During this week, I will be live blogging Dan Wallace’s Credo Course on Textual Criticism. This is the first of what will over the years be dozens of extensive courses intent on educating people in Christian faith in a deep way that is not normally available to Christians outside of seminaries. These courses will be available in DVD, video download, CD, and audio download. You can preorder this course (30-40 sessions—we don’t know yet as I am live-blogging!).

Please hit update throughout the day on this blog past as I will do this for one blog per day with multiple sessions per blog.

Session 1: Introduction to the Course

Basic overview of things to come. But Dan just said that Constantin von Tischendorf was probably some of the inspiration behind Indiana Jones. Funny thing is that I often call Dan Wallace the Indiana Jones of Textual Criticism today.

Dan is going to cover the most significant passages that effect the wording of the New Testament.

Is what we have now, what they wrote then.

Goal of textual criticism: The study of the handwritten copies of any written document who’s original (called the autograph) is unknown or no longer existent for the primary purpose of determining the exact wording of the original.

For example, we don’t have Lincoln’s Gettysburg address. We have five early copies and what people wrote about it very early (e.g. newspapers).

Need of Textual Criticism

  1. Original New Testament manuscripts would have worn out withing a year due to being read and copies so often.
  2. There are a significant about of differences between the existing manuscripts.

Muslims claim that they have a perfect text (but this is not true). Caliph Uthman (d. 656) burned all the variant manuscripts in the Koran. This makes it harder to get back to the original. Dan showed a slide with a picture of a Koran manuscript that I cannot talk about! But it will be on the video.

“What Bart Erhman does not like about Christianity is that it is not Islam.”

“When is comes to the corruption of the New Testament it does not go through the same problems that other ancient manuscripts go through.”

What is the Original Text?

  1. Predecessor text-form: one form of the text before it was published
  2. Autographic text-form (most popular for years): the form of the text when dispatched from the author.
  3. Canonical text-form: form of the text when NT became “canonical”
  4. Interpretive text-form: the form of the text in a given locale with interpretive alterations to the text.

Pre-Order the Course at a significantly discounted rate

Session 2: How to Count Textual Variants

How not to count textual variants.

Norman Geisler, in his Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, makes a significant mistake hoping to protect inerrancy in an undo way. Corrections to Giesler:

  • The way he counts the variants is very wrong. Any deviation of the the original is a variant. If Geisler’s method is correct, we have almost 200,000 variants for the book of Revelation alone (and we only have 325 manuscripts for the book of Revelation!)
  • The number of manuscripts that Geisler claims to exist (5300).
  • The estimate of 200,000 textual variants is way too low. We actually have about 400k variants.
  • The author claims that textual variants are counted by the number of manuscripts that support a variant. But the number of manuscripts is almost completely irrelevant.

How to count textual variants: A textual variant is counted by the number of wording differences found in the MSS, regardless of how man MSS have that wording. All that is necessary that a variant has one MS with this wording to count. Whether it is one MS or 2000 that all have the same variant, it still counts as only ONE variant.

The source for the error in counting the manuscripts is Neil Lightfoot, How We God the Bible, 53-54. In essence, each variant is counted according according to the number of manuscripts. For example, if we have 4,500 manuscripts and there is one difference in a single manuscript it is counted as 4,500 variants. This is not true. One variant is counted against a single standard manuscript and it is only one variant. If Lightfoot’s method is right, we would really have tens of millions of variants. “Does that comfort you?” This mistake has been proliferated throughout the evangelical community and is dishonest. No textual critic defines textual variants the way Lightfoot has done.

Pre-Order the Course at a significantly discounted rate

 Session 3: The Number of Variants, or How Much did the Scribes Corrupt the Text

The primary (possibly only) reliable place that we can go to learn about Jesus Christ, our God and Savior, is through the New Testament.

Greek New Testament have about 140k words. There are an estimated 400k variants. we have about 2.5 variants per word!!!

Atheists and Muslims use this number to try to destabalize Christianity. But they are very misleading or misled.

First, the reason we have so many manuscripts is that we have so many manuscripts!!

(Some Roman Catholics has “delighted” over the number of manuscripts, especially in the past thinking “You Reformers who claim sola Scriptura—the Bible is the final authority, not the pope—have a “paper pope” that has footnotes because it disagrees with each other.”

The truth is that we are closer to the original due to the number of variants. Most textual critics would agree. The numbers are manipulated to cause Christians trouble, but if we all knew more about textual criticism we would be able to respond.

We have an “Embarrassment of Riches” when it comes to the evidence for the text of the New Testament.

  • Greek manuscripts: 5824
  • Latin manuscripts: 10k
  • Other ancient versions: 5-10k
  • Quotations from the New Testament by church fathers: over 1 million

If we lost all manuscripts of the NT, we could still reproduce the New Testament many many times over just using the Church Fathers.

Bottom line: As time goes on , we are getting closer and closer to the original text.

Pre-Order the Course at a significantly discounted rate

Session 4: The Nature of Textual Variants

Two key questions: are the meaningful and viable

1. Meaningful: does it change the meaning of the text. For example whether the author said “Peter” or “the Peter” is not too meaningful.

2. Viable: It actually has a textual pedigree of representing the original. For example a text that shows up only in the 10th century is not viable.

Not meaningful and not viable: 99% (70% difference in spelling)

Most common type of textual variant is called a “movable nu.” Similar to “a apple” without the “n”, which is wrong, or the correct “an apple.”

There are 384 different ways to say “John loves Mary” in the Greek without changing the meaning at all.

Bart Erhman likes to talk about the number of the variants, but he does not like to talk about the nature of the variants (which don’t change the meaning)

According to Dan Wallace’s studies, he believes that 1/4 of 1% of the variants in the NT are both meaningful and viable.

Session 5: Recent Attempts to Change the Goals

Summary: How do we define the goal of textual criticism? Here Dr. Wallace discusses some current ways in which scholars define and mis-define the goals of textual criticism. The primary task of textual criticism is the recovery of the original text.

Textual criticism is not hermeneutics or interpretation. It is an objective study that must be done outside one’s theological persuasions.

Epp and Erhman’s seem to have the goal of making people skeptical about what the original text might mean.

Erhman suggests that there might be multiple original text. For example, he says that maybe Paul sent out several copies of Galatians. Wallace says that this is a bizarre suggestion without any evidence. Why would Paul write it the same letter over and over again?

1. Authorial control vs. loss of control via dispatch

2. Copyists wanted to retain the authoritative voice of the apostles.

3. Aesthetics vs. spiritual authority

The Bible is the only religious text that puts itself up and demands historic inquiry. It is all narrative. Others are just talking head theology.

The primary task of textual criticism is the recovery of the original text.

The assumption that we cannot get back to the original text of the NT basically says that we can know mistakes! If we know mistakes, we know the originals!’

The assumption of scribal corruption means that we know what texts were corrupted. Therefore, it is self-defeating to say we cannot know the original.

Session 6: Materials & Methods in Making Ancient Books

In the first 500 years of the church, 80% of Christian texts were written on a Codex (book form). Only 30% of the rest of the world used one. “This is the first time that Christians have been ahead of the technological curve!”—Wallace

All the originals were written on scrolls, not codex.

The idea that the real ending of Mark’s Gospel was lost does not make much sense since the the most protected part of a scroll is the end. This is one reason that it probably ended at 16:8.

The copies of the New Testament:

All but four papyri were written on codices

All the scrolls were reused scrolls where the NT was on the verso front with another text (say, Homer’s Illiad) on the recto (back)

Those who copied the text of the NT all the way back to 1st century: Nomina Sacra (sacred name abbreviated) was used for Jesus.

Bart Erhman complains that the earliest scribes were not professionally trained. This is true, but it actually makes for a more objective text since they did not care to change the text.



C Michael Patton
C Michael Patton

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo House Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I'm a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. Find him everywhere: Find him everywhere

    4 replies to "Live Blog: Dan Wallace, Credo Course on Textual Criticism – Day One"

    • Dear Prof Wallace,
      I am most interested in these lectures you are presenting. Will you in future make available a written copy of your lectures? I would prefer that.
      I study the causes for the differences between older versions of the Bible like the KJV versus modern versions like the NIV. In almost 100 differences already looked at, the only one I found that touch on a doctrinal matter, is Revelation 22:14. There the KJV states doing His commandments as prerequisite for the right to the tree of life instead of the NIV’s version of having one’s robes washed. I believe the version of the NIV to be considered the original. Could you comment on that, please.
      I wanted to subscribe to your RSS feed, but I am confronted by pages of code that I do not understand.
      God bless,
      Herman of bibledifferences.net

    • Joaquin K. Chambers

      The legitimate task of textual criticism is not limited to the recovery of approximately the original form of the documents, to the establishment of the “best” text, nor to the “elimination of spurious readings.” It must be recognized that every significant variant records a religious experience which brought it into being. This means that there are no “spurious readings”: the various forms of the text are sources for the study of the history of Christianity.

    • Joaquin, you make a very interesting statement when you say “the various forms of the text are sources for the study of the history of Christianity.” I never thought about that. Yet, to discover spurious readings, one has to establish the original first. The addition of extra words to 1John 5:7-8 falls into this statement of yours. Had the elaboration on that verse been part of the original autograph, the struggle to understand and define the relationship between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit would never have happened. It is interesting that no Greek text or even ancient translations older than the third edition of Erasmus’s printed Greek text of 1522 contain that elaboration. It is found only in Latin manuscripts! I posted on this verse at: http://bibledifferences.net/2012/08/10/51-comma-johanneum-1john57-8/ Your stance on this matter would boil down to the idea that only the Church in the West, using Latin in their services, would be interested in defining Tri-Une God, which is not true. The Trinity as we know it was formulated by a Greek theologian Basil the Great, yet this description never found it’s way into Greek versions of the Bible, prior to Erasmus including it to harmonize his text with the Latin Vulgate.
      God bless
      Herman of bibledifferences.net

    • James Snapp, Jr.

      If I may: regarding the ending of Mark:
      (1) what is unsensible about the idea that the intended ending of Mark was lost because Mark was prevented from writing it, and
      (2) what is unsensible about the idea that the least protected part of an un-rewound scroll is the end, and
      (3) how do we k-n-o-w that Mark wrote on a scroll instead of a codex?

      (4) it sounds theoretically reasonable that the beginnings of scrolls would be better-preserved, but if this is really the case, then why aren’t more scroll-beginnings extant than other parts? And
      (5) is it really an embarrassment of riches if one frequently concludes that 99% of the coins are counterfeit?

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