The Role of Text Criticism in Apologetics


As this world has become more and more postmodern, apologetics have become a major focus of Christian interaction with the world and even each other. This has resulted in a hyper-focus on giving a defense of the Christian religion to anybody with a critique and debates between Christians regarding the best method of doing so. Often times, Christians provoke “apologetic” scenarios by antagonizing others or inviting them to challenge God. Christians spend hours upon hours learning different apologetic strategies, and even more time squabbling over which one is “best.” This culture of apologetics has gotten out of hand especially in Calvinistic circles. Not only are there countless forums dedicated to debate between Christians and non-Christians, there are countless more dedicated to debate within the Christian camp. There are even YouTube channels dedicated to hosting live stream debates, often times broadcasting interactions between men that are novices in the faith. The whole “debate culture” that has developed within Christianity is a major victory for the devil, as it often distracts men and women of God from doing what they are commissioned to do – .”preach the gospel to every creature.” 

Apologetics Gone Wrong

In order to address the role of text criticism in apologetics, it is first helpful to discuss the role of apologetics in general. There is one key verse that Christians use as didactic license for such a practice, 1 Peter 3:15-16. 

“But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear. Having a good conscience; that whereas they speak evil of you, as of evildoers, that may be ashamed that falsely accuse your good conversation in Christ.” 

There are three points from this text that are important to examine ourselves by: 

  1. The situation in which we are licensed to give a defense is when we are asked why we believe in Jesus Christ, our hope
    1. Do we engage in “apologetics” for the reason given in this text, or are we being combative? Do we invite attack by asking for it?
  2. The content of that questioning is that which questions the genuineness of our conversion and confession
    1. Do we give apologetic responses when we should be preaching the Gospel?
  3. The purpose for answering is to demonstrate that we are not ashamed of our conversion, and thus of the God that converted us
    1. Do we proclaim Christ in our apologetics, or engage in the folly of the fool? 

Calvin comments:

It would have been, therefore, the highest perfidy against God, if, when asked, they had neglected to give a testimony in favour of their religion. And this, as I think, is the meaning of the word apology, which Peter uses, that is, that the Christians were to make it evident to the world that they were far off from every impiety, and did not corrupt true religion, on which account they were suspected by the ignorant.

John Calvin and John Owen, Commentaries on the Catholic Epistles (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010), 109.

The purpose of apologetics is not to make faith more reasonable to the unbeliever, but rather to defend the genuineness of the conversion wrought in a believer by Jesus Christ. The context is persecution. This passage does not give license to go out of our way to be persecuted so that we can give a defense of our faith, and the defense that we give should be the gospel, not a defense of facts or philosophy. The preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness (1 Cor. 1:18), and nothing we say can make it any less so unless it be by the power of God. When Christians take a shield and wield it as a sword, they abandon the ordained means that God has promised to work in for salvation. What is commonly ignored about the principle apologetic passage in 1 Peter is that the answer as to how we respond is given further down in the text. 

“For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit”  

(1 Peter 3:18).

The reason we have hope, dear Christian, is not because of extant manuscript evidence, or proof of a global flood, or that evolution can be debunked mathematically. While those things are helpful to us, they are not the reason for our hope. The work of Christian apologists has helped many Christians, but any hope given by various interpretations of data is not real hope. The reason that we have hope is because “Christ hath suffered for us in the flesh” (1 Peter 4:1) and “that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1 Timothy 1:15) and “not that we loved God, but that he loves us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins (1 John 4:10). The goal of providing a defense is not to make the fool look foolish or ourselves smart, but rather to make Christ look great in our unashamed profession of His salvation. 

The Use of Text-Criticism in Apologetics 

Our method of apologetics says more about our hearts than anything else. Christians must ask themselves if they are truly giving a “reason for the hope” or simply trying to defend a Christian interpretation of data. The Scriptures do not say, “For I am not ashamed of 5,600 extant manuscripts which give me confidence the Bible is inspired,” the Scriptures say, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ” (Romans 1:16). The plain reality is, there is no way to convince an unregenerate person that a text is God’s Word, preserved to this day, by way of the extant data. If it were the case that the manuscript evidence was in any way compelling, Bart Ehrman would be a champion of the Christian faith. Claiming that these manuscripts are the preserved Word of God is just as absurd to an unbeliever as the second person in the trinity taking on flesh, being born of a virgin, living a sinless life, dying, and then resurrecting three days later. It is just as foolish to them as a six day creation, or a literal global flood. In the same way that unbelievers attack the validity of these claims, they attack the validity of the claims made about the Holy Scriptures. Unless the Holy Spirit has worked in the Word in the heart of a man, he simply will not believe. 

As a believer, I find nothing foolish about a six day creation, a risen Christ, or a preserved Bible. The reason a believer finds nothing foolish about these claims is because their mind has been renewed.

“but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God” (Romans 12:2). 

When we give a defense for the hope that is within us by defending something other than the miraculous work of Christ in us by the Holy Spirit, we do not give honor to God for our conversion, we give honor to our interpretation of facts and the strength of our rhetoric. We point to something other than the “reason for the hope that is within” us. No man has been saved by a presentation of facts, but only by hearing the preaching of the Gospel of Jesus Christ (Romans 10:17). This is the greatest weakness of a debate – the best rhetorician will win, regardless of what is true. Christians often point to Paul in Acts 17:16-30 as a justification for going and debating unbelievers and being combative. This passage is often used as a proof text for various apologetic methods. It is not a proof text for apologetics, even though Paul does use rhetoric. In the first place, he is compelled to engage because “ he saw the city wholly given to idolatry.” He is not defensive, he is offensive, and he leaves when mocked. 

“Some mocked; and others said, “We will hear thee again of this matter”. So Paul departed from among them. Howbeit certain men clave unto him, and believed” 

Note that Paul does not engage in defense here – he is being offensive, “convinc[ing] the gainsayers” (Titus 1:9). In fact, how does he respond when people mock? “Paul departed from among them” (Acts 17:33), and takes with him those that received the Gospel. He is not trying to have a “meaningful dialogue” or “engage in the marketplace of ideas” or give the philosophers of Athens a stage in his church. He points them to their idolatry, preaches the resurrection, and then leaves. Paul uses rhetoric in his presentation of the Gospel, not the Gospel as an add-in to his rhetorical presentation. We must have the discernment to recognize the difference between convincing and defending, and know when the time is appropriate for each. If apologetics are used in a Gospel presentation, they should be used to quickly get back to the actual Gospel. The very fact that the point of most of these debates is not the Gospel should say enough. 


Think about the last debate you watched on the topic of text criticism. In any of these debates have you heard an evangelical scholar identify the idolatry of his opponent? Have you heard the gospel being preached as a response to their idolatry? No. What you see is an hour of God’s Word being mocked, and perhaps, if the evangelical wants to save face, a five minute gospel presentation at the end which is completely detached from the presentation. The main takeaway of these debates is how many errors the Bible has, how we will never know what the Bible originally said, and that this is completely acceptable for a Christian to believe. The opponent may even present stronger rhetoric and shake the faith of those watching. The evangelical apologist may give an inadequate defense. The “apologist” may even present gifts to the antagonist, thanking him for his refutation of God’s Word. 

If you’re reading this, you, like me, may have benefited from watching a debate. I am not saying that there is no place for debates or that debates are always bad. What I am saying is that Christians have become enraptured by them, and are often entirely inconsistent in how they debate certain topics, like text criticism. The ordained means of teaching in Christianity is the preached word, not a “meaningful exchange in the marketplace of ideas”. Teaching is a function of the pastorate, not rogue apologists. It is necessary that Christians stop being so pragmatic when it comes to these events. We are not called to give enemies of the faith platforms in our congregations and seminaries to attack God’s Word. In every debate I have seen on the topic of New Testament text-criticism, the evangelical has lost, because the apologist is simply giving a defense of his interpretation of data. 1 Peter 3:15 in no way gives license for this. The opponent will give his interpretation of data, and is more likely to injure Christians who are swept up by his arguments against Holy Scripture. These debates create a mess that pastors then have to clean up. Unless we want to redefine apologetics as giving a defense for something other than the hope that is within us, it seems that Christians should forego supporting such events which put God and His Word on trial. 

Does God exist? The answer is yes.
Is the New Testament reliable? The answer is yes.
Did Christ resurrect? The answer is yes.

Rhetoric and presentations of data cannot convince a man of that. Calling men to repent of their rebellious heart and to believe upon the Lord Jesus Christ to be saved should be our response. Winning debates is not our goal Christian. Glorifying God, enjoying Him forever, and winning souls is.

“He that winneth souls is wise”

Proverbs 11:30

So You’re a Presuppositionalist? Prove it.


Presuppositional Apologetics has been critically acclaimed as the “only Biblical defense of the faith” by many who advocate for the method. Yet there is a critical inconsistency in the vast majority of those who champion Greg Bahnsen and Cornelius Van Til, especially when it comes to the text of Holy Scriptures. Bahnsen provides a starting point in his critically acclaimed book, Presuppositional Apologetics: Stated and Defended. 

“Faith is humble submission to the self-attesting Word of God. Faith accounts God truthful, faithful, and powerful on the basis of His own Word, not requiring to see demonstrable proof or evidence outside of God’s Word that could confirm it as trustworthy” (64). 

Bahnsen proposes in his book that every system must give an account for it’s claim to intelligibility. The Christian, being regenerated by the Holy Spirit in salvation, has had his mind renewed and operates from the epistemological starting point that God has spoken in His Word. The Christian system provides all of the meaningful conditions for logic, induction, and absolute morality.  If a system cannot provide a foundation for such intelligibility, then all claims that follow must be operating from another system that does provide those conditions for intelligibility. They must borrow from the Christian worldview. The goal of the apologist is to first present Biblical truth, and then step into the opposing system and perform an internal critique, demonstrating the foolishness of the opposing system. If the presuppositionalist first begins by assuming neutrality, which is to admit the other system does provide the preconditions for intelligibility outside of the Christian worldview, then they are violating the principles laid out in 1 Peter 3:15 and have lost the argument. 

Step 1: Answer Not a Fool According to His Folly

In order for this system to work, one must first presuppose that God exists (natural truth), and that He has spoken (revealed truth). In these last days, He has spoken through Jesus Christ in His Holy Scriptures (Heb. 1:1). Therefore, all meaningful presuppositional defenses of the Christian faith must begin with this premise. This presupposition is that the Holy Scriptures are the ultimate standard that all other standards must be evaluated by, because this standard is the only standard that provides the aforementioned preconditions for intelligibility. That means that the only standard that is capable of examining the standard set forth in the Holy Scriptures are the Scriptures themselves. If at any point an external standard is applied to this ultimate standard, then the Scriptures are no longer the ultimate standard. That is why the standard is presupposed, hence the name, presuppositional apologetics. 

Based on this starting point, any attempt to defend the Holy Scriptures outside of the Scriptures themselves is to immediately surrender the argument, and adopt the folly of the fool. 

Step 2: Answer a Fool According to His Folly

A modern trend in the practice of presuppositional apologetics is to defend the Scriptures evidentially. Evidence certainly has its place, as Van Til put forth, but not when it comes to evaluating an ultimate standard. The ultimate standard is presuppositional. Therefore, any attempts to “prove” the ultimate standard sets another standard above the ultimate standard, and the “ultimate standard” is no longer ultimate. In other words, the person has given up their claim to the preconditions of intelligibility, and they themselves have become the fool. A great example of this is to examine a situation wherein an atheist attacks the credibility of the ultimate standard by calling into question the ending of the Gospel of Mark. The presuppositionalist has two options here. 

The first option is to say, “Well our earliest and best manuscripts do not contain that passage, so it is not a part of the Scriptures. It is not part of the ultimate standard I am appealing to.” At that point the opponent should ask, “By what standard are you defining the parameters of your ultimate standard?” The presuppositionalist responds, “There are thousands of manuscripts that testify to the New Testament, it is the best testified document from antiquity. Our earliest and best manuscripts date back to the third and fourth century AD, and they do not have the ending of Mark. There is no other book in the history of the world that gets that close to the authorship event.” The opponent continues, “So it is the ultimate standard because it is the best testified document in antiquity?” The Presuppositionalist, realizing his error, responds, “No, it is the ultimate standard because it is God’s Word”. The opponent, noticing that he has won the exchange, presses harder. “So what standard do you use to determine the parameters of the Bible?”  The presuppositionalist has lost his right to claim that he can account for the preconditions of intelligibility, because in order to respond, he must apply an external standard upon the standard he has set forth as ultimate. He has stepped off of his proposed system and borrowed the canons of some other worldview.

The second option is to say, “By what standard are you calling into question the validity of the ending of Mark?” This answer is consistent with presuppositionalism, the first is not. By answering in this way, the presuppositionalist continues to point out that in order to call into question the authority of the Scriptures, one must assume the truths of Scripture in the first place. The opponent may not see this as a valid response, but the presuppositionalist has remained consistent. 


There is an interesting phenomenon within the people who adopt a presuppositional apologetic. On one hand, they claim that the Scriptures are the ultimate authority, and on the other, apply external standards to that ultimate authority. If the Scripture truly is the ultimate authority, it must be, well, ultimate. It is one thing to do this in an apologetic scenario – occasionally somebody outmaneuvers a Christian in debate. That has happened to anybody who has engaged in a difficult conversation with a learned atheist. It is an entirely different thing to claim that the Bible is the ultimate standard, and then adopt an entire system which says the Bible must be validated by way of the standards set forth by that other system. That is to say, that the Bible is not the ultimate standard because it is the Word of God, it is the ultimate standard because an individual thinks it is based on the work of that other system. The standard shifts from objective to subjective, and at that point it’s simply a matter of personal preference if one wants to consider the Bible to be the Word of God. 

This forces one to admit that the Bible is not ontologically the ultimate standard, it becomes the ultimate standard when shaped by the canons of some other system. So it does not follow that the presuppositionalists have any sort of meaningful, consistent claim to the preconditions of intelligibility if they adopt the ultimate standard of some other system, like modern textual scholarship. They must borrow from the worldview that says that the Bible is self-authenticating. In order to make such a claim that Mark 16:9-20 is not Scripture, one must apply some external principle to determine that. I wonder, does that standard meet the preconditions for intelligibility? 

A Meaningful, Reformed Defense of the Scriptures

Before reading this article, I recommend listening to this electrifying sermon by Pastor Joel Beeke:


Charles Spurgeon once said in a Sermon dealing with the defense of the Scriptures:

“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). 

This has always been the Reformed defense of the Holy Scriptures. Greg Bahnsen, in his work, Presuppositional Apologetics: Stated and Defended, writes:

“Faith is humble submission to the self-attesting Word of God. Faith accounts God truthful, faithful, and powerful on the basis of His own Word, not requiring to see demonstrable proof or evidence outside of God’s Word that could confirm it as trustworthy” (64). 

While many in the Reformed camp do not subscribe to a presuppositional method, this thought is pervasive throughout the Reformed Scholastics. See Francis Turretin on the topic: 

“But the orthodox church has always believed far otherwise, maintaining the revelation of the word of God to man to be absolutely and simply necessary for salvation” (Institutes of Elenctic Theology, vol. 1, 55). 

“The authority of the Scriptures depends on the origin. Just because they are from God, they must be authentic and divine” (62). 

“The Bible proves itself divine, not only authoritatively and in the manner of an artless argument or testimony when it proclaims itself God-inspired (theopneuston)” (63). 

Turretin then details the external and internal arguments for the authority of the Scriptures, which follows the same form as that of the Westminster Divines, and post-Reformation Divines:

“With regard to the duration; the wonderful preservation (even to this day) of the divine word by his providential care against powerful and hostile enemies who have endeavored by fire and sword to destroy it…the consent of all people who, although differing in customs (also in opinions about sacred things, worship, language and interest), have nevertheless received this word as a valuable treasury of divine truth and have regarded it as the foundation of religion and the worship of God. It is impossible to believe that God would have suffered so great a multitude of men, earnestly seeking him, to be so long deceived by lying books” (63). 

Turretin goes on to detail the internal testimony to the authority of the Scriptures:

“The internal and most powerful marks are also numerous. (1) With regard to the matter: the wonderful sublimity of the mysteries such as the Trinity, incarnation, the satisfaction of Christ, the resurrection of the dead and the like; the holiness and purity of the precepts regulating even the thoughts of the internal affections of the heart adapted to render man perfect in every kind of virtue and worth of his maker; the certainty of the prophecies concerning things even the most remote and hidden. (2) With regard to the style: the divine majesty, shining forth no less from the simplicity than the weight of expression and that consummate boldness in the commanding all without distinction, both highest and lowest. (3) With regard to the form: the divine agreement and entire harmony of doctrine, not only between both testaments in the fulfillments of predictions and types, but also between particular books of each testament; so much the more to be wondered at, as their writers both were many in number and wrote at different times and places so that they could not have an understanding among themselves as to what things should be written. (4) With regard to the end: the direction of all things to the glory of God alone and the holiness and salvation of men. (5) With regard to the effects: the light and efficacy of the divine doctrine which is so great that, sharper than any two-edged sword, it pierces to the soul itself, generates faith and piety in the minds of its heareers, as well as invincible firmness in its professors, and always victorious triumphs over the kingdom of Satan and false religion.” (64). 

A Return to the Power of God in the Gospel 

So the opinion of the Reformed, both presuppositional and classical, is that the nature of the Scriptures is self-authenticating (αυτοπιστος). The Scriptures testify to themselves that they are the Word of God. Where will one turn to find a sufficient apologetic outside of this testimony? Certainly not Bahnsen. The Lord has prescribed a sword to do battle (Hebrews 4:12), and many, supposing their own prowess, charge into battle with a shield as though God will honor that vain effort. 

The Scriptures are not to be put on trial, and the faithful of God are to go forth with the power which is the Gospel (Rom. 1:16). The heathen and infidel are not to be entertained with debate, as though a careful examination of corruption found within the manuscripts will convince them that God’s Word is inspired and preserved. Evidence of such attempts are well documented by the opinion of Muslims, Atheists, and Momons, who readily use the failed efforts of apologists who have put the Word of God on trial. The effort of the Christian is not to convince, it is to proclaim. This is in fact the testimony of the Apostle when he went forth to the pagan city of Corinth. 

“And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power: That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God” (1 Cor. 2:1-5).

Christians, do not lose sight of the covenantal purpose of the Scriptures (2 Tim. 3:15), or the covenantal purpose of God, which is to make all things new (Gen. 3:15; Rev. 21:5). Our approach to the Muslim, and to the Atheist, and to the Mormon is not to demonstrate that Christians have a defense, it is to bring forth the power of God in the preaching of the Gospel. Remember, that when the Apostle arrived in Athens, the “spirit was stirred in him, when he saw the city was wholly given to idolatry” (Acts 17:16). He then calls them to note their great idolatry and then “preached unto them Jesus, and the resurrection” (Acts 17:18). He did not tarry on about the opinions of various gnostics who were already want to corrupt the orthodox profession of the faith. He proclaimed Christ. 

The faithful in Christ should remember the words of Bahnsen:

“Finally, it remains for us to see that according to the Bible a man cannot come to an understanding of God’s Word or a knowledge of God without regeneration and faith. Hence the apologist cannot give the unbeliever convincing understanding, rational demonstration, probable verification, or knowledgeable proof and expect these to bring him to faith in God’s Word. All the argumentation in the world, all the scholarly explanation that we can set forth cannot effect saving knowledge in the unbeliever, for as dead in his vanity of mind he needs regeneration by the Holy Spirit. Thus the apologist presupposes the Scripture and focuses on the unbeliever’s intellectual rebellion or sinfulness, witnesses to the Word of Christ, and argues upon its self-attesting authority, looking to God rather than secular “wisdom” to give success to his words of proclamation and defense. The apologist does not expect the unbeliever to be able properly to understand and thereby be convinced of the truth of the gospel as long as he remains unrepentant for his guilty rebellion against God and does not begin by faith in his approach to God’s Word” (64-65). 

The Reformed method of prolegomena is to first detail Natural Theology, then to describe the weakness of Natural Theology as it pertains to salvation, and finally to detail the particular beauty, power, and infallibility of the Special Revelation of God in His Holy Writ. The post-Reformation Divines emphatically declared the foundational, Trinitarian nature of God and salvation, the self-authenticating nature of the Scriptures, the inability of man to reconciled of His own accord, the great distance between God and man and the necessity for God’s voluntary condescension, and the importance of practical, experiential religion. 


If the purpose of our apologetic is not to win souls to Christ, than our apologetic has failed. And if the Gospel is only a footnote or even lacking in our presentation to the unbeliever, than we have not used the tools prescribed by Christ. And if we put the authority of Scriptures in the hands of men, we are no better than the Papists which the Reformers fought so vigorously against. There is a war waging which dates back to the time of Adam and Eve, and the weapons of choice chosen by the enemy are “Yea hath God said” (Gen. 3:1) and then “God hath said” (Gen. 3:3). The methodology of the enemy is simple and twofold: 

  1. Question the authority of God’s Word
  2. Assert himself as the authority over God’s Word

The Christian should not be so foolish as to fall to the same error as Adam and Eve. The seed of all errors is to believe that we owe a response to the method proposed by the enemy. Even when Christians proclaim, “I want to know what Paul wrote!” they suppose the thoughts of the enemies of faith which says we are still attempting to find out what Paul wrote, as though God has not delivered His Word and kept it pure. Thus, when one declares that they “want to know what Paul wrote!” as though they don’t know, they really are saying, “Yea hath God said?” When Satan tempted Jesus in the wilderness he attempted the same method that he tried with Adam and Eve. Jesus responded with Scripture. When Satan and his minions attempt to attack the authenticity of Scripture, our only response is to turn heavenward and declare, “Thy word is truth” (John 17:17). 

“For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God. For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent. Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world? hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe” (1 Cor. 1:18-21). 

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


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 ( 

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! 


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.