Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Are Manuscript Variances in the Bible a Serious Threat to Christianity? Not Even Bart Ehrman Thinks So.

Here is a very interesting and friendly discussion/debate on a radio program between Bart Ehrman and Peter Williams.

In his book "Misquoting Jesus," Bart Ehrman emphasizes the time distance between the oldest existing manuscripts and the original copies. Furthermore, Ehrman emphasizes the great number of manuscript variations between all the copies that we have. He sees this as evidence against Biblical inerrancy, at the very least.

Agreement on Key Points

However, Peter Williams and Bart Ehrman agreed on several points:

1) Most of the textual variations are spelling errors and can be easily ironed out with comparison to other manuscripts

2) Sometimes, the meaning of a passage leans heavily on a word that is ambiguous. Some manuscripts say one word, while another says another word.

But most importantly.....

3) No major Christian belief is challenged by these variances and they do not pose a major threat to central tenets of the Christian religion.

Williams' disagreement with Ehrman

1) Ehrman rhetorically dramatizes and overemphasizes the importance of the manuscript variations and additions.

2) Ehrman holds that many of the changes were made intentionally, whereas Williams contends that most of them were accidental (though some were intentional).

3) The meaning of an entire passage sometimes hinges on a single word. Though they agreed that it was theologically very important to discover which word was the actual word, they seemed to differ in how important the word ambiguity actually was for theological purposes.

Doesn't Disprove Central Tenets of Christianity

As I was listening to this program, they got into specific debates about the appropriate translation of a single word in certain passages. I quickly realized (as I suspected), that the details they were fussing over had very little significance with respect to actually disproving central tenets of Christianity. Ehrman himself admitted this and even said that was not the claim of the book. I found that if I had agreed with Ehrman on every single point it really wouldn't affect my faith that much.

An interesting listen. Always like to hear debate-discussion in a friendly context.

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