Archive for the ‘transmission of scripture’ Category

Ehrman’s Misunderstanding of the doctrine of inerrancy

October 9, 2011

I began seeing the New Testament AS A VERY HUMAN BOOK. The N.T. as we actually have it, I knew, was the product of human hands, the hands of the scribes who transmitted it. Then I began to see that not just the scribal text BUT THE ORIGINAL TEXT ITSELF was a very human book. This stood very much at odds with how I had regarded the text in my late teens as a newly minted “born again” Christian, convinced that the Bible was the inerrant Word of God and that the biblical words themselves had come to us by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. As I realized already in graduate school, even IF God had inspired the original words, WE DON’T HAVE THE ORIGINAL WORDS. So the doctrine of inspiration was in a sense IRREVELANT to the Bible as we have it, since the words God REPUTEDLY INSPIRED had been changed, and in some cases, LOST. Moreover, I came to think that my earlier views of inspiration were not only irrelevant, they were probably wrong. For the only reason (I came to think) for God to inspire the Bible would be so that his people would have his actual words; but if he really wanted people to have his actual words, surely he would have miraculously preserved those words, just as he had miraculously inspired them in the first place. GIVEN THE CIRCUMSTANCE THAT HE DIDN’T PRESERVE THE WORDS, THE CONCLUSION SEEMED INESCAPABLE TO ME THAT HE HADN’T GONE THROUGH THE TROUBLE OF INSPIRING THEM.

Bart Ehrman, Misquoting Jesus, (New York:HarperCollins, 2005)

A couple of comments. It is a shame that when Ehrman was at Moody or Wheaton he was not taught (or did not pick up) that inerrancy and recognising the human authorship of the Bible are compatible. Also, Ehrman demands that God ‘preserve’ the text of the Bible without any textual variants. Since no document of antiquity exists without variants he is demanding that Scripture be unique and not at all a human product. Again, Scripture is the inerrant Word of God but it is the words of inspired men also. In the transmission and copying of the text scribes made errors. However, the origianl text can be ascertained by comparing text with text. This is textual criticism – Ehrman’s area of expertise.

And how does he know certain words have been ‘lost’?

Ehrman had a wrong view of inerrancy early on but he never allowed this view to be corrected or matured to consider the kind of sophisticated statement of inerrancy that allows for variants, the loss of the autographs and the human process that God oversaw in preserving the text we have that is by far the best attested in all antiquity.

James White comments:

How would God accomplish this feat that Ehrman demands. If a scribe was about to misspell a word, would he burst into flames? Disappear in a flash of light? Would God take him over, put him in a trance, and override his humanity so as to “fix” the problem? Would an angel appear and shout “Stop! Spell that word with two nu’s!” All such scenarios seem utterly absurd because, again, the operating assumption itself is flawed.

The King James Only Controversy, James R. White, Bethany, 2009 2nd ed., pp.304-305