Monday, September 10, 2007

Timothy Paul Jones on Bart Ehrman

Last year I gave a quick read to Bart Ehrman's Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why. Ehrman looked to Princeton's Bruce Metzger as a mentor. I have no illusions about Metzger having been conservative theologically (he passed away last year), but his mentee, Ehrman, did not get his radical position from Metzger. Ehrman pretends that his book contains earth-and-faith-shattering new information. It does not. His book proffers nothing new. It is all stuff I had in a freshman course in New Testament Evidences 36 years ago. J. Harold Greenlee's Introduction to New Testament Textual Criticism (orginally published by Eerdmans and now available again by Hendrickson) addresses every issue Ehrman puts forth. Ehrman plays with the evidence, and skews it to match his desire for God's Word not to be true.

Reading Ehrman made me angry. There are conservative, Bible believing scholars, with academic pedigrees at least as prestigious as Ehrman's. Ehrman does not mention them only to dismiss them, but rather ignores them completely! That is poor scholarship, Dr. Ehrman. He writes with a chip on his shoulder, as if nobody with half a brain would believe that the books in our Bibles are in reality canonical, and therefore, God's very word. Such academic snobbery is unbecoming. The fact that the masses may read his books and believe his thesis is disheartening.

Timothy Paul Jones, a Baptist minister from Tulsa, OK, has answered the call. Jones, with a doctorate in church history, had previously co-authored a book debunking Dan Brown's thesis in The Da Vinci Code, The Da Vinci Codebreaker: An Easy-to-Use Fact Checker for Truth Seekers. Jones' new book, Misquoting Truth: A Guide to the Fallacies of Bart Ehrman's "Misquoting Jesus", is a breath of fresh air.

Jones is much kinder than I, but addresses the issues head on. Once again, Ehrman presents nothing new, other than an interpretation of the facts that is in keeping with his starting presupposition of unbelief. Ehrman's earlier faith was shaken by variants found in manuscripts of the New Testament. Some variants can be explained as unintentional errors made by scribes; others are intentional changes, that some well-or-not-so-well-meaning scribe may have made. Ehrman purports that some of the intentional changes are highly significant, stating that "in some instances, the very meaning of the text is at stake." (Misquoting Jesus, p. 208). Jones' entire book is a corrective to Ehrman's exaggerations, but in the case of intentional changes in manuscripts being significant, he offers an entire chapter titled "Truth About 'Significant Changes' in the New Testament". On p. 55 Jones he writes:

"It is at this point that Ehrman finds changes that are supposedly so significant that they affect entire books of the Bible. And, it is at this point that I must respectfully disagree with Ehrman. Here's what I find as I look at the textual evidence: In every case in which two or more options remain possible, every possible option simply reinforces truths that are already clearly present in the writings of that particular author and in the New Testament as a whole; there is no point at which any of the possible options would require readers to rethink an essential belief about Jesus or to doubt the historical integrity of the New Testament."

Thank you, Dr. Jones. We are more certain about the reliability of the New Testament manuscripts, than we are about any manuscripts that tell us anything about the ancient world. F. F. Bruce long ago addressed the problem of the many textual variants, that are a direct result of having so many more manuscripts of the New Testament than any other ancient document of that era: "if the great number of MSS increases the number of scribal errors, it increases proportionately the means of correcting such errors, so that the margin of doubt left in the process of recovering the exact original wording is not so large as might be fear; it is in truth remarkably small. The variant readings about which any doubt remains among textual critics of the New Testament affect no material question of historic fact or of Christian faith and practice." (F. F. Bruce [1943] The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable?, pp. 19-20)

I heartily recommend Jones' book. It is easily read (it might take a little more than 2 hours to read), has copious footnotes, and is written kindly. A campus minister at the University of North Carolina (where Ehrman teaches New Testament) wrote:

Into this milieu comes Timothy Paul Jone's voice of sanity: Misquoting Truth: A Guide to the Fallacies of Bart Ehrman's Misquoting Jesus published by InterVarsity Press. Jones tackles the tough issues that Ehrman rightly raises. But where Ehrman tends to sensationalize and severely over-state the problems, Jones gently and graciously corrects.
I agree 100%. εἰρήνη ἐν ἀνθρώποις εὐδοκίας


TimothyPaulJones said...

Thanks for your positive mention of my book Misquoting Truth! If I still lived in Tulsa, I might swing up to Joplin and pay a visit. As it is, though, I'm now professor of leadership and church ministry at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. Perhaps our paths will cross some other time or way.

David G. Fish said...

Whoa! I'm surprised to find that I have more than two readers. I'm glad that you found my blog. Thanks for leaving a comment.

You are indeed one of those ἄνθρωποι εὐδοκίας.

Blessings on you and your work at SBTS. Thanks again for writing the book.