Getting Dalrymple right–applying due diligence before making our claims

As Christian apologists and/or case-makers, we need to be sure that we have done our due diligence before making our claims, whether it be in arguments for the existence of God, the historicity of the Resurrection, the reliability of the Gospels, etc., so that we don’t find ourselves ‘out on a limb’ and thereby embarrass ourselves and hinder the cause of Christ. As J.R.R. Tolkien once said, “The wise speak only of what they know.”

In this regard, I would like to highlight the following interview with preeminent New Testament scholar, Daniel Wallace, which can be found at Apologetics315. (Click here for interview/downloadable mp3) [Daniel Wallace is professor of New Testament Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary and an authority on Koine Greek grammar and New Testament textual criticism. He is founder of the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts]

Wallace brings an interesting fact and/or clarification to the table in regards to the popular apologist claim that, in the first three centuries of Christianity, only eleven verses of the entire New Testament had not been able to be found in those Church Fathers’ writings.” Here is an excerpt from the interview which I found to be enlightening:

BA: Well, that’s all excellent insight. I want to ask you just one more advice question, and that’s in making a case for the reliability of the Bible. I wonder from your perspective if there are some times where you hear someone defending the reliability of the Bible, and you think, “Oh no. Don’t do it that way.” Or maybe in your mind there are do’s and don’ts, and I wonder if you could share some perspectives on how you would go about defending the Scriptures.

DW: There are plenty of do’s and don’ts, and the biggest do’s and don’ts have to do with citing other apologists where you haven’t really studied or gotten your facts straight. I’m embarrassed to say that sometimes there are Muslim apologists who have done really decent research on the nature of the New Testament or on the transmission of the text or things along those lines, and they have cleared up kind of an apocryphal story that Christians believed in.

There was one example: a number of scholars have passed on saying someone had pointed out that in the first three centuries of Christianity, only eleven verses of the entire New Testament had not been able to be found in those Church Fathers’ writings. Well, that was a garbled story that went back to the early 1800s, and it was a third-hand story of a fellow by the name of David Dalrymple. He was the one who actually was doing the research, and somebody heard about this at a party and not directly from Dalrymple but from somebody else, and then put into a book, and it’s been stated for the last 200 years as though it was Gospel fact.

What Dalrymple actually said was in the first two centuries of the Christian faith through A.D. 300, that all but eleven verses of John’s Gospel had been found in the Church Fathers’ writings. He wasn’t talking about the whole New Testament, so this got communicated in such a way that said it was the whole New Testament that’s been found. That’s just irresponsible and not at all helpful. It was Muslim apologists who discovered the error, and it’s been quoted by apologists, even text critical scholars, and it was the Muslims who [did the] research and said sorry that’s not the case.

Well, I don’t like to see us getting embarrassed by that, and that’s why we need to be very serious students and never afraid to really ask the tough questions and get into the details. (end of excerpt from interview-Complete interview transcript, here)

I am sure that many of us, in our zeal, have stated this popular and/or ‘accepted’ claim at one time or another to bolster our case-making. But as Wallace so wisely advises, we need to be sure to do our due diligence, asking the tough questions, putting time into our research, and making sure our facts are indeed facts. “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15 ESV)

As a follow-up to Wallace’s interview, I’d like to also recommend the following article by J. Warner Wallace, Can We Construct The Entire New Testament From the Writings of the Church Fathers?  J. Warner Wallace confirms Daniel Wallace’s findings, and then adds an excellent summary and defense of the Gospels and the historical Jesus:

Even if we can’t reconstruct the entire New Testament (save 11 verses) as claimed in the citation of Dalrymple’s work, we really don’t need to. The early disciples of the apostles confirm the content of the apostolic teaching. If skeptics are looking for an early version of Jesus that is less divine, less miraculous and less supernatural, they aren’t going to find it in the writings of the first generation that followed the apostles. Instead, they’re going to find the very same Jesus that you and I know from the writings of the New Testament. Jesus didn’t evolve over the centuries to become the “legend” he is today. Jesus (the very same Jesus you and I know and love) has been emphatically described from the very earliest period of Christian history. We don’t need to reconstruct the entire New Testament to have great confidence that the writings of the New Testament have been delivered to us accurately. The Early Church Fathers confirm this for us, even if they don’t repeat every line of the canonical narrative.


William Lane Craig’s Advice to Christian apologists/case-makers
(Note: Dr. Craig makes an excellent case for preparation in communicating and defending the Christian faith-preparation that requires due diligence on the part of the Christian case-maker.)

The Importance of Becoming a Christian Case-Marker–J. Warner Wallace

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