Some Comments on James White and Adnan Rashid’s Debate


Bismillahir Rahmanir Raheem
بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ ,

I was taken aback by some of James White’s arguments in yesterday’s debate with Br. Adnan Rashid, however I was pleased with the simplicity of his presentation. The topic being debated was, “Was the Qur’an or the Bible Reliably Transmitted? ” and what a show it was. James’ presentation was rather straight forward, to the point and predictable. Admittedly, he’s a seasoned orator which would impress the lay Christian, but as a person who studies the Christian scriptures and their textual history, I felt nothing but shame for James White. His arguments were borderline facetious, if not absurd and really demonstrated a lack of honesty on his part. I’m not sure if he would be willing to defend his statements, but many of his comments were dishonest to say the least. Let’s examine his main point:

  • An Uncontrolled Text is Superior to a Controlled Text.

James’ reasoning, revolved around the idea that if multiple people, at multiple places, at multiple times wrote a documents which ‘largely agreed’ with one another, the autograph would be more preserved and thus rendering the text, ‘reliably transmitted’. This view is largely held by neo-inerrantist Christian scholars such as Maurice Robinson, William Pierpont, Zane Hodges and Aruthur Farstad. There view can be summed up in this excerpt:

“from a transmissional standpoint, a single Textform would be expected to predominate among the vast majority of manuscripts in the absence of radical and well-documented upheavals in the manuscript tradition.” – Maurice Robinson, “The New Testament in the Original Greek According to the Byzantine/Majority Textform”, Preface to the 2nd Ed.

It must be understood however, that this understanding is not due to the science of textual criticism, but based on faith that God preserved the Bible, see Dr. B. Metzger and B. Ehrman, ‘The Text of the NT: It’s Transmission, Corruption and Restoration, 4th Ed, pg 219, Citation #29. Therefore James’ position is not based on sound research and study, which he alluded to, but based upon dogmas. It is with this in mind that I’d like to contest his view of preservation through ‘uncontrolled copying‘, by providing a simple example:

  • Scribe writes epistle.
  • Some time passes.
  • Later scribe copies epistle (emendations/ interpolations occur).
  • Some time passes.
  • Another scribe copies the mistakes of the previous scribe and adds mistakes of his own.
  • At this point the original epistle is lost and the autographs of the two later scribes are preserved.

The question we’d have to ask James, is which manuscript autograph would he give precedence to? Would his criteria be based upon dating or level of variance after comparison with his current New Testament codex? If it’s a combination of both, then what would be common to both manuscripts would be the errors of the first copyist and the recopied errors by the second copyist, thus leaving us with something vastly variant to the original:

In some cases the evidence will be found to be so evenly divided that it is extremely difficult to decide between two variant readings. – Dr. B. Metzger and B. Ehrman, ‘The Text of the NT: It’s Transmission, Corruption and Restoration, 4th Ed, Preface XV.

Occasionally, none of the variant readings will commend itself as original, and one will be compelled either to choose the reading that is judged to be the least unsatisfactory or to indulge in conjectural emendation. – Dr. B. Metzger and B. Ehrman, ‘The Text of the NT: It’s Transmission, Corruption and Restoration, 4th Ed, pg 343.

However, let’s say that we oppose James’ view and we examine a controlled text.

  • A Controlled Text is Superior to an Uncontrolled Text.

What if the original scribe oversaw the copying of his manuscript, and left instructions that any copy henceforth would have to be double checked with his manuscript. That’s a level of control that at the minimum preserves the text by one generation. If this method is continued, essentially all generations of copyists would be able to preserve the original scribe’s works. This is essentially what the Ijaza is in Islam. A person is given the authority to transmit knowledge/ data, because they have achieved a level of approval according to the one who has received authority from one with authority to transmit the knowledge/ data. We know that later Christianity adopted controlled textual transmission, because it better preserved the texts:

It is a striking feature of our textual record that the earliest copies we have of the various books that became the New Testament vary from one another far more widely than do the later copies, which were made under more controlled circumstances in the Middle Ages. – Dr. B. Metzger and B. Ehrman, ‘The Text of the NT: It’s Transmission, Corruption and Restoration, 4th Ed, pg 275.

The vast majority of Christian texts which have survived are from the Middle Ages:

Furthermore, the work of many ancient authors has been preserved only in manuscripts that date from the Middle Ages (sometimes the late Middle Ages), far removed from the time at which they lived and wrote. – Dr. B. Metzger and B. Ehrman, ‘The Text of the NT: It’s Transmission, Corruption and Restoration, 4th Ed, pg 275.

The end of the twentieth century saw a resurgence of interest in the Byzantine text type among those who believe that the original text is best preserved in the vast majority of witnesses produced in the Middle Ages.’ – Dr. B. Metzger and B. Ehrman, ‘The Text of the NT: It’s Transmission, Corruption and Restoration, 4th Ed, pg 218.

Therefore the correlation being that texts which are controlled, have been vastly more preserved as opposed to the earlier uncontrolled texts of which are sparse and often vastly variant with one another:

Complaints about the adulteration of texts are fairly frequent in early Christian literature. Christian texts, scriptural and nonscriptural, were no more immune than others from vicissitudes of unregulated transmission in handwritten copies. In some respects they were more vulnerable than ordinary texts, and not merely because Christian communities could not always command the most competent scribes. Although Christian writings generally aimed to express not individual viewpoints but the shared convictions and values of a group, members of the group who acted as editors and copyists must often have revised texts in accordance with their own perceptions. This temptation was stronger in connection with religious or philosophical texts than with others simply because more was at stake. A great deal of early Christian literature was composed for the purpose of advancing a particular viewpoint amid the conflicts of ideas and practices that repeatedly arose within and between Christian communities, and even documents that were not polemically conceived might nevertheless be polemically used. Any text was liable to emendation in the interest of making it more pointedly serviceable in a situation of theological controversy. – H. Y. Gamble, Books And Readers In The Early Church: A History Of Early Christian Texts, 1995, Yale University Press: New Haven & London, pp. 123-124.

It is with the above being said, I must thereby conclude that James White’s position in his debate with Br. Adnan Rashid is unscholarly, deceptive, displays a significant level of ignorance of the history and the science of textual criticism and is nothing short but a disgrace to the field of academia. I pray that God guides James White to admitting his erroneous position and that he corrects himself, sooner rather than later.

wa Allaahu Alam,
and Allaah knows best.

8 comments

  • I’m really tired of James’s inconsistencies, I can’t belive how blind these evangelicals are they base there whole sslvation on ambiguities. May Allah guide these people

  • JW will never give up his apologetics anytime soon no matter how poor. It is prime time for his cult and he makes a living milking his flock

  • Just stumbled on this blog. I don’t think you understand the argument about uncontrolled vs controlled texts. For example, for uncontrolled texts, say I write a one page essay about how great someone is and then have it copied by 10 different people, who then each go to a different country where the process is repeated. Over the years there will be a whole load of copies of the essay all over the world. Each copy will introduce errors, but different errors, which then continue to be transmitted. By comparing the different essays, people years ahead would be able to work out the original by cancelling the errors that are particular to each line of transmittion.

    Now say some group of people want to change the essay so it actually says that the person in the story is God. They simply couldn’t do it because it would be obvious that their change is a later addition, by comparing to the other lines of transmission. They would have to have CONTROL over the transmission of the essay to be able to make changes like this. Which is the argument for why uncontrolled transmission leads to greater certainty than controlled transmission. Where there is control there is the ability to modify.

    Does this make more sense?

  • Hi Peter,

    I don’t think you understand the argument about uncontrolled vs controlled texts.

    I fail to see how this statement is true, instead of indicating something wrong with what I’ve stated, you’ve chosen to give some half hearted explanation with no citations. I find that deeply dishonest and intellectually fraudulent.

    For example, for uncontrolled texts, say I write a one page essay about how great someone is and then have it copied by 10 different people, who then each go to a different country where the process is repeated. Over the years there will be a whole load of copies of the essay all over the world. Each copy will introduce errors, but different errors, which then continue to be transmitted. By comparing the different essays, people years ahead would be able to work out the original by cancelling the errors that are particular to each line of transmittion.

    Let’s put this into perspective. Your argument is that if you compare the errors you would be able to work out what the original is. So here are 5 sentences, tell me what my original was:

    1. I don’t think you understand the argument about uncontrolled vs controlled texts.
    2. I don’t think they understand the argument about uncontrolled vs controlled texts.
    3. I don’t think they understood the argument about uncontrolled vs controlled texts.
    4. I don’t think you understand the arguments about uncontrolled vs controlled texts.
    5. I don’t think you understood the arguments about uncontrolled vs controlled texts.

    I’m not going to tell you what my original sentence is. Tell me using those 5 sentences what the original sentence is.

    They would have to have CONTROL over the transmission of the essay to be able to make changes like this.

    Nope, they would have the same control as any other scribe would have. Just as how the ending of Mark crept in, or 1 John 5:7, the same applies, held as scripture in the canon for centuries, weren’t they? Thus, proof by contradiction, your argument is void.

    Which is the argument for why uncontrolled transmission leads to greater certainty than controlled transmission. Where there is control there is the ability to modify.

    I don’t think you understand what he meant by controlled vs uncontrolled textual transmission. Controlled means you have set standards and areas to critique before certifying it’s transmission integrity, introducing something would bring the text out of traditional control and into emendation or interpolation.

  • “For example, for uncontrolled texts, say I write a one page essay about how great someone is and then have it copied by 10 different people, who then each go to a different country where the process is repeated. Over the years there will be a whole load of copies of the essay all over the world. Each copy will introduce errors, but different errors, which then continue to be transmitted. By comparing the different essays, people years ahead would be able to work out the original by cancelling the errors that are particular to each line of transmittion”

    lets assume that all video and papers and books which talk about saddam hussains death have been destroyed.

    we have 3 people, 70 years after hussains death , say the following about hussains death

    saddam hussain was HANGED.

    saddam hussain FELL down from a distance.

    saddam hussain hanged himself

    these 3 claims get muliplied in different cities

    Can you tell if the people read that in a newspaper, read it on the internet, heard it on the radio, saw it on television or were actually present before hussain died?

  • Ijaz, thanks for the reply. Your example isn’t realistic. If you had 5 people trying to accurately copy a line of text the probability that on multiple occasions they would would introduce matching errors is very, very small. I did a quick test with typing on my iPad with autocorrect turned off:

    Original: I don’t think you understand the argument about uncontrolled vs controlled texts.
    I dont’t think you understand the argument about uncontrolled vs controlled texts
    I don’t think you understand the argument about uncontrolled vs controlled texts
    I don’t thinkk you understand the argument about uncontrolled vs control,ed texts
    I dont think you understand the argument about uncontrolled vs controlled texts
    I don’t thi k you understand the argument about uncontrolled vs controlled texts.
    Intentional change: I do think you understand the argument about uncontrolled vs controlled texts.

    Now clearly I have trouble with apostrophes and letters near the space bar. But if you didn’t have the original at the top you’d still be very confident of the true reading and would be able to identify the false one by cancelling the errors.

    I admit I don’t really understand your second point because the reason that we know that the extended ending of Mark is a later addition (and so not an authoritative part of the Word of God, the Christian scriptures) is precisely because of the multiple lines of transmission through uncontrolled sources. We know it was an intentional change, like above. Which is why we have great confidence in the scriptures that we have.

    Controlled means there are set standards for copying – sure you would have many less unintended errors from a controlled source, but how can you be sure an intentional change hasn’t occurred? This simply isn’t an option for the uncontrolled source – to make a major and enduring change to one of Paul’s letters for example during the first 500 years of the church would require collaboration on a scale that did not exist. Far from collaboration the early church was fragmented across the known world, often in hiding from rulers and authorities that wanted them and their scriptures wiped out.

    I will stop at the risk of going too long.

  • Hey there,

    Ijaz, thanks for the reply. Your example isn’t realistic. If you had 5 people trying to accurately copy a line of text the probability that on multiple occasions they would would introduce matching errors is very, very small. I did a quick test with typing on my iPad with autocorrect turned off:

    The point of my 5 line example was to demonstrate that you could not decipher what the original text was. As you have aptly demonstrated, you are most certainly unable to do som thus my point has been proven. Secondly, my exmaple is realistic, these people had to write 66 books, often times making numerous mistakes, emendations and interpolations as is easily seen in almost every single manuscript. One line is very different to 66 or 72 books, that’s a reality you have to face.

    Now clearly I have trouble with apostrophes and letters near the space bar. But if you didn’t have the original at the top you’d still be very confident of the true reading and would be able to identify the false one by cancelling the errors

    Your errors are based on punctuation marks, given that the text in Greek is written without punctuation marks, your example is therefore rendered useless and not in relation to our topic of discussion. If you had a Masjuscule text as were most GNT MSS written in, what would you have done!?

    I admit I don’t really understand your second point because the reason that we know that the extended ending of Mark is a later addition (and so not an authoritative part of the Word of God, the Christian scriptures) is precisely because of the multiple lines of transmission through uncontrolled sources. We know it was an intentional change, like above. Which is why we have great confidence in the scriptures that we have.

    That’s not my point, the point is that it was considered and by many is still considered to be a legitimate part of your scripture, as is 1 John 5:7, as is the prostitute story (stoning) and various other interpolations. So while you claim to be confident, 200 years ago you would be calling me a heretic for claiming it was not a part of scripture. It’s time to face reality. Your confidence is facetious at the very least.

    Controlled means there are set standards for copying – sure you would have many less unintended errors from a controlled source, but how can you be sure an intentional change hasn’t occurred?

    That’s why the word ‘control’ is listed there. You control the reproduction of the test, thus you are able to control what is produced and spread.

    This simply isn’t an option for the uncontrolled source – to make a major and enduring change to one of Paul’s letters for example during the first 500 years of the church would require collaboration on a scale that did not exist. Far from collaboration the early church was fragmented across the known world, often in hiding from rulers and authorities that wanted them and their scriptures wiped out.

    This is absurd, Marcion’s canon laid claim to the fact that only 10 of the currently known 13 Pauline Epistles were present and known during his time of canonization. You have entire books being attributed to Paul (Hebrews), entire biographies attributed to him (Acts and the Acts of Thecla) and various other Epistles (to Laodicea) etc on a large scale, therefore you claim that ‘large scale collaboration’ would be needed is indeed infantile, as Churches themselves declared him authors of works currently in your canon that today we reject as being his own. Proof by contradiction.

    Thanks for trying, but please try harder.

  • “Far from collaboration the early church was fragmented across the known world, often in hiding from rulers and authorities that wanted them and their scriptures wiped out. ”

    you kind of agree with the response you will see below.

    “The point that you are missing Avi is that we do know that the mou
    was there. It is found in 95% of the manuscripts. There is no way to
    explain that away. Likewise we do know what the original manuscript
    said in 99% of the text because of the agreement among the thousands
    of manuscripts.”

    You haven’t been listening. You don’t know any such thing.
    An image. Have you ever played the game Chinese Whispers? Seriously,
    have you? One person is given a message which they whisper to the next
    person, who in turn whispers what is heard to the next person and so
    on along a chain people until you get to the last, the person who must
    finally tell everyone what their understanding of the message is. It
    is invariably extremely different from the original. This is the
    imprecise nature of human understand and transmission of knowledge.

    The SHORTER the chain, the CLOSER to the original is the last message.
    The written word gives the transmission a lot more stability but the
    same issues come to play. The individual scribe brings his own
    understanding to the transmission process. Think of a scribe who was
    working on a BEZAE type tradition in FRANCE, say at the St Irenaeus
    Monastery. The monk is SENT off to northern Illyria and works on
    copies of a DIFFERENT manuscript tradition. The FORMS of the Bezae
    tradition will CREEP into the transmission process of this different
    tradition.

    Say you are a scribe in Syria, working on copies within the AntioCHENE
    tradition. The Arabs invade and most christians are driven out
    including you. The Antiochene tradition suddenly disappears, though
    you as a refuge go to central Anatolia and work on another tradition
    inadvertently including your familiar Antiochene tradition into it.
    Cross-fertilization is evident in manuscript traditions. Why else do
    manuscripts that predominantly follow one tradition suddenly have a
    few features of another tradition?

    The Antiochene tradition has been exterminated because of the Arab
    conquest. This means that although you have some early manuscripts,
    that tradition will have no later manuscripts, except perhaps for
    early escapees such as the Bezae variation, which has already gone to
    France and started absorbing features of western tradition, because of
    the background of the scribes who work upon it. But then Bezae isn’t
    the common form there so it isn’t afrequently used manuscript so it
    doesn’t get much copying.

    We expect places such as Egypt, Syria, North Africa and Anatolia to
    suffer from the Arab conquests, causing havoc amongst the manuscript
    traditions found in those areas. We also expect the secure monasteries
    of Europe to churn out their manuscript traditions, while the
    Egyptian, Syrian and other traditions stop producing to any quantity
    if any at all. Hence a profusion of European texts.

    What is the relationship between those European produced manuscripts
    and the original? There is after all a vast number of manuscripts from
    Europe. That there is a vast number means nothing about the original.
    We just see the European SURVIVOR traditions REDUPLICATING
    themselves.

    Because there are very many German speakers can we assume that modern
    German better represents the original GERMANIC language than Gothic,
    Frankish or Lombard for which there are no speakers of those languages
    left in the world? Can we assume because there are more pizzerias in
    America than in Italy that American pizza is more genuine? The
    argument based on merely numbers is fallacious. You actually need to
    know the trajectory involved. All those pizza hut pizzas derive from a
    MODERN aberrant tradition.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s