Tuesday, March 06, 2007

More on the Jesus Tomb...

So I have officially seen the docu-drama myself now (I saw it when it originally aired on Sunday night, but this is the first opportunity I've gotten to write about it). I also feel like I've been "tested by fire". I spent my lunch hour on Monday with a bunch of co-workers, including some very devout Jews who, needless to say, do not accept Jesus as Messiah, one of which was absolutely convinced that this was indeed Jesus' tomb. These people are my friends, but we definitely had an interesting dialogue about how much could really be concluded from this so-called evidence.

If you did see the show, I hope you also watched the Ted Koppel interview afterwards. I'm not sure if they are reshowing this part along with the main docu-drama every time the show it or not. I hope so. If you have the opportunity to watch the Ted Koppel portion, I encourage you to do so, because he illustrates a number of problems. Now moving on to my comments:

A lot of what needs to be said about this documentary I already said in my original post. But upon watching it, there were a few more things I wanted to point out. First, for anyone who watched it, quick, off the top of your head tell me even one piece of evidence they gave that this was actually a family tomb...

You may have guessed it already, but they did not provide ANY evidence that this was a family tomb. They just assumed it at the get go. But it's like a stack of cards. The fact that it is a family tomb is the card supporting the entire rest of the structure. For example, what is the significance of having two people in a tomb whose DNA does NOT match if it is not a family tomb? The producers of this show conclude that they must have been married. But if it wasn't a family tomb to begin with, how can you conclude that they were married if there's no reason to believe they were related to begin with? In other words, they start out by ASSUMING its a family tomb without evidence, then later on conclude, "Well, since we KNOW its a family tomb, these people without matching DNA must have been married." All of their conclusions are dependent upon their starting premise, but they have no evidence for that starting premise. Remove it, and the entire stack of cards falls.

Also, I did not realize when I wrote my last post just how weak the DNA evidence was. All the showed was that these two people did not have the same MOTHER. They could have had the same father. They could have been cousins. They could have been mother/son or father/daughter. In short, they proved virtually nothing.

My wife brought up another good point while we were watching the show. Jesus had a brother named Joseph. Let's assume for the sake of argument that this was Jesus' family tomb. How do we know the "Joseph" in "Jesus, son of Joseph" was Jesus' father and not His brother? Its not exactly beyond the realm of possibility that Joseph would name his son after his brother. And speaking of Jesus' father, where was he? This was a patriarchal society. The producers claimed that Joseph died in Nazareth and was buried there. But if that is true (which, by the way I believe it probably is), it is absolutely inconceivable in this type of society that the rest of the family would have left their father's bones all the way up in Nazareth and completely abandoned him, choosing to buy a family tomb a great distance away and all be buried without him.

Anyone who has read much of my writings also has probably caught in that I like to point out contradictions in someone's argument, and this show was no exception. Did you notice what they first said when discussing the "ornamentation" on the outside of the tomb (i.e., the chevron and the circle)? They said that this is rare, and the fact that they decorated the outside of the tomb tends to suggest that they felt it was someone important inside. Now what about their discussion of Caiaphas' ossuary? Do you remember what it looked like? It was HIGHLY ornamented. This, of course, was because he was the High Priest and was considered to be someone important. How did this compare to the Jesus ossuary? The Jesus ossuary was not decorated at all. In fact, they described the writing on it as "graffiti". It was sloppy! Is this consistent with someone who was held in such high regard? So we are supposed to believe that they decorated the outside of the tomb because he was so imporant, but couldn't even put forth the effort to write cleanly when inscribing his name. Is ornamentation an indicator of social importance or not? You can't have it both ways.

Something that was touched on in the Ted Koppel interview was the so-called "missing ossuary." The producers of the show want you to believe it was the ossuary marked "James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus." So let's assume for the moment that it was. At the beginning of the show they said that there were 10 ossuaries in the tomb. 6 had inscriptions, 4 did not. Let's count up the names they found on them: (1) Jesus, (2) Marianme (the one they claim to be Mary Magdalene), (3) Mary (supposedly Jesus' mother), (4) Matthew, (5) Jose, and (6) Judah. Wait a minute! That's all six! That means that the other four were unmarked, and whichever one went missing had to be one of those four. In fact, the archaeologist who removed them from the tomb confirmed that the one that subsequently went missing bore no inscription. So even if this "James" ossuary was the missing one, that means that at the time it was in the tomb it had no inscription. In other words, the inscription is a forgery. What a surprise, that's exactly one of the allegations that had been made about it long before this Discovery Channel show ever came out.

My last point deals with Marianme. They claim this is Mary Magdalene because it is supposedly a rare form of the name "Mary", and this is how Mary Magdalene is referred to in the Gospel of Philip. Of course, in the Ted Koppel portion, one of the theologians pointed out that the Gospel of Philip was from the FOURTH CENTURY, hundreds of years after Mary Magdalene was alive. In response, the consultant on the show (whose name I unfortunately cannot remember) said that the earliest transcript he was aware of that used this name for Mary Magdalene was from the second century. Simcha Jacobovici, the investigative journalist behind this whole thing, commented that his father's name didn't change 100 years after he died, so he assumes that if that's how Mary Magdalene was referred to 100 years later, then that was her name 100 years earlier. So what is the problem with this? How do we know about Mary Magdalene in the first place? Because she is mentioned in the canonical Gospels, all of which are FIRST Century documents. It doesn't take a Greek scholar to figure out that if the first reference to Mary Magdalene as "Marianme" is in the second century, that means that she was NOT referred to this way in the first century canonical gospels! So the earliest reference to her do NOT use this name for her!

I could go on and on with the enormous number of problems with this show, but then this would turn into a book rather than a post on the blog. I think enough has been said, and frankly there are so many other people blasting gaping holes in this theory, I think the cat is out of the bag, so to speak. It was an entertaining piece of fiction, but it was fiction nonetheless.

God bless.


Seven Star Hand said...

Christians again prove many are unabashed enemies of the truth

Hello all,

By the way, there is absolutely no proof whatsoever that the Gospels are first century. There are no dated manuscripts of that age, except the Dead Sea Scrolls. Why are Christians so easily duped into supporting easily disproven lies?

After finally watching the Jesus Tomb documentary and the hour of critical look "debates" following it, I am left with the sad conclusion that a large percentage of Christians will always oppose the truth, regardless of how it is presented. It has been amazing to watch people who regularly oppose critical thought and science hypocritically assert that critical thought and science supports so-called "biblical evidence" in their efforts to debunk this archeological find and associated theories.

Reflect upon the fact that Christian leaders are howling about the truth of this archaeological find and associated theories, but are steadfastly and unabashedly opposed to having to prove the truth about the many dubious assertions and contradictions throughout the New Testament and Christianity. Many of these same people have the gall to complain about "theatrics" used to present these findings, as if Christianity has never turned a profit or stooped to even slicker and far more dubious methods pushing their stories and historical interpretations. It is rank hypocrisy for Christians to attack the presentation of this documentary as unbalanced when Christian history and current activities fall far short of what they are demanding in this situation. People who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones, because what goes around comes around.

Read More ...

Here is Wisdom !!

Ten Minas Ministries said...

I can only assume from your comments that you are not aware of the significant portions of the Gospel of John that were found in Africa that have been carbon dated to 125 AD. This wasn't exactly an era of mass transit or online publishing. Documents took a significant amount of time to be copied (it had to be done by hand) and distributed throughout the lands. But this one text alone shows that by 125 AD, the Gospel of John was being widely disseminated and had reached as far as Africa.

Now unless you are prepared to argue that either (1) this is the original text, and it was actually written in Africa, which makes no sense given the text of the book (it clearly was not written primarily to the people of Africa who were not Jewish), or (2) admit that this was a copy, but argue that we just happened to get lucky and find the earliest copy of John, there were absolutely no copies made before this one, and this earliest copy was copied quickly and rushed over from the Holy Land, Patmos, or wherever it was written, to Africa in what would have been the equivalent of that day's FedEx, it seems pretty likely that John was written in the first century.

Your comments actually illustrate a point I have made before, and that is the double standard that is typically set up for Christianity. We have copies of the gospels dating far closer to their original writing than any other ancient texts, yet no one doubts the original dates of those other texts. But unless they have a copy of the gospels carbon dated to the same date as the originals, critics will not be satisfied, regardless of how unlikely their conclusions are or the double standard they set.

There is plenty of evidence that the gospels are first century writings, ranging from dating techniques as I described for John, to the texts themselves and historical things they mention (or more importantly, DON'T mention, like the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD even though they contain specific prophecies of this event by Jesus; why wouldn't they have mentioned its fulfillment?).

I would also point out that at least in your post here you did not respond to any of the problems I pointed out about this documentary. I don't know if you did elsewhere (I don't have time at the moment to read what is at your links). It is very easy to claim that someone is ignoring the evidence. But in order to be convincing, you have to provide something to back your statement up.

Thank you for your comments.

Ten Minas Ministries said...

Just a warning to all Christians who may read these comments. Since my last post I have followed "Seven Star Hand's" links and read them. And while I am correct that he never addresses any of the points I made, I came across a more disturbing discovery. Mr. Hand believes he is the messiah. Here we have another false Christ as we have been warned about by our true Lord Jesus. Just an alert to anyone who may be tempted by him.

DagoodS said...

Ten Minas Ministries,

Can you point out where I can find the results of carbon dating on NT Manuscripts? Last I knew--no such testing had ever been done. (On the DSS, yes, but not NT Manuscripts.)

I am also curious as to what you consider “significant” when you say that “significant portions of the Gospel of John” were found.


David B. Ellis said...

First, I'd like to say that I totally agree that the claim that this tomb is that of Jesus or his family is utterly far-fetched.

But one comment of yours I think needs to be disputed:

Finally, what are the implications if this is a family tomb? Basically, Mr. Cameron's show would be insinuating that Jesus' family and/or followers let His body decompose for a year, took the bones, put them in a bone box, placed the bone box in a tomb, THEN WENT AROUND TELLING EVERYONE THAT JESUS ROSE FROM THE DEAD IN BODILY FORM, ASCENEDED INTO HEAVEN, AND THEY DIED BRUTALLY RATHER THAN TELL THE TRUTH THAT HIS BONES WERE ACTUALLY SITTING IN A BONE BOX! Does this make sense?

I find this sort of "why would they die for a lie" argument extremely weak.

First is the fact that its rather difficult to be certain that anyone who would have known Jesus didn't rise from the dead actually died as a result of that claim.

But far more important is a far more recent case, that of Mormonism, whose founder, despite being a complete fraud, died for his faith. The simple fact is that when people decide to kill those they consider cult leaders/members they rarely give them the opportunity to recant.

So, clearly, someone who is knowingly perpetrating a religious fraud CAN be martyred.

Ten Minas Ministries said...

Sorry guys, but I'm at T-minus 2 months before our new child is born, so I'm caught up in all sorts of frantic activities and I haven't had time to respond. The good news is that my schedule of medical appointments should be lightening up, so hopefully that will give me a bit more time. However, I will unfortunately have to give you very short responses today.

My apologies. I was confusing the John portions with a copy of the Gospel of Judas (I believe it was Judas, it was one of the gnostic gospels) which was carbon dated. The portions of John I was referring to was dated through the writing style/linguistics, etc. By that method it was dated between 50 and 150 AD, but it is generally conceded that the content could not have been written much before 100 AD, which leaves us with approximately a 50 year window, hence the 125 AD approximate date.

As for "significant", I use that term in a similar manner as "statistically significant." There was enough of the text to positively identify it as the Gospel of John (it was essentially substantial portions of chapter 18 as I recall). I did not mean to suggest that a majority of the text was recovered, and if I came across that way, I apologize.

Mr. Ellis,

We do have documentary evidence that the apostles were going around telling everyone about Christ, and non-Christian references to the religious persecution against Christians (as well as any unpopular religious belief for that matter), and quite often the entire purpose for the executions was people's religious beliefs and they were afforded the opportunity to recant. I do not mean to say that they were necessarily asked at the last minute, before being nailed to the cross, if they would recant. But they were often imprisoned ahead of time for their beliefs (I believe, again off the top of my head because I don't have time now to look everything up, that we have evidence of this for Paul, for example), and could recant during that time period.

So I would agree that someone being killed for their beliefs does not necessarily mean they had the opportunity to recant, but that does not fit the evidence of how these first/second century religious executions were carried out. These were executions, not assasinations.

Now dagoods has questioned elsewhere what the evidence is that these executions ever happened in the first place, and that is a legitimate question. But unfortunately it will have to wait until another day. Perhaps when I have more time I'll try to put a post on it on the blog.

Thank you both.


DagoodS said...

Ten Minas Ministries,

Study of the early manuscripts we have is a fascinating topic. One of the numerous areas I dug into during my deconversion process.

Sadly, many Christians rely upon either McDowell or (worse) a pastor quoting from what they remember from reading McDowell. Few actually realize how little we have.

Do you know what percentage of the New Testament MSS we can safely date within the Second Century? (i.e., before 200 BCE). Seven verses. And really only portions of those verses. Yes, we all agree they were written before 200 BCE (well…except some of the more radical belief that Eusebius put them together), but as to the actual manuscripts, we have so very little within even 100 years of their writing!

Although we have prolific copies, starting in the Third and Fourth Century, and from those copies, and their varieties, we utilize Textual Criticism in the hopes of retrieving as close to the original as possible—we really don’t know. If the first three copies of Mark modified only 10% (adding, subtracting or changing) of the Gospel, and the remaining copies sprung from that third copy, we would be more than 25% inaccurate in all our copies as compared to the original! If the three copies modified 20%, all our copies would be 50% inaccurate!

I am not saying that occurred, but use it to demonstrate that even the most minor changes at an early stage would have a large impact on the latter copies. Because of the time between the writing and the time we being to see the copies.

It is what makes the study so intriguing.

The papyrus you refer to is the Rylands Papyrus, or, more commonly referred to its number of P52.

If you click on that link, you can see the copy, and that what we have are not even the full verses, nor even full words, but partial Greek words, from which we re-manufacture our understanding of what the text was.

Many Christians, (again from not doing their homework), hear of this papyrus and presume it is most, if not all of the Gospel of John. Then we learn it is only a few verses from Chapter 18. Then, when we look at it, it is not even full words, let alone full sentences. (And, to be fair, there are some full words, but look at how few.)

Luckily it is in Codex form (book form, written on both sides, such as what we are familiar today) so we can tell that it is a copy, AND that it is the actual Gospel, not merely some quotation in a letter. Helpful, that.

As to the dating, there are questions. First of all, I have never been able to narrow down where it was found. The closest we ever seem to come is “Egypt.” (Which, while technically in Africa, is well within the hotbed of the traveling community. It is not out of the realm that a copy of a book made in Ephesus would be in Egypt within a few years.)

Secondly, just because it was found in Egypt does not mean it was copied in Egypt. If someone copied it in Ephesus in 125 CE, it is very possible it did not reach Egypt until, say 175 CE. Therefore, talking about the distance it had “spread” by 125 CE, based upon where the papyrus is found is not warranted. We simply do not know.

Further, if you study palaeography, most times a range is given, usual in terms of 100 years! I hadn’t seen the range of 50 – 150 CE for P52. Most times, I have seen 150 CE, +/- 25 years, or 125 – 175 CE. My personal inclination (for a variety of reasons) is to place it within the 125 -150 range.

Against this, of course is the problem that Papias and Polycarp seem completely unaware of a Gospel of John, which would be unusual if one was in existence to the point it was being copied into a Codex!

It is also interesting that no one has carbon dated these manuscripts (specifically P52, P46 and P66) Part of that is out of reverence (these ARE the Bible, after all), part of that is out of concern (what if [gulp!] they dated later?) and part of it is that since carbon dating only gives a range, it is very likely we would not gain much information. It may come out as “150 C.E. plus or minus 50 years” leaving us where we are now.

Ten Minas Ministries said...

Thank you dagoods,

Yes, I am familiar with the arguments you presented, and I can't go into a detailed response now. But a short response would be, "Does it really matter?" You seem to be looking for evidence within 100 years of original authorship. But do you realize the double standard that sets up for the Biblical manuscripts that is not applied to other historical documents? If you have a chance, just take a brief look at the article on the Ten Minas website on this topic (I believe it is part one of the "This Way, That Way, or Yahweh" series). Look at the earliest copies we have of some of the other historical documents and how they compare to the earliest copies of the Biblical books EVEN IF WE EXCLUDE P52. The fact remains that even if we say that the earliest copies are from the third century, those copies are still over 99% identical to our copies today. We have basically eliminated any argument of corruption for over 1700-1800 years of these documents' history. Under the circumstances, any suggestion of corruption in the brief time previous to this would seem to me to bear a pretty heavy burden of proof.

Plus we have the belief of early Christians that these documents had apostolic authorship, when they were much closer in time. If the gospels were just written in 300AD, it is doubtful that those at the Council of Nicea would have believed they were written hundreds of years previous to that.

That's just a few quick thoughts. I think our difference of opinion falls down to where to lay the burden of proof.



DagoodS said...

Ten Minas Ministries,

How much do you know about textual criticism? I read your article. With all due respect, there are statements within it that are flat wrong. I hope you clear up any misunderstandings, so other Christians are not led astray.

Does it Matter?

To me, it is a captivating study. What was the original ending of Mark? Or of John? What was the original order of John? Was the last verse originally in 1 Thess. 2:16? Was Jesus angry at the leper in Mark 1:41? We could spend the next 6 months, you and I, discussing the various verses and possibilities we have from the various texts.

Textual criticism is a dangerous study. Once you fall into Codex’s, Uncials and Minuscules, you could disappear from your family for months at end. I was lucky, I only brushed the study. But once I learn Greek…watch out world!

But how could it not matter to you? This, according to you, is the word of God; the only written word we have! I would think you would want it to be as accurate as possible. If Paul says he was like “babes to you” as compared to “gentle among you” in 1 Thess 2:7, wouldn’t you want to know? Do you know the difference is one (1) Greek letter? A letter that varies among manuscripts?

So wouldn’t you want to know which word, which Greek letter God inspired?

No matter how many times, it is always like the first. I am constantly amazed that many non-theists are more engaged with the actuality of the Bible than Christians. I can’t help wonder whether the fact that we have no stake in the matter makes a difference.

Double Standard

Think about what we have with the Bible. Say the books were written in 100 CE. (I am not saying you have to accept that date, I am using it for example purposes only. Pick whatever date you want.) We have nothing but a few scraps of a very few partial words in 100 years. No complete sentences, let alone complete verses, sections, chapters or books! Then we start to have copies.

But the copies disagree. They have various words. Some include an Acts that is 9% longer than other Acts. They have different orders. They have different books included.

What obviously happened is that the books were copied within that blank 100 years, and the copies introduced changes. Those changes were replicated.

The Books are copied over the next 200 years. Again, we see changes. It makes sense to look back and figure that if changes are introduced within the 200 years we DO have copies of, it figures that changes were equally introduces within the 100 years we do NOT have copies.

Again, as soon as we start seeing copies after the initial blank 100 years, we see variances. This makes perfect sense.

Is that what we see with Plato, Pliney, and Homer? Do we have a long period of time between when they allegedly wrote, and the first copies appearing? (Yes.) Do we have numerous variances between their writings? (Some) Do we attempt to figure out the original from those variances. (Yes.) Do we believe the Iliad and Odyssey are history? Do you?

I don’t see the double standard. In fact, this argument does not help the Bible much. We see human writings of authors like Plato, see variances and assume humans changed some original writings. Humans do.

The vast predominance of scholars agree that there was some original writings at the core of Christianity. We see variances and assume humans changed some original writings. Humans do.

To ask us to treat them the same is a grand argument that the Bible needs to be treated as a human effort. I agree emphatically. How, exactly, does this support inspiration?

I see Christians complain that we believe there were original writings of Plato that were changed over time, but…what? We also say that there were original writings in the Bible that were changed over time. Is this dangerously close to a strawman argument? Are there skeptics who say that Plato’s writings must NOT have changed, but the Bible must have? If you could point some out, that would be helpful.

Ten Minas Ministries The fact remains that even if we say that the earliest copies are from the third century, those copies are still over 99% identical to our copies today.

Article: The earliest complete manuscripts of the gospels are from the third century (about 150-250 years after the originals were written). All these manuscripts are 99.5% identical to current copies.

Please, Please, Please, I beg you—read up on textual criticism. I (personally) would recommend “The Text of the New Testament” by Bruce Metzger. Not the easiest read, frankly, but he is a Christian, so you might be more inclined to take his word for it.

Erhman’s “Misquoting Jesus” is an easier read (or so I have heard. Haven’t read it.) but he is agnostic, so you might be less inclined to follow his lead.

The manuscripts are not 99.5% identical to our current copies. (Where did you hear THAT?) Not even close.

In fact, we have so many variances, we attempt to list them in schools! We take the manuscripts, and based upon what is included, place them in categories to separate them from the other categories. We have the Alexandrian school, the Western (including Italy school and Africa School) and the Eastern (including Caesarea and Antioch school). P46 and Codex Bezae give us fits. Look for the Pericope de Adultera on Google. Find what manuscripts have it. Or Johannine Comma.

All those textual critics must be wasting their time if 99.5% are identical to our current copies.

Metzger finishes his book with this summation:

“By way of conclusion, let it be emphasized again that no single manuscript and no one group of manuscripts exists which the textual critic may follow mechanically. All known witnesses of the New Testament are to a greater or less extent mixed texts [among the various schools] and even the earliest manuscripts are not free from egregious errors.”

We are close, ‘tis true. But to claim 99.5% accuracy or to make the claim that 99.5% are identical to our current texts is simply wrong. Textual criticism would not exist.

Ten Minas Ministries. It is not the time between the original and the copies we have. Whether it is 10 years or 200. It is that after that period of silence, the copies we DO have disagree with each other.

And that is not such an easy bear to wrestle…

Ten Minas Ministries said...

Just a quick response. I am familiar with textual criticism, and I think you overstate the problems. By "our current copies", or some similar term, I am referring to the published Bibles we pick up on the shelves and use in church. Do you deny that these are very similar to the earilest copies we have available (as opposed to some copy that came 500 years ro so later)?

Yes, there are examples you could give of additions (such as the ending of Mark, or the very famous story of "let he who is without sin cast the first stone"), but in every Bible I use, there are also editor's notes on those sections telling us precisely what you say; i.e., that the earliest copies do not contain these passages.

Frankly, I believe this causes a problem for the Catholic church because despite these absences they consider those passages canonical. But a Protestant says the ORIGINALS are divinely inspired, not the copies.

You ask how I could not care about the difference (using the text from 1 Thessalonians as an example) because I believe this is the word of God. But that is not true. You are talking about the COPIES. I do not believe the copies are the inerrant word of God, nor does any protestant denomination that I am aware of. We believe that the originals are the inerrant word of God, and we do the best we can to figure out what those originals say.

So the point of the gap argument is precisely that. How close are the texts we are reading today to the originals? Too many people discard the Bible entirely because they claim it is so unreliable that we probably do not even have an accurate transcription of what the originals said. In other words, our copies are likely so far off the originals that we can not get anything useful or trustworthy out of them. but this is a double standard, because we do not say the same for other texts that have a much larger gap!

Whether a work is fact or fiction is irrelevant to this argument. The point is "is the text reasonably accurate?" We accept that the current texts of these great works of literature are reasonably accurate, but we don't give the same privilege to the Bible.

Your whole argument is about other copies that came up later. Yes, there were some changes (although I still believe, given the overall length of the Bible, that you vastly overemphasize those changes). But that is not the point. The question is when we pick a Bible up off the shelves, is what we are reading reasonably close to the original text, enough that we can justify learning from it?

I am open to the fact that I may not have expressed this point well enough in my article, and when I have a chance I will go back and look at it to see. But I fail to see how your points have anything to do with the time gap between our earliest copies and the originals, and how close our current published editions are to those earliest copies. That is the only relevant consideration. How close some 10th or 11th century copy comes to the original doesn't matter when our published editions are not based on that copy.

Thanks, as always.


DagoodS said...

Ten Minas Ministries: I am referring to the published Bibles we pick up on the shelves and use in church. Do you deny that these are very similar to the earilest copies we have available (as opposed to some copy that came 500 years ro so later)?

Are they “99.5%” or “very similar”? Sure I deny it, depending on what early copy you are referring to. Hence the need for textual criticism. But I am hardly unique in denying it, as far as I know every Biblical scholar who has even touched the study, regardless of theistic belief would deny it as well.

First of all, which Bible am I picking up off the shelf? KJV? NIV? YLT? NAS? Darby’s? RSV? Take your pick from here: http://www.bible-researcher.com/links02.html

Part of the discrepancies and variations in the translations is dependent on which text (Alexandrian or Western) the various committees relied upon. Are you aware of Textus Receptus and the KJV?

http://www.skypoint.com/members/waltzmn/ManuscriptsPapyri.html is a site that lists the various papyri. Notice how they were classified into schools, dependent on how they varied with each other. Notice how copyist errors crept in. This is 150 years after they were written. Years in which we have nothing but scraps the size of postage stamps.

If I grab a Bible off the shelf, which of these papyri is “very similar” to it? Depends on the verse and the papyri.

After the papyri were uncials. http://www.cob-net.org/compare_uncials.htm briefly notes the comparisons between these documents. There are numerous textual disagreements among them. In fact, we use them to classify which papyri they are considered “dependent” upon. (Yes, we recognize it is against all odds that the particular Uncials we have used the particular papyri we have. But it is the best we can do with what he have.)

And after the uncials are the minuscule, but they are much later.

If I am still holding that Bible I grabbed, which uncial is it “very similar” to?

Look, if you are saying that if I picked up a Greek Bible; every Greek word in that Bible would translate to some manuscript out there—I would agree. You could say 100%.

But if you are saying that p29 agrees with p45 agrees with p50 agrees with p 48 agrees with Codex Bezae agrees with Codex Sinaiticus which all agree with any Greek Bible I pick up—then no. I cannot agree. Nor can anyone else.

More: You ask how I could not care about the difference (using the text from 1 Thessalonians as an example) because I believe this is the word of God. But that is not true. You are talking about the COPIES. I do not believe the copies are the inerrant word of God, nor does any protestant denomination that I am aware of. We believe that the originals are the inerrant word of God, and we do the best we can to figure out what those originals say.

Are you arguing with me just to argue with me? Peculiar. In your article that you referred me to, YOU referred to the copies as “copying the Word of God.” But when I use the term “Word of God” you dash to correct me that it is not the Word of God, but Copies of The Word of God. If you use the term, why can’t I?

If you don’t believe this is the word of God, might I suggest you change your article to not lead those of us that read it astray?

This is silly. You asked why we cared about what happened in those blank 100 years. For me it is academic interest, for you I would think it is that you have as close a copy to the original inspired word of God as possible. Is that better? Does that semantic game really make a difference? *shrug*

More: Too many people discard the Bible entirely because they claim it is so unreliable that we probably do not even have an accurate transcription of what the originals said.

Who ARE these people? And what do you mean by “discard the Bible entirely”? Are there some who feel it is not inspired because of the copy errors (i.e. Ehrman)? Sure. Are there some that say it is demonstrative of a human effort and makes canonicity a difficulty (i.e. me)? Sure. But what does “discard the Bible entirely” mean?

Even I, a strong atheist, agree that the process of textual criticism can be utilized to get us as close to the divergent point as possible. (Note, we cannot know if that was the original, of course, since all copies may have come from a second or third or fourth copy of the original. We simply don’t know.)

You may think I have vastly overemphasized the problem. However, having read Christian scholars in this arena who agree with me that it IS a problem, and your having not, are you in a position to make this determination? Don’t you think you would need a bit more study to be so confident?

O.K.—a more personal note.

Look, Ten Minas Ministries. Write what you want on your articles. I am beginning to simply not care. Say it is 80%, 60%, 99.2%, 100%--it matters not since it is a made-up percentage. More and more I am discussing with people that want to disagree with me just because of who I am, not because of what I say. It gets tiring.

There is nothing whatsoever about textual criticism, or the lack of uniformity that would affect one’s being a Christian. Nothing. The book I am looking at, on my desk to which I have been referring is by Bruce M. Metzger. A Christian. There is nothing about the various copies that would mean Christianity is false. Yes it does introduce a little difficulty as to why God would inspire an original, but let the copies run helter-skelter, but this is no death knell to the viability of being a Christian.

Yet I see some sort of “Katie bar the door” mentality, as if it is ever acknowledged that the earliest copies we have disagree, this would mean the entire house of cards must come crumbling down. So it must never be acknowledged.

At some point, Ten Minas Ministries, you will come to a decision. It may not be a conscious decision; it may not even be recognized by you when you make it. But when you write a blog or an article or a lesson—that writing will be designed to either convince those who are already convinced, or convince those who are not.

If these articles are designed to only convince those who already believe—don’t bother changing them. They won’t look you up. They won’t research manuscripts. They won’t even bother learning what a “uncial” is. They will read you and move on, telling their friends and neighbors that all the manuscripts from the Second and Third Century are 99.5% identical to our current copies. And they know this because they read a Bible scholar who said it, so it must be true.

Oh, occasionally those friends and neighbors may stumble across a person like me, and hearing “P52” will drive them away. They will believe you over me anyway, so no worries.

But if you want to take the grand quest—actually attempt to convince the unconvinced—you may need to do some hard research and consider changing those articles.

One of the few things we can control is our credibility. Being as open and honest as possible. I think you are, from our discussions. But I think you have heard these claims, and just like those neighbors that listen to you, you have listened to someone else and believed them because they are a Christian, not because you have studied it.

I can tell you that many of the atheists who I am aware and I have discussed with regarding study of the Bible would read your article and dismiss you out-of-hand. That may be a hard thing to read, and I don’t mean it to be, but your credibility to them is severely harmed by those statements.

I want you to do better. Be better. Study. Learn. Realize it is not necessary to make such claims, and the fact that those claims are so unsupported do more harm than good.

As always, feel free to ignore my advice entirely. You do what you want. The only thing I hope for, the only thing I ever hope for, is that you might learn a little more from talking with me. Hey…its about your copy of the word of God, so how bad can it be?

Ten Minas Ministries said...

I feel a bit like the apostle Paul when false teachers in Corinth were questioning his credentials. Paul was not one for boasting, but when the false teachers kept telling people that they were true disciples of Christ whereas he was not, he hesitantly (and sometimes sarcastically) boasted in his own credentials.

"I repeat: Let no one take me for a fool. But if you do, then receive me just as you would a fool, so that I may do a little boasting. In this self-confident boasting I am not talking as the Lord would, but as a fool. Since many are boasting in the way the world does, I too will boast. You gladly put up with fools since you are so wise! In fact, you even put up with anyone who enslaves you or exploits you or takes advantage of you or pushes himself forward or slaps you in the face. To my shame I admit that we were too weak for that.
What anyone else dares to boast about - I am speaking as a fool - I also dare to boast about. Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they Abraham's descendants? So am I. Are they servants of Christ? (I am out of my mind to talk like this.) I am more. I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn?
If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness. The God and father of the Lord Jesus, who is to be praised forever, knows that I am not lying. In Damascus the governor under King Aretas had the city of the Damascenes guarded in order to arrest me. But I was lowered in a basket from a window in the wall and slipped through his hands."
2 Corinthians 11:16-33

I too generally do not like to "prove myself", but under the circumstances I think I must say something.

Let me preface my comments by saying that the article on the website was written over a year ago, I have obviously studied more since then, and while I have not yet had the chance to go back over it, I still intend to fulfill that promise when I have the chance and I am always open to making corrections. After all, when I first posted these articles, the first thing I did was to ask several atheists I know to read them and give me any comments. So I am open to the possibility that there may be errors that I will correct.

However, there are some things you have said for which I believe the record simply must be set straight. You don't seem to be too impressed with my "double standard" argument. The point I have repeatedly been trying to make is that we can be extremely confident that our current texts of the Bible are extremely close to the original writings because of the overwhelmingly large number of manuscripts and the incredibly short gap (compared to other ancient writings) between the originals and our earliest copies. Assign whatever percentages you want. It really doesn't matter (although I will address the percentages later; they are not simply "made up" as you allege). Allow me to give you a few quotes from someone who made this argument long before me.

"What the New Testament has in its favor, especially when compared with other ancient writings, is the multiplicity of copies that have survived. ...The more often you have copies that agree with each other, especially if they emerge from different geographical areas, the more you can cross-check them to figure out what the original document was like. The only way they'd agree would be where they went back genealogically in a family tree that represents the descent of the manuscripts."

"We have copies commencing within a couple of generations from the writing of the originals, whereas in the case of other ancient texts, maybe five, eight, or ten centuries elapsed between the original text and the earliest surviving copy."

"Next to the New Testament, the greatest amount of manuscript testimony is of Homer's Iliad, which was the bible of the ancient Greeks. There are fewer than 650 Greek manuscripts of it today [as opposed to over five thousand for the New Testament]. Some are quite fragmentary. They come down to us from the second and third century A.D. and following. When you consider that Homer composed his epic about 800 B.C., you can see there's a very lengthy gap."

Who are all of these quotes from? None other than Bruce M. Metzger, Ph.D. (These specific quotes are from an interview he did with Lee Strobel for the book "The Case for Christ"). This is the same Bruce Metzger that you cited with approval in your comment and seemed to believe that I knew nothing about. In all honesty, I was quite shocked to see you using him as a reference considering my entire argument was virtually verbatim based upon his.

As long as we're at it, let's throw in a few quotes from Gary Habermas (from "Why I Believe the New Testament Is Historically Reliable" in Norman L. Geisler's and Paul K. Hoffman's "Why I Am A Christian: Leading Thinkers Explain Why They Believe"):

"The New Testament is the best attested work from the ancient world."

"Concerning the date between the original writing and the earliest copies, ancient classical works generally exhibit gaps of at least seven hundred years. The interval significantly lengthens to twice this amount (or longer) with certain works by a number of key writers such as Plato and Aristotle. In contrast, the Bodmer and Chester Beatty Papyri contain most of the New Testament, dating about 100-150 years later than the New Testament, using an approximate date of A.D. 100 for its completion. The Codex Siniaticus is a complete copy of the New Testament, while the Codex Vaticanus is a nearly complete manuscript, both dating roughly 250 years after the originals. These small gaps help to ensure the accuracy of the New Testament text."

"The fact that there is outstanding manuscript evidence for the New Testament documents is even admitted by critical scholars."

How about a quote from F.F. Bruce on the subject?

"There is no body of ancient literature in the world which enjoys such a wealth of good textual attestation as the New Testament."

Or Sir Frederic Kenyon?

"In no other case is the interval of time between the composition of the book and the date of the earliest manuscripts so short as in that of the New Testament."

Other authors who have made the same argument include Josh McDowell, Norman Geisler and Richard Fales.

As long as you seem to ascribe at least some level of credibility to Bruce Metzger, let's see what he had to say about this supposed plethora of errors you cite:

"Sometimes the scribe's memory would play tricks on him. Between the time it took for him to look at the text and then to write down the words, the order of words might get shifted. He may write down the right words but in the wrong sequence. This is nothing to be alarmed at, because Greek, unlike English, is an inflected language. ... Meaning it makes a whale of a difference in English if you say, 'Dog bites man' or 'man bites dog' - sequence matters in English. But in Greek it doesn't. One word functions as the subject of the sentence regardless of where it stands in the sequence; consequently, the meaning of the sentence isn't distorted if the words are out of what we consider to be the right order. So yes, some variations among manuscripts exist, but generally they're inconsequential variations like that. Differences in spelling would be another example."

In regard to your argument that there are so many variant readings, Metzger had this to say:

"The number sounds big, but it's a bit misleading because of the way variants are counted." He then went on to give the example that if one word is misspelled in two thousand manuscripts it is counted as two thousand variants. Of course, if a mistake is made in one copy, then copies are made from that copy, that single mistake can multiply itself many times even though there really was only one error.

When asked if the variations, when they occur, tend to be minor rather than substantive Metzger replied, "Yes, yes, that's correct, and scholars work very carefully to try to resolve them by getting back to the original meaning. The more significant variations do not overthrow any doctrine of the church. Any good Bible will have notes that will alert the reader to variant readings of any consequence. But again, those are rare."

So it doesn't sound like Metzger agrees so much with you after all.

You make a classic mistake that I talk about quite frequently. You find some discrepancy and yell "aha!" without ever bothering to ask if what you have found is a SIGNIFICANT discrepancy, or even relevant. I see this in the courtroom all the time, and it is a very effective (albeit logically flawed) argument technique. Basically, you throw out as many irrelevant facts as you can and create this gut impression that you must be tearing your opponent's argument apart. Now if the fact-finder were ever to look at each fact individually they would see that none of them are of any consequence and you really haven't proven anything. But in reality most people are not willing to put forth the effort to do that kind of examination (including many jurors in the courtroom), so they just walk away with their initial gut impression.

The fact is that these so-called discrepancies do not cause any serious doubt about the textual integrity of the Bible (especially the New Testament). The 99.5% integrity estimate I gave was not made up, by the way. That came from Norman Geisler and William Nix in "A General Introduction to the Bible." Others have estimated the Old Testament integrity at 98.5% and the New Testament at 99.5%. Gary Habermas estimated the integrity of the New Testament at 99.99%.

Let's look in more detail at what the so-called discrepancies largely consist of. Typical discrepancies are some of the following:

Fission: Improperly dividing one word into two (such as "nowhere" into "now here").
Fusion: Combining two words into one.
Metathesis: Inadvertently switching around the order of letters in a word.
Dittography: Repeating something that only should have been written once (such as "latter" instead of "later").
Haplography: The exact opposite of dittography. Writing once what should have been written twice.
Homophony: Writing a word that sounds the same as the original, but is spelled differently and has a different meaning (such as "heel" and "heal").

Are these really textual discrepancies? I guess you could technically count them if you really wanted to create a faulty impression in the minds of your readers that the Bible is enormously filled with questionable texts. But given the context, it's pretty easy to figure out what the original text was in most of these cases.

Are all of the textual differences like these? No. As I've said before, you are correct that there are questions as to the ending of Mark or the story of the woman caught in adultery in chapter 8 of John. But like I also said before (and as Dr. Metzger agreed) modern Bibles contain notes pointing out any of these alleged discrepancies. For example, prior to Mark 16:9 the NIV Bible states, "The earliest manuscripts and some other ancient witnesses do not have Mark 16:9-20:1, and prior to John 7:53 there is a note saying "The earliest manuscripts and many other ancient witnesses do not have John 7:53-8:11." And not one of these so-called discrepancies calls into question any Christian doctrine.

So how do scholars determine what the original text said? This is why a large number of copies and older copies are important. They will look at the various copies and see what texts they have in common. Two big considerations when determining whether a particular phrase was in the original text are how often it occurs and whether it was in the oldest copies. The older copies are given more weight than the more recent ones because there has been less time for error to slip in. This is why our modern texts are far closer to the oldest texts than they are to newer ones. Does this mean that every single ancient copy is the same? No, of course not. I am not arguing that I could pull out any one individual ancient manuscript (such as the Codex Siniaticus for example) and have that individual manuscript match our current Bibles to 99% accuracy. What I am saying is that many scholars have expressed the opinion that we can reasonably believe that our current Bibles are approximately 99% accurate when compared to the originals, and our best evidence of what those originals said is based upon the composite picture formed by the earliest manuscripts.

You asked me who the people are who discard the Bible because its text cannot be trusted. Please understand that the point of this ministry is not just to respond to the arguments in the scholarly field, but also to respond to the somewhat less informed arguments that often appear from laypeople. I cannot tell you how many times I have seen laypeople who claim to be atheists make statements to me that the Bible cannot be trusted because we have no idea what it actually said. They claim that it is so old that it must have been corrupted so much over time that the books we currently use bear little to no resemblance to what was originally written. As a matter of fact, to some extent this is a central teaching of both the Mormons and the Jehovah's Witnesses (they use it in order to justify the superiority of the Book of Mormon and the Jehovah's Witnesses' New World Translation of the Bible to the exclusion of other translations). The comment that originally started this whole discussion wasn't that far off from this. That author claimed that because the oldest texts were so far removed from the first century, we could not conclude that they were written that early. This, of course, sets up the same double standard because nobody claims that Plato's Tetralogies weren't written until 900 AD or Aristotle until 1100 AD. So you are correct that this type of statement does not occur much in the scholarly arena. But don't kid yourself. There are countless people out there who believe it to be genuinely true and use it as an obstacle to belief.

You can feel free to believe me or not. You keep giving me advice saying that my approach is not likely to convince skeptics. That's fine if you think that. But if you really believe that the Bible is as filled with significant errors as you claim, then understand that your argument does not stand on nearly as good footing as you think it does. You are probably right that this argument won't convince a lot of skeptics. But it is not because the argument is wrong. The Bible is the single best-attested ancient document in history, especially the New Testament. You say that all I am going to do is convince other Christians. But I could say the same thing about your arguments. You will likely do nothing but convince fellow skeptics. I believe that anyone who objectively looks at the textual integrity of the Bible must conclude that we have an overwhelmingly good idea of what the original documents said. Anyone who denies that either knows little about textual criticism, is requiring 100% proof before they will accept the truth, or is simply looking for evidence to support what they already want to believe, whether that "evidence" is even remotely relevant or not.

So I continue to say that you vastly overstate the so-called discrepancies. Are there discrepancies? Yes, there are. Are they significant enough that we cannot figure out what the staggeringly overwhelming majority of the original text said? No, not by a long shot. I'm not going to get into a prolonged argument about textual criticism with you here. Frankly, I've spent far too much time on this comment as it is (it's already past midnight for me). You've put out your resources. I've put out mine. I would just encourage people to do some reading on the subject themselves and leave it at that. You seem to think that there are a large number of significant discrepancies. I think there are not. I doubt we will agree on that. But as always I thank you for your comments.


Ten Minas Ministries said...


In case you're interested, as long as it was all fresh in my mind, I did go back and take a look at the article. I made some changes, and while I still don't expect that you are going to agree with me, I tried to make it a bit more clear and to address some of your objections. Just thought I'd let you know in case you were interested in giving it a look.


DagoodS said...

What do ya know? Apparently I still care ‘cause I am writing a response. I suspect my last on this topic.

First of all, Thank you. Thank you, Ten Minas Ministries for modifying your article. As it is now written, I think it is more accurate. Your stock went up in my book. And, while many would disagree with your conclusions, you are credibly arguing for your position.

A personal note, a correction, and a question.

Personal Note

Unlike any others to whom I discuss, perhaps this note will resonant with you more. Because you are a trial lawyer. You know the rush of adrenaline, the long hours of preparation, the thrill of a jury finding in your favor (and the depression of one not), the concentration on every word, every nuance, every facial change of your opponent, the judge, the jury and the witness. Being ready to leap at a moment’s notice at some nefarious deed on the other lawyer’s part, ready to argue your position, attempting to be prepared for every contingency; having to react when something unprepared happens. You know that.

Imagine we are two lawyers in the same firm and you are talking to me the night before I am going to try a case. I lay out my position, and ask what you think.

You: Not bad. What is the other side going to say?
Me: I don’t know.
You: Well, what does their trial brief say?
Me: Don’t know. Haven’t read it.

You: Who are they going to call as witnesses?
Me: Haven’t a clue.
You: What discovery have they done? What motions have they filed? What did they say at the Pre-Trial, facilitation, and settlement conferences?
Me: Don’t know. Didn’t listen to it.

You: What are their exhibits?
Me: Didn’t review them.
You: What are their witnesses going to say?
Me: Didn’t take their depositions.

You: What did you do to prepare for this trial?
Me: Oh, I carefully listened to what my client says, and I believe him. I looked at our exhibits, read our motions, prepared our trial brief and jury instructions. Since I believe our position is so good, I never bothered to read anything from the other side.

Would you considered me prepared for trial? Or would you walk away, shaking your head, realizing I am about to get my butt handed to me. If you are anything like me, on the day of trial, the judge could say, “Counsel. Switch seats. You will now be representing the other side” and we would say “Fine by us.” I prepare their case as well as mine, to know what to expect. I have both voir dires ready (in my mind) both opening arguments; both witness/exhibit lists, order and questions.

A switch literally the minute before the jury is polled would not faze me a bit. (In fact, in some respects, it would be fun!) Other people do not understand me in that regard. You might, being a trial lawyer.

As I started discussing with non-believers, many years ago, I came to the realization, even the shock, that what I would never do in my professional career, is exactly what I had always done in my spiritual career. The only thing I knew about evolution was what creationists had told me evolutionists’ say. The only thing I knew about archeology was what Christian writers said. The only thing I knew about the viability of Christianity came from McDowell, Strobel, Craig, Plantinga, Calvin, Geisler, etc.

I had never engaged the other side on their territory. I have never read their position from them, not from what other people say they said. And so, for the first time I had to start reading the other side. I had to read the Price, Carrier, Doherty, Ehrmans, etc. Whether I agreed with them or not, in my professional career I would never NOT read them simply because I disagreed with their position. I have to know it first. I have to know it as well as, if not better than my opponent.

Do you know why I keep recommending Metzger? (And his actual books, NOT some excerpt or interview with Strobel!) Because it has long been my experience if I recommend a non-believer, or someone that is of more liberal theism, the Christian will never read them. They don’t want to know what the other said actually says, they prefer to hear what their own side claims the other side says. It makes is so much easier to discount, that way.

Look at your list of the basis for textual criticism. Metzger, Strobel, Bruce, Habermas, Geisler. (I have not read Hoffman, so will say nothing about him. The title says enough.) A virtual who’s who of Christian authors. Now, I know that, since it is the study of the Bible, after all, the primary authors of books on the Bible are Christians. I just hope that you do better than I. I hope that you have read and understand the arguments of those who do not believe the same as you.

And, as I started to study Christian authors, in order to bolster my position against non-Christians, even more shocking was the Christian’s lack of forthrightness (to be polite). If we, as Christians, held truth, why would we not be as straightforward as possible? You and I both know how devastating it can be for a side if their witness is seen as hiding something. If that jury thinks they are not being completely truthful, the entire testimony can fall.

I am not saying that I am entitled to reject everything these authors say, but it set me back on my heels when I realized how…inaccurate (I am trying to be nice) they were. Something that, as you point out, yes I would pounce on in a jury trial and point out.

Maybe that is why I am passionate about these things.

For example (and I don’t have the quotes in front of me, but I presume these are accurate):

Quote in comment: In contrast, the Bodmer and Chester Beatty Papyri contain most of the New Testament, dating about 100-150 years later than the New Testament, using an approximate date of A.D. 100 for its completion.

But actually the papyri each have different portions of the New Testament, each disagree with each other. Why isn’t that said? Also notice the subtle slight-of-hand on the dating of the Gospels.

Here they use “100 C.E.” as the date of the New Testament in order to place the papyri within “100-150 Years.” Yet when we later talk to these same authors, they will date the Pauline epistles to 50 CE, +/- 10 years. They put Mark at 60 C.E.

Why the switch of dates? Because if Paul was written in 50 C.E. the dating of the papyri should be 150-250 years later. When we talk about copies, Paul gets unceremoniously moved “up” to 100 C.E. to be as close to copies as possible. When we talk about Paul writing legends, he is moved back (appropriately, in my opinion) to 50 C.E.

In the big scheme of things, I am not sure that 50 years makes a difference. But what made all my bells and alarms go off—is if it did NOT make that much of a difference, why not stay consistent?

Why are Christians not being consistent and forthright? If they think Paul was written in 50 C.E., SAY the copies are 150-200 years later. This “nudging” is suspect.

Quote in comment: The Codex Siniaticus is a complete copy of the New Testament, while the Codex Vaticanus is a nearly complete manuscript, both dating roughly 250 years after the originals.

Technically that is correct. But it is certainly not complete. They fail to note that Siniaticus and Vaticanus disagree with each other! Vaticanus also includes the Apocrypha (except Maccabes) Do they mention that Vatincanus had so many corrections in it, it has been suspected to be a reject of the Eusebian 50 copies?

Not odd at all the Codex Bezae is conveniently not mentioned. A most problematic Codex, so let’s pretend it does not exist. Or things like Codex Laudianus, which is the first instance we find Acts. 8:3, for example. The list goes on and on.

And do they mention that Vaticanus was, at one time, considered the authority when one was looking for the “original” Greek, but thanks to the 20th Century discover of Papyri, it has been abandoned as such due to its inaccuracy?

True, perhaps they were being brief and could not cover all the controversies. But why are we always being “brief” and always not covering all the controversies? Worse—controversies that diminish our position.

You correctly point out that we should never employ double standards—we should be just as stringent on ourselves as we are on those who disagree with us. If a non-Christian wrote something that was “technically” correct, but deeper study demonstrates that there was far more to the simplistic statement, and that “far more” actually is not as supportive of their position—would YOU let it go?

Are you equally taking to task Christians, even the Strobels and McDowells, that do the same? Being “technically correct” but not completely forthright as to some of the weaknesses in their position?

Because what I see are these “technically correct” statements that result in people making claims that are…troublesome.

For example, the reason I actually entered this blog entry (which has nothing to do with textual criticism) was a statement by you:

Ten Minas Ministries: I can only assume from your comments that you are not aware of the significant portions of the Gospel of John that were found in Africa that have been carbon dated to 125 AD. … But this one text alone shows that by 125 AD, the Gospel of John was being widely disseminated and had reached as far as Africa.

What I didn’t know is whether this statement was made out of lack of knowledge, or limited knowledge or what. That is why, instead of coming in guns-a-blazin’--“Ack. Ack. Ack. Ack. Ack.” I asked first. Perhaps you just didn’t know.

Ten Minas Minsitries, why did you use the term “Africa”? Yes, Egypt is technically in Africa, but the impression I got (and I can’t help wondering if that was the impression that was desired to be sent) was that this was found far FAR away from the thriving populace. That, in order for there to be more time between the writing of John and the copy, you put it as far from Ephesus as possible.

What was even more troubling, was to see in your article, you mention this was found in Egypt. Why did you change from “Egypt” to “Africa” in your comment? Egypt had a thriving Jewish community. It was only a month, at most, from Rome, or Corinth or Ephesus or Jerusalem by travel. It is not as if this copy had to travel great lengths over a great period of time.

And look at this comment. First of all, it was not carbon dated. Instead of the date range of 125 – 175 CE, only the bottommost date is used. It is not a “significant” or “substantial” part of John, it is portions of Greek words (with only a few complete words, like the short “kai”) of exactly 5 verses. If I remember correctly I think it is 118 letters. Even if it WAS dated to 125 CE, there is no possible way to know WHEN it reached Egypt. It could have been 150, 200 or 300 CE for all we know.

Simply put, there is little in this comment that was completely accurate. Why is that? Why are Christians consistently painting the picture brighter than it actually is?

Such statements are part of the reason I deconverted. I found the Christian community less than forthright as to the problems within. Why would it do that, unless it was afraid it didn’t hold truth? It is a human trait. Demonstrative of a human belief.

A Correction

Ten Minas Ministries: But if you really believe that the Bible is as filled with significant errors as you claim, then understand that your argument does not stand on nearly as good footing as you think it does.

Oh my! If I have given the impression that I believe the Bible is filled with “significant errors” in the field of textual criticism—I truly apologize. That is NOT the impression I desire to give at all!

I went back over my comments to see if I had said that, or if I implied that, and I cannot see where I did. BUT, if I did, please accept this as a complete retraction of that claim.

The reality is that I am interested in the possibilities of what could be the closest to the where we diverge. (Commonly referred to as “the originals” but unfortunately, no one knows when the first copies were made, or what could be introduced initially. Why I generally say the divergence, not “the original.” But that is just semantics.)

The field of textual criticism has experts debating back and forth as to what text is correct. It is not a uniform agreement among the community. Ehrman will disagree with Metzger, who will disagree with Dearing and so on.

I don’t say the Bible is full of errors. I don’t say the Bible, as we have it, is accurate. I say we don’t know. Since Metzger sums up nicely my position on it, let me reiterate his conclusion in the full quote. (Sorry for the length.)

“By way of conclusion, let it be emphasized again that no single manuscript and no one group of manuscripts exist which the textual critic may follow mechanically. All known witnesses of the New Testament are to a greater or less extent mixed texts, and even the earliest manuscripts are not free from egregious errors. Although in very many cases the textual critic is able to ascertain without residual doubt which reading must have stood in the original, there are not a few other cases where he can only come to a tentative decision based on an equivocal balancing of probabilities. Occasionally none of the variant readings will commend itself as original, and he will be compelled either to choose the reading which he judges to be the least unsatisfactory or to indulge in conjectural emendation. In textual criticism, as in other areas of historical research, one must seek not only to learn what can be known, but also to become aware of what, because of conflicting witnesses, cannot be known.”

I haven’t read Strobel in a few years. I don’t remember what Metzger said there. All I know is what he says in his book. (He lists 11 areas, not just six, in which errors could occur, one of which is introduction of the copyist’s doctrine!)

And from your quotes, there is nothing really different than what he says in his book. In his book he tends to be more verbose as to those variances, what they are, where they came from.

Again, I think textual criticism is GREAT for us to try and determine what the books said, as early as possible. I find some arguments (even Metzger’s) as more persuasive than others.

I hope that clears up my position.

A Question

I’ve always tried to narrow down that percentage. I have heard 95%. 99%. You indicated 99.5% and 99.99%. What seems to me is that some person somewhere once gave out some percentage and each person copied it thereafter, never knowing exactly what it meant or where it came from.

Like some rumor of alligators in the sewer.

So here is my question. If the manuscripts are 99.5% accurate to our copies—what are the 40 verses (or 690 words) we have that are in the .5%? If, as Habermas says, 99.99% is accurate, what are the 8 verses (or 138 words) in the .01%? And what are the 32 verses (or 552 words) that some Biblical scholars say are not, but Habermas says are, and why?

Everyone likes to toss off this statistic. No one can provide me any information as to the specifics. If it is truly that minute, I would think this a no-brainer.

P.S. Good luck on your Palm Sunday message.

Ten Minas Ministries said...

Just a couple closing comments, because, ironically, this actually is the eve of a jury trial for me!

I agree that we should always read the opposing position from the source. I have made this comment several times on the site and in my comments on various blogs. All too often people listen to someone who opposes an argument and just takes their word for it about what their opponent's argument says. Sometimes they may present this accurately. Many times they do not. So I agree with you 100% about getting your information about an argument from someone who is advancing that argument. I actually have read from authors who are critical of the textual validity of the Bible (especially in regard to dating of P52), but I am not persuaded. I even recall coming across a website several months ago that was dedicated to textual criticism of the Biblical documents, and took your position, but unfortunately I did not print out anything from the site like I usually do, so I couldn't tell you where it was now (my typical practice is to print out internet articles and create a "book" from them, for which I have a plethora of books in my library, but for some reason I didn't do that with this site; I may have been out of ink).

As for the dates discrepancy, I agree with you in general that different dates are used. I took the 100 AD date to be a "no later than" type of date, but even if you use the earlier dates, the gap is still by far the shortest (You'll note that I give a range of dates in my article, which generally do not approach 100AD except for John).

As for my carbon dating comment, I believe I already acknowledged that was an error. That's what I get for trying to respond promptly at the expense of thoroughly. I'm not always in my ministry office with my library when I respond to comments, so sometimes in my haste (as I'm sure we've all had happen to us sometimes) I may say things I believe at the time to correct, but later realize that my mind was playing tricks on me. The carbon dating was done on one of the gnostic gospels, not P52. As for the "Africa" as opposed to "Egypt", that too was the result of writing without having the time to check the resources and wanting to "play it safe". I would hope that you would realize that if any deception was intended, I would not have mentioned Egypt in the article. When I was writing that response, my mind was playing tricks on me. I kept thinking it was Egypt, but I started second guessing myself and didn't have time to check. I knew it was Africa, so I played it safe and write Africa. If there was any confusion caused by that comment, I apologize.

As for the differences in the copies, in order to be thorough as you request, we'd have to go into a detailed evaluation of each so-called difference, then let the readers decide what significance they have. This is why I invited people to look into it ont heir own because I believe we have both laid out our positions, but there is no way I have time to go into it line by line. I do not deny that there are differences, but I do not think that those differences are significant enough to prevent us from discerning the overwhelming majority of the original text.

I think I also already explained the "significant" statement. Inevitably there will alsways be some degree of confusion in the way people express themselves. Do you deny that the atheist camp is just as guilty of this as you claim the Christian camp is? I have debated many people and on numerous occassions have had people telling only half the story. Just the other day I perused the "Poor Christian Reasoning" article in Jason Long's book "Biblical Nonsense" on John's site and found it to grossly misrepresent Christian argument techniques. I was particurly shocked by the number of times he attributed argument techniques to Christians without giving concrete exaqmples from Christian arguments (although I admit I did not read it thoroughly, nor did I read the other chapters, so it is possible I missed it). Finally, as long as we're giving examples of things that are "technically" correct, but misleading, why did Mr. Long identify himself as "Dr." Jason Long on the cover? Is that technically correct? Yes. But it also creates the impression that his doctorate is in some field related to Biblical criticism, the topic of his book. That is at least the impression I got when I looked at the book. Upon investigating him more on John's site I learned that his doctorate is in Pharmacy.

I don't think our positions on the textual criticism of the Bible are as far apart as I may have intially believed, and if I created a false impression of you position I apologize. Although I am not clear on how much of the Bible, if any, you believe we can be relatively certain about. While I think you are correct that Metzger believes there are variances, I believe you go further than he does as far as how much of the original Biblical text is actually in doubt.

As for the portions that are wrong, I think you count wrong when you count in verses. For example, many of the errors are a single letter (as was at least one of the examples you gave previously). Are you going to count out an entire verse for the one letter in error? All that being said, the percentages, while similar, are different, so I don't believe people have simply copied each other. That being said, I have appealed to authority for this part of my argument and I haven't done the counting myself. But I will suggest a different way of looking at it. Depending on the size of the print, this could change, of course. But if we assume the Bible is about 1300 pages long, a 1% error rate would still be 13 pages worth of textual errors. Given that many of these will be of the 1 letter variety, a single "word" on those 13 pages could include 5 or 6 errors. So I think it is not as miniscule of a task as you present.

Thank you for the best wishes on the Palm Sunday lesson. We actually recorded it and put it on the website as a four-part podcast. I'm sure there are a few things ib there you'd disagree with (even when teaching Biblical texts I still can't escape my apologetic/evangelism tendencies)!

One other warning. I have to get to bed, so I haven't proofread this. I apologize now for any errors.