Rigorous Honesty

How shall rigorous honesty be fit you in sharing testimony with others?


Hi @hector!

What a great question.

I think we all have different personalities. For some people, straightforward candor is baked into who they are. They say it like it is. It would be disingenuous for them to be indirect.

Others are more soft-spoken. They might express their opinion clearly but in a more indirect fashion.

Whatever our personality, though, the Holy Spirit develops the fruit of gentleness in us. So however we understand “rigorous honesty”, this must be compatible with warm-heartedness.

On another angle, some apologists are not rigorously honest about their credentials or titles. For instance, I’ve seen apologists puff up their titles or credentials. A common exaggeration is going by “Dr.” when the degree is honorary or the person earned a D.Min.

I could say, “I’ve delivered many talks at Harvard University” or, “As a campus minister, I spoke to the Christian fellowship at Harvard on many occasions.” While they’re both true, the second one is much more honest than the first.

I’ve also seen exaggerated claims. For instance, consider this example provided in Myths and Mistakes in New Testament Textual Criticism:

Authors who appeal to the number of New Testament manuscripts often get into trouble because of a lack of nuance or by overstating what the numbers actually mean and represent. Variations of the following quote appear repeatedly in the popular literature: “Two factors are most important in determining the reliability of a historical document: the number of manuscript copies in existence, and the time between when it was first written and the oldest existing copy.” These authors go on to cite the “24000+” manuscripts of the New Testament as sure proof of its reliability.

Aside from the conflation of textual reliability with historical reliability, such claims commit the logical fallacy of assuming that a larger number and an earlier date necessarily equate to more reliability. The lack of qualification for the manuscript counts is a recurring issue as well. The problem typically occurs when the New Testament is compared to other classical works with respect to the number of manuscripts and the date of the earliest copy. For the New Testament, numbers from five thousand to twenty-five thousand are given, depending on what the author includes, and a date in the early second century is reported. This is usually followed by a summary, such as that of Norm Geisler: “No other book is even a close second to the Bible on either the number or early dating of the copies.”

The problem is that, even when the number and dates of the manuscripts are right, the claims typically lack crucial context about the chronological distribution of the manuscripts, the fragmentary nature of the earliest manuscripts, and the unequal representation of some parts of the New Testament in the manuscripts (49).

When apologists parade around the “24,000+ manuscripts” number, they’re simplifying a complex area of scholarship. It creates over-confidence for Christians who read their books. But then when we encounter the actual challenges in the field of textual criticism, we feel misled. It’s deflating to realize that the Christian scholar who assured us that they would give us the truth was not so honest.

Those are some initial reflections. How do you understand “rigorous honesty”?