Very shortly after my debate with Dr. Bart Ehrman in January of 2009, Joel McDurmon, who attended the debate, posted an article on the American Vision website criticizing my argumentation and claiming I had in essence claimed to “steamroll” Ehrman. He said the debate showed the limits of “evidentialist apologetics,” which left me completely dumbfounded as well. In any case, I immediately responded to Mr. McDurmon here and here, and then had him on the Dividing Line for an entire hour. You can hear the program here.
As far as I can recall, and as far as I can see from looking at my blog, I have not made any further comments regarding Joel McDurmon since early February of last year. I felt like I had clearly expressed my intentions in the debate, and explained what lay behind my questions and arguments. So I was more than a little surprised when a member of my church pointed me to comments he had just read in a brand new hard-back book published by American Vision, authored by Joel McDurmon, titled Biblical Logic in Theory & Practice. On pages 318 and 319 we read the following:
We find another good example in a recent debate between apologist James White and Bible critic Bart Ehrman. Despite both men possessing scholarly credentials andreputations, during the course of their debate over the integrity of Biblical manuscripts, each resorted at times to Ad Hominem appeals. For example, James White argued that God has preserved His word in the multiplicity of fragmented manuscripts (5000+to date), even though many of those manuscripts contain differences. Though in many pieces, the “tenacity” of the word remains. “It’s like having a (sic) 1,010 pieces for a 1,000pc jigsaw puzzle. It’s all there, we just have more than we need,” he illustrated. Amidst his rebuttals of this claim, Dr. Ehrman complained that only Evangelical Christian scholars continue to make this “tenacity” argument (against the vast weight of international scholarly opinion), and Evangelicals do so because they must defend their underlying doctrine of inspiration.
You can see how Dr. Ehrman’s rebuttal at this point commits the classic Circumstantial Ad Hominem: he dismisses Dr. White’s “tenacity” argument essentially by saying, “You only believe that because you have a vested interest in doing so: your evangelical religious tenets require you to do so at the expense of truth.” But this dismissal only attacks Dr. White and does not address the issue itself. Even if Dr. Ehrman’s claim were true, it would not disprove, or even weaken, the “tenacity of the text” argument.
At several points, however, Dr. White treats Dr. Ehrman in a similar manner. Part of our studies in this book includes showing how even devout believers do not escape the human frailty for fallacious arguments, and here we have another case in point. Dr. Ehrman argued that since the manuscripts of the Bible exist in multiple fragments which contain many discrepancies, therefore they in fact do not preserve God’s word. In addressing this claim, Dr. White more than once pointed out that Dr. Ehrman elsewhere in his writings and interviews denies the orthodox doctrine of inspiration. This charge implies that we should dismiss Dr. Ehrman’s argument as biased liberal propaganda. But this does not necessarily follow. Even though Dr. Ehrman’s argument does not prove the extent of what he claims (for other reasons), Dr. White’s emphasis on Dr. Ehrman’s personal denial of inspiration does not address the points of the actual argument. Even if Dr. Ehrman loved to draw Satanic symbols and burn Bibles for fun, these facts would have no necessary logical connection to his argument about the texts. At best they could motivate his argument, but they could not serve as a logical refutation.
There is much that can be said about these comments. First, there is every reason to encourage believers to think logically and biblically. I applaud the effort, and have often engaged in teaching in this area myself. And if McDurmon’s representation of the arguments given in the debate is accurate, his description of the resultant errors would be correct. But this is where the problem lies.
Joel McDurmon sat in the audience the night of my debate with Bart Ehrman. Yet, for some reason, he did not “hear” it very well. Perhaps it is because he lacks a proper background in textual critical issues. Or, maybe it is because his background in the subject is leading him to confusion. I honestly do not know. All I do know is that I attempted to correct aspects of his confusion last year, and evidently have failed, or he has chosen to dismiss my answers, for his confusion remains, and is now enshrined in a hard-back book.
It is difficult for me to understand how anyone can listen to my debate with Barth Ehrman and think I was making the argument attributed to me by Joel McDurmon. As far as I know, he is the only one who has come up with this conclusion, thankfully, and he seems quite dedicated to it, despite my refutation of his allegation. I never—not once—argued that since Bart Ehrman’s theological views are not orthodox that his conclusions should be dismissed. Goodness, he’s an apostate! What do you expect? I never suggested, intimated, or insinuated that the audience should dismiss his arguments based upon textual variation simply because he does not hold an orthodox view of inspiration! This is a glaring error on McDurmon’s part, one that is plain and obvious to anyone viewing the debate, or reading the transcript.
Did I mention Ehrman’s rejection of inspiration? Of course. Why? Because he himself raises the issue in the prologue of his book, and as part and parcel of his conclusion as well! Since he insisted upon debating the content of Misquoting Jesus, and had originally agreed to debate the thesis “The Presence of Textual Variation Precludes the Possibility of Inspiration” (a claim he makes repeatedly in his presentations and publications), this was my primary focus. I wanted to demonstrate that there is no reason to accept this conclusion, and what is more, that this conclusion does not in any way follow from Ehrman’s actual study of his field of expertise. That is, I was demonstrating a fundamental inconsistency in his entire presentation. While he repeatedly claims he is not a theologian, but only a historian, he makes very, very theological conclusions. Indeed, had I known at the time that in just a matter of weeks he would be releasing a new book, Jesus, Interrupted, which is filled with theological speculation and conclusions, I would have pointed this out even more firmly. He clearly wishes to have his cake and eat it too: he wants to be able to offer theological conclusions, yet, when challenged, fall back upon being a mere historian. There is no reason to accept his assertion that if God had inspired a text He would preserve it by a means man did not possess until 1949 (the year of the invention of the photocopier), i.e., that He would do so without the slightest textual variation in all the copies. And surely that assertion does not, and in fact, cannot, flow from his expertise in the identification of the primitive Alexandrian text type in early church writers like Origen (his specific field of doctoral studies).
So my intention was to demonstrate inconsistency in Ehrman’s position, which, of course, is eminently logical and appropriate. I am sorry Mr. McDurmon did not understand the argument: my seminary students have not had any problem in following it as I have shown the video to them, so I do not understand the origin of his confusion.
I would like to note as well that the quotation offered of me is not exactly accurate. I am not sure why this is, as the video of the debate was produced by American Vision. A transcript of the debate has been available for quite some time. I quote that portion, as well as what follows, because it happens to illustrate exactly what my argument was, and how McDurmon has missed that argument badly:
There is every reason to believe that our problem is not having 95% of what was originally written, but instead of having 101%. As Rob Bowman has put it, it is like having a 1,000 piece jigsaw puzzle, but you have 1,010 pieces in the box. The task is weeding out the extra; the originals are there. This is important to emphasize in light of Dr. Ehrman’s repeated assertion that we don’t know what the original New Testament said. I would like Dr. Ehrman to explain this assertion: is he saying that he is willing to demonstrate that there are variants in the New Testament where none of the extant readings could possibly be original, or is he applying the impossible standard of absolute certainty on every single variant, which would require absolute perfection of copying? Which would mean, of course, that Scripture could not even have been revealed until at least the printing press, or more likely the photocopier.
We quoted Dr. Ehrman speaking of the miracle of inspiration requiring the miracle of preservation. I would like to assert that the issue is not if God preserved His Word, but how. Dr. Ehrman seems to have concluded many years ago that preservation would require perfection of copying, something not seen in any ancient document. But is this the only way, or even the best way, to preserve Scripture? Ironically, the idea of a single, perfectly preserved version is indeed a very popular concept: amongst Muslims. This is in fact their view of the Qur’an, but it has never been the view of informed Christianity. In fact, the Islamic assertion of a single, preserved version leads to the inevitable questioning of those who produced it, such as Uthman, the third Caliph,who burned the sources he used!
And so I offer this refutation of Joel McDurmon’s allegation that I engaged in ad-hominem argumentation against Bart Ehrman. He is mistaken, and the facts demonstrate this clearly. I hope he will do the right thing and amend his work in the future to more accurately represent the truth.