I would like to briefly reflect, hopefully for the last time on this particular topic, on Dr. Tommy Wasserman’s most recent comments on the ETC blog in reference to his original entry regarding the “busiest 15 years in the history of textual criticism” claim by Bart Ehrman. Sadly, instead of the topic being focused upon the real issue I was raising (the fundamental paradigm shift seen in some of the leading names in textual critical studies) all sorts of side-issues have intruded themselves, most often due to commenters choosing to make the thread their own private playground to air their dislike of yours truly. But in the final analysis, Dr. Wasserman seems to believe that I, the original writer of my own words on my blog, am not the final arbiter of the context and intention of those words! He has said, “I interpreted the statement within the context it was made (read my response), and that is what Christian recognized.” The fact is just the opposite: I determine my own context, and that context was plain and clear to anyone (and here’s the catch) who takes the time to honestly consider that context. But, it seems, that’s the problem: if you are not one of the leading textual critical scholars in the world, your context doesn’t matter. So, though I plainly was speaking about Ehrman’s leadership in shifting the paradigm of textual criticism away from the restoration of the original text of the NT toward an exegesis of the variants themselves, Wasserman seems to feel that he can take my words and transplant them into his own context. Note what another of the contributors to the blog, Christian Askeland, wrote:
Tommy interpreted White’s comments within the scholarly ethos of the upcoming book and not within the discussion on the AOM website. White should not have faulted Tommy for this.
Well, there you go! Original contexts are now irrelevant! I can take anything Tommy Wasserman says, or Christian Askeland says, and transplant it into another context, and there will be no basis for objection, or so it seems. Askeland is correct, of course: that is exactly what Wasserman did, but what Askeland astonishingly ignores is that Wasserman used that as his basis for saying I have no idea what I am talking about! The only way that kind of comment can have any logical meaning is if the original context of the person’s words is in view! Wasserman nowhere said, “I would like to change the context and consider these issues over here….”
To be honest with you, I do not know how to respond to such thinking. If words only have the meanings you decide to assign to them, and the original context and meaning is irrelevant, how can anything be accomplished? Re-read Askeland’s words, and remember what really took place here: Wasserman, who admits ignorance of the body of my work, admits ignorance of the content of my debate with Ehrman, takes a short blog article that plainly spoke of the paradigm shift in textual critical studies, removes it from its context, and on the basis of his ignorance and a-contextual reading begins his response with “It is apparent that White knows very little of what he is talking about.” Well, there you go! It is very tempting to take some of Wasserman’s writings, remove them from their context, and respond in kind (an easy enough thing to do), but I think the point has been made.
I will admit, this brief encounter with some of the leading lights of evangelical textual criticism has been most disturbing. There is clearly a “circle the wagons, defend the tribe” attitude present amongst many (thankfully, not all). What should have been a simple “Oh, I’m sorry, I should not have condescendingly insulted someone I know nothing about when I obviously misread his intentions” was turned on its head, and to what end? It is very hard to say. I surely will continue to point folks to the Evangelical Textual Criticism blog, but with this caveat: enjoy the links and the information, but be careful not to put too much emphasis upon the “evangelical” part of the name, and always keep in mind that in every corner of the academy today, those who view themselves as “leaders” and “specialists” tend to develop tunnel vision and lose sight of the “bigger picture.”
There is no question the past decades have brought much development to the TC scene. Computers, digital photography and the like, have been a great help. Better and faster communication has become common place. But Ehrman (and others) are quite proud of their own leadership in helping the TC field escape the manacles of slavery to the “myopic obsession” with the original text of the NT, as they see it, and I, for one, am less confident today than I was three days ago that “evangelicals” in the field have the clarity of vision and simple backbone to stand up and be counted by saying, “Enough of that. Exegete variants in the realm of speculation all you want, but don’t call it textual criticism. As for me, I will not buy into this diversion, and I will continue honoring the authors and those who transmitted their words to us by engaging in fact-based, realistic, and unashamedly faithful, study of the texts.” Political correctness has eaten the very fabric out of European society, and it is present in its fullness in the academy as well. Beware its pitfalls.