Tag Archives: textual criticism

Scribal Habits Between the New Testament and the Qur’an

In Mark 14:68-72 (NIV) we read:

“68 But he denied it. “I don’t know or understand what you’re talking about,” he said, and went out into the entryway.

69 When the servant girl saw him there, she said again to those standing around, “This fellow is one of them.” 70 Again he denied it.

After a little while, those standing near said to Peter, “Surely you are one of them, for you are a Galilean.”

71 He began to call down curses, and he swore to them, “I don’t know this man you’re talking about.”

72 Immediately the rooster crowed the second time.”

Around the 5th century CE scribes thought it was odd that verse 72 mentions a rooster crowing a second time but that the Gospel narrative does not mention a rooster crowing a first time. Since Jesus was said to have predicted that Peter would deny him three times before the rooster crowed twice, it would not make sense to them that it had not mentioned the first crowing. The scribes of Codices Alexandrinus, Ephraemi-Rescriptus and Bezae all added in after verse 68 as quoted above, a small but important addition:

και αλεκτωρ εφωνησεν which is “and a rooster crowed”.

This is typical narrative gap filling, but it also shows how much they were willing to play with the text to affirm what they think were prophecies. Compare this with the Qur’ān in 2:143 which reads:

“We assigned your former direction of prayer only to distinguish those who would remain faithful to the Messenger from those who would lose faith.” (translation by Dr. Mustafa Khattab).

The command for the change of the Qiblah is not in the Qur’ān, but the rebuking of those who rejected the change is. If the scribes of the Qur’an did not uphold the sanctity of scripture as we do today, then we should find that at verse 142 the command to change the Qiblah (direction of prayer) would be written.

Thus the words of the Qur’ān are quite salient, that in the end, one purpose of scripture is:

“…to distinguish those who would remain faithful to the Messenger from those who would lose faith.”

and God knows best.

Early New Testament Papyri Now Given Later Dates

Two very early and important manuscripts of the New Testament, p66 and p75 have effectively with growing consensus by authoritative scholars, been given later date ranges extending into the 4th century CE. This is a problem.

Brief Introduction

Early New Testament documents were written on papyrus (pl. papyri), which in and of itself is a very fragile material. Summarily, it means they are difficult to preserve and quick to be destroyed (by accident). Due to so few documents existing, we cannot know much to be certain about the early New Testaments in circulation (we cannot speak of a New Testament until Marcion in the 2nd century).

Two important manuscripts, p66 and p75 have traditionally been given very early dates, somewhere around the 2nd century CE. To put this into perspective, we generally have had only roughly 7 or so manuscripts from this time period that are distinctively New Testament texts, so that 2 of them (which is 28.5%) have been given later dates by almost up to two hundreds years more is nothing to scoff at. These later datings will reshape how we view the early New Testament, its invention, development, transmission and general history.

The Problem

The early New Testament documents are dated palaeographically, that is by the way in which they were written (their textual-graphical features). This means that there is almost no early New Testament document that can be said to have been written in a specific year. I have seen some uninformed Christian apologists claiming that specific New Testament papyri date to the year 125 CE, such as p52, or that p66 and p75 are from the year 200 CE. This is incorrect from an elementary standpoint. Palaeographic datings refer to a date range not a date year (even if colophonic). This means whenever someone speaks about early New Testament papyri and they only provide a date year instead of a range, they are being misleading (if one re-reads my first paragraph I allude to a date range and not date year by saying “around the 2nd century CE”). Generally a date range can begin with a few decades and extend into a few centuries (as is common with most New Testament papyri).

Due to these previously very early datings of around the 2nd century CE, many Christian apologists were quick to point out that much of what survives from the most reliable manuscripts is in the form of the 4th century Uncials (Sinaiticus and Vaticanus), with p75 said to be an ancestor text to Codex Vaticanus. This allowed them to claim that there was extant (still surviving) proof that the New Testament, contrary to competing claims, was transmitted faithfully. In this, they boasted that if there were minimal changes between two texts that were related to each other, this meant that the New Testament had been reliably copied over the centuries and thus it could be argued that if there are 200 years between p75 and Codex Vaticanus, then the 200 years between Christ Jesus and p75 should allow Christians to argue that the New Testament has effectively been preserved. Foregoing an overly long analysis as to why this reasoning is both poor and apologetic, it should be noted that p75 and Codex Vaticanus are now no longer seen as having a Father-Son relationship (as in Vaticanus was copied from p75 or a manuscript similar to it in terms of age and reliability) but that they are now sibling texts (that they both descend from a common ancestor text).

This changes things.

Summary Conclusions

This means that they cannot be used to argue for 400 years of reliable transmission, this means that they cannot be used to demonstrate that they were copied from each other. It effectively allows us to dismiss much of what has been argued in the past due to the very existence of these papyri. What one will notice however is the overwhelming silence on behalf of Christian apologists about the severity of the issue that stands before them, what they once boasted with glee (much like with the sham that was First Century Mark) is now being quietly swept under the rugs.

These redatings are not new, Dr. Brent Nongbri has for several years now already published research claiming as much and the Evangelical world has been silent. Their common response was that this was one man with one dating (which itself is a ridiculous argument) but now that Dr. Orsini (who is a top scholar of the field) is saying the same (though their arguments for why differ), we are looking at an effective consensus building and being accepted by some of the best minds in the field. There does not seem to be anything but silence and subsequent acceptance of the once “invincible” early New Testament documents now being resigned to later date ranges, thus placing even more questions on the reliability of the New Testament’s documents itself.

It should also be noted that the Coherence Based Genealogical Method that is being used today to develop the next edition of the New Testament heavily relies on these early papyri being dated accurately, so that a genealogical/ family tree can be drawn up to make sense of how the texts were transmitted. I will not get into how the CBGM works here, but that these dates are changing with consensus should worry some of our Evangelical friends.

and God knows best.

Recommended Reading:


Debate Review: Are the New Testament Gospels Based on Eyewitness Testimony?

On Saturday 20th October, Attorney Yusuf Ismail debated a UK-based Biologist, Jonathan McLatchie on the topic of, “Are the New Testament Gospels Based on Eyewitness Testimony?”. Presented here is an amended review of the initial review posted on our Facebook page.

Roughly one year ago, the same Christian, UK-based Biologist was called out by this website for plagiarizing during another debate with Attorney Yusuf Ismail. We initially published a video detailing one instance of plagiarism:

Consequently, the Christian speaker issued a statement indicating that this was a one-off occurrence that did not happen throughout the rest of that debate or any debate previously. Contrary to this, we then published another video detailing multiple instances of plagiarism:

What followed was a tale of abject dishonesty and personal hostility on the part of the Christian speaker who became incensed due to our expose, we ignored this behaviour. He eventually conceded that he had in fact, had his opening statement (presentation) for that debate, written by another Christian speaker. This was not surprising given the evidence we had published. This year we had hoped that he learned his lesson and would be professional at this event. This was not the case (information forthcoming), but for a large part, his opening statement this year was largely written by him and consisted of a lecture he had been delivering in various Churches on “undesigned coincidences” in the Gospel narratives.

Jonathan McLatchie’s main and only argument was that the Gospels corroborate each other in some minor details therefore they must be based on eyewitness testimony. This approach is problematic because the manuscript record actually shows that the gospel authors and editors had a tendency to harmonize details between the gospels to make their stories more coherent:

“Colwell and Royse both recognize a tendency to harmonize readings with remote parallels in other Gospels (Colwell, 112-114; Royse, 536-544).”

This is as stated by the conservative New Testament British textual critic, Timothy Mitchell citing:

  • Royse, James R., “Scribal Habits in Early Greek New Testament Papyri.” NTTSD 36. Leiden: Brill, 2008.
  • Colwell, Ernest C., “Method in Evaluating Scribal Habits: A Study of P45, P66, P75,” pages 106-124 in “Studies in Methodology in Textual Criticism of the New Testament.” NTTS 9. Leiden: Brill, 1969.

This fundamentally undermines the Christian’s claims during the debate. In fact, I, myself lost count of the verses he quoted from the Gospel attributed to John where papyrus 66 (a manuscript of the gospel of John that is dated between 150 – 399), does not confirm what the modern English versions were saying. He was effectively quoting the gospel attributed to John where the initial author’s writing was changed by later correctors to match/ harmonize what the other gospels said by later editors. A simple review of basic textual critical resources would have easily indicated to him that this was both a bad line of reasoning and counter-evidential to his position.


(Left) Attorney Yusuf Ismail, (Right) Jonathan McLatchie

At the start of the debate the Christian speaker claimed his beliefs in Christianity were based on evidence, however when challenged on his views on the dead rising in the gospel attributed to Matthew he claimed he believed in a literal rising miracle of the dead in Jerusalem (back to life) without any evidence, thus proving himself wrong. At this point he also became hostile and in a raised voice, demanded to know why such a question was relevant in the first place, it is possible that he had a memory lapse at this point or had become plainly aware of his earlier statement, thus his reaction was largely based on embarrassment.

He also conceded during a rebuttal period that several verses in the gospel attributed to John were written by anonymous authors and therefore they were not authored by eyewitnesses thus conceding the debate to Attorney Yusuf Ismail.

On the other hand, I was duly impressed by Attorney Yusuf Ismail who is currently pursuing theological studies. I found his presentation and citation of classical Christian authorities on the anonymity of the Gospels to both be stringently academic and quite diverse. Meaning then, that he did not isolate these statements from “liberal” scholarship, nor did he quote-mine. In fact, during their cross-examination section, Attorney Yusuf Ismail produced a brilliant quote by Richard Bauckham which justified his position on the Gospels being anonymous in authorship. In addition to this, it was his opponent that had cited Bauckham as an authority in the first place, thus adding to the strength of Attorney Yusuf Ismail’s position. When reminded of this, the Christian speaker decried the reference, stating that he did not agree with everything Bauckham said, while this is a reasonable position, the Christian speaker did not clarify on what well-researched basis he made this distinction of agreeing and disagreeing with the author.

Surprisingly, Yusuf Ismail did not end there, he was on a roll. McLatchie was asked if he accepted Matthaean Priority (that is, the view that Matthew was authored first, followed by Mark and Luke). McLatchie (the Christian speaker) acknowledged that this was the position he was leaning towards. This is where I believe Yusuf Ismail showed his brilliance, he asked McLatchie if he accepted Papias’ (an unreliable early Church Father, as per Eusebius) claim that the gospel attributed to Matthew was initially written in Hebrew (and then translated into Koine Greek). McLatchie confusingly stated he did not study this position on the gospel attributed to Matthew. It therefore is problematic that he in one instance claims that he can lean towards one view on the original authorship of the gospel and then in another state he had not studied it at all. If he had not studied the genesis of Matthew’s gospel, how then can he lean to its position in authorship? This effectively summarized what was an overall brilliant evening for Yusuf and a disaster for McLatchie.

The debate can be viewed here on Facebook:

and Allah knows best.


Consistent Calvinism and Textual Criticism

Can one be a consistent Calvinist/ Reformed and use Textual Criticism to affirm the New Testament…? This major Calvinist scholar says no. Herman Bavinck says as follows:

“Those who make their doctrine of Scripture dependent on historical research into its origination and structure have already begun to reject Scripture’s self-testimony and therefore no longer believe that Scripture. They think it better to build up the doctrine of Scripture on the foundation of their own research than by believingly deriving it from Scripture itself.”

Source: Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics: Prolegomena, p. 424.

Bavinck on the self-testimony of Scripture (1--424)

For more information on Bavinck, please click here for his Wikipedia page.

When I initially posted this on my personal Facebook profile, I was immediately reproached by Dr. James White. His argument varied, but it began with claiming I didn’t understand what Bavinck was saying, it then moved to the claim that Bavinck was not referring to textual criticism and finally it moved on to whether or not historical criticism includes textual criticism or not.

The point being, that Dr. White was clearly uncomfortable with this quote and the consequences it bore on his position as recently rebuked by James Simpson, Sam Shamoun and other Christians. I was most disappointed with his response, because as far as I and other Muslims viewed his comments, it seems as if he took the post personally. Beside the point, when I tried to explain that Bavinck’s quote could be applicable and inclusive of textual criticism, I included this statement:

I don’t disagree, read the page, historical-critical, it absolutely includes higher criticism, no one doubts that. Then again, no one else disagrees that there is a distinction between higher and lower criticism, any longer. There’s a bit of both involved in each discipline. Thanks for the fruitful replies though!

I think my statement was quite clear, when it comes to historical-critical study, there is an overlap, a bit of both higher and lower criticism. For some reason, which we all now know why, Dr. White chose to ignore that qualifying phrase of  “a bit of both” and invectively chose to represent my argument as referring to absolutely no distinction between higher and lower criticism. It’s quite obvious that isn’t what I said but it’s the position he chose to stake his claim upon, shifting the goalposts if you would, and quite disappointing for someone who seeks to understand his opponents’ points of view. I forgive him for that.

In any case, yes, historical-critical research does include higher and lower criticism, which encompasses textual criticism. In the end, this quote does have ramifications for Reformed folk who choose to view the New Testament through the eyes of history to validate variant units. I gave one such example to qualify my point which was noted by all, that Dr. White intentionally chose to ignore:

With all due respect, when using philology to develop an authorial profile to help us with stemmata, don’t we have to refer to historical information/ data in that very process?

We look for language development, basically the way someone represents language changes over time and so we can demarcate eras of language use within the written tradition and delineate forms of writing over time. To do so, especially in textual criticism, we have to be aware of the language, its form, variations, standards, etc. In conclusion, distractions aside, this quote is damning for some of the more prolific Christian apologists and the untenable positions they hold to.

and God knows best.

Textual Criticism Versus Evangelical Beliefs

There has been a trend of late where evangelical apologists are trying to normalize the cc-2018-sitenews-clashingheadsuse of textual criticism in their understanding of the New Testament. This however, leaves them in an untenable position trying to balance the divergence of textual critical axioms, arguments and evidences with those of their normative faith. This can be seen with apologists such as Dr. White, Dr. Licona and Dr. Wallace. All three are studying or have studied textual criticism to some degree and there stands a myriad of obvious issues that need be sorted out.

Consider the case of the nature of revelation itself. On a recent Dividing Line program Dr. White along with Dr. Brown chose to argue that the Greek Septuagint was stronger in its wording than the Masoretic Text and Dead Sea Scrolls were when it came to prophecies about Jesus (John Calvin notably argued the same for Paul’s use of the Septuagint and its associated divergences). The obvious issue here is that according to their own classical beliefs, the Old Testament was not revealed (and written) in Greek. Surely then, according to the confessions, it is traditionally understood that inerrancy primarily refers to the autographs. In other words, God chose the men who wrote the “books” of the Old Testament in a specific language. God chose men, again, according to their beliefs to word scripture to the best degree of accuracy and understanding possible. How is it then possible that a translation by unknown people can represent scripture better than the people that God chose to represent His teachings for Him? That does not make sense. Yet this is the position they now hold to, a position that is absolutely advantageous for Muslims doing da’wah.

Then there is the other argument of the Old Testament (as per the program responded to here), that it descended to us in various streams and that different scribes (as well as copyists) chose one variant over another because they completed the exposition of a verse better, as Dr. White referred to it, “sermonic expansion”. So there was addition to the text, addition not by the initial authors whom God chose, yet somehow this is not corruption. Odd reasoning here. Clearly cognitive dissonance at work. What then do we make of the claim that there were different streams? Yes, we agree, but did God intend to give authority to each stream? If that was the case then the later Masoretic Text would have authorial primacy and importance, rather than a translation in the form of the Septuagint that came before it, if we were to consider it with respect to chronology. Yet we find most Christian apologists referring and giving importance to the Septuagint while wholly ignoring the Latin and Samaritan texts, are those too not viable streams? Who then, gave the scribes authority to choose from those streams? Those anonymous and unknowable scribes? Again, problems arise.

What then do we make of the claim that there existed actual men within the first century by the names of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John who would be considered the initial authors? Isn’t it the case in New Testament Textual Criticism through stemmatics and philology that each Gospel is a composite work, the result of more than one author in various periods throughout history? How then can Matthew be one man and yet many, not existing at one time, but many simultaneously? Yes, I do recognize such thinking to be absurd, which is why I find it almost impossible to take anyone seriously who argues for a singular, inspired authorship, yet still accepts – at the same time – that there were multiple authors to one text as is the standard position. Yes, you are right in asking that no right thinking evangelical would accept composite authorship, yet today in the Nestle-Aland Greek New Testament, the standard critical text that the aforementioned men believe in, contains conjectural emendations. These are instances where the textual critic has decided that their version of a passage best represents the original without any manuscript evidence for their version ever having existed. Surely, today’s evangelicals don’t hold to the position that the folks on the Nestle-Aland committee are inspired by God, so wouldn’t that then confirm they accept the words of multiple people for one Gospel, rather than one individual from the 1st century? It does, yet again we arrive at a problem.

So while I am happy that today’s Christian apologists are becoming more liberal towards the New Testament and affirming the Qur’an’s claims about their attitude to Scripture, I also mourn for the aloofness that abounds otherwise.

and God knows best.

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