Monday, November 11, 2019

Bart Ehrman's heirs

(Posted on behalf of Steve Hays.)

In response to my post:

DeSoto replied:

This post will be long due to all the quotes. If you wish to expedite the reading process you can just skip the quotes and read my latest replies. But the quotes are there for reference purposes, to provide context.

[Hays:] 1. At one level, the significance of this issue is easily overblown. The text of the NT has enormous multiple-attestation. Even if you opt for the Byzantine text, there's not much that can go wrong.

[DeSoto:] There is in fact, a lot that can go wrong when it comes to textual criticism of the New Testament. The post includes the "Bart Ehrman" tag at the bottom, so I imagine he falls into the category of "a lot going wrong".

DeSoto is responding to something different than what I actually wrote. There's a reason I word things the way I do.

i) I didn't say there's not much that goes wrong with textual criticism in general. TR fanaticism is a case in point.

Rather, I made the point about how well-attested the text of the NT is. Few textual variants are substantive or theologically freighted. The debates typically rage around a handful of stock examples: the Long Ending of Mark; Mk 1:1; Lk 23:34; John 1:18; Acts 20:28; the pericope adulterae; 1 Tim 3:16; Jude 5; the Comma Johanneum.

ii) And I made specific reference to the Byzantine text tradition. That's not my standard, but even if it was, there's not much that can go wrong with that standard.

iii) Ehrman didn't go wrong due his textual methodology. Many textual critics use the same methodology without going off the deep end like Ehrman. There's nothing in Metzger-style methodology which makes that the logical denouement.

His problem was his illogical understanding of the relationship between God's word and copies. He began with a preconceived notion of absolute textual certainty as the necessary ground to have any confidence in the NT text.

[DeSoto:] Regardless of what the author thinks, this issue is very important to Christians everywhere who read their Bible, and confusion on just one variant can send believers into spiritual tumult. I have fielded many phone calls with people dealing with this issue on a personal level, so I'm not sure it's fair to say that this issue is "easily overblown". Most Christians do not have the time or money to invest in understanding this issue, and as a result, it can be extremely important. I am hesitant to set the bar too low when dealing with people's confidence in their Bible.

That's just circular. They have a crisis of faith because they read Ehrman and blindly accept how he misframes the issue. (Or they panic because they think like Ehrman, even if they don't read him.) But it's a pseudoproblem. Ehrman, as well as TR fanatics, instigate or stoke an artificial crisis of faith by how they miscast the issue.

It's like evangelicals who convert to Rome because they read a Catholic apologist who misframes the issue, which they find persuasive because they lack the judgment to see the flaws in the reasoning. That doesn't mean there's anything wrong with sola scriptura. The proper response is to reframe the issue.

[Hays:] 2. At another level, it is a big issue. What's at stake is convincing Christians to believe their faith hinges on a particular text tradition like the Byzantine or the TR. That's the "canonical" text. This leaves them poised for a gratuitous crisis of faith if they develop doubts about the TR. In this case, their faith in the Bible becomes inseparable from faith in the TR and the KJV. That's apostasy waiting to happen. DeSoto is going down exactly the same road as Bart Ehrman. The same all-or-nothing mentality. The same false dichotomies.

[DeSoto:] In this second point, it seems that the author does recognize the importance of the issue...

Something can be objectively unimportant but personally important if people are confused or use the wrong paradigm. I didn't retract my initial observation.

[DeSoto:] ...but the issue is "convincing Christians to believe their faith hangs on a particular text tradition". I have never made this claim, nor will I ever say that people who read other Bibles cannot be saved, or that their faith "hinges" on which Bible they read.

DeSoto fails to connect the dots in his own thinking. In this very post he goes on to say:

[DeSoto:] If the Bible isn't perfect, what exactly is it does the author think he's reading when he opens a Bible? Is it not the inspired Word of God? Or is it just partially inspired, where it can be proven to be so by text-critical practice? How do we determine which passages are apart of the attainable Word of God, and which parts are the unattainable?

And his safety net is the TR. So he clearly does think Christian faith hinges on a particular text tradition–the TR. Without that, the Bible we have in our hands wasn't "inspirit at all. At most, only inspired where there weren't serious variants.

[DeSoto:] While the author has stated that I am "going down exactly the same road as Bart Ehrman", I can't help but think this is simply a rehashing of James White's claim on the matter...

I rarely watch the DL, and I haven't seen White's DL episodes on TR adherents. So, no, I'm not rehashing his claim.

[DeSoto:] ...without any evidence to actually support it.

Compare these two sets of statements:

[First statement:] If the Bible was inspired insofar as it represented the original, and there was nobody able to determine which texts were original, my view of the Bible was that it wasn't inspired at all. At the bare minimum, it was only inspired where there weren't serious variants.

If the Bible isn't perfect, what exactly is it does the author think he's reading when he opens a Bible? Is it not the inspired Word of God? Or is it just partially inspired, where it can be proven to be so by text-critical practice? How do we determine which passages are apart of the attainable Word of God, and which parts are the unattainable? (DeSoto)

[Second statement:] I kept reverting to my basic ques­tion: how does it help us to say that the Bible is the inerrant word of God if in fact we don't have the words that God inerrantly inspired, but only the words copied by the scribes—sometimes correctly but sometimes (many times!) incorrectly? What good is it to say that the autographs (i.e., the originals) were inspired? We don't have the originals! We have only error­ridden copies, and the vast majority of these are centuries removed from the originals and different from them, evidently, in thousands of ways.

As I realized already in graduate school, even if God had inspired the original words, we don't have the original words. So the doctrine of inspiration was in a sense irrelevant to the Bible as we have it, since the words God reput­edly inspired had been changed and, in some cases, lost (Ehrman, Misquoting Jesus).

They sound just like they could come from the same person. DeSoto and Ehrman share the same initial assumptions regarding textual variants. The only difference is that DeSoto takes refuge in the deus ex machina of the TR.

[DeSoto:] I imagine the author agrees a lot more with Bart Ehrman than he realizes.

I agree a lot more with Metzger, Peter Williams, Michael Kruger, Stanley Porter, Larry Hurtado, C. E. Hill et al.

[DeSoto:] I have interacted with Bart Ehrman's material, and have found that the Confessional Text position, from an epistemological and material standpoint, actually does offer a response to to his claims. Again, I am not making a false, "all or nothing" claim. I know many dear brothers and sisters in Christ who do just fine with the ESV and NASB. In my experience, many people are simply unaware of the process that goes into making their Bible. Christians all operate on their Bible being the inspired Word of God, and when they investigate the various text-critical theories, it often causes them to doubt that their Bible is what they think it is. This is not about being "right" or creating false dichotomies.

Except that DeSoto is making an all-or-nothing claim. He's claiming that Metzger-style textual criticism erects a dichotomy between the word of God and our copies. It's just that many Christians are too uninformed to appreciate the dichotomy.

[Hays:] 4. I myself subscribe to mainstream textual criticism and the eclectic text approach. I don't have a firm opinion about CBGM. Certainly we should take advantage of computers to digitize our MSS, then compare them. Stanley Porter is a critic of CBGM. I'd add that it isn't necessary to choose between CBGM and traditional textual criticism. You can compare the results of both, and the reasoning behind their choices. Metzger's textual commentary explains how traditional text critics made their choices. Presumably there will be a textual commentary on the Tyndale House Greek NT. Presumably there will be a textual commentary for the CBGM edition when that project is completed.

[DeSoto:] I'm not sure what is the "mainstream textual criticism" that the author refers to here. The mainstream approach to creating Greek texts is the CBGM, as that is the method that is being used to produce the mainstream printed editions of the modern critical text as it is represented in the NA/UBS platform. The Tyndale House Greek New Testament, and various Majority Text editions are the exception, of course, but there aren't really translations of those texts...If by "mainstream textual criticism" the author means the pre-CBGM era of textual scholarship, it is again important to note that the axioms developed during the Hort-Metzger era of textual scholarship have been abandoned almost universally.

Is that a fact?

i) I ran that by a couple of my friends. One is a noted NT textual critic. He responded by saying the CGBM "only a limited niche of scholars are familiar with it."

My other friend, who's doctoral candidate specializing in NT textual criticism said: "Very overstated. CGBM is the newcomer in the field and classical reasoned eclecticism still rules the day. Mind you, CGBM is gaining traction but I knows quite a few heavy hitters in the field who question its overarching effectiveness."

ii) The Tyndale House Greek NT isn't a marginal exception. Moreover, DeSoto's comparison is equivocal because he's comparing a critical edition of the Greek NT with translations based on critical editions. So there's a bait-n-switch.

iii) The current situation appears to be far more varied that DeSoto assert. For instance:

In a typical seminary course on New Testament textual criticism (TC), the standard methods are usually outlined: reasoned eclecticism, majority text, thoroughgoing eclecticism, and most recently the coherence-based genealogical method (CBGM), with a few others perhaps included, such as modified majority text (advocated by Harry Sturz), the documentary approach (Philip Comfort), and the single manuscript approach (advocated today by Stanley Porter).

Likewise, S.E. Porter and A.W. Pitts, Fundamentals of New Testament Textual Criticism (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2015).

Charles E. Hill and Michael J. Kruger, eds. The Text of the New Testament (Oxford University Press, 2014).

DeSoto is obsessed with CBGM. But it's not as if all pre-CBGM critical editions will be scrubbed.

[DeSoto:] It is important to note here that the CBGM and reasoned eclecticism are not odds with each other.

He's said the CBGM wipes out Metzger-style eclecticism.

[DeSoto:] Even though this is a popular level article, it may be important for the author to brush up on some of the current literature before providing a response.

I'm always amused by uninformed condescension. For the record, I've read articles by Peter Gurry and Greg Lanier. I've also corresponded with Gurry. It's imprudent for DeSoto to overestimate himself and underestimate his critics.

[Hays:] 5. Opting for the Byzantine tradition would be more defensible than opting for the TR. That's not my own position, but there's a respectable argument for that alternative.

[DeSoto:] If you're looking for a well developed, though not widely adopted critical position on the text, James Snapp has done extensive work with his Equitable Eclecticism.

No, I'm not interested in reading a hack like Snapp. I read bona fide scholars like Maurice Robinson.

[Hays:] 6. From what I can tell, all the Reformed proponents of the TR and the KJV are dabblers and dilettantes. They have no formal expertise in textual criticism. In fairness, they might say the same thing about me. But that proves my point. I admit that I'm an amateur when it comes to OT/NT criticism. And I don't object to amateurs having opinions about range of specialized issues. I don't think we should abode unconditional confidence in the judgment of experts. But it's because I'm an amateur that I don't need to get my information from another amateur. If I want an amateur opinion about textual criticism, I can just consult my own opinion! By the same token, I don't get my information about biology and physics from amateurs. Rather, I study what the professionals have to say. I might still dissent on philosophical or theological grounds. Or I might dissent if I think their discipline has become politicized, which skews their assessment. This also goes beyond formal training. Some scholars like Bruce Metzger, Peter Williams, and Emanuel Tov have an exceptional skill set and natural aptitude that many scholars lack. Reformed proponents of the TR might also say that since mainstream NT criticism is so compromised, it's a good thing that they lack formal training in that discipline. But that begs the question.

[DeSoto:] There are textual scholars that one might look to for a more scholarly handling of this position, including Dr. Jeff Riddle...

What are Riddle credentials or qualifications to be an expert in NT textual criticism?

[DeSoto:] ...Theodore Letis

He's quite the wildcard:

[DeSoto:] It is interesting that the author simultaneously discredits the popular level proponents of the Confessional Text position, such as myself, while also admittedly being less than well-read on the topic and writing a popular level article.

It's like DeSoto can't follow an argument. I said that as an amateur, I avoid getting my information from other amateurs. That's a perfectly consistent position.

[DeSoto:] Again, Dr. Gurry's book is very helpful and accessible and may offer some helpful new vocabulary and concepts to the reader.

Once again, I've read articles by Gurry and corresponded with him.

[DeSoto:] I even have, sitting on my desk next to me, Dr. Gurry and Dr. Hixson's latest book on Myths and Mistakes in New Testament Textual Criticism. That may be a helpful place to start for the author of this article.

First of all, I don't need a "place to start" because I'm not a beginner. In addition, does DeSoto think the Gurry/Hixson book will support TR advocates?

[Hays:] 7. A basic problem with canonizing the KJV is that most Christians aren't English-speakers, most Christians were never English-speakers, and within the foreseeable future, most Christians won't be English-speakers. So it's absurdly ethnocentric.

[DeSoto:] This point seems rather disconnected from the actual discussion. I personally have not advocated for the "canonization of the KJV", and I'm not sure of any in my camp who do. Again, this point seems to indicate that the author is not familiar with the position...

Perhaps this response seems to indicate that DeSoto is dissembling, since it's easy to document considerable overlap between TR proponents and KJV proponents.

[Hays:] 8. Another problem is that we have a better understanding of Greek and Hebrew than the KJV translators. We have a wider sampling of ancient Hebrew than they had. And we have a wider sampling of ancient Greek than they had. For instance, Greek papyri give us access to non-literary Greek. That gives us access to Greek slang or Greek words with slang meanings. In addition, computers enable us to make exhaustive comparisons in vocabulary and grammatical constructions.

[DeSoto:] I recommend the author to look up just one of the KJV translators, Lancelot Andrews, and see if he still believes this claim. Andrews was one among many who knew the languages so fluently he could fluently converse in them. I wonder if the author, or perhaps most seminary professors, could have a conversation casually in Latin, Hebrew, Greek, Aramaic, etc without skipping a beat.

i) Notice how that reply complete fails to engage the actual argument. Conventional textual critics, like Metzger and Peter Williams are gifted linguists.

i) More to the point, Andrews was conversant with ancient literary Greek. That's beside the point since my argument drew attention to a wider sampling of ancient Greek and Hebrew that someone like Andrews had at his disposal.

[DeSoto:] But again, I'm still struggling to see how translation of texts has anything to do with the text itself.

Is he kidding. The debate in large part concerns which texts underlie a given translation.

[DeSoto:] Interestingly enough, the King James Translators didn't need a computer to know the languages. I'm sure the author would agree with me when I say that if somebody needed a computer to construct a sentence in English, they probably don't know English all that well. I wonder how well Google translate would do making a Bible?

Is that supposed to be an applause line? His flippant responses fail to engage or even grasp the argument. Apart from scholars with phenomenal memories like F. F. Bruce, Bruce Metzger, D. S. Margoliouth, Bishop Lightfoot, et al., most scholars can't carry the entire corpus of Greek literature around in their heads. So computers provide useful assistance by listing and comparing all the occurrences of a Greek word or all the occurrences of particular grammatical constructions. That enables a Greek scholar or NT critic to have all the evidence at his fingertips.

[Hays:] 9. It's true that earlier MSS aren't necessarily better than later MSS. Obviously an 8C MS isn't automatically better than a 9C MS. But when we're talking about the NT papyri, I do think there's a presumption that earlier is better because they are so chronologically close to the Urtext.

[DeSoto:] I'm glad the author recognizes that newer manuscripts can preserve older readings. This much is fact. In terms of the Papyri, I'm not sure what that has to do with the conversation. There are less than 150 published Papyri (most of them scraps), and there aren't enough of them to make a whole New Testament...Perhaps the author could provide some examples of how the Papyri have changed the grand scheme of textual criticism.

i) That's confused. The NT documents didn't originally circulate as a complete collection ("a whole NT"). They initially circulated as individual documents or smaller units like collections of the four Gospels. So using P72 for 1-2 Peter and Jude or using P46 for Romans, 1-2 Cor, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 Thes (supplemented by other MSS to fill in the lucuna of P72) is germane to critical editions of the NT. Or take the identity of the original reading in John 1:18.

ii) The fact, moreover, that the NT papyri didn't revolutionize textual criticism confirms traditional textual criticism by demonstrating continuity between papyri and Uncials like Vaticanus and Sinaiticus. So that's corroborative evidence that the aforesaid Uncials are generally reliable witnesses to the Urtext.

[Hays:] 10. Reformed TR proponents operate with an arbitrary notion of divine providence regarding the preservation of the text. They act like special providence singles out the TR rather than the Byzantine text or the NT papyri or the DDS or Codex Vaticanus. But why would providence only extend to the preservation of the text in the TR? Likewise, the reason OT textual critics sometimes prefer the LXX to the MT is because the LXX translators had an earlier text than the Massoretes. So they had a text that might well preserve the original reading in some cases where the MT lost it.

[DeSoto:] I'm not sure I would say it's "arbitrary". The Masoretic Hebrew and Greek Received Texts are the texts that were used almost exclusively among the protestants for translation, commentary, and theological works from the Reformation into the modern period. Chances are, if you have any works of the Puritans and the Post-Reformation Divines, they are using this text. If you adhere to a confession, they used the "arbitrary" text.

i) That's a fallacious argument from authority. The fact that something is widely believed or widely practiced carries no presumption that it's correct. Taking a headcount of opinions creates no presumption that the opinions are right. The salient question is the quality of argumentation in support of their opinions.

ii) The Greek Orthodox have been using the LXX as their OT since the get-go. Does that mean Protestants should take their cue from the Greek Orthodox?

[DeSoto:] Most theological works and commentaries into the 20th century use the AV and underlying texts. Some might argue that this is simply because they did not have the modern critical text, but isn't that the point? God works in time, and in time, the church had the Traditional Text.

Except DeSoto doesn't think God works in time where the DDS, NT papyri, Codex Vaticanus or Sinaiticus (to cite some representative examples) are concerned. So his appeal to divine providence is artificially selective.

[DeSoto:] Further, the argument against the Masoretic Text is curious, because there aren't really any other Hebrew Texts to point to.

He acts like the only relevant witnesses to the Hebrew Urtext are complete copies of the OT (i.e. the MT). But again, that's arbitrary. The DDS can witness to the Hebrew Urtext without having to be comprehensive.

[DeSoto:] The Reformed Confessions set the standard at the Greek and Hebrew texts being immediately inspired. If we don't have those texts, what do we have?

i) To begin with, there's the fallacious appeal to authority.

ii) A failure to distinguish between the Urtext and copies.

iii) A failure to acknowledge that NT papyri, Codices like Vaticanus and Sinaiticus, and the DDS can be witnesses to the Urtext. And they can preserve original readings where the MT or TR is corrupt.

[DeSoto:] If the argument is that the LXX preserves original readings, is that not the argument you have problems with as it pertains to King James Onlyists? If a translation can preserve authentic readings, what exactly is the problem you have with your view of KJVO?

Surely he's not serious. He's comparing a 16C translation with a translation from the Inter-Testamental period. Is DeSoto unable to apprehend that the LXX translators probably had access to much earlier MSS than the Massoretes? For that matter, we now have earlier witnesses (the Leningrad Codex) to the MT than the KJV translators had to work from.

[Hays:] 11. I'm no expert (something I share in common with Reformed TR proponents), but it seems to be that appeal to the Majority text is a statistical fallacy. If more MSS were produced by a particular locality, and more of those survive, that just means our extant MSS oversample a local textual tradition. Their numerical preponderance in itself creates no presumption that it's more representative. Rather, that may simply be a geographical and historical accident. So the larger sample is an arbitrary sample. The fact that we have a larger sample of that textual tradition is random in the sense that it's a coincidence of geography and the ravages of time. The Majority text may well be unrepresentative because a local textual tradition is overrepresented.

[DeSoto:] I agree that I am no expert, with that I take no issue. I would challenge the author of this article to turn that argument on the formerly titled "Alexandrian Text Family", which has very slim manuscript support. The author appeals to "other textual traditions", but there aren't really any others. There is no Alexandrian Text Family, or Western, or Cesarean. The pregeneaological coherence component of the CBGM demonstrates this overwhelmingly.

Does this mean DeSoto concedes the value of the CBGM after all?

[DeSoto:] In the same way, and more likely, the smallest smattering of manuscripts, which are geologically local to one area, are in fact the anomaly. This is especially easy to understand when those manuscripts weren't copied, and the ancestor(s) of those manuscripts is lost. The text that the author is advocating for is a blip on the outskirts of the map of the manuscript data.

DeSoto simply repeats the statistical fallacy.

[Hays:] 12. It's often said that despite all the textual variants, the true reading is contained somewhere in our "5000" extant Greek MSS. But that bare statement can be misleading. This isn't like finding a needle in a haystack. It's not like our MSS are riddled with indetectable mistakes.

i) Words are parts of sentences. If a scribe uses the wrong word, that usually makes the sentence nonsense. And it's easy to spot which word is messing up the sentence. Moreover, it's usually easy to figure out what the right word was, even if you only have that MS to go by.

We do this all the time. Email and text messages frequently contained recognizable typos, but we can usually figure out the intended word.

ii) But suppose we can't figure out what the original word was. So we consult other MS. The right word isn't indetectable. If another MSS has the same sentence, but with a different word, and the sentence makes sense, then that's probably the authentic reading.

ii) Suppose I have two independent editions of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. Both editions contain typos. But they contain different typos. Suppose one edition contains a sentence with a typo, and I can't figure out the original word. So I consult the other edition, where the parallel sentence makes sense. So that probably preserves the original word.

[DeSoto:] I find no issue with this point. The first problem is, in the pre-CBGM era of textual scholarship, axioms such as "prefer the less harmonious reading" and "prefer the shorter reading" sort of gunk up point i) in the above list. Regardless, in the current edition of the NA28, there are readings which are "split". Which means the editors of the text cannot determine which came first in the manuscript tradition. So when the author makes the claim, " It's not like our MSS are riddled with indetectable mistakes," that is totally possible.

Again, DeSoto can't follow the argument. I gave the example of a scribal mistake by using the wrong word.

Yes, there are times when it's hard to determine which textual variant is the original reading. But in the case of nearly all substantive or theologically freighted variants, that can be ascertained with fair probability. We can only work with the surviving evidence that God put at our disposal. We can't demand more from God than he has given us. And God won't demand more from us than he has given us. DeSoto has a truncated view of providence.

[DeSoto:] The author's scenario of Tom Sawyer is not exactly relevant, because we know what the source material of Tom Sawyer said. There is a master copy to compare to.

Once again, Desoto seems to be so conditioned by his paradigm that he can't follow the argument. I just explained how you don't need a master copy of Tom Sawyer to supply the basis of comparison. I just explained how two independent editions can be used to correct each other. He does nothing to engage or refute my argument. And oddly enough, he concedes that principle:

[DeSoto:] This idea of correcting the text by comparison of a few manuscripts, is however, the view of the Reformed and Post-Reformation Divines when it came to the text they had in hand, the Traditional Text. They believed that this sort of decision making could be done.

So he's admitting that the Urtext must be reconstructed using human judgment. And comparative MSS analysis is a legitimate method, rather than comparison with a now nonexistent master text.

[DeSoto:] That is what I believe can be done, and has been done. The editors of the modern critical text do not share in that opinion necessarily, as evidenced by the minefield of diamonds in the apparatus of the NA28.

What's the point of contrast? It just means some readings are more certain than others. That's the unavoidable situation God put us in. Our duty is to be faithful in the situation God put us in, and not operate from utopian illusions.

[Hays:] 13. Opponents of the eclectic text allege that editors are "creating" the text. But that's deceptive. It doesn't mean they are inventing sentences. It just means they use more than one witness to the text. Since we know for a fact that scribes introduces changes into the text (usually inadvertently), we can't rely on a single MS as it stands. It's necessary to make corrections. And we do that by reference to other MSS.

[DeSoto:] To this point I'll simply respond with somebody has actually created Greek texts, and is listed as the team lead for the ECM in the Gospel of John, D.C. Parker.

"The text is changing. Every time that I make an edition of the Greek New Testament, or anybody does, we change the wording. We are maybe trying to get back to the oldest possible form but, paradoxically, we are creating a new one. Every translation is different, every reading is different, and although there's been a tradition in parts of Protestant Christianity to say there is a definitive single form of the text, the fact is you can never find it. There is never ever a final form of the text."

i) Yes, DeSoto is fond of quoting Parker's statement. But Parker is hardly nonpartisan. He has his own axe to grind. He represents a particular faction. There's no one textual critic who speaks for all textual critics.

ii) In addition, the statement deceptive because it makes it sound like the whole text is fluid, every word and passage is equally uncertain. In reality, the text in general is quite stable.

[DeSoto:] I agree that we cannot rely on one manuscript, I don't think anybody would disagree. Nobody believes that the Bible came down through one single copy of the original. The Reformed and Post-Reformation Divines did not believe that, and neither do I. A more important conversation to have is whether or not the manuscripts we have now represent the historically transmitted text in time. God never promised to preserve His Word in hand written copies of the original texts. It seems we can draw from good and necessary consequence that those preserved texts must be in the original languages, but not necessarily in handwritten form. The fact is, original readings in the original languages can be, and have been, preserved with printed ink, not just handwritten ink. The author does not seem to have a problem with a reading being preserved in a translation (LXX), so I'm not sure what point is being made here.

Is DeSoto affirming or denying textual variants in our TR MSS? If he concedes their existence, then our copies are not inerrant, so textual criteria are necessary.

[Hays:] 14. In general, biblical teaching is redundant. It doesn't hinge on one particular passage. Major doctrines are multiply-attested. The life of Christ is multiple-attested (four Gospels).

[DeSoto:] I don't disagree that many Biblical doctrines are not dependent on one proof text. I do not agree that all doctrines can be demonstrated equally with multiple proofs. I would be curious to see how the author handles the hapax legomena that our doctrine of inspiration comes from – θεοπνευστας.

DeSoto is now doing a bait-and-switch between textual variants and hapax legomena. The equivocation is blatant.

[DeSoto:] There are quite a few places where doctrine isn't established on multiple verses totally. The Reformed were constantly building doctrine on one passage of Scripture. This is evidenced in the scripture proof texts of the Westminster Confession. Further, we do not demand this kind of thinking from preachers when they work expositionally through the text. We trust that each word is valuable for preaching and doctrine from the pulpit, despite the fact that those verses can be built out by passages in other places. It is not that we do not let Scripture interpret Scripture, but that we let Scripture interpret Scripture while also trusting and believing in every word that "proceedeth out of the mouth of God."

No, allowance must be made for the fact that at certain points, our NT is less well-attested on some passages than others, so we shouldn't make our interpretation hinge on one disputed word. Same thing with the OT text. That's the hand God dealt us.

[Hays:] 15. The way Reformed TR advocates cling to the Long Ending of Mark is hypocritical. If they truly believe that's the original ending, then they ought to belong to charismatic, snake-handling churches.

[DeSoto:] I wonder if Calvin, Matthew Henry, Gill, etc. would agree? They all seemed to get by just fine with the historical interpretation of it. Perhaps the author could investigate a commentary to see how the church has interpreted this passage before it was hucked out of the Bible on the bases of just two manuscripts.

Yet another fallacious argument from authority that completely dodges the issue of what the Long Ending of Mark says:

17 And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; 18 They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.

Do those signs follow TR adherents?

[Hays:] 16. What does God require of us? To be faithful to the best text we have at our disposal. Surely he doesn't require us to be faithful to an unattainable word-perfect text. Even in the 1C, Christians copied originals. The originals were inerrant but the copies were not.

[DeSoto:] This is a modern view by way of A.A. Hodge and B.B. Warfield. Turretin and Van Mastricht certainly don't agree with this statement.

DeSoto constantly hides behind his fallacious argument from authority when he can't give a good reason for his position. BTW, does he agree with Turretin regarding the inspiration of the Hebrew diacritical marks? What about Turretin's position on geocentrism?

[DeSoto:] If the Bible isn't perfect, what exactly is it does the author think he's reading when he opens a Bible? Is it not the inspired Word of God? Or is it just partially inspired, where it can be proven to be so by text-critical practice? How do we determine which passages are apart of the attainable Word of God, and which parts are the unattainable?

i) Both Ehrman and DeSoto suffer from a common confusion. A failure to distinguish between the Urtext/word of God and copies. The Urtext is inerrant, copies are not. For clarification, cf. Peter J. Williams, "Ehrman's Equivocations and the Inerrancy of the Original Text" D. A. Carson, ed. The Enduring Authority of the Christian Scriptures (Eerdmans 2016), chap. 13.

The TR is not inerrant. Does DeSoto imagine that God not only inspired the Urtext but inspired all TR MSS? Does DeSoto imagine that the TR is 100% identical with the Urtext? Given textual variants in TR MSS, which TR MSS is the "master text"? Or does he admit that some textual reconstruction is necessary?

The word of God is fully instantiated in the Urtext. But handwritten copies are rarely identical with the Urtext because scribes make changes. And published editions are based on handwritten copies. They simply freeze the variants.

That's not a big deal because scribal changes are typically trivial and/or recognizable. Our copies are the word of God insofar as they correspond to the Urtext. And we can retrieve the Urtext with a high degree of certainty.

ii) In addition, it isn't always necessary to choose between textual variants inasmuch as there may situations where more than one textual variant is the original reading. For instance:

If one agrees, at least in principle, with David Trobisch's and Porter's views of the Pauline letter collection (they agree in some ways and disagree in other ways), Paul himself was involved in the collecting and gathering of his letters as a letter collection and that he may possibly have written multiple copies of his letters. Porter posits that Paul may have made a copy for the individual or group he addresses his letters to, and then made a copy (or copies?) for himself. I think there is a high likelihood—as well as opportunity, especially given the amount of time he spent in prison—that Paul (and/or his amanuensis) did just that. I think that when Paul tells Timothy to send the parchments (2 Tim 4:13), he's referring to his own letter collection (up to that point, of course).

In cases like that we don't have to eliminate all textual variants but one, because these aren't competing textual variants, but equally authentic.

iii) Ehrman, as well as TR proponents, operate with the same a priori methodology as Catholics:

  • What's the value of an infallible Bible without infallible copies?
  • What's the value of an infallible Bible without an infallible interpreter?

Instead of making reality their starting-point, instead of taking the evidence as their starting-point, they begin with an a priori theological axiom about what is fitting, then invent a matching backstory.

[DeSoto:] I'd be curious to see if the author would be willing to provide a methodology for determining this.

I gave examples under #12, which DeSoto maunders.

[DeSoto:] John Brown of Haddington thought that kind of distinction was unwise, and I think we should too.

The opinion of Reformed luminaries isn't probative. All that counts is the quality of their supporting arguments. We not answerable to Reformed luminaries. We're answerable to God. To act as though the mere opinion of Reformed luminaries is inherently authoritative is mock-pious playacting.


  1. Thanks for responding. Hopefully our back and forth can be helpful for people exploring the issue. - Taylor DeSoto

    1. Your mutual discussion HAS been informative for me as a layperson.

      One thing I didn't quite get: If I'm not mistaken, you support the MT over the Septuagint as the basis for the OT text. But if that were the consistent case then Psalm 22:16 should read 'Like a lion, my hands and feet' - which the KJV does not use.