Apr 2008

Dr Daniel B. Wallace is professor of New Testament Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary. In this interview with KEDS tutor Andy Cheung he talks about recent exciting finds in Albania relevant to textual criticism as well various issues relating to dispensationalism and Israel.


Andy Cheung: Prof Wallace, you are very well-known for your work in New Testament textual criticism and your founding of the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts.  Can you tell us a little bit about other significant interests in your personal and professional life?

Daniel Wallace: I have the awesome privilege of teaching people the New Testament in the original language. And to think that I get paid to do it! Because of my profession and where I teach, my personal and professional life merge more often than not. I love to write and research for fun, and typing, word-smithing, massaging my argument is a release for me. But I strongly prefer working in original documents over secondary literature. Researching what others have said is not nearly as enjoyable as working with ancient texts.

Besides textual criticism, I enjoy working in grammar and seeing how it relates to the exegesis and biblical theology of the NT. As well, I like working on issues of authorship, date, and audience of the NT documents—you know, NT Introduction. But every bit as much an interest as those topics is exegesis, especially of Paul’s letters, Mark, John, and the Catholic letters. I have been teaching Romans for four years now—something I had wanted to do ever since I started teaching. But it’s such an important book that I didn’t consider myself worthy of teaching it; to be sure, I still don’t! But I want to do my best with the letter and one of these days write a commentary on Romans. It will take about twenty years. I’ve got it roughed out (about 300 pages), but have much more to go on it. Finally, regarding professional interests, I am working on biblical theology, especially tracing trajectories of beliefs from the time of Jesus through the second, third, and fourth century. My view is akin to Alister McGrath’s (The Genesis of Doctrine) or C. F. D. Moule’s (The Origin of Christology): I don’t see so much a Darwinian evolution of doctrine in which what is recorded in the NT evolves into something totally foreign to it (though there certainly is this sort of thing going in the early centuries of the Christian faith), as I do a development in theological articulation and understanding of what was there from the beginning. My greatest interest in this regard is to trace out theological development within the NT.

On a personal level, I enjoy spending time with my boys (all grown now); playing with my beagles; playing racquetball; watching episodes of Twilight Zone (the 60’s series, not the later one); watching the History Channel; watching action, suspense, and comedy movies (Indiana Jones, Lucky Number Slevin, North by Northwest, Usual Suspects, Montie Python and the Holy Grail, Dumb and Dumber, etc.); listening to classic rock and classical music (I especially like baroque); enjoying a great meal; having cheese-tasting parties; reading biographies and history; talking about cars, especially BMWs, driving a fast one, and working on it; and spending time with my sweetheart of 34 years. I also enjoy traveling, which I get to do as director of the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts. What I don’t care for is Country-Western music (banned in our house!), novels, chick flicks, fixing things around the house (we have a saying in our home: If you want it done right, Dan will do it, but if you want it done at all, Pati will do it!), and dealing with finances.

To some, textual criticism appears to be very exact, objective study.  To what extent does theology come into play? Or to put it another way, would the results of textual criticism be different between people of different theological persuasion?

Up until about a decade ago, I would say that theology had no role in textual criticism. But with the societal shift toward postmodernism, a new breed of skeptics has made theology an issue. Bart Ehrman’s Orthodox Corruption of Scripture was the first volley (1993), followed by David Parker’s Living Text of the Gospels, then some articles by Eldon Epp. These scholars are arguing that our task should no longer be to try to recover the wording of the original text, and that orthodox scribes and proto-orthodox scribes changed the text drastically. But as for the results, they’re hardly different. I would probably agree with Ehrman on every textual decision (out of hundreds of thousands of them) in every place except a couple dozen or so. But the spin he puts on the readings he adopts is quite different from what I would argue. As Gordon Fee put it, all too often Ehrman turns possibility into probability and probability into certainty when other equally viable options for textual corruption exist.

I think the main way in which textual criticism is shifting for people of different theological persuasions is that those on the left of the theological aisle are far less concerned to get back to the original than those on the right. I believe that recovering the wording of the original should still be our primary objective, though I agree that it should not be our only objective.

Regarding the CSNTM, there has been some exciting news concerning your work in Albania.  For those unfamiliar with the story, can you briefly tell us what that's about?

This past summer, a team from the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts (CSNTM) went to Albania to photograph 13 Greek NT MSS. When they were there, the library staff at the National Archive showed them an in-house catalog that listed another 34 MSS! Only two of the 13 MSS we knew were there had ever been photographed before, both with microfilm. The discovery and photography of an additional 34 MSS is huge news; it’s one of the largest caches of NT MSS discovered in the last half century. People can read the full story at www.csntm.org. The story made local news (2.5 minutes and the top story of the local ABC affiliate in Dallas, WFAA, a couple of weeks ago), and has been in over a dozen newspapers across the US.

It's clear that you and your team are delighted by the Albanian findings but were you surprised by the discoveries? In other words, is it your expectation that this work will uncover significant numbers of hitherto unknown manuscripts?

We knew about the 13 and we also suspected that as many as 17 more MSS were in the National Archive in Tirana. These 17 had been presumed lost for decades. We still don’t know how many of the 17 we rediscovered, nor how many of the known 13 we photographed. We’re working with the Institute for New Testament Textual Criticism (INTF) in Muenster, Germany, to determine exactly what we discovered. But as for the rest, they were a total surprise.

I should mention that one man in Dallas, a close friend, told me before we went on our expeditions this past summer that he was praying that we would discover a manuscript. I guess the Lord answered his prayers in spades!

Is there a plan eventually to publish the entire image sets on the Internet?

That depends entirely on the National Archive. We are allowed to post 1% of the 18,000 photographs that we took. We’ll see if we can, in due time, post more than that.

Do you know if there is a similar effort in place to deal with manuscripts relating to the Old Testament?

There is an institute in Goettingen that is working on MSS of the LXX. But I am unaware of anything like what we are doing for OT MSS in general.

Apart from financial donations, in what way can non-scholars help with the important work of the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts?

Well, I don’t want to minimize donations! 2008-09 is my sabbatical year and I’m planning on being on photographic expeditions for the majority of 15 months. We will have a team of four people for these trips, and we will be bringing expensive equipment with us. Our goal is to photograph 200,000 pages of Greek NT texts. It’s a major undertaking that will cost $500,000. To date, more than $125,000 has come in, for which we are very grateful. But we need to get a lot more if we are to go on all the expeditions we’re planning. We are looking for people who will commit $25 a month, and for churches who will put us on their missionary support lists.

Besides donations, we need help with software development and collating manuscripts. Those who have had three years of Greek can, with a little help, begin to collate MSS. For one person to collate all the Greek MSS of the NT would take approximately 400 years. Obviously, several people need to be involved.

Let me turn to another subject. You co-edited a book titled Who's Afraid of the Holy Spirit? An Investigation Into the Ministry of the Spirit of God Today. It might come as a surprise that a book like this would come from Dallas Theological Seminary professors. Could you briefly sum up your view of the role of spiritual gifts in the church today?

I would consider myself a soft cessationist. That is, I do not believe that the sign-gifts of the first century are still operative except under unusual circumstances. These gifts were given to the early church primarily as a means to authenticate the message of the gospel. But there have been occasions throughout history in which some of these gifts are seen. When a cessationist like Charles Spurgeon could note that the Spirit of God gave him insights that could not have been gained by normal means, it seems obvious to me that I can’t maintain a hard cessationist stance.

I believe that the other gifts are still fully operative, and that any church that does not try to utilize the gifts of its people is running on two cylinders.

I also believe that this issue should not divide Christians. To be sure, there are practical issues involved: Should a church have its first worship service for charismatics and its second service for cessationists? I think that would create a lot of confusion and chaos. So, on a local-church level, some decisions need to be made. But on the larger level of how we relate to each other, we need to recognize that we are all part of the body of Christ and that our unity and love for one another is the best testimony we can have before a watching world.

How was your book on the Holy Spirit received, generally speaking, in the circles you mix in?

Extremely well. In fact, it was received better in cessationist circles than it was in charismatic circles! We heard from many, many people who believed as we did, and who were grateful to have a sustained treatment of the topic of the Holy Spirit in our lives today.

It is sometimes held that dispensationalists tend to hold to a cessationist viewpoint. Do you think that's true?

It’s ironic that cessationism is associated with dispensationalism. Most charismatics that I know are pretribulational and thus dispensational. Now, to be sure, charismatics who are biblical scholars tend to be other than dispensational. But historically this has not been the case. Cessationism, up until fairly recently, has been more associated with Reformed theology, especially through the writings of B. B. Warfield. Dallas Seminary and other dispensational schools tend to be Reformed in their soteriology; hence, the link.

How strong of a dispensationalist are you? What do you feel about progressive dispensationalism?

I’m a dispensationalist with a small ‘d.’ In fact, I’d prefer not to be a dispensationalist, but there are some issues that I can’t get around. As for progressive dispensationalism, I think it’s definitely on the right track.

Several lecturers at our college have taken a fairly robust pro-Israel line for theological reasons, although the college does not take an "Israel right or wrong" stance. What are your views on the question of Israel and the Church?

This is difficult to answer. On the one hand, politically, Israel has been in a precarious position ever since its modern resurrection. The nations on its borders have been very hostile to the nation. The people of Israel are struggling for mere existence, and any time they defend themselves they are condemned. There’s no such thing as an Israeli terrorist, yet the international media really takes a twisted look at the nation.

On the other hand, the nation itself is essentially atheistic. They are not particularly friendly to Christians, and do not allow proselytizing of children. There are Arab Christians within its borders who are not treated right.

On a theological front, I do believe that the Abrahamic Covenant is still operative, but this does not give Israel carte blanche to do whatever they want with impunity. There needs to be some nuancing on Christians’ part toward the nation, including a filtering that recognizes the priority of Jesus Christ over Abraham.

Finally, returning to the theme of textual criticism for the moment, what books would you recommend to people who wanted to know more about the subject? There seem to have been some books published lately that are perhaps not so helpful.

The textbook by Metzger and Ehrman, The Text of the New Testament, is the gold standard.

On a more popular level, Reinventing Jesus, by Komoszewski, Sawyer, and Wallace, has five chapters on TC that are a helpful layman’s introduction.

Aland-Aland, Text of the New Testament, is another classic tool that helps students especially in using the Nestle-Aland apparatus.

There’s now a software program that can decipher gothic M in the Nestle apparatus. Anyone who’s worked with gothic M will know what frustration means. This program reduces an hour’s work to a minute. Literally. It’s available at www.nttextualcriticism.com.

Prof. Wallace, thank you for your time.

The views expressed in this interview do not necessarily reflect the views of the faculty members of the Midlands Bible College and Divinity School. Daniel Wallace is professor of New Testament Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary and the director of the  Center For The Study of New Testament Manuscripts.  He is the author of many books including Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of New Testament Greek. His faculty page can be found here.

Dr Wallaces's book, titled Who’s Afraid of the Holy Spirit? An Investigation Into the Ministry of the Spirit of God Today was reviewed by Dr Calvin Smith here.