Saturday 24 March 2012

Doubtful text is no standard for doctrinal accuracy

"This chapter addresses a popular argument that is used against those who hold to an inerrant Bible. Essentially, the argument is posed as a question: How can you claim to have an inerrant original text when we don't even have the original text? On its face, this argument has seemed so compelling that some people never get beyond it. This chapter will show what are the underlying assumptions behind this question and why they are fallacious."
A laudable goal, don't you think? Unfortunately Daniel B. Wallace does no such thing. His chapter — "Inerrancy and the Text of the New Testament — Assessing the Logic of the Agnostic View" (the second in the final section of Dembski & Licona's Evidence for God) —  says much the same as did David Instone-Brewer at Unbelievable?: The Conference. Which is, we don't have the autographs but we know what they (mostly) said. This, it turns out, amounts to little more than wishful thinking. As I pointed out in my review of the previous chapter, the lack of the original manuscripts throws everything else into doubt, because there is no provenance for any of the copies. At one point Wallace claims that there are almost 10,000 Latin manuscripts, but it makes no difference how many there are if you don't know from what they were copied. Suppose they're all derived from an early but inaccurate copy — there may be differences between them that can be ironed out by scholarship and statistical analysis, but the resultant agreed text will be nothing more than a reasonably accurate representation of something that itself could be wildly inaccurate.

Wallace spends many words (indeed this chapter is the longest in the book so far) on whether acknowledged discrepancies are significant, and claims that in terms of doctrine they are not. But he's basing his judgement of what conforms to doctrine on the text that he's trying to validate. This is begging the question. If the doctrine happens to be stated in the missing or disputed text, he cannot know whether the text conforms to doctrine or not, because the doctrine itself is therefore in doubt.
PDF available here: