A response to Tripp Crosby

progressive christianity textual criticism May 06, 2023

(originally published 7FEB22)


 This article responds to Tripp Crosby’s TikTok, found here, seen on 7FEB22.


Note to Tripp Crosby: if you want to take these issues seriously, I would love to talk with you. Email, Zoom, recorded YouTube discussion; whatever works best for you. We can discuss the history of the events, different scholars, various texts. I’d be glad to field your questions and answer them as best I can.


Since Tripp effectively presented this TikTok as a series of points, my response will be in kind. I created a complete transcript and will address each point line by line. However, before I begin there, I want to make a few points of my own:


  1. I will not approach this assuming Christianity is true, Jesus rose the dead, my “denomination” is correct, the Bible is the Word of God, etc. 
  2. There are different ways to categorize how something is wrong; I will be using the following two for this article:
    1. Directly: something that is just outright wrong. For example, claiming that 2+2=5.
    2. Indirectly: something technically correct, but leaving out certain information which presents a false picture. For example, claiming someone attacked you, letting people think you were assaulted. It may be accurate that you were attacked, but if you leave out details such as you attacked them first, you have created a false account with some correct details.
  3. Almost every point he made is just a repetition from New Atheists; almost nothing he says is original, and almost nothing came from scholars.
  4. Since almost every point he makes is about the New Testament specifically, I will treat the whole thing according to the New Testament. That will also make it more straightforward as it’s one time period to deal with, instead of multiple.
  5. One of the principles I live by is “there is always one.” Meaning there’s always an exception of some kind, even with the most accurate descriptions of something. 


Now, I do want to start by highlighting something he said that is pretty accurate:


  • “And when I consider that most Christians I know, my former self included, can't really tell anyone much about much of when it comes to how these documents were compiled and who was involved and which ones were left out and why”


This is almost entirely right, unfortunately, and it’s something that serious students and scholars of the Bible, both Christian and non-Christian alike, don’t like: most people don’t know anything about the history of the Bible. That includes most Christians. There are several possible and probable reasons for this. At the top of that list, I would put the failure of church leaders to teach fundamental textual criticism and history to their congregations and the apathy of most people to study both subjects.


Now, let’s dig in and see how each of his points fails in one way or another. His comments are the top-level bullets, marked as Neutral, Directly False, Indirectly False, and Mix. My responses are below so marked.


  • [Neutral] Questions I never thought to ask in Sunday School Part two: 
  • [Indirectly False] So if the Bible that I have access to is really just a compilation of small fragments of documents that were written decades, usually centuries, after the events they depict occurred. 
    • [Response] It’s technically accurate that the Bible we have consists of texts written decades after the events, but that’s not distinct for the Bible. That’s true of almost everything from ancient history. Even today, most autobiographical works, if not blogged almost immediately, don’t tend to be written until decades after the events. Also, it’s a mischaracterization to describe it as small fragments of documents. Some of the epistles certainly are short, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have whole documents.  So if Tripp wants to make this argument, he has to argue against almost all ancient history. Nearly all Roman history that we know, Greek, Chinese, Indian history. He doesn’t get to pick and choose which he wants to believe and which he wants to reject.
  • [Directly False] And they were written in ancient languages that then had to be translated into other languages and then into other languages before they were translated into English, which is what I read. 
    • [Response] This one is just about completely false and not even kind of true, but let me explain. The Bible was written in three languages: Hebrew (almost all OT), Aramaic (a few chapters in the OT), and koine Greek (all of the NT). The Bible was later translated into Latin. However, even the KJV was translated out of Greek, with Latin supporting but not the base text. So there is only one degree of separation: original languages to English. There are not two other sets of languages in between. That’s a fiction spread by people who don’t know anything about textual criticism. I don’t know where Tripp picked that up, but it wasn’t from anyone working in Bible translations.
    • Additionally, this is practically false because the act of translating something doesn’t mean that it’s now been changed, and we can’t know what the original says. So, yes, that’s certainly possible, but that would need to be proven, not just assumed.
    • Here’s anti-Christian scholar Bart Ehrman correcting Tripp’s misunderstanding:
      • “Bruce Metzger is one of the great scholars of modern times, and I dedicated the book to him because he was both my inspiration for going into textual criticism and the person who trained me in the field. I have nothing but respect and admiration for him. And even though we may disagree on important religious questions - he is a firmly committed Christian and I am not - we are in complete agreement on a number of very important historical and textual questions. If he and I were put on a room and asked to hammer out a consensus statement n what we think the original text of the New Testament probably looked like, there would be very few points of disagreement-maybe one or two dozen places out of many thousand.

The position I argue for in Misquoting Jesus does not actually stand at odds with professor Metzger’s position that the essential Christian beliefs are not affected by textual variants in the manuscript tradition of the New Testament. What he means by that (I think) is that even if one or two passages that are used to argue for a belief have a different textual reading, there are still other passages that could be used to argue for the same belief. For the most part, I think that’s true.”

  • Bart Ehrman - Misquoting Jesus p 252, Firt Harpercollins paperback edition published in 2007
  • "In spite of these remarkable [textual] differences, scholars are convinced that we can reconstruct the original words of the New Testament with reasonable (although probably not 100 percent) accuracy."
    • Bart Ehrman - The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings 3rd ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003), 481  
  • [Indirectly False] And we don't really have any original copies of any of it. 
    • [Response] Yes, it is technically accurate that we do not have any original copies of the NT, just like it is true we don’t have any original copies of Josephus’ works or Cicero’s or Alexander the Great’s. So, again, for this point to be consistently applied would require challenging almost all known history.
  • [Directly False] And we don't really have a good way of knowing anything at all about what was going on during that time when all of these documents were being compiled and copied and translated and copied again and translated again. 
    • [Response] Again, it’s technically accurate that these were copied and translated and copied and translated (though we now start from the original languages and oldest manuscripts), but that doesn’t prove an error; that just proves copying and translating. But to the point of what was going on, what is he talking about? Yes, we indeed have a lot of questions about what happened. Still, we have literally hundreds of thousands of pages and texts from the first century going forward telling us what was going on, and, interestingly enough, most of those are Christian writings or were saved because of Christians. We know when whole codexes were made, and sometimes even who, by name, the translators were. We know the historical events shaping the movements of the various councils. We know who trained who. We have personal letters between hundreds of individuals throughout these years. To say we know everything about it would be just as wrong as to say we don’t really have a good way of knowing anything.
  • [Indirectly False] And the four most important books about Jesus were written decades after they happened by anonymous authors whose scholars would agree were not eyewitnesses.
    • [Response] Yes, non-Christian scholars often argue for anonymous authorship. Most of that is because of dating the New Testament documents after the first century. However, even Ehrman dates all four within the first century, as most scholars currently do. So, It is false to summarize that as just “scholars.” Most orthodox scholars agree on the traditional authorship, and they aren’t few. We’re talking thousands of scholars who have advanced degrees, peer-reviewed published works, are professors, and various other academic work.
  • [Mix] And if I consider that two of those books are clearly plagiarizing one of the earlier ones.
    • [Response] Yes, it is pretty much accepted among scholars, Christian and non-Christian alike, that there are several shared passages between Matthew, Mark, and Luke. However, this doesn’t prove what Tripp thinks:
    • First, it’s only some passages, not the entire books. In fact, there is substantial content outside of the shared passages that still needs to be dealt with. Consider what Bart Ehrman says about this:
      • "Some mythicists—as we will see in chapter 7—have taken this critical conclusion to a faulty end to argue that all of our Gospel accounts (even John, which has very little to do with Mark) ultimately go back to Mark so that we have only one source, not multiple sources, for the life of Jesus. Nothing could be further from the truth. Matthew and Luke did indeed use Mark, but significant portions of both Gospels are not related in any way to Mark’s accounts. And in these sections of their Gospels Matthew and Luke record extensive, independent traditions about Jesus’s life, teachings, and death. So while in their shared material they do not provide corroboration without collaboration, in their unique material they do."
        • Bart Ehrman- Did Jesus Exist?
    • Second, there’s some question over whether these are using even older sources, such as the Q document. Unfortunately, we don’t have any surviving manuscripts of this document; it is only theorized to exist and primarily by non-Christians. If it does, though, it pushes the records back even further, possibly within a few years of the events, which challenges Tripp’s narrative about these accounts dating so far after the events.
    • Third, this, again, doesn’t prove false information. The only thing it potentially demonstrates is that we have fewer sources for those affected passages. 
  • [Mix] And even though the earliest one, Mark, does end in the story about Jesus reappearing after his resurrection, we now know that that chapter was added, like way after the canonization process. That's suspicious now.
    • [Response] Yes, the ending in Mark is one of the two 12-verse passages in doubt in the New Testament, the other being the passage of the woman caught in adultery. To be clear, short Mark ends after the empty tomb. But the Resurrection account itself is attested in multiple other texts, so it’s not like we lose the Resurrection if we assume the extended ending is not original. 
    • However, various other writings attest to the extended ending, dating as early as the 150s. Unfortunately, that’s 200 years before the canonization process, 200 years before when Tripp claims the chapter was added. 
    • Here is a great opportunity, though, to highlight Tripp’s contradictions: earlier, he argued that we don’t know much of anything about the history surrounding these texts. Now he’s claiming that we know when a specific passage was added to a specific book? Is this one of the few things we just happen to know? Or is this just one of the few things that Tripp thinks he knows?
  • [Indirectly False] And when I consider that if you put those four books in the order in which they were written, the more supernatural fantastical stuff only starts to appear when we get further and further away from the events that they depict. Somehow the people that wrote about Jesus's life first didn't feel like they should include anything about a virgin birth or a veil being torn supernaturally, or a bunch of the other miraculous things that later authors decided to include.
    • [Response] Again, consider the contradiction: knowing what order these texts were written in is a particular piece of information. How does Tripp know that while knowing “hardly anything at all about what was going on?”
    • Yes, this is technically true. There are more miracles recorded as the texts get older. This is another case of Tripp assuming his conclusion, though: that more events are documented doesn’t prove that the events are fiction. If previously recorded events are substantially changed, that’s a different story. 
    • Additionally, the most important miracle of all, the Resurrection of Jesus, dates to within 5-10 years of the event. Whether the veil in the temple was torn from top to bottom doesn’t define our beliefs; the Resurrection does. Everything rides and falls on that, and that is attested in the Corinthian Creed reported by Paul, one of the letters that virtually every scholar accepts as authentic: 1 Corinthians. 
  • [Mix] And when I consider that most Christians I know, my former self included, can't really tell anyone much about much of when it comes to how these documents were compiled and who was involved and which ones were left out and why, because most Christians I know are just continually doubling down on the narrative that fits their current narrative, oftentimes one handed to them by their family or religious leaders in their community.
    • [Response] As I addressed earlier, this is an unfortunate truth: many Christians don’t know these subjects, but that doesn't make these subjects false or fictitious. 
    • And, yes, many Christians are just repeating what they’ve been told to believe, but how is Tripp different? Again, no serious study would lead him to most of the “facts” he listed in this video, which means he hasn’t studied these subjects, either, and he’s just repeating a narrative. Does that make his narrative wrong? No, the evidence says that his narrative is wrong.
  • [Mix] Coincidentally, everyone is sort of born into the right belief system.
    • [Response] This is another one that’s a mix. Yes, many people believe what they believe just because they were told to by their parents, but that testifies to problems with their reasons, not issues with Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, or any other religion.
  • [Indirectly False] Anyway, when I also consider the fact that there are 1000s of interpretations of Scripture that result in 1000s of denominations hundreds that would be considered mainstream that still disagree on major tenets of the faith like what the crucifixion was all about
    • [Response] This one is very problematic. Yes, there are thousands of interpretations of Scripture (such as the view of the exvangelicals/deconstructionists he identifies with), and yes, there are thousands of denominations. But that also certainly doesn’t prove that no interpretation is correct or that we can’t know it. 
    • Also, the report that lists 33,000+ denominations also lists 10,000+ independent fundamental baptists that all believe pretty much the same things and over 200 Roman Catholic denominations. Instead of questioning theology, the report identifies denominations divided legally. So if one denomination is registered in two different countries, that’s two separate denominations, according to the report.
    • Now let’s get to beliefs. Most orthodox denominations are pretty consistent in their beliefs regarding the major doctrines. Many denominations are splitting off currently, following Tripp’s opinions, but most of the rest still hold to things like the Nicene Creed. Even for the crucifixion, virtually all orthodox Christian denominations believe that Jesus was dying for our sins. We disagree on how exactly that works, and we may disagree on what happened while Jesus was dead, but the major tenet of the faith involved is that Jesus did die for our sins, not any specific explanation for how that works out. 
  • [Neutral] Then I'm left with the question and my question is this. If I decided I wanted to revolve my life around the teachings found in the Bible, how should I go about choosing the right interpretation?
    • [Response] I would suggest a few things for this:
      • Stop clowning around. This video blindly repeats myths that Christian and non-Christian scholars have debunked for centuries.
      • Start studying the science of textual criticism.
      • Grab Schaff’s Early Church Father’s collection and start reading all 40,000 pages of early Christian writings. 
      • Start learning koine Greek so that you can read the extant manuscripts directly.


Now, to be clear, I do not have any expectation that Tripp will do this, and for a simple reason: those last three steps are just a standard part of advanced Christian apologetics studies. I’ve yet to read a deconstructionist who respects Christian apologetics.


To repeat what I said above, I will make this open offer to Tripp: if you are reading this and want to take this seriously, I would be happy to Zoom with you and work through these questions. We can study history together, work through Christian and non-Christian sources, read various scholars, and see the evidence.