Tag Archives: Textual Criticism

What does the Bible say about capital punishment?

Note: This post has a twin post which talks about the evidence against capital punishment from science.

First, let’s take a look at what the Bible says in general about capital punishment, using this lecture featuring eminent theologian Wayne Grudem.

About Wayne Grudem:

Grudem holds a BA from Harvard University, a Master of Divinity from Westminster Theological Seminary, and a PhD from the University of Cambridge. In 2001, Grudem became Research Professor of Bible and Theology at Phoenix Seminary. Prior to that, he had taught for 20 years at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, where he was chairman of the department of Biblical and Systematic Theology.

Grudem served on the committee overseeing the English Standard Version translation of the Bible, and in 1999 he was the president of the Evangelical Theological Society. He is a co-founder and past president of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. He is the author of, among other books, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine, which advocates a Calvinistic soteriology, the verbal plenary inspiration and inerrancy of the Bible, the body-soul dichotomy in the nature of man, and the complementarian (rather than egalitarian) view of gender equality.

The MP3 file is here.

A PDF sermon outline is here.

Topics:

  • what kinds of crimes might require CP?
  • what did God say to Noah about CP?
  • what does it mean that man is made in the image of God?
  • is CP just about taking revenge?
  • what does CP say about the value of human life?
  • does CP apply to animals, too?
  • could the statements supporting CP be understood as symbolic?
  • one purpose of CP is to protecting the public
  • another purpose of CP is to deter further wrongdoing
  • but the Biblical purpose of CP is to achieve justice by retribution
  • does the Pope make a good argument against CP?
  • what is the role of civil government in achieving retribution?
  • do people in Heaven who are sinless desire God to judge sinners?
  • should crimes involving property alone be subject to CP?
  • is the Mosaic law relevant for deciding which crimes are capital today?
  • should violent crimes where no one dies be subject to CP?
  • is CP widespread in the world? why or why not?
  • what are some objections to CP from the Bible?
  • how do you respond to those objections to CP?
  • should civil government also turn the other cheek for all crimes?
  • what is the “whole life ethic” and is it Biblical?
  • what do academic studies show about the deterrence effect of CP?
  • how often have innocent people been executed in the USA?
  • should there be a higher burden of proof for CP convictions?

You can find more talks by Wayne Grudem here.

What about the woman caught in adultery?

Some people like to bring up the woman caught in adultery as proof that Jesus opposed capital punishment. But that passage of the Bible was added much later after the canon was decided.

Daniel B. Wallace is an eminent New Testament scholar who also teaches at Dallas Theological Seminary, an extremely conservative seminary.

About Dr. Wallace:

Dr. Daniel B. Wallace

  • Professor of New Testament Studies
  • B.A., Biola University, 1975; Th.M., Dallas Theological Seminary, 1979; Ph.D., 1995.

Dr. Wallace influences students across the country through his textbook on intermediate Greek grammar. It is used in more than two-thirds of the nation’s schools that teach that subject. He is the senior New Testament editor of the NET Bible and coeditor of the NET-Nestle Greek-English diglot. Recently his scholarship has shifted from syntactical and text-critical issues to more specific work in John, Mark, and nascent Christology. However he still works extensively in textual criticism, and has founded The Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts, an institute with an initial purpose to preserve Scripture by taking digital photographs of all known Greek New Testament manuscripts. His postdoctoral work includes work on Greek grammar at Tyndale House in Cambridge and textual criticism studies at the Institut für Neutestamentliche Textforschung in Münster.

And Dr. Wallace writes about the passage in John on Bible.org.

Excerpt:

One hundred and forty years ago, conservative biblical scholar and Dean of Canterbury, Henry Alford, advocated a new translation to replace the King James Bible. One of his reasons was the inferior textual basis of the KJV. Alford argued that “a translator of Holy Scripture must be…ready to sacrifice the choicest text, and the plainest proof of doctrine, if the words are not those of what he is constrained in his conscience to receive as God’s testimony.” He was speaking about the Trinitarian formula found in the KJV rendering of 1 John 5:7–8. Twenty years later, two Cambridge scholars came to the firm conclusion that John 7:53–8:11 also was not part of the original text of scripture. But Westcott and Hort’s view has not had nearly the impact that Alford’s did.

For a long time, biblical scholars have recognized the poor textual credentials of the story of the woman caught in adultery (John 7:53–8:11). The evidence against its authenticity is overwhelming: The earliest manuscripts with substantial portions of John’s Gospel (P66 and P75) lack these verses. They skip from John 7:52 to 8:12. The oldest large codices of the Bible also lack these verses: codex Sinaiticus and Vaticanus, both from the fourth century, are normally considered to be the most important biblical manuscripts of the NT extant today. Neither of them has these verses. Codex Alexandrinus, from the fifth century, lacks several leaves in the middle of John. But because of the consistency of the letter size, width of lines, and lines per page, the evidence is conclusive that this manuscript also lacked the pericope adulterae. Codex Ephraemi Rescriptus, also from the fifth century, apparently lacked these verses as well (it is similar to Alexandrinus in that some leaves are missing). The earliest extant manuscript to have these verses is codex Bezae, an eccentric text once in the possession of Theodore Beza. He gave this manuscript to the University of Cambridge in 1581 as a gift, telling the school that he was confident that the scholars there would be able to figure out its significance. He washed his hands of the document. Bezae is indeed the most eccentric NT manuscript extant today, yet it is the chief representative of the Western text-type (the text-form that became dominant in Rome and the Latin West).

When P66, P75, Sinaiticus, and Vaticanus agree, their combined testimony is overwhelmingly strong that a particular reading is not authentic. But it is not only the early Greek manuscripts that lack this text. The great majority of Greek manuscripts through the first eight centuries lack this pericope. And except for Bezae (or codex D), virtually all of the most important Greek witnesses through the first eight centuries do not have the verses. Of the three most important early versions of the New Testament (Coptic, Latin, Syriac), two of them lack the story in their earliest and best witnesses. The Latin alone has the story in its best early witnesses.

[…]It is an important point to note that although the story of the woman caught in adultery is found in most of our printed Bibles today, the evidence suggests that the majority of Bibles during the first eight centuries of the Christian faith did not contain the story. Externally, most scholars would say that the evidence for it not being an authentic part of John’s Gospel is rock solid.But textual criticism is not based on external evidence alone; there is also the internal evidence to consider. This is comprised of two parts: intrinsic evidence has to do with what an author is likely to have written; transcriptional evidence has to do with how and why a scribe would have changed the text.

Intrinsically, the vocabulary, syntax, and style look far more like Luke than they do John. There is almost nothing in these twelve verses that has a Johannine flavor. And transcriptionally, scribes were almost always prone to add material rather than omit it—especially a big block of text such as this, rich in its description of Jesus’ mercy. One of the remarkable things about this passage, in fact, is that it is found in multiple locations. Most manuscripts that have it place it in its now traditional location: between John 7:52 and 8:12. But an entire family of manuscripts has the passage at the end of Luke 21, while another family places it at the end of John’s Gospel. Other manuscripts place it at the end of Luke or in various places in John 7.

The pericope adulterae has all the earmarks of a pericope that was looking for a home. It took up permanent residence, in the ninth century, in the middle of the fourth gospel.

As this debate between Peter Williams and Bart Ehrman shows, there are only TWO disputed passages in the entire NT that are theologically significant. The long ending of Mark and this adultery passage. A good case can be made for the long ending of Mark, but it’s best not to assume it in a debate. The adultery passage is practically impossible to defend as authentic. Dr. Wallace talks about both passages in this Parchment & Pen article. Wallace has also debated Bart Ehrman in the Greer-Heard Forum. What that debate showed is that the New Testament text is actually quite reliable except for those two passages, but it’s important to be honest about the two places that are not well supported.

Mike Licona responds to Bart Ehrman’s new book on gospel authorship

In this post on Bible Gateway, Michael Licona assesses Ehrman’s argument that the letters traditionally ascribed to Paul are not traceable back to Paul. Licona argues that Paul would have had access to other people in the Christian community who would have helped him to craft and write his letters.

Here’s Ehrman’s challenge:

Most, though not all, of the arguments against traditional authorship fall into two categories: style and content. However, if an author employed the use of a secretary to write what he dictated as well as provide varying degrees of editing, this would explain quite well why some of the letters in the New Testament whose authorship is questionable have vocabulary, grammar, some content, and an overall writing style that differs, even significantly, from the undisputed letters. Ehrman recognizes this and writes, “Virtually all of the problems with what I’ve been calling forgeries can be solved if secretaries were heavily involved in the composition of the early Christian writings” (134).Did Paul use a secretary at least occasionally? We may answer with an unequivocal yes. Of Paul’s seven undisputed letters, it is certain that he used a secretary for no less than four.

Ehrman concurs, “There is no doubt that the apostle Paul used a secretary on occasion” (134). But he contends that there’s no evidence that Paul used them for any other services such as editing to correct grammar and improve style, coauthor to contribute to content, or compose the letter with the named author giving his final approval (134-36; cf. 77).

And here’s part of his response:

Writing a letter in antiquity was a costly enterprise. Randolph Richards, who is perhaps today’s leading authority on the use of secretaries in antiquity, discusses the costs involved. Papyri, labor, and courier fees added up quickly. Of course, Cicero, Seneca, and the ultra-wealthy could easily afford the costs. But Paul, the missionary, would not have been so fortunate. Richards estimates that the cost for penning Paul’s letters ranged from $101 in today’s dollars for Philemon to $2,275 for Romans. And these figures do not include the expenses involved with a courier.Now perhaps you’re thinking, “But Paul tells us in his letters he had churches that supported him (Phil. 4:10-18; 2 Cor. 11:9). And we know he had co-workers whom he mentions in his letters (Rom. 16:21; 1 Cor. 1:1; 2 Cor. 1:1; 8:23; Phil. 1:1; 2:25; Col. 1:1; 4:11; 1 Th. 1:1; 2 Th. 1:1; Philem. 1:1, 24. cf. Gal. 1:1). They would naturally have been the couriers and could even have served as his secretaries. So, he would have incurred little to no labor costs.” That much is evident.

And what’s to have prevented these co-workers from also providing editorial and compositional services according to their personal abilities? Could the Tertius mentioned in Romans 16:22 have been a professional secretary who had volunteered his services? We will never know. What is clear is the fact that not being a member of the ultra-wealthy does not preclude Paul’s use of a secretary for editing and composition.

[…]The early Christian church faced many situations and theological debates. In their minds, these matters were often more important than life itself. For example, in 1 Corinthians Paul is answering a situation where some members of the church in Corinth were denying an afterlife. Paul replies that if we are not raised from the dead to enjoy eternal life, Christ was not raised from the dead either. And if Christ was not raised, our Christian faith is worthless and our loved ones who have already died are forever gone. In fact, Paul adds, if there is no future resurrection of the dead and this life is all there is, let’s party hard now because we will all be dead in a relatively short period of time (1 Cor. 15:12-19, 32)!

The letters in the New Testament weren’t written for the mere enjoyment of the exercise and at leisure as many of the letters of Cicero and Atticus had been. Given the importance the early Christian letters had for their authors and recipients, there was a much greater need for using a secretary in order to craft the letters carefully. We know Paul could write, since he signed many of his greetings at the end of his letters. So, why have a secretary to whom he could dictate a letter without also depending upon him for editing services?

Here’s a third reason for holding that Paul would want his secretary to be more involved than simply taking dictation: He flat out states that others were involved in his letter writing. Paul was apparently not very good at public speaking. This conclusion comes from information provided in his undisputed letters. In 2 Corinthians 11:6, Paul admits that he is “untrained in public speaking” (See also 1 Cor. 2:1, 4). In 2 Corinthians 10:10-11, he writes, “it is said, ‘His [i.e., Paul’s] letters are weighty and powerful, but his physical presence is weak, and his public speaking is despicable.’ Such a person should consider this: What we are in the words of our letters when absent, we will be in actions when present.”

Notice carefully how the subject changes from Paul the poor public speaker in the singular to the “we” who write the letters. More than one person is involved in writing Paul’s letters. So, the involvement of the secretary appears to go beyond taking simple dictation.

In summary, Ehrman’s argument fails since Paul may not have incurred any costs for his extensive use of a secretary, the important occasions for writing the letters would have motivated Paul’s extensive use of a secretary, and Paul clearly states that others were involved in the actual writing of the letters.

Now I want to say a few words about a recent experience I had talking to a Jewish atheist about what the Bible says about Jesus.

Talking about the Bible with non-Christians

To be convincing and appealing when discussing the New Testament with non-Christians, you need to be very aware of the fact that non-Christians do not understand theological language and they do not assume that the Bible is the inspired and infallible Word of God and they do not think that you have done your homework to know who wrote it and whether it was translated correctly from the originals so many years back.

The right way to discuss the Bible is to talk about the New Testament as a book that contains ancient biographies from a variety of authors. You want to list a number of factors that would affect whether individual verses within individual books are reliable. You want to weigh the arguments for and against the conservative view.

Here are some things to consider:

  • when was the passage written?
  • who wrote the passage?
  • is the passage found in multiple sources?
  • does the passage embarrass the author?
  • does the passage praise the author’s enemies?
  • does the passage hinder the evangelistic message of the early church?

I was recently discussing the Harold Camping prophecy with a friend of mine who is an atheist, and I was explaining the passage where Jesus says that no one knows the date of judgment day. I used multiple sources, early sources, and the criterion of embarrassment to show why my friend should not consider Camping to be a disproof of the reliability of the Bible and an embarrassment to Christians.

Here are the passages I used to discredit Camping’s calculations:

Mark 13:32-33:

32 “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.

33 Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come.

Matthew 24:36-44:

36 “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.

37 As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.

38 For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark;

39 and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.

40 Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left.

41Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left.

42 “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come.

43 But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into.

44 So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.

Mark is early, and Matthew provides multiple attestation. But this passage also passes the criterion of embarrassment, because it ascribes ignorance to Jesus – something that the early church would not have made up if they were hoping to gain converts by falsely portraying Jesus as the Messiah. Therefore, it is very likely that this passage is authentic, and would be viewed as authentic even by those who are non-Christians. Any passage that undermines the missionary project of the early church by calling Jesus’ identity as the Messiah into question is guaranteed to be historical. And it goes to show the quality of history you find in the New Testament.

It is sometimes useful to contrast good historically reliable passages with passages that are not viewed as historically reliable. In a related post, William lane Craig is asked by John Ankerberg about a passage that most historians do not view as historically reliable. Even if you are an inerrantist like me, you are not obligated to use and defend every verse when you quote the Bible to make arguments about theology or morality or history. Just analyze the passages that you are using the historical criteria, in order to persuade your non-Christian audience that you are not taking the Bible on faith. If one of your passages fails the tests, then don’t use it – find another passage that passes the tests.

Regarding inerrancy, C. Michael Patton of Parchment & Pen blog doesn’t think that you have to believe in inerrancy to become a Christian. I would argue that mature Christians should believe in inerrancy of the original writings, but new Christians don’t have to.

So, to sum up, don’t talk about the Bible the way that Christian pastors do on Sunday mornings with your non-Christian friends. Talk about the Bible like scholars do with your non-Christian friends. Here is a good example of how Christian and non-Christian scholars talk about the Bible in formal academic debates.

Peter Williams debates Bart Ehrman on his book “Misquoting Jesus”

The audio for this Unbelievable radio show debate is available from Apologetics 315.

Details:

Bart Ehrman is the US author of the bestselling book “Misquoting Jesus” (In the UK “Whose word is it?”).  He calls into question the authority of the New Testament as scribal changes over time have changed the documents.

So can we trust the scripture? Bible scholar Peter Williams believes in the reliability of the New Testament and that Bart’s prognosis is far too pessimistic.

I think Justin Brierley breaks his record for saying “if you like” in this particular debate. So, if you like it when he says “if you like”, this debate is for you!

Summary of the Williams-Ehrman debate:

Note: this summary is snarky. When I get annoyed with whiners, I make things up.

Ehrman:

  • I had a mystical experience in childhood and became an evangelical Christian
  • I went to Moody Bible Institute, and they told me that the Bible was inerrant
  • For a while, I was committed to the view that there are no mistakes in the Bible
  • At Princeton, I was taught and graded by professors who did not accept inerrancy
  • I began to see that the Bible did have errors after all!
  • We don’t have the originals written by the authors, we only have thousands of copies
  • if the words of the Bible are not completely inerrant, then none of it is historical
  • if all of the words in the copies of the Bible are not identical, then none of it is historical

Williams:

  • I would say the New and Old testaments are the Word of God
  • We don’t need to have the original Greek writings in order to believe in the authority of the Bible
  • I believe in inerrancy, but doesn’t mean there are no problems
  • the doctrine of inerrancy has always referred to the original copies, not the translations

Moderator:

  • what are the main points of Misquoting Jesus?

Ehrman:

  • we don’t have the originals of any of the books of the New Testament
  • we have copies that are much later, sometimes even centuries later
  • the copies we have all differ from one another – they were changed by scribes
  • we have 5000 manuscripts in the original Greek language
  • there are hundreds of thousands of differences
  • most of the differences don’t matter
  • some differences are significant for meaning or doctrine
  • errors are propagated because the next scribe inherits the mistake of their source copy
  • a large gap between the time of writing and the first extant copy means more errors have crept in

Williams:

  • the reason we have so many variants is because the number of manuscripts is large

Angry Jesus or compassionate Jesus in Mark

Ehrman:

  • most manuscripts say that Jesus was compassionate when healing a leper, but one says he was angry
  • it makes a huge huge huge really really big difference if Jesus is compassionate or angry
  • the whole Bible needs to be thrown out because of this one word between different in one manuscript

Williams:

  • this variant is important for understanding the passage, but it has no great meaning
  • the change is probably just an accident – the two words are very similar visually in Greek
  • it’s just an accident – it emerged in one manuscript, and it impacted a few more
  • the tiny number of manuscripts that have the error are geographically isolated
  • I’m pretty sure that WK prefers the angry Jesus anyway – so who cares?

Ehrman:

  • no! someone changed it deliberately! it’s a conspiracy! you should buy my book! it’s a *big deal*!!!!!1!!1!one!!eleventy-one!

The woman caught in adultery in John

Ehrman:

  • it is isn’t in any of the earliest manuscripts
  • this is an apocryphical story that some scribe deliberately inserted into the text
  • most people don’t even know about this! it’s a cover-up! you need to buy my scandalous book!

Williams:

  • that’s right, it’s a late addition by some overzealous scribe
  • and it’s clearly marked as such in every modern Bible translation
  • the only people who don’t know about this are people who don’t read footnotes in their Bible
  • and in any case, this isn’t a loss of the original words of the New Testament – it’s an addition

Grace of God or apart from God in Hebrews

Ehrman:

  • well this is just a one word difference, but it makes a huge huge really really big difference!
  • the words are very similar, so it’s could be an accident I guess
  • but it wasn’t! this was a deliberate change! it’s a conspiracy! it’s a cover-up! scandal!
  • buy my book! It’s almost as good as Dan Brown!

Moderator:

  • hmmmn…. I kind of like “apart from God”, and I’m sure WK does too – why is this such a big scandal again?

Ehrman:

  • you don’t care? how can you not care? it has to be inerrant! or the whole thing is false!
  • Moody Bible Institute says!

Williams:

  • yeah Bart is always saying that every change is deliberate but it’s just an accident
  • the words are very similar, just a few letters are different, this is clearly an accident
  • I have no problem with apart from God, or by the Grace of God
  • please move on and stop screaming and running around and knocking things over

Moderator:

  • but what if pastors try to use this passage in a sermon?

Williams:

  • well, one word doesn’t make a big different, the meaning that appears is fine for preaching
  • it’s only a problem for people who treat the Bible as a magic book with magical incantations
  • they get mad because if one word is out of place then the whole thing doesn’t work for their spell
  • then they try to cast happiness spells but the spells don’t work and they experience suffering
  • the suffering surprises them since they think that fundamentalism should guarantee them happiness
  • then they become apostates and get on TV where they look wide-eyed and talk crazy

Ehrman:

  • hey! are you talking about me? a lot of people buy my books! i am a big success!
  • it is very important that people don’t feel bad about their sinning you know!

Is Misquoting Jesus an attack?

Williams:

  • it’s rhetorically imbalanced and misleading
  • it tries to highlight change and instability and ignore the majority of the text that is stable
  • he makes a big deal out of 5 or so verses that are different from the mainstream text
  • he says that scribes deliberately changed the scriptures, but he doesn’t prove that
  • it’s just as likely that the differences are just scribal errors made by accident

Ehrman:

  • well, maybe the variants aren’t a big deal, but what about one angel vs. two angels?
  • that’s a significant issue! significant enough for me to become an apostate – a rich apostate
  • if one word is different because of an accident, then the whole Bible cannot be trusted
  • it has to be completely inerrant, so a one word difference means the whole thing is unreliable
  • we don’t even know if Jesus was even named Jesus, because of one angel vs two angels
  • buy my book! you don’t have to read it, just put it on your shelf, then you’ll feel better about not having a relationships with God – because who’s to say what God really wants from you? Not the Bible!

Other debates:

Other critiques: