Revisiting the Corruption of the New Testament: Manuscript, Patristic, and Apocryphal Evidence

Daniel B. Wallace, editor Kregel Academic & Professional, Grand Rapids October 1, 2011
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This is the inaugural volume in the Text and Canon of the New Testament series. This series is devoted to exploring two important questions about textual criticism and canon. First, although the original New Testament manuscripts are not available, can one discover, by analyzing the extant manuscripts, what the original New Testament text said? Second (and assuming the Old Testament), are the twenty-seven books of the New Testament the complete and authoritative Scriptures?

This volume is devoted to textual criticism and attempts to determine “how badly the scribes, who copied their exemplars by hand, corrupted the text” (p. 9). It is essentially a response to Bart Ehrman’s thesis that orthodox scribes purposely changed (corrupted) the text to bring it in line with the beliefs of emerging orthodoxy (as raised in The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993] and Misquoting Jesus [San Francisco: HarperOne, 2005]).

The first of six articles by Daniel B. Wallace is “Lost in Transmission: How Badly Did the Scribes Corrupt the New Testament Text?” In answer to this question Wallace writes, “I do not believe that orthodox corruptions are nearly as persuasive or as significant as Ehrman does” (p. 54). In addition to challenging Ehrman’s method and conclusions, this chapter introduces the overall status of the New Testament text. Wallace discusses method, scribal habits, variants, and so forth. He deals with the evidence available for the New Testament and provides a comprehensive overview of data that will help readers understand both the issues and implications of the evidence. He does not shy away from difficulties but rather faces these head on. For example, Wallace correctly notes that there are between 300,000 and 400,000 variants among the many extant New Testament manuscripts (p. 20). But he observes, “The vast bulk of these differences affect virtually nothing” (p. 20; most are spelling differences), and he discusses the reliability of the New Testament text in light of the paucity of manuscripts of other ancient works.

The remaining five articles were written by past interns of Wallace’s while they were studying for their Th.M. degrees. These are more specific and focus on individual issues. In “The Least Orthodox Reading Is to Be Preferred: A New Canon for New Testament Textual Criticism?” Philip M. Miller challenges an aspect of Ehrman’s method that casts suspicion on so-called orthodox readings against nonorthodox readings. In “The Legacy of a Letter: Sabellianism or Scribal Blunder in John 1:1c,” Matthew P. Morgan explores historical probabilities and examines two manuscripts that include the article before “God” in John 1:1c and concludes that the article is not original and that there is no sound evidence here for an original Sabellian Christology that would suggest the Father and the Son are interchangeable. In “Patristic Theology and Recension in Matthew 24.36: An Evaluation of Ehrman’s Text-Critical Methodology,” Adam G. Messer challenges Ehrman’s method by arguing that the text of Matthew 24:36 was not changed by orthodox scribes to better support their Christology. Tim Ricchuiti explores the transmission process in post-New Testament literature with a focus on the Gospel of Thomas (“Tracking Thomas: A Text-Critical Look at the Transmission of the Gospel of Thomas”). He provides a detailed analysis of the Greek fragments with the complete Coptic manuscript found at Nag Hammadi and suggests that the scribes’ habits were similar to those of the scribes of biblical manuscripts and that the Greek generally represents an earlier form of the text. In “Jesus as QEOS: A Textual Examination” Brian J. Wright examines biblical texts and variants, and he concludes that Jesus has indeed been called “God” from the earliest Christian tradition.

These articles are well researched and clearly argued. Packed with information, they are not always easy reading. Yet motivated students of God’s Word should be able to work through them successfully.

The book is irenic in tone, and it gives Ehrman’s view a fair hearing by focusing on particular issues and avoiding ad hominem attacks. It engages and participates in a dialogue with the best of scholarship. The book shows that the evangelical position is defensible and even probable. Not all skeptics will be convinced; however, believers can be confident that their position is credible and must be considered.

This is a welcome volume from a timely series. The next volume will be devoted to the subject of the canon, and a future volume may discuss the authenticity and canonicity of 2 Peter.

—Joseph D. Fantin

July 1, 2013
 

Biblotheca Sacra

This review appeared in the Jul-Sep 2013 vol. 170 no. 3 issue of Biblotheca Sacra, DTS’s quarterly academic journal.

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