Before moving into a more in depth review I shall cite a succinct comment (sourced from Paul Williams' BloggingTheology) which sums up White's performance:
I just finished listening to the debate and i must say the reason i feel james white wanted to debate dr bart ehrman was because he wanted it on his resume,there is no way he will want to debate him again after that performance. especially in the q&a james white was all over the place and honestly i didnt understand some of his questions and answers,as a supposed new testament scholar i really dont think he measures up well against ehrman or even agaisnt other chrisrtian nt scholars,probaly the reason why he never gets any academic recognition although there is no doubt he so badly wants it. he could provide no rebuttal to ehrmans questioning of why God didnt at least preserve one original manuscript, he couldnt answer if the author of p72 thought all that he was writing was scripture,well he tried to but it was really a mumbled response. you knew the debate was going the way of ehrmans when mr white tried to corner him about other world scriptures especially the Quran and if he thought they were preserved but that didnt work and you almost imagine the christians in the audience with palms in thier face. i also found it quite funny how he only knew the works of the english speaking nt scholars when bart erhman started naming the german and french ones he had no clue as to who they were. no wonder its took this long to get this debate out,i wonder how long before his disastrous performance against dr robert price comes out. [maratsafin]
Learn from Bart Ehrman’s Opening Presentation
Ehrman goes into describing how the Gospels would have been copied prior to the invention of printing (16th century) – hand copying which was an error-laden process – especially so with the earlier scribes who were non-professionals.
Ehrman essentially goes into his standard presentation on this subject. Nevertheless it is quite a devastating presentation in light of not having the autographs. Ehrman points out he is speaking facts and there is no slight in his information. Ehrman is not interested in exaggerating in order to “win” the debate – his is a scholarly presentation designed to educate but also drive across his point.
There are more differences in the manuscripts than words in the New Testament – probably several hundred thousand. Ehrman does the Christian a favour by mentioning many of the changes were insignificant (i.e. spelling errors and accidental mistakes).
It is a FACT that the scribes DID change the manuscripts – some were intentional changes!
Ehrman cites four serious/intentional changes (forgeries) in the Bible:
Scribal insertion John chapter 7-8; the story of Jesus and the adulteress was not originally in the NT, thus it is a forgery.
Last 12 verses of Mark; these are intentional additions (forgeries) by the scribe
Luke 23:24 – this is not found in some of the oldest manuscripts
Most worryingly, Matthew chapter 24; Jesus denying knowledge of the Day of Judgement is REMOVED by scribes – the obvious reason behind this would have been to push the idea of Jesus being God!
Bart Ehrman on manuscripts
He drives home the point of not having the originals by discussing the gospel of Mark
P45 – is the earliest manuscript of Mark and dates to ca 220AD thus ca 150 years after the original. It is not even a whole copy – it has portions of half of the chapters in Mark.
First complete manuscript of Mark comes in the FOURTH century – thus some 300 years after Mark’s original.
We have roughly 5,500 NT manuscripts – fragmentary as well as complete copies. It is good news we have so many but the bad news is all have mistakes and none are originals. John Mill’s Greek New Testament contained 30,000 places of variation now we have even MORE manuscripts thus there are even more variations – we don’t know how many changes there are as nobody has added the numbers!!!!
However, there are more differences in the manuscripts than words in the New Testament – probably several hundred thousand. Ehrman does the Christian justice by mentioning many of the changes were insignificant (i.e. spelling errors).
I’m glad Bart Ehrman speaks about P52
Christian evangelicals bang on about P52 and exaggerate its significance in order to prop their claims so I’m glad Ehrman discusses P52.
P52 is dated by palaeographers ca. 125 AD. It is a tiny fragment and the earliest manuscript we have and most date nowhere close to this!
“New Testament the best attested book of antiquity” – salesmanship!
Christian missionaries do make this claim but it is somewhat misleading as most of these attestations come many, many centuries AFTER the originals - 94% of the manuscripts date after the 9th century!
The Moody Bible Institute and Biola University seem to be churning folk out who use this misleading argumentation – please stop it folks!
Ehrman’s Conclusion: Do we have a reliable text of the NT? Scholars do NOT know. Some passages are under continuous debate whilst the validity of other passages are just NOT KNOWN.
Essentially, Dr Ehrman puts forward a very embarrassing case for the Christians – the Christians believe in a book which is reconstructed by scholars and is conjecture based.
For those who reflect rationally upon this presentation the idea of the Bible being preserved 100% would be a large jump of faith. It is logical to believe parts of the originals have been lost partly due to scribal errors/forgeries within the flawed copying system and due to the absence of complete originals in the early manuscript tradition (never mind the autographs!)
James White’s presentation
I found it difficult to follow White’s presentation – I’m glad Ehrman confirmed White’s presentation was obscured and convoluted. Ehrman went further by not “buying” White’s claims.
However, White confirms the huge number of variations (estimated at 400,000) and the doubt concerning what constitutes the Bible and what does not!
The amazing thing is White AGREES with Ehrman’s information but White goes into damage control – he claims the more manuscripts you have the more variants you will have – this is correct.
He makes the claim the original readings are within all the manuscripts BUT does NOT give a valid reason why he believes the originals are somewhere within the 5,700 manuscripts. This seems to be a faith conviction on the part of White – it is not convincing at all.
White starts talking about the Quran in a discussion with a BIBLE EXPERT!!!
White mentions Uthman’s role in the preservation of the Quran and seems to espouse the misconception this was an act carried out by Uthman alone – it was not – it was done as an act unanimously agreed upon by the living companions of the Prophet and the believing community at large. If White had a similar type of event for the Bible he would have used it to prop up the claim of the Bible!
Unimpressed: White’s hollow argumentation
White misdirects us into thinking the fact there was no uniformed textual transmission with regards to the NT is something to be proud of – he seems to prop up his argumentation by this misdirection. Who cares whether the Bible was copied in a controlled environment or not?
What matters is whether we have the text today!!!
White admits his embarrassing problem
White believes the Bible is somewhere within all those manuscripts – but he does not know what exactly constitutes the Bible. When he comes across the viable and meaningful variations (1100-1400 according to Wallace) he has to say he does NOT KNOW which ones comprise the Bible and which ones are the forgeries/errors!
This is all rather faith shattering for the thoughtful Christian – why would God leave us with this type of book? A book which Christian theologians and scholars are unsure as to what comprises it due to scribal errors and forgeries!
White presents nothing to challenge Ehrman’s facts but simply brings forward a faith conviction dressed up with irrelevancies and erudition in order to reassure the Christian audience.
Bart Ehrman grilling James White
Embedded from the YouTube user kidcudder11
Bart Ehrman cuts to the chase
This is the MOST CRUCIAL part of the debate.
Ehrman challenges White by asking White how he knows he has the Bible preserved and why does he not know where the original text is, i.e. what comprises the Bible? In my view White simply holds this illogical belief based on his conservative Christian faith conviction.
Ehrman exposes White’s belief and makes him look silly
White answers by claiming authorities support his view. To be fair to James White; he does claim his own studies back up the claims of these authorities.
However, White is found not to be familiar with authorities in Germany nor France – White does not know some of the biggest names in the field. This is a blow to White’s appeal to authority. It gets worse for White…
Ehrman crushes White further
Ehrman crushes White by announcing the leading authorities do NOT agree with his claim of the Bible being preserved within the manuscript tradition – the only authorities who do agree with White are those who share a similar faith conviction to White. Virtually every authority DISAGREES with White except evangelical scholars!
This is a crushing point and further strengthens the view that White simply believes the Bible is preserved in the tradition due to a FAITH conviction – thus it is not a logical conviction and nor is his conviction supported by evidence.
Bart Ehrman lampoons James White
How much do the differences matter?
A major point of contention between the two is as to how much the differences matter. White hangs himself on this by confirming Dan Wallace cites numerous viable and meaningful variations. So obviously there are many, many meaningful variations!
Ehrman confirms the clear teaching of the doctrine of the Trinity is dependent upon which manuscripts you read – this is a major points score by Ehrman as it shows variations are very significant. Earlier he mentioned the scribal omission of Jesus not knowing the hour – obviously the scribe did this to push the idea of Jesus being God. Again, further showing the variations do matter!
Bart Ehrman exposes James White’s bogus argumentation
P75 (late 2nd /early third century) and codex Vaticanus are very similar so White claims there was no primitive corruptions. Ehrman tells us this is a bogus argument!
Ehrman tells us the fuller picture; there are manuscripts of similar dates as P75 which differ significantly from codex Vaticanus!
Aren’t you glad Ehrman tries to present a more complete picture? Many Christian apologists are like salesmen in not telling the whole picture – Ehrman does not allow James White to get away with this bogus and misleading argument.
James White caught not telling the full picture – AGAIN!
White claimed P52 is similar to later manuscripts BUT Ehrman highlights a SIGNIFICANT textual variant even within this credit-card sized manuscript.
Most variants we have are from the earliest manuscripts – the early copyists were the least skilled thus there were even more variations between earlier manuscripts.
James White – 95% agreement?
Ehrman thought White claimed there were 95% agreement at different ends of the spectrum. Ehrman tells White it is not that simple. It is rare for manuscripts to have 70 % agreement of their variations. Ehrman confirms the manuscripts are not all alike.
White comes back and explains what he was actually talking about here – nevertheless it was insignificant!
However Ehrman did misunderstand what White was presenting.
James White: Falls away at the seams
As is White’s wont – he seems to be desperate to appear on top in a debate. White starts attacking Ehrman by accusing him of being imbalanced. White bemoans the fact his side are not getting as much media coverage. Who cares about media coverage?
If White had a sound refutation he would have presented it but he starts falling away at the seams whilst frustration sets in.
White seems to have taken umbrage to his presentation being denounced as convoluted – it was! James was not as coherent as Ehrman. I reckon the Christian audience would have agreed too.
White simply offers a load of gusto and irrelevancies but Ehrman presents the better arguments and uses the facts to arrive at more sound conclusions.
White pettily complains Ehrman has not looked at White’s material despite White having studied Ehrman’s work. Who cares? Bart Ehrman is one of the biggest names in the field – he is familiar with the work of the major authorities in the field (White did not even know their names!!!). Why should Ehrman look at White’s work?
In any case, Ehrman had debated Wallace previously – White was reliant on Wallace.
James White: overly reliant on Dan Wallace
Bart Ehrman makes White squirm in the cross examination.
For me White seemed to be heavily reliant on Dan Wallace – the question that begs to be asked is what in the world was White doing debating Ehrman as Wallace had already debated Ehrman – Wallace is a giant in conservative Christian circles. Perhaps White felt his debate experience and ability to use tricks of the trade would undo Ehrman – White failed, he simply served to offend Ehrman.
Rest assured Ehrman would have been grossly unimpressed by White’s style and his argumentation was even less impressive.
White is found to be using Dan Wallace’s opinion on viable and meaningful differences in the manuscript tradition: 1100 – 1400. Ehrman found this numbering odd as it would simply be guess work. Ehrman questions the criteria to judge what is important and what is not.
James White does not know
Apart from White not knowing of authorities in mainland Europe there were other gaps in his knowledge.
White is asked to name the twelve manuscripts he refers to in his presentation – White cannot supply the answer – he waffles but he does not know and again is reliant on Wallace.
White is seems not to know what a collation is.
White is asked as to the level of agreement between a Byzantine and Alexandrian manuscript – White simply waffles and struggles in an uncomfortable cross-examination. White has not collated a Byzantine and Alexandrian manuscript.
Bart Ehrman impresses us further with his knowledge on the subject. I don’t expect White to know more than Ehrman, however I felt White’s knowledge and research should have been a little better and he should not have been afraid of saying “I don’t know” rather than waffling. Pride makes us all look rather silly at times.
White offends Ehrman
White seemed to have an aggressive tone throughout the debate.
Ehrman claims White likened him to a Muslim (White denied this); subsequently Ehrman dressed White down. Ehrman said he knows nothing about the Quran and was thus unwilling to discuss the Quran. Why would White want to talk about the Quran in a debate about the BIBLE with a BIBLE scholar in front of a CHRISTIAN audience?
In my view White was looking to quote mine from Ehrman so he has something to counter Muslim debaters who rely on Ehrman’s work – somewhat disingenuous if that is the case!
White finishes off with a cheap shot by denouncing Ehrman for not correcting misapprehensions others acquire through his work. It had nothing to do with the debate. In any case White should be consistent and address the misapprehensions within his own community as well as the less-reliable stream of information which stems from some of the rabble-rousers who are associated with him.
Ehrman proved his case, White did not. Ehrman was coherent, White was not. Ehrman was classy, White was not.
The most entertaining (and cruel) part may have been Erdmann’s grilling cross-examination of White BUT it should not overshadow the fact Christian evangelicals simply believe what they do out of a faith conviction and espouse shallow and misleading argumentations.
If Ehrman was the nasty sort I’m pretty sure he could have made the cross-examination more uncomfortable for White. I’m surprised the evangelical community sent White into the ring with Ehrman – you would expect them to have their best men tackle Ehrman. Is White really one of their best?
To be fair to White and other evangelicals – they have very little to work with and are impugned by their faith convictions alongside the thousands of manuscripts which militate against their convictions. I guess they are trying to make the “best” out of a bad situation.
Ehrman finishes by saying “All Bibles misquote Jesus”. Ehrman demonstrates this – White offered very little to counter Ehrman.
James White’s new book on Islam
James White Debates Robert Price