Is the Original New Testament Lost? Ehrman v. Wallace Debate

These are my raw notes on the video from my first viewing.

Is the original New Testament Lost? A Dialogue with Dr. Bart Ehrman and Dr. Daniel Wallace
Produced by
uploaded February 13, 2012

Wallace stated the spring of 2014 that he had debated Ehrman three times.  One of the other times was Saturday, October 1, 2011 at SMU for which a DVD is available.  (This October 2011 debate is referenced by Wallace in this post.)

Is the Bible historically reliable?
Did scribes doctor the manuscripts?
How do we explain the Bible’s 400,000 errors?
Why did certain texts make it into the canon?
Why does a “loving God” permit evil in our world?
What answers does the Bible give for ‘the problem of evil’?
Who wrote the gospels?
Couldn’t it all have been a conspiracy?
What is ‘inerracy’?

Question. Engage. Respond.

Miles O’Neal (Campus Crusade for Christ, Cornerstone) is the moderator and opens the evening. Reads Matthew 24:36 (“of
that day or hour no one knows but the Father”)
Do we have a reliable copy of the New Testament in our possession today?
Can we reasonably determine what the original authors and, of course, Jesus Christ Himself actually said?
O’Neal introduces Ehrman and Wallace
Format: Erhman for 30 min on his position regarding the reliability of the NT, then Wallace for 30 min, 2 min break, then
5 min from each side responding to each other, then another 5 min from each side, then they will answer questions from the
Bart Ehrman
Is the original NT lost? Yes! We do not have the original of the New Testament. Period.
Ehrman describes the process of book writing and reproduction in the ancient world.
The question is not that don’t have the originals, but rather can we construct the originals.
What does ‘original text’ even mean? Since Paul dictated, what if original scribe wrote it wrong.
2 Cor is 2-5 different letters spliced together.
Current scholarly theory that Paul’s letters were pulled into one collection around 100 AD and all our copies stem from
this collection. Therefore, we can’t get behind the collection and therefore can’t reconstruct anything before the
Therefore, there’s no reason to even think we could reconstruct the original.
Two versions of Luke.
The epilogue of John?
The prologue of John?
Luke 1-2 was not originally part of text
Doesn’t even make sense to talk about the ‘original text.’ (theoretically speaking)
Problem # 2 – where are the early manuscripts of the NT?
Let me say something about the surviving copies of the NT. Today we have some 5,500 copies of the NT. By last week, the
official count was 5,560 mss that had been cataloged of the Greek NT (the NT was originally written in Greek). That is
far more than for any other book in the ancient world. Far more than any other. Way more than any book of Homer. Or of
Plato. Or Escoles. Or Sophocles. Or Euripedes. Or pick your author. We have far, far more mss of the NT than any
other book in the ancient world by a long shot. So just take that as a given. And the reason is obvious: because the
people copying books in the Middle Ages were monks in monasteries. They’re the ones who gave us our surviving books. The
problem is not the number of these mss but rather their ages. None from the 1st Century. Only one from the 2nd Century.
No complete mss from the 2nd and 3rd centuries. 94% of our surviving mss come from the 9th century and later.
Novum Testamentum Graece by John Mill identified 30k differences in Greek
4th century mss differ significantly from those of the 9th century.
Early transmission of the text was not controlled. The most radical changes to the text were made during the first 150
Most of the 400k textual errors don’t matter – but some do!
Concedes we have many more copies. What we don’t have are early copies. And we don’t have lots of accurate copies. What
we want are early and accurate copies and we don’t have them.
Problem # 3 Why can’t scholars agree?
Scholars can’t agree on what the original text is supposed to be.
Important doctrines: Trinity, the full divinity of X, the full humanity of X, the atoning sacrifice of his death, favorite
stories of his life.
39:57 Let me draw conclusions quickly:
Are the originals of the NT lost to us? Yes!
Can we reconstruct the lost originals? No, because of the insurmountable problems involved.
The three questions I’m going ask are questions that Dan is going to need to answer for us. It will not be good enough
for him to say that we have lots and lots and lots of surviving manuscripts or that we have more manuscripts than for any
other writing from the ancient world. Both things are true. But they do not address the problems. The problems are that
we don’t even agree among ourselves what it means to talk about the original text. That even though we have many
thousands of manuscripts from later periods, we do not have any manuscripts from the early periods that we’re interested
in. And that even though we may want to reconstruct the original text – however we define it – we have shown ourselves
unable to do so time after time after time.

41:23 Dan Wallace starts his 30 minutes:
Are the original NT documents lost? Yes. Is the wording of the original NT documents lost? No.
Two attitudes to avoid: Radical skepticism and absolute certainty
1. How many scribal changes are there?
2. What kinds of textual variants do we have?
3. What theological beliefs depend on textually suspect passages?
4. Is the original NT lost?

It is estimated that there are 300-400k variants in NT text. I am inclined toward the higher number. And yet there are
about only 140,000 words in the NT.
The reason that we have a lot of variants because we have a lot of manuscripts. If there were only one copy of the NT in
existence there would be no variants.
In 1713 only 130 NT mss had been examined.
As more and more mss come to light we are getting closer and closer to the original.
There are about 10,000 Latin mss.
The task of filling the gaps without ms testimony is almost entirely necessary for Greco-Roman literature and almost
entirely unknown for the New Testament.
The NT text was stable from the earliest times. It didn’t radically change from one generation to the next.
There are three times as many
Put simply, the NT is far and away the best attested work of the ancient world.
To demand a 1st-Century copy of Mark goes far beyond what is required of any other ancient literature.
Is the NT text lost or can it be found among the copies we have?
ends 1:15:45

1:17:00 Ehrman begins his 5 min response.
Quotes 5-6 leading textal scholars (holding up their books) who say it no longer makes sense to talk about finding the
original wording.
Most of the many texts Dan referenced date from the 9th Century and after. Therefore, they do not help us to understand
what the text said 800 years earlier.
Only 4 mss go back to the 2nd Century (they make up 42 vss altogether out of the nearly 8k in the NT)

The original text is the text as it left the hand of the author.

1:29:00 Ehrman goes for 5 min again.
Since the original text is lost, these scholars seek the “earliest available form of” the text (also called “the initial
text”). Yes, we can get back to the earliest available form of the text (earliest attainable text), but that is not the
original text.
end 1:34:58

Wallace starts his 5 min 1:35:18
end 1:39:33

1:39:57 Questions from audience begin, moderated by Miles O’Neal
Q: If the original manuscripts are missing, how do you each date the manuscripts we have now? Why do the numbers of early
manuscripts differ so much between you two?

Q: When Dr. Wallace says the later texts of the NT gained only “2% of material,” what is that2%? Is it only 2% of
discrepancy between all those works? How do you respond to that percent, Dr. Ehrman?

Q: Dr. Ehrman, what are the manuscript inconsistencies that “matter a lot”? Dr. Wallace, do these undermine the Christian

Q: Dr. Wallace, how do you respond to Dr. Ehrman’s illustration that the copying and recording of the New Testament is
similar to the error-prone, modern game of telephone?

Q: Although not the literal originals, if earlier copies of the manuscripts were to be found, within 30 years of the
‘originals,’ would your perspectives about this matter change, Dr. Ehrman?

Q: Dr. Wallace, can you comment on issues of addition such as the epilogue/prologue confusion in some books?

Q: Dr. Ehrman, can you comment on your view on some scribes willfully manipulating some of the text, and why do you think that?

1:54:30 Ehrman and Wallace are each given 60 seconds to wrap up.



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