Daniel Wallace is a prominent evangelical NT textual critic. He has written about the field in various places, but never in much detail, and never in a book dedicated to the topic. So I was very excited when I heard he was editing a collection of essays on the topic.
Revisiting the Corruption of the New Testament is not a general book on the topic of NT textual criticism, but a collection of essays criticizing the analysis and methodology of Bart Ehrman. Indeed, if you have heard any of Wallace and Ehrman’s three debates, you will already be familiar with much of the material Wallace presents in his chapter. But it is nice to have that wealth of information put to print and to have access to all of the details Wallace provides in the footnotes. Here are a few facts about the NT manuscripts that are of note:
- How many manuscripts are there? As of the summer of 2008, the Munster Institute said there were 5555 manuscripts. Wallace’s organization, CSNTM, has discovered more than 75 previously uncatalogued manuscripts, raising the number to more than 6000.
- In addition to the Greek manuscripts, we have thousands of translations. There are at least 10,000 Latin manuscripts and close to 5,000 in other languages.
- In contrast, the average classical Greek work has less than 20 extant manuscripts.
- The average Greek NT manuscript is over 450 pages long.
- Many of our extant manuscripts are early. We have 12 manuscripts from the 2nd century, 64 manuscripts from the 3rd, 48 manuscripts from the 4th = 124 manuscripts within 300 years of the composition of the NT. The average classical Greek work has zero manuscripts during this same period of time.
- The 2nd century manuscripts alone attest to 3 out of 4 gospels, 9 of Paul’s letters, Acts, Hebrews, and Revelation. Amazingly, 43% of all NT verses (often partial) are represented in these manuscripts.
The other essays are very informative as well, probing deep into several textual debates. I particularly enjoyed the final essay which examined the nature of textual variants in our four extant fragments of the Gospel of Thomas.
Revisiting provides the reader with a good foundation of NT textual criticism, good reasons to trust that we have reliably reconstructed the NT text, and a thorough critique of Ehrman’s methodology and hyper-skeptical conclusions.