If you’re looking for a way to critique the authority of Scripture, there are seemingly endless options. There are historical critiques (e.g., many of these books are forgeries). There are logical critiques (e.g., the Gospels contradict themselves). There are moral critiques (e.g., God is immoral to order the slaughter of entire cities). And there are hermeneutical critiques (e.g., no one can agree on what the Bible means).
In recent years, however, a more foundational challenge has arisen. All of the above critiques are essentially the same; they all argue the words of the Bible are not true. But this newer and more foundational challenge is not about whether the words of the Bible are true, but whether we have the words of the Bible at all.
At the core of this challenge is the fact that we only have handwritten copies of these books we treasure. And, in reality, we only have copies of copies of copies. And given that scribes made mistakes, and that the transmission process was imperfect, how can we be sure that these texts have been preserved? How can we be sure we actually have the words of Scripture?
Bart Ehrman’s best-selling book Misquoting Jesus focuses on this issue as it pertains to the New Testament text:
What good is it to say that the autographs (i.e., the originals) were inspired? We don’t have the originals! We have only error-ridden copies, and the vast majority of these are centuries removed from the originals and different from them . . . in thousands of ways.
If Ehrman is correct, then he has uncovered the single thread that would unravel the entire garment of the Christian faith. There is no need to critique the content of the New Testament if we don’t even have the New Testament.
But is this argument cogent? I think not. There are two places it can be challenged: (1) the role of the autographs and (2) the degree of corruption in the extant manuscripts.