This one’s on textual criticism, and for this Price out-Ehrmans even Ehrman in his radical approach to textual fidelity. Most of the chapter, however, is irrelevant fluff. I’ll ignore the initial distractions (about two pages’ worth) in which Price rambles on about the motivations of evangelical scholars with his usual well-poisoning attempts, and get right to the arguments, such as they are.

Price is in a bind as most critics are when it comes to this issue, because they can’t deny the superiority of the evidence when it comes to NT textual criticism. Price begins by whining that there might be so many more NT mss because well, the church wanted more copies of that than they did the works of Sophocles. That’s true, but irrelevant, and Price’s bellyaching won’t change that.

Second, Price declares that it is “evident” that there was a lot of doctrinal controversy, so it was “tempting” to alter texts. He refers, though, to Ehrman’s Orthodox Corruption of Scripture, which he no doubt wishes did not contain the following statement and others like it:

The scribes of our surviving manuscripts more commonly preserved theological variations than created them, and none of these scribes appears to have made a concerted effort to adopt such readings with rigorous consistency. Almost certainly there was no effort to create an anti-adoptionistic recension of the New Testament. Indeed, the Christians of the proto-orthodox camp did not, on one level, need to change the texts; they believed that the texts, in whatever form they came, already attested their christological views.

And Ehrman also said in correspondence to one of our readers:

I do not think that the "corruption" of Scripture means that scribes changed everything in the text, or even most things. The original texts certainly spoke at great length about Jesus' crucifixion and resurrection. The issues involved in the corruption of the text usually entail nuances of interpretation. These are important nuances; but most of the New Testament can be reconstructed by scholars with reasonable certainty -- as much certainty as we can reconstruct *any* book of the ancient world.

In other words, Ehrman does not go as far as Price does by any means – and sorry, just because it was “tempting” to change texts is not sufficient argument. Ehrman also indicates that scribes did not try to change texts to mean something they did not actually say – which is also contrary to what Price would want to be true.

It is telling enough that Price must resort to the likes of John Beversluis – whose expertise on textual criticism is mil – to get someone to say what he wants to be said. (Note as well that Price criticizes Geisler and Nix for not being textual critics, even as he uses Beversluis as source!) Only someone as ignorant as Beversluis would think that textual criticism is useless without the autographa.

There is more to be said on this in Trusting the New Testament, including on Price’s misuse of William Walker’s material. The bottom line is that professional textual critics –whether Biblical or secular – do not require that we have the autographa to achieve a level of certainty about the text. Indeed they are quite certain about the contents of ancient texts with barely a sliver of the evidence had by the NT. If Price wants to argue for tampered-with texts, he will need to do better – paranoid suspicion is not a viable replacement for evidence.

Price briefly diverts into the doctrine of inerrancy, but this is a side issue of no relevance to any argument made by Strobel or Metzger. He then diverts into a very wasteful diatribe on Trinitarianism, supposing (as he does in other chapters) that the doctrine was developed late; as we note in reply to him in a later chapter, this is simply far from the scholarship on the issue, showing that Trinitarian theology was rooted in pre-Christian Judaism and the concept of hypostatic Wisdom. Despite Price, this is not a “complex philosophical model” but a very simple idea with common-sense parallels in other cultures (like Plato’s Logos); it is Price , not Metzger, who is doing “Sunday School stuff” with this doctrine – and there is no way to get modalism or tritheism out of the NT once this is realized.

The subject then turns to canon, and here Price is not much less out of his depth. We have fuller treatments in TNT which answer Price’s objections, though the answers can also be found in the earlier version of a chapter here. Price’s rendition of Metzger’s arguments are a vastly childish oversimplification, and in some cases range into questionable assertion; he says for example that we “possess copies and citations of the Gospel of Thomas from far-flung quarters of the ancient world.” Really? I seem to have missed this little fact from the vast literature on Thomas; no one seems to know of it. In any event, if Price thinks GThom should have got a shot at being in the canon, there is a whole chapter in TNT explaining why that view isn’t respectable – and it involves much more sophisticated arguments than the ones Price was using as a Christian apologist, and which he now attributes to Metzger. The bottom line: Price presents no arguments for or against any book being canonical; once again he thinks rootless suspicion and paranoia is all he needs.

The chapter closes with a summary of the views of Brent Nongbri, someone whom some Skeptics have accorded messianic status of late because he has argued that P52 (the Rylands papyrus) should not be dated as early as it is. We’ve got a copy of Nongbri’s article and will look at it in the E-Block for August-September.


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