Ehrman Errant

A review of Craig Blomberg's book, Can We Still Believe the Bible?: An Evangelical Engagement with Contemporary Questions

In building his case for why we can still believe the Bible, Blomberg effectively positions himself between liberal scholars who refuse to acknowledge the firm textual base on which the scriptures stand and ultraconservatives who insist on a rigidly literal reading of the Bible (often in the King James only) in the face of legitimate developments in our understanding of ancient manuscripts and genres. Sadly, the fairness and objectivity he shows in five of his six chapters is cast aside in chapter three when he mounts a defense of gender-neutral Bible translations.

 

Can We Still Believe the Bible?:
An Evangelical Engagement with Contemporary Questions

By Craig L. Blomberg
Brazos Press, 2014
304 pages, paper, $19.99

Ifeel great pity for Bart Ehrman. It appears that the kind of fundamentalism in which the Christian believer turned biblical debunker was raised did not prepare him for the challenges he would face in college. He was taught, rightly, that there are no contradictions in the Bible, but he was trained, quite falsely, to interpret the non-contradictory nature of the Bible in modern, scientific, post-Enlightenment terms. That is to say, he was encouraged to test the truth of the Bible against a verification system that has only existed for some 250 years.

Craig Blomberg, professor of New Testament at Denver Seminary, has devoted much of his scholarly life to assuring evangelical students raised in fundamentalist homes that the authority—and inerrancy—of the Bible does not depend on its living up to logical positivist standards that would have meant nothing to Moses, David, Luke, or Paul. In Can We Still Believe the Bible?: An Evangelical Engagement with Contemporary Questions, he does his fellow evangelicals a vital service by identifying and discussing six areas where critics like Ehrman have sown deep seeds of doubt in the minds of believers and seekers as to the reliability of the Bible.

In chapter one, Blomberg puts Ehrman’s claim (from Misquoting Jesus) that “there are four hundred thousand textual variants among the ancient New Testament manuscripts” (13) in the proper context. As he demonstrates, there are only two lengthy passages in the entire New Testament (the extended ending to Mark’s Gospel; the woman caught in adultery in John 8) that are sharply contested, and that do not appear in the oldest and best manuscripts. Neither of these passages contains vital theological or historical points that do not appear elsewhere in the Bible, and in all modern translations they are clearly marked as being questionable.

As for Ehrman’s 400,000 variants, Blomberg explains, they are “spread across more than 25,000 manuscripts in Greek or other ancient languages. . . . This is an average of only 16 variants per manuscript” (17). And of those variants, only “about a tenth of 1 percent . . . are interesting enough to make their way into footnotes in most English translations” (27). And the ones that do make it there offer no challenge to the authority of scripture on matters of faith and practice. “It cannot be emphasized strongly enough,” Blomberg concludes, “that no orthodox doctrine or ethical practice of Christianity depends solely on any disputed wording. There are always undisputed passages one can consult that teach the same truths” (27).

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