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Bart Ehrman’s Problem, part 2
We now continue and conclude considering the Greer-Heard Forum of 2008 AD as we focus on the participation of Dan Wallace (Dallas Theological Seminary) and Bart Ehrman (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill) as I glean from the reports of the forum written by Ed Komoszewski from the theology blog Parchment and Pen; part 1 and part 2.
One of Bart Ehrman’s favored claim to substantive and problematic variants, or corruptions, (one of what he admits is very, very few) is Mark 1:41 which reads, starting at v. 40,
Now a leper came to Him, imploring Him, kneeling down to Him and saying to Him, “If You are willing, You can make me clean.” Then Jesus, moved with ______________ [something], stretched out His hand and touched him, and said to him, “I am willing; be cleansed.”
Ehrman claims that the reading—the one that he likes and then finds evidence to support—is that Jesus was “moved with anger” while most translations read that He had “compassion” or “pity.”
Firstly, let us not deny that anger is a virtue when, and only when, it is properly expressed about the proper situation and at the proper object—righteous anger, as it has been termed (see the essay On God’s Odd Attributes).
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.
As for the text itself, sure there is righteous anger but why would Jesus be angry within this context? The answer to the question of context is also a clue as to the original reading. As to the question of textual criticism, James White notes that James Bentley wrote the following in Secrets of Mout Sinai (1986, pp. 132 and 133):
in the first chapter of Mark's Gospel we are told of a leper who says to Jesus, 'If you will, you can make me clean'. Codex Sinaiticus continues, Jesus, 'angry, stretched out his hand and touched him, and said, "I will; be clean"'. Later manuscripts, perceiving that to attribute anger to Jesus at this point made him appear, perhaps, too human, alter the word 'angry' to 'moved with compassion'.
The text referred to is Mark 1:41, which reads in a [“a” refers to Codex Siniaticus], "Moved with compassion, he stretched out His hand and touched him, and said to him, 'I am willing; be cleansed.'" I have a photo-mechanical reprint of a in my library, prepared by [Constantin von] Tischendorf himself, and I checked it as well: it reads splagcqeis, "moved with compassion."
Bentley is simply in error. There is a textual variant here that reads "angered," but it is found in D and a very small number of other less important witnesses. I suppose it is possible Bentley simply misread a textual source somewhere, but to start out your demonstration of purposeful emendation with the scholarly equivalent of a face-plant in figure skating is ominous.
Back to Dan Wallace at the forum:
we could move toward greater certainty by observing what Matthew and Luke did with Mark. He used Mark 1:41 as a test-case, and enlisted Ehrman’s treatment of this in his argument. Here the text either says that Jesus was compassionate or angry when he healed a leper. Wallace noted that Matthew and Luke don’t have either word, but since they drop references to Jesus’ anger elsewhere while maintaining statements about Jesus’ compassion, Mark almost surely said that Jesus was angry in this place. If he had said that Jesus was compassionate, Matthew and Luke would surely have mentioned it. To borrow a cliche, their silence was deafening.
But Wallace showed that, by using one of Ehrman’s favorite examples, textual critics are presupposing that we can get back essentially to the author’s words in order to do both redaction and textual criticism. Even Ehrman assumed this!
And the fact that Wallace used an example from Mark—which Ehrman underscored as a book that had very few early copies, and thus could have been changed radically before it was found in our extant copies—showed that Ehrman’s skepticism about Mark in particular was unfounded.
Wallace even mentioned p. 135 of Misquoting Jesus, where Ehrman had argued that even though we don’t have any second century copies of Mark, we do have books written within twenty years of Mark that utilize Mark…
As for getting back to the originals,
Wallace then discussed the concrete example of the relation of P75 to Codex B. He noted that although B came 100-150 years later, it was not a copy of P75 because it frequently had older readings than those found in P75. This meant that, since these two manuscripts are very close in wording to each other, both had a much older ancestor.
Let us end with something I touched upon in the essay Accurately Quoting Bart Ehrman, part 4 Bart Ehrman does not bother reading criticisms and does not respond to them except when he reads them and responds to them—the evidence is that he tends to ignore his critics. Let us consider his scholarly honesty further as he writes:
I understand the arguments of people like James [White] 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…Of course they matter!
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?...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 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…
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?
James White adds that “He was plainly corrected in Florida [during their debate], to be sure.”
To be sure indeed, Bart Ehrman is emotive, iconoclastic, rebellious, studious, exciting and celebrity yet, his conclusions, being premised upon emotional preferences, leave much to be desired and offer much to be discredited.
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