Does the Modern Apologetic Offer a Meaningful Response to Bart Ehrman?

Introduction

It is often stated that the Confessional Text position, which was the position that the post-Reformation divines defended against the Papists and Anabaptists, offers no meaningful answer to critics like Bart Ehrman. It is said that in order to defend the text of the New Testament, one has to adopt the epistemology and methods of modern textual scholarship. There are two problems with this claim. The first is that Bart Ehrman is a huge influencer in the scholarship that is said to refute him. In other words, he is one of the top scholars in the field and has contributed a vast amount of work to the method that is said to refute him. He is the editor on the Brill series, New Testament Tools and Studies, which represents the latest research in New Testament Textual scholarship. In the recent work on the Pericope Adulterae produced by Tommy Wasserman and Jennifer Knust, the authors thank Bart Erhman for pointing them in the right direction. Additionally, he is the editor of the textbook that is standard curriculum in most seminaries (The Text of the New Testament)

Either Ehrman doesn’t know his own discipline well, or the claim is woefully lacking in any sort of support. In fact, one has to severely downplay the tremendous influence Ehrman has in the current effort of textual scholarship, obfuscating the fact that Erhman’s position is not all that different than the believing version of his view. Despite the fact that many New Testament scholars disagree with his conclusions, the fact stands that at its foundational level, the methods Ehrman uses to come to his conclusions are nearly the same as anybody else who adheres to the modern critical text as it is represented in the NA/UBS platform. In a debate held five years ago between Ehrman and a popular apologist, Ehrman rightfully comments that the apologist agreed with 8.5 out of 9 points presented in his book, Misquoting Jesus (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_8nqibqfhKw&feature=youtu.be). 

The apologist had no response to this pointed observation. At this point, the debate was definitely lost, and Erhman walked out of that room with a victory against the text of the Holy Scriptures (Not to mention that the whole of the debate was akin to a cat playing with a mouse). That is what happens when Christians put the Word of God on trial. So despite the claim made that this is a valid defense against Erhman, Erhman himself finds the position not significantly different than his own. It seems reasonable, that in order to refute Erhman, one must adopt a position different than is espoused by the books that Ehrman himself penned, or edited. It stands to reason that in order for a position to be potent apologetically, it must be different than the position that it is trying to refute. 

The second problem with the claim that defending the Bible requires an adoption of modern critical methods is that the method itself is not capable of proving anything one way or another as it pertains to what is considered the “original” or “authorial” text of the New Testament. Scientific methods do not care about Christians who believe the Bible to be preserved. Scholars and apologists can make conclusions regarding the data, but those conclusions are simply not definitive or demonstrable using the data itself. This is the entire claim of those who hold to a presuppositional method of apologetics. Yet, by adopting this method, one must adopt the folly of the fool to try to prove the fool wrong. Ehrman actually offers the same critique of the methods that those in the Confessional Text camp do, which certain apologists have pointed out. When this is pointed out, there is never a defense offered to silence the critique. Rather than refuting the claim, one must resort to various ad hominem attacks, assaults on the Bible that the Christian church used for centuries (and those that produced it), and other uncharitable schemes that do not provide a substantial argument. Is this really the best possible defense of the text of the Holy Scriptures? I argue no on several accounts. 

Does the Modern Critical Text Apologetic Refute Bart Ehrman?

The answer is a simple “no”. For those that are familiar with a presuppositional method of apologetics, the reason should be clear. It leaves the Christian unequivically incapable of answering the claims of Bart Erhman, and the Muslim apologist at that. Typically, if one wishes to refute somebody, one needs to take an opposing position, not the same one. I cannot think of a more apt example of a Christian handing their Bible over to the unbeliever in apologetics for the sake of neutrality. In this example, it is not just a metaphor, it is quite literally the case that the believer has handed their Bible over to Bart Ehrman to stand as judge over it. In the premise of the argument, the believer has already lost the debate by allowing the unbeliever to decide what the Bible does and does not say.  

Charles Spurgeon offers a great response to those that believe they need to prove every line of Scripture to the unbeliever using evidence.

“I am a Christian minister, and you are Christians, or profess to be so; and there is never any necessity for Christian ministers to make a point of bringing forth infidel arguments in order to answer them. It is the greatest folly in the world. Infidels, poor creatures, do not know their own arguments till we tell them, and then they glean their blunted shafts to shoot them at the shield of truth again. It is folly to bring forth these firebrands of hell, even if we are well prepared to quench them. Let men of the world learn error of themselves; do not let us be propagators of their falsehoods. True, there are some preachers who are short of stock, and I want them to fill up! But God’s own chosen men need not do that; they are taught of God, and God supplies them with matter, with language, and with power” (New Park Street Pulpit, Volume 1, 110). 

There is a difference between defending the texts of the Holy Scriptures, and adopting the methods of modernity which say that the Bible has been lost and needs to be reconstructed, and then trying to defend that it has not been lost. So what is the difference between the modern critical text apologist and Bart Ehrman? The difference is that both the modern critical text apologist and Bart Erhman look at the same dataset, and one says that the dataset is the preserved Word of God, and the other doesn’t. On this point, I agree with the modern critical text apologist that God has preserved His Word. I disagree, however, with the conclusion that the modern critical text has demonstrated that, or can demonstrate that. 

The way that this position is defended is by simply saying that God has preserved His Word. There is no evidence to support this claim, however, because there is not a single person who defends this method who will point at a text and say, “This is God’s preserved Word!” They must argue that God has generally preserved all the words, and that it is the task of human scholars to dig through the decaying manuscripts to find out which words He preserved. The modern critical text apologist says that this can be accomplished, and Bart Ehrman, along with a multitude of his peers, say that it cannot be done. Which is to say that the scholars who have all of the credentials, all of the accolades – the masters of this method – say that it cannot be done. That is why Christians should take the opinions of DC Parker and Bart Ehrman seriously when they critique the modern methods and the inability of such methods to produce a final form of the text. Of course there are more optimistic scholars than DC Parker and Bart Ehrman, but even they will not say that God’s Word has been preserved down to the word. Yet the problem does not lie in the fact that God’s Word has not been preserved, it rests in the reality that the methodology itself is incapable of proving such a claim. 

If it were able to prove this claim, the work of modern textual scholarship on the New Testament would have been completed decades ago. It is not that God has not preserved His Word that is the problem, the problem is that the modern methodology has decided this to be the case. So in adopting this modern method, one must adopt the various methods that have led scholars, both atheist and believer alike, to abandon the search for the Divine Original. In its premise, the argument admits that the Word of God still needs to be found, and the original (as I have defined it here) cannot be found. In admitting that the Word of God still needs to be found, the Christian has lost all claims on a Bible that is preserved. In a very real sense, this position says that while God has indeed preserved His Word, we simply will never know which one He preserved. This “defense” of the Holy Scriptures is no defense at all, it is surrender. It is like standing in a pile of keys that open a door, and not ever being able to find the key that opens the door. What a capricious God, who would dangle His Word in front of His people, declaring that He preserved His Word for them but never allowing them to know what that Word is that He preserved! 

Conclusion

The only meaningful apologetic for the Holy Scriptures is one which does not adopt the speculations and theories of modern scholarship. A Christian does not need to believe that in order to defend the Scriptures, they must capitulate to the opinions of Bart Ehrman and Muslims. We do not need to place the Holy Writ on an alter in a mosque or the academy and stand by as opponents of the faith critique and dismantle each line of God’s Word. We do not need to wait until 2032, when the scholars have handed the Bible back to the church with a big red stamp reading, “Undecided”. The defense for the Scriptures remains the same as it has for centuries – that God’s Word is self authenticating. It is in itself the rule of faith. It does not stand judged by men, but it is the judge of men. 

It is high time that the mockery of those who adhere to this divine truth be cast out of our favor as Christians. Those who truly wish to defend the Holy Scriptures must begin by rejecting the model that says the Bible has not been preserved perfectly, and kept pure in all ages. Christians should abhor those who mock the self-authenticating nature of the Sacred Deposit, and reject the opinions of those who do not see the Scriptures as any different than the Iliad. We must stop blindly believing the unfounded claims that the modern method has produced a meaningful apologetic for the Holy Scriptures when it clearly hasn’t, and return to the theological foundations of the protestant faith. God alone has spoken, and He does not need men to decide what He did, or did not say. I will follow up this article with a positive defense of the Holy Scriptures using a theological method, which is the method espoused by the giants of the faith whose shoulders we, as modern Christians, stand on. 

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