Can we trust the text of the New Testament?

One of the recent areas of apologetic debate concerns the text of the New Testament. Can we be confident that the texts that we have, which are then translated into our own native language, are a reliable record of the texts that were first written by the authors? Are the processes of copying and transmission trustworthy? The study of this question, and the task of discerning the original text from the multitude of copies that we have, is known textual criticism.

Elijah Hixson and Peter Gurry have recently edited a volume looking at the key questions, Myths and Mistakes in New Testament Textual Criticism, and I interviewed Peter about the issues that they raise. 


IP: Textual criticism is usually viewed as being at the most specialist or ‘geeky’ end of biblical studies! Why do you think it is of particular importance just now?

PJG: This is true. It’s probably the geekiest of the subdisciplines because it’s so technical and requires such a degree of precision. It’s also ‘geeky’ in that it’s often seen as dry, tedious, and sometimes unnecessary. It certainly can be tedious though I think it’s anything but dry. What could be more fascinating than tracing the history, reception, and form of this text we Christians revere? As for being unnecessary, I think textual criticism’s importance is becoming more apparent to both lay believers and New Testament scholars. On the lay front, the influence of Bart Ehrman on popular conceptions of the Bible has meant that pastors often have to address the subject more than before. When textual criticism hits the cover of Newsweek or National Geographic, you can be sure something has shifted at the popular level.

Add to that things like the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife and the Mark fragment formerly known as First-Century Mark and you can see why people in the pews are taking notice. On the academic side, major research projects (like the Editio Critica Maior) and new hand editions (like NA28/UBS5 and THGNT) have meant that scholars need to pay more attention to textual criticism because their critical editions are changing right under their noses.

IP: You mention in your book the importance of Bart Ehrman’s work. Why do you think his contribution is so significant? Have there been good responses to it?

PJG: I think Ehrman hits the sweet spot in his popular work. He brings a combination of things that scratch the itch of a secularizing society that, especially in America, is still hugely influenced by conservative Christianity. The first is his academic credentials. He’s worked and written in academia for decades and he brings a wealth of informed knowledge to questions that even Christians often don’t know much about. Second, his deconversion narrative is one that appeals to a swath of American society (and its media) that finds the beliefs and motives of Christians—especially evangelical ones—incredulous. Since he has “been there and done that,” he provides reassurance to atheists and skeptics that thinking people don’t need to take Christian beliefs too seriously (see his interview with Sam Harris as a good example). Third, he’s always been a great communicator. He has a way of wearing his knowledge lightly so that listeners learn a lot from him without feeling dumb in the process. That’s very disarming for many people, I think. Finally, I think conspiracy narratives aimed at power and influence appeal to people who distrust institutions. This is one reason why it’s easier to write a bestseller about the story behindwho changed the Bible and why than it is to write one on why those same changes don’t undermine the Christian faith.

In terms of Ehrman’s argument that textual variants disprove the Bible’s inspiration, two good responses that come to mind are Reinventing Jesus and The Heresy of Orthodoxy. (I also like Peter Head’s Grove booklet How the New Testament Came Together as a first port of call, but it’s hard to get in the States. [Ed: it is available as a PDF online]) But maybe the best response isn’t really a response at all. It’s the work of Ehrman’s own supervisor, Bruce Metzger, whose scholarship mostly predates Ehrman’s popular work and who was convinced that textual criticism posed no real threat to historic Christians beliefs.

IP: Your book is entitled Myths and Mistakes in New Testament Textual Criticism. Amongst ordinary believers, what do you think is the most surprising thing they might find in this book?

PJG: Pictures! Besides that, they may be surprised at how much there is to learn about how we got the New Testament text. Whether it’s exploring autographs in their first-century context, understanding why some of our most important manuscripts have “extra” books in them, or learning how Bible translators in the field deal with textual variants, there is a lot here for the non-expert. I learned quite a bit myself! What I most hope believers come away with is a conviction that we shouldn’t appeal to bad arguments to defend the Bible—and that we don’t need to.

IP: You are not afraid to take on the views of other evangelicals—and there are some things (for example, the fact that autographs probably did not last for long) that some will find disappointing. What do you think are the most common missteps that evangelicals make—sometimes in a desire to foster confidence in the reliability of the New Testament?

PJG: The most common misstep is using outdated arguments. For example, it’s extremely common to compare the large number of New Testament manuscripts to those of famous classical authors. In many cases, the classical data is still taken from F.F. Bruce’s book The New Testament Documents. That’s a great book in many ways, but it also wasn’t updated much from its original edition in the 1940s. This means his stats for classical works are almost a century out-of-date now. If that wasn’t bad enough, it gets worse because when authors and apologists turn from Bruce’s classical stats to the New Testament, they invariably use the most up-to-date (and often biggest) number of manuscripts they can find. The result is a very lopsided and outdated comparison that makes the point but does so unfairly.

Other missteps involve giving overly precise dating to our earliest manuscripts of the New Testament, giving exaggerated manuscript counts (I’ve been guilty myself), and failing to think carefully about how manuscripts work when using stats about the number of variants. There are others, of course, and each chapter of the book takes on one myth or mistake and tries to offer a helpful corrective.

IP: At several points, the chapters in the book compare approaches of the Christian community (including scribes) with broader ancient practice. Is there evidence that the Christian community took a distinctive approach to the copying and distribution of manuscripts?

In some cases, yes. We know that Christian scribes were unique in using abbreviations for certain words we call nomina sacra or sacred names. This initially included words like “Father,” “Jesus,” “Christ,” “God,” and then expanded to include others like “David” or “Jerusalem.” There is also the well-known Christian preference for the codex format (as opposed to the scroll). Scholars continue to offer explanations for both these early Christian phenomena, but I don’t think we can say for sure in either case how or why the preference arose. On the other side, there is plenty of evidence that Christian scribes were much like their non-Christian counterparts: they made mistakes, they tried to correct them, they cared about accuracy, and they copied the documents they did precisely because they valued them.

IP: Ehrman has made big claims about the number of variants there are in the NT manuscripts, and about the evidence that theological concerns affected the faithful transmission of manuscripts—issues tackled by your chapter and the one that follows by Robert D Marcello. How important are these variants for the reliability of the NT—and how many have significant implications for doctrine?

PJG: Yes, the irony is that his number of variants (he usually says 200,000–400,000) is probably too conservative. My estimate, which I based on three robust datasets, is closer to half a million non-spelling differences among Greek manuscripts. That’s a quite a lot and proper context is crucial to appreciate it. In John 18, for example, I counted over 3,000 variants among over 1,600 collated Greek manuscripts. That’s again a lot, especially given that John 18 has only about 800 words in our printed Greek New Testaments. But when we realize that every word copied by a scribe comes with the potential for error and we further remember that each of those 1,600 manuscripts required the scribe to copy about 800 words in this chapter, the result is about 3,000 variants for almost 1.3 million words copied. That’s around one distinct variant for every 400 words copied. Not so bad.

More importantly, most of these variants are either insignificant to the meaning, are easily recognized as scribal mistakes, or both. The scholar’s edition of the Greek New Testament (NA28) lists 154 while the translator’s preferred edition (UBS4) lists only 10. Most commentators discuss a handful of these. Of the major English translations I checked, not one lists a single variant in the footnotes of John 18. And this is probably right since they don’t warrant the attention of English Bible readers. Of course, not all variants are insignificant. There are even some that, in my view, are both difficult to resolve and occur in passages of theological or practical importance (e.g., Luke 23.34; 1 Cor 14.34–35; Jude 5). But, since Christian doctrine at its best is based on “the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20.27) and not on isolated verses, I conclude that, while some textually debated texts do, in fact, bear on doctrine and practice, no Christian doctrine or practice is in jeopardy because of textual criticism. In this, I think all can agree, even Ehrman.

When it comes to variants that were created for theological reasons, it’s beyond doubt that scribes did sometimes change the text to avoid apparent problems or to “improve” their copies theologically. The way to detect this is to study a scribe’s entire work across a manuscript rather than to look at certain variants in isolation. When this is done, I find that many supposed theologically-motivated variants have more mundane explanations.

To give an example, it’s been claimed that the scribe of Codex Bezae left out the phrase “and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery” in Matt 5.32 because he wanted to protect men from bearing the Scarlet Letter. Now, that’s a very spicy claim. There are two problems with this. The first is that, if this was his goal, he failed us men since he left the offending phrase in the text at Matt 19.9. Second, this explanation ignores the observable tendency in Codex Bezae of leaving out words and phrases by accident when similar word endings are involved. That’s exactly what we have in Matt 5.32 (μοιχευθηναι… μοιχαται) and so this is almost surely an accidental omission in Bezae. From this and similar cases, I’m convinced that theological motive should be a last resort to explain variants. Whenever a mechanical explanation presents itself, we should prefer that as more likely than theological motive.

IP: Textual criticism feels to many like a quite technical and specialist concern—and the ordinary reader might feel anxious about the lack of early complete manuscripts of parts of the NT. Are there good grounds to be confident—and is this something worth engaging in an apologetic context?

PJG: Yes! There is no doubt that Christians (and all readers) can trust the text that we have as a reliable record of what the authors wrote! But I think the issue in textual criticism are something not only worth engaging in but, at times, necessary to. Where the authority of the Bible is challenged—whether by scholars or by popular media—Christians, and especially church leaders, will need a response. This response, to the best of our abilities, needs to be a responsible one and that’s exactly why Elijah and I put this book together.

We hope it offers a resource for pastors, apologists, and laypeople to better appreciate the robust evidence we do have for the text of the New Testament. In some cases, this means doing the uncomfortable work of rejecting bad arguments for the Bible. But this is done in the service of truth and with confidence that the good arguments we have left are more than adequate to the task. For those who do have doubts and for those who minister to them, we hope the book is a welcome resource.

IP: Thanks very much for your time Peter.

Peter Gurry (PhD, University of Cambridge) teaches New Testament and co-directs the Text & Canon Institute at Phoenix Seminary. He is the author of A Critical Examination of the Coherence-Based Genealogical Method in New Testament Textual Criticism and an editor of Myths and Mistakes in New Testament Textual Criticism. He is also a Board Member for the Institute for Biblical Research and a sub-editor in text and canon for Religious Studies Review. He lives in north Phoenix with his wife, five overactive children, and their cat.


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50 thoughts on “Can we trust the text of the New Testament?”

  1. Note that gematria-fruitful syllable counts in each ‘day’ period of John 1-2 (see under Psephizo, Secret Codes and NT Wright) hugely confirm (what the logic of multiple MSS implying a particular family tree of MSS) already made highly likely – that the text is pretty much perfect, in this part of the NT anyway.

    In 1993 after 18 months’ thought I wrote up what I call the Bucks Alley tables in Bucks Alley woods, Little Berkhamsted: these comprise a periodic table of matrices for John’s Gospel whose elements predetermine and comprise its content. By intrinsic likelihood and elimination I worked out the sequence of these 9 component tables. Only to discover a quarter of a century later that the tables’ titles (which previously I could only guess at, though my guesses were pretty accurate and not difficult to make) were found in perfect sequence in the syllable counts of these 9 days.

    None of which would be possible unless the syllable counts (so, something at an even more micro level than the wording) were pretty much perfectly preserved.

    Reply
  2. Ehrman is a good communicator compared to a number of New Testament scholars (you only have to watch some youtube videos to see that), but the problem I have with him is that on the one hand he is clearly trying to give the impression to the general public (who often dont know any better) that such issues as textual variants mean we cannot today possibly know what the original documents (letters etc) actually said (using transmission analogies as the telephone game, which is patent nonsense) and on the other admitting that if he and his old professor, Bruce Metzger, got in a room together to decide on the original text, they would agree with very few differences! You cant have it both ways. Sadly his books remain very popular, despite them being misleading (he notably only really consults with other scholars’ works which agree with him, eg on the alleged non-burial of Jesus).

    Peter

    Reply
    • It’s all to do with spin and marketing. The selected book-title will be what the intentionally-sceptical public will lap up. By the time that the actual content is more nuanced, it matters little because the effect of the title remains, and the publishers clean up.

      Reply
  3. Peter, the omission of “and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery” at Matt 5:32 in codex Bezae could well have occurred by accident, as you point out. But that does not mean that bias was not involved, does it? Omissions often happened but were corrected at the time or by later copyists who had more than one exemplar. Even if the original omission was accidental, we should ask whether misogyny among the scribes delayed its correction. Has anyone done a statistical analysis of variants that favor one gender over the other, and if not, why not? Are there any variants that favor women over men?

    Reply
    • Since the suggested bias suggested was so weak that it left the Scarlet Letter in place at Matt 19.9, then, yes, it does mean that bias was probably not in play here. D is the only witness I know of that omits that phrase in Matt 5.32. So no scribe delayed its correction as you suggest. By far the simpler explanation (if less “sexy”) is the one that accords with the mistakes we find in every single manuscript: simple omission.

      Reply
      • Why do you believe that the omission was made by the scribe of Bezae, rather than by a predecessor? Do you believe that F or G, for example, are descended from the exemplar of Bezae, AND that the omission (if present in the exemplar) would not have been corrected by the scribe of F or G or one of the intermediate copyists?

        Was there not a tendency to correct omissions when discovered? Wallace talks about the rule “if in doubt, don’t chuck it out”. I understand your point about Matt 19:9, but isn’t it possible that a predecessor of Bezae omitted the offending words in both verses, and the omission at 19:9 was caught and the one at 5:32 was not? I accept that the bias was “weak”, in the sense that most scribes copied their exemplars faithfully most of the time, but that does not mean that the bias was “probably not in play”, does it?

        If this omission was an innocent mistake and was not created or prolonged by bias, why do such accidents demote women relative to men far far more often than they demote men relative to women? It is not enough for you and Holmes and Childers and Niccum to offer alternative explanations for individual variants that have the effect of reducing the standing of women. You need to find a comparable number of variants that have the opposite effect. Hence my question about statistical studies.

        Reply
        • I think Peter has said that there is no doubt some evidence of bias—he is not denying that bias is present.

          But he is making the case that bias often isn’t the best explanation of a variant.

          Reply
          • I don’t hear Peter say that there is some evidence of bias. And right now I hear only silence from him. Yes, bias often isn’t the best explanation of a variant, but it is very likely in the case of Matt 5:32 in Bezae, for there is a pattern of misogynist variants in the NT (and not only in Bezae). But let’s stick with Bezae’s text of Matthew, for now. At Matt 14:21 Bezae (or more likely a predecessor) has demoted women, placing them after children. It does the same thing at Matt 15:38. Can someone show me a case where Bezae demotes men in Matthew?

        • Bias affected scribes. It also affects those who interpret the causes of their mistakes. Bezae makes a number of singular omissions due to homoioteleuton (as I discuss in a forthcoming article). The simplest explanation in Matt 5.32 is an accidental omission of the same type. There’s no reason to look for further motive.

          Reply
          • Thanks for that (your reply has just appeared on my screen). Yes, the statistics on homoioteleuton in Bezae are relevant, so I look forward to your article. Where will I find it? You state that “Bezae makes a number of singular omissions due to homoioteleuton”. Most early manuscripts do, don’t they? Could you be more specific? How many such omissions does it make, compared to other manuscripts? Are the cases evenly distributed among the books? How many were corrected? The statistics on gender-related variants are also relevant. Have you compiled them? How many of those cases of homoioteleuton demote men?

          • I looked up the singular omissions in Bezae in Matthew (see page 302 of Paulson’s thesis here: https://era.ed.ac.uk/bitstream/handle/1842/895/Paulson2013.pdf;jsessionid=5B36AEA29040BCF2BC918D3E916F5226?sequence=2). There is only one omission of more than one word that seems to be due to homoioteleuton (at 22:24). So are we to conclude that Bezae made two omissions by homoioteleuton and that it is a coincidence that one of them happened to favor men over women? It’s too much of a coincidence, given what we know about Bezae in Matthew and elsewhere.

            Furthermore, Paulson does not classify 5:32 as a singular omission. NA28 gives the same omission in the old Latin manuscripts a, b, and k, and in some manuscripts of Origen. So, it seems to me that either this omission happened multiple times independently (in which case it is very unlikely that it was a mechanical slip), or it pre-dated Bezae (in which case it is likely that bias prevented it being corrected before it appeared in Bezae, or it happened very early indeed and was once very widespread).

            We should also consider the possibility that someone could commit an omission by “homoioteleuton” deliberately. A scribe, if challenged, would be able to claim that the omission was an accident. It would allow plausible deniability. If our list of innocent variants contains more that favor men over women than those that favor women over men, then we have given the scribes too much of the benefit of the doubt. The statistics matter.

            It is not good enough to find that an accidental slip is possible and then decide to look no further.

            Also, the words ΜΟΙΧΕΓΘΗΝΑΙ and ΜΟΙΧΑΤΑΙ in 5:32 are not so easily confused, anyway. They end with only two identical letters.

            Has anyone done a detailed study on Bezae’s omission in Matt 5:32?

  4. Ian, do you think the section in the Alpha videos on textual criticism should therefore be updated to reflect the latest research?

    Reply
    • I haven’t looked at them recently, but my recollection from some time ago is that they were based on the numbers from F F Bruce. There is no doubt that they should be updated in line with current research.

      However, one thing I am very aware of in this area, is that it is highly technical, and to ‘lay’ ears can sound uncertain. as Peter says, there has been a danger in the past of evangelicals being too blaze about the data. But the complex details e.g. on John 18 that Peter gives above, do highlight the fact that the transmission of the text has been reliable. Summarising that for a lay audience *could* look to experts like ‘cutting corners’. The devil is in the detail (pun not intended).

      Reply
      • Don’t know if this helps, but at the time I was on an Alpha course, there were recommended books, by Alpha, for each session, which were available to borrow from the church (except “God’s Empowering Presence” by Gordon Fee!) for those who were interested to know more. If I remember correctly, Packer’s, Knowing God was one. All the participants were lay and the books were generally for non-experts.
        Don’t know if recommended resources are part of the course now.
        I don’t know but maybe this plug from the article would help:
        “(I also like Peter Head’s Grove booklet How the New Testament Came Together as a first port of call, but it’s hard to get in the States. [Ed: it is available as a PDF online]”

        Reply
  5. Phoenix Seminary’s statement of faith is interesting, especially this bit:-

    “We believe the 66 books of the Old and New Testament are the authoritative Word of God based on an inspired text without error in the autographs.”

    Even if he wanted to (and I have no reason to believe that he does), would Dr. Gurry be allowed to keep his post if he disputed this?

    Reply
    • I have Gurry and Hixson’s book, have read much of it, and don’t have any major objections. However, I would like to see authors declare conflicts of interest. The Phoenix Seminary web site has pictures of 13 staff, faculty, and leadership, and they are all men! And one of the them is Wayne Grudem! Someone who works for that institution certainly has a conflict of interest when giving his assessment of misogynist variants such as that at Matt 5:32, discussed above. Phoenix Seminary is unlikely to be open to the view that sexist scribes successfully forged parts of the NT and attempted to corrupt other parts.

      I too find Ehrman to be inconsistent. He implies that we can’t know what the original documents said, but at other times he uses arguments that presuppose that we have the original text.

      Reply
      • But Phoenix Seminary is not the context of this work; both authors engage in the wider community, including arenas like SBL. I find it odd to suggest that you must have every view represented in your institution to have credibility; I don’t know of many university departments for which that would be true.

        Reply
        • You misrepresent my views. I am not saying that you have to have every view represented in your institution to have credibility. I’m saying authors should declare conflicts of interest. Good broadcasters do.

          Reply
      • Hi Richard,

        You state: “Also, the words ΜΟΙΧΕΓΘΗΝΑΙ and ΜΟΙΧΑΤΑΙ in 5:32 are not so easily confused, anyway. They end with only two identical letters.”

        ~~I’m not understanding the implied weight of this argument. Two letter hom. tel. is extremely common within the manuscript tradition.~~

        Again you write: “We should also consider the possibility that someone could commit an omission by “homoioteleuton” deliberately. A scribe, if challenged, would be able to claim that the omission was an accident. It would allow plausible deniability.”

        ~~I appreciate that you’re thinking outside of the box, but this enters into a level of confirmation bias that would be amusing;–if the Text of the NT was not the topic at hand. This type of argument comes across as *only* a blind reach at what one wants to see, i.e., the rose colored glasses approach. I’m not intending to be disrespectful (truly!), but would you allow someone who holds a view contrary to your own–to use such argumentation?~~

        Reply
        • Hi Matthew. Has anyone compiled statistics on the frequency of two letter homoioteleuton? What we need is data on how often it occurs and how often the opportunity for it arises, with the number of letters and the interval between the words. That is to say, I would like to see an equation for the probability of it occurring, as a function of the number of letter, the separation of the words, and the date of the manuscript. Perhaps you could reply to me by email, as we are in danger of going off-topic.

          Reply
          • Hi Richard,

            That would be a daunting task! And honestly, I’m not sure how much good it would do. You see, there are just too many variables and too many decisions that would involve at least some degree of subjectivity. Even if it was done on a small scale, i.e., a limited number of mss., and a small section of Text–It would not be a sure guide when evaluating other mss., or other books of the NT.

            At the moment I have compiled approximately 3000 possible cases of hom. arc. and hom. tel.. (The vast majority of which are undeniable boni fide instances.) From my experience, two letter homoeoteleuton is demonstrably run-of-the-mill. Primarily because of the massive amount of opportunity, e.g., οι, ος, ον, ου, ως, ων, ιν, ει, εν, άι, etc., as well as the simply fact that HT is extremely common amongst the Greek manuscript tradition to begin with.

            If I may make a suggestion; I would encourage you to acquire a volume or two of Swanson’s NTGM (if you haven’t already,) and simply peruse the pages. Mark down all the obvious singular and rarely attested instances of HT within a designated portion. This will give an idea of what we’re dealing with here–and a front row seat to all the action. In my opinion, first hand experience is much more enlightening than any data set, graph, or statistical model.

  6. Integrity would presuppose, that he’d resign, if his studies led him to conclude to the contrary.
    Skepticism may presume that he would not change his mind as a result of his studies or that if he did he’d stay in post and hide behind his office and qualifications without disclosure. (Maybe like unbelieving Anglican Clergy who stay in position, regardless).
    What is the point of your point, James?
    That his work is biased, unreliable, can not be trusted simply as a result of the statement of faith of the organisation?
    Does that not apply to Erhman? though his so called reconversion may argue against the author of this book not changing his mind.
    I wasn’t impressed by Erhman in his recent (ish) discussion with Peter J Williams on Premier.
    Your comment certainly does not attend to anything in the article.

    Reply
    • I was careful to say that this isn’t a personal criticism, Geoff, and I have no reason to doubt that Dr. Gurry’s sincere in his beliefs and is discussing them in good faith. It’s a general criticism of academic institutions having these statements of faith, which are flatly incompatibile with free scholarship.

      Erhman has his biases like any of us, but he’s free to publish what he likes.

      We don’t believe that, say, judges who recuse themselves from cases in which they have a personal interest (even the most tenuous, indirect interest) will actually be biased, but accept that it’s essential to avoid even the appearance of undue influence. Likewise, these statements of faith have no place in an accredited academic institution.

      Reply
      • Good point, James. The statements of faith should be eliminated, and members of organizations with statements of faith should declare a conflict of interest whenever they publish on relevant subjects. I hope that Peter Gurry can respond.

        Reply
          • Indeed,
            At law, it would be known as having “a purpose of his own to serve” which may be more expressive.

          • Indeed it would be bizarre, so it’s a good thing that no-one made it here, least of all me! As I said, Ehrman will, like any of us, have his biases: the comment was directed primarily at institutions, and the restraints they place on academic speech.

            When it comes to individuals, however, not all biases are equal. Work constrained by firm commitment to inerrancy, held as a tenet of a deeply rooted religious faith, is different in kind to work whose author has a mere preference for a particular outcome, a preference that can be set aside either in response to the evidence, or in response to subsequent criticism.

          • It’s all very well to repeat the mantra that everyone has their biases (well – actually it’s not all very well: it’s thoughtless), but how many questions that leaves unanswered.

            (1) Are all biases equally conscious? If not, those that are more conscious can ipso facto be consciously corrected.

            (2) Conscious correction of known biases can be built into a methology.

            (3) Are all people equally biased (that would certainly be a coincidence and a half) or (much more likely) are some more/less biased than others?

            (4) If indeed some are less biased than others, is there potentially any limit to how unbiased one can be?

            (5) What about those whose conscience is trained against lying? Or the Greta Thunbergs of this world?

            You see that the repetition of clichés is worse than useless. It extends no thought to the words it does utter, while also applying no thought to all these angles that are ignored as well.

      • James what is your motive here, with your comments?
        1 From the words you used, you appear to be seeking to undermine this work, it’s reliability, without even reading it, without consideration at all of what has been written, or the methodology.
        2 This is deuced from the red herrings, fallacies:
        2.1 The Judiciary is not an academic institution. Intellectual rigour is required by judges in the exercise of their duties, function, (and writing of law-common law- in England and Wales, subject to “peer “review) which are subject to the notion of independence and rules of natural justice, that not only must justice but done but must be seen to be done seen to be done, : hence rules about disclosure of conflict of interests and recusing themselves from even sitting, from even taking part. (It is a moot point whether this is rigorously applied).
        2.2 Are you seriously saying that Dr Gurry should be barred from his research, should disqualify himself ? Sure, it is there to be scrutinised, with proper peer review, (which yours isn’t).
        2.3 No, yours is far from a peer review. With no application of intellectual rigour of which you are more than capable, you reduce, undermine his work to little more than a sincerity of belief, even while saying at the same time, it is not a personal criticism. To me, it is a criticism of his work and quality of it.
        2.4.1 Free scholarship/ institution. Again this is a red herring, a fallacy in the context of Dr Gurry’s work, which you make not one jot or tittle attempt at addressing. It attacks the institution not the actual work of Dr Gurry, a Cambridge PhD.
        2.4.2 You are entering into choppy waters. Secular universities have unwritten, philosophical statements of faith. Oxford and Cambridge have hardly been outstanding defenders of academic freedom and rigour in the recent past.
        3. The opening sentence of the article sets the scene “One of the recent areas of apologetic debate concerns…” There is no subterfuge. The work may be viewed by some as academic advocacy, a defence of reliability of the scriptures (and I’m not saying it is only that), but nonetheless credible for it.
        4 Equally there has been no entering into the debate from you: mere sniping from the sidelines with an implied heavy presuppositional bias against the contents of the book.
        5 Yes James, what are your motives? Or rather, what are your sincerely held beliefs? Your main point? That scripture is …what?
        Aren’t, you are looking to go beyond belief, for some reliable evidence on which to base or to corroborate belief or unbelief, your case. But what comes first, chicken or egg? Wood from trees? From fragments to the whole.
        From text to texture. What is the texture of scripture?
        Blind men and the elephant, perhaps?
        Who is the ultimate author of scripture? Is the answer revealed by the author or researchers?

        Reply
        • My personal opinions on scripture are no secret here: I treat it like any other text, with its authors as capable of error as any other authors.

          As for critiquing Dr. Gurry’s work (something I freely admit will be amateurish), since it doesn’t exist in a vacuum, it can’t be done without considering any constraints placed upon it, and beyond those, any presuppositions it may be bound by. Learning these is no different to papers opening with the author’s methodology. It’s precisely because I respect his credentials that I’m interested in knowing more.

          Beyond that, I’m most interested in the issue of academic freedom, and its compatibility of statements of faith.

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          • Would that oncern for academic freedom extend to scholars in seular institutions who have problems with Marxism, feminism, and the LGBTQWXYZ agenda?

      • I am really puzzled by what you are saying, or trying to imply.
        The statement of faith about inspiration refers to the ‘autographs’, i.e. the original text. I presume you accept that there was an original text!
        Textual criticism concerns attempting to discern that original text, and so it is an eminiently suitable task for someone who is in accord with that statement of faith.
        I have not read Erhman, but from what others have said it seems he would like to be understood to mean that we cannot know with any reasonably degree of probability what the original said.

        Gurry might well disagree with any position which elevates any particular text type to be exactly the verbally inspired text (e.g. the textus recepticus) but that is not in conflict with the statement of faith.

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        • If the autographs are incapable of error, then of necessity, textual criticism’s artificially limited, since the scholar can’t say that the author made a mistake (or, indeed, that the original attributation’s wrong, and a given text was written by someone else).

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          • James makes a good point. Affirming that autographs are without error is conveniently unfalsifiable. It is also beyond the realm of study at all.

      • ‘Erhman has his biases like any of us, but he’s free to publish what he likes.’

        I think that’s a bit naive James!

        Ehrman knows that a. his audience love his kind of deconversion story b. that challenged the ‘status quo’ sells books and c. there is catharsis in rehearsing his story.

        If your claim were true, then we would expect to find a more objective and convincing story from Ehrman than from Gurry. Having sat through whole afternoon sessions at SBL debating Ehrman’s work, I can assure you this is not the case!

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        • Institutionally free (he has tenure and can’t be fired): other biases and pressures of course exist, and will be picked up by other scholars, as was Ehrman’s paper raising the possibility the Peter and Cephas were two different people (a possibility since discarded by Ehrman in light of said criticism).

          Ehrman’s most famous as a popularizer: scholars like Sanders and Allison, who have no particular following and who are likewise open to changing their mind in response to criticism, are better examples.

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  7. James,
    You are reverting to the point you made earlier, heavily implying Gurry would not, or would be unlikely to have a facility to change his mind, due to the statement of faith and now your additional point of tenure, based on no evidence at all. We are back to integrity.
    Tenure in any academic setting, may or may not facility freedom: it may open up or close down, may be expansive or abused.

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    • I’ve been careful not to prejudge Dr. Gurry, which would be unfair to him. I did highlight the doctrinal statement of his institution, which is concerning, and speaks to wider issues about the interface of biblical scholarships and doctrine.

      Regarding tenture’s role in protecting academic freedom, it’s surely self-explanatory? Academics protected by tenure have fewer pressures on them than those who aren’t.

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  8. James,
    Irrelevant.
    Your comments, remain red herrings: they are irrelevant, that is they are not logically probative of the facts of the matter, the reliability of the text and probity of Dr Gurry’s work. They are without any substance, with no contribution, have no specific evidential value. Irrelevant.

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    • Not only do we disagree on this point, but so too do academic norms, in establishing the tenure system to ensure independence, and in outlining the methodology setting the parameters for investigation at the outset of a paper or monograph.

      From many previous discussions on biblical texts, I’ve found mutal understanding of the interpretative framework being used to be crucial. If one party holds a radically different understanding of the texts than the other, both end up at cross-purposes. Avoiding this is why I’m so open about my own approach to the biblical canon

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  9. James,
    It takes so long to draw good comments from you. But you have not followed through by showing how that has had an adverse application in this instance, no evidence to contradict the work.
    It remains however a red herring, a generalisation, not specific to the article, book and Dr Gurry.
    And as you’ve made no comment on the other points made above, re apologetic and reliability of the work, not having addressed anything in the article, they are to be taken as conceded!
    And as the prejudicial effect of your comments outweighs the probative value I’m afraid, they remain irrelevant to the facts in issue.

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    • ‘It takes so long to draw good comments from you.’ I don’t think I agree with this. I am grateful that James is usually the most thoughtful and carefully considered commentator here, and is prepared to admit his own biases on issues. I value his contributions.

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      • I completely agree with you there, Ian.
        I had further thoughts, but it was too late to change after posting. It was a false generalisation based on James expanded, last point, on tenure, which was maybe implied but not expressed in his first point. I should and do know better.
        Apologies, James.

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        • BTW, thanks for the correction, Ian, both here and in an series of comments on another, earlier, article. It is appreciated.

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  10. Whilst you’ve all been disagreeing, I read the book. An excellent, and faith building read (at least for me, who is fascinated by such things.)

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  11. > In terms of Ehrman’s argument that textual variants disprove the Bible’s inspiration…

    Can we get a reference for this argument?

    > Finally, I think conspiracy narratives aimed at power and influence appeal to people who distrust institutions. This is one reason why it’s easier to write a bestseller about the story behindwho changed the Bible and why

    Of course, The title is most likely his publishers contribution as they try to get ppl to buy books

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