The text of their first debate is now available as The Reliability of the New Testament: A Dialogue between Bart D. Ehrman and Daniel B. Wallace (Fortress, 2011). The second debate—the largest such debate in history with over 1400 people in attendance—took place at Southern Methodist University; it was professionally filmed and edited, and is now available for a modest price. (If you live outside the United States, you can get a DVD that matches your region’s requirements.)
Wallace was as concerned for those who would be able to study the arguments in some detail as he was for those who attended each debate. Therefore, he geared his responses to those who would study these issues later on.
In Wallace’s opener, he raised four questions:
- How many textual variants are there?
- What is the nature of the variants?
- What theological beliefs depend on variants?
- Is the original New Testament lost?
On the first question, Wallace agreed with Ehrman that in the existing manuscripts there are a huge number of variants—about 400,000. But there are a lot of variants because there exist a lot of manuscripts: over 20,000 in various languages, and about one million quotations of the New Testament from the church fathers, reaching back as early as the first century. And these thousands of manuscripts come from all over the Mediterranean region, showing that no early conspiracy to conform the manuscripts to one text-form existed.
Wallace also made comparisons with other Greco-Roman literature, noting that there exist on average 1000 times more manuscripts of the New Testament than exist for the average classical author. If Ehrman was going to be skeptical about the New Testament manuscripts, that skepticism would have to be multiplied a thousand-fold for the average classical author. If scholars actually did this, we would immediately go back into the Dark Ages.
On the second question, Wallace noted that the vast majority of variants can’t even be translated and that less than one percent of all variants are meaningful and have a decent chance of reflecting the original wording.
On the third question, Wallace quoted from Ehrman’s Misquoting Jesus, where he says that no essential Christian belief is affected by any of these variants. This is the most crucial point for most Christians and it was an important point to make, even though it was technically not within the purview of the debate topic.
On the fourth question, Wallace gave five reasons why we can be relatively confident that we have the wording of the originals somewhere in the manuscripts today. Rather than list his arguments here, you may ask for the data by simply writing to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Overall, the debate was lively and engaging. Christians walked away with more ammunition than they knew existed. More than one student exclaimed afterward, “Why have I never heard this before?” They simply had no idea that there was a reasoned, evangelical response to the skepticism of Bart Ehrman. Friends of CSNTM is committed to getting the word out, for lives are at stake.