Happy Christmas to you all!

I will be away from home, except briefly on Saturday night, from tomorrow morning until next Wednesday or Thursday. So there will probably be no new posts or replies to comments on this blog for about a week, although your comments will continue to be welcome.

While I have the opportunity, I wish all my readers a very happy Christmas. May you all know the joy that comes from the birth of our Saviour, Messiah and Lord.

Helen Roseveare and Elizabeth Fry

The debate stirred up by Adrian Warnock’s interview series with Dr Wayne Grudem continues. In a comment on a post which is a spin-off from the debate, Suzanne mentioned several women heroes of the faith, including Helen Roseveare and Elizabeth Fry. In a response, which Adrian may well not approve because it is off topic, I commented:

Suzanne, thank you for your list of women heroes. Helen Roseveare is one of mine. I remember, even though it was nearly 30 years ago, hearing her preach a powerful sermon on how we should let God make us into polished arrows for his service, based on Isaiah 49:2.Elizabeth Fry, by the way, is honoured on UK banknotes. I have her picture on a £5 banknote in my hand. In fact I think she is the only woman to be so honoured, apart from the Queen who is on the other side.

I wonder, how would complementarians reconcile the powerful effect of Helen Roseveare’s sermon on my life for 30 years with their teaching on women preachers? Was I wrong or deceived to listen to her teaching, even though it was good biblical teaching? Should I forget it? Or is this perhaps more like Philippians 1:18, where Paul rejoices that Christ is preached even though some of the preachers had wrong motives? But one thing I am sure of, Roseveare’s motives were not wrong.

Does God know what time it is?

Believe it or not, this question is one of real debate among philosophers.

I mentioned in my last post blogs which I would like to read regularly, but don’t. Jeremy Pierce and his associates’ Parableman blog is one of these. Ever since July 2005 Jeremy has been posting a long series on Theories of Knowledge and Reality. His latest post on Omniscience and Time is number 34 in the series. I wish I had time to read them all.

But I did just dip into the series by reading the latest post. And yes, it really is about the philosophical question “Does God know what time it is?” Apparently there are three possible answers to this: God is within time and so knows what time it is in the same way as we do; or God doesn’t know what time it is and so this is an exception to his omniscience; or, despite what most of us think, there is simply not such a fact as what time it is now – which I suppose must mean that the whole concept of “now” is illusory. Well, I’m not sure how accurate this summary is, so if you are interested you really ought to read Jeremy’s whole post – and probably also his whole series!

Update (19th December): I realised even before Jeremy commented on this that my point

which I suppose must mean that the whole concept of “now” is illusory

is not really correct. The third alternative mentioned above is more that what time it is now is not an absolute fact but a relative one. There has been some more discussion about this in comments on Jeremy’s post, including some further explanation of what is meant by a relative fact. I suggested the following way of putting it, and Jeremy has agreed that this is right:

God cannot say where he is, because he is not in any one place but is omnipresent; and for the same reason he cannot say what time it is, i.e. at what point he is on the time axis, because he is at every time.

So actually, after some further thought, I find myself agreeing with Jeremy’s third alternative, that God doesn’t know what time it is because for him this is not a meaningful concept.

Updated website and blogroll

For various good reasons I don’t write much about my work on this blog. But I do put a bit about it in my occasional newsletters, which I put on my personal website with links from my home page, which is I am afraid rather basic in design. I have just uploaded and added links for my latest newsletter, which explains my current work situation. I have also linked to two more articles of local interest which I have written for Baddow Life newspaper, about which I blogged in June.

I have also at long last updated my blogroll, the list of links to other blogs on the right hand side of my blog page. I have added several blogs which I read regularly, and some others which I would like to. I have deleted a couple which are no longer active (nothing personal with those whose blogs I deleted) and one which I have not read for some time. And I have updated the name of Tim Chesterton’s blog. The blogs are listed in no particular order. I hope you can also find something interesting there. As will be clear to any of you who have been following my recent posts about Adrian Warnock’s interview with Dr Wayne Grudem, I by no means agree with the content of all the blogs which I link to; but I do find them interesting, and sometimes provocative.

Adrian Warnock closes his blog to comments…

…except apparently to those which agree with him and with Dr Grudem.

He outlines his new comment policy in what has now become a footnote to every posting on his blog:

Comments posted since 15 Dec 2006 have been approved by Adrian Warnock or an associate but do not necessarily reflect his opinion. Please be cautions of older comments and content on sites with links from or to this blog. …Comment moderation introduces a delay to discussion, and due to the volume of comments, many will be rejected. Writing a post on your own blog with a link to this page may be a good alternative.

Well, I am here taking up his last suggestion.

But what does his new policy mean in practice? I wrote a comment on part 7 of Adrian’s interview with Dr Wayne Grudem, actually before this new policy came into force (which means that it should have been approved because it met the policy in force at the time), which was rejected. I asked Adrian why, and submitted a revised comment, but this was also rejected. The comment was entirely on topic and of general interest, as Adrian appears to accept. And for once I was agreeing with and supporting Dr Grudem’s position. But it seems that Adrian will not allow me even to refer to the fact that Dr Grudem has rejected the positions which I hold on other issues.

Adrian’s blog has become one of the most respected in the Christian blogosphere. Does he now want to “castrate” it (see the PS below re such language), turning it into a forum for himself, Dr Grudem and others who agree with them to pat one another on the back? At least this kind of castration is reversible, although it needs to be reversed quickly if Adrian is not to lose his reputation as a good blogger.

Here is my comment on part 7 of the Grudem interview, in its original form as posted 12/14/2006 10:55:16 PM and then deleted:

Well, having been condemned by Grudem for being a “feminist” and again for not accepting that penal substitution is a complete description of the atonement, I am glad not to be condemned a third time for being in a paedo-baptist denomination, the Church of England!

But actually in fact the C of E in practice, and semi-officially at least in our diocese, recognises dual modes of baptism and allows them to continue in parallel. In my congregation, it is up to each family whether they want their child to be baptised as an infant; in practice most church members choose instead to have a dedication service, whereas it is outsiders who want a proper infant baptism! Adult believers are encouraged to come forward for baptism by immersion (in our church in a borrowed portable baptistry), or if they have already been baptised as an infant for “renewal of baptismal vows”, which comes to almost the same thing, usually immersion in the same water, but cannot be officially called baptism. Alternatively, some are baptised as believers at other churches, camps etc, as I was before there was a “renewal of baptismal vows” service; and no one complains as long as we don’t teach publicly that everyone should do the same. Indeed a friend of mine who was baptised in this way, and didn’t hide it, was recently accepted for ordination in the C of E. We are not allowed to teach that infant baptism is invalid, but we can opt out of it for ourselves. We cannot insist on believers’ baptism as a condition for church membership – but then most UK Baptists don’t either.

While this kind of compromise is certainly not ideal, it does seem to work in practice. Of course the C of E loves compromises, and this one is much more acceptable than some of the others!

Adrian rejected this, and I asked him why. I understand that there could be a problem with the word “condemned” in the first paragraph. I wrote the following to him in an e-mail (links added):

Well, what can I say? Would you prefer “damned”? As far as I can tell that is what Grudem is trying to say, about both “feminists” and Chalke supporters. Not exactly bridgebuilding! But I will leave Suzanne to complain about this. Grudem was not quite so explicit in what he actually wrote. He did say, completely without foundation, that “Chalke is denying the heart of the Gospel.” But he doesn’t quite say that Chalke is going to hell, and so he might not say the same about me.So how about “Well, having had my beliefs rejected by Grudem for being a “feminist” and again for not accepting that penal substitution is a complete description of the atonement, I am glad not to be rejected a third time for being in a paedo-baptist denomination, the Church of England!”? If I start the comment like that, will you accept it? Well, I’ll try it and see.

And the answer quickly came back: no, Adrian would not accept this. Why not? He gave me a rather unconvincing reason, which I will not publish because this was in a private e-mail. But it seems to me that the real point is that he doesn’t want any reference on his blog to any disagreement with Dr Grudem. He just wants to post Grudem’s propaganda without allowing for any proper discussion of its validity.

Adrian, if I have misrepresented you in any way, you are welcome to comment, but I will be convinced only if you open up your blog again to proper discussion of the issues you raise.

PS: Here is another comment I made, this time on part 5 of the Grudem interview and in response to Donna L. Carlaw’s comment on that post of 14 December, 2006 23:38, which Adrian has at least not yet accepted:

Donna wrote “a good help mate will see when her husband needs her gentle intervention. She can do that without further wounding him by castration.” Then she explained this with “I do believe that a woman can be a strong help mate without seeking to knock her husband out of the leadership role in the marriage. That is what I meant by “castration”, removing him from his God-given position because of his handicap.” (typo corrected)This is an example of one of the worst logical fallacies and methods of argument, labelling one’s opponent’s position with a highly pejorative label (like “castration”), when it has no connection at all with the literal meaning of that label, and implicitly arguing that the position is wrong because it bears that label.

Donna, how would you react if I wrote something like the following: “An egalitarian man does not rape his wife”, in a context implying that complementarian men do, and then explained this with “by ‘rape’ I mean ‘exercise a leadership position over'”? Of course I would not dream of using such language. Maybe some egalitarians have done so, but not in this discussion. Please let’s keep this kind of rabble rousing argument out of this blog.

No need to apologize“, you think, Donna? On the contrary, every need, for your explanation has made your slur worse, rather than better. If your mother can take the lead over your invalid father “without making a man feel like less of a man“, without castrating him physically or presumably in the non-physical sense you have in mind, then why can’t the same happen in a marriage in which the couple agree on an egalitarian relationship? Note that I am not talking about a case where a wife “assumes authority” or “usurps authority” over her husband (something which Paul rightly did not allow, although he reserved “castrate” for the Judaising false teachers of Galatians 5:12) but where this relationship is agreed between the couple.

I didn’t write what I could have done (but which would surely have guaranteed the rejection of this comment), that Dr Grudem also uses the kind of argument by attaching pejorative labels which I objected to Donna using. One of Grudem’s favourite pejorative labels is “feminist”, which is not as bad as “castrate”, but by arguing in this way at all he is encouraging others down the “slippery slope” into using labels like “castrate”. Actually I wouldn’t be surprised if someone finds that Grudem has also used “castrate” in this way, but I don’t have any evidence for this.

Well, if Adrian’s new policy introduced 22 minutes after Donna’s comment stops people making generalised slurs of this nature on egalitarian women, and refusing to apologise for them, then maybe the policy is not all bad. But if he allows comments like this to be made, he should allow replies to them – if he doesn’t apply his new policy to them retroactively by deleting them, as he did to the original version of my comment, as copied above, posted 43 minutes earlier and then deleted.

UPDATE: Adrian has now accepted an even further weakened version of my comment on part 7 of the Grudem interview. So the answer to the question I put to him in a private e-mail:

Or is your policy in fact that you will not allow any mention that anyone might disagree with Grudem?

must in fact be “No”.

I realised that the opening of my posting above, “…except apparently to those who agree with him and with Dr Grudem”, was grammatically confused as “those” appeared to refer back to comments rather than to people, but was then followed by “who”. I considered correcting this to “…except apparently to those made by people who agree…” But it now seems clear that in fact Adrian’s policy is not directed at individuals, but the content of their comments. So I have corrected this to “…except apparently to those which agree…”

Adrian Warnock censors those who find an error in Grudem's words

Adrian Warnock has deleted from this post on his blog a number of comments, at least four by Suzanne McCarthy and two by myself. He has not informed me that he has done this. He has mentioned this in a comment addressed to Suzanne on a post at the Better Bibles Blog, where he writes:

I have removed some comments over at my place that I feel are off-topic. This is one of them

Fortunately I have a copy of these six comments still open in a browser window and so can restore them to public view on this blog.

I must agree with Adrian that some of Suzanne’s points, and my second comment which is in reply to those points, are somewhat off the immediate topic of Adrian’s post. So he has is acting reasonably by deleting those comments.

However, I have a very serious problem of principle with the fact that he has deleted both of the comments which point out an error of fact in his post. The error is in the words of Dr Wayne Grudem in part five of Adrian’s interview with him. These comments are of course entirely relevant to the post concerning which they were added as comments.

Adrian doesn’t seem to have a problem with being corrected himself. Indeed he was very gracious when I put him right about subordination within the Trinity in his recent post on the attributes of God. But it seems that he cannot take it when people find errors in what his favourite teachers have said. He wrote the following in a comment just before the ones he deleted:

O, and please be careful about being disrespectful to our guest around here. If I had Dr Grudem as a guest in my home and another guest was rude to him most likely I would ask that guest to leave.

Indeed it is right to be respectful to a guest – and to any guest, including any commenter on a blog, not just to those who have an academic position and a good reputation in certain circles. However, I do not consider it to be showing a lack of respect to politely point out errors of fact made by someone else. Indeed I would consider it disrespectful to avoid carefully correcting someone, to stop them perpetuating their error and potentially being even more embarrassed by public exposure. And I would certainly consider it disrespectful to the honoured guest, as well as to the person pointing out the error, to intervene in the discussion to prevent the guest from finding out about their error.

As for the particular issue in question here, since Adrian has not let me make the correction through a comment in his blog, I will have to make it more publicly, in a separate post from this one.

Here are the comments which Adrian deleted, unedited:

Suzanne McCarthy said…
On 1 Tim. 2:12 Dr. Grudem also takes a stand against the Tyndale – King James tradition.12But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.12Einem Weibe aber gestatte ich nicht, daß sie lehre, auch nicht, daß sie des Mannes Herr sei, sondern stille sei. LutherSo Dr. Grudem cannot teach from these Bibles, I have heard many times pastors tell me that they cannot teach from a certain text even though it is what was in the KJ or Luther Bible. Why is that? They need their own special version? They will not use a traditional and established Bible? 

I don’t know why the TNIV is “a highly suspect and novel translation”, it is simply an update of the King James translation in this case.

I challenge Dr. Grudem to go back to the King James Bible and teach from that.

12 December, 2006 08:14

Suzanne McCarthy said…
And why is it alright to post on the internet against the TNIV and its translators? Why is that acceptable? Who are these people?Bruce Waltke
Gordon Fee
Ron Youngblood
Douglas Moo
RT Franceto name a few.It is my prayer that this rift in the Christian community be healed and that there will not be one group posting in public against another, going on radio against another, in front of non-Christians. 

I am so disturbed by this action on the part of the authors of the Statement of Concern against the TNIV. It is my desire that this provocation of disunity be dismantled. These people, these issues are personal to me. This statement has caused such personal grief, and for what, in what way is the ESV a perfect translation and the KJV, the TNIV and the Luther Bible is not?

There needs to be grace and healing and humility. Not this display of why the TNIV is suspect.

12 December, 2006 08:27

Suzanne McCarthy said…
Adrian,I need to address your misunderstanding regarding the generic ‘he’.Dr. Grudem claims,”Thus, in Hebrew and in Greek as well as in English, the usage “suggests a particular pattern of thought,” namely a picture using a male representative” and 

“But in typical contexts, singular masculine gender pronouns encourage a starting picture of a male, not just a totally faceless entity”

This implies to me that Dr. Grudem thinks that the pronoun creates male semantic meaning – a male image in the mind. Does it do this in Greek?

In Greek, the pronoun is αυτος meaning ‘the same one as has been mentioned’. And the grammatical ending is masculine.

In fact, no one has ever suggested that masculine grammatical endings create male semantic content, or a starting picture of a male in the the mind.

So I cannot understand this argument of Dr. Grudem’s. He may feel that this is true in English, but the Bible was not written in English. We have to deal with this.

Let me be clear – the Greek pronoun αυτος does not create a male image in the mind that encourages us to receive Christ in our hearts.

Let’s look at this verse.

Rev. 3:20

20Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.

Why should we need the pronoun ‘him’ to create a starting picture of a male in a woman’s head. May not woman come to Christ untrammeled by the thought of a human male, not Christ himself, but the male who represents her in her relationship to Christ, as a picture in her head?

Indeed, if someone came to my door I would say, “Please let whoever is knocking come in and I will give them tea.”

I would not say “Please let whoever is knocking come in and I will give him tea.” I think not. I will welcome a woman as easily as a man.

I discussed this with Dr. Packer and he agrees on this – the generic ‘they’ is perfectly standard.

12 December, 2006 08:53

Suzanne McCarthy said…
Arian,Does is only matter to you how masculine sounding the words are, or do you care about something being true?Think of the women who reported that Christ was risen. Wasn’t that truth? Can you not open up to something more than masculinity? 

12 December, 2006 09:05


Peter Kirk said…

I am sorry to have to report yet another factual error in what Dr Grudem says. In fact I see that Suzanne has already spotted this, but I repeat it here because some may not take such a point from a woman or may not read all of her comments – and because I drafted what follows before reading Suzanne’s comments.Grudem writes: “in 1 Timothy 2:12 the TNIV adopts a highly suspect and novel translation … It reads, “I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man”“. But this is not a novel translation at all, for as with Matthew 5:9 Grudem seems to have ignored KJV. Look at the KJV rendering of 1 Timothy 2:12: “I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man”. Of course “usurp authority” is not precisely the same wording as “assume authority”, but the meaning in the context must be the same. Grudem continued: “If churches adopt this translation, the debate over women’s roles in the church will be over, because women pastors and elders can just say, “I’m not assuming authority on my own initiative; it was given to me by the other pastors and elders.” Therefore any woman could be a pastor or elder so long as she does not take it upon herself to “assume authority.”” Well, for over 300 years most churches adopted KJV, but despite Grudem’s argument here this did not stop the debate over women’s roles in the church. So what is the real difference between TNIV and KJV here?Grudem also writes: “I don’t think a pastor can give a woman “permission” to do Bible teaching before the church, because the Bible says not to do that.” But actually what the Bible passage in question says is that Paul himself does not give women this kind of permission, in the churches over which he had authority. So this seems to leave open the possibility that other church leaders could and did give this permission. There is a long and complex hermeneutical procedure which needs to be followed, including such issues as how far our churches today are under Paul’s apostolic authority and whether individual examples should ever be taken to be normative, before we can translate Paul’s example into a command for churches today. This process seems to have been ignored in this whole discussion, at least on the blogs I have been reading. I hope Grudem has addressed this issue in his book. 

12 December, 2006 14:55

Peter Kirk said…
Suzanne, you shouldn’t call Adrain “Arian”. You may disagree with him, but I don’t think he is guilty of this particular heresy!You quote Grudem as claiming concerning generic “he” “Thus, in Hebrew and in Greek as well as in English, the usage “suggests a particular pattern of thought,” namely a picture using a male representative”.Here we need to distinguish carefully between linguistic and theological issues. It is true that in many languages, including Hebrew and Greek, and in some mostly older varieties of English, a grammatically masculine pronoun can refer to or “represent” all humans, male and female. But this is not true of all language, especially those like Persian and Turkic languages which have no gender distinctions in pronouns; it is also not true of the form of “gender neutral” English used in many parts of the English speaking world. It is thus of necessity a language specific issue, which has no significance outside the structures of specific languages. Thus it is something which cannot does not need to be preserved in a translation into a gender neutral language. The problem with this comes when Grudem attempts to recharacterise this as a theological issue and then insist that language specific distinctions are preserved even in languages which do not and cannot make these distinctions. 

12 December, 2006 15:07

Post 100

I was surprised to note that this would be my one hundredth post here at Speaker of Truth. All but the first two posts have been in just over six months. I wouldn’t have thought that I had posted so many times, at an average rate of just over one every two days.

Of course there have been times when I have been prolific – when I have not been too busy and have had worthwhile things to say, or at least things which seemed worthwhile at the time. And there have been times, including one just recently, when I have taken a short break from blogging here – because I have been busy with my real work or real leisure, or have had nothing to say; or else because I have instead been blogging and commenting elsewhere. In fact this is what I have been doing quite a lot in the last few weeks, blogging at Better Bibles Blog and commenting mainly there and at Adrian Warnock’s.

This Post 100 gives me an opportunity to reflect on this blog and where it is going. How have I been doing on meeting my aim, as described in my introductory post and in the blog header, of being “a speaker of truth to all mankind“, or better (except for the rhyme in the song) “to all humanity“?

The “to all humanity” part seems to be going well. ClustrMaps has allowed me to keep an eye on how many people have been reading this and where. Currently hits are running at 7735 since 12th June, which is more than 40 per day, although the rate seems to have dropped off a little recently probably because I have been less active. And the hits have been from all over the world, except Antarctica (but then I don’t aim to be a speaker of truth to penguins!): from every major English speaking country and many other countries, and probably from every state of the USA. I realise that these hits include search engine robots, but I know that I also have a significant human readership. But I would welcome more feedback in comments.

But how am I doing with being “a speaker of truth“? This phrase, by the way, is not just from the song by Martin Smith; it is a biblical concept, for in Ephesians 4:15 we are told that

speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the head, that is, Christ.

(Ephesians 4:15, TNIV)

Have I been speaking the truth? Well, I certainly haven’t been lying, at least not deliberately. But perhaps I have been more putting forward interesting speculations, of my own and others’, rather than promoting sure Christian truth. It is the latter that I believe God has called me to do, and perhaps I should start doing so.

Don’t worry, I am not going to start blogging dogmatic assertions about Christian doctrine. That’s not my style, and there are plenty of other dogmatic and sometimes offputting bloggers. And I won’t simply regurgitate the works of famous Christians of past centuries, or even of our own time. What I want to speak is God’s truth for today and for the readers of my blog. And I aim to do so in a prophetic way. In saying this I make no claim to inerrancy or infallibility, although some cessationists accuse charismatics of making such claims, something which in fact only a few wild extremists do. But I look for the guidance of the Holy Spirit in what I write here so that it can be helpful to my readers.

So, what is this blog going to look like in the future? That depends on where the Holy Spirit leads. So I can say truly and reverently that only God knows.

The Original Gospel Manuscripts in Washington?

We Evangelical Christians, who accept the Bible as the authoritative word of God, generally qualify our statements of faith with “according to the original manuscripts”. We thus allow that the Bible as we have it may have been altered or corrupted even in the best manuscripts which survive, although we usually assume that such changes are trivial. This qualification allows for example for a scholar like Gordon Fee, in an old controversial case which is now being discussed again, to argue on text critical grounds that 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 is not original and so not authoritative, while, despite some accusations to the contrary, remaining an evangelical. But the qualification also implies a limitation on the authority of the Bible as we have it, and opens the door to accusations of a lack of intellectual rigour in the evangelical position.

And so I was interested to read that a new claim is being made which is startling in this context. I am not referring to the report that the tomb of St Paul has been found, although if his body is found in the tomb that might have some interesting implications for biblical studies such as the possibility of finding out what his “thorn in the flesh” was. But the claim I have in mind is far more startling, although from a less reliable source.

The claim I am referring to is that original manuscripts of the four Gospels have survived, and are in Washington DC! This is the claim which has been made by Dr. Lee W. Woodard. At least, he claims that the manuscripts which he has identified were produced and authenticated by the original authors, and date to the first century.

The Freer Gospels or Codex W (Codex Washingtonensis or Washingtonianus) is a codex (manuscript book) which was purchased in Egypt 100 years ago this month (19th December 1906 according to this page dating from 1913, although others have claimed that the centenary fell in November 2006) by Mr Charles Freer, taken to America, and bequeathed to the Smithsonian Institute. The centenary was marked with a special session at the SBL meeting in Washington in November, at which the latest scholarly opinions on this codex were aired, including the following attributed to Ulrich Schmid:

The IV/V century date seems to have no secure basis and a later date (e.g. VI century or later) is entirely possible.

A set of facsimile images of the Gospel of Mark in this codex is available online.

But it is this codex, generally accepted by scholars as being from the 4th or 5th century AD, which Dr Woodard is now claiming to be an original first century set of the four gospels. The evidence on which he bases his claim (from the brief summaries on his website and here; I have not read Woodard’s book, nor the 14 page full colour paper entitled “Codex W Discovered to Be the Original First Century Gospels” which he was handing out at the SBL meeting) is that he has found on the codex small annotations and seal marks in Aramaic indicating the provenance and date of its various parts and the authors’ names – apparently Matthew in Damascus in AD 36, Mark in Athens in AD 69-72, Luke also in Athens in AD 73-74, and John in Ephesus in AD 96, the same year in which, according to Woodard, the four gospels were bound together to form the surviving codex.

If Woodard has indeed found previously unrecognised marks in the codex, they deserve proper scholarly study; but until they have received such study and the results have been properly published, I remain sceptical. Woodard has not done his cause any good by his means of promoting his theory, through a book and a website targeted at a popular audience, as is clear from the unqualified claims and sensationalist language of the website.

Nevertheless there remains the intriguing possibility that Woodard’s claims may be true, that the gospels sitting in a Washington museum may be the originals. That would have some quite significant consequences for biblical scholarship and for the church.

For one thing, it would revolutionise the study of the textual criticism of the New Testament. In fact for the Gospels it would render this study mostly obsolete; but the new evidence from these texts would also have profound effects on the textual study of the rest of the New Testament. Woodard also claims that his discovery solves the “Synoptic Problem” of the interrelationships between the gospels, and proves that the hypothesised “Q” document never existed – but then his theory that Mark used an early draft of Matthew and that Luke used both Matthew and Mark is one now held by many New Testament scholars.

There would be some other interesting textual consequences. If Codex W is the original, that implies the authenticity of passages which most textual critics now consider inauthentic, such as Matthew 17:21 (omitted in most modern translations) and the “longer ending” Mark, 16:9-20. It would also imply the authenticity of a short passage included after verse 14 in this “longer ending”, which survives only in Codex W. Here is Metzger and Ehrman’s translation of this interesting little passage, courtesy of Wikipedia:

“And they excused themselves, saying, “This age of lawlessness and unbelief is under Satan, who does not allow the truth and power of God to prevail over the unclean things of the spirits [or: does not allow what lies under the unclean spirits to understand the truth and power of God]. Therefore reveal thy righteousness now” – thus they spoke to Christ. And Christ replied to them, “The term of years of Satan’s power has been fulfilled, but other terrible things draw near. And for those who have sinned I was delivered over to death, that they may inherit the spiritual and incorruptible glory of righteousness which is in heaven”.

Could this passage be original? If so, this would be almost the only place in the Gospels where Jesus is simply called “Christ”; Matthew 11:2 is the only other one where there is not a clear reference to the expectation of the Messiah.

But the most profound consequence would be for the evangelical view of Scripture. At least for the gospels, the very words of Jesus, there would no longer be a qualification to biblical authority, but instead there should be a confidence that what we have is the authoritative record of the very words of the Lord. But quite how this insight would be received would be interesting! And of course this is all hypothetical, for Woodard’s claim has by no means been proved. It will also be interesting to see whether any recognised scholars make the effort of looking into it properly, or whether all of them stay away from what might become quite a “hot potato”.