In our last installment we quoted the source used (uncritically) by Islamic apologists, Bart Ehrman, regarding John 20:28. It needs to be understood (as evidently it is not by those citing him) that Ehrman is not foolish enough to try to argue that the original reading of John 20:28 is anything other than what we have in our texts today, i.e., that removing the article before the word “God” came from an early Christological controversy, i.e., the concern over modalism or Patripassionism. The original is what we have in our text. I don’t get the feeling the Islamic apologists citing him understand this. Of course, given the “spin” in Ehrman’s work, that’s hardly surprising.
Let’s work through the main points made in the paragraph found in Ehrman. First, Ehrman adopts a distinction made by some in the early church between the arthrous and anarthrous forms of theos,–between o` qeo,j and merely qeo,j. But this is not a New Testament distinction. In fact, it is one “violated” by John himself, in that he uses qeo,j with or without the article depending on context to refer to the true God. In fact, the very idea that the article can be so simplistically handled in Greek is convincing only to those who view the Greek article as if it is the parallel to the English article “the,” and anyone who knows the language knows that is simply not the case. Greek articles are a world unto themselves. It is ironic to find Ehrman ignoring this basic fact. No serious discussion of the variant could possibly be offered without it.
Next, we need to recognize the textual data to which Ehrman makes reference. There is a single ancient manuscript to which he makes reference: Codex Bezae Catabrigiensis (D) from the fifth century. Ehrman’s teacher in the field of textual criticism, Bruce Metzger, has written concerning this manuscript:
No known manuscript has so many and such remarkable variations from what is usually taken to be the normal New Testament text. Codex Bezae’s special characteristic is the free addition (and occasional omission) of words, sentences, and even incidents. (Metzger, The Text of the New Testament, 2nd ed., p. 50.)
The manuscript is quite simply an “oddball.” It is a bilingual manuscript first of all, with the Greek text facing the Latin text. This is vitally important, for Latin articles and Greek articles are completely different animals as well, and a person familiar with Latin usage could (and in many cases did) allow that to influence the Greek text. And given the propensity of the manuscript to be simply “out there” in its text, the probability lies first and foremost with the scribe of Bezae as to the deletion of the article that, I note, is found in papyri that predate Bezae by many years. In other words, whether Bezae does, or does not, have an article when all other manuscripts contain it is, quite simply, irrelevant. Interesting, yes, but relevant to the original text? Hardly.
Next, we once again encounter Ehrman’s frustrating propensity for mind-reading. How does he know that “several scribes” “adroitly handled the matter”? Let’s look at Bezae: is there manuscript wide evidence of concern over Patripassionism in this manuscript? Or does Bezae show a consistent manuscript-wide willingness to add and delete, especially in reference to articles? Given that there is no corresponding article in the Latin, which is more likely: that this is a simple error on the part of the erratic scribe of Bezae, or that there is an elaborate theological reason that has no further evidence of its existence in the rest of the manuscript? But more than this, it seems Ehrman is actually claiming to know the theological motivations and concerns of the writer(s) of the manuscript(s) from which Bezae was copied! How does Ehrman know the exemplar of Bezae lacked the article here? He doesn’t, of course.
Finally for this installment, what are these “other Gospel manuscripts” to which he refers? No footnote is given. I have consulted all of my critical editions, and only in Tischendorf’s apparatus do I find a reference to 45ev, and that in my BibleWorks materials. I checked Aland’s Kurzgefasste Liste Der Griechistshen Handschriften Des Neuen Testaments and confirmed that this is the Gregory designation, not the Tischendorf designation, because 45 in Tischendorf maps to 0132 in Gregory, which does not contain John. Hence, the only other manuscript I can find cited in all of Nestle-Aland, UBS, VonSoden, Tregelles, and Tischendorf, is a single minuscule manuscript from the year 1300! This is “other Gospel manuscripts”? And once again, we are to assume a scribal “change” based upon theological controversy rather than the more obvious scribal error due to light, eye-strain, or an annoying gnat flying by?
Now, needless to say, I have found no evidence that any of the Islamic apologists who have so gleefully cited Ehrman (and whose works are then just as uncritically re-cited by others) ever took the time to review the actual citations and materials relevant to Ehrman’s claims. Spending the time looking through critical editions of Greek New Testaments checking manuscript designations and ages does not seem to be the forte of the likes of Deedat or Abdullah. In our final installment on this particular subject I will briefly discuss the citation of early church writers, such as Theodore of Mopsuestia.