Throw It Out! (Or, Not…)

stack of textbooks and a BibleOnce, when I was in junior high, someone found a typo in one of our school textbooks. One of the other students — might’ve been me, not sure — jokingly said, “We can’t trust it, now. Guess we’ll just have to throw out the whole book! Oh, well…” It then became a running joke for the next few years, whenever someone found a mistake in a textbook. Of course, we all knew that such minor errors (or changes) didn’t really call into question the reliability of the remaining 99.99999% of the book’s content. Usually, the error was easy to spot and didn’t change the “message”. It especially didn’t make sense to do so, when there were often earlier and/or later editions to compare against and determine what the correct word/spelling/punctuation/etc. was. Even if some enterprising editor added in comments of his/her own in a later edition, comparison with older versions would reveal what was and wasn’t in the originally published manuscript.

In his book Cold-Case Christianity, author/speaker/detective J. Warner Wallace addresses a very similar push for dismissal of the Bible that is made by some skeptics. He makes a pretty good case why such a thing is not warranted, and I thought I’d share his concluding paragraph:

“When I was an atheist, I believed the existence of scribal alterations in the Bible invalidated the evidential value of the text altogether. I now understand that this is not the case. Every crime scene contains artifacts; if I refused to accept any explanation of the truth simply because an artifact was present along with the reliable evidence, I could never convict anyone of a crime. All ancient documents also contain artifacts. If we reject the entirety of Scripture simply because it contains artifacts of one kind or another, we had better be ready to reject the ancient writings of Plato, Herodotus, Euripides, Aristotle, and Homer as well. The manuscripts for these texts are far less numerous, and they are far less reliable. If we apply the same standard of perfection that some would demand of the Bible to other ancient histories, we’re going to have to reject everything we thought we knew about the ancient past. More importantly, it’s vital to see that we do actually have a methodology that allows us to uncover the artifacts and separate them from the original text. The art of textual criticism allows us to compare manuscripts to determine what belongs and what does not. The same process that revealed to me (as a skeptic) the passages that couldn’t be trusted also revealed to me (as a believer) the passages that can be trusted. Textual criticism allows us to determine the nature of the original texts as we eliminate the textual artifacts. This should give us more confidence in what we have, not less.”

Makes sense to me.


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