The Table Podcast

Reliability of the New Testament

In this episode, Drs. Darrell L. Bock and Dan Wallace discuss the reliability of the New Testament, focusing on the task of discovering the wording of the original documents.

Timecodes
00:15
What is the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts?
05:20
The task of photographing New Testament manuscripts
10:49
The importance of digitizing New Testament manuscripts
16:28
How reliable are the New Testament manuscripts?
23:27
Addressing textual issues in the New Testament
29:28
Issues in Mark 16: 9-20 and John 7:53-8:11
37:37
Significance of the very early Greek New Testament manuscripts
42:23
The relationship of textual criticism and the reliability of Scripture
Transcript
Darrell Bock
Welcome to The Table, where we discuss issues of God and culture. I’m Darrell Bock, executive director for cultural engagement at the Hendricks Center at Dallas Theological Seminary. My guest today is a fellow cohort in crime. We’ve been working together side by side in the New Testament Department literally for three decades plus. Dan Wallace, thank you for joining us.
Daniel Wallace
Oh, I’m glad to be here, Darrell, even though it’s with you.
Darrell Bock
I know our wives will take care of us later, and they’ll ask, “How did it go?” But we’re here to discuss New Testament manuscripts and the New Testament and really the reliability of the New Testament text. Dan, besides working here at Dallas Seminary as a professor in the New Testament, what’s your other independent role? I’m gonna let you describe the organization and the role that you have in it.
Daniel Wallace
I’m the founder and executive director of the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts, which is a real mouthful, but you can remember it. If you know who C.S. Louis is, you’ve got the first of the two initials, C.S., and if you’ve ever watched Wizard of Oz, you know who Auntie Em is. So C.S. Auntie Em, there you go.

CSNTM.org is the website. It’s been in existence since 2002, a nonprofit organization that has the primary goal of digitizing every single Greek New Testament manuscript in the world and putting the images on our website.

Darrell Bock
So you literally run around the world taking pictures of manuscripts.
Daniel Wallace
Yes, sir.
Darrell Bock
That’s the current side of the story. Let’s back it up to the start. How did a good California boy like you end up doing this?
Daniel Wallace
Well, when I got done surfing and playing football, I had a radical commitment to Christ that I made when I was 16 and decided at that point I will go into fulltime vocational ministry. I started sharing the gospel on the Coast Highway, which is the one that runs up and down the coast from Mexico to Canada, picking up hitchhikers, passing out New Testaments.

I’d pick these New Testaments up. I’d buy them for $0.25 a piece, paperbacks. I’d buy ’em by the box-load from a fellow that had a real estate office. He had a huge billboard over his real estate office that said, “Jesus Saves.” So I figured, “Well, this guy must be a Christian.”

So I’d go down there and get Today’s English Version from him, and he’d talk about how Jesus was not God. That really disturbed my faith, and I thought, “If I’m gonna make this commitment to Christ, I sure hope he’s worth it.” And so we’d have these dialogs back and forth, and it really convinced me that I needed to know more about what’s going on in the New Testament.

So I went to Biola College and studied under Harry Sturz, who was a great textual critic, learned Greek grammar from him, textual criticism, and a little bit about exegesis there. But I decided I’m gonna devote a large part of my career to working with manuscripts and working with Greek grammar.

Darrell Bock
Now you used the phrase “textual criticism,” which some people of course will be familiar with, but other people will have no clue what that means. Are you critical of the New Testament text? Come on, now. So in a very lay kind of way, explain what text criticism is for people.
Daniel Wallace
Well, the word “criticism” simply means research, and “textual criticism” is the discipline that has as its primary goal to ascertain the wording of an original document that no longer exists or can no longer be found. We apply it to all ancient literature. We apply it to a lot of modern literature, including the Gettysburg Address. We don’t have what Lincoln wrote. We have five secretaries that wrote down what he said, and they all have differences among them.

With the New Testament, the originals disappeared within a century of writing. They were probably copied so much that they just wore out. All of the manuscripts have differences between them. So we have to do textual criticism to try to ascertain the wording of the original.

Darrell Bock
So you’re looking at the variations in the wording and trying to make sense, based upon the various sources that they’re coming from, which wording is likely to be the most reflective of the original, more reflective of the original.
Daniel Wallace
You defined it pretty well. That’s good. You know a little about the New Testament, I guess.
Darrell Bock
Every now and then I wake up and look at my New Testament. So you’ve really spent your life doing text critical work and taking pictures of these manuscripts. I’ve got about three different directions I want to go, and I’m actually trying to decide which way I want to go.

Let’s talk a little bit about what that involves, the picture-taking that’s involved, the kind of equipment that you’re using, what it takes to get permission. I know that there’s stories there. Let’s say you’re going to Athens. What does that involve or what did it involve?

Daniel Wallace
First of all, it involves years of talking to people and shooting at other places. We started at not-so-consequential institutes that would allow us to shoot there, build a really good reputation of always maintain that manuscript, never hurt any manuscript. That’s our first task. As our reputation built up, then more and more places would be interested.

In September 2014, we were invited to go to the National Library of Athens – National Library of Greece in Athens and meet the director of the board – the chairman of the board. We gave a presentation to them. Halfway through the presentation, they stopped us and said, “Okay, we want you to shoot our manuscripts. How soon can you start?”

I said, “Well, it’s gonna take some time to raise the money.”

Darrell Bock
You can pop out your iPhone and just get started.
Daniel Wallace
There you go. That’s the caliber of pictures we take. We bring state-of-the-art equipment to these sites. We said, “We can maybe start in May, but we’re gonna have to raise a lot of money.” This whole project cost nearly $1 million.

It took two years to do, and I spent 100 days in Athens, over 100 days in 2015 alone. I’d live there for three or four weeks and then come home. Sometimes I’d speak somewhere in the country and then fly back, but always would visit my wife for a little bit. So she’d be happy about that.

But I was preparing the manuscripts for photography. It takes two to three hours to prepare each manuscript to be photographed. And then the teams would come in for the whole summer of 2015 and ’16 and other times of the year. We trained 45 people to shoot their manuscripts.

They have 300 Greek New Testament manuscripts. A manuscript by definition is a handwritten document that’s not based on a printed document. So typically we’re talking about 2nd through the 16th century. They don’t have any 2nd century ones, but they’ve got plenty of manuscripts, 300 of ’em, 150,000 pages of manuscripts to digitize.

We have state-of-the-art equipment that is 50-megapixel cameras where the images are 300 megabytes apiece. Three of them equal a gigabyte. They’re huge. Not only do we have those images, but we shoot them on what’s called a Graz Traveller’s Conservation Copy Stand designed in Graz, Austria, by a manuscript professor.

These things hold manuscripts. They’re designed specifically to shoot manuscripts. They hold them open at 105 degrees, no more. They have exact distances for the camera, exact lighting, all this. If you want to shoot manuscripts in Europe today, you’d better have one of these, and we have four. They’re very expensive, and he makes them by hand for every institute that wants them.

So we trained 45 people. Seven to eight were working there each summer fulltime, and I was working there during the summers as well as other times. But we got it all done.

Darrell Bock
You said prepare the manuscripts and that that takes a couple of hours. I’ve seen you handle manuscripts with gloves and be very, very careful about how the manuscripts are handled. But what does preparation of a manuscript require?
Daniel Wallace
Well, first of all, on gloves, a few years ago it has been determined that gloves are not the best way to handle manuscripts. We used to think that. But the University of Michigan and some other sites said, no, handle them with clean hands. Make sure you didn’t have Cheetos for lunch. If somebody sneezed, they’d go and wash their hands. So it’s a lot more work, but gloves can actually snag the pages. So they said no gloves, just really clean hands. So that’s how we do it now.

But what it takes to prepare a manuscript, the first and most important thing is to count how many pages are in there. If I have 271 pictures on the right side, I’d better have 271 on the left side. So I count them. Now most manuscripts, they’re already numbered by the leaf. It’s the right page is numbered, and most of the time that numbering is off at some point. Either leaves stick together or they wrote the same page twice – the same leaf number twice.

So I list what is actually written on the leaf and then I list how it’s to be corrected. We also count as a leaf anything that has at least one-half of a letter on it. That counts as a leaf for our purposes. So we have to shoot that without shooting the leaf behind it. It’s really tricky to do that.

But I count the leaves. I count how many lines are per page, the dimensions, the height, the width, and even the depth, which is how thick that manuscript is if it’s laying down, not counting the covers, looking at the bottom and looking at the top.

What’s fascinating is about 95 percent of all manuscripts, they’re a little bit thicker on the top than they are the bottom. We do it by way of centimeters. But every once in a while, you get the bottom that is wider than the top, and that usually means that that manuscript was stored upside-down for more than half its life because they fan out.

When you pull a book off the shelf, it fans out on the top. These didn’t have any names on the spine. You’ve got a 1,000-year-old manuscript that’s been stored upside-down for 600 years. It’s pretty amazing to find those.

Darrell Bock
“What are you doing disturbing me?”
Daniel Wallace
And we look at the material, I date the manuscript, and I do a scripture index of where each book of the New Testament starts. So those are some of the things I do.
Darrell Bock
Okay. And then you talked about the requirement of the – what is it, 50 –
Daniel Wallace
Fifty megapixels.
Darrell Bock
Fifty megapixels. Why do you need that much detail? What are you able to do in order to figure out what’s going – ’cause I imagine some of the writing is tricky in terms of being able to read it. Is that what you’re trying to deal with?
Daniel Wallace
There’s all sorts of issues that go on with these manuscripts. At first I thought all we need are cameras good enough to tell us differences in handwriting, of purposeful changes. But it’s more than that. If you have old microfilms, they will not show the lines where – scribes would not draw lines like we have lined paper.

They didn’t do that. But they took a blunt instrument, and they indented the lines and they traced the letters out beneath that line or sitting on it. That actually tells you, whether it’s sitting on the line or hanging from the line, what the date is. The tenth century is the cutoff. If it’s hanging from the line, it’s later; sitting on it, it’s earlier.

You couldn’t tell that on older pictures, and consequently you need very good pictures to help date the manuscript, just that alone. And then there’s erasures, there’s marginal notes where the scribe writes in really tiny letters, and all sorts of things that tell us is this what’s called the hair side or the flesh side. Hair side is the outside of the animal skin. They scrape that as clean as they can but you can see the hair follicles there if you’ve got good enough pictures.

Darrell Bock
Interesting. Is there a way to see if there’s anything behind anything or anything like that? What does that involve?
Daniel Wallace
A manuscript that has been reused by a later scribe is called a palimpsest. They scrape off the original writing and then they’ll write something else later on it. Sometimes it’s a whole manuscript. Frequently it’s just a couple of leaves in a manuscript.

So a scribe, say he’s writing out the gospels. He comes to the end of John’s Gospel, and he gets through John 19. He says, “I don’t have enough leaves for the rest. I can go kill a goat, scrape the darn thing, and tan it and skin it and make a really fine parchment, or I can just cannibalize this older manuscript that nobody’s read in a few centuries. Look at it, it’s upside-down.” They could do that, and so we get a lot of manuscripts that are done that way.

Now Charlemagne prohibited that. He said, “No more of this kind of stuff.” But they still continued to do that, and we find manuscripts like that. In order to see that under-text, though, which has been erased or scraped off, you need UV light at least, which it helps you to see some of it. But the best way to do it is with multispectral imaging, which takes the whole gamut of the spectrum. We don’t have multispectral imaging equipment yet, but we’re raising the money to get that right now.

Darrell Bock
I take it that piece of equipment is not particularly cheap.
Daniel Wallace
No.
Daniel Wallace
The UV lights are like $1,500.00 apiece for professional grade, and the MSI is about $125,000.00.
Darrell Bock
Wow. Let’s talk about one other feature that’s just descriptive, and that is the kind of materials that are written on. You’re taking pictures of manuscripts. What kinds of things are you taking pictures of?
Daniel Wallace
The materials are of three sorts: papyri, parchment, or paper. They for the most part go in that direction in terms of the age. The earliest manuscripts are all in papyrus, which is an ancient kind of paper made from the papyrus reed that grew on the edge of the Nile.

They would take strips of it and lay it down. It’s got real long fibers, and these things would grow very, very tall. They’d lay these strips down diagonally and beat it with a mallet, and the sap from the papyrus would naturally adhere to the others so they could make long rolls of this stuff. That was the writing that was used for our earliest manuscripts.

Then parchment became of use starting in the 3rd century, really. But when we get about to the 4th century, that’s when most of the manuscripts begin to be on parchment. That’s animal skins. It could be a goat. It could be a deer, a lamb, cows.

There’s a library in Florence, the Medici Library, that the Medici family owned, and they had Michelangelo design it. It’s the only library he ever designed. He had in this library on the floor pictures of skulls of cows, and the ceiling it mirrored that. When we shot there, we said, “Why did he do this?” To honor the cows who gave their lives to produce the manuscripts. That’s what he did that for.

So parchment comes from animal skins, and then later, starting in about the 10th century, just a trickle of them, we get manuscripts on paper when it came from China through Egypt, and then through the rest of Europe it was used. But even some of our latest manuscripts are on parchment. That’s the most durable material.

But it’s also the one where sometimes it’s hardest to read because the kind of ink they had to use on parchment was iron gall. It’s iron-based, and that adheres to the parchment, but it also rusts. You’ve got parchment that may start out as kind of white and it turns brown, and this ink that starts out as black, and it turns brown. So you’ve got brown on brown, which ironically the parchment manuscripts may be 1,000 years later than the papyri. But the papyri are often more legible than the parchment.

Darrell Bock
Interesting. I think that’s all the overview questions I want to ask on just the process of doing this. Now we’re used to hearing things like this: The New Testament has hundreds of thousands of variants. How can we even have any clue or idea what the New Testament text is?

It’s a way of undercutting the idea that the Bible that I have in my hands is not necessarily the Bible that existed originally, or even some people even question whether you can even frame the question that way. So help us through that morass. I didn’t actually ask you how manuscripts you have actually photographed. I’m assuming you have at least a ballpark number for what that is.

Daniel Wallace
I forgot what it is. I know it’s about 500,000 pages so far, and I can’t remember what the number of manuscripts is.
Darrell Bock
Interesting. Are there certain collections that you haven’t gotten to yet that you’re still seeking to get to?
Daniel Wallace
Oh, yeah, most of them. There’s about two-and-a-half million pages of Greek New Testament manuscripts, which means if we have only photographed 20 percent, it’s great job security for me.
Daniel Wallace
I’ve been to 40 different countries, and there’s manuscripts in over 250 different sites around the world.
Darrell Bock
I almost forgot to ask that set of questions, and it just popped in my head. So let me turn back to the morass. So we have a lot of people who claim that we really can’t trust the texts that we have. How do you help people think through and negotiate that kind of a question?
Daniel Wallace
Well, there’s a few different responses I give to that. First of all, if we only had one manuscript of the New Testament, we’d have no textual variance at all. Since every manuscript by definition is a handwritten document by frail, mistake-ridden human beings –
Darrell Bock
Non-Xerox machines.
Daniel Wallace
Non-Xerox, yeah. There’s going to be mistakes. Our two closest manuscripts have between six and ten – of the first eight centuries, they have between six and ten differences per chapter. So when you start thinking about that with all these manuscripts, there is going to be a lot of differences. It is quite correct to say we have hundreds of thousands of textural differences among the manuscripts.

But when you begin to look at it in detail, you begin to realize – you count a textual difference if even a single manuscript has a spelling difference from another one. I did an experiment a few years ago where I wrote out how many ways you can say, “John loves Mary,” in Greek. It took me about eight hours, and I came up with 384 ways to say, “John loves Mary,” in Greek. Then I decided, “I know there’s about another 150, but that’s enough to prove the point.”

Now here’s the way this relates to us. Bart Ehrman in his Misquoting Jesus says there are so many variants that we could go on practically talking about them forever and yet we wouldn’t get done with it. They’re not just in the hundreds, but in the thousands.

Well, he’s right. But the vast majority of them are of that sort. You can’t even translate the differences. There’s different ways to spell John, different ways to spell Mary. You can put it in a different word order, same verb, 384 ways I produced. And I’ve shown that every time when I give lectures on this.

Darrell Bock
So this is a way of saying don’t be fooled by the large number, basically.
Daniel Wallace
Exactly. Now when you actually think about these variants, the other thing I would say is people who make this claim have not compared it to Greco-Roman literature. We have maybe half a dozen manuscripts for the average classical author, and let’s say we had as many as 15 manuscripts for the average classical Greek author that still exist.

You stack those up, and they’d be about four feet high. If you stack up the New Testament manuscripts, the Greek ones as well as early translations which all count as manuscripts in Latin and Coptic and Syriac and Georgian and Gothic and Ethiopic and all that, it’ll be about a mile and a quarter high, four feet versus a mile and a quarter.

So we have a lot more manuscripts than they do. We have an embarrassment of riches, and they have a dearth of evidence. But besides that, the average classical author, we’re waiting 500 to 1,000 years before we even see one copy. For the New Testament manuscripts, we’re waiting a mere two or three decades and then we get our first copy.

Darrell Bock
And then from there we get more and more copies all the time. That produces that stack.
Daniel Wallace
Right.
Darrell Bock
Let me go back to the number here. We’re coming up to a break. There are a substantial number of variants that just are what I would call transparent. You’ve reversed a letter, you’ve misspelled a word, or there are differences in word order in which the same thing is being said. You’ve already made that point. What I’ve heard you say as a generalized rule of thumb is a vast majority of the variants that we’re dealing with are of that type.
Daniel Wallace
Exactly. Most of them can’t be translated. The largest single group is spelling differences that affect nothing. I’d say over 99 percent, in fact well over 99 percent, of all of our textual variants are either not meaningful, that is, they don’t affect the meaning of the text, or not viable, that is, they don’t have any likelihood of going back to the original, or both.
Darrell Bock
I often like to say to people it really is amazing, everything that goes into the fact that you’re able to have a Bible in your hands. If you just think through the history of transmission of manuscripts, the people who dedicated themselves to copying those texts in other languages a word at a time, a letter at a time, a line at a time, however you want to think about it, a lot of people’s love and labor goes into the fact that we’re able to hold and read a New Testament text.
Daniel Wallace
Absolutely. It’s amazing that we have any copies at all, and yet the church has been so faithful over the centuries. This is what has profoundly impacted me in looking at hundreds of thousands of pages of manuscripts is the dedication that these scribes had to copying the word of God.

There’s what’s called a colophon. It’s a personal note that a scribe often puts at the end of a manuscript. There’s one that happens on occasion that I had the opportunity to see when I was in Athens a couple years ago. The scribe wrote, “The hand that wrote this is rotting in the grave, but the words that are written will last until the fullness of times.” And it was dated AD 1079. I’m looking at this manuscript that’s over 1,000 years, and I said, “Yeah, I’m sure he’s rotting, and yeah, this thing is still here.”

Darrell Bock
Yeah, it’s amazing. Well, we were talking about the nature of significant differences here. I’m actually not entirely sure how to get into this question, but I think the way I want to do it is this way. There are real issues of translation and meaning in the New Testament that text critics and people who work with the texts have to wrestle with, and probably the most obvious way that most people encounter these are the little side note they get in their translations that say, “Or some manuscripts —.”
Daniel Wallace
“Other major manuscripts have,” yeah.
Darrell Bock
Exactly. So what’s normally going on when that kind of a thing is happening?
Daniel Wallace
Well, what the translators are telling the reader is that they’re not certain about what the original wording is typically. Other times they’re saying there has been a tradition that has been found, especially in the King James Bible, that we are rejecting, but there are some manuscripts that have this, or typically it’s the late majority of manuscripts. But there’s a lot of places that are actually like that that do affect the meaning and are viable, that is, it could go back to the original.
Darrell Bock
Now the impact of this for some people when they initially hear it can be, “Well, then maybe we really don’t know the content of the New Testament, and so can I be confident this is the text that was written?” How do you help people sort through that part of the question?
Daniel Wallace
Well, I quote Bart Ehrman, the famous orthodox scholar, who was a student under –
Darrell Bock
That was tongue in cheek. [Laughs]
Daniel Wallace
Yeah. Thank you for mentioning that. Bart’s been a long-term friend, and he studied under Bruce Metzger at Princeton Seminary. In 2005 he wrote a book called Misquoting Jesus about how the Bible has changed over the centuries, and I think it was his agenda to show that orthodox scribes changed the text to make it conform more to what they wanted it to say.

But in summer of 2006, the publishers put in an appendix that had – they wanted to beef up the sales, so they put it in a paperback edition. One of the questions they asked him in there, just to get people to look at this appendix and, “Oh, I want to buy this book,” was, “Why do you disagree with your mentor, Bruce Metzger, about cardinal doctrines being changed in the original New Testament from these scribes who came along later?”

He said, “I actually don’t agree with Dr. Metzger. No essential doctrine – “

Darrell Bock
“I don’t disagree,” you mean.
Daniel Wallace
Yeah, “I don’t disagree.” Thank you very much. That’s kind of important. That’s a textual variant.
Daniel Wallace
“I don’t disagree with Dr. Metzger. There is no cardinal doctrine that is jeopardized by any of these variants.” And that’s on page 252 of the paperback version of Misquoting Jesus.
Darrell Bock
So here’s the issue if I can try and boil it down. You can tell me if I’ve summarized this well. There are discussions about what particular texts mean and whether they are saying X or Y, but when you put it all together and you put it against what is regarded as orthodoxy, the issue becomes how many passages make that point as opposed to the idea of we’ve got completely different theologies at work here?
Daniel Wallace
That’s exactly right. Kenneth W. Clark wrote an article about 65 years ago in which he tried to argue that doctrines are affected by the textual variants, but all he could show was that that doctrine might not be taught in this passage even though it’s taught in this one, this one, and this one.

Take, for example, the deity of Christ. In 1 Timothy 3:16, the King James, it says, “God, who was revealed or manifest in the flesh.” Modern translations, instead of having “God,” say “who was manifest or revealed in the flesh.”

In Greek, the difference is really a single letter. It’s either the word theos, the word “God,” written as two letters – I won’t get into the whole issue there – or hos, the word __.

Darrell Bock
It’s an abbreviation.
Daniel Wallace
Yeah, it’s an abbreviation. That summarizes it.
Daniel Wallace
That’s why you’re here.
Darrell Bock
That’s exactly right.
Daniel Wallace
But the difference in what a scribe would actually see is just a line through that first letter, which makes it a theta, or if it’s not there, an omicron. Certain King James Only people say these modern translations are rejecting the deity of Christ.

Well, they’re not doing anything of the sort. What they’re doing is representing what the early manuscripts say. To say “who is revealed in the flesh” is not a denial of the deity of Christ, it’s just not an explicit affirmation of the deity of Christ.

Darrell Bock
Yeah, why would you say “revealed in the flesh” unless there isn’t something else going on about the person?
Daniel Wallace
Bingo. It’s still implicit. In John 1:18, “The unique one himself, God,” that’s what many modern translations have. I think it’s the right reading instead of “the only begotten son” that the King James has. So you take away from one group of manuscripts but you give with another.

D.A. Carson wrote a book in 1979 on the King James Version debate where he gave a chart of affirmations of the deity of Christ. He said most modern translations actually affirm the deity of Christ more than the King James. But you don’t have manuscripts that say Jesus is not God. There’s nothing that does that. It’s either an affirmation or not an affirmation, but it’s not a denial.

Darrell Bock
And of course the other part of this is that the question may be – I might have 25 – I’m grabbing numbers out of the air. I might have 25 passages that say it this way versus 22 or 23.
Daniel Wallace
Exactly, but it never gets reduced down to zero.
Darrell Bock
Exactly. Okay, well, that’s certainly an interesting thing. Now we do have some examples of blocks of material that get discussed, the most famous of which being the end of Mark, a section – the book about adultery in John, two of the more famous ones we could go on.
Daniel Wallace
They are the two most famous.
Darrell Bock
So the question here is how do we think that happened?
Daniel Wallace
Well, there’s two passages that are more than two verses long that are major textual variants that have impacted the church’s thinking because of emotional baggage to these texts. The first is Mark 16 9-20, and the second one, the story of the woman caught in adultery, is John 7:53-8:11.

In Mark 16, if the gospel ends at verse 8, it says that an angel appeared to the women and told them to go tell the disciples to meet Jesus in Galilee, and they did nothing for they were afraid, period, end of the gospel. What great news that is. It looks like a downer. There is no resurrection appearance by Jesus if the gospel ends there. He is still raised from the dead, as the angel tells the women that that’s the case. But is he seen by the disciples?

So I think early scribes wanted to put in an ending to say absolutely they did see him, and so we have four or five different endings that were added to that. It’s not just those 12 verses that we find in the King James, and modern translations will have them, but they’ll either put it in brackets or a smaller font, or they’ll put in a footnote saying, “Ancient authorities don’t have this. The most ancient don’t.”

But when you look at the style of the wording and you look at the vocabulary, the syntax, the theological viewpoint, it doesn’t match with Mark’s gospel.

Darrell Bock
Plus the very fact that you’ve got so many variations seems to indicate something’s going on.
Daniel Wallace
Right.
Darrell Bock
That’s interesting, ’cause the way you explained it is the open-endedness of the Markan ending which troubles some people – it still troubles some people today – when they make the arguments about what to do with these various endings that we have to deal with. The way I like to resolve that one is to say there’s a theme running through the middle part of Mark where God reveals himself and you either fear or you believe.

You come to this ending that’s kind of open-ended. We’ve got the declaration of the resurrection. We’ve got the empty tomb. We’ve got those elements. Now I call this the “you make the call” part of the New Testament, and that’s how Mark’s ending. What are you gonna do with this? You’ve got an empty tomb. You’ve got witnesses to an empty tomb. You’ve got a declaration that Jesus is raised from the dead. What are you gonna do with this?

Daniel Wallace
I think that’s exactly what Mark’s doing. There’s some who would say the ending that Mark actually wrote is lost, but others who would say, no, he intended to end it here. I think his intention is to get the readers to put themselves in the sandals of the disciples, and now what am I gonna do with Jesus? If I want to accept him in his glory the way Peter did in his confession of Jesus as the Christ, I must also accept him in his suffering, and I must carry my cross daily and follow him.

That’s what Mark I think is doing is, “You’re persecuted Christians. You’ve gotta own this and not just read this and casually be a Christian. If you’re gonna be a follower of Jesus, you really better follow him, and that includes suffering.”

Darrell Bock
And the other thing I like to say about an ending like this is that because people are sensitive to this and they do print the alternatives in the margin or make you aware of them, it isn’t like you’re unaware of what the choices may be. Then when you actually look at the content of what’s been added, the content of what’s been added actually shows up elsewhere in the New Testament so that whether you have it or don’t in one sense – again, in the big picture – doesn’t really make much difference.
Daniel Wallace
Exactly. It affects how you read that passage. Is Mark trying to get the readers come to conclusions about Jesus themselves or is he giving them the information? But it doesn’t affect the overall theology of the New Testament at all.
Darrell Bock
And the John 7 one is a tricky one because it shows up not just in the place where it’s landed in John – it may signal what we may think about it – but it also shows up in other places, which tells you, if I can describe it this way, it’s a floating piece of tradition.
Daniel Wallace
Exactly.
Darrell Bock
Some people think if you read John carefully, it breaks up what’s going on in John by having it where it is. Other people will try and make a case for, well, it may have landed, if I can say it this way, in the place where we have it in John as the prominent, most visible landing point, but it still as a floating piece of tradition looks like something that may well be something Jesus did and said.
Daniel Wallace
It’s a floating tradition, which probably suggests that John didn’t write it. That alone is not a reason for it, but there’s three different places in John 7 that it occurs. It occurs in some manuscripts between Luke and John as just an isolated pericope. Sometimes it occurs after all the gospels. In some manuscript it occurs after Luke 21:38.
Darrell Bock
Yeah, that’s the one I’m familiar with.
Daniel Wallace
That group of manuscripts I think probably picks the right spot for it. There was a recent article written by a Dallas Seminary graduate, Kyle Hughes, that argued that Luke had access to a form of this story, not exactly the shape that it ended up in. It looks like his kind of material, his wording, vocabulary, syntax, this kind of thing, but it’s not the full story.

So I would say that this gets a little complicated, but it was a conflation between East and West, two different areas that came up with the story in its current form that we have in our New Testaments. The current different forms where Luke had a more vanilla kind of a story, this woman was caught in some sin. You don’t have the Pharisees peeling out from the oldest to the youngest. Luke probably didn’t include it because it wasn’t all that significant or interesting.

But it has the earmarks of historicity, and we need to make a distinction between whether something is canonical and whether it’s historical. Is it inspired? Did that biblical author write this or is it just historical? And those are two different questions.

I’d say the story of the woman caught in adultery is my favorite passage that’s not in the Bible, and the basic theme it teaches is that Jesus forgives sin. Is this the only passage we have that teaches it?

Daniel Wallace
Well, if it is, then we’re all in trouble. There’s a whole lot more passages that do that.
Darrell Bock
It illustrates some things pretty powerfully. We could but we won’t go here, but it’s a question that does hang over this conversation, and that is the view of the fact that this has been a part of the passing on of Scripture for as long as it has. That actually applies to lots of texts, but this one is probably one of the more prominent ones to which that question gets pursued.

I point to these examples because they illustrate something, the point that we’re trying to get at as we’re asking the question what was an original part of scripture. An awareness of variants lets us know what the possibilities are. Sometimes when you hear this conversation, the idea is, “Well, we have maybe 95 percent of our Bible,” or 98 percent, whatever percentage you want to put on it.

The way I like to spin this, and I am spinning it, is to say the problem is not that we have less of the Bible than we ought to have. The problem is we have too much, and we’re trying to work our way back to what was the original. And the variants are the pileups that give us the “too much.”

Daniel Wallace
And yet what’s fascinating about the New Testament is that over time, like a snowball that rolls down a hill, it’s gonna pick up alien elements. It doesn’t actually pick up that much. In the 1,400 years of copying the New Testament, it grows by about two percent. Any economist would say that’s not a good investment. Two percent over 1,400 years, you’re not gonna make a lot of money that way.
Darrell Bock
So your point is that you’ve got the core plus a little bit on top.
Daniel Wallace
Right.
Darrell Bock
Now let’s talk about the manuscript part of this. We’ve got two parts of this discussion that are left at least in my head. One of them is the amount of manuscripts that we have, the relative earlier lightness of those manuscripts. A lot of people will come along, and they will say, “Well, yeah, we’ve got these thousands of – ” What is it now? It’s over 5,800 Greek manuscripts that we have. We’ve got, what is it? I think it’s around 8,000-plus of the Vulgate.
Daniel Wallace
Even over 10,000.
Darrell Bock
It’s over 10,000?
Daniel Wallace
Mm-hmm.
Darrell Bock
Okay. So you’ve got a lot of manuscripts but we’re fudging. Okay, we don’t have that many early, early manuscripts. Most of those are 9th, 10th, 11th, 12th, 13th, 14th century. So you’re making it look better than it is. I’ve seen articles written recently that worked pretty hard to try and figure out what exactly do we have that comes from say earlier than 400 and raise the question in that kind of way.

Now this is a little more sophisticated kind of issue and question. But how does one respond to the idea that, “Well, we’ve got lots of manuscripts, but we don’t have a lot of them are extremely early”?

Daniel Wallace
I think that is a significant question. If we had 50,000 manuscripts and they’re all from the 14th century or later, that’s gonna be a problem. What we have, though, is a continuity from the 2nd century on.

I’ve figured out the numbers, that we have as many, at least as far as have been published today, a dozen manuscripts from the 2nd century. By 300, before the Council of Nicaea, we have as many as 65 manuscripts. By 400, we have about 120 manuscripts. We have the whole New Testament duplicated several times over by 400.

Now compare that to the average classical Greek or Latin author, and we’ve got nothing 400 years later. When you compare it to these other writings, the New Testament shines so much better. Nobody in their right mind would ever say the New Testament is worse off than the others.

On top of that, I think here’s another significant factor to keep in mind. That is in the last 130 years, that’s when all the papyri have been discovered and published, about 138 of them, something like that right now. Not a single wording from any of these earliest manuscripts has been a new wording that we have not seen before and we now think that’s the original.

Yes, there’s gonna be some unusual wording sometimes that changes from what we have from other manuscripts. But it hasn’t changed what we think the original is and that, “Here’s a brand-new variant that we’ve never seen before. We have to publish this as the text.”

What the papyri do is they confirm the later manuscripts from the 4th century and the 5th century especially, and they say, “Now we have more evidence that what that manuscript said is right.” But it doesn’t give us a brand-new variant that we’ve never seen before.

Darrell Bock
So the point that you’re making here is that – actually, if you think about the way copying worked, this makes sense. The reason you make copies is because older copies wear out. If people are using ’em, they’re gonna get used up. They’re wearing out.

So we’re actually ending up being able to trace, and the advantage we have of having so many that come later is it helps us to understand the quality and the nature of what came earlier that led to those copies being made.

Daniel Wallace
Right. You could take, for example, a very interesting parallel between Papyrus Number 75 and Codex Vaticanus. P75, early 3rd century, about AD 225; Vaticanus about 350. P75 only has Luke and John, and not even completely. Vaticanus has almost the whole New Testament in it.

Now those two manuscripts are the most closely related manuscripts we have of the first 800 years of the Christian era, and yet we know that Vaticanus is not a copy of P75 because some of the wording that we see in Vaticanus is actually prior to what we have in P75. That tells us that both of them go back to an ancestor that’s very deep in the 2nd century, probably the first or second decade of the 2nd century. So that early papyrus, which is enormously important, is something that confirms the wording that we have in Vaticanus.

Darrell Bock
So when this is all said and done, you’re saying that we can have a lot of confidence that the wording that we have in the New Testament is very reflective of what originally was written.
Daniel Wallace
Absolutely. I’d say in all essential respects we have the word of God in our hands today, and in the vast majority of particulars we do as well.
Darrell Bock
Now I’m gonna turn here at the end – it really is its own topic – to make this point, because sometimes people think when you’ve had that discussion, you’re done with the discussion of the reliability of the text. But of course saying that you have the exact wording isn’t an evaluation of the actual content of what you have.
Daniel Wallace
That’s a different discussion. You’re right.
Darrell Bock
That’s a completely different discussion. Sometimes when people engage in a conversation about textual criticism and they think they’ve defended the reliability of the wording of the text, they equate that with defending the reliability of the New Testament. But there’s actually a whole nother layer of conversation that comes after that.
Daniel Wallace
That’s a historical question, not a textual question.
Darrell Bock
Exactly right. So that’s an important thing to say at the end of this, that we are confident about the wording that we have. We know what we’re dealing with. But then the next question becomes, all right, what about the contents of what that is saying? There are all kinds of other discussions and issues that rotate around those – that are part of those discussions that actually then complete the discussion about what the reliability of the New Testament is all about.
Daniel Wallace
Right. They go in tandem, I think. That’s correct.
Darrell Bock
Well, Dan, we’ve got about two minutes left. Anything else that we haven’t covered that you think we should say? Let me ask you this question. If someone’s interested in contributing to your effort there at the center, what do they do?
Daniel Wallace
They simply go to CSNTM, as I said, C.S. Louis and Auntie Em of Wizard of Oz fame, CSNTM.org. There’s a donate page. It’s a nonprofit 401(c), and so you can make a contribution that’s tax-deductible. We need a lot of funds to get all these manuscripts digitized.
Darrell Bock
Well, I do appreciate you taking the time to come in and be a part of this. It’s been fun to watch this from a spectator seat and watch the center develop and watch your work develop and all that you do. I think there’s a really lack of appreciation for not only what you’re doing, but what people who have tried to preserve the texts have done over all the centuries. You have a great pedigree that you represent, and we really do appreciate you coming in.

I do hope that you’ve got a sense as we’ve talked about this about how trustworthy the text is, that some of these numbers are exaggerations, that the differences that we’re talking about are differences in particularities but not differences in the whole, all those kinds of things that feed into what the New Testament is about. So thank you, Dan, for coming in and being a part of the conversation.

Daniel Wallace
Thanks, Darrell. It’s been fun.
Darrell Bock
And we thank you all for being a part of The Table. We hope you’ll join us again soon, and we look forward to having you be with us.
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Daniel B. Wallace
Dr. Wallace is Senior Research Professor of New Testament Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary. He is a member of the Society of New Testament Studies, the Institute for Biblical Research, the Society of Biblical Literature, and the Evangelical Theological Society. He has written, edited, or contributed to more than thirty books, including Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament—the standard intermediate Greek grammar. He is the executive director of the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts.
Darrell L. Bock
Dr. Bock is senior research professor of New Testament and executive director for cultural engagement at Dallas Theological Seminary. He has authored or edited more than 40 books, including Jesus according to Scripture: Restoring the Portrait from the Gospels, Jesus in Context: Background Readings for Gospel Study, Studying the Historical Jesus: A Guide to Sources and Methods, Jesus the Messiah: Tracing the Promises, Expectations, and Coming of Israel’s King, Who Is Jesus?: Linking the Historical Jesus with the Christ of Faith, and Key Events in the Life of the Historical Jesus: A Collaborative Exploration of Context and Coherence.
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