Wednesday, April 13, 2011

On Intemperance in Argument

I came across an article recently by Dan Wallace about the history, methods, and critique of the Majority Text theory. I have no real desire to discuss the issue of the article.

What jumped out at me though was this paragraph about Burgon.

Recent MT proponents frequently claim that Burgon’s arguments have never been answered. Yet in part the reason for no point-for-point rebuttal is due to Burgon’s acid pen. Westcott once commented: “I cannot read Mr. Burgon yet. A glance at one or two sentences leads me to think that his violence answers himself.” Had Burgon tempered his arguments, perhaps the discussion would have proved more profitable for both sides. Unfortunately he generated more heat than light. Equally unfortunate, his attitude set the tone for later generations of MT advocates.[1]
I am reminded by this that many good points can be lost in bad attitudes.

I read a lot of blogs, probably too many to be honest. On the upside, I don’t actually read them. Most I just scan the title and a few lines to see if I am interested.

In many of them, I notice in them a particular attitude at times—an attitude of bravado and bluster. It is the apparent belief that strong words and invective can strengthen an argument.

In general, a bad argument cannot be made better by being a jerk.

And a good arguments are rarely enhanced by being a jerk.

[1] Daniel B. Wallace, “The Majority-Text Theory: History, Methods And Critique,” JETS (1994): 189.


Kent Brandenburg said...


I reject Wallace's evaluation. I'm coming from the other side, but I see tough talk on both sides, and I think it's just easier to say, "He didn't talk nice," than deal with his arguments. I don't think this works: "Somebody would have dealt with his arguments, but he was too mean." Sometimes the "acid pen" is nothing more than straight talk, unvarnished, treating an eternal matter like it's serious. Do you think you step over the line here at times yourself? I do. But it isn't a basis for dismissing a position.

What is the history, denotation, or connotation of the word "jerk"?

Kent Brandenburg said...

About 20 seconds after I wrote my comment, I saw this---which is an example of what I think Wallace is doing. In this case Robert Reich is doing it.

Larry said...

Wallace does a great job of showing the problems with the TR and the Majority Text position. I think that issue has long been settled. (I know you disagree and that's fine.)

I am not sure what Reich has to do with this. I am not aware of the history or denotation of the word "jerk." I am aware of its connotation, and I think it serves the purpose well here.

I have no doubt crossed the line at times. I try to be cautious about it, particularly when referencing someone directly.

Kent Brandenburg said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kent Brandenburg said...


When I said, "I do," I meant actually that I do go over the line at times. But it doesn't dismiss a position. I've read what is supposedly Wallace's best dealing with the TR argument. I think I'm open minded and he had numerous errors. When I pointed them out directly to him, he attacked me personally. Interesting, huh? And then when I did, others in his group also attacked me personally. I didn't just bow before his arguments, so I was somehow in error. I have found that to be the case in academia today. You see it all over the place. It is authority by degree or renown of the source, like the Pharisees in Jesus' day, differing from Jesus even as He spoke as one having authority.

Wallace has some brand new positions in the history of Christianity, but his place at Dallas and on other academic reviews seems to shield him from critique.

Kent Brandenburg said...

The point about Reich. He calls the Republicans "bullies" because they want something different than the Democrats want. That's the point.