Lecture of the Week: Daniel Wallace on New Testament Reliability

Daniel B. Wallace (Ph.D.) is the Executive Director of The Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts (CSNTM) who graduated from Dallas Theological Seminary in 1979 with focuses in New Testament (NT) Greek and Old Testament (OT) Hebrew.

Daniel Wallace has discussed and debated the issue regarding the reliability of the New Testament for a number of years, and has been famously quoted as saying that we “have an embarrassment of riches” in respect to NT manuscripts – or, “for trying to get back to the original texts of the New Testament”.

I have chosen this lecture for this week because Wallace’s presentation of the NT manuscripts and its relationship to orthodoxy is probably the best I have heard so far. It is surely meritous for Christian’s unsure about the nature of their Bible. You can view CSNTM’s website at this link here: http://www.csntm.org/

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One response to “Lecture of the Week: Daniel Wallace on New Testament Reliability

  1. First and foremost, I think the title of your post is misleading. I watched the entire lecture and I didn’t hear any arguments in support of the NT’s reliability. Arguments to support that notion would have to be fleshed out in a span much longer than a mere 27 minutes. Even if scholars reconstruct the original NT, it wouldn’t follow that it’s reliable. And reliable in what sense? Even if it is reconstructed, it doesn’t follow that Jesus said this or that; it doesn’t follow that he did this or that. For instance, how can we say that Jesus definitely said, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” if the same cry of dereliction can be found in the opening verse of Psalm 22? How can we know that any of the instances in where Jesus quotes the OT are authentic? Of course, Christians view the cry of dereliction as a fulfillment of prophecy, but the likelier conclusion is that the author of Mark (intentionally) misattributed this cry to Jesus as means to make it seem that a prophecy was fulfilled; never mind that the entire basis for the crucifixion is found in Psalm 22. Read NT Narrative Read As OT Midrash in Robert Price’s The Christ Myth Theory and Its Problems. Price and scholars before him (i.e. Helms, Crossan, etc.) have demonstrated that the Gospels rely heavily on the OT. So to argue for its reliability in any sense would require the arguer to address a lot more than just a number of extant manuscripts.

    Wallace’s presentation rests on a fallacy–specifically, false analogy. I don’t see why he compares NT manuscripts to Greco-Roman historians’ manuscripts. The analogy is irrelevant. Give me a good reason why scribes would want to copy Tacitus’ Annals, for example; tell me why scribes in other countries would want to translate that. Wallace is comparing religious manuscripts to historical manuscripts. Scribes had reason to preserve the NT or translate it into another language or intentionally make changes to it given the theological debates that were ubiquitous at the time (i.e. Gnosticism, Docetism (specifically Marcion and his followers), Proto-Orthodox Christians). I don’t see such reasons for copying or translating or changing historical documents like Tacitus’ Annals. Aside from Greco-Roman peoples, I see no reason why other people should have preserved the writings of these historians.

    Also, he painted Ehrman as an extreme skeptic; that’s ad hominem. Be honest, have you even read Misquoting Jesus? Ehrman’s conclusion doesn’t rest on extreme skepticism, but rather on a well-argued thesis. He fleshes out a number of reasons as to why scholars haven’t reconstructed and probably won’t reconstruct the original NT. Read the book. I have taken time to read a number of reviews; I’ve even watched a number of the videos at Ehrman Project. In all honesty, his book isn’t even addressed by the reviewers or by Ehrman Project; Wallace actually spends too much time quibbling over Ehrman’s use of the word error, for example. That doesn’t address anything.

    Ultimately, this discussion is hard to have because while I recognize that a lot of Christians’ arguments hinge on confirmation bias, Christians do not realize this and moreover, they’ll employ tu quoque and accuse atheists of confirmation bias. It’s funny because guys like Price and Ehrman started on the Christian side and ended up “losing their faith” as Wallace colorfully says. I am a former Christian myself. So I don’t see how confirmation bias plays a role in our conclusions given that we’re willing to listen to the opposing side. After all, I listened to the lecture; I simply don’t see its merit.

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