Book Write-Up: Myths and Mistakes in New Testament Textual Criticism

Elijah Hixson and Peter J. Gurry. Myths and Mistakes in New Testament Textual Criticism. IVP Academic, 2019. See here to purchase the book.

This book includes contributions from biblical scholars about New Testament textual criticism. They criticize Christian apologists for making outdated arguments, yet they also briefly critique Bart Ehrman’s skepticism about the accuracy of New Testament manuscripts. This book also covers such topics as how texts were copied in antiquity, who the ancient New Testament scribes likely were, and why ancient Christians felt free to quote different versions of the Bible (Old and New Testaments).

Overall, the book seems to accept the conclusions of classic Christian apologetic arguments, even though it disagrees with how they got to those conclusions and advises caution. The conclusion that it accepts is that the New Testament manuscripts are likely true to the original and that the plethora of manuscripts allows scholars to draw reliable conclusions as to what the original said. Where classic apologetic arguments run off the rails is when they compare New Testament manuscripts with other ancient manuscripts, as when they allege that there are more New Testament manuscripts and that the New Testament manuscripts are closer in date to the originals than non-Christian manuscripts are to their originals. According to this book, their criterion for counting manuscripts is not always consistent, and they rely on outdated evidence, since more and more non-Christian manuscripts have been found, some of them early. Because the book largely agrees with the conclusions of apologists, much of its critique of them comes across as quibbling about minor details; still, it is never wrong to tell people to get their facts straight.

The critique of Bart Ehrman is brief and occasionally unfair, yet makes an effective point. The effective point is that Ehrman never considers the manuscripts as a whole. A manuscript that has a reading that seems to go against Christian orthodoxy may have a reading elsewhere that is consistent with or reinforces Christian orthodoxy. Consequently, Ehrman jumps to conclusions if he argues that, say, there were adoptionist manuscripts that troubled proto-orthodox Christians. Where the discussion about Ehrman falls short is that it is very brief: it often simply refers readers to other books conservatives have written against Ehrman. Moreover, one of the essays says that Ehrman fails to deal with which readings are earlier and later, when Ehrman in The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture does precisely that, using the same methods of text criticism that conservative text critics use.

The book is especially informative on the side-issues it covers, which I mention above: how texts were copied in antiquity, who the ancient New Testament scribes likely were, and why ancient Christians felt free to quote different versions of the Bible (Old and New Testaments). The contribution about the last topic is especially judicious, as it looks at the techniques in the New Testament and early church fathers.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher. My review is honest.


About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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