Elijah Hixson recently posted a confusing article to the Evangelical Textual Criticism blog site criticizing those who hold to the Confessional Text (including at least three authors of the Why I Preach From the Received Text anthology) for the citation of a now “infamous” statement made by Dan Wallace in the foreword to the 2019 book Myths and Mistakes in New Testament Textual Criticism.
Let’s examine the entire paragraph from p. xii (bold added):
These two attitudes—radical skepticism and absolute certainty—must be avoided when we examine the New Testament text. We do not have now—in our critical Greek texts or any translations—exactly what the authors of the New Testament wrote. Even if we did, we would not know it. There are many, many places in which the text of the New Testament is uncertain. But we also do not need to be overly skeptical. Where we should land between these two extremes is what this book addresses.
Hixson claims that the citation of the middle three sentences from the paragraph above (in bold) has been improperly used, because it was not shared in its proper context.
We do not have now—in our critical Greek texts or any translations—exactly what the authors of the New Testament wrote. Even if we did, we would not know it. There are many, many places in which the text of the New Testament is uncertain.
Here are two responses to Hixson’s complaint:
First, the citation of the middle three sentences in the paragraph from p. xii does not in any way misrepresent Wallace’s view but simply illustrates and articulates it. These words are not Wallace’s summary of the views of some form of “radical skepticism” (as held by scholars like Bart Erhman or D. C. Parker) which he supposedly opposes. They represent his own view. If these words were his summary of a view he opposes it would indeed have been inappropriate to use this citation out of its wider context, but this is not the case. Our critique of Wallace is, in fact, that his view does not oppose radical skepticism but embraces and promotes it. The words taken from this paragraph very effectively illustrate this fact.
Second, I would say that reading the entire paragraph from which the citation is taken only makes Wallace’s quotation even more damaging to the cause of evangelical appropriation of modern textual criticism.
Wallace says that “absolute certainty” about the text of Scripture “must be avoided.” Yes, he does make the statement, “But we also do not need to be overly skeptical.” Our critique of Wallace, however, is that his view is not some kind of mediating position between “radical skepticism” and “absolute certainty,” but that his view embraces the same kind of textual agnosticism which is characteristic of 21st century modern textual criticism. This what the citation taken from this paragraph is meant to illustrate.
With that said, let me move on to another quotation from Wallace in the same Foreword to Myths and Mistakes.
In a bid to avoid any controversy, I want to give this quotation in its proper full paragraph context.
So, here is the entire last paragraph of Wallace’s Foreword (pp. xix-xx):
As Michael Holmes has articulated and Zachary Cole attested, the New Testament manuscripts exhibit a text that is overall in excellent shape, but certainly not in impeccable shape; it manifests “microlevel fluidity and macrolevel stability [footnote 17].” What the authors of Myths and Mistakes insist on is that it is neither necessary nor even possible to demonstrate that we can recover the exact wording of the New Testament. But what we have is good enough.
Let me offer a few observations about this this quotation in its full paragraph context:
First, Wallace says he draws on an article from Michael W. Holmes (and attested by Zachary Cole’s article in Myths and Mistakes), that the currently extant manuscripts of the NT show that the text is “in excellent shape,” but not in “impeccable shape.”
Second, again using Holmes, he says the NT manifests “microlevel fluidity and macrolevel stability.” What does he mean by “macrolevel stability”? We assume he means that we have something called the NT, and it consists of some 27 books. This situation is stable. But, when we look more closely at the individual texts of those 27 books, we find “microlevel fluidity.” In other words, the texts of those books are not stable, and cannot be precisely defined. Thus, they are subject to change in various scholarly editions of the Greek NT, based on the varying opinions and conjectures of modern editors.
Third, Wallace asserts that it is not necessary to demonstrate that “we” (modern textual critics) can recover the exact wording of the NT. This means it is not necessary to recover the exact text of the NT.
Fourth, it is not possible to demonstrate that “we” (modern textual critics) can recover the exact wording of the NT. This means it is not possible using the modern empirical method of textual criticism to recover the original autogragh of the NT.
Fifth, since it is neither necessary nor even possible ever to reconstruct the original text of the NT, we should be content with what we have, which is “good enough.”
This quotation from pp. xix-xx is consistent with the better-known quotation from p. xii.
Though Wallace can state that the NT is “overall in excellent shape,” he must add that it is not in “impeccable shape.” He does not define for us which parts are in “excellent shape” and which are not in “impeccable shape.” For Wallace and other modern textual critics, the modern Greek NT is at best a close approximation of the NT, but not a definitive reconstruction of its autograph which, according to Wallace, is neither “necessary nor even possible.” It promotes, in the end, a form of textual agnosticism (“microlevel fluidity” of the text).
This is precisely what conservative Reformed Protestants find to be alarming about the evangelical embrace of modern textual criticism, and why we are suggesting that this approach be abandoned in favor of retrieval of the traditional Protestant text of the Reformation.
The authors of the anthology did not abuse Wallace by quoting his own words in their respective articles. We have not misunderstood or misrepresented Wallace. The point is that we understand him and do not agree with him.