Author and Reformed theologian John Piper is weighing in on whether it's acceptable to disregard scripture passages not in the original New Testament manuscripts.
In a Wednesday episode of "Ask Pastor John" he was asked by a listener what to do about theologians who don't believe that the John 7:53–8:11 — the account of the woman caught in adultery where Christ tells those accusing and ready to stone her "He that is without sin among you, let him cast the first stone" at her — should be included in the Bible.
The passage does not appear in the oldest Greek manuscripts available and this revelation had shaken the confidence of the listener in the English Bible. His Muslim friends assert that the fact the bit is missing from the originals is proof of the Bible's corruption.
Piper replied that while he agrees that the story was not likely part of the Gospel of John originally, he believes the New Testament can be trusted.
"Number one, the traditional Muslim claim that the text of the New Testament has been corrupted, and that behind the text of the New Testament there was another text in which Jesus did not die on the cross, there was no atonement through his death — no covering for sins, no sacrifice — and there was no resurrection three days later, is a street argument and a university argument," Piper said.
Such a claim has "zero historical evidence" to back it up, but merely an Islamic theological contention, he said.
"You can simply ask your Muslim friend to point you to any manuscript evidence at all that there was another version of the New Testament that portrayed Jesus differently than we have in the New Testament of our Bibles," Piper offered.
"They don't have it. They won't be able to point you to it or offer it up. They only have a claim, and it's amazing how they get away with using this when there is not historical manuscript evidence to make the claim at all."
He went on to explain that the first printed text of the New Testament came about in the early 1500s and up until that time copies of the Bible were made by hand.
"[A]lmost all text-critical scholars — these are the scholars who specialize in doing the analysis of the many texts that we have to see if we can discern the original wording — almost all them, both theological conservatives and liberals, believe we have a reliable text," Piper said.
He dismissed the work of "outliers" such as Bart Ehrman, who has written books to undermine the reliability of the text, arguing that his writings have not persuaded liberal or conservative mainline scholars.
The presence of many copies further bolsters the Bible's reliability, Piper said, noting that there are 5,801 manuscripts of the New Testament, part or whole, that are preserved in libraries around the globe.