This 2009 debate between James White and Bart Ehrman is mandatory listening for anyone who is even mildly interested in textual criticism. A few key thoughts that I keep getting struck with as I listen to this.
First, Bart Ehrman has completely missed the forest for the trees. He’s got a few gray area passages in his head, a couple hundred thousand typos, and he’s throwing up his hands in despair with the cry that we have no way of knowing what the New Testament actually said. In no other aspect of life would he do this. It’s akin to saying that because you got your friend’s birthday off by one day, you can’t be sure if you really know anything about them. That’s missing the forest for the trees. Bart’s spent so much time studying minutia that it’s gone to his head, and he’s completely forgotten the big picture.
Here’s the greater issue though. Bart has taken God’s place and asked this question: “If I were God, how would I go about preserving my revelation to mankind?” Bart’s human-centered subjective answer goes like this: “However God would go about it, I can be sure that God would not do that would be by using fallible men who are capable of making copyist mistakes.” Bart has put a limit on God, and decided (whimsically and sheerly on his own — a very defiant and prideful thing to do) that he knows what God would and wouldn’t do. This is not following the truth wherever it leads you, as he insists that it is in the debate. Rather, it’s exchanging the truth of God for a lie. It’s going down a “Yea, hath God said?” rabbit trail of self-deception that will ultimately lead to a rhetorical “What is truth?” that cannot be satisfactorily answered.
This is exactly the kind of mistake we see objectors making in Romans 9. It’s a failure to identify who the potter is and who the clay is. God is winning the game of truth with a self-imposed handicap. That handicap is mankind’s own imperfection and ability for error as he copied the New Testament by hand for the first ~1,500 years after Christ’s ascension. And even with that self-imposed handicap, God is preserving his word. The tenacity of the scriptures remains unbroken. The original autographs are with us today. We possess 1,100 pieces for the 1,000-piece puzzle of the New Testament.
Bart Ehrman, writing about this debate:
I wasn’t sure whether I should post this debate or not. Frankly, it was not a good experience. I normally do not have an aversion to the people I debate. But James White is that kind of fundamentalist who gets under my skin.
I feel very sorry for this man. To touch the most sacred word of God for all these decades and to reject it all. If he doesn’t return to God, there will be few men in hell who know more about the scripture than he.