There was a fascinating, albeit brief, exchange on the Textual Criticism Yahoogroup this week between Bart Ehrman and Dan Wallace. Those who have listened to the debate with Dr. Ehrman in Florida will remember this portion:
I understand the arguments of people like James and Dan Wallace, but sometimes, you know, they don’t make sense to me, even though I intellectually understand them. Dan Wallace, whom he keeps quoting, insists that in fact differences don’t matter in the manuscript. Well if the differences don’t matter, why is it that he is undertaking a major project dealing with Greek manuscripts—a project that is going to cost hundreds of thousands of dollars? If the differences don’t matter, what does he tell these people that he’s trying to raise money from? Well, we’d like you to donate $50,000 to our cause because the differences don’t matter. Of course they matter! And if they don’t matter, it is shameful to be spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on this in a world where people are starving to death if the differences don’t matter. Well, the differences do matter, in my opinion.
So I honestly thought that maybe Ehrman had cut-and-pasted the same portion into an e-mail on March 27th that appeared on the list, which included:
Question: if Dan (Wallace) doesn’t think textual variants are significant, why is he raising hundreds of thousands of dollars to study (photograph) the manuscripts? Given the dire situation we face of world poverty and starvation, isn’t that a very poor example of stewardship, if, in the end, the different readings of the different manuscripts actually don’t *mean* anything and don’t really *matter*?
To say that the text of Mark 1:41 is unimportant because Jesus gets angry elsewhere really misses the point. The point is that textual variants can affect the meaning of entire verses. Entire passages. Entire books. Does that matter or not?
Now, I don’t know how many times we will have to explain to Dr. Ehrman that this is a pure and unadulterated misrepresentation before he gets it, but evidently, we haven’t gotten to that point quite yet. He was plainly corrected in Florida, to be sure. He is playing a significantly less than scholarly game of semantics by asserting that we actually don’t believe textual variants “matter.” Of course we believe they matter! It is his huge leap from “textual variants are important and should be studied carefully” to “we don’t have a CLUE what the original writers wrote” that we challenge and quite rightfully reject. It is his shifting of the focus from the verification of the original text to the exegesis of variants (a fundamental paradigm shift in textual critical studies) that we reject. But please, Dr. Ehrman, stop misrepresenting your former faith and those of us who have found your arguments for apostasy far less than compelling. What reason is there for this kind of misrepresentation?
In any case, before the moderators shut down the thread (I imagine many of us did not wish to see that happen!) Dan Wallace, though traveling (coming back from Athens–may the Lord grant him traveling mercies!), managed to respond. Sadly, we won’t get to see Ehrman’s response due to the moderator’s ending the discussion. But Dan, as is normal for Dan, was right to the point:
In brief, every point you make about what I hold to is false. And you know this. When we dialogued at the Greer-Heard Forum last year, you raised most of the same points. You accused me of thinking that textual variants are not significant. Yet, at one point in our dialogue, you came significantly closer to accurately representing my views. You said, “Dan pointed out that 99% of these variants don’t matter. Only one percent matter.” Yes, I would say that as much as 1% of the textual variants are both viable and meaningful. But the only criterion I was using on whether they were significant was that of meaning in the text.
Yet just a few minutes later in our dialogue last April you asked, “Why study these textual variants if they don’t matter? If they’re unimportant, insignificant, if at the end of the day they don’t really change very much, they don’t change our theology, they don’t change our interpretation of the Scriptures, if they don’t change our views, if they don’t change our ethics, if they have no bearing on anything else other than the fact than they got changed, why study them?” That point was meant to suggest that I considered the variants to be as unimportant as these protases suggested.
Bart, you’ve repeated that same accusation in your debate with James White earlier this year, and you’ve repeated it in this thread. But my response to you at the Greer-Heard Forum was this: “I never said that they didn’t affect anything. I said they don’t affect major doctrines. I do think that they affect the interpretation of the text and very seriously so, and that’s why I spend so much time in textual criticism. That is exactly the reason I do it, which is the reason that you had suggested. I study because I think that whether Jesus was angry or compassionate in Mark 1:41 does affect the interpretation of that verse and that entire story.”
I am baffled as to how you could misrepresent my views so completely when I said TO YOU, before 800 witnesses, that the variants do matter. I even explicitly pointed out the reading in Mark 1.41 affects that verse and that entire story, but in this thread you claimed that I thought that the textual problem of Mark 1.41 was not important at all.
Finally, as for the criterion of whether the variants matter being doctrinal issues, it seems to me that you have reversed my argument. I have argued that no viable variant affects any cardinal doctrine. So, my point is that textual variants are very important, but not so important that a cardinal doctrine of the Christian faith depends on suspect texts. You agreed with me on that statement at Greer-Heard. But I never said that it would not be important if somehow several books of the NT were suddenly lost! I agree with you: that would be extremely important and a tragic loss. Where do you get the idea that I thought otherwise?
Exactamundo, to use less than scholarly language. Now, as those of you interested in this area know, I do not agree with Ehrman (or with Dan Wallace, who agrees with Ehrman’s arguments on this verse) regarding Mark 1:41. I just don’t believe D is a sound enough witness to support overthrowing the entirety of the rest of the manuscript tradition. But it is interesting to note that in Florida, when I first met Bart Ehrman, I informed him that I would be presenting a paper on Mark 1:41 and Hebrews 2:9 the next day in the afternoon. He did not bother to come. Now, if I were debating someone, say, on the doctrines of grace, and they informed me that just a few hours before our debate they were going to be presenting a paper, say, on John 6:37-45 and Ephesians 1:3-11, I think I’d show up if invited, for the obvious reason that I’d like to know what my opponent’s position was going to be. I would do that even if I felt quite confident in my position, simply for the sake of the audience that would be listening to the debate. The better you understand the person you are dealing with, the more useful the debate will probably be. But, clearly, I debate for very different reasons than Bart Ehrman.
So if you are ever in a talk by Bart Ehrman where he says “evangelicals don’t think the textual variants matter, but they obviously do,” you might wish to ask him, “How many evangelicals will it take to prove you are simply misrepresenting your former faith?”