Friday, April 4, 2008

A Debate On the Reliability of Scripture

There is a very interesting and important debate that started yesterday and is continuing today between Bart Ehrmann, Chairman of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and Daniel Wallace, New Testament Professor at Dallas Seminary. The debate is being held at the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary (one of our sister schools in the Southern Baptist Convention).

This will prove to be a pivotal debate. Dr. Ehrmann is open in his antagonism toward the reliability of Scripture, his doubt as to the veracity and character of the New Testament accounts, and his support for both the opening of the biblical canon and the replacement of much of that canon with alternate texts. He is supportive of Gnostic texts in particular.

Dr. Wallace, on the other hand, is an advocate for the reliability of the New Testament texts, the completeness of the canon, and the character of the biblical witness accounts. He is a respected scholar in the field and has written an almost definitive textbook on New Testament (Koine) Greek translation and interpretation.

I have studied Ehrmann's work and vehemently disagree with him. He, along with others such as Elaine Pagels, make heresy look reasonable and fun. The Gnostic texts are highly problematic, not only because of the denial of Christian doctrine and Scriptural evidence, but also because of the pagan, humanistic, worldview they replace them with; presenting it as the secret knowledge of the divine. Gnosticism is not just the"alternate view" of the gospel they claim it to be, it is an anti-gospel; illegitimately divorcing sin from the human spiritual nature and removing the need for a sacrifice in our place. We must see that, as Paul says in 1 Cor. 15:13-22, if the gospel is not reliable, "we (Christians) are to be pitied more than all men."

So, keep an eye and ear out for news of this debate and I will be sure to give an update. I wish I had known about it sooner, as it certainly would have been worth the drive. If you are interested in knowing more of the reliability of the New Testament, I would recommend starting out on Craig Blomberg's The Historical Reliability of the Gospels, or F. F. Bruce's The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable?


Timothy L. Decker said...

Thanks for the update on this upcoming debate. I look forward to hearing the results. I find it interesting that the NT epistles attacked Gnostic teachings, and yet somehow the Gnostic gospels are supposed to be a part of the canon. Not happnin.

I am a huge fan of Dan Wallace and his grammar Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics. It should be on the bookshelf of every serious Bible student.

Timothy L. Decker said...

I need to clarify, I am a fan of Wallace's grammar, but he has fudged a little on his view of the inspiration of the gospels. So I am curious where this debate is going to go. Inspiration and Canonicity go hand in hand. If its not inspired its not canonical.

Has anyone else studied or heard something about Wallace's view on inspiration of the gospels?

Steven Douglas said...

Not enough. Please write and tell me what you mean. I, too, have and love the pink book.

Timothy L. Decker said...

What pink book? I am talking about Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics. Is that what you were talking about?

As to Wallace's view, check out At first, I wasn't sure if the site was legit. But Dr. Rod Decker from BBC in Clark Summit (smark Greek prof) and Wallace himself responded to the article. Some interesting statements made by Wallace on the topic are:
"My own views on inerrancy and inspiration have changed over the years. I still embrace those doctrines, but I don’t define them the way I used to. The evidence has shaped my viewpoint; and I must listen to the evidence because of the Incarnation."
"...they need to have a doctrinal taxonomy that distinguishes core beliefs from peripheral beliefs. When they place more peripheral doctrines such as inerrancy and verbal inspiration at the core, then when belief in these doctrines start to erode, it creates a domino effect: One falls down, they all fall down." (emphasis mine)

Since when was inspiration and inerrancy no longer a core doctrine? That is a slippery slope. There is more you can find on the issue. I am not in favor of the Q theory for the gospels nor do I agree with the literary dependence of the synoptics. Wallace makes a strong argument for Markan priority, but I still think the synoptics are a good example of the HOly Spirit guiding men (3 difference men, 3 different views, 3 different emphaseese, but commonality thoughout).

Steven Douglas said...

My version is a dark pink, it might be an abridged version, though (I know, Heretic! Heretic! :) )

I agree that if he is saying what it sounds like he's saying (and that last quote is pretty clear), he is certainly on slippery ground.

I agree that Q is more than a little problematic (understatement). I think that the Markan priority is also suspect. If there was a priority at all, I believe it was probably Lukan, but as far as I know I am the only one out on that branch. But in Acts and the Pauline works, we see Luke with Peter and Paul working with them and (possibly implied) writing things down. Now, whether Paul's scrolls (2 Tim. 4:13) had Gospel material from either another source, from Luke, or from another apostle, or not, we will never know. But assuming something from what isn't around is decidedly bad practice.

One question, is there a reason why we should not believe these writers lifted bits off of each other's writings? That would not make what they were writing untrue. There are multiple sections of the synoptics that are exactly the same. I guess it comes down to how one perceives the inspiration of Scripture writing to have occurred. We could also look at the Septuagint and wonder at the 72 exact same copies (if, in fact, that is not merely legend).

Timothy L. Decker said...

What is the ISBN # of your pink book. I want to find one.

The scarry thing with literary dependance in the synoptics is that the minor differences would argue for minor errors. Whereas the disassociate view would argue that the minor variations are used to bring out different aspects or emphases.

I don't think inspiration is affected since inspiration goes to whatever is written no matter the source. But it does make things difficult for the synoptic problem. What are your thoughts?

Steven Douglas said...

That is certainly my view, that the differences are not "canceling each other out," but are rather enriching the overall story/message.

Differences in the timing of events comes from thematic positioning, rather than chronological differences.

Sorry, I didn't quite catch your last question. Could you clarify for me?

Steven Douglas said...

The ISBN# on the book, titled The Basics of New Testament Syntax: The Abridgement of Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, is 0-310-23229-5

Timothy L. Decker said...

You pretty much answered my question. The book you are referring to is the abridged version. I need to get that one too. But I can't find a pink one though! GGBB is just more in depth though. I also like Robertson's Grammar of the Greek New Testament in the Light of Historical Research. It is older but very thorough.