The Evangelical Textual Criticism blog has an interview with Bart Ehrman in which he briefly addresses the fact that some of his readers might have been mislead by his book, Misquoting Jesus. Here are a couple of interesting quotes and my thoughts:
I had a beef with his unqualified statements in interviews that there are “hundreds of thousands of variants” in New Testament manuscripts. I felt that his statements were misleading because the overwhelming majority of these differences are due to spelling conventions and other theologically meaningless reasons. Here is Ehrman:
There are over 5000 Greek mss of the NT. These all differ from one another. The differences number in the hundreds of thousands. The vast majority of these differences are completely immaterial and insignificant and donâ€™t matter for much of anything. But some of the differences are very significant and can change the meaning of a passage or even of an entire book. Is there any textual critic who can say that these are not facts?
Here is Ehrman’s response concerning the fact that some people may have been mislead by his book:
Yes I think this is a real danger, and it is the aspect of the book that has apparently upset our modern day apologists who are concerned to make sure that no one thinks anything negative about the holy Bible. On the other hand, if people misread my book â€“ I canâ€™t really control that very well. Maybe ironically, this could show the fallacy of the view also held widely among evangelicals (at least the ones I know), that the intention of an author dictates the meaning of a text (since my intentions seem to have had little affect on how some people read my text).
It is so good to see that after attending a Pentacostal worship service in which Ehrman was “slain in the spirit” that he has returned to his evangelical roots and has rededicated his life. Furthermore, he wholeheartedly believes that the King James Bible is the only complete, inspired word of God. In fact, he states, “If it’s good enough for Paul, it’s good enough for me!”
Of course my statements above are completely ridiculous. However, Ehrman’s critique of the notion that the author imparts meaning is not much more sane. In fact, his critique is self-defeating and leads to a nihilistic view of communication. Of course readers have a role in interpreting meaning–readers can and often do misinterpret what people say and some interpreters are lazy and therefore make egregious interpretive mistakes, no evangelical I know disputes this, however, authors impart meaning that readers seek to discern. If authors do not impart meaning and do not have the final say in adjudicating readers’ interpretations, then my interpretation of his words stands.
Ehrman’s statements do not say that he converted (back?) to Evangelicalism because the meaning of his statement rests with his intentions–not my interpretation. If authorial intent is divorced from meaning then communication is hopeless. Everyone intutively searches for authorial intent when engaged in a conversation. Imagine never considering authorial intent in a marriage: “Hey Honey, I would really like to buy a Prius for our next vehicle so we can help reduce our CO2 emissions.” “No problem Dear, I’ll go to the Hummer dealer and pick one up and then we can rip out that meaningless catalytic converter.” “Wait, I said maybe we could by a Prius.” “Oh, you want a car that only runs on lead based fuel, no problem, I’ll buy an old truck with broken cylinder heads that will constantly burn oil also.” This is a conversation that disregards authorial intent and it is also a recipe for a divorce.
Of course Ehrman cannot sit beside every reader and control how they interpret his book. Some will misinterpet it and that is beyond his control (that is assuming that 1) he is a competent writer who is able to encode his intent clearly and ably and 2) that he doesn’t decieve readers by consciously obscuring his intention–for the record–I believe that Ehrman is fully capable of assumption 1 and that he has not done assumption 2). But, Ehrman can in an interview correct his readers’ misunderstandings and guide them back to his original intent of the book–which he has just done. His clarification shows that he operates under the methodology that authorial intent is real.
Everyone that keeps a stable relationship at the least operates as if authorial intent is the key to meaning. Ehrman is a very intelligent scholar, but he needs to carefully reconsider both his manner of presentation of scholarly facts to the public and his self-defeating views of authorial intent.
What do you think?