Revisiting the Corruption of the New Testament edited by D.B. Wallace.

Daniel B. Wallace, ed., Revisiting the Corruption of the New Testament: Manuscript, Patristic, and Apocryphal Evidence, Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2011.

This volume is a series of essays of textual criticism. Daniel B. Wallace edits the book wherein five of his students from Dallas Theological Seminary present their work as his disciple. There is no ignoring that four of the six chapters are explicit rebuttals of various assertions made by Bart D. Ehrman. It is an evangelical apologetic and this is not a bad thing.

One of the reasons this book is worth reading is because I think the contributors do a good job of exposing the myth of objectivity. In other words, Ehrman’s agnosticism doesn’t make him an objective text critic while the subjectivity of other’s religious commitments blind them. No, Ehrman himself is guided be particular principles that are often as bias as any evangelical. Where evangelicals may approach the task of text criticism with the presupposition that Scripture is reliable Ehrman approaches them with the presupposition that they are corrupted, often by the proto-orthodox in order to catholicize the Christian religion.

In Chapter 1: Lost in Transmission Wallace explains where he agrees and disagrees with Ehrman. (p. 20-21) He warns that text critics should avoid “absolute certainty” and “total despair” when trying to recover the original wording of the earlier versions of our texts. (p. 22) Wallace expresses confusion over whether Ehrman is certain that we can know certain things about the original autographs (e.g. He is very confident in his assertions that this or that corruption by the proto-orthodox reveals what the original text said.) or if he thinks the whole project is aimless as he seems to state elsewhere when he asserts that all the variants make it impossible to recover the autographs.

Wallace revisits the number of variants (pp. 26-40), the nature of those variants (pp. 40-43), and the theological issues at stake (pp. 43-49). This allows him to present his case for the reliability of the manuscripts of the New Testament.

In Chapter 2: The Least Orthodox Reading is to be Preferred: A New Canon for New Testament Criticism? Philip M. Miller asks if Ehrman’s methodological canon includes the predetermination to find the “least orthodox” reading to be the most likely to be original. In other words, Ehrman is driven to prove his thesis of a diverse, multi-faceted Christianity and any semblance of catholicity is to be rejected.

Miller provides a history lesson in textual criticism going back to the views of some early Christian writers on how textual variants emerged before fastforwding to Johann Wettstein’s observation that the “orthodox” variation is not to be immediately preferred. Along came J.J. Greisbach and pushed it further: we should be suspect of orthodox variations. (p. 61) Miller examines a handful of others before arriving at Ehrman’s 1993 The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture. Miller decides to examine Ehrman’s methodology by (1) examining Ehrman’s thesis on a given alteration; (2) discussion external and internal evidence; and (3) analyzing Ehrman’s finding in light of that evidence (pp. 67-68).

Matthew 24.36; John 1.18; and Hebrews 2.9b concluding that Ehrman is likely to decide against “orthodoxy” even when there should be much less confidence. (pp. 68-81)  Even more telling is how often Ehrman goes against tne NA27/UBS4 findings, especially in relation to the letter grade they gave. Ehrman is consistently siding in favor of readings that he finds to be against perceived orthodoxy. (p. 81-84) The rest of the chapter looks at the criteria found in Ehrman’s work and critically evaluates it, especially the perceived “Canon of Unorthodoxy”. (pp. 84-89)

In Chapter 3: The Legacy of a Letter: Sabellianism or Scribal Blunder in John 1.1c? Matthew P. Morgan examines the textual variant where καὶ θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος is written καὶ ὁ θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος. Most of the essay concerns itself with whether or not there was Sabellian influence on the later term. In other words, did Sabellian scribes attempt to equate “God” and “the Word” in such a way that there was no room for the idea that the Word shared the traits of God [the Father], but that he wasn’t one and the same? Morgan does extensive studies on various manuscripts noticing the types of differences and hypothesizing how those may have arisen.

In Chapter 4: Patristic Theology and Recension in Matthew 24.36: An Evaluation of Ehrman’s Text-Critical Methodology  Adam G. Messer asks whether or not an “orthodox” scribe (as Ehrman would put it) removed οὐδὲ ὁ υἱός because it challenged the orthodox view that Jesus was God. Ehrman’s methodology is critiqued in this essay as is proposal that scribes removed it for the aforementioned reason. It is noted that the parallel in Mark 13.32 retains the words and that Matthew 24.36 still has the word μόνος in reference to the Father. So even if we do not have the phrase οὐδὲ ὁ υἱός we have the same idea in both Matthew and Mark.

Messer proposes that the textual differences could have been attributed to various groups including Docetist and Sabellians. That Ehrman proposes the “orthodox” as the most likely to be at fault portrays his bias. Most of the content of these first four chapters focuses on that reality.

The last two chapter have a different aim, though they remain in the category of NT textual criticism. In Chapter 5: Tracking Thomas: A Text-Critical Look at the Transmission of the Gospel of Thomas Tim Ricchuiti examines the “reliability of the textual transmission”  (p. 190) of this gospel by viewing the Greek and Coptic text. Chapter 6: Jesus as ΘΕΟΣ: A Textual Examination Brian J. Wright examines the text history of those passages that might refer to Jesus as “God”, namely John 1.1; 1.18; 20.28; Acts 20.28; Galatians 2.20; Hebrews 1.8; and 2 Peter 1.1. This last chapter interacts with Ehrman a bit, but it isn’t as focused as the earlier chapters.

Does this book have value? Yes, it is a great resource for textual criticism. The essays are easy to read, even for a novice such as myself. I think the more important contribution is that it shows that people like Ehrman are far from objective. This doesn’t mean these evangelical students are less subjective, but rather than everyone, even text critics, approach their task with an angle. It would be a great book to read beside Ehrman’s The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture of the sections in his popular books where he deals with the same passages these authors address.