Friday, January 30, 2009

White Pays a Visit

James White stopped by to let me know that he thinks I am a jerk, too, and that my comments about his debate with Bart Ehrman prove "that atheists hear only what they want to hear." Just to make things clear, this is what I heard White say on his podcast about Ehrman's refusal to comment on the extent to which the texts of the Koran were corrupted in transmission:

  • Ehrman really knows more about the Koran (because he was Chairman of the Department of Religious Studies at UNC) than he is willing to admit, i.e., he is a liar.

  • Ehrman criticizes Christian texts without criticizing Islamic texts, i.e., he is a hypocrite.

  • Ehrman is a reluctant to offend Muslims by criticizing their texts, i.e., he is a coward.
What I did not hear was any claim that the Koran had any relevance to the topic of the debate: “Can the New Testament Be Inspired In Light of Textual Variations?” All I heard was White’s insinuations about Ehrman’s character.


  1. Debates would all end in ties if, as Dr. White apparently believes, my refusal to respond to a non-sequitur invalidated my entire argument up to that point.

  2. I have a question, I just heard White's Dividing Line talk where he tries to defend his claim that there are 12 manuscripts of the NT from within 100 years after its writing.

    He says that there are 12 (actually 13, or 14) papyri manuscripts written within a 100 years "of the completion" of the NT. he then dismisses the argument that Galatians was written in the 50's and it's earliest manuscript appears AFTER 100 years of its writing. He gives no reason for dismissing this seemingly valid manner of reasoning.

    White then complains that Wallace had said the same thing and Ehrman did nothing to challenge him. I quote White:

    "when Dan Wallace ... mentioned 12 manuscripts within a century of the completion of the New Testament, Bart Ehrman never said a word. He didn't object, he didn't even noted, it was like he wasn't even listening, or he didn't care, or it was a given, if he had challenged that I would have put all the manuscripts on the screen ... my entire presentation anticipated his own ..."

    My questions:

    1. Since you have heard the Wallace/Ehrman debate, is it true that Ehrman presumed the correctness of Wallace's claim?

    2. Am I wrong in thinking that it makes no sense talking about the time gap between a document and the manuscript of ANOTHER document? That it only makes sense to talk about the gap between a document and ITS earliest manuscript?

  3. What Wallace said was that “we have as many as a dozen manuscripts from the second century.” That also means that we have “as few as two” because only two of those twelve manuscripts have consensus dates securely within the second century. The rest all seem to be dated in ranges that could put them either in the late second or early third century. See Complete List of New Testament Papyrii There is another fragment that seems to have a consensus date within the second century, but it comes from the apocryphal Gospel of Peter. I think that is part of the confusion in the count.

    Wallace always focused on the earliest possible dates for things, but I think he was pretty careful to phrase his claims in a way that acknowledged that scholarly consensus put things in a range. As a result, I don’t think Ehrman had much reason to challenge any of Wallace’s factual statements. White, on the other hand, took the earliest possible date and asserted it as if it were a universally accepted fact.

    Wallace also spoke in terms of having reason to be more optimistic that Ehrman about the evidence. He never proposed anything as nonsensical as the evidence being sufficient to shift the burden of proof to the skeptic.

    I do think it makes some sense to talk about the gap between two very closely related documents because it shows what might be achieved by the best of scribes during that time period. However, I think it’s like having a Ford Pinto with 200,000 miles on it. It doesn’t prove that the Pinto was generally a well-engineered car. You have to look at the vast majority of them that started falling apart at 50,000 miles.

  4. Thank you for your response Vinny. I agree that it makes some sense to compare and consider closely related manuscipts. But in this case, when White claims that there are supposed to be ‘12 papyri manuscripts that can be dated to within 100 years of the writing of the NT’, this hides the reality that for most NT writings there is a 100 plus years gap between the original and its earliest manuscript. If one is talking specifically about the time gap, then it makes no sense to talk about the gap between a document and the manuscript of another document. I can understand why White's claim, the way he worded it, took Ehrman by surprise.

    In his defense White claims that he had said nothing new and argues that Wallace had said the 'same' thing in his debate with Ehrman. But he ignores the fact that Ehrman made it clear in his rebuttal that he was not going to respond to everything Wallace had raised. White still takes Ehrman's silence as evidence of his acceptance of Wallace's claims. Secondly, Wallace said that "We have today as many as a dozen manuscripts from the second century" and "that's a total of 124 manuscripts within 300 years of the composition of the New Testament." I can understand why Ehrman would have absolutely no reason to object to these correct statements. Wallace later proceeded to state that "over 40 percent of all the verses in the New Testament are already found in the manuscripts within a century of the completion of the New Testament." I think Ehrman probably would have taken an issue with this assertion if he had the opportunity to do so. On my part, I think the problem with wallace's statement is again as follows: it cleverly masks the fact that for most NT writings the gap between the original and its earliest manuscript is 100+ years. The '40 percent' could be from within 100 years from the 'last' NT writing, but still mostly separated from their own original by over 100 years. There is a 100+ gap between Pauline epistles and their earliest manuscript. For matthew and Luke the gap could be just within or over 100 years depending upon their composition dates and the precise dates of their earliest manuscript (which cannot be fixed). Consider too the gap when it comes to 1,2 Peter and Jude and their earliest manuscript. It's considerable.

  5. Can You Send Me The mp3 of his debate with either bart ehrman or robert price?
    Thank you in advance !

  6. my e-mail address is