New Testament Follies

jbh5I started to watch an older video of Bart Ehrman, the New Testament scholar. In a minute, I had to turn it off. The fundamental dishonesty was so thick, so multi-layered, that I literally could not handle more than a minute.

In that short time, Dr. Ehrman managed to paint a picture of the NT that is utterly untrue. Everything he said was either false, exaggerated, or misapplied. Here are just a few points:

The manuscripts are “from hundreds of years later.” True if we are talking about integral manuscripts of entire books; not true if we are talking about very early fragments, all of which perfectly corroborate the copies from later.

There are “hundreds of thousands of variations.” False. NT scholarship uses a system of grading, A-B-C-D, to evaluate all but a tiny handful of passages in the book. About 70% of the NT is “A” grade, meaning no variations have been found. “B” texts are the next most common; here, there are insignificant lexical variations.

An example of “insignificant” might be “Ho de Iesous” versus “All’ ho Iesous” versus “Kai ho Iesous.” All of them mean precisely the same thing: “So then Jesus…” or “And so Jesus…” or “Then Jesus…” or ” And so then Jesus…” In other words: tiny oral variations, the product of fluent Greek speakers, affecting the meaning of the text exactly zero.

These are possibly scribal variations, even errors in transmission; but they are of no import at all.

Less reliable readings, which comprise a small fraction of the total, involve increasing variation among early mss. In some cases the original cannot be determined with certainty. However, not one single one of these–none, mind you–materially affects the history being recounted, the outcome of the situation, or the doctrinal basis of the sub-apostolic writers and Fathers, never mind the popes and councils of the Church.

The exceedingly rare insertion, such as the famous Johannine Comma, was eventually purged, giving the lie to the “marginalia that got copied in” model. Tommyrot.

That is: the Reformation cannot defend itself on this basis. Also, these embarrassing hypotheses say more about the craftsmanship of the scholars proposing them than of the texts themselves

Worst of all the Erhmania: “therefore” the Bible can’t possibly be taken as the inspired word of God. Because “kai” versus “de” versus “alla.” What a sick, weak faith this guy brought to the table. “Word for word” inspiration, in the apostolic times, absolutely accommodates minor surface variations like this, let alone larger narrative structures or devices. (Ehrman doesn’t mention those, though; he’s content to let lexical variations lead him down a rabbit hole.)

Enough for right now. Erhman is a fount of bullshit, and there’s an end on it.

Recently, the same overly-respected person published a book on the NT that finally (thank God) acknowledges the issue of orality, and makes specific reference to the work of A. B. Lord. Of course, Ehrman misuses the scholar in question, whose work actually points to one possible scenario (more or less):

–Mark represents Peter’s kerygma.
–Matthew wrote first, and very early, while Christianity was a Jewish movement. He wrote with oral Mark firmly in mind.
–Luke (as I hypothesize) commissioned his associate Mark, in Rome, to hire stenographers and record a performance of Peter’s kerygma. This is the Gospel According to St. Mark.
–Luke wanted this for research purposes (to which he alludes in his prologue).
–Luke more closely follows written Mark than does Matthew, for obvious reasons.
–Luke writes for a Gentile audience, strongly arguing for a later date than Matthew or either form of Mark. A date later than the mid-60s is absurd on the face of it.
–The real progression is Matthew-Luke, with Mark as a precious ancillary document, the first papal statement, and a Gospel in its own right.
–The variations in the gospels are not a cause for alarm.
–The gospels are all integral mss. in distinct and inimitable voices; there is no “deutero-Matthew” or “JEPD John”; the idea of centuries of redaction is not credible prima facie.
–The concept of “synoptic” gospels is a setup, invented to assure an outcome, and should be viewed with extreme skepticism.
–You are skeptical, right?

The foregoing, which is pellucidly clear and extraordinarily more plausible than the neo-Protestant nonsense of “generations of redaction” (utterly impossible given the gospels as they exist) and above all the German graduate-student model of research and writerly refashioning, allows us to ask more fruitful questions about Luke’s gospel in relation to Matthew.

For example, often enough Luke expands a Matthean “stub,” fleshing out the story with explanations of Jewish ritual, or simply filling out a story that Matthew left in compressed form. Luke fleshes out at least one of his own “stubs,” that dealing with the Ascension. Here, Acts revisits what the Gospel according to St. Luke sketches briefly, and fills it in in living color.

In other cases, Luke offers alternatives, as in his alternative to the Beatitudes, and to the parable of the talents.

So Luke does indeed engage Matthew as well as written Mark, but not in the usual (non-)sense of “embellishment.”

As the “New Beginnings” program of the Presbyterian Church USA likes to remind us, insanity consists of doing the same things over and over while expecting different results.

Time they took their own advice.

About Jon

Keyboard artist, sacred musician, teacher, writer, working in New York City and State. Many interests include music theory and history, literature, astronomy, genealogy, philosophy and theology, gardening, and good food.
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