I’ve noticed a new type of skeptic over the last few years. He questions whether there even is a text of the New Testament. There are so many manuscripts and so many variants, how can we ever claim with any credibility to know what the original manuscripts of the New Testament even said? And since we don’t even have access to the text, how can we possibly treat it as authoritative and trustworthy?
The ignorance of the science of textual criticism on the part of this skeptic is truly abysmal. But you can explain the actual state of the manuscript tradition, the fact that the New Testament is better attested than any other ancient document, the criteria by which we evaluate those manuscripts and reconcile their variant readings, the tried and true validity of those criteria, and how trivial most of the variants actually are, until you are blue in the face, and not faze him one bit. He really doesn’t care about any of that. He really doesn’t care about whether we can know what the New Testament says, much less what it says, much less whether it is true. He clings to the variants as his excuse for escaping its authority. He likes having learned the word variant so well that he just keeps repeating it without ever responding to your patient attempts at explaining what it actually means and what its significance actually is.
What saddens me most about this mindset is the impoverishment of mind and heart that inevitably flows from it. You’ve found a new way to justify your self-referential doubt. Congratulations. But what are you missing?
I need a sonnet to answer that question.
The skeptic doubts there even is a text.
He hides behind the tiny variations
And will not hear a reasonable narration
Of methods: what comes first and what comes next,
Criteria to leave us unperplexed.
His questions answered bring him no elation;
He must not really want illumination:
The truth he claims to seek just leaves him vexed.
The seeker of the Truth will not be whipped
So easily. He turns from what is not
To all the rich wine waiting to be sipped,
So revels in the pleasure of the plot,
The romance of the ancient manuscript,
The treasure of the tittle and the jot.
Check out Dr. Williams’ books at http://lanternhollow.wordpress.com/store/! Stars Through the Clouds: The Collected Poetry of Donald T. Williams (Lynchburg: Lantern Hollow Press, 2011), Reflections on Plato’s Cave: Essays in Evangelical Philosophy (Lantern Hollow, 2012), and Inklings of Reality: Essays toward a Christian Philosophy of Letters, 2nd ed. (Lantern Hollow, 2012). Each is $15.00 + shipping. and don’t miss his latest book, Deeper Magic: The Theology behind the Writings of C. S. Lewis (Baltimore: Square Halo Books, 2016). Order that one from www.squarehalobooks.com