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.