch of study called epistemology. The word epistemology is an English word derived from two Greek words:

  • Episteme (knowledge or understanding)
  • Logos (the study of)

In short, epistemology is the study of knowledge.[1] Philosophers know it as the “study of the theory of knowledge.” We’ll look at a brief historical overview of the philosophical category of epistemology. Our special focus will be the differences between rationalism and empiricism.

What is Knowledge?

Knowledge is “justified true belief.” It’s been the accepted definition for centuries and it’s the one I’ll be using.[2] Defining one’s terms is easy to neglect, but it’s integral to the philosophical process. More ink has been spilled over definitions than you’d imagine. So let’s take care of this important matter. Knowledge is “justified true belief.” This definition has three parts:

  • Belief – You must believe something in order for to have knowledge. You cannot know something is you don’t believe it.
  • Truth – The thing you believe must correspond to reality. You cannot know something that is false.
  • Justification – You need a reason for your belief. This is why guessing the number of M&Ms in a carnival game (it’s 527 by the way) by chance is called “luck.” You cannot “luck” into knowledge.

The Consituents of Knowledge

You need all three to have knowledge. If you only have two out of three you get one of the following:

  • Belief + Truth = Something you believe, that’s also true, but for which you lack any justification. Some might call this blind faith.
  • Belief + Justification = Something you believe but are wrong about.
  • Truth + Justification = Something you should believe but don’t.

3 Kinds of Knowledge

Philosophers have categorized knowledge into three different and unique groups:[3]

Acquaintance Knowledge (Who)

The knowledge of a person through being in some sort of relationship to them. Sometime called intimate knowledge.

Competence Knowledge (How)

The knowledge of a skill or ability. For example, knowing how to play an instrument or a sport. It’s a knowledge gained through repetition and the development of muscle memory.

Propositional Knowledge (What)

The knowledge of facts or propositions gained through study or observation.

Putting It All Together

What’s it like to have one kind of knowledge but not another about a topic? Imagine I knew every fact (proposition) about you mother: height, favorite movie, age, etc. My knowledge would still be qualitatively different from yours. You know her (acquaintance knowledge). I just know about her. The same goes for competence knowledge. You can tell me all the facts about how to play the trumpet, but I won’t be able to play it well without practice and repetition.

The Acquisition and Justification of Propositional Knowledge

The only kind of knowledge debated by philosophers is propositional knowledge. The two major schools of thought that have been duking it out for centuries are:

  • Rationalism (Represented by Plato)
  • Empiricism (Represented by Aristotle)

The other minor schools of thought are just variations of these two. I consider myself a rationalist and utterly detest empiricism. Nonetheless I’ll try to give you an accurate account of both.

Plato and the Rationalist School

Plato believed that humans participated in two spheres of existence:

  • The world of the forms (pure being)
  • The world of particular things (becoming)

The world of the forms is an unchanging immaterial world of pure being. The world of particular things is the material, constantly changing world we’re all familiar with. Plato got these ideas from two philosophers before him, Heraclitus and Parmenides.[4]
For Heraclitus, ultimate reality is in a state of flux; it’s always changing or becoming. He said that you can never step in the same river twice. If you remove your foot from the river and then put it back, all the molecules have moved and it is, in a sense, a different river.[5]

Parmenides, on the other hand, believed that all of reality is pure being. He realized that there are such things as universal, unchanging principles. For example, one plus one equals two.

Plato saw the elements of truth in both perspectives. Instead of picking one over the other, he synthesized them into his doctrine of the two worlds. Plato agreed with Parmenides that there are unchanging principles. Plato calls these unchanging principles the “forms.” Plato relegated the forms to another world because he agreed with Heraclitus that the world we experience is always changing. Thus Plato divides the universe into two categories:

  • Forms (essences)
  • Particulars (individual examples of forms)

Plato taught that every particular thing represents an essence. For example, if you draw a square your drawing would be a particular square and not the essential or perfect square. Your particular square is representing the idea (form) of the perfect square.

Plato applied this dualism to mankind saying that the human being is composed of body and soul. The body is participating in the world of becoming by getting older and changing in appearance. The soul is participating in the world of the forms through immortality and reason. Plato did this because he noticed that humans are capable of interacting with the forms through reason. He attributed this ability to the reality of innate ideas.[6]

Innate Ideas

Innate ideas are a form of knowledge that the mind contains prior to experience and birth. For Plato, innate knowledge is knowledge of the forms. Plato explained the existence of innate ideas with that of the preexistence of the soul. The only way that one could have knowledge of the forms at birth is if the person’s soul existed in the world of the forms prior to birth.[7] For Plato knowledge in this life is not a process of acquisition but of remembrance.

The World of Particulars Is Structured on the World of the Forms

Plato contends that the world of particular things is structured off off the world of the forms. This means that the mind is capable of understanding things about the external world (the world outside one’s own mind) because it’s conscious of the structure that the world it’s founded upon. This is essentially what it means to be rationalist; it is to believe that the world and the mind share the same structure. This is what makes knowledge possible. For the rationalist, reason is both a reliable and primary guide for grounding knowledge.

Aristotle and the Empiricist School

Aristotle was Plato’s student. He knew all about Plato’s doctrine of the two worlds, but rejected it. Although he believed in universals (forms), he denied the preexistence of the soul as being necessary to explain how we know about them. Aristotle said we become conscious of universals the other way around. Rather than starting with innate ideas we start with particulars and work our way up. This is because Aristotle believed that universals or the forms are not innate knowledge.[8]
Aristotle said we’re all born as blank slates. We acquire knowledge through our experience of particulars. We then universalize these experiences and apply them to new experiences.[9]
Consider the idea of similarity. Things that are similar share certain characteristics. Remember the game “Which of these does not belong?” You won by picking item doesn’t share the characteristic the others do. Care to play? Which of the following does not belong:

  • Bat
  • Penguin
  • Crow
  • Sparrow

If you answered “Bat” congratulations! Bats are mammals the rest are birds. Bird-ness is what all the members of the list above share (their similarity) except for the bat. We learn what bird-ness is by experiencing particular birds. This is what it means to be an empiricist; we gain knowledge through experience. For an empiricist, experience is the grounding principle of knowledge.

And the Winner Is…

In conclusion, as tempting as empiricism may appear, it has significant problems. How can the idea of similarity even get off the ground if we didn’t have some notion of it to begin with? This goes for the idea of equality, dissimilarity, and sameness as well. If it’s true that we’re born with no innate knowledge how could we come to any conclusions at all? We couldn’t. Empiricism destroys knowledge. We’d be a bundle of perceived particulars we couldn’t do anything with. We’d be like the beasts driven by instinct. Or we might be like a tree having life but no discernible consciousness. If empiricism destroys our foundation for knowledge then it is demonstrably inferior to rationalism.

Rationalism Works

Furthermore, rationalism works. We can apply universal principles to the external world (the world outside our own minds) successfully. Engineers do this every day. They draw their reason on paper. When followed, reason produces stable buildings. This implies that reality has a structure complementary to the human mind. But how could this be? Was Plato right? Is there a world of forms that serves as the foundation for the world of particular things?

Rationalism, Plato’s Forms, and God’s Aseity

Since we just finished beating up empiricism you may be tempted to say “yes.”. Not so fast. There’s one more qualification we need to make. In the Christian worldview God is the only entity which has the characteristic of aseity. Aseity is complete independence.[10] The forms are not completely independent, but rather find their origin in the mind of God which St. Augustine pointed out.[11]

Because we’re created in God’s image we have these principles implanted in our consciousness. This makes the whole knowing enterprise possible. It also explains why rationalism works. The external world is intelligible because a supremely intelligent God created it.

Christian rationalism is superior to empiricism because:

  • It has the most explanatory power.
  • It does not share the weaknesses of empiricism.
  • It’s faithful to the Bible.
  • It works in the real world.

So there you have it, an overview of the differences between rationalism and empiricism.

Christian Apologetics by Douglas Groothuis

  1. Lawhead, William F. The Philosophical Journey: An Interactive Approach. Mountain View, CA: Mayfield Pub., 2000. 52. Print. ↩
  2. Lawhead, William F. The Philosophical Journey: An Interactive Approach. Mountain View, CA: Mayfield Pub., 2000. 53. Print. ↩
  3. Lawhead, William F. The Philosophical Journey: An Interactive Approach. Mountain View, CA: Mayfield Pub., 2000. 52. Print. ↩
  4. Nash, Ronald H. “History of Philosophy and Christian Thought: Early Greek Philosophers.” Apple (audio blog), November 9, 2010. ↩
  5. Nash, Ronald H. “History of Philosophy and Christian Thought: Early Greek Philosophers.” Apple (audio blog), November 9, 2010. ↩
  6. Nash, Ronald H. “History of Philosophy and Christian Thought: The Essence of Plato’s Philosophy.” Apple (audio blog) ↩
  7. Botton, Alain De, Benjamin Jowett, and M. J. Knight. The Essential Plato. New York: Quality Paperback Book Club, 1999. 616-17. ↩
  8. Nash, Ronald H. “History of Philosophy and Christian Thought: Aristotle and Dualism.” Apple (audio blog) ↩
  9. Lawhead, William F. The Philosophical Journey: An Interactive Approach. Mountain View, CA: Mayfield Pub., 2000. 91. Print. ↩
  10. Robert Audi ed., The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy. 2nd ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999. 240. ↩
  11. Nash, Ronald H. “History of Philosophy and Christian Thought: Augustine” Apple (audio blog) ↩
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The Ad Hominem Fallacy (3 Flavors) and Ridicule in the Bible

The Ad Hominem Logical Fallacy

The ad hominem fallacy is common and commonly misunderstood.

Logical fallacies fall into two camps: formal and informal. Formal fallacies are so severe that they render an argument useless. Informal fallacies merely weaken an argument. [Suggested Reading: The Straw Man Fallacy and the Nature of God] The ad hominem fallacy is an informal logical fallacy. If you’d like to commit the ad hominem fallacy, simply follow these steps:

  1. Ignore the argument.
  2. Attack the arguer instead.
  3. Make the arguer look bad.
  4. Claim victory over the argument.
  5. Do a victory dance.

That last step is optional. The essential element is that you attack the argument rather than the arguer but then claim victory of the argument anyway. You hope the audience will mentally transfer their dislike of the arguer to the argument.

If you attack your opponent before they present an argument in hopes of discrediting them right away, you’ve committed the fallacy of “poisoning the well” (a topic for a future blog post perhaps).

The ad hominem fallacy misses the point. The arguer may be an angle or a demon (metaphorically). Yet the truth value of their premises and connection of premises to conclusion are still the point.

The Ad Hominem Logical Fallacy

The ad hominem fallacy comes in three basic flavors:

Ad Hominem: Abusive

The abusive form of the ad hominem fallacy is probably the most common.

Arguer: Dr. Milton Friedman was in favor of legalizing powerful drugs. But Dr. Friedman was a noted libertarian bordering on anarchist and had a deep dislike for government. Therefore, his opinions about legalizing drugs should be ignored.

Do you see what happened? The arguer failed to address any arguments. Instead, they said something they perceived as negative about Dr. Friedman; he was a libertarian and had a deep dislike for government. Why doesn’t this work? Let’s consider a humorous example. What if  Dr. Friedman argued that the earth revolves around the sun (which indeed it does)? Should we ignore that as well because of the nasty things said of him? The truth value of whether or not the earth revolves around the sun is independent of Dr. Friedman’s political views.

Ad Hominem: Circumstantial

The circumstantial form of the ad hominem fallacy is also very common. The difference between this form and the abusive form is that the this form seeks to cast doubt on the argument because of some circumstance related to the arguer.

Arguer: Sam the grocer says that we shouldn’t allow the big box retail store to move into town because they don’t pay their workers well. But Sam owns a small business that would be directly impacted by the big box store. Sam’s argument is obviously bogus.

This one sounds a little better than the abusive version because it isn’t so blatantly misdirected. In addition, if the circumstances the arguer points out are true, the ad hominem circumstantial may be persuasive. However, even if the arguer is right about Sam’s circumstances, Sam may be right; the big box retail store may not pay their employees well (whatever “well” means). Because the ad hominem circumstantial doesn’t deal with the truth of the actual argument, it’s fallacious.

Ad Hominem: Tu Quoque

The tu quoque version of the ad hominem fallacy occurs when someone accuses the arguer of doing the very thing they’re arguing against. Here’s an example centered around the issue of healthy eating.

Arguer: Tim says that because the Bible says our bodies are the temple of God, we should eat the right kinds of foods and get plenty of exercise. But Tim eats junk food all the time! Clearly, Tim doesn’t know what he’s talking about, and it doesn’t make much difference whether I eat healthy or not.

The tu quoque version of the ad hominem can often be observed between parents and children. The child rejects the advice from the parent about not smoking because, after all, the parent smokes like a train. Monkey see, monkey do.

Is the parent wrong because they don’t “practice what they preach”? Is smoking good for your health? The impact on one’s health from smoking is independent of whether or not the person giving the advice smokes. Similarly, an overweight person may give great dieting advice, but not apply that advice themselves.

What the Ad Hominem Fallacy Is Not

Calling someone a name or insulting them is not sufficient to say that someone has committed the ad hominem fallacy. It must be coupled with the assertion or at least implication that because of these negative things you’ve said, the argument itself is disproven.

Dr. William Lane Craig dealt with this confusion when he was accused by a questioner of having committed the ad hominem fallacy.

Video Transcript

Questioner: […] that we wouldn’t hear ad hominems or attacks from your position or your side. I did want to bring this to your attention and get your response. After the panel that you appeared on with the late Christopher Hitchens, you referred to him in an interview with Christian radio as quote (and this is on YouTube), “Wesley, oily, and lacking in intellectual substance.” You then referred to, in your debate with Richard Carrier while he was there, to him as a “hack.” You also referred to fans of Richard Dawkins in an interview (and this is also on YouTube), “Dawkins is so popular because he, because people are so unsophisticated, inept, sophomoric, they cannot think logically, uninformed, silly, ignorant, and the result (and this is your words) of an educational system that has been dumbed down.” Mr. Craig, quite frankly, is this hypocrisy or is this just a glimpse of the real William Lane Craig?

William Lane Craig: Well I think it’s a glimpse of the real William Lane Craig.

QuestionerApparently they appreciate ad hominem too.

William Lane Craig: No. No. Well, I don’t know that. Maybe it’s important to describe what an ad hominem is. That means literally “against the man.” And what an ad hominem argument would be is that the reason you reject his conclusion is because you attack his person. Maybe like attacking me for these aspersion–now wait now, let, let me finish–it would be like saying that my conclusions are wrong because I’ve said all of these nasty things. See that would be an ad hominem argument. But in none of these cases that you’ve quoted where you’ve compiled words—not strung together at once but you’ve put them together—in none of these cases, I think, will you find that I ever reject a person’s argument or conclusions on that basis. Rather these were probably said in response to questions like tonight where I said some pretty negative things about folks rejecting God for emotional reasons rather than intellectual reasons. And I would certainly reiterate what I said about the lack of sophistication and the dumbed down educational system. But in no case is this committing an ad hominem fallacy where I say that their conclusions are wrong because of those things. I’m just… I’ve been asked to characterize certain things as I was tonight, and I’ve given my honest characterization that I would stand by. I mean I think it is, it is true all of those things that I said. But it’s not an ad hominem fallacy. At most it would be impolite maybe. You could indict me for being impolite.

Questioner: Thank you very much. I appreciate that.

Someone may say, “You’re ugly.” That’s not an ad hominem. If they say, “You’re ugly, therefore your argument is false,” they’ve then committed the ad hominem fallacy (specifically of the abusive variety).

Ridicule and Mockery in the Bible

Believe it or not, the Bible does include ridicule, insults, and mockery. But I couldn’t find any examples of an ad hominem being endorsed in the Bible. Some may claim that Christians should go one step further and not even use strong language, insults, cutting rhetorical questions, etc. when interacting with others. Here are four scriptural examples of what some may think is too harsh:

Psalm 14:1 The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds, there is none who does good.

I Kings 18:27 And at noon Elijah mocked them, saying, “Cry aloud, for he is a god. Either he is musing, or he is relieving himself, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened.”

I Corinthians 1:20 Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?

Galatians 5:12 I wish those who unsettle you would emasculate themselves!

These biblical references can serve as examples of how Christians may interact. Surely, our speech must always be kind, gentle, and aimed at producing love. However, it’s fallacious (specifically the fallacy of equivocation) to make “kind, gentle, and loving” identical to “not cutting.” We must also recognize that before we can love our fellow man, we must first and foremost love God. Certainly, those religious leaders Jesus and his disciples opposed would not have considered them to be loving or gentle. Condemnation of sin is often confused with condemnation of the sinner.

Christians must never knowingly engage in ad hominem arguments. It insults the image of God in your opponent, disrespects your own God given dignity, and is a poor representation to anyone listening of the intellectual rigor Christianity has to offer.

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