Tommy Wasserman Uses Kid Gloves When Dealing With Bart Ehrman

This week I was over at EvangelicalTextualCriticism.Blogspot.com to read a brief abstract about the possible later dating of Sinaiticus and a call for radio-carbon dating of said manuscript. It was a short article and so I wandered down into the comments and there I found the patient and measured responses of Tommy Wasserman, a professor at the Norwegian School or Leadership and Theology. Responses like,

“Alexander, there is no scholarly controversy over the authenticity of Codex Sinaiticus. There is a bunch of TR/KJV-onlyists who make all sorts of ridiculous claims about the codex (most of them cannot read Greek and have little or no experience working with manuscripts), but that is another pseudo-scholarly debate. Thus, that is not the reason why we need radio-carbon dating.”

And

“No Alexander, there are no scholars who deny the authenticity of Sinaiticus. I have not seen any serious peer reviewed publication on that matter. Have a nice day.”

Straight and to the point. Dogmatic and that without apology. I can appreciate that. But when Wasserman deals with Ehrman it is a different story. See, the KJV-Only folks get one treatment and scholars get another, but for Wasserman he inverts the rhetoric of Jesus Christ that is the kind and gentle treatment of the lay-people and harsher treatment of the religious or scholarly leadership. As we will see, when it comes to Ehrman, Wasserman thumps his scholarly chest and then backs down with hand outstretched like a defeated chimp. Observe.

Wasserman wrote a paper called “Misquoting Manuscripts? The Orthodox Corruption of the Scripture Revisited.” His aim is to address 17 passages where corruptions were introduced into the text by Christians in order to squelch early adoptionistic Christological heresies. In this paper Wasserman sets out to “demonstrate that Ehrman’s interpretation of the textual evidence in these passages is seriously defective” and “that often there are other, more plausible explanations for the textual variation” than Ehrman proposes. [1]

“Demonstrate” is a bold claim. In academic work you don’t usually say you are going to demonstrate something unless you have an open-and-shut clear-cut case. Otherwise you use words like “attempt to demonstrate” or “argue” or “present for your consideration”. So Wasserman sets the academic bar high for himself here. I applaud that. This is him pounding his scholarly chest, but can he meet his own standard?

Wasserman admits on page 326 that “The fact that scribes did alter the text of the New Testament for dogmatic reasons seems to be accepted by most scholars today. However, there are considerably different opinions as to the degree to which this phenomenon has affected the textual transmission.” [2] “Opinion” here is used intentionally and as such will feature several times in Wasserman’s evaluation.

Wasserman writes concerning Ehrman’s interpretation of evidence in John 6:42: “In my opinion, this is another instance of when Ehrman overinterprets textual minutiae.” [3] I love this rebuttal because it’s so gutless. Wasserman said he would “demonstrate” Ehrman’s interpretation was seriously defective, but in the end can only say that in his opinion Ehrman overinterpreted the textual minutiae to a degree Wasserman is uncomfortable.

Wasserman makes the same play two pages later when he writes regarding Ehrman’s interpretation of the evidence regarding Luke 3:22, “In my opinion, however, Ehrman exaggerates the weight of the evidence in favor of it.” [4] Again, in Wasserman’s opinion Ehrman seems to go to far for Wasserman’s text-critical tastes.

Two pages later Wasserman is at it again when he writes, “In my opinion, it is important in this case, where harmonization can go in both directions, to pay attention to Hort’s famous dictum, ‘knowledge of documents should precede final judgement on readings.'” [5] That’s all fine and good but apparently Ehrman is of a different opinion. So much for demonstrating Ehrman’s serious interpretive defects on this point.

Wasserman’s careful hedging continues when he writes, “Ehrman thinks ὁ γεννηθεὶς refers to Christ, and that the two variant readings represent attempts to avoid this adoptionistic interpretation. The UBS committee, on the other hand, thinks that both variants arose, not because of theological considerations, but because of an ‘ambiguity of reference intended by the words ὁ γεννηθεὶς ἐκ τοῦ Θεοῦ’ which prompted scribes to clarify the meaning.” [6] So we have two opinions, each has their position but neither decisively prevail. In other words, Ehrman has his opinion on the evidence and the UBS committee has theirs.

Wasserman writes the immediately above only to insert yet another opinion about the same passage, “In light of the very slim support, it is reasonable that the new Editio Critica Maior (ECM) has abandoned the reading previously printed in NA27, i.e., the same reading that Ehrman thinks is original. The UBS committee apparently did not realize how weak the support was for this variant, partly because they, like Ehrman, did not consider how it relates to the previous variation unit.” [7]

Wasserman continues to opine and here on John 1:18, “Furthermore, the variation between μονογενὴς Θεὸς and ὁ μονογενὴς Θεὸς is, in my opinion, significant for the overall evaluation of the passage.” [8] Now who’s “overinterpreting textual minutiae” and “exaggerating the weight of the evidence”? I mean, who gets to make that call? If Wasserman is going to accuse Ehrman of such scholarly missteps what is to keep Ehrman from doing the same thus precipitating a stalemate of opinions? And how is this supposed to “demonstrate Ehrman’s seriously defective interpretation”?

When we get to the end of the paper Wasserman writes, “If the criteria are found to be in conflict, which is often the case, the textual critic has to decide when to give greater consideration to one criterion and less to another.” [9] I love this. Basically, Wasserman has spilled 25 pages of ink only to say that criteria often are in conflict and it’s up to the text-critic what to give greater consideration to. Translation, Wasserman ended up putting “greater consideration” on some things while Ehrman put “greater consideration” on others. Who’s right? “Who knows, this is just my informed opinion”, Wasserman would say.

As for Wasserman’s thesis that he was going to “demonstrate” Ehrman’s interpretation to be “seriously defective”, Wasserman’s last words in the paper are, “Indeed, this close examination of a significant number of passages has confirmed the judgment of Gordon Fee who in a review of Ehrman’s work points out that, “too often [Ehrman] turns mere possibility into probability, and probability into certainty, where other equally viable reasons for corruption exist.” [10]

Did everyone catch that last line – “…other equally viable reasons for corruption exist”? This is the defeated chimp part. Wasserman has not “demonstrated” Ehrman’s seriously defective interpretation, he has merely demonstrated that there are other “equally viable” defective interpretations. Wasserman’s opinion of the evidence is that Ehrman’s opinion is an equally viable reason along with his own equally viable reason for corruption among other equally viable reasons for corruption. Does that sound like Wasserman is demonstrating that Ehrman’s opinion on the evidence is seriously defective? No, I don’t think it does.

It is important to note as well that as long as it is an opinion which Wasserman regards as “scholarly” then it gets the kid glove treatment. Ehrman and his work is never called ridiculous, silly [i.e., non-serious], and pseudo-scholarship. If it is a concerned or well-informed layman, then you get Wasserman’s boxing gloves or no gloves at all. Perhaps Wasserman should consider saying something like, “In my opinion, Sinaiticus’ dating is spot on” instead of being so dogmatic. Nope. Apparently he needs to take the opportunity to perpetuate the divide between the scholar and the lay-people.

Kind of like the government forgiving the debt of the “scholar” and leaving the lay-people with the bill. Anyone else seeing the pattern here? It goes something like, “If you’re not a NT textual critic shut up about Sinaiticus and pay my bills.”

We at StandardSacredText.com on the other hand have continued here on the blog and in print to defend the authoritative working of the Holy Spirit through His words in the hearts and minds of His people [the HVAC techs, plumbers, and stay-at-home moms], and through them the word of God is recognized and accepted by faith without the consent of text-critics and academia.

If you want to continue to perpetuate Wassermania, then stay in the Critical Text camp. If you want to return to historic Bibliology grounded in exegesis, then perhaps it’s time you switch to Confessional Bibliology and the robust exegetical and theological grounding it provides. The choice is up to you.

____________________________________________________________________________

[1] Wasserman, Misquoting Manuscripts? , 328.

[2] Wasserman, Misquoting Manuscripts? , 326.

[3] Wasserman, Misquoting Manuscripts? , 333.

[4] Wasserman, Misquoting Manuscripts? , 335.

[5] Wasserman, Misquoting Manuscripts? , 337.

[6] Wasserman, Misquoting Manuscripts? , 338.

[7[ Wasserman, Misquoting Manuscripts? , 339.

[8] Wasserman, Misquoting Manuscripts? , 343.

[9] Wasserman, Misquoting Manuscripts? , 350. [Italics: Mine]

[10] Wasserman, Misquoting Manuscripts? , 350.

8 thoughts on “Tommy Wasserman Uses Kid Gloves When Dealing With Bart Ehrman

  1. If you want to read more along the same lines I can recommend my “Scribal Alterations and the Reception of Jesus in Early Manuscripts of the Gospels.” Pages 305–27 in The Reception of Jesus in the First Three Centuries. Vol.2. Edited by Jens Schröter and Christine Jacobi. Edinburgh: T&T Clark/Bloomsbury, 2019.

    By the way, I work at Ansgar høyskole.
    Best wishes with your ”bibliology”

    Like

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