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While modern biblical researchers such as Bart Ehrman have contended that textual reliability of the New Testament is absent under close historical analysis,[footnoteRef:2] other scholars such as Michael Kruger have resisted the argument and shown that the New Testament contains textual integrity and reliability from start to finish.[footnoteRef:3] This paper argues that those who doubt the textual reliability of the New Testament are doing so from the standpoint of conjecture and subjective critique rather than from the standpoint of both logical inference and deduction. This topic is relevant for today’s world because it affects the question of faith and whether it can be possible. Faith should rest upon reason—but if one believes that the text of the New Testament is unreliable one has no reason to believe in its message of redemption. On the other hand, if one can show that the New Testament has textual reliability, one can support the faith. Ehrman believes that scholarship should be conducted regardless of faith and that if the scholarship leads one away from the faith then one must not fault the scholarship. However, this paper will show that in Ehrman’s case he misleads himself into putting his faith in scholarship rather than in the words of the New Testament. In other words, he abandons his youthful conclusion that the New Testament is integral and reliability after falling under the persuasion of the faithless scholars at Princeton.[footnoteRef:4] What if one starts with the conclusion that the New Testament is textually reliable? Or what if one starts with the premise that the authors of the New Testament knew of their authority and that their words were inspired by God—as Kruger does?[footnoteRef:5] This paper will show that one can both infer and deduce the textual reliability of the New Testament. [2: Bart Ehrman, Jesus, Interrupted (HarperCollins ebook), 10.] [3: Michael Kruger, The Question of Canon (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press Academic, 2013), 20.] [4: Bart Ehrman, Jesus, Interrupted (HarperCollins ebook), 4-10.] [5: Michael Kruger, The Question of Canon (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press Academic, 2013), 25.]
The Arguments Against
Some of the main arguments against the textual reliability of the New Testament are 1) that the message it delivers is often contradictory, 2) the original books themselves have been lost so it is impossible to know whether the versions available now represent the same ideas as the original works, and 3) their authority was implied over time by the Church rather than by the authors themselves and therefore the New Testament became a way of creating a new religion and consolidating power into the hands of Church leaders. These arguments are facile at best and betray an antagonistic rather than an objective mindset.
The fact is that in terms of the kinds of textual evidence, “only the patristic can be dated and geographically fixed with relative certainty.”[footnoteRef:6] And if this is the case, can one assume that the text has been corrupted? Is it logical to assume that the text has been changed in some way from its original? Some argue that it is logical to assume a change and they point to Scripture itself for support of this argument, highlighting the differences in the Gospel accounts of the Resurrection, i.e., who was there first, what happened, how it was reported; or they point to “places where the text seems to embrace a view that seems unworthy of God or of his people.”[footnoteRef:7] But who has made them authorities on what is worthy of God or of his people? It is a power that they take on themselves and declare with a great deal of pomposity. It is not the sign of objective criticism. Indeed, there are many scholars throughout history who have studied the New Testament with as much focus as modern scholars and have never once put forward such a bold and rather Pharisaical criticism. [6: Bart Ehrman, “The Use and Significance of Patristic Evidence for NT Textual Criticism,” in Aland, Barbara, ed. New Testament Textual Criticism, Exegesis, and Early Church History (Kampen: Pharos,1994) 118.] [7: Bart Ehrman, Jesus, Interrupted (HarperCollins ebook), 10.]
Disputes over the meaning of differently related events in the Gospels and interpretations aside, one can attempt to trace the history of editions of New Testament texts, as Kurt and Barbara Aland attempt to do[footnoteRef:8]—but does it do much good to begin with Erasmus and trace the history of Protestant editions of the New Testament? There should be no doubt whatsoever that these versions have changed—it does not take a scholar to see that. But what about in the early Church? What were the principles that went into establishing and maintaining the canon of texts now known as the New Testament? Opinions have been divided on this matter for centuries—indeed since the time of the…
…were mere recommendations from an old uncle. They were cherished and preserved. To claim otherwise is to attack and impugn the character of these men who lived thousands of years ago from the comfort of one’s own home, assuming that one has a better sense of the layout than they did back then. [19: H. E. W. Turner, The Pattern of Christian Truth (OR: Wipf & Stock, 1958), 3.] [20: H. E. W. Turner, The Pattern of Christian Truth (OR: Wipf & Stock, 1958), 4.]
Origen traveled among the different ancient churches to develop a better sense of their local traditions and from this first-hand experience he grouped the texts the early Church into three: first, were the texts that were embraced by all the churches without question as being from the Apostles; second, were the texts about which there was some doubt as to whether they came from the Apostles directly or not; and, third, were the apocrypha—texts that were invented to help establish a more complete narrative. More importantly, however, is the argument that Kruger makes here, which is that Origen’s first group was comprised of a list of the 27 books of what today make up the New Testament. In other words it was an already clear “concept of a closed canon” that existed in the Church “a century before Athanasius’ famous Festal Letter.”[footnoteRef:21] In short, the Church was focused on textual reliability from the beginning because the Church believed in the Gospels and the Epistles and it meant the world to them to preserve. Christians were dying for these words and for this faith. It is an insult to their memory to launch the kind of argument that some like Ehrman make—i.e., that the New Testament has no textual reliability. [21: Michael Kruger, Canon Revisited: Establishing the Origins and Authority of the New Testament (IL: Crossway, 2012), 284.]
The New Testament does contain textual reliability. This is evident in the fact that the early Church was aware of the authority of the texts, preserved their copies, believed in them, and died for them. One can deduce and infer from the past and the present what the reality was for the early Church. As Kruger points out, the development of the canon was an organic process that ensured the textual reliability of the New Testament. The Church Fathers all attest to it. If one…
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Comfort, Philip W. Encountering the Manuscripts: An Introduction to New Testament Paleography and Textual Criticism. Broadman and Holman, 2005.
Ehrman, Bart. Jesus, Interrupted. HarperCollins e-book.
Ehrman, Bart. “The Use and Significance of Patristic Evidence for NT Textual Criticism,” in Aland, Barbara, ed. New Testament Textual Criticism, Exegesis, and Early Church History. Kampen: Pharos, 1994.
Epp, Eldon J. and Gordon D. Fee. Studies and Documents: Studies in the Theory and Method of New Testament Textual Criticism. Eerdmans, 1993.
Green, Bradley. Shapers of Christian Orthodoxy. IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 2010.
Irenaus, “Against Heresies,” Gnosis.org. http://gnosis.org/library/advh1.htm
Kruger, Michael. Canon Revisited: Establishing the Origins and Authority of the New Testament. IL: Crossway, 2012.
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