I do not need to explicate all these problems here, as I have written about them in more detail elsewhere. My point in this context is the for the question of whether or not Jesus existed, these problems are mostly irrelevant. The evidence for Jesus' existence does not depend on having a manuscript tradition of his life and teachings that is perfectly in line with what the authors of the New Testament gospels really wrote. (p.180)He goes on to say,
If we had no clue what was originally in the writings of Paul or in the Gospels, this objection might carry more weight. But there is not a textual critic on the planet who thinks this, since not a shred of evidence leads in this direction. (p.109)This sounds pretty reasonable, but I have a hard time squaring this with what he said in a 2008 debate with Dan Wallace at the Greer-Heard Forums:
Can we trust that the copies of Galatians we have are the original copies. No. We don’t know. How could we possibly know? Our earliest copy of Galatians is p46 which dates from the year 200. Paul wrote this letter in the 50’s. The first copy that we have is 150 years later. Changes were made all along the line before this first copy was made. How can we possibly know that in fact it is exactly as Paul wrote it. Is it possible that somebody along the line inserted a verse? Yes. Is it possible that someone took out a verse? Yes. Is it possible that somebody changed a lot of the words? Yes. Is it possible that the later copies were made from one of the worst of the early copies? Yes. It’s possible. We don’t know.Recall that it is in Galatians 1:19 where Paul says that he saw James "the brother of the Lord," which Ehrman says proves that Jesus was a historical person "beyond a shadow of a reasonable doubt." (p.144) How can we possibly have that kind of certainty if "[w]e can’t know for certain that the text is reliable"? If it's possible that someone changed a lot of words in Galatians, then it has to be possible that "the brother of the Lord" was added by some scribe to identify which James Paul was talking about and that it wasn't written by Paul himself.
. . . .
What I have said to my colleagues is that we are as close as we can hope to be to what we might imagine as the earliest text. What I have said in popular audiences is we don’t know if we can get back to the original text. And I stand by both statements. We don’t know what Paul originally wrote to the Galatians, and we no hope of getting any closer in the future than we are already now. We have no evidence that can get us any further back than we have already gotten and our earliest evidence is from the year 200, 150 years later. So can we know for certain? No. We can’t know for certain that the text is reliable. You might want to think it is. You might want to hope it is. You might want to say there are intelligent people who say it is so probably it is. But think about it. There are people copying these texts year after year, decade after decade.
I cannot help but think that there is a bit of inconsistency here. When debating a conservative Christian apologist, Ehrman insists that everything in Galatians is subject to at least some degree of doubt due to uncertainties about its transmission. However, when arguing against mythicism, Ehrman insists that we can be certain "beyond a shadow of a reasonable doubt."
It's very disappointing to see Ehrman argue that way.