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An essay donated by John S. Morgan,
webmaster of

An outline & review of Bart
Ehrman's book: "Misquoting Jesus"

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"Misquoting Jesus: The story behind who changed the Bible and why" by Bart Ehrman. Read reviews or order this book safely from online book store

Chapter I: The Beginnings of Christian Scripture:

1. Unlike other religions, Judaism and Christianity emphasized, and were based upon, written texts.

2. The letters of Paul and others form most of the New Testament; some Pauline letters were pseudonymous.

3. Near the end of the 2nd century, many Christians argued that Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John were the gospels; debates concerning the contents of the canons of Scripture continued for several centuries.

4. Christians were persecuted; illiteracy was widespread; there were public readings of Scripture.

Chapter 2: The Copyists of The Early Christian Writings:

1. Before the advent of the printing press, Christian writings had to be hand copied for centuries by hand.

2. "One of the problems ... is that when they were copied, no marks of punctuation were used, no distinction made between lowercase and uppercase letters, and, even more bizarre to modern readers, no spaces to separate words."

3. Amateur copyists made the copies during the first two hundred years; changes were made and they were made widely.

4. " ... most changes are the result of mistakes, pure and simple: slips of the pen. Accidental omissions, inadvertent additions, misspelled words, blunders of one sort or another."

5. The third century church father Origen wrote: "The differences among the manuscripts have become great, either through the negligence of some copyists or through the perverse audacity of others; they either neglect to check over what they have transcribed, or, in the process of checking, they make additions or deletions as they please."

6. "Scribes who were associated with the orthodox tradition not infrequently changed their texts ... sometimes to make them more amenable to the doctrines being espoused by Christians of their own persuasion"

7. "In short, it is a very complicated business talking about the 'original' text of Galatians. We don't have it. The best we can do is get back to an early stage of its transmission, and simply hope that what we reconstruct about the copies at that stage- based on the copies that happen to survive (in increasing numbers as we move into the Middle Ages) reasonably reflects what Paul himself actually wrote, or at least what he intended to write when he dictated the letter."

8. The story about the women taken in adultery, now found in John 7:53-8:12 was not originally a part of any of the gospels but was added by scribes. Scholars who work with the manuscript tradition have no doubt of this. Scholars call this an "orphan" text since it seems to float around. Some scribe placed it after Luke 21:38 at one time.

9. Scribes added the last twelve verses of Mark, which speak of a snake not biting one with faith and of speaking in tongues.

Chapter 3: New Testament texts; Editions, Manuscripts & Differences:

1. Christians in some locales had better scribes; modern scholars find that the scribes in Alexandria were particularly scrupulous.

2. The fourth century saw Scriptoria arise where professional scribes worked; this significantly curtailed errors.

3. The 15th century saw the invention of the printing press, which meant that all printed material could be faithfully duplicated without change. Versions of the Bible proliferated.

4. 1 John 5:7-8 is called by scholars the 'Johannine Comma' In the NSRV it reads:

There are three that testify: the Spirit and the water and the blood, and these three agree.
This is the more reliable text. The less reliable Vulgate Version reads:
There are three that bear witness in heaven: the Father, the Word, and the Spirit, and these three are one; and there are three that bear witness on earth, the Spirit, the water, and the blood, and these three are one.
This is the only Biblical manuscript that explicitly delineates the doctrine of the Trinity)

5. In a footnote to the New Catholic Edition we find a disclaimer, which says:
"According to the evidence of many manuscripts, and the majority of commentators, these verses [i.e. For there are three that bear witness in heaven: the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit, and these three are one.] should read: the Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three are one."
The footnote goes on to say: "The Holy See reserves to itself the right to pass finally on the origin of the present reading."

6. " ... from the King James in 1611 onward, up until modern editions of the 20th century include the woman taken in adultery, the last twelve verses of Mark, and the Johnnanine Comma , even though none of these passages can be found in the oldest and superior manuscripts of the Greek New Testament."

7. John Mill, fellow of Queen's College, Oxford reported in 1707, some thirty thousand places of variation among all the surviving manuscripts. He left out word order in his count. Today some fifty seven hundred Greek manuscripts have been found -- 57 times what Mill knew about. Scholars today think there are at least 200,000 variants.

8. Scribes liked to harmonize Biblical passages. Luke has a shorter version of Matthew's Lord's Prayer. Scribes tried to harmonize these two by adding Lukan material to Matthew.

9. There are thousands of places where texts of the New Testament were accidentally or intentionally changed.

Chapter 4: The Quest For Origins; Methods and Discoveries:

1. Richard Simon, who in 1689 wrote A Critical History of the Text of the New Testament, said: "There would not be at this day any Copy even of the New Testament, either Greek, Latin, Syriack, or Arabic, that might be truly authentic, because there is not one, in whatsoever Language it be written, that is absolutely exempt from Additions. I might also avouch, that the Greek Transcribers have taken a very great liberty in writing their Copies ... "

2. Johann Albrecht Bengel (1687 - 1752) established two criteria for identifying an original text when the wording was in doubt. The first criterion, Proclivi scriptioni praestat ardua, simply means that a more difficult reading is preferable to an easier one -- the thought being that one out to change a scriptural passage would tend to make it more readable not the other way around. The second criterion suggests that all surviving documents can be classified into a kind of genealogical tree that can be traced backward.

3. Johann J, Wettstein (1693-1754) discovered that a different ink by a larger hand put over a couple of Greek letters with ink bleeding a horizontal mark in one of the letters gave the lie to the version, according to Ehrman of the version of 1 Tim. 3:16 that "had long been used by advocates of orthodox theology to support the view that the New Testament itself calls Jesus God." The letters were not an abbreviation but a word meaning 'who'. According to Ehrman, the original reading of the manuscript thus did not speak of Christ as God "made manifest in the flesh" but of Christ "who was made manifest in the flesh."

Chapter 5: Originals That Matter:

1. Scholars have devised methods to distinguish between the oldest form of a text and a scribal alteration. The best external criterion of a passage to be deemed original is if it is found in the 'best' manuscripts.

2. Two types of internal evidence are used. How likely does the passage bear the vocabulary, writing style and theology of the author; what kind of text would a scribe likely have written -- his theology, tendency to harmonize etc.

3. In the NSRV Mark 1-41 begins: "Moved with pity ... " Ehrman makes a good case that it originally started: "Jesus became angry ... "

4. Ehrman makes a good case that Luke 22:43-44 was a scribal addition.

5. Ehrman makes a good case that the words "by the grace of God" at the end of Heb 2: 9 should be "apart from God".

6. As Ehrman says, "It is obviously important to know whether Jesus was said to feel compassion or anger in Mark 1:41; whether he was calm and collected or in deep distress in Luke 22:43-44; and whether he was said to die by God's grace or 'apart from God' in Hebrews 2:9

Chapter 6: Theologically Motivated Alterations of the Text:

1. See my summary of Bart D. Ehrman's book written for Scholars entitled: The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture.

Chapter 7:  The Social Worlds of the Text:

1. Women had a significant high profile roll from the beginning, starting from the ministry of Jesus; many in later times culture did not like this.

2. Gal. 3:28 says: there is not male and female; for all of you are one in Christ. Paul did not advocate a social revolution concerning this as he did not advocate a social revolution to slavery.

3. 1 Tim says: Let a woman learn in silence with full submission, I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she is to keep silent. 1 Timothy was not likely written by Paul.

4. 1 Corinthians 14: 34-35 says: " ...  let the woman keep silent. For it is not permitted to speak, but to be in subjection, just as the law says. But if they wish to learn anything let them ask their own husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church."

5. Why did Paul likely not write this:

bulletThe subject is prophesy in the church and these verses seem not to fit.
bulletSeems to conflict with 1 Corinthians 11 and
bulletThe lines are found after verse 40 in some manuscripts (three Greek and two Latin) instead of after verse 33 suggesting a Scribal note that found its way into the text.

6. Romans 16:7 says: "Greet Andronicus and Junia, my relatives who were in prison with me, they are prominent among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was." Some translations today change the Female Junia to the male Junias [There is no evidence of a male name Junias in the old world.] Some of the manuscripts say: "Greet Andronicus and Junia, my relatives; and also greet my fellow prisoners who are foremost among the Apostles. This avoids calling Junia an Apostle. A similar change was made by scribes in Acts chapter 17.

7. Luke 23:34 says: "Father forgive them, for they don't know what they are doing." This prayer is missing from our earliest Greek manuscripts. This verse is about the crucifixion and many scribes thought of Jews as the bad guys.

8. In John's Gospel chapter 4 Jesus says: "You worship what you do not know we worship what we do know, because salvation comes from the Jews." In some manuscripts it says: "salvation comes from Judea" Again, and many scribes thought of Jews as the bad guys.

9. "In sum, a number of passages in our surviving manuscripts appear to embody the apologetic concerns of the early Christians, especially as they relate to the founder of their faith, Jesus himself."

Conclusion: Changing Scripture: Scribes, Authors, and Readers:

1. "In many ways, being a textual critic is like doing detective work. There is a puzzle to be solved and evidence to be uncovered. The more I studied the manuscript tradition of the New Testament, the more I realized just how radically the text had been altered over the years at the hands of the scribes, who were not only conserving scripture but also changing it." The Biblical books were copied by hand for nearly fifteen centuries -- before the invention of the printing press.

2. Depending on how a textual problem is resolved the meaning can be changed:

bulletDid Jesus say his disciples could drink poison without it hurting them?
bulletDid he author a parable about a woman caught in adultery?
bulletDid Jesus get angry frequently?
bulletWas Jesus fearful or in control when contemplating his passion?
bulletCan the doctrine of the Trinity be explicitly be found in Scripture?

3. "The King James Version ... was based on a single twelfth-century manuscript that is one of the worst manuscripts that we now have available to us." Many "Bible-believing Christians prefer to pretend that God inspired the King James version instead of the original Greek.

4. "There are some places where we don't even know what the original text was ... "

5. Luke and Matthew used much of Mark in writing their gospels changing it as they wished to suit their own viewpoint when they wrote their accounts. In this sense they were like the Scribes. We kind of change scripture because we put it into our own words for our understanding but we do not change the words in the text -- the Scribes did.

Originally posted: 2009-AUG-04
Latest update: 2011-APR-04
Author: John S. Morgan

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