Listening to WM 120 has made something crystal clear to me in a way that I had not seen before today.

There’s the methodology to textual criticism and there’s the philosophical underpinnings behind it.

  • The methodology is whether you use textual criticism to derive your text, or if you simply defend an ecclesiastical tradition.
  • The philosophy is whether you believe in the tenacity and preservation of the text, or if you think we no longer have the words of the original autographs.

These are two separate things. They’re related, but they’re distinct, and when you combine their total possible combinations, they represent 4 different quadrants. Now let’s use these two concepts to look at the characters in our story:

  • Desiderius Erasmus mostly had the right philosophy and the right methodology — he was just extremely limited in the number of manuscripts that he had available.
  • Jeff Riddle has the right philosophy but the wrong methodology.1
  • Bart Erhman has wrong philosophy but the right methodology.
  • James White has the right philosophy and the right methodology.
  • Gene Kim has the wrong philosophy and the wrong methodology.2

It’s important to note that if two contemporary3 people’s philosophy disagrees but their methodology agrees, then they will be arrive at the same conclusions generally speaking about what the New Testament should look like. In contrast, if their philosophy agrees but their methodology disagrees, then they will not arrive at the same conclusions about what the New Testament should look like. This is why James White can reference the book Beyond What Is Written. He disagrees with the philosophy but he agrees with the methodology.

Thus in terms of output, philosophy has much less bearing and influence than methodology. That said, in terms of theology, it’s more important to be correct about the philosophy than the methodology. If forced to choose, I would rather be a Jeff Riddle than a Bart Erhman.

But I would really rather not be forced to make that choice. It’s nice to be right about both.

  1. Jeff’s mistake is in thinking that because he agrees with Erasmus’ philosophy, and because he and Erasmus both use Erasmus’ text, therefore Jeff’s methodology is of necessity the same as Erasmus’. It’s not. Erasmus’ methodology was very different because he himself didn’t have an ecclesiastical tradition to follow. He was forging new territory in putting together a printed text. If he were living today, he’d have a very different body of evidence from which to draw. As a result, his New Testament today would look different than what he put together then (e.g. Rev 2:2). Beyond What Is Written makes this contention indisputable. ↩︎
  2. This is a new actor that I’m pulling out of the hat simply to fill out the 4th quadrant. No serious person gets both of these aspects wrong like this. Gene believes that the King James Version is the final standard (ecclesiastical tradition = wrong methodology) and he believes that the Greek is garbage (denial of manuscript tenacity = wrong philosophy). ↩︎
  3. The key here is that they both have access to the same body of manuscript and historical evidence. ↩︎