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. I speak as a scholar, not a hyperventilating drama queen of the religious right. Which I’m not.

In the few moments I watched him, 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.  Also not true if we read the post-apostolic references and citations, which also corroborate to a T.

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 B-level or “insignificant” variation 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 copying unselfconsciously, affecting the meaning of the text exactly zero.

They are of no import at all.

Less reliable are the C and D 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.  There is the famous Johannine Comma, which has been roundly expelled from the text. There is the perplexing matter of Longer Mark, referred to by Origen and possibly the source of the “sacred and imperishable” conclusion.

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” excuse.

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.”  When I hear “therefore” I get nervous.

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.)

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, he misuses the scholar in question, whose work actually supports the historic view of the writing of the Gospels.

Here’s my theory for what it’s worth:

–Mark represents Peter’s kerygma.
–When Peter went to Rome (no one can contradict the 42 AD date), the church in the Holy Land needed a gospel.
–In response, 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 and due diligence purposes (which he mentions 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” is suspect, an artifact of agenda-driven scholarship.
–You are skeptical, right?

The foregoing, which is pellucidly clear and much more plausible than the neo-Protestant nonsense of “generations of redaction” and above all the German graduate-student model of research and writing, 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. Way past time, in fact.

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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