Unsettled Christianity

Gloria Dei homo vivens – St Irenaeus
June 3rd, 2015 by Joel Watts

Are Harry Potter and 50 Shades of Gray more accurate than the New Testament

This is an apologetic infographic:

Found on an FB group

Found on an FB group

By this logic, then the 450 million copies of Harry Potter and the 100 million copies of 50 Shades of Gray in existence means that they are more accurate and reliable than the New Testament.

Or, it means that someone doesn’t understand how these things work.

  • The earliest (say 125) is a fragment. There may be an older Gospel of Mark, but this does not make a manuscript.
  • The date of composition is remarkably wrong. It is on the conservative end of the spectrum. But, beyond that, proximity of composition to said event does not make it reliable. Case in point is the sad history of Rolling Stone and the University of Virginia.

For more and for a better infographic on the NT manuscripts, see James McGrath’s recent post.

This is weak sauce apologetics. When you use words like “accuracy,” “reliability,” and “contradictions” (even when you deny they exist) you aren’t taking Scripture seriously.

Joel Watts
Watts holds a MA in Theological Studies from United Theological Seminary. He is currently a Ph.D. student at the University of the Free State, analyzing Paul’s model of atonement in Galatians, as well as seeking an MA in Clinical Mental Health at Adams State University. He is the author of Mimetic Criticism of the Gospel of Mark: Introduction and Commentary (Wipf and Stock, 2013), a co-editor and contributor to From Fear to Faith: Stories of Hitting Spiritual Walls (Energion, 2013), and Praying in God's Theater, Meditations on the Book of Revelation (Wipf and Stock, 2014).

Comments

8 Responses to “Are Harry Potter and 50 Shades of Gray more accurate than the New Testament”
  1. Joel,

    I would hope that your thoughts were intended to serve more as a caution than as a total disclaimer. The fact of the matter is that–yes, it is a given that HP and 50 SoG should be more accurate than the NT in the sense that (1) the time lapse between the original and the copies is less than the NT [not a guarantee of accuracy, but certainly an aid to verify accuracy] and (2) anachronistically, this is somewhat of a mute point due to comparing apples and oranges via hand-written copies vs. modern publishing technologies, which generally should improve accuracy incrementally.

    Furthermore, there is obviously the advantage of having more manuscripts to compare to assist ascertaining a most likely “original” than when one has very few copies to work with. We just don’t hear a lot of push back about the accuracy of Caesar and his contemporaries in modern conversations (perhaps in academic/historical circles there is more discussion of this) because the contents of these documents aren’t making the same claims as, say, the Gospel of Mark.

    Finally, I suppose it depends on one’s understanding of “inspiration” as to how the process of transmission and accuracy are related. Assuming God wanted His story to be told with some degree of accuracy to countless generations, and assuming the authors did their homework (Luke 1:1-4), and assuming there was some type of supernatural guidance provided by the Holy Spirit, I think I’ll take the reliability of the NT documents against their ancient counterparts.

    But your comments are helpful and needful in a balanced assessment and against an overly enthusiastic (as you put it) “weak sauce apologetics.”

    • Steve, one the points that I want to make is this: Inspiration is not found in the number of witnesses or the closeness to the event for composition.

      • I certainly would agree with that, but even the Son of God himself spoke of the value of multiple witnesses, for himself and for us, perhaps as a concession for us. (John 5:31-40; Matthew 18:15-20) And having witnesses (people or manuscripts) that are somewhat chronologically connected serve a valuable, reliable, affirming purpose. (1 Corinthians 15:6)

        • Steve, you cannot use a text to justify the text.

          Yes, there are Scripture does speak of multiple witnesses, but we have plenty of textual witnesses that disagree with one another, with sometimes the minority text given the most credence by scholars.

          And I don’t think 1 Co. 15.6 really fits here.

          • Joel,

            Your example in your original blog proves my point of the value (not guarantee, but certainly an advantage) of documents written within proximity of the event discussed. The Rolling Stones article was incorrectly reported and it was more easily discredited as there were living witnesses close to the time the article was written that came forward to discredit the article. You are right in that closeness time-wise between the event and the document does not have anything to do with inspiration per se, but it can be of great benefit to verify the accuracy of a(n inspired) document or event. My referencing 1 Cor 15 was using Paul’s argument that the resurrection was in fact a true event and that there are available witnesses close by (in time and geography) that can verify this event. If I am discrediting Caesar’s Wars, I had better have some excellent sources to invalidate two millennia of acceptance.

            And was not one of the criterian used by councils to recognize inspired texts that were chosen to be a part of the Biblical canon the text themselves?–e.g., Did the book contain consistency of doctrine and orthodox teaching? Did the book bear evidence of high moral and spiritual values that would reflect a work of the Holy Spirit? That appears to me to be using the texts to justify the texts–as worthy of inclusion into the canon. (I recognize opinions/canons vary–that doesn’t necessarily negate the point.)

            And, yes, a general rule of determining the “original text” was often to lean toward the most unlikely rendering or minority text–but that was usually decided in the context of multiple documents after careful examination of all sources. Would you agree that it is better to have a multiplicity of texts with which to work with in determining the best translation or would you prefer the challenges certainly faced by the translators for Plato and Heridotus?

          • Steve,

            We treat Scripture, even those of us who are not inerrantists, differently than we (today) treat Plato and others. I think textcrit studies are important, but much like the East, I think it ultimately matters little if in one place it says Lord Jesus but in another it says Lord Jesus Christ — or if John 8.1-7 is in fact original.

            The point of this infographic, however, is not textual. It is meant to suggest that since we have so many copies of something (a point they use, which is very misleading) then it must be reliable and accurate. In what sense? Can we identify the best readings? Sure. Does it make it true? No.

  2. It’s not even apples and oranges to compare Harry Potter with the Gospel of John, it’s apples and space ships. The two things are not even remotely similar.

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