Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Case for the Real Jesus (2): Defining Essentials

The main reason I got hold of The Case for the Real Jesus was to see what Strobel's expert on textual criticism, Daniel Wallace, would have to say about Bart Ehrman and his book, Misquoting Jesus, which I had read and enjoyed. Based on conservative reviews of the book, I suspected that Strobel had not accurately presented Ehrman's position, but I was not sure exactly how Wallace had responded. I had a very cordial conversation with an evangelical Christian who blogs as The Dawn Treader who focused primarily on the fact that inerrancy and inspiration are doctrines that apply only to the original autographs of scripture, not to their transmission. From this perspective, Ehrman's concern with errors made by scribes and copyists is a bit of a red herring.

I was rather surprised to find that Wallace did not seem to be at all concerned with the distinction between inerrancy in transmission and in the autographs. Rather, Wallace suggested that biblical inerrancy is not as important to evangelical Christianity as Ehrman had made it out to be.

Personally, I believe in inerrancy. However, I wouldn’t consider inerrancy to be a primary or essential doctrine for saving faith. It’s what I call a “protective shell” doctrine. Picture a concentric circle, with the essential doctrines of Christ and salvation at the core. A little bit further out are some other doctrines, until, finally, outside of everything is inerrancy (TCFTRJ p.76)

So when Ehrman asks "How does it help us to say that the Bible is the inerrant word of God if in fact we we don't have the words that God inerrantly inspired," (MJ p.7)Wallace's answer seems to be that Christians do not need that much help from inerrancy anyway.

In my earlier discussion, Dawn Treader had argued that corruption in transmission was not a big concern because, as he quoted Wallace, "The fact is that scholars across the theological spectrum say that in all the essentials - not in every particular, but in all essentials - our New Testament manuscripts go back to the originals." (TCFTRJ p.71-72) I thought this smacked of comparing apples and oranges. A liberal scholar who agrees that it is possible to get back to the originals in all essentials might be saying something very different than a conservative scholar simply because a liberal scholar who does not affirm the resurrection, the virgin birth or the divinity of Jesus would not consider very many things to be essential. However, it turns out that Wallace (who I assumed to be a conservative) did not consider very many things to be essential either.


  1. Hi Vinny.

    I would encourage you to check out Ben Witherington's 2006 blog post on Ehrman's book. He reprints Wallace's original review of the book, which is probably more nuanced than his Strobel interview. But what I found most interesting were Witherington's own remarks. It is worth a read.

  2. I have actually seen that review before. After I finished reading Misquoting Jesus, I looked for conservative Christian reviews to see whether they would agree with the basic factual statements that Ehrman makes.

    I have also visited Wallace's Pen and Parchment blog and read some of his ideas there. I think the fact that his position is nuanced comes through in The Case for the Real Jesus, but Strobel was not interested in pursuing any of those nuances.