Washington, D.C.: ‘Topping Out’ the Museum of the Bible

In August 2016, I received an invitation to go to the “Topping Out” event at the Museum of the Bible (MOTB) in Washington, D.C. I have known about the MOTB for a long time—even before D.C. was the place finally chosen for its location. But I had no idea what a ‘topping out’ event was.

The MOTB will be the world’s largest privately-owned Bible museum. Sponsored primarily by the Green family of Hobby Lobby fame, it is intended to be a place where people of all faiths—and those of no faith at all—can engage with the Bible. The goal is to be non-sectarian but intentionally educational. The Bible has had far greater impact on human history than any other book ever written. Yet Biblical illiteracy is escalating at an astonishing pace and is even approaching the illiteracy levels before the King James Bible was published four hundred years ago. This museum in this location is strategic for the nations of the world.

I was of course very pleased to receive the invitation to this event; and because it was an all-expense-paid trip (thank you, Steve Green!) I was able to accept.

Three sites were originally considered for the museum: New York, Dallas, and Washington. As much as I would have loved to see it in Dallas, I knew that D.C. was a far more strategic location—even more strategic than NYC. The MOTB is just a few blocks from the US Capitol, and from its top floor one can see the Capitol dome as well as the Washington Monument.

The Greens have spent hundreds of millions of dollars on ancient and medieval treasures. The collection now boasts more than 40,000 artifacts that are relevant to the biblical world.

On September 13, 2016 (the 14th anniversary of the founding of CSNTM [www.csntm.org], by the way), over one hundred guests were bussed to the MOTB from the Washington Hilton (the same hotel where President Reagan was shot by John Hinckley 35 years ago). Along with the 500 construction workers at the site, we ate lunch on the top floor and listened to presentations by several notables, including former mayor of Washington, Tony Williams. And I learned that ‘topping out’ meant the installation of the last steel beam in a building. That beam arrived from Germany and was installed just hours before our lunch.

The structure is in place; now to finish the task. The MOTB is scheduled to open in late November, 2017. In our tour of the building we learned that it weighs in at 430,000 square feet, is eight stories tall (two below ground), and is oozing with technological wizardry. Carey Summers, president of the MOTB, announced at lunch that it will be the most technologically-advanced museum in the world. This is not your father’s museum. Stodgy is definitely not an adjective to describe it!

I must admit, however, that I was a little concerned that the museum might have a cheesy feel to it, kind of like a Christian Disneyland. I’ve seen too many Christian museums that are of this sort. But the impression I got from the speakers, the tour, and the videos on each floor showing how the museum will finish out obliterated that concern. Yes, this museum will be technologically advanced, and yes, it will be accessible and interesting to people of all ages. But it will not be boring or cheesy. It’s a fine balance to achieve; the MOTB is on track to do it.

As you enter the museum, you will be greeted by two massive brass (?) doors—one weighing 8 tons, the other, 12 tons—both with biblical text on them. Inside, the vaulted ceiling will light up by replicating the Sistine Chapel ceiling, as well as a number of other famous paintings, murals, and scenes. The ceiling will morph through these displays of art via tens of thousands of LED lights.

As you ascend the stairs (or take the lift), you will see large exhibits from other museums—including the Vatican and the Israel Antiquity Authority (the latter has never had an exhibit of their artifacts outside of Israel). One floor will show the history of translation, with an impressive wall that lists all the regions/languages of the world that have the full Bible, parts of the Bible, or none of the Bible in their own language. It will be an instant visual display of the past accomplishments and remaining tasks of Bible translators. Another will be a library for studying ancient documents. A stunning, 400-seat theater will be used for a variety of events. Another floor will be a display room, showing visitors how manuscripts are photographed, and how artifacts are preserved. There will even be sections addressing the Bible’s impact on justice, on world history, and on the founding principles of the United States.

The cost of the museum (including various projects related to it throughout the world), will be an astounding one billion dollars! The Green family has put in half of this money; the rest is coming from other donors. Most of those who came to the topping out event were potential major donors. But those of us who are not in that league can still make a contribution: a ‘million name’ wall will list all donors who contribute any amount. It will be a powerful visual reminder that the Bible is a book of great import. Here’s the link: https://www.museumofthebible.org/onemillionnames. I plan on making a donation for each member of my family—including grandchildren. (Please don’t tell them; it’s a Christmas present!). There’s plenty of room for you to join and display to the world that you, too, honor the Bible and recognize its role in world history.

Here’s the link to the MOTB website: https://www.museumofthebible.org. Go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z1pE-GIV0Fo to see a “360º” look at the MOTB (film produced by CV Global). And here’s the “Extended Fly-Through” video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0yu-c6RJW9E.



Mission Accomplished

The Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts (CSNTM) is proud to announce the completion of our digitization project at the National Library of Greece (NLG)! Beginning in 2015 and continuing into 2016, we have spent months working at the National Library digitizing their entire collection of Greek New Testament manuscripts. This collection is one of the largest in the world and has a multitude of priceless treasures, which are now digitally preserved for generations to come… Read More at CSNTM

Debunking Silly Statements in Greg Gilbert’s “Debunking Silly Statements about the Bible: An Exercise in Biblical Transmission.”

Editor’s note: Robert D. Marcello, CSNTM’s Research Manager, has written a blog for my site. I approve this message.

Daniel B. Wallace

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By: Robert D. Marcello

I recently came across Greg Gilbert’s article, “Debunking Silly Statements About the Bible: An Exercise in Biblical Transmission” at the Gospel Coalition, which is an excerpt from his book Why Trust the Bible? by Crossway. Since I work in the field of textual criticism every day, I am keenly interested in how people present this oftentimes difficult material to a lay audience. I began reading his article and found myself agreeing with his points even nodding my head in agreement to the claims. There is much that is helpful in this book and I’m always encouraged when Christians are thinking seriously about the text of the New Testament. However, some minor mistakes turned into major ones as I kept reading. Below is a list of some of the more glaring errors. This brief treatment is meant to highlight some of the significant issues that continue to surface in apologetic works.

  1. In an obvious attempt to write on a popular level Gilbert refers to the “pieces of paper that Luke, John, or Paul used to write Luke, John, or Romans.” Tischendorf even does this when speaking about Sinaiticus being thrown in the fire in his When Were Our Gospels Written? An Argument, with a Narrative of the Discovery of the Sinaitic Manuscript. Tischendorf was writing a popular work, in a language not his own, before the nature of the material of the manuscripts was widely known. None of this is true with the present book. Nevertheless, as I am sure Gilbert is well aware, paper manuscripts were not used until very late in the transmission of the text. Papyrus is what the “originals” were likely written on and parchment didn’t become popular until the 4th century. Paper, on the other hand, wasn’t used regularly until the 14th and 15th centuries. In fact, the author uses the mistaken illustration 8 different times. When writing an apologetic piece as opposed to a casual narrative, I find it helpful to make sure it is both readable and accurate even in the finest details. One never wants to have someone who is questioning or doubting to have any reason not to trust a book or article.
  1. Moving on from that minor issue, Gilbert’s sub-section “Mind the Gap” is where the major errors begin. First, Gilbert attempts to mitigate the “gap” by pointing out that Vaticanus was used for a long period of time, showing that the current manuscripts do not have a multi-generational distance from the original. These claims alone are debatable; even so, this is a false analogy. Vaticanus is a codex on parchment and very nice parchment—a much more durable substance than papyrus and not at all representative of the average manuscript. Papyrus, as was previously discussed being the material of these manuscripts, is very fragile and easily deteriorated. Assuming these manuscripts were used frequently in early churches, viewed by the congregants and clergy, and copied to spread to other churches and cities, they probably were handled so often that they didn’t and couldn’t have lasted very long. Thus, it is likely they had to be copied rather quickly, and those copies would suffer from the same use and deterioration as the original. Yes, we have many copies and the gap is important, but not detrimental. However, to assert confidently that it is “well within the realm of possibility that we have in our museums today copies of the originals, full stop [emphasis his],” is misleading. Less than 1% of all manuscripts could even be considered within a few generations of the original, and most of the very early manuscripts are largely fragmentary. As such, his claim, even if remotely possible, is highly improbable and misleading.
  1. When Gilbert discusses the number of variants, he states, “One scholar has asserted there are, astonishingly, up to 400,000 variants in the New Testament! There are several things to say about this charge. First, the manuscripts are not in fact riddled with variants, and that 400,000 number isn’t nearly as scary as it seems, even if it’s accurate.” Multiple scholars have used that number, not just one, even though it seems as if he is setting up this unnamed “scholar” as a foil or antagonist. In fact, even conservatives hold this same number or even higher. Recently, Peter Gurry, a PhD student at Cambridge and a popular contributor to the Evangelical Textual Criticism Blog, presented a paper at the Evangelical Theological Society which was later published in New Testament Studies argued that 500,000 is probably a better estimate—and that number did not include spelling differences! Furthermore, Gilbert goes on to claim that the number is composed of not only Greek NT manuscripts, but also versional support (other languages), and quotations. This is simply not true; the most recent and well-researched variant estimates only include Greek manuscripts. It is true that most variants are inconsequential, and that the reason we have so many differences is because we have so many manuscripts to work with. As this blog’s author is noted for saying, we have an embarrassment of riches. Nevertheless, it does no good to minimize the number—to the point of falsely claiming, as Gilbert did, that there are only 16 variants per manuscript.
  1. Gilbert also gets his number of manuscripts wrong by stating we have only 5400 manuscripts, which is low by almost any standard. The current total of known extant MSS is 5839 (according to INTF). Even providing for lost, stolen, misnumbered, and destroyed manuscripts, the total would be around 5600 at minimum.
  1. The most egregious error is this: Gilbert perpetuates a common mistake in apologetic circles. He states, “Second, keep in mind that ‘400,000 variants’ here doesn’t mean 400,000 unique readings.” In fact, that is exactly what it means. He illustrates his point by claiming, “What it means is that if one manuscript says, ‘I am innocent of this man’s blood’ and ten others say, ‘I am innocent of this righteous blood,’ then you get to count all eleven as ‘variants.’” In reality, that would merely count as one variant. This is a common mistake beginning with the 1963 publication of Neil Lightfoot’s, How We Got the Bible, and perpetuated by other apologists. For a lengthy and very helpful discussion of the history of this mistake see the blog post by Daniel B. Wallace, “The Number of Textual Variants: An Evangelical Miscalculation.”

There is ample evidence to support the claim that the text of the New Testament is both reliable and stable. At the same time, we don’t need to appeal to false claims of bad counting or incorrect numbers to muster that evidence. These “Silly Statements” need to end if we are ever going to provide solid evidence for the reliability of the text.