Friday, February 24, 2012

Book Snap: Revisiting the Corruption of the New Testament

Revisiting the Corruption of the New Testament (hereafter RCNT) is a grade A production in terms of scholarship, but a mixed bag in terms of practical utility for the everyday reader and the apologist. Edited by premier textual scholar and "Greek geek" Daniel Wallace, it contains six essays on textual criticism, three of which focus on specific verses or words. Bart Ehrman is a frequent though not universal target.

The first essay by Wallace himself is the most valuable for the apologist, and the most generalist essay, taking on the broad question of just how much corruption occurred in the NT. It's a direct reply to Ehrman, and readers may recognize much of the content as similar to that of Wallace's debates with Ehrman.

The second essay, by Philip Miller, charges Ehrman with a tendentious approach to textual criticism, in which he adopts as his method an automatic preference for the "least orthodox" reading as original. This essay is particularly revealing to the extent that it shows just how much Ehrman disagrees with the text-critical consensus, often disagreeing with readings regarded as "certain" or "almost certain" by those who assemble the text-critical apparatus (including his own mentor Bruce Metzger).

The third essay is a specific study of the text of John 1:1, and a heretical variant found in some late manuscripts. As such, it is certainly useful to those making a specific study of that passage, but perhaps of little interest to others (which is no slight on it or on its author, Matthew Morgan; merely a utilitarian observation).
The fourth essay by Adam Messer, though specifically about one text, Matthew 24:36, is of great use to the apologist given that it is perhaps Ehrman's most powerful example of "orthodox corruption". The passage reads: But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. The phrase "nor the Son" is absent from some manuscripts, and Ehrman hypothesizes that this was because orthodox scribes were embarrassed by Jesus' lack of omniscience. (See Wallace's answer to this at the link below.)

Messer substantially weakens Ehrman's case by showing that 1) certain heretics would have had more reason to scrub the critical phrase in Matt. 24:36, and thus the corruption may have crept in via heretical manuscripts (which, despite what we may suppose, may indeed have been used as exemplary copies by orthodox scribes), and 2) many patristic writers had absolutely no problem with the critical phrase, so that the motive Ehrman ascribes to scribes is far less evident than he would want it to be. Messer's information is of such value that I believe it worthy of a summary article in the next E-Block.

The fifth essay by Tim Ricchuiti is on the Gospel of Thomas, and the last by Brian Wright in on passages that refer to Jesus as theos (God). Like the third essay, these will be of great value to those involved in special study of those topics.

RCNT is thus an excellent volume for both specialist and generalist, having something of value for both. Pick it up if your budget isn't too tight.

Wallace link

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