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A Response To Bart D. Ehrman’s Misquoting Jesus (1)

A Response To Bart D. ’s Misquoting Jesus (1)

A. , Ph.D.

http://nearemmaus.files.wordpress.com/2011/02/ehrman1.jpg

Ph.D.

Bart D. , Ph.D. is the chairman of the Department of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He is touted to be one of North America’s leading textual critics today. His recent book, Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why, is a popular level text that many reviewers take to be an effort to present the field of New Testament textual criticism to a larger, primarily lay, audience.1

At first the title, Misquoting Jesus, seemed inappropriate. Daniel Wallace said, “The book’s very title is a bit too provocative and misleading though: Almost none of the variants that discusses involve sayings by Jesus! The book simply doesn’t deliver what the title promises. But it sells well.”2 However, it soon became clear that the title is very appropriate, if one thinks of it as a how-to manual. Perhaps the title should have been, “Misquoting Jesus: What it is, and how to do it!”

Bart claims to be a happy agnostic. He claims once to have been a born again Christian. Only God knows his heart, but we ought to know his assumptions. This attack on the integrity of the New Testament documents is a logical extension of his philosophical assumptions. In his introduction, asks, “How does it help us to say that the Bible is the inerrant word of God if in fact we don’t have the words that God inerrantly inspired, but only the words copied by the scribes. . .?”3 Of course this is as absurd a question as, “How does it help me to say that said these things since I do not have the words he wrote, but only a copy made by HarperSanFrancisco?” I doubt that would tolerate the same standard imposed upon his own writings.

What is discussing is the fact that, among the thousands of copies of the New Testament, whether of the whole New Testament, individual books, or portions of books, there are places where the copies differ from each other. For example, in John’s Gospel, chapter 1, verse 4, many manuscripts read, “in Him life was” (ἐν αυτῷ ζωὴ ἦν). Several other manuscripts read, “in Him life is” (ἐν αυτῷ ζωὴ ἐστιν). Instances where manuscripts differ are called variants. There are, in fact, over 200,000 variants among the existing manuscripts. But this does not mean that there are over 200,000 places in the New Testament where there are changes in the text. What this means is that among the 5,750 or so existing manuscripts, there are over 200,000 instances where these manuscripts differ among themselves. So, for any one variant in the New Testament, there can be hundreds of manuscripts that differ among themselves concerning this one passage. So, there are not thousands of places in the New Testament where there are differences. There are hundreds of places in the New Testament in which the manuscripts give evidence of different readings, and many scholars estimate that this constitutes only about 10% of the New Testament text.

Ehrman asserts that the existing mss4 are “error ridden,” and that “we don’t have the originals!”5 and yet time and again throughout his book he argues, based on manuscript evidence, that such and such a reading was not in the original. For example, on page 64 Ehrman argues, “As it turns out, it was not originally in the Gospel of John.”6 On page 157 he argues that in 1 Tim. 3:16, a scribe “had altered theoriginal reading.” On page 159, concerning a variant in Luke 22, Ehrman dogmatically declares, “‘Today I have begotten you’— is indeed the original.”7 A particularly strong assertion about the original text is made by Ehrman concerning one variant: “We have seen one instance already in a variant we considered in chapter 5, Hebrews 2:9, in which Jesus was said, in the original text of the letter, to have died ‘apart from God.’”8 In this instance he even goes so far as confidently to assert, “Most scribes had accepted the variant reading. .. even though that was not the text that the author originally wrote.”9 However, if Ehrman is correct when he says we do not have the originals, then how does he know what is and what is not original? Obviously, it is self-defeating for Ehrman at once to say we do not have the original words and then to claim that the copies we have are incorrect or ridden with errors. How does he know any copies are incorrect if he does not have the original by which to make such a comparison? In fact, the only way he could judge that any copies were copied incorrectly is if he actually possessed the originals or assumed that the original is preserved in the copies, which he could then use as a standard of measure by which to measure specific instances of variation. This is only a sample of the kind of self-contradiction, exaggeration, selective reporting, and misrepresentation found within the book. It seems more accurate to characterize Ehrman’s book as “error ridden” than it is of the New Testament mss.

 

Theologically Motivated Alterations

In his effort to demonstrate the supposed error-riddenness of the manuscripts of the New Testament, Ehrman embarks on a quest that includes chapters 6 and 7 of his book. He considers various passages and attempts to argue that these are examples of theologically and socially motivated, intentional changes—not merely copyist errors—that call into question the reliability and integrity of the New Testament documents. We will attempt to address representative examples in order to demonstrate that Ehrman’s simply has not proven his case.[1]

 

 

 

 


1 Bart D. Ehrman, Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2005).

2 Daniel B. Wallace, “A Review of Bart D. Ehrman, Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why,” Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts, [Online], available: http://www.bible.org/page.asp?page_id=3452 [5 June 2006].

3 Ehrman, 7.

4 Throughout this paper, the initials ‘ms’ will be used to mean ‘manuscript’ and ‘mss’ will be used to mean ‘manuscripts’ although the words themselves will often be spelled out.

5 Ehrman, 64.

6 Ibid., 7.

7 Ibid., 159.

8 Ibid., 171, (emphasis added).

9 Ibid., 171-72.

[1]Christian Apologetics Journal Volume 5. 2006 (vnp.5.2.3). Matthews, NC: Southern Evangelical Seminary.

Bart D. Ehrman, Ph.D. is the chairman of the Department of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He is touted to be one of North America’s leading textual critics today. His recent book, Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why, is a popular level text that many reviewers take to be an effort to present the field of New Testament textual criticism to a larger, primarily lay, audience.1

At first the title, Misquoting Jesus, seemed inappropriate. Daniel Wallace said, “The book’s very title is a bit too provocative and misleading though: Almost none of the variants that Ehrman discusses involve sayings by Jesus! The book simply doesn’t deliver what the title promises. But it sells well.”2 However, it soon became clear that the title is very appropriate, if one thinks of it as a how-to manual. Perhaps the title should have been, “Misquoting Jesus: What it is, and how to do it!”

Bart Ehrman claims to be a happy agnostic. He claims once to have been a born again Christian. Only God knows his heart, but we ought to know his assumptions. This attack on the integrity of the New Testament documents is a logical extension of his philosophical assumptions. In his introduction, Ehrman asks, “How does it help us to say that the Bible is the inerrant word of God if in fact we don’t have the words that God inerrantly inspired, but only the words copied by the scribes. . .?”3 Of course this is as absurd a question as, “How does it help me to say that Ehrman said these things since I do not have the words he wrote, but only a copy made by HarperSanFrancisco?” I doubt that Ehrman would tolerate the same standard imposed upon his own writings.

What Ehrman is discussing is the fact that, among the thousands of copies of the New Testament, whether of the whole New Testament, individual books, or portions of books, there are places where the copies differ from each other. For example, in John’s Gospel, chapter 1, verse 4, many manuscripts read, “in Him life was” (ἐν αυτῷ ζωὴ ἦν). Several other manuscripts read, “in Him life is” (ἐν αυτῷ ζωὴ ἐστιν). Instances where manuscripts differ are called variants. There are, in fact, over 200,000 variants among the existing manuscripts. But this does not mean that there are over 200,000 places in the New Testament where there are changes in the text. What this means is that among the 5,750 or so existing manuscripts, there are over 200,000 instances where these manuscripts differ among themselves. So, for any one variant in the New Testament, there can be hundreds of manuscripts that differ among themselves concerning this one passage. So, there are not thousands of places in the New Testament where there are differences. There are hundreds of places in the New Testament in which the manuscripts give evidence of different readings, and many scholars estimate that this constitutes only about 10% of the New Testament text.

Ehrman asserts that the existing mss4 are “error ridden,” and that “we don’t have the originals!”5 and yet time and again throughout his book he argues, based on manuscript evidence, that such and such a reading was not in the original. For example, on page 64 Ehrman argues, “As it turns out, it was not originally in the Gospel of John.”6 On page 157 he argues that in 1 Tim. 3:16, a scribe “had altered theoriginal reading.” On page 159, concerning a variant in Luke 22, Ehrman dogmatically declares, “‘Today I have begotten you’— is indeed the original.”7 A particularly strong assertion about the original text is made by Ehrman concerning one variant: “We have seen one instance already in a variant we considered in chapter 5, Hebrews 2:9, in which Jesus was said, in the original text of the letter, to have died ‘apart from God.’”8 In this instance he even goes so far as confidently to assert, “Most scribes had accepted the variant reading. .. even though that was not the text that the author originally wrote.”9 However, if Ehrman is correct when he says we do not have the originals, then how does he know what is and what is not original? Obviously, it is self-defeating for Ehrman at once to say we do not have the original words and then to claim that the copies we have are incorrect or ridden with errors. How does he know any copies are incorrect if he does not have the original by which to make such a comparison? In fact, the only way he could judge that any copies were copied incorrectly is if he actually possessed the originals or assumed that the original is preserved in the copies, which he could then use as a standard of measure by which to measure specific instances of variation. This is only a sample of the kind of self-contradiction, exaggeration, selective reporting, and misrepresentation found within the book. It seems more accurate to characterize Ehrman’s book as “error ridden” than it is of the New Testament mss.

 

 

 


1 Bart D. Ehrman, Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2005).

2 Daniel B. Wallace, “A Review of Bart D. Ehrman, Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why,” Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts, [Online], available: http://www.bible.org/page.asp?page_id=3452 [5 June 2006].

3 Ehrman, 7.

4 Throughout this paper, the initials ‘ms’ will be used to mean ‘manuscript’ and ‘mss’ will be used to mean ‘manuscripts’ although the words themselves will often be spelled out.

5 Ehrman, 64.

6 Ibid., 7.

7 Ibid., 159.

8 Ibid., 171, (emphasis added).

9 Ibid., 171-72.

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