Defending the Reliability of Scripture

by Cheryl Brugel '90

Growing up, Philip Miller ’04 didn’t want to be in ministry. In fact, he understood pastors to be “overweight, bearded creatures, usually having bad breath.” Naturally, he didn’t want anything to do with that. But God had other ideas, forcing Miller to rethink his prejudiced view against pastoral ministry. Sensing God’s leading, Miller surrendered to God’s call and said “yes” to whatever God would have, even pastoral ministry. He entered Cedarville University committed to trusting God to direct his paths — and along the way, God has opened some significant doors.

Upon graduation, Miller married fellow classmate Krista (Friend) Miller ’04 and moved to Texas to attend Dallas Theological Seminary (DTS). For Miller, DTS offered both “academic excellence and a strong pastoral focus.” This balance attracted Miller to DTS, and he is currently earning his Th.M. in pastoral leadership and New Testament studies.

At the end of Miller’s third year, Dr. Daniel B. Wallace, professor of New Testament studies at DTS, asked Miller to be one of his academic interns for the following year. Miller says, “Being asked to be one of Dr. Wallace’s interns is a lot like being asked to go hunting with Dick Cheney … it’s a great honor, but it’s terrifying at the same time. In the end, I told myself that it would be stupid not to take this opportunity.”

Miller’s job? Assist Dr. Wallace in preparation for the Greer-Heard Point-Counterpoint Forum dialogue with Dr. Bart Ehrman, James A. Gray Distinguished Professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The dialogue centered on whether or not the text of the New Testament is reliable. Miller researched special topics to help Dr. Wallace prepare for this challenging scholarly engagement. In return, Dr. Wallace mentored Miller in the process of authoring an academic paper on a topic of his choice to be delivered at the regional Evangelical Theological Society (ETS) meeting. Throughout the year, Miller found himself stretched and challenged as he interacted weekly with Dr. Wallace and completed these projects. This past March, Miller presented his paper at the ETS Southwest regional meeting in Houston, Texas.

Miller’s paper dealt with a niche of New Testament studies called textual criticism. According to Miller, “Textual criticism is the art and science of studying the ancient manuscripts of the New Testament in order to establish the original text and understand the ways that the text was shaped by the scribes who copied it.”

Titled “The Least Orthodox Reading Is to be Preferred: A New Canon for New Testament Textual Criticism?” Miller’s paper was a response to recent scholarship suggesting that orthodox scribes gradually made the text of the New Testament more and more orthodox over time as they copied it.

“What we have here is ‘The DaVinci Code meets textual criticism,’” Miller explains. “In The DaVinci Code, it was ‘the winners write history.’ What these scholars are arguing is that ‘the winners copy Scripture’ and thereby impose orthodox theology on the text.”

While the argument for this kind of “orthodox corruption of Scripture” may seem plausible on the surface, Miller contends that this type of corruption is highly improbable when one looks at the textual evidence. As he studied, he concluded that the New Testament scribes did an extraordinarily good job of preserving the biblical text as it was handed down to them, thus further upholding the reliability of the New Testament. Miller concludes, “The evidence shows that no cardinal doctrine of the Christian faith is affected by any viable textual variant.”

Although only a graduate student, Miller’s paper was so well received he has been asked to present at the national ETS meeting to be held this November in Providence, Rhode Island. This is quite an honor.

According to Dr. David Warren, Cedarville University trustee, adjunct Bible professor, and ETS member for 28 years, “The ETS is a consortium of Christian thinkers who are evangelical in belief and interested in defending the evangelical faith.” Members are often college or seminary professors with a rich scholarly heritage. Miller will have the privilege to present alongside this group.

Dr. Bruce A. Ware, president-elect of ETS and professor of Christian theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, included Miller’s paper on the schedule at the national meeting, the focus of which is The Text and Canon of Scripture. In addition, Kregel Publications based in Grand Rapids, Michigan, has asked Miller to write a chapter in the inaugural volume of an academic series on The Text and Canon of the New Testament. This series is being edited by Dr. Wallace and is due to be published in the fall of 2009.

When Miller graduated from Cedarville University, he had no idea of the challenges and opportunities that lay ahead of him. Yet he shares that he went into his graduate work well prepared because of Cedarville.

“At Cedarville,” he says, “I received solid biblical training fused with ministry, service, and discipleship. I have no doubt that my experiences at DTS are a direct result of the quality of education I received while at Cedarville.”

Through his internship with Dr. Wallace, Miller has learned the value of careful study and has come to appreciate the crucial role the academy can play in helping the Church respond to arguments presented by non-evangelical scholars. He hopes his research might be used to help the Church as she responds to challenges regarding the reliability and accuracy of the biblical text.