Encountering Difficult Challenges
by Jacob Allee
QUESTION: IS IT PROFITABLE FOR BELIEVERS TO UNDERSTAND WHAT SKEPTICAL SCHOLARS ARE SAYING IN OUR CULTURE, AND IF SO WHY? WHICH CHRISTIANS (IF ANY) SHOULD HAVE A BASIC UNDERSTANDING OF SKEPTICAL SCHOLARSHIP (MATURE BELIEVERS, ELEMENTARY STUDENTS, SENIOR HIGH SCHOOLERS, ETC.)? ON THE OTHER HAND, WHAT DANGERS EXIST AS BELIEVERS EXAMINE WHAT SKEPTICAL CRITICS ARE TEACHING, AND (FURTHERMORE) HOW MIGHT THESE DANGERS BE OVERCOME?***
It is indeed a profitable and, I would argue, necessary thing for believers to understand what skeptical scholars are saying about God’s word. The foremost reason that we should take an interest in what the skeptics and liberals are saying is so that we can refute their error and allow the light of truth to penetrate their folly.
When I read this question immediately what came to my mind was the name of Dr. Bart Ehrman, a New Testament textual critic. Ehrman is, without question, a brilliant man and he knows his trade very well and is the author of some popular books such as Misquoting Jesus, Jesus Interrupted and most recently Forged. While no one would contest that Ehrman is a brilliant individual and that he knows textual criticism better than most, He is also extremely deceptive and writing with flawed presuppositions.
Ehrman argues that the Bible cannot be trusted because of the thousands of textual variants. He uses scare tactics to show unwitting Christians how many “disagreements” there are in the nearly 6,000 Greek New Testament manuscripts we have. What he doesn’t explain (and what he certainly knows) is that the vast majority of these textual variants (upwards of 99% of them) have no meaningful impact on the text of Scripture. In other words, every time a manuscript spells a word differently (like color versus colour) it is counted as a variant. Every time a word is misspelled (color versus colr) is counted as a variant. Every time “Lord” is added in one manuscript to “Jesus Christ” it is counted as a variant. More examples could be given, however, this is enough to make the point for now. As I once heard Greg Koukl note, the biggest reason there are so many variants in the New Testament manuscripts is because there are so many manuscripts! And it is exactly for that reason, that is, it is because we have so many copies of the New Testament in whole or in part, that we can do textual criticism and determine with phenomenal accuracy what the original writings said. Indeed if we are to apply textual criticism to the New Testament only 0.5% of the text has any genuine dispute as to its original wording and not one cardinal doctrine of Christianity is affected by it.
So, yes, it is very important to be aware of the contemporary (and historic) challenges to the faith and God’s word. If we ignore these challenges then they will be more effective in leading people astray than if we rise up and give an answer to them…
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