Thursday, September 06, 2007

Misquoting Truth

I just finished an excellent read; "Misquoting Truth: A guide to the Fallacies of Bart Ehrman's Misquoting Jesus" by Timothy Paul Jones. In this book, Jones attempts to answer the many erroneous hypotheses of Bart Ehrman's work. Bart Ehrman believes that the N.T. writings are not reliable because they were not written by the actual evangelists they are attributed to. Furthermore, he believes that the texts have been corrupted by multiple scribes over the centuries, adding, subtracting and making errors in the copying of text.

Jones responds to this criticism by a close analysis of Ehrman's biblical examples, stating that if we examine all the differences in the manuscripts and all the so-called changes, we will find that none of these differences or changes augement or change the fundamental teachings of Christianity. Jones goes even further and states that even in the cases when scribes have added theological asides to the text, the material added is not in contradiction, but actaually supports the theology already present in the rest of the text. In this way, he claims that the text, although having undergone revisions, still proclaims the same basic truth as was orginally preached by the apostles.

In addition to this argument, Jones also spends a great deal of time providing evidence for the authenticity of the gospel authorship and for the process by which the books of the N.T. were selected. Although he raises some very good points as to why he thinks the books were really authored by the four evangelists, I do believe that he somewhat misses the point. While he does mention "oral tradition," does not place enough emphasis on the most important point of all; Holy Tradition.

To be sure, Jones does speak in depth about the oral tradition that was passed down through the apostles and so forth through all their successors. However, he uses this point to illustrate that the eye witness accounts were preserved in a largely vocal culture that was prone to memorizing much more than reading. I believe that the "oral tradition" that he mentions is part of a much larger phenomenon of what we Orthodox call "Holy Tradition." This is the belief that, beyond only the eye witness accounts, the true understanding and experience of Christ's ministry was passed down through the collective consciousness of the one true church. This means that it was this one true body that possessed the authority to decide which books were God-inspired and which were not. Jones claimes that the church made this selection soley on criteria of whether the accounts were eye witness or secondary. While this is partly true, the more important criterion was whether the text in question revealed who Christ was in the collective memory of the one true church. As Fr. John Behr always liked to say, "The Canon is Christ." This is the ultimate rule by which the early church accepted certain books and not others. It was not whether they could prove historically that an account was first hand, but whether the text in question described what was passed down first hand. I think that is where Jones lacks in his analysis. Otherwise, he has written a great rebuttle and has provided all Christians with a very powerful apologetic tool to face the growing tide of atheism.

1 comment:

TimothyPaulJones said...

Excellent review! And, for the most part, I agree with your critique too. Raising the issues of Holy Tradition would, however, have moved a bit too far from a response to Ehrman and it might have limited the book's audience.

The Seven Councils and the concomitant creeds represent---even from my perspective as a Baptist---crucial testimony that should be viewed as inextricably connected to the oral traditions by which we recognize the New Testament texts to be reliable witnesses to Jesus Christ. I think that would be somewhat reflective of what you have termed "the Church's collective consciousness."