In biblical times, scribes were those who worked with the texts. In modern times, therefore, those we call Bible scholars – specifically, those who work as textual critics and in related fields – are what the Bible would call scribes. Scribes can tell us what the text says, but it’s the Holy Spirit who tells us what the text means.
There are three different lines of witness which all converge to testify of a single truth: the New Testament is a settled text. Therefore, we can confidently say, “It is written.”
1. Believing Scholars
“There is no body of ancient literature in the world which enjoys such a wealth of good textual attestation as the New Testament.” – F. F. Bruce in The Books and the Parchments (Revell, 1963, p. 78) (Similar quotes from other believing scholars)
2. Unbelieving Scholars
“If the primary purpose of this discipline [i.e. textual criticism] is to get back to the original texts [of the New Testament], we may as well admit either defeat or victory, depending on how one chooses to look at it, because we are not going to get much closer to the original texts than we already are. At this stage, our work on the original amounts to little more than tinkering. There is something about historical scholarship that refuses to concede that a major task has been accomplished, but there it is.” – Bart Ehrman (Bart Ehrman Quotes)
3. Your Own Experience
According to New Testamen textual expert Daniel B. Wallace, the King James Version (KJV, 1611) was translated from half a dozen Greek manuscripts, the earliest of which came about the 12th Century. Today’s English translations are based on the evidence of a thousand times as many manuscripts (we now have well over 5,000 of them!), the earliest of which comes from the 2nd Century ( a thousand years earlier!). Nevertheless, who can find any material differences in the New Testament between the KJV and modern English translations?
The New Testament is a stable text. It’s message is settled. We can say with confidence, “It is written.”
Michael J. Kruger announces on his blog the availability of the paperback edition of this book ($45) for those who thought that the hardback edition ($175) was too expensive. I think there is a Kindle version for $99 as well.)
Kruger edited this book along with Charles E. Hill, professor of New Testament at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, Florida.
Stanley E. Porter is Dean and President of McMaster Divinity College in Hamilton, Ontario, a noted New Testament scholar, and a prolific author. His book, How We Got the New Testament: Text, Transmission, Translation (Acadia Studies in Bible and Theology), published in 2013, had its genesis in a series of three lectures delivered in 2008 at Acadia Divinity College in Wolfville, Nova Scotia. The Hayward Lectures are an annual affair at Acadia and have featured many noted scholars over the years, many of which can be viewed in Acadia’s video library.
There are three sections in Porter’s book, which correspond to the three lectures he gave.
The Text of the New Testament
Explanation and history of the Hayard Lecture series begins at 00:00. Introduction of Stanley Porter begins at 3:48. And Porter himself begins speaking at 6:47, and he begins the lecture proper at 7:15. The lecture ends at 1:03:14, with the remaining time given to questions and answers.
Porter ends his lecture with the proposal that we use the oldest complete text rather than the eclectic text, but without making an extensive argument for it.
Other notable statements:
We’ve never found a copy of the Gospel of John that doesn’t have chapter 21.
[Speaking of the variants in New Testament manuscripts], the situation is getting better with the discovery of new manuscripts, not worse. (about 46:50) This is book production, remember this is all copying done by hand, that I would say, rivals that found today in modern print. (about 47:40)
The Transmission of the New Testament
Dr. Craig A. Evans begins his personal introduction of Dr. Porter at 00:00. Porter begins speaking at 5:20, and the lecture proper begins at 6:00.
The Translation of the New Testament
After a brief introduction by Dr. Christopher Killacky, Dr. Porter begins speaking at 1:02 and begins the lecture proper at 1:30.
Though this piece by Wallace is billed as a review of Blomberg’s work, it is essentially a review of Blomberg’s first chapter -“Aren’t the Copies of the Bible Hopelessly Corrupt?” – a subject on which Wallace is even more expert than Blomberg.
Here are some quotes of Wallace from the review:
Almost anyone who has spent time with the textual apparatus is amazed at how little the vast majority of variants affect the meaning of the text.
But, with regard to Blomberg’s point, it also shows that if history is any indication, it would be foolish to think that any not-yet discovered readings will some day grace the text of our critical Greek New Testaments instead of finding a place in the apparatus of also-rans.
In comparing the copies of the NT with other ancient Greco-Roman literature, Blomberg argues well that Christians need not feel embarrassed about the relatively small gaps between the originals and the earliest copies (most NT books have copies within a century of the completion of the NT), since the gaps for other literature are far greater (hundreds of years). Further, the differences between the copies for, say, the apocryphal literature is remarkably greater than for the NT copies.
(13 min read; 3,226 words)
Here is the first in a series of five short videos in which Dr. Stanley E. Porter of McMaster Divinity College in Hamilton, Ontario answers questions about his recent book How We Got the New Testament: Text, Transmission, Translation (Baker Academic, 2013). Here’s the topic covered by each video, followed by its length.
- Why did you write How We Got the New Testament? (1:05)
- The Reliability of the Bible (2:15)
- Eclectic vs. Single Manuscript (1:56)
- Using How We Got the New Testament in the Classroom (2:09)
- Scholarly Guidance for Popular Questions (1:29)
There are links at the end of each video that lead from one to the next so that you can watch them in sequence.
Can We Still Believe the Bible? An Evangelical Engagement with Contemporary Questions was published in April 2014. There are six chapters in it. The first two chapters are on the New Testament text, canon, and translation respectively.
- Aren’t the Copies of the Bible Hopelessly Corrupt?
- Wasn’t the Selection of Books for the Canon Just Political?
- Can We Trust Any of Our Translations of the Bible?
- Don’t These Issues Rule Out Biblical Inerrancy?
- Aren’t Several Narrative Genres of the Bible Unhistorical?
- Don’t All the Miracles Make the Bible Mythical?
As you may have surmised, Blomberg has framed his chapter titles as challenges to the position he defends.
Nick Peters of the Deeper Waters podcast (on-demand radio) interviewed Blomberg about this book on April 26, 2014. The episode takes its title from the book “Can We Still Believe the Bible?” Peters’ show last two hours and is divided into six 20-minute segments. They spent one segment on each of the six chapters. Therefore, you can get the material on text and canon in the first 40 minutes. To listen to the podcast, find the date and title of the episode on this list: Deeper Waters Podcast Schedule
Nick Peters’ blurb about this podcast episode:
Join us this Saturday as Craig Blomberg comes on to talk about his newest book “Can We Still Believe The Bible?” We’ll be discussing the text of the Bible, questions about what books made it into the canon and what books didn’t, questions about why there are so many translations of the Bible, how it is that a Christian should understand the topic of Inerrancy, how genre consideration plays into our understanding of the Gospels, and finally whether the Bible can be believed since it contains miracles in it.
The content of this post has been moved to Comparing the Textual Integrity of the Bible to Other Documents of Antiquity | Rich Deem.