Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Misanalyzing Text Criticism--Bart Ehrman's 'Misquoting Jesus'

Bart Ehrman is both an interesting person and an engaging lecturer. He speaks well, he writes well, he obviously has a gift for what he does. I like Bart though I find his spiritual pilgimage troubling, and as an alumnus of UNC I am sad to see him as the successor to Bernard Boyd at Carolina. Boyd had such a positive spiritual impact on many persons including myself while at Carolina. In fact I have been told some 5,000 persons went into some kind of ministry as a result of Boyd's decades of teaching the Bible at Carolina.

I am however glad Bart is honest about his pilgrimage. If only he could be equally honest and admit that in his scholarship he is trying now to deconstruct orthodox Christianity which he once embraced, rather than do 'value-neutral' text criticism. In my own view, he has attempted this deconstruction on the basis of very flimsy evidence-- textual variants which do not prove what he wants them to prove.

His most recent book, "Misquoting Jesus" has now made it to the NY Times bestseller list. It is apparently receiving a wide audience, although you can never tell whether those who buy the books actually read all the way through them. And with this book that might be just as well. The first four chapters provide a laypersons guide to textual criticism, and while one could quibble with this or that, basically Ehrman has provided us with a clear statement of the principles applied in that discipline. This is material I could happily assign to seminary students wanting to understand the basics of text criticism. I don't have a lot of qualms or quibbles about much of what he says there. However, like reading the Da Vinci Code, in the middle of this book it takes a left turn and what we have is a simplified version of what was present in Ehrman's earlier scholarly monograph-- "The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture" and along the way we have some personal testimony on why he has become an agnostic.

Dan Wallace, whom many of you will know if you know the NET Bible or has now reviewed Ehrman's book which he has graciously agreed to allow me to reprint here. What follows after that are some of my own comments as well. Especial thanks to the folks at for allowing me to reprint Dan's review here, particularly Ed Komoszewski.

Review of
Bart D. Ehrman, Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2005)
Daniel B. Wallace,
Executive Director,
Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts (

Bart Ehrman is one of North America’s leading textual critics today. As a teacher and writer, he is logical, witty, provocative, and sometimes given to overstatement as well as arguments that are not sufficiently nuanced.

His most recent book, Misquoting Jesus, for the most part is simply New Testament textual criticism 101. There are seven chapters with an introduction and conclusion. Most of the book (chs. 1—4) is simply a lay introduction to the field. According to Ehrman, this is the first book written on NT textual criticism (a discipline that has been around for nearly 300 years) for a lay audience.

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: since its publication on November 1, 2005, it has been near the top of Amazon’s list of titles. And since Ehrman appeared on two of NPR’s programs (the Diane Rehm Show and “Fresh Air” with Terry Gross)—both within the space of one week—it has been in the top fifty sellers at Amazon.

For this brief review, just a few comments are in order.
There is nothing earth-shaking in the first four chapters of the book. Rather, it is in the introduction that we see Ehrman’s motive, and the last three chapters reveal his agenda. In these places he is especially provocative and given to overstatement and non sequitur.

In the introduction, Ehrman speaks of his evangelical background (Moody Bible Institute, Wheaton College), followed by his M.Div. and Ph.D. at Princeton Seminary. It was here that Ehrman began to reject some of his evangelical upbringing, especially as he wrestled with the details of the text of the New Testament.
The heart of the book is chapters 5, 6, and 7. Here Ehrman especially discusses the results of the findings in his major work, Orthodox Corruption of Scripture (Oxford, 1993). His concluding chapter closes in on the point that he is driving at in these chapters: “It would be wrong… to say—as people sometimes do—that the changes in our text have no real bearing on what the texts mean or on the theological conclusions that one draws from them. We have seen, in fact, that just the opposite is the case.”

Some of the chief examples of theological differences among the variants that Ehrman discusses are (1) a passage in which Jesus is said to be angry (Mark 1:41), (2) a text in which “even the Son of God himself does not know when the end will come” (Matt 24:36), and (3) an explicit statement about the Trinity (1 John 5:7-8).
Concerning the first text, a few ancient manuscripts speak of Jesus as being angry in Mark 1:41 while most others speak of him as having compassion. But in Mark 3:5 Jesus is said to be angry—wording that is indisputably in the original text of Mark. So it is hardly a revolutionary conclusion to see Jesus as angry elsewhere in this Gospel.

Regarding Matt 24:36, although many witnesses record Jesus as speaking of his own prophetic ignorance (“But as for that day and hour no one knows it—neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son—except the Father alone”), many others lack the words “nor the Son.” Whether “nor the Son” is authentic or not is disputed, but what is not disputed is the wording in the parallel in Mark 13:32—“But as for that day or hour no one knows it—neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son—except the Father.” Thus, there can be no doubt that Jesus spoke of his own prophetic ignorance in the Olivet Discourse. Consequently, what doctrinal issues are really at stake here? One simply cannot maintain that the wording in Matt 24:36 changes one’s basic theological convictions about Jesus since the same sentiment is found in Mark.
In other words, the idea that the variants in the NT manuscripts alter the theology of the NT is overstated at best. Unfortunately, as careful a scholar as Ehrman is, his treatment of major theological changes in the text of the NT tends to fall under one of two criticisms: Either his textual decisions are wrong, or his interpretation is wrong.

These criticisms were made of his earlier work, Orthodox Corruption of Scripture, which Misquoting Jesus has drawn from extensively. Yet, the conclusions that he put forth there are still stated here without recognition of some of the severe criticisms of his work the first go-around. For a book geared toward a lay audience, one would think that he would want to have his discussion nuanced a bit more, especially with all the theological weight that he says is on the line. One almost gets the impression that he is encouraging the Chicken Littles in the Christian community to panic at data that they are simply not prepared to wrestle with. Time and time again in the book, highly charged statements are put forth that the untrained person simply cannot sift through. And that approach resembles more an alarmist mentality than what a mature, master teacher is able to offer. Regarding the evidence, suffice it to say that significant textual variants that alter core doctrines of the NT have not yet been produced.

Finally, regarding 1 John 5:7-8, virtually no modern translation of the Bible includes the “Trinitarian formula,” since scholars for centuries have recognized it as added later. Only a few very late manuscripts have the verses. One wonders why this passage is even discussed in Ehrman’s book. The only reason seems to be to fuel doubts. The passage made its way into our Bibles through political pressure, appearing for the first time in 1522, even though scholars then and now knew that it is not authentic. The early church did not know of this text, yet the Council of Chalcedon in AD 451 affirmed explicitly the Trinity! How could they do this without the benefit of a text that didn’t get into the Greek NT for another millennium? Chalcedon’s statement was not written in a vacuum: the early church put into a theological formulation what they saw in the NT.

A distinction needs to be made here: just because a particular verse does not affirm a cherished doctrine does not mean that that doctrine cannot be found in the NT. In this case, anyone with an understanding of the healthy patristic debates over the Godhead knows that the early church arrived at their understanding from an examination of the data in the NT. The Trinitarian formula only summarized what they found; it did not inform their declarations.

In sum, Ehrman’s latest book does not disappoint on the provocative scale. But it comes up short on genuine substance about his primary contention. Scholars bear a sacred duty not to alarm lay readers on issues that they have little understanding of. Unfortunately, the average layperson will leave this book with far greater doubts about the wording and teachings of the NT than any textual critic would ever entertain. A good teacher doesn’t hold back on telling his students what’s what, but he also knows how to package the material so they don’t let emotion get in the way of reason. A good teacher does not create Chicken Littles.

I am in basic agreement with what Wallace says in his critique of Ehrman, which is why I have reprinted here. It is simply not the case that any significant theological truth is at issue with the textual variants that Ehrman wants to make much of.

As I remember Bruce Metzger saying once (who trained both Bart and myself in these matters) over 90% of the NT is rather well established in regard to its original text, and none of the remaining 10% provides us with data that could lead to any shocking revisions of the Christian credo or doctrine. It is at the very least disingenuous to suggest it does, if not deliberately provocative to say otherwise.

Take for example the arguments that Ehrman makes in Chapters 5ff. in this book. Does the absence of the Trinitarian formula in 1 John 5 somehow prove that the NT has no notion of three person in one God? Absolutely not. There are a whole variety of texts where such an idea is found (see e.g. Mt. 28). Furthermore, its not so much whether we have a 'formula' here and there, but whether the notion of the divinity of Christ and the divinity of the Spirit are affirmed in various places in the NT along with the divinity of the Father. And in fact they are--- repeatedly so. Even our chronologically earliest NT documents, Paul's letters are perfectly clear on this point.

Take another example. Ehrman points to the fact that in Matthew's version of the ignorance saying (cf. Mk. 13.32 to Mt. 24.36) as some sort of proof that Jesus should not seen as divine, at least in Matthew's Gospel. We can debate the textual variants, but even if we include 'not even the Son' here which is certainly present in Mk. 13.32 it in no way proves that Matthew presents a merely human Jesus. The Emmanuel (God with us Christology) which we find at the beginning and end of this Gospel rules that notion out all together, as do various other texts in Matthew where Jesus presents himself as the Wisdom of God come in the flesh (see my forthcoming Matthew commentary).

Furthermore, Ehrman does not reckon with the profound theology of divine condescension reflected in a hymn like Phil. 2.5-11 which suggests that the pre-existent Son of God deliberately put on hold the 'omnis' so he could be fully human while remaining divine. By this I mean that he accepted our normal limitations of time, space, knowledge and power to be fully human. Notice that as Hebrews says however he was not like us in regard to sin. Sin, is not an inherent quality that God originally programmed into humanity. Ehrman writes as though he has never seriously dealt with the concept of divine self-limitation and Incarnation-- an idea we find in the NT from its earliest Pauline sources to its latest Johannine ones.

Furthermore, it is simply false to say that Jesus is presented as non-divine in the Synoptics in general, or even in their earliest source material (Q?, M?, L?), whereas in John, Jesus is presented as divine. The Fourth Gospel certainly more clearly and loudly presents the divine side of Jesus, but this is by no means lacking in the other Gospels, and there are no nefarious textual variants out there lurking that suggest there was ever a Gospel or a Gospel source that merely presented Jesus as man or a teacher or a messianic prophet.

Consider for example the fact that Jesus's two most frequently used phrases are Son of Man (in reference to himself) and Kingdom of God (which he is bringing in). Where in the OT do we find these two notions, indeed where do we find them together? In Dan. 7.13-14 where the Son of Man figure is promised to reign forever in a kingdom on earth. One has to ask-- what sort of person could personally reign forever in a kingdom? Who would God give this privilege to? The answer is to a forever person who was also a 'son of man'.

I have argued at length that Jesus exegeted himself and his mission out of Dan. 7.13-14 in my book 'The Christology of Jesus'. He also saw himself as God's Wisdom come in the flesh. This means that the historical Jesus saw himself as both human and indeed more than human--- as divine. The church then was not wrong in any sense to view him in this fashion. The tired old notion that the divinity of Jesus was something concocted late in the first century A.D. is historically false. Whether one likes it or not, Jesus is the one who suggested such a notion himself and the church simply amplified and clarified these ideas.

I want to turn around now and say something about one thing Ehrman is right to complain about. Ehrman is right that later pious scribes sometimes over-egged the pudding, to use a British phrase. Sometimes they did revise the text to better highlight Christian doctrine including the notion of the Trinity and other such truths. This is really quite irrelevant because when one stripes away the later accretions one still has a portray of Jesus that involves: 1) the virginal conception; 2) the atoning death of Jesus; 3) the bodily resurrection of Jesus; 4) the raw stuff of Trinitarian thinking, and we could go on. Ehrman's so-called evidence that these are later ideas imposed on the text by scribal corrupters is frankly false-- historically false, text critically false, theologically false.

Take another issue. Ehrman makes much of the fact that originally Mark's Gospel ends at Mk. 16.8, or at least its original ending is lost, and so we do not have an account of Jesus's resurrection appearances in this Gospel. In the first place, it is not at all likely that Mk. 16.8 is the original ending of this Gospel, as has recent been made abundantly clear by Clayton Croy's fine recent monograph on this subject. 'The Greek phrase 'for they were afraid....' is not a proper ending to any such book. It is grammatically awkward and inappropriate as an ending. I have argued as well in my Mark commentary at length that the original ending is lost, and the later material in Mk. 16.9ff. does not represent the original text. On this last point, I think Ehrman would agree.

But let us take the harder tact for a moment. Suppose Mark's Gospel does end at Mk. 16.8. Does this mean we have no early evidence of Jesus rising from the dead? Absolutely not. We have evidence from over a decade earlier in 1 Cor. 15-- Paul provides us with a long list of witnesses of the risen Lord, including himself. He is citing a tradition here and not making this up. This is what the early church believed whether they were disciples of Paul or Peter or John or James. Notice for example the Aramaic prayer at the end of 1 Cor. 16--- marana tha--'Come o' Lord'. Paul here cites a prayer that Aramaic speaking Jewish Christians he knew uttered. It is a prayer prayed to Jesus for him to return. All the earliest disciples of Jesus were monotheistic Jews, and yet here they are praying to Jesus for him to return. You don't pray to deceased rabbis to return.

I am glad we have a book like 'Misquoting Jesus' to tease our minds into active thought, though ironically very little of the book as anything to do with the actual sayings or teachings of Jesus himself. The title like the book is more of a tease, than really providing substantial evidence for 'the orthodox concotion of the Christian faith'. I would simply say to the reader-- caveat emptor. This author has a strong ax to grind, and the fact that he grinds it well in fluid prose makes it all the more beguiling. As my granny used to say-- Don't be so open minded that your brains fall out!


Layman said...

Thank you, Professor. This is exactly the kind of information we should be getting to the laypersons. I will link to it from my blog.

JM O'Clair said...

Dr. Witherington,
Thanks so much for your speedy repsonse to my request. Very helpful post and I appreciate it very much, especially with regard to 1 Cor 15 -- that Paul could not have made any of the resurrection material up--material accepted and attested by eyewitnesses. Even if we didn't bring 1 Cor 15 into the discussion (which would be hard to do), the other gospels still provide us with a fuller picture of the resurrection account (even if we did entertain the notion that Mark's gospel indeed ended at 16.8).

I've spent a couple of years digging into text criticism in classes and on my own, but my conclusions have always strengthened my faith rather than debunk it. Thanks again for your response/thoughts toward this sort of increasing skepticism. Blessings,
JM O'Clair

Hannah Im said...

Good post Dr Witheringon (and Dr. Wallace). I read an article about Bart through a link from Scot McKnight's blog and I found his description of losing his faith a little puzzling to me. I mean, I also went to Moody, did very well in Greek, and then headed to seminary (Dallas) where I was exposed to more textual criticism. But, learning that certain phrases may not be in the original manuscript didn't particularly bother me. I wonder what really got to him. I have a hard time believing that TC alone drove him away from his love for Christ.

Ben Witherington said...

Hi Hannah:

I am in total agreeement with you. I can't have just been the text criticism, there had to be something else going on, as this seems a very insubstantial reason to jump ship. I think possibly it has to do with the desire for absolute certainity about some things.



Chris Petersen said...

Ehrman instead of founding his faith on the message proclaimed by the primitive church, i.e. that God raised Jesus from the dead and so forth, founded it on a very strong doctrine of biblical inerrancy. Thus, I can very well see why the field of textual criticism might lead to a loss of faith if a belief in strong inerrancy is where one has placed the cornerstone of that faith rather than in the message handed on by the earliest believers.

Leo Percer said...


I am currently reading your book, The Problem with Evangelical Theology, and I just wanted to thank you for this information (both in your book and on your blog). Bart Ehrman is an interesting fellow, and I have followed his career since his earlier work on the New Testament and other Christian writings. I have watched his views evolve, and I think you are right. Something has happened that is more than just exposure to learning. His story reminds me a bit that of Dead Sea Scroll scholar, John Marc Allegro. At any rate, thanks for the quality blog and good books. Talk to you again soon!

Ben Witherington said...

Hi petros:
I hear what you are saying, but in fact Ehrman is smart enough to know there is a difference between the truthfulness of the content of scripture and the accuracy of copying it!



Steven Carr said...

Where does Matthew 28:19 say that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost are one God?

Does Professor Withertington agree with Ehrman's main thesis - that tghe early manuscripts show that early Christians altered the texts in line with their own private theological agendas?

Ap said...

Dr. Witherington,

I have some questions which shows that I am impatient when it comes to waiting for your commentary to come out.

When it comes to the wisdom of God, how would you approach this passage from Sirach 1:

“All wisdom comes from the LORD and with him it remains forever. The sand of the seashore, the drops of rain, the days of eternity: who can number these? Heaven's height, earth's breadth, the depths of the abyss: who can explore these? Before all things else wisdom was created; and prudent understanding, from eternity.” (vs. 1-4)

Here, wisdom is created. It may be true that elsewhere wisdom may be said to be uncreated or God, but it seems to me that there is a tradition where wisdom was created. I have speculated that "wisdom" here can also be the Church, which the early fathers thought to pre-exist the creation of the world. The Logos and the Church are so united that wisdom can be identified with both. This is a theological speculation, I admit, but what do you think of it?

Also, what about this passage in Matthew:

But Jesus cried out again in a loud voice, and gave up his spirit.
And behold, the veil of the sanctuary was torn in two from top to bottom. 31 The earth quaked, rocks were split,
tombs were opened, and the bodies of many saints who had fallen asleep were raised.
And coming forth from their tombs after his resurrection, they entered the holy city and appeared to many.

In the Greer-Heard debate, Tom Wright also spoke of the difficulty in this passage. What is your take on it?

Ben Witherington said...

Matthew 28.19 says baptize them in the NAME (singular) of the Father, Son and Spirit. One name covering these three persons. All the earliest Christians were Jewish Christians including the author of this Gospel and they were monotheists. This text clearly implies three persons that fall under the NAME of God. No one baptized into some name that was less than God.

I do not agree with Ehrman's main these that the scribes altered the texts in ways that did not comport with the theological ideas that were already present in numerous other NT texts. They are simply trying to make the connections clearer. They are not inventing a single new doctrine or theological idea--- not one. So no, I do not agree with what Bart suggests on this front.

As for the Wisdom speculation, I don't find convincing the argument that the church is alluded to, but yes there were church fathers that wondered about this. I don't find that Matthew text as troubling as Tom Wright. In the first place its theological import is to signal that Jesus' death and resurrection indicates the beginning of the eschtological age, which most early Jews associated with the resurrection of all the righteous. But secondly, since we have plenty of other stories about Jesus raising the dead as the Kingdom was coming in, why should this one be any different? Its just a sign of the eschatological power of God. Doubtless these persons went on to die again as did Lazarus.



Ap said...

Dr. Witherington,

So you don't take "raised" in that passage to be a resurrection of the dead? If I'm not mistaken, wouldn't that be a problem for Wright's thesis?

Ben Witherington said...

Yes, I do take raised to refer to resurrection. Its just that these folks came back to fallen human bodies while Jesus went forward into the eschatological existence of having a resurrection body (see 1 Cor. 15).


Steven Carr said...

I don't really see why the formulation 'in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost' is a claim that all 3 are gods, and that there is only one God.

It is just a perfectly standard construction , meaning in 'in the name of X, and in the name of Y, and in the name of Z'

' The same publishers that are demanding total power over the public in the name of the authors and musicians are giving those authors and musicians the shaft all the time.'

Is this a claim that there is only one musician?

Christians often use 'in the name of A,B,C,D... etc' in ways which mean that A,B,C,D etc are not the same people.

Take Mother Theresa's acceptance speech :-

'But I am grateful to receive (the Nobel) in the name of the hungry, the naked, the homeless, of the crippled, of the blind, of the lepers, of all those people who feel unwanted, unloved, uncared-for throughout society, people that have become a burden to the society and are shunned by everyone."'

NAME - singular. There is only one hungry and blind person.

Steven Carr said...

Ben writes ' Its just a sign of the eschatological power of God. Doubtless these persons went on to die again as did Lazarus.'

Would any of these people still have been alive by by the time Paul wrote 1 Corinthians? Why then did the Corinthians doubt that God had the power to breathe life into dead matter?

Ben Witherington said...

Hi Steven:

Your examples are not relevant. The Greek grammatical construction is clear, and in any case weare not talking about just any name but the sacred name, and the phrase 'the name' as in 'bless the Name' always meant the one God--- in early Judaism.


NewsCat said...

I think for me, whether one argues that Ehrman's citations don't significantly change the meanings of Gospels or that the Gospel narratatives are more consistant in their stories than Ehrman portrays, what his book clarified for me was something that I've often wondered but never bothered to research. Where did the words in the Bible come from.

Ehrman spelling out that at best we only have copies of letters written 300 years AFTER Jesus walked the earth is sort of the problem I have with document that has a) been written long after the fact, b) undergone multiple revisions.

I do copy editing ON THE COMPUTER and even I can see how revisions quickly twist meanings after two different people edit something for clarity. I can only imagine how imprecise this effect is when multiplied by hundreds of years and thousands of scribes. It's like decribing the effects of a Katrina-size hurricane, only the best accounts you have are 300 years old and have been copied hundred of thousands of times.

I understand that the whole point of "faith" is "faith." Belief is a strong aspect of it. But for me Ehrman's book simply pointed out how human and fragile the Bible really is and I can't "trust" it as a Divine source precisely because it's such a human creation.

Ben Witherington said...

Well newscat, here's a news bulletin.

It is absolutely false that we do not have any documents or parts of documents of the NT from before 430 A.D. This is a huge error. In fact we have papyri that go back to the second century, at a time when there were some around who knew the original second generation disciples of the apostles. For example we have a papyrus that contains John 18 from 125 A.D. We also have a papryus that has Acts 8 from the same century. There are many more from the third century. So, unfortunately it is a lie to say that we have no documents that date before 400 years after the time of Jesus. This is not even close to being correct.

And if you actually study the practices of ancient, not modern scribes, you will discover they are mostly not like copy editors at all. They are very conservative and stick to copying things verbatim as they were taught. This is all the more so when they thought they were copying a sacred text with words from God on it. They mostly labor away letter by letter copying things, unless they find something that can't clearly understand.


Ben W.

Michael Kruse said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Michael Kruse said...

Just curious. The claim is that this is the first book that has been written about text criticism for the lay person. Is that true? Have you written, or can you recommend works that would be reasonably accessible to a lay person?

Thanks for doing this blog!

Unknown said...

Dr. Witherington,

Thank you for a convincing and timely review of Dr. Ehrman's new book. I am currently writing a thesis on Epiphanius of Salamis' NT quotations and their role as devices for manipulation in early Byzantine Christianity (if you can't tell by subject matter, I was one of Dr. Osburn's students before he retired).

My current chair suggested looking at Orthadox Corruption, since it appears to take a similar premise. What I've discovered is that Ehrman, while right about the Orthadox impulse to adapt scripture, overlooks a great deal of evidence.

When looking at the patristic evidence, it becomes clear that fathers may alter their quotations of the text, or selectively edit parts of a quotation in their own works to remove conflicting material, on occation they may even choose from available readings to support their points, but the very nature and character of the execution of these activities suggests that they were generally unwilling to intentionally change the wording of the manuscripts in their possession, even in the case of fathers with a reputation for severe dogmatism, like Epiphanius.

Ben Witherington said...

Metzger's work on Text Criticism is the standard. There are good essays in the book by Dockery and Black.

Ben W.

Edwardtbabinski said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Edwardtbabinski said...

Hi Ben,
I saw you lecture at Furman University's Daniel Chapel, and read some of your articles in Bible Review over the years. (In one such article I believe you mentioned having met a flat-earth Bible-believing Christian during a road trip down South. *smile*) Since you were discussing Ehrman on your blog, I thought I'd mention that I happen to be another former born again Christian believer who became an agnostic after studying the Bible, as did Bart Ehrman.

Your mention of Bruce Metzger brought to mind some quotations from a book that Bruce helped edit. The historical consensus is that the Gospels were written by unknown persons, plenty of "perhapses" below. That alone should make one wary of attempting to squeeze unquestionable dogmas out of them:

“Not only did Jesus himself write nothing, but the attribution of the gospels to his disciples did not occur until the late first century at the earliest. . .

‘Matthew: Written by an unknown Jewish Christian of the second generation, probably a resident of Antioch in Syria.

‘Mark: [There is] confusion in the traditional identification of the author . . .

‘Luke: Possibly written by a resident of Antioch and an occasional companion of the apostle Paul.

‘John: Composed and edited in stages by unknown followers of the apostle John, probably residents of Ephesus.’

“(cited by Kingsbury, J.D., “Matthew, The Gospel According to,” in Metzger and Coogan, eds., The Oxford Companion to the Bible [Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 1993], pp. 502-506

To learn more about my reasons for leaving the fold, especially reasons for doubting "the resurrection" stories, I include a list of links below. I also consider the many dubious "prophecies" in the New Testament another good reason to doubt the veracity of the Bible.

Letter On The Resurrection Written to Apologist Dr. Gary Habermas of Liberty University (An Evangelical friend agreed I had raised some "knotty problems," while Habermas asked an Evangelical publisher about possibly publishing a dialogue between us--though the publisher's response was 'No.')

Letter I Received From Producer of Lee Stroble's "Faith Under Fire" And My Response Concerning Historical Criticism of the Bible

Scholars Comment on N.T. Wright's Resurrection Arguments

Additional Reviews of N.T. Wright's Resurrection Book by Scholars

Literary Criticism and Historical Accuracy of the Gospels, Including a Discussion of the Alleged Words Spoken by the Resurrected Jesus That Grew In Number With Each New Gospel, Or That Were Simply Added As in Mark's Three Additional Late Endings

C.S. Lewis’ “Modern Theology and Biblical Criticism”

The "Born Again" Dialogue In the Gospel of John [a point made by Bart Ehrman]

Newsweek Defends Resurrection as History in Newsweek's Easter issue, March 28th, 2005

Agnosticism: Reasons to Leave Christianity

What's Missing From Christian Resurrection Arguments?

What Happened to the Resurrected Saints?Raising doubts not saints.

More About the Resurrected Saints

The Christian Think Tank's Response to Questions Concerning "The Many Resurrected Saints"

The Lowdown on God's Showdown

The Fabulous Prophecies of the Messiah [not by me, though I suggested some books the author employed in his research and for which he thanked me]

The Resurrection Appearances of Jesus [article by Dr. Robert M. Price]

Not One, But Mutiple Views Of The Afterlife in the Bible

The Former Popularity among Christians of The Abominable Fancy, or, A Heaven that only "Snuff Film" Aficionados Could Love

Is the Book of Revelation a Literary Patchwork Quilt? (Including a Discussion of the First Book of Enoch)

Thanks for letting me have my say at your blog, and I invite others to visit this blog, Debunking Christianity, sometime.

Or read Dr. Price's Beyond Born Again (a sort of warm up book for the rest of Price's writings, written while he was still a liberal Christian)


Steven Carr said...

'At this point in the canonical 2 Corinthians, two letter fragments have been inserted: a letter of recommendation for Titus (at 8:1-24) and a letter concerning the collection (at 9:1-15).'

This is on page 150 of Social Science Commentary on the Letters of Paul by Malina and Pilch.

Very well respected Biblical scholars think that early Christians made big interpolations into what was originally written.

Steven Carr said...

ty writes 'When looking at the patristic evidence, it becomes clear that fathers may alter their quotations of the text, or selectively edit parts of a quotation in their own works to remove conflicting material, on occation they may even choose from available readings to support their points, but the very nature and character of the execution of these activities suggests that they were generally unwilling to intentionally change the wording of the manuscripts in their possess...'

How do you alter the quotation of the text without changing the wording of the manuscript?

It goes without saying that Ehrman considers a great deal of patristic quotations in the Orthodox Corruption of Scipture, written when he was a believer , of course.

Ben Witherington said...

Hi Steven and Edward:

A couple of points are worth making. Firstly citations from church fathers are not the same as citations from manuscripts of the NT. Of course the church fathers sometimes cite from memory. One has to distinguish between the copying of the sacred text, which was done more carefully and the free paraphrase by a church father.

Edward first of all I have never been to Fuhrman, so you couldn't have heard my lecture there. Secondly, sadly it sounds like you have sold your birthrite for a mess of pottage, to use a Biblical phrase. I have written commentaries on all four Gospels now, and it is frankly false to say we don't know who wrote, or provided these documents. The majority of commentaries on Mark, and not just conservative ones, say it is written by John Mark, the sometime companion of both Paul and Peter, not by Mr. Anonymous. Luke's Gospel is written by Paul's companion Luke. Neither of these men claim to be eyewitnesses of the life of Jesus, but to be in touch with them (see Lk. 1.1-4), and it is entirely unlikely the church would later make up the idea that two non-apostles who are more minor figures in early christianity, wrote these Gospels. Then there is Matthew, which is a composite document which uses material from the tax collector Matthew, from Mark and from Q. It is named for Matthew because he is the first and apostlic source for the special material in this Gospel. See my commentary which is out in May. As for John it is an eyewitness Gospel, as we are told quite specicifally in Jn. 19 and 21. We can debate which eyewitness it was but clearly it was an eyewitness of the life of Jesus. On this see my volume New Testament History and my volume the New Testament Story.

In regard to 2 Corinthians, we have no textual evidence at all that it was composed of multiple sources. Most Pauline scholars reject this theory now, and certainly there is no textual evidence of this idea at all. The partition theory arose from scholars who are ignorant of Greco-Roman rhetoric and how one structures a deliberative discourse.



Ben Witherington said...

P.S. It is not true that Bart Ehrman published the Orthodox Corruption volume while he was still a Christian. This volume did not come out in the mid-80s.

Steven Carr said...

I don't understand the difference between a resurrected body that will not die again and one which will die again.

In 1 Cor. 15, Jesus appeared to lots of people. The word for appeared is 'ophthe' and the same word is used to say Moses appeared at the Transfiguration.

When Moses returned from the grave and 'appeared' , was he a disembodied spirit?

Or did he have a body of flesh and bones?

Did he die again?

Did Moses have a resurrection body when he returned from the grave? But I thought that was unprecendented before Jesus returned from the grave.

Or did the disciples see a disembodied spirit?

If many early fathers were working from memory, many seemed to have the same memory lapse.

(Or could it be that they were all quoting manuscripts which differ from today's versions)

Let us look at one example - Matthew 19.17 /Mark 10.18/Luke 18.19

One very early Church Father is Justin. In his Dialogue 101.2 (probably from the 140s or 150s) , we read "One is good, my Father in the heavens." This very early quotation is not what we read in the Bible today.

Perhaps he was just working from memory, or did he have a manuscript which differed from today's Bibles?

EPHREM: Commentary on the Diatessaron, XV.9, in both the original Syriac and the Armenian (2 manuscripts) reads: "One is good, the/my Father who [is] in the heaven."

Ephrem died in 373, and the Syriac manuscript of the Commentary is fifth century. And Tatian, of course, composed the Diatessaron (the gospel harmony upon which Ephrem was commenting) about 172, on the basis of the gospel texts current then.

And this citation agrees precisely with Justin's, allowing for the differences in Syriac and Greek. We now have two independent sources which show that the 2nd-century manuscripts of this Gospel verse differ from what is read today.

IRENAEUS: Haer. V.7.25 (pre-185): "One is good, the/my Father in the heavens."

Another second-century source confirming the 'wrong' version of Matthew 19:17.

HIPPOLYTUS: Haer. V.7.25 (pre-222): "One is good, the/my Father in the heavens."

Another early Christian Father has the 'wrong' version.

CLEMENT OF ALEXANDRIA: Strom. V.10.63 (composed c. 207):"One is good, the/my Father."

At least Clement drops the 'in the heaven' phrase.

PSEUDO-CLEMENTINE HOMILIES: XVI.3.4 about 260 AD. "For one is good, the/my Father in the heavens."

Another early Church Father disagrees with the 'correct' version of the Bible.

VETUS LATINA MS e (apud Matthew, 5th cent.): "Unus est bonus, pater."

This is the second most ancient manuscript and it also has 'Father'

VETUS LATINA MS d (apud Luke, 5th century.): "Nemo bonus nisi unus Deus pater."

'Father' again.

Perhaps all these cites are citiations of real manuscripts, rather than an amazing coincidence where all these sources had the same memory lapse.

Layman said...

Steve "the UK's leading atheist" Carr,

You are going to wear out your welcome by listing hoards of axe-grinding questions irrelevant to the topic.

I do welcome a continuation of our discussion on the meaning of the term paliggenesia in Philo. You were going to get back to me with some evidence that it should be translated "resurrection" instead of "rebirth"?


Steven Carr said...

A strange review from Wallace in that it has not one quote from the book being reviewed.

It also does not try to refute any of Ehrman's arguments - it is just a pep talk telling people not to listen.

All we get by the way of refutation is a non sequitor 'Concerning the first text, a few ancient manuscripts speak of Jesus as being angry in Mark 1:41 while most others speak of him as having compassion. But in Mark 3:5 Jesus is said to be angry—wording that is indisputably in the original text of Mark. So it is hardly a revolutionary conclusion to see Jesus as angry elsewhere in this Gospel.'

Let us look at the two passages, putting 'anger' in both, and see if one is as uncontroversial as the other.

Mark 3

4 Then Jesus asked them, "Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?" But they remained silent.

5 He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, "Stretch out your hand." He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored.

Mark 1
40 A man with leprosy came to him and begged him on his knees, "If you are willing, you can make me clean."

41 Filled with anger, Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man.

In one Jesus, is angry with the leper. In the other he is angry with those who are stubborn.

It is easy to see why some people would be troubled by Jesus being angry in one scene, when they would not be troubled by being angry in the other.

More importantly, Ehrman points out that Matthew and Luke both drop the word 'compassion' when they write the scene. (Wallace naturally ignores this argument of Ehrman's) Why would both drop a description of Jesus beig compassionate.

The obvious answer is that it originally really did read 'anger', and Matthew and Luke changed it for theological reasons.

Steven Carr said...

I forgot to mention that when Wallace discusses Jesus being angry in the Bible, Ehrman does discuss the very verse Wallace uses as a 'refutation' - Mark 3:5.

Wallace , for some strange reason, doesn't let his readers know that Ehrman already knows about and discusses it. Wallace talks as though Mark 3:5 is all new to Ehrman.

Ehrman points out that Luke 6:6-11, when using Mark 3:5, drops the word 'angry'. (Wallace keeps his readers in the dark about this parallel passage.)

Why would Luke not say that Jesus was angry in his account, when Wallace claims that depicting Jesus as angry was hardly revolutionary?

Ehrman has already answered the points Wallace raised.

Steven Carr said...

My apologies. Wallace does have one quote from Ehrman, and a couple more in his footnotes. Mea culpa.

Gordon Hackman said...

I am no New Testament scholar. However, In terms of understanding the general reliability of the New Testament documents as based on the eyewitness experiences of the earliest followers of Jesus, I found James Dunn's latest title "A New Perspective On Jesus" to be very helpful. I would be curious to know if you have looked at it and what you think of it, Dr. Witherington.


Layman said...


Funny that you complain about not quoting the work being reviewed when in two out of three of your own Amazon reviews you do not quote the work reviewed. I reviewed a number of my own 56 Amazon reviews and noted that I sometimes do not quote the work explicitly and many times quote it once or twice. This seems like a pointless jab rather than a point of note.

You try attribute the change in Mark 1 to a “theological reason” by claiming that in Mark 1:41 Jesus "is angry with the leper." That does not seem to be the case. Jesus is actually showing great compassion against the traditional rules of cleanliness.

Notably, in an ironic bit of distortion, you cut off the part where Jesus heals the leper. Specifically, the actual text of verse 41 says, "and said to him, "I am willing; be cleansed." V. 42 states, "immediately the leprosy left him and he was cleansed."

Why leave this out, Steven? Perhaps because it indicates that Jesus' anger was not targeted at the leper himself, but at his condition and perhaps the social rules that marginalized him.

In fact, Jesus' anger does not seem to be targetted at the leper:

"Anger may not be as offensive as it first appears if once recalls that in Judg. 10:16, "[God] became indignant over the misery of Israel (RSV), much as Jesus does here. If 'anger' was the original reading, it must clearly mean that Jesus was indignant at the misery of the leper (so John 11:33-38), for Jesus willingly healed him. As though the leprosy were dispelled by holy wrath, Mark declares, 'immediately the leprosy left him and he was cured.'"

James R. Edwards, The Gospel According to Mark, page 70.

So if this was original, which seems likely to me, it does not portray Jesus as angry with the leper.

But you ask why Matthew and Luke drop the term "compassion" and then say that the original must read "anger" and that "Matthew and Luke changed it for theological reasons." It seems likely to me that Matthew and Luke changed it because they were concerned that people, like you or perhaps with better intentions, would misunderstand or distort Mark. It is perhaps not the best way of explaining Jesus' indignation at the man's condition rather than at the man's request for healing, so they remove the reference and remove the problem. No one has claimed that Luke and Matthew were scribes whose responsibility it was to rerecord Mark verbatim.

So again, we do not seem to have altering here that affects any central tenant of Christianity. Instead, we have Mark and Matthew removing the phrase to avoid confusion.

Ben Witherington said...

Just a word for Dan Gordon: It is of course true that human beings, a lot of different one's have copied the NT manuscripts over the years. Some of them copied them very faithfullly some didn't. I don't suppose you would want to be judged in regard to your current occupation on the basis of its worst practioners. Neither should we judge the early Christian scribes these ways. If you based your faith on some particular English translation of the Bible, you already had your faith misplaced. Translating is an art, not a science in any case. Your faith should have been in the Incarnate Word of God, Jesus, and what God said through and to the original and apostolic witnesses.
As for why God did not preserve ALL the copiests from errors, let us remember that just as human beings can pick up and abuse it today, so they could in antiquity as well. This does not mean there were not some excellent and absolutely faithful copiers. I will give you one example. There is a papyrus in Dublin another piece of which is also found at Yale of the NT. Guess what? It is identical in this passage to Codex Alexandrinus from two centuries later. This is quite astounding, judged by merely human propensities. It shows there were absolutely careful scribes out there for centuries.They should be judged on their best not their worst practioners.


Ben W

Jason Pratt said...

Some further insight into this first (recorded) case of healing leprosy, and Jesus' anger involving it.

As in many other cases, a larger reading of story contexts provides a clearer picture of what is going on. In the story so far (putting together the Synoptics and GosJohn), it has been established that Jesus actually prefers to be doing instructing rather than curing; the reason apparently being that the miracles are too distracting, and belief in them (though accepted by Him) tends to lead to a shallower faith. It's one of the more interesting tensions in the story; also one I find implausible to have been invented by pious imaginations trying to maximalize Jesus' power in link to His authority.

So we _already_ have cases where Jesus can be rather brisk toward people seeking healing from Him. Now, shortly after He begins staging missions of evangel out of Capernaum, a leper arrives to be cleaned.

That Jesus has compassion on the man is evident from the healing itself. Yet there is anger in the situation, too, as becomes evident from what happens immediately _after_ the healing--this is a case where GosMark's version of the story is richer than the other Synoptic versions.

Harmonizing Mark's account with Matthew and Luke yields something like this:

Yet [immediately after the healing] growling under His breath, Jesus strictly charges the man: "Look here! You may not say anything of this to anyone! Now go, show yourself to the (local) priest, and bring for your cleansing the approach-offering Moses commands (in the book of Leviticus), as a testimony to them." And then He casts him out. [a fairly strong verb there]

But the man, going out, begins shouting loudly, blazing the news abroad; so that by no means can Jesus enter a city publicly any longer, but must stay out in desolate places. And they came to Him from every direction.

This sort of pattern is not restricted to GosMark in the Synoptics, either. Matthew, for instance, may remove the displeasure of Jesus toward the leper here, but he includes a similar account (found only in GosMatt) of two blind men later in the story; the wording of what happens is very similar to that in GosMark. There are topicality links, I think, to Matthew's use of that story there, in chapter 9:27-31, together with something he says follows immediately afterward historically: the healing of a mute demonic brought to Jesus as the other two are going out--to disobey Him, by the way. Some scholars see this account of the mute demonic to be a stylistic doublet with the deaf-and-mute demonic healed later (in all three Synoptic accounts). I don't believe that Matthew (or the GosMatt redactor) is simply repeating an earlier story there, however. I think what Matthew is saying, is that this is the same exact man being healed twice--a situation which gives occasion for the verbal fencing between Jesus and Pharisee opponents after the second healing. In _that_ case, Jesus would be referring to the demonized man He'd had to heal twice, when He talks about how a person once healed is liable to be in worse shape than before if he doesn't shape up ethically.

In any case, it should have been blatantly apparent that the Matthean author was not simply trying to remove the 'anger' of Jesus for His 'compassion' instead: there are plenty of wrath-of-Jesus incidents in GosMatt elsewhere (including the one just mentioned, similar to GosMark's account of what happened to the leper.)

As far as the leper's story goes, the implication is that Jesus was aware that this fellow would cause problems for Him by publicizing what happened. Why would the healing of a leper be a problem? Because Jesus _touched_ Him: and so, to people He hadn't succeeded in _teaching_ differently yet (there's that link again, too), He would be considered religiously unclean until He gave them evidence Himself (that they would accept) that He could be around them again.

So the story says: from that day onward (I suspect until Jesus goes to Jerusalem for Pentecost 50 days after the Passover account early in GosJohn), Jesus cannot enter openly into a town anymore, but has to stay outside in the wilderness.

(But He does get to have a full compliment of lepers visiting Him...! {g})

I should add that someone doing story analysis work can arrive at conclusions like this, without being orthodox (though I am), without being Christian (though I am), and even without accepting the story elements as historical (though I do). It only requires some careful reading.

Jason Pratt

Jason Pratt said...

Opps, sorry--memory blip. The account of the deaf-mute demonic being healed in GosMatt 12, is included in GosLuke 11's parallel but not in the GosMark account of the same scene (chp 3). (This is one of the drawbacks to doing harmonization studies... {g})

Jason Pratt said...

argh again... Divinizing pronoun caps to help keep track of the pronoun trail, is a handy tool--until I cap the wrong pronoun.

Touched _him_ (little h) not Him. (The problem isn't that Jesus touched Himself to cure the leper, obviously. {rolling eyes})

yuckabuck said...

I appreciate your efforts, but I'm sorry, I cannot agree with your exegsis here. First, the harmonizing from other gospels seems to overshadow what the author of Mark is trying to say himself. Secondly, there seems to be a psychologizing of Jesus here, attributing to Him motives not mentioned in scripture anywhere, that are in fact contrary to some of the biblical evidence.
I do not see it "established that Jesus actually prefers to be doing instructing rather than curing." Mark himself says, "The whole town gathered at the door, and Jesus healed many who had various diseases." (1:32-34, see also 6:12-13 and 6:56).
And let's be done with this idea that "miracles produce a shallower faith." It reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of Jesus' rebuke of people asking for "signs." Again sticking with Mark only, Jesus' rebuke (8:12-13) immediately follows the feeding of the 4000 (and the 5000 in chapter 6). These, as well as the healings and exorcisms, were signs that the Kingdom of God is near (1:15). It's as if the Pharisees said, "Well, I see that you miraculously fed 9000 people on two occasions. But, can you give me a sign that the Kingdom of God is near?" Jesus understandably (angrily?) answers "Doh!" (You can also see this in John 6:26-36, where Jesus feeds 5000, says that the work of God is to believe in His son, and then the people ask Him to show them proof that He is bigger than Moses. Presumably another huge sigh came from Jesus...) People seeing the signs of the Kingdom were to read them right, and then extend their belief to Jesus as the Kingdom-bringer. They were rebuked by Him for not heeding the "signs of the times" (Matthew 16:3). Thomas was rebuked for not extending his faith from the miracles he had seen to the resurrection he had not seen (John 20:26-29).
If Jesus miracles produced a shallow faith, why does John (14:11) record Him as saying "believe on the evidence of the miracles?" Why does Jesus rebuke cities who saw miracles for not putting faith in Him (Matthew 11:20-24)? Would it have been a "shallow" faith that Jesus wanted to avoid if they had? Clearly not.
It's obvious that this passage (Mark 1:41) involves what some call the "Messianic Secret." I am not altogether convinced that the text said "angry," but even if it did, I think people are drawing way too much out of it. Mark's intention would have been way more modest. He portrays Jesus as more active and involved than the other gospels usually do, and either of these options would just serve that purpose. In context, the "anger" would have been most likely at the sickness, and nowhere calls into question Jesus sinlessness.

Gordon Hackman said...

Dr. Witherington,
I noticed that in your response to Dan Barker, you mistakenly refered to him as Dan Gordon. I am guessing that this is because my own comment on your posting immediately followed his and you accidentally compounded our two names. In any case, my comment was about James D. G. Dunn's latest book "A New Perspective on Jesus," and that I had found it helpful in understanding the basic reliability of the New Testament documents. I was wondering if you had had an opportunity to look at it and if you had any thoughts on it.

Gordon Hackman

Ben Witherington said...

Jimmy Dunn is an old friend and fellow Dorhamite. I have looked at that study a long time ago. I think he has some valid insights, though he seems to presume more knowledge of oral tradition than I think we have.


David A Booth said...


Your site provides a great service for the church.

One quibble: Bruce Metzger may have taught you that 90% of the text is well established, but I believe subsequent text critical work has shown this to be a rather conservative number. The number of texts that provide genuine text critical difficulties to me in my studies is far less than 10%.

Best wishes,


Anonymous said...

Hi Ben Witherington -
It made me nervous about this book when Jon Stewart drooled over it on his show. I love Jon Stewart but he's consistently cynical/mocking about religious faith, and especially about Christian faith. He loved this book.

Thanks for your words -

Mrs. Boyd served communion at my wedding. I love that Dr. Boyd's legacy continues.
Go Heels - UNC '79

Jason Pratt said...


I suspect Ehrman isn't so much trying to justify non-belief, as he is trying to speak out against some things he was taught, which he felt betrayed by later when he learned other things instead. There's a pretty strong either/or dichotomy being hammered for acceptance in some schools, and so when the 'either' fails the 'or' becomes the natural fall-back point--at about the same intensity (and maybe at about the same original reasonableness--or lack thereof. {s})

His particular case is distressing and puzzling in some regards; but it's probably due to perceived betrayal. And that could have been avoided. (i.e. along with the very orthodox Dorothy Sayers, speaking on much the same topic: "For this state of affairs, I'm inclined to blame the orthodox." {s})

Which, now that I've written this, looks to be dittoing things that others have already said since yesterday. {g} But I felt like I needed to answer, too; so, there it is. (Kind of 'again'. {s})


Jason Pratt said...


Even a concise reply would run me about 20K (I know, I typed it out {g})--and I'd rather not plop that down on a forum where I'm a stranger and the host doesn't know me fairly well. (Besides, I suspect someone would only accuse me of niggling exegetical detail. {cough}{g} Not you.)

The top three most important points (and I won't go into significant detail) are probably these:

a.) I didn't say that miracles produce shallow faith. I said something more qualified and complex than that: they _tend_ to _lead toward_ shallow-_er_ faith; and this is often represented in the texts (including with concern by Jesus.) One extremely obvious example of this, you mentioned yourself: i.e., what the Synoptics _and_ GosJohn say happened after the feeding of the 5000.

b.) I'm not saying what I'm saying due to some kind of disrespect or unbelief concerning miracles, whether in general (as a metaphysical topic), or in particular (as elements of the Gospel accounts). I'm _very_ strongly a supernaturalistic trinitarian theist; and I have a very high opinion of the historicity of the canonical Gospel texts (which is not the same thing as being a supernaturalistic theist of any kind or degree, btw.) The only reason I'm saying what I'm saying, is because I regularly find it to be part of the story accounts.

Not that you said anything about this, but I thought it might be reassuring. {s} Someone with _my_ strength of belief concerning miracles, especially when combined with my ardent rejection of the heresy of gnosticism (which I find endemic in the church, unto the present day), might be expected to stress the miracles _rather than_ the teaching, if what I was doing was selectively reading according to bias. The texts teach me differently, though. Go texts! {g}

c.) I agree that Jesus _was_ having compassion when doing healing. (It isn't necessarily an either/or thing. In fact, one of the most crucial themes of the stories, is that God can have wrath _and_ compassion together on those whom He's trying to save.) I stress this in case you thought I was trying to say that Jesus wasn't healing in compassion, and/or didn't want to be healing _at all_.

As a slightly less important fourth point:

d.) I agree that Jesus showing anger in the Markan leper anecdote would not call into question Jesus' sinlessness. In fact, I agree with that, even if His anger was directed against the _leper_, as the verses _after_ the variating verse in GosMark, quite clearly mean. (Their force tends to be tamped down in English translations, but it's there in the Greek. Apparently it has always been difficult for people to accept that Jesus might actually be annoyed at someone who insists on causing Him problems by disobeying Him... {wry s})

More to the point: Jesus showing vexation as well as compassion toward someone He knows is about to abuse the grace that He's going to give for him, is certainly _not_ out of character for God in the Old Testament. It would be a fairly dull reading, I heartily profess, to call _that_ in against the overarching theological claims being made in the texts.

As a technical aside: a further bit of data for theories here, is that the word for 'anger' and the word for 'compassion' happen to _sound_ very similar to each other in Syriac Aramean. Interestingly, the textual variation between anger and compassion happens in copies of GosMark, not in GosMatt--the text which has plenty of Aramean/Syrian earmarks. In fact, the Matt/Luke parallel stories don't mention compassion or anger either one; though GosLuke does retain some force in the order not to tell anyone--and also retains the general result, that people found out anyway.

I do have an expanded reply prepared (though even then I have to be more concise and restricted than I really want to be on this topic); and if Prof. W gives permission, I'll post that, too (minus the points already mentioned here, of course. {s})


Jason Pratt said...

Tyler asks some good and reasonable questions, and makes a good theory about how Ehrman has reached agnosticism from here. (Note to someone else: obviously Bart Ehrman cares about niggling exegetical issues, or he wouldn't have written a primer for non-professionals, where the first four chapters--half the book--are an introduction to the practice. I also note that so far his opposition has had nothing but good things in general to say about that part. They criticise him in the remaining three chapters, partly on the ground that he isn't working up to the standard of detail he advocates in the previous four chapters.)

Personally, I think it's more curious why there hasn't been more (if any??) dissent about Pauline authorship on _all_ the texts: why do even hypersceptics generally admit the man not only existed but wrote five or more of the epistles attributed to him? All things considered, that's an unexpected level of agreement between completely opposing sides of the aisle (so to speak). I think the answer to that would be rather interesting. (Not that I disbelieve he wrote Romans, the Corinthian letters, etc. I just like to consider answers to interesting questions, and I frequently find it instructive to out-sceptic the sceptics. {g} Historically St. Paul not only looks like a total cipher, he's practically the equivalent of a Christmas present dropped down the chimney! Is there much of a peep about him being too good to be true, though?)

Maybe the key question is this (assuming we can agree he existed at all {g}):

"How likely is it that Paul was interested in getting the story right while he was persecuting the early Christians?"

Good question. It can be sharpened, though: how likely is it that Paul was interested in getting the _Sanhedrin's_ story right while he was persecuting the early Christians?

May I propose, that he'd be at least somewhat interested in _that_?--moreso, may we agree, than in getting the story of the Christians right during his persecutions of them?

This wasn't (according to his story) a disinterested observer. When he converted, it had to be in the face of whatever position his bosses were advocating (and probably advocating with seriously religious force, may we agree?)

Perhaps looking at the problem from this perspective, would shed more light on the situation. Do we have any reliable idea of what the Sanhedrin was saying about the subject? That's the line that Paul would most likely have been working along.


Sandalstraps said...

Regarding the Trinity Ehrman's main contention is not with the fact that some parts if the Bible have been interpreted as proto-Trinitarian, but that the doctrine of the Trinity is not fully formed until after the NT was written.

Regarding the divinity of Christ, Ehrman's main contention is not with the fact that parts of the bible have a concept of his divinity. Rather he is saying that on that subject the scriptures disagree with each other. Different Gospel writers have different christologies. He is certainly aware that some christologies were favored over others, and that the favored ones are contained in the scriptures. His main argument is that parts of the Bible which obviously have christologies which were eventually considered unorthodox were later altered to be brought into conformity with the dominant christology.

Finally, references to his book's status as a NY Times bestseller are not relevant to the contents of his book. I suspect that they are included here as a kind of underhanded compliment designed to discredit him. Something along the lines of saying that his work is scandalous enough to be popular, which of necessity makes it irresponsible.

Sorry to bother you with this comment. I see that you have been fielding some particularly irritating comments by notorious atheists here to pester you. In bulk I agree with you. I just think that your review of Ehrman's book was unfair.

On the whole this debate indicates that certainty is the enemy of faith. Ehrman was taught certainty, and sought certainty. But in the study of both God and ancient texts so much is of course uncertain. Finding that those who taught him to have faith had misled him, Ehrman very honestly abandoned his faith. Had he been taught a more responsible form of Christianity he would not have felt so decieved by organized religion.

Ben Witherington said...

Wow--- a state of grace is innate. May I ask what scientific data one could produce to come to this 'critical' and empirical conclusion? This is as much a statement of faith as anything else has been said in this discussion, and pitting science against religion, is a false dichotomy-- science grew out of a Christian world view that said creation is NOT defiled by inquiry--- it can be investigated without irreverence precisely because it is not God.


Jason Pratt said...

Now, some good questions were raised about Bruce Metzger's 90%-settled claim for the NT text. What about the other 10%? Shouldn't that be worrying? If Ehrman (for instance) claims the GosJohn prologue was tacked on after its original composition, isn't that a pretty significant chunk, etc.?

Metzger's claim is fairly standard in the field; and it's basically accurate (keeping in mind he's generalizing a bit). It's also a rather mundane bit of information, purely text-critical. Here's what it means.

When scholars take a tally of all known surviving copies of canonical NT documents (this kind of claim has nothing to do with _establishing_ canon, btw--the subject of this kind of study could be any group of texts, like taxonomical relationships and classifications in biology), they give any deviation _at all_ between two copies, even by a single letter, its own identification. This, btw, is why you'll occasionally hear people bring up some fantastic number of deviations in the NT textual record (like tens of thousands). That's because almost every copy of a text, partial or whole, will be slightly different due to what amounts to random noise effects.

A bit of digression here: most copies of the NT were made in scriptoriums by semi-professional scribes. While a few had a tendency for glossing, the glosses are usually marked as such (since they _did_ have editorial oversight). Innovation wasn't only stringently prohibited, it was in many cases a frank impossibility: the scribes couldn't necessarily _read_ what they were copying. The vast majority of deviations, therefore, are in effect mechanical errors, and many of those are marked as such either in the texts themselves or in subsequent copies (which is what most of the 'glossing' is about.) This isn't the sort of thing which is going to generate new or alternate doctrines very easily.

So, by weight, 90ish-percent of the canon text either has no variation, or else the variation can be clearly classified as unintentional blips, of the sort which don't call into serious question what word or words were really meant. (For example, leaving out an 'a' by accident and writing "ment" instead, at the end of my previous sentence.) Sometimes the variations are intentional but again the meaning is immediately evident anyway, such as in abbreviations to avoid writing out the name of God.

That leaves over the 10%, judged to raise legitimate questions about the composition of the original ('autographic') texts. What about those?

The rather boring answer, is that the vast majority of even _these_ are rather boring. {g} In many cases the difference _also_ clearly involves simple mechanical error (such as when there are two lines which end similarly and the scribe accidentally omits the second line, thinking he's already written it). Irrelevant grammatic issues and attempts to synch up Synoptic wording make up much of the rest.

Does the remnant of a remnant (of a remnant...) left over sound too small to account for things like the GosJohn prologue? Not necessarily--but in this case it's a moot point. Textual criticism of the sort Metzger is talking about (and which Ehrman was supposed to be talking about) can't help render an opinion about the originality of the GosJohn prologue. It's only good for drawing comparisons between copies; and where we have sufficiently large copies of GosJohn, the prologue is there--or else the fragment is too small to count one way or another. (Secondarily there seems to be no dissension among subsequent commentators about whether the prologue is there or not, unlike for instance the adulteress pericope later in GosJohn. For those who wonder, yes there are special issues involved with trying to determine whether or not a section is not included at the beginning or end of a document; but there are ways to check for this in practice.) When Ehrman draws that conclusion, on whatever ground he does, it _isn't_ from textual criticism per se. So no, the Johannine prologue isn't part of the 10% variance (per textual criticism, rigorously speaking).

So does the 10% have anything actually interesting? Sure. That trinitarian sentence from 1 John (the epistle, not the Gospel) is one of the interesting things. It's also very clearly not original to the text--which most professional scholars know already (yes, even the hardline inerrant/inspirationists). I think the Marcan variation in the leper story is interesting--though not for the same reason Ehrman apparently does. It kind of depends on what one means by 'interesting'. {g}

The story of the woman caught in adultery, and the Marcan Epilogue, are probably the largest swatches of 'interesting' material in the 10% variant. Another (relatively) large swatch which might count as 'interesting', involves what's called the Western non-Interpolation of Acts; though those variances are scattered across the text rather than concentrated in one place (making it hard to summarize. Acts, btw, seems to contain about half of the significant NT textual variances, largely because of the WnI. Unfortunately for conspiracy theorists, modern Bibles take this into account already, though sometimes they'll be marked in the margins as possibly valid omissions. So it's kind of boring again. {s}) Some people will find it interesting, in various ways, that a rather annoying bit of 1 Corinthians doesn't always show up in the same place (though it _is_ always there, and almost always where it's normally found in chp 14--this is the bit about how a woman ought to shut up in church and not ask questions except to their husbands at home.)

Sometimes punctuation becomes a text-critical issue, though only in a secondary manner (since everyone agrees the originals wouldn't have had punctuation.) One of the few interesting doctrinal issues along that line is where verse 3 should stop in the first chapter of GosJohn: early Patristic citations tend to indicate it was normal to read the section more like "All things came into being by [or through] Him, and nothing has come into being apart from Him. What has come into being _in_ Him is life, etc." Later when Arians started making hay over this reading while trying to textually justify that the 2nd Person is a created being (though I'm not sure how they could have used this reading that way), their opponents began responding by citing the punctuation differently: "apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. In Him was life, etc." The new reading (which is now the common reading) _does_ have some respectable grammatic arguments on its side, too; but among text geeks it's still far from a settled issue. (For instancec, a majority of the editors for the Nestle-Aland/USB text agree with the older reading, but Metzger felt it necessary to write a dissent in favor of the more familiar reading.) As far as I can tell, the actual doctrinal issue at stake in the reading isn't Arianism, but the filioque: does the 3rd Person proceed from the 1st alone or from the 1st and 2nd Persons? The older grammatic interpretation would seem to favor procession from 1st and 2nd Persons, though ironically the Western Church (which accepts this over the Eastern Orthodox) has usually insisted on the later reading.

This last example is the most serious doctrinal issue brought up by textual criticism of which I'm aware (when only text-crit is being done); and not only is it hardly something to give aid and comfort to radical revisionists, it isn't even text-crit regarding the original text, of which there are no significant variations in this case. (It's text-crit of subsequent punctuation issues, with an eye toward original intent of the writer.)

Anyone interested in getting an idea of the type and spread of 'significant' variance in the NT texts, could do a lot worse than finding a copy of _A Textual Commentary on the Greek NT, 2nd Edition_--since its purpose is to discuss all significant variant situations. I have to warn, however: you're probably going to be bored and disappointed (including with the relatively small size of the book) if you're looking for ammunition to support the notion of doctrinal development through variation. {s} This is why even hardline inerrant/inspirationists usually don't get their noses in a twist about the variations. There are just enough really interesting things for theologians to have fun with among ourselves nowadays; the rest is dull and mundane.

Now, exegesis on the other hand.... {G!}

Jason Pratt

Jason Pratt said...

"For instancec"

There we go--that's a good example of the sort of 'variance' found among the settled 90ish-percent. {self-critical g} The large majority of the variance in the remaining 10% amounts to much the same thing.

A good comment since I posted, btw (while I was correcting my typo.) Though I think a non-believer (in the theological sense) can still fairly accept the records as being largely of real events (supernatural details excepted). Acts is especially good for this, ironically--I mean despite its larger-than-normal share of variances.


Sandalstraps said...

Seems like skeptics and fundamentalists make the same mistake: assuming that for the Bible to be the "inspired (literally breathed by God) word of God) it must be systematic and without error.

For the Bible to be the "inspired word of God" it must be the way in which God speaks to a community of faith. It comes out of a relationship between people who had some experience of God and the God that they in some way experienced. As such it informs our faith and our relationship with God (by our here I mean both personal and communal).

As it is a product of a human encounter with the divine, it bears the mark of human authors - authors who could not reasonably be expected to compose an inerrant work.

As it was written by many authors and editors over such a long expanse of time, and is a product of many different kinds of encounters with the divine, it cannot reasonably be expected to be perfectly systematic.

This in no way infringes on its status within the community of faith (even among Bible scholars) as the "inspired word of God."

I suspect a more thought-out comment would read something like:

It seems that a responsible Bible scholar could not view the Bible as the inerrant and systematic word of God.

That may well be the case. But a Bible scholar need not say that because of that God fails to speak through the Bible.

Jody Harrington said...

Thanks so much for this review, it sure helped me with a number of questions that I had after reading the book.

I wrote my own review of it on my blog and urged readers to also read yours, which I linked.

Thanks again.

Trierr said...

My question is if it is worth it to purchase the book or not? Are there better books for an average person or is this a worthwhile read? I am thinking both as an introduction to textual-criticism and especially considering the potential cultural impact.

Berezina said...

Is it asking too much of God that his scripture be inerrant and systematic? Couldn't he miraculously correct any errors introduced by humans, so that, whenever you picked up a bible, you would read perfect scripture?

Jason Pratt said...


I affirm, you're drawing a good link. The 'in the begining' phrase you mentioned, are the first words of GosJohn; and yes, they're meant to be echoing Gen 1:1 and to be read equivalently. The point, however, is not to divinize the writings--though you're right, that had been effectively done by the rabbis (and largely accepted by Christians, too). I think the point was to reinterpret _apparent_ references to the Word where spoken of in ways that seemed divine in Jewish thought of the time (and later), as actually applying to God in some way--not to the scriptures themselves per se. (Philo seems to have worked out something along a similar line, though not quite the way St. John is saying.)

This has some bearing on how to interpret Christian canonical writings as well, though I don't find Christians actually taking advantage of this very often. I make it an exegetical point, however, to consider that when a Christian canonical writer is speaking of the Word, I _might_ should be interpreting this as meaning Christ (or otherwise God in some fashion).

GosLuke's introduction is an interesting place to make this interpretation--the people St. Luke is talking about can hardly be deputies and eyewitnesses of the _scriptures_ (that would be idolatrous). Romans 10 is another place this can be very helpful for interpreting meaning. (It also helps to know that the rabbis considered the scripture "How beautiful are the feet of those who bring glad tiding of good things" to apply primarily to the Messiah as the one who is doing this. {g} Most Christians, unfortunately, don't know this nowadays--but Paul the Pharisee would have known. Makes a _significant _difference in understanding what Paul is talking about and trying to say.)

Jason Pratt

Jason Pratt said...


It isn't that I deny that God _could_ have done that. It seems evident enough to me (and other strongly conservative Christians such as C. S. Lewis; _also_ including inerrantists such as John W. Haley), that this wasn't done. To paraphrase Lewis, we can make a guess as to what we suppose would be best for God to do and then suppose He has done it; or we can check to see what the situation is and then suppose, if we still agree God did it, this must have been for the best.

Neither of these approaches is necessarily wrong in all situations; it's a judgment call as to which should be applied concerning the scriptures. Along with Lewis, I tend to go with the second option in this case. After which, we can consider why it was done this way instead of a way we might have naturally preferred.

Myself, I observe that the desire for gnosticism and textual idolatry is already terribly strong in the history of Judaism and Christianity both. Giving us what we want in this case (a systematic program-text, inerrant in the way we naturally want), would only make that worse. If you think that wouldn't make a practical difference, consider: are you all that happy when you hear a Christian even now saying you have to accept such-n-such a doctrine or be hopelessly tortured forever??

What you're asking for would only make that _worse_. And I suspect you'll agree (and if not I know a lot of people who will and do agree, including some rather vocal sceptics who've commented on this thread already--who, ironically, only consider me to be an enemy), _that_ situation is bad enough as it is already. Personally, I'm thankful for small favors. {s}

Put another way: speaking _as_ a _very_ systematic theologian, I'm _very_ glad the Jewish and Christian scriptures _aren't_ systematic theology. I'm already insufferable enough as it is. {penitent s!}

Of course, opinions differ. {wry g}

Jason Pratt

ccrino said...

About Mark 16:8:

I rather like that as an end to Mark. I think that it is a brilliant catechetical/evangelical device. Mark was written (best guesstimates) at the time of the first persecution in the Roman church. People were dying for their faith in Christ. That text, "They said nothing, for they were afraid" provokes the question "Then why I am hearing this gospel? Why are people dying for this faith?"

I think that the resurrection had to be preached, not read to people. Faith engenders faith, not the evidence of the written word, but the power of a believer preaching what he/she is convinced is true.

So, I use this text to help my catechists realize that they aren't passing on stuff written in a book, but the living faith of the Christian community, as it had been passed on to them.

Kevin Beck said...

Maybe orthodox Christianity needs to be de-constructed?

Sandalstraps said...

That demonstrates the danger of treating the Bible as a systematic work.

Jason Pratt said...


The sort of textual criticism Metzger is talking about (and which Ehrman was supposed to be talking about), involves a comparison of copies of texts in order to estimate (probabilistically, where not determinatevely) the original contents. It has nothing to do with the author of one original text making an alteration to something written by a previous author; including such questions as which one wrote what first, and what their intentions were in what they included, left out, or changed. That's an entirely different kind of critical study; though the two kinds of study are often confused.

When Metzger, speaking as a practitioner of textual criticism (the science of comparing subsequent variant copies to discover the original wording), says (somewhat paraphrasing him ourselves, let us notice! {g}) that no doctrine is undercut by textual problems; what he means is that once the text of GosLuke (for instance) is restored insofar as it can probabilistically be restored--which tends to involve _removing_ doctrinal glossing here and there--theologians today can still reach the same conclusions about doctrine from the reconstruction as were originally reached. This conclusion effectively kills the contention that Christian doctrine today is significantly an effect of scribal variation in the _copying_ process; but that's as far as Metzger means (because that's as far as this kind of criticism can legitimately go.)

To borrow one of your examples, for illustration, there are (iirc) three significant variants in the GosLuke Annunciation story, and seven significant variants in its sequel (after a digression to finish telling the story of the birth of John the Baptist) up through the point where Jesus is introduced as an adult (roughly the point where GosMark kicks in).

The three variants in the Annunciation story have _NOTHING_ to do with Mary's virginity, per se. Four (iirc) out of the seven variants later in the story were clearly inserted in order to tie back into the virginity claim earlier in the story. The virginity claim itself, however, is solidly established as part of the settled text of GosLuke. Removing and/or reparing the glosses of subsequent scribes in the second part of the story, doesn't remove the Virgin Birth material.

That's the sort of thing Metzger's talking about. Not that the other topic you're accidentally conflating with it isn't important, too, in its own way; but it isn't the same thing.

As a further example: there are, iirc, three significant variants in the two verses of the GosLuke baptism scene. The weight of the texts tends to come down in favor of the original text reading "You are My Son in Whom I delight". A common early variant replaces this with a slightly similar quote from a Psalm--2:7 iirc--"You are My Son; today I have begotten You." The third, and rarest variant, simply synchs the first variant with GosMatt's wording, putting it in third person. (When Synoptic synching goes on, it tends to be toward GosMatt.)

While it's possible that an early Adoptionist movement arose and was widely prevalent in the early church, thus explaining the 2nd variant (until later Christological disputation called coup on those copies); a simpler and thus (to that extent) more likely explanation is that some early scribe thought he was correcting an error by 'fixing' the 'quote' to fit a Psalm (particularly one recognized by rabbis at the time as being Messianic in reference anyway.) Text-crit has nothing to say on this matter about whether it is theologically more fitting to use a Psalm and/or whether the Psalm should be replaced because it might be read adoptionistically. It just compares the state of the evidence in copies, to try to render a probability about an earlier reading based on rather mundane things like the known habits of scribes and the 'family pedigree' the copies variously belong to (how far back can the family be traced, to where, through what languages, known habits of _particular_ copiests/translators, etc.)

Generally, text-crit involves going with the more difficult and less (apparently) 'orthodox' reading. In this case part of the rationale for prefering the common reading other than the Psalm, is simply that it doesn't lend weight to one side or another of a theological controversy. (Also, it isn't nearly as easy to tag a simple OT quote to it.) But if the weight of the texts went that way, the apparently 'adoptionist' reading would have been readily preferred; not only despite being unorthodox, but partially because it _would be_ unorthodox by the standards of the time. (The idea being that there would be more tendency for scribes to move _away_ from it toward something more acceptable by their current standards.)

Anyway. {g} This sort of thing, though similar in some regards, is a different kind (and method) of critical analysis, than a study of why Luke doesn't mention a theological point while John Mark does. When Metzger says that problems in the transmission of the texts happen not to affect doctrine (once they're identified and accounted for), he isn't talking about _that_ kind of criticism of the texts.

Hope this helps clear up the distinction. (sorry for the length, but it takes some time to describe and illustrate the differences involved.)

Jason Pratt

Dan tdaxp said...

Thank you very, very much for this excellent review. And thanks to all the commentators for this wonderful discussion. I gave a similar review over at my own blog, but this was far more scholarly.

Jason Pratt said...

Note: sorry for the delay--killer tornados here.


"[I]t isn't possible to 'estimate the original contents' without being alert to this sort of alteration."

Of course not, I agree. That wasn't my point, though; and it isn't the distinction between text-crit and (I think the proper term would be) source-crit.

To reiterate: the kind of criticism Metzger is talking about, involves sifting through various copies of (for instance) GosLuke to render an estimate about the probable original wording of GosLuke. Source-crit would involve trying to figure out what (if any) alterations the GosLuke author made to previous material he was working from.

The two studies do involve overlapping topics (which is why it's easy to accidently elide between them, although a professional of Ehrman's rank is supposed to know better than to do that). And those topics do (potentially) include the sort of things you listed; but the analysis is supposed to be applied to different levels of composition.

Again, because of the similarities, it isn't altogether easy to see the distinction. I'll try to illustrate it again, with reference to two of the examples already discussed.

Text-crit (of the sort Metzger is talking about) would involve comparing the history and contents of various 'families' of copies of GosMark, in order to study the variant word found in those copies at 1:41--some copies read 'splagchnistheis' ("being filled with compassion"), and some copies read 'orgistheis' ("being enraged"). The question is which of these is more likely to be the original wording of the Marcan text. (A majority of the USB editors came down on 'splagchnistheis', by the way; which doesn't alter the force of the word 'eubrimnsamenos' down in v.43 or similar indications of the non-variant Marcan text in the story that Jesus _was_ in fact very angry, apparently at the leper, during the healing. That would be narrative crit, btw.)

Source-crit would involve comparing the the Synoptic texts (Mark, Matt, Luke) to each other in regard to their accounts of this story, with an eye toward thinking about which one (if any) the others used as a source; or perhaps identifying a source shared by two authors. Strictly speaking, source-crit isn't supposed to be primarily concerned with the _further_ question of why one author did something differently than his source.

It should be obvious that source-crit on the leper story (continuing with that as the example) really can't get going fairly, without having _first_ settled (insofar as possible) what the original texts of the Synoptics (per se) most probably were (i.e. without doing the basic text-crit first.) It would be simply impossible to seriously and cogently propose that Luke is following Mark's rendering rather than Matthew's (in presenting the forcible ejection of the leper, for instance, which Matthew doesn't have at all), if the question of the original content of the texts of the Synoptics (per se) had not already been established (insofar as possible).

Similarly, text-crit would involve comparing copies of GosLuke in order to render an estimate about which of the three significant variants of declarations attributed to God during Jesus' baptism by JohnBapt (at 3:22) were most probably the original text of GosLuke. Source-crit would involve trying to figure out whether one of the other Synoptics is a source for Luke here (or whether Luke is a source for any of them!) Again, the texts _of the Synoptics_ need to be settled themselves insofar as possible by text-crit, before this source-crit question can be fairly addressed. A conclusion that the GosLuke text probably originally read "You are My beloved Son in Whom I delight", would be text-crit. A conclusion that Luke was (more or less) following Matthew's wording, would be source-crit. A theory about why Luke puts it in third-person rather than second ("This is My beloved" rather than "You are My beloved" in the settled Matthean text), is _not_ properly _either_ text crit _or_ source crit; but depends (even for bringing up the question) on the first two already having been given an answer one way or another.

Alternately, if the Biblical topic is distracting, the same illustration can be made concerning Shakespearean studies. The question of what the original wording of a scene in _Julias Caesar_ is, by studying copies where we don't have the autographic original (though for all I know we do in this case), would be text-crit. (I do know there are cases where we don't have original texts of some of his plays, and subsequent copies feature a lot of variation; though I don't recall offhand which of the plays those are.) Source-crit would propose and defend theories about which histories Shakespeare used for material in his play. Some other kind of crit (the term for which escapes me; call it 'intent-crit') would involve using conclusions previously drawn in text-and-source-crit (among other things) to propose and defend theories about _why_ the Bard did what he did with the material once he had it.

This is why I've said that Metzger's conclusion about the settled-ness of the textual material, is mundane and kind of boring, really. The sort of thing he's talking about has _NOTHING_ (I stress again) to do with whether Luke borrowed from Mark (for instance), nor with what Luke's intentions may have been in saying something differently (to whatever degree) from another author relating the same story.

It's important to keep this distinction in mind, because it helps prevent drawing fallacious conclusions based on similarity of secondary topics. Text-crit results give us no ground for _concluding_ that the wandering bit of 1 Cor 14 was inserted by the early church, for instance; because the state of the extant evidence is different from that which allows us to conclude with reasonably good probability that the two or three Marcan Epilogue variants were not themselves part of the original Marcan text. At most, text-crit brings up an interesting suspicion about that floating variant in 1 Cor. Source crit can tell us nothing about it, because we have _zero_ idea of anything that St. Paul (or whoever wrote the floating bit) may have been borrowing from (other than generally recognized rabbinic synagogual procedures). Intent-crit is left suppositioning in a near-void at this point; which is why analysts tend to turn to some kind of narrative criticism to come up with theories about how well the verse fits into the place it's usually found. (Text-crit _can_ tell us that the usual place is most probably _either_ the original textual placement _or_ a variant introduced extremely early by someone with a lot of authority to do so. Up until very recently, btw, this was my own opinion about a similar place in 2 Tim, though its text is more settled; but Prof W's explication earlier in this journal looks to be a better explanation to me.)

{{Also, in reference to women's role in the early church: among the doctrinally inspired changes in the text are several that deviate from Jesus's and Paul's inclusive and acceptant views.}}

While this is true to some extent, it's also true that these places have been identified and corrected in modern Bibles--_if_ what you're talking about is (strictly speaking) a text-crit issue. But that leaves over the 1 Cor floater, which _so far as text crit can legitimately say_ is still very probably original to the text (including where it's usually found); and the 2 Tim "Eve's fault" verse. There was no 'change' to the 2 Tim text, so far as we can tell based on the actual evidence; and the only 'change' extant to the 1 Cor text is a rare placement somewhere else in the epistle.

Now, what St. Paul (and/or whoever wrote 2 Tim) _meant_ by those verses, is a whole other question, which lies almost altogether outside the scope of textual criticism. (I've seen several good explanations of 1 Cor, including Prof W's; but also including a theory that Paul is quoting his readers and responding to them--a theory I attach some credence to, despite a bit of clunkiness in how it would work out, because I myself find much stronger internal evidence earlier in the same epistle that Paul is doing precisely that.) Ditto the question of whether 2 Tim is pseudononymous or not.

Consequently, it would be technically wrong (and misleading) to say in those cases that doctrinally inspired changes _have been made in the text_ that deviate from some view of Paul. (Unless, as in my previous opinion of 2 Tim, the change happened so early that from the standpoint of text criticism it's completely invisible. But that kind of proposal, aside from being highly speculative, can't be based on text-crit per se. Besides, the proposal lends itself toward canonicity anyway: if Timothy added parenthetical notes to an epistle sent to him by Paul, I think most Christians would treat the result as being no less canonical than a Gospel written by John Mark--maybe moreso.)

In any case, _insofar as text crit goes_, the base material has already been largely analysed and settled; and the results give no more problems to theologians concluding an exclusion about women's role in the church (for whatever reason) than the texts ever have. Text crit _might_ have settled the question, and _did_ remove definite variants; but as it happens the variants were introduced in order to smooth the texts in the direction of some material _already existant_ in the originals (so far as text crit can determine). This, btw, is pretty normal; the variant process has never lent itself to innovation, per se.

As a practical example on another topic: I happen to think Romans 9 is very commonly read _VERY_ wrongly as to its meaning. But I don't make my case based on textual criticism, because insofar as text crit can determine, what's commonly found there _is_ what Paul originally wrote. Consequently, if I was writing a book which was supposed to be teaching text-crit principles to readers, I would be hugely off-base to give an opinion about a better reading of Rom 9 _in that book_, especially if I was presenting it as a working example of text crit. Commentators ranging the ideological spectrum would all alike be right to thwap me on the head for doing that--whether or not they agreed with me about my reasons (otherwise) for preferring a particular interpretation of the text.


Ed Brenegar said...

I have enjoyed reading the exchange between Ben and the agnostics. I have a question for them. Would you please define the faith that you lost? It is not clear what you precisely lost. It sounds like some commodity. Like losing a sock. Is faith merely the affiliation you have with a system of thought as institutionalize in a tradition of values and beliefs? Or is faith something fundamentally about who you are as a person. Have you lost yourself because you have lost your faith? Is it rather that you have traded one faith for another. That you life is not lived in a vacuum, because you obviously believe in something. What is that something? And is it something worth dying for? I ask this because it seemed the language of lost faith is rather cavalier and of no real consequence.

Edwardtbabinski said...

Dear Ben Witherington, and Ed Berengar, a friendly reply to each of you:

FIRST A REPLY TO BEN: You wrote that you had "never been to Fuhrman" [actually, it's Furman without the h], and I may be incorrect in recalling that you had spoken there, because I could have confused you with Luke Timothy Johnson. On the other hand it does appear on your website that you will soon be speaking at Furman University this August 1st and 2nd at the Minister's Conference. I could also check campus records to see if there is any previous record of you speaking at Furman. But that's neither here nor there. On the other hand, I have read some of your writings in Bible Review, an interesting magazine that features writers from a wider than average spectrum of Biblical scholarship. I'll try and remember to meet and greet you when you do arrive at Furman!

Ben, you also wrote, that we know exactly who provided each Gospel document. But scholars of the highest magnitude are not as agreed as you seem to be saying that we actually know who wrote such works. I quoted the Oxford Companion to the Bible, edited by Metzger in my first post.

And Ben, you agree that none of the authors of the Gospels were eyewitnesses of Jesus of Nazareth's ministry. So whatever else the Gospels were, they were not written by Jesus, nor by followers who saw Jesus preach, but by followers of followers.

I also doubt that the questions raised in the articles to which I provided links in my first post can be answered in any satisfying fashion except by believers who have faith in their own answers, which is not exactly humble when you come to think of it, but is exactly the kind of "sin" they would normally accuse humanists of committing.

In the end, questions remain.

Even contradictions. One might add that "apparent contradictions" are the worst kind, because they will always be staring at you from the Biblical text no matter how many attempts one makes to make them disappear, they will always be there, plainly apparent, raising more questions than inerrant answers, because none of the replies are inspired, but instead remain questionable/speculative, with some replies being more speculative than others.

By the way, have you studied James D. G. Dunn's approach to the Gospels? He is an eminent Biblical scholar and also was once nearer to Evangelical orthodoxy than he is now, though he has not become an agnostic like Bart Ehrman. James D.G. Dunn in his latest massive work, Jesus Remembered, argues that The Gospel of John's narrative is not reliable, nor the claims it makes for Jesus's quasi-divine status. (In his earlier work, Evidence for Jesus, Dunn didn't imagine that Jesus spoke even one word reported in John.) Dunn admits there is little to support the infancy narratives in Matthew and Luke, and little evidence that Jesus supported a mission to the gentiles, and no evidence that Jesus saw himself as any kind of messiah. (The term does not even appear in Q.) Nor is there much left of the "Son of Man," except for a few uncertain eschatological allusions. Dunn argues that Jesus did not claim any title for himself. Jesus may have believed that he was going to die, but he did not believe he was dying to redeem the sins of the world. "If Jesus hoped for resurrection it was presumably to share in the general and final resurrection of the dead." There is astonishingly little support for what Jesus' last words were. Dunn admits that Jesus believed in an imminent eschatological climax that, of course, did not happen. "Putting it bluntly, Jesus was proved wrong by the course of events." Dunn's account of the resurrection notes all of the weaknesses of the tradition: The link of Jesus' resurrection to a falsely imminent general resurrection, confusion as to what sort of Jesus the witnesses were seeing, a persistent theme of failure of the witnesses to recognize Jesus (in Matthew 28:17 the disciples are seeing him in Galilee yet "some doubted," not just Thomas), confusion as to where they were seeing Jesus (in Jerusalem and Galilee? On earth or in heaven?).

Year ago, Dunn wrote, "The Authority of Scripture According to Scripture" [which appeared in two parts in The Churchman (London, England) 96.2 & 96.3, 1982] in which he argued that the verses in the Bible that spoke of its "inspiration" did not demand that all Scripture be taken as literally as modern day conservatives propose it must. Dunn's article was challenged in that same journal by Roger Nicole (a founder of the Evangelical Theological Society). Interesting little debate.

At the very least, Dunn should be read as a point along the spectrum of Christian theology lying somewhere between yourself and Bart Ehrman.

DEAR ED BERENGAR, you are a man of many questions. You asked,

QUESTION 1) Please define the faith that you lost.

REPLY: You can read my chapter in Leaving the Fold: Testimonies of Former Fundamentalists, available at, or ask me in a personal email to forward you that chapter in an email. However, there are nearly three dozen first-hand personal testimonies in the book, a third of them by people who remained Christians but who left behind fundamentalistic beliefs for more moderate to liberal ones. You can also visit the "Leaving Christianity" website run by Steve Locks. Just google Leaving Christianity. Locks has assembled links to former Christian testimonies on the web or published as books.

QUESTION 2) Is faith merely the affiliation you have with a system of thought as institutionalize in a tradition of values and beliefs? Or is faith something fundamentally about who you are as a person?

REPLY: My former Chrisitan faith was something I lived and breathed. I loved Jesus and the Bible and related to them both in a way that was highly personal.

QUESTION 3) Have you lost yourself because you have lost your faith?

REPLY: Do you mean, do I feel "lost" because I honestly admit I can no longer believe in what I formerly believed concerning Jesus and the Bible? No. However there are cases where a person whose relatives and friends formerly revolved completely around his religious beliefs and his church did grow traumatized after he began having doubts.

QUESTION 4)Is it rather that you have traded one faith for another? That you life is not lived in a vacuum, because you obviously believe in something. What is that something?

REPLY: I don't think in terms of having traded one faith for another, but I have gained a questioning perspective toward knowledge in general that led to my former particular doctrinal Christian beliefs falling away.

QUESTION 5) And is it something worth dying for?

REPLY: Dying for a religious belief does not prove that that belief was true. And Christians have persecuted and/or executed pagans, Jews, Muslims, women, atheists, and other Christians, over differences of belief for nearly two millennia.

By the way, in January 2004, ten thousand people were interviewed in a poll by the research company ICM for the BBC programme, What The World Thinks Of God. The countries polled were the US, UK, Israel, India, South Korea, Indonesia, Nigeria, Russia, Mexico and Lebanon.

Nigeria scored highest in almost all categories. In Nigeria the figure for "belief in God" was 100% and in the US 91%, with the UK scoring lowest at 67%. In Nigeria, Indonesia and Lebanon more than 90% of people said their God was the only true God.
Those willing to die for their God, or their beliefs, included more than 90% in Indonesia and Nigeria, and 71% in Lebanon and the US. In Nigeria 91% of people said they regularly attended a religious service, contrasting with 21% in the UK and only 7% of Russians. The average across the 10 countries was 46%.

So Nigeria contains the highest percentage believers in God and of people willing to "die" for their beliefs. It is also the country where Christians and Muslims are murdering each other en masse.

Evangelical Christian pollster, George Gallupalso conducted a Millennial Survey of World Religious Statisticsthat is pertinent to any such conversation.

See also this article, Atheism: Contemporary Rates and Patterns, prepared for THE CAMBRIDGE COMPANION TO ATHEISM, EDITED BY MICHAEL MARTIN, CAMBRIDGE UNIVERSITY PRESS, 2005. The author's conclusion in the final endnote is of particular interest:

The Various sociologists of religion, such as Rodney Stark and Roger Finke (2000), have declared that “secularization” is a myth and that there is no empirical evidence for the decline of religion. For decades, Andrew Greeley has been in denial about the loss of religious belief. In 1972 he claimed that the observation that religion was in decline in certain societies was mere “dogma” not “substantiated by empirical fact” (p.45). In (1995:199) he claimed that there is “little evidence” that “men and women are less religious than they used to be,” and that such a claim contains “no data” to support it. And again in 2003 (ix-x) he maligns the observation of secularization as “dogma” and charges that anyone who uses the term “secularization” does so as an “excuse for not thinking.” Greeley is dead wrong. Religion in much of the world may show little decline, but elsewhere, the evidence for secularization is strong and the empirical data sound and abundant.

(Again, to be clear, I did not write the above paragraph, but am citing it as something of interest in a recent Cambridge University Press publication)

Joseph Salomonsen said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Joseph Salomonsen said...

One surprising factual error that Dr.Bloomberg and others has pointed out with Dr.Ehrmans book is: when he insists that Acts 4:13 means that Peter and John were illiterate (the term agrammatos—“unlettered” in this context means not educated beyond the elementary education accessible to most first-century Jewish boys)

Scrivenings said...

Lurch said...
... the arguments against their authenticity are irrevelant ... It is completely understandable if one chooses not to believe the things said in the NT because they do not wish to accept it. No one can believe what they do not wish to, but many of the axe-grinding statements your making Mr. Babinski are extremely questionable and suspicious.

Sharon: Recently while composing an essay on a vaguely related topic, the first discoverer of America, incidentally history tells he, Leif Erickson, converted to Christianity... but a dilemma exists in manuscripts, which raise the question, "Did he actually exist?", composed 200 years after his actual life (if he in fact existed) -- questions raised by scholars, which included mention of Biblical manuscripts, I learned that history we take for granted as "matter of fact" may, or may not be trusted.

Yes, many "facts" depend on whether we're willing to take "written accounts" as a matter of fact. Also, do we simply accept the myths and legends as truth, along with the person of Leif Ericsson, or Leif Ericson?

From The Vikings by Gwyn Jones, Folio Society
In contrast 'Eirik the Red's Saga' (Eiríks Saga Raua) makes no mention of Bjarni, but in a section remarkable for confusion and irrelevance ascribes the honour of the discovery to Leif Eiriksson, the eldest son of the founder of the Greenland settlements. To Leif Grœnlendinga Saga (the 'Greenlanders' Saga') assigns the credit of the first landings in the New World and the first sojourn in Vinland. There are good, though complicated, reasons for believing this to be right.*

* The 'Vinland Sagas' are very important documents, and must be treated as such, though the need for care is evident. Thus, they were not written down for at least two hundred years after the events they portray. They are prodigal of unlikelihood, contradictions and invention. They retail Old Testament reminiscence, Christian and heathen superstition, medieval pseudo-science, Germanic folk-tale and classical fable, and offer them as truth. But with it all they contain reliable information about how ships sailed on a traceable course out of Eiriksfjord in Greenland, north, west, then south, to northern Newfoundland, and maybe further south again --certainty to the land-mass we now call North America, and certainly centuries before the voyages of Columbus. When scepticism has done its best, and blind belief its worst, enough of fact and rather more of tradition remains in the assorted witness of Grœnlendinga Saga and Eiríks Saga Raua to direct us to persons, who are expendable, and locations, which are not.

Nick said...

I just finished listening to Bart Ehrman's course on the New Testament offered by The Teaching Company. I purchased the class desiring a better understanding of New Testament study and theology. I consider myself a Christian and I define the term "lay theologian".

Coming into this course I knew nothing about the Jesus Seminar, the quest for the Historical Jesus, or textual criticism of the Bible. I found the course extremely informative, thought provoking, and even entertaining.

Strangely enough after taking the course my faith was strengthened and felt that my beliefs were encouraged, not discouraged. Bart (I almost feel like I know him after listening to 24 lectures) claimed (with supporting evidence, warrants, and inferences) the existence of Jesus and core messages. The excellent exposition of the fact that the Bible was transmitted by people like myself (error prone) helped me put in a proper perspective fundamentalist doctrine that ignores the humanity of the Christian religion.

I am not at all surprised that the Bible has inconsistencies and questionable attribution. If everything were tied up with a neat bow I would be truly skeptical. I think what is often missed in these conversations is the depth of the symbols and the beauty and power of the profound truths presented in the Christian scriptures. Another is the personal encounter with a living God, the bridging between the physical and the spiritual, something that cannot adequately be explained with words. Whether we want to admit it or not the traditions of the Christian religion are its bedrock - the scriptures are a part of the tradition. To me the slicing and dicing of grammar can lead to missing the point.

God, existence and life, the world, faith, religion, purpose and meaning, relationships, history, the future, let’s face it, its hard to conceptualize it all and create some framework of understanding. I know from personal experience! Thinking out loud, expressing and articulating ones beliefs and their transformations is healthy and constructive if done in a manner that respects others. I welcome and appreciate Bart’s thoughtful and honest dialog.

“It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.”

Anonymous said...

Ben, I liked Bart's book quite a bit, because he opens up a discussion that is usually left to the specialists. Those kind of books are dangerous. I agree that his book will probably not change the mind of a believer. It's strange what makes someone change his or her mind. But I too used to defend Christianity and now I debunk it. For Bart, the whole process of textual transmission simply looked to him like a human project, not a divine one, and I agree.

Control beliefs, after all, control how we view the evidence. It's all about seeing things differently.

While you probably haven't yet seen my book, someday soon you will be asked about it. I also consider it to be a dangerous book, for it hits the whole Christian worldview in a well argued but readable fashion, just like Bart's book does, with the exception that it does not deal with a single issue. It'll be a tough book to argue against, I think, when it hits the national bookstores...and it will.

JC said...

I've spent a couple of years digging into text criticism in classes and on my own, but my conclusions have always strengthened my faith rather than debunk it. Thanks again for your response/thoughts toward this sort of increasing skepticism.

First of all, why do you need textual criticism to strengthen your faith? Faith is faith, regardless of anything. If you feel your faith is wavering, then that is not faith. Faith does not need justifications, not logic, not science, not reason, and especially not history or archeology.

You Christians don't fail to amuse me.

Tom Corbett said...

The thing that bothers me as a student, is that Ehrman is not up front about his strong atheism.

For him to pretend he had no agenda, beyond just the study of the texts, is disingenous at best.

Unknown said...

Dr. Witherington

I am very pleased to learn even more now after reading your comment on Ehrman´s book. This was definetely the kind of information that was looking for.. I Hope to continue reading more of your works.

God Bless You.

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

I Just wanna also add something about what Lurch said relating to the authorship of the fourth gospel. we all know that the fourth gospel has been the centre of unending disputes, because people talk about the enigma of this gospel in particular. F.F.BRuce also explains it in his book, "THe New Testament Documents".. which i also have to stand with Lurch on his comment about this, cause it is in fact widely agreed by a great number of scholars that John is the author of the fourth gospel. The internal evidence supports the claim that the author not only witnessed but understood the great events which he records. The external evidence for the Gospel is as strong as for the Synoptics. F.F.Bruce also mentioned something interesting which is the evidence found towards the end of the second century in the Muratorian Fragment and in the anti-Marcionite prologue to the fourth Gospel. The document tell this strange story which goes by the following: " John one of the disciples, wrote the fourth gospel. when his fellow-disciples and bishops urged him, he said: "fast along with me for three days, and then let us relate to one another what shall be revealed to each". The same night it was revealed to Andrew, one of the apostles, that John should write down everything in his own name, and that they should all revised i

Chuck T said...

I'm embarrassed by the attacks from Christians. Just like the Christian past of attacking the people behind info that does not agree with your dogma. Obviously you can't just base your points on the facts at hand, but must add your personal attacks to boost you weak positions.

GL said...

Clearly most commenters to this blog believe in the Bible and then make excuses for it accordingly. To the question "Could anything shake your faith?" the answer is obviously "No." If you are unfazed to find out that the Trinity is nowhere mentioned explicitly in the Bible, but that Trinitarians inserted a completely fabricated verse about it, obviously because THEY were fazed by the omission, that is fine for you. I will suggest, however, that most ordinary churchgoers will be surprised by this interesting fact. And they will recollect that their minister, who probably knew about it, took care never to mention it. The self-delusion and mild dishonesty of those who cling to the divine inspiration of scripture is familiar enough; as long as everyone is worshipping together in the same church, it is mostly harmless, however lacking in intellectual integrity. But it is really hitting below the belt to insinuate that it is Ehrman who is dishonest, who has an agenda, who rigs the evidence. This degree of projection and self-blindness is alarming. By all means, cover your ears when Ehrman speaks. You have a right to remain undisturbed by the findings of modern scholarship. But do not stoop to attacking the scholars who do no more than write the simple truth.

ruindyng said...

While I loved reading this blog and reading the associated comments, there is one overriding question I have that doesn't seem to have been answered.
I see many on here informing that that they know the Bible is not inerrant; however, this factoid does not distract from their faith. These declarations are made as if this should be obvious to everyone having any common sense.
Here is my question. If the Bible is known by scholars to not be inerrant then why is the Bible taught from the pulpit every Sunday as if it were? I understand that there are differences between scholars and pastors. The fact is that the pastors are taught by the scholars.
There is a huge amount of churches which teach the Bible is inerrant. I defy you scholarly individuals to step up to the pulpit and teach that the Bible is not inerrant in one of these churches and see what happens.

Robert said...

Thanks... That is really encouraging and revealing

Brian Morgan said...

Well, I tend to like Bart's ideas and work. There is some sort of growth in finding out that blind and/or emotional faith may be somewhat naive. Faith, would be all powerful if we simply accepted EVERYTHING and had the FEAR of HELL for even thinking that "we" (little humans) could find this or that error in Christianity. By accepting a potential error, you in turn start to test other "blind areas of faith" that you were indoctrinated to believe or take without an reasonable facts. In the end, even if you can know the Truth,about the bible, about the evils of the government, about earth-shattering lies we as a nation are told every day - but what can we really do? Books I suppose are a great effort to cause a change little by little knowing that somewhere in the future, these small fragments add up to something substantial. Personally - there are many people much smarter than myself in many areas of life, I can only really handle my one life.

Unknown said...

I think that's a fair question, ruindyng.

Millions of Americans are being taught every Sunday that the Bible is inerrant. If scholar like the gents posting here were a little more, um, evangelical (for lack of a better word!) about the truth of the errancy of the Bible, they could really alleviate a lot of harm - actual harm - being done by the errancy crowd.

I speak from experience, as a former fundamentalist Christian - one whose faith was certainly altered forever by a closer examination of the Bible, as well as some probing questions, which got some very unconvincing answers in college (at Bob Jones University, no less).

What say ye, fellows?

sk. said...

In Ehrman's model, an orthodox consensus is brought to bear upon the ambiguities of scripture at many points, in many places, at many times. The question is ... how does Ehrman explain the existence of this consensus?

sk. said...

Ehrman tries to deconstruct the myth of a uniform Christian synthesis by pointing to the "corrosive" influence of ... a ubiquitous, uniform Christian synthesis!
He succeeds, only IF:
1) his thesis about the alteration of scripture is correct
2) one identifies Christianity solely with original autographs.

Caleb Soptelean said...

I find it interesting that Ehrman's book includes I John 5:7 but not Matthew 28:19, which I've heard from both Pentecostal and Episcopal sources was changed in antiquity to add "in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost" to bolster the trinity doctrine, and hence the baptismal formula.

Keith Welch said...

Having read Ehrman's book, I was once again amazed by the hoops that believers will jump through in order to make the Bible believable. It strikes me that anyone with an open mind, reading that Jesus expected the 'heavenly kingdom' to occur during his lifetime, would set the book down and start looking elsewhere for answers. Just that one thing ought to do it. If one can read Ehrman's entire book, state that the bible is inerrant, and still profess belief in the Second Coming, one ought to be watched carefully for other signs of mental illness.

I've recently finished reading several books on archaeological evidence for the historical validity of the Old Testament, and even I was surprised at how poorly the bible holds up to scrutiny. Most of it appears to have been written as political propaganda.

Mo Johnson said...

Dr. Witherington -- do you believe the bible is inerrent or not?

i think it obviously is not, but my church would tell me i'm headed to hell for saying that.

which makes me believe the whole thing is a bunch of hokum.

so, please tell us what say you?


Moisés Coimbra said...

It is quite clear that there are in fact some verses added to the Bible, especially in the Gospels. Now, I do think that, those facts shouldn’t be hide from anyone that goes to church. But just one important thing about this whole thing is.. that those additions, or that the copies of those manuscripts that the scribes inadvertently and/or intentionally changed them in places "Changes the whole central or I would say the Theological core" of the whole message of the New Testament..

C.L. Jones said...

The Bible says in Revelation that anyone who "adds to" or "takes away" (scripture) will be taken out of the book of life (condemned to Hell). Paul warns Timothy that "scoffers" would increase in the "last days". The Scripture that Ehrman takes issue with predicts (in Scripture) folks like himself. We can rely on what we have of the scriptures to get us to Heaven. Even such a short scripture as John 3:16.

taking off the rose coloured glasses said...

First, your assertion that the title "Misquoting jesus" is not decriptive because as you say, most of the biblical quotes are not of jesus, is an ill-founded criticism and show lack of research into this issue, because in fact Ehrman did not choose this title. ehrman chose "Lost in translation" but the publisher insisted on "Misquoting jesus."

You have not admitted that there are imntentional alterations in the proginal, in fact, in one instance it is even notated that a change was made. It cannot be denied that there are many alterations made in the transmission and copying of the manuscripts, and that it can be extrapolated that the bible we now have is not from originals and that therefor it is not trustworthy. that is the bottom line. There are no original manuscripts and so we have no basis for "divinely inspired" text.

Jim said...

Let me add just a brief note: Please read Dean John W. Burgon's Last Twelve Verses of Mark before jumping to any conclusions about its veracity and genuineness.

BassoonJedi said...

God be praised!

What a delight to see thinking men debate the Holy Scriptures with sincere and devoted scholarship! I wish that all were as convinced of their authority and unique character. I am not troubled by discrepancies or "errors" in the Scriptures -- like the Testimony of Divergent Witnesses, I find such things to strengthen the Bible's veracity.

Dr. Witherington, I'm so glad you posted this commentary on your blog. My husband came home from the library with Ehrman's book and I read the Introduction and skimmed through it. I appreciate that you have entertained negative and contradictory responses to your post.

It is distressing to see how the evil one uses the most wonderful gifts of our Lord (our intellect) against us to blind us. Thank God for your faithfulness to combat the errors that may lead us to doubt unfoundedly.

-Dennis said...

Exodus 31:18 Now that's what I call "Divinely Inspired - and "the original autograph".

I am not well educated - not even a 4-year college degree, much less any seminary etc...

Sorry if I'm not welcome here, but I'm curious if any of you folks might say anything in relation to the situation where God decided to have Moses chisel out the next version of the 10 Commandments (rather than rewriting another copy, directly from Him again, after His original was broken -- perhaps that is when the window of opportunity opened and allowed the possibility of "human error") ?

-Dennis Warren

(Mr. Witherington - I'm the very long-winded older grey-haired guy who talked your ear off - not letting you get hardly a word in edgewise - after you spoke at a small University in Bolivar, MO a few years ago.)

P.S. I have been experiencing major "issues" with my attempt to keep my faith recently. I downloaded some very interesting MP3s where both Bart and Dan spoke at University about this subject - and those talks and this thread are pretty much all I have heard about textual criticism.

I'm not really trying to push my opinion here - since I'm not really sure what that is at this point. However, I'm just thinking God sort of like does have a precedent where He actually wrote some "scripture" directly - eliminating any human error, for any who could read what was written by His own hand/(finger). However, He seemed to back off of that idea. Could that mean anything - I'm kind of surprised I have not seen anything about that in relation to the concept of how relible/really-inspired the "original autographs" really are (assuming we actually could find/read such).

(By the way, Bart said in that forum that variants were not the main thing which pulled him away from belief in God, rather -if I remember correctly - I think he referred to a newer book where the the problem of evil is discussed?).

-Dennis said...

Sorry about my previous post's lack of detail - Early this morning my brain was suffering from over-sluggish too-lazy to look it up mode.

At this link is where I think any interested folks may still be able to gain access to those "talks" (I have seen other blogs refer to the talks as a "debate" - however I think the Greer-Heard Point-Counterpoint Forum page is more accurate when it says: "...they discuss the textual reliability of the New Testament.".

Now I remember that I had to pay some to download the big MP3 files, but I have listened to them several times and I think the money was well spent (hey, I guess other folks need to feed their kids too).

I was doing a lot of lawn mowing about the time I got those and I listened to them through headphones so as to try and "redeem the time" a bit.

Dan, if you are reading this - I want to say I appreciate your good Spirit - you are the kind of guy with whom I'd consider myself abundantly blessed if I could get your take on specific cases where I find the use of my mind seems to lead me away from the God my heart fervently desires to cling to.

Sorry to wander so far from the specific narrow on-track topic, but the biggest impediment I run into when I consider the "completely inspired" view is things like the way the Apostle Paul speaks about the decision to get married (and also when to "just say no"). On the one hand he opens our minds to the glorious truth about the symbolism of Christ and his Bride, but on the other (e.g. 1 Cor. 7) I get the impression he is saying the main reason for getting married is so the frequent use of our undefiled marriage bed can be used to help us win the battle against the temptation of fornication.

Maybe it's just me, but (now I'm trying to come back at least somewhere close to the topic) it seems like there is something missing - something which perhaps could clarify what God really does want us to know about marriage. I would expect since marriage is so important, for God to provide us with specific marriage vows, or at least better clarification about when and why (and maybe even how) we should seek the mate so our union would be most glorifying to Him. So - I'm thinking maybe I could explain why something appears to be missing - by either assuming some kind of textual corruption may have sprung into the texts after a pure original version, or perhaps the inspiration for Paul didn't all come at one time - so each time he was used as an instrument to dictate what was to come to be called "scripture" maybe more and more of the "full picture" was filled in?

Unfortunately, in my many years of frequent local church attendance, (in pretty much what you guys would probably call "fundamentalist" types of Bible and/or Baptist churches), I don't think much of any of what I mention above was (or would be welcomed) to have ever been spoken about.

Actually, we just didn't usually hear anyone asking questions which might assume anything in the Bible that might appear to have something "missing" in order to have some obviously important subject be more clear or provide additional information which might help to reduce suffering from people who wanted to do what God wants, but just didn't seem to be able to figure out what that is.

I just get very sad when I come to some passage that, on the surface appears to offer a way to avoid sin - while in practice it just doesn't seem to work in the black and white clear cut way which it seems (to me anyway) the plain reading of the text suggests it should.

Do I even make any sense to any of you who study the Bible faithfully and know more specifically (than I could ever likely be able learn) about the dividing line between what we can put in our hands and what we can see only via faith?

Any and all comments will be both welcomed and appreciated ( Ben, that is, if you are as generous as before, and allow also this longer, and rambling post to be recorded publicly on your old Blog - Thanks!)


Dolores said...

Today we celebrate the Birth of a Child. A Child, not conceived by his Father Joseph, but by God in an Immaculate Conception in Mary.

There are other recorded Children reproduced by barren females, including John the Baptist, and, Isaac, Sampson, and others in the Old Testament, by God and Angels.

Other Religions had Myth Gods, and Miracle Immaculate Conceptions. Humans without High Tech Science, translated these births as Supernatural.

Today, we Reproduce Supernaturally in a High Tech Lab, by joining a male and female seed, making a Fetus, and putting it into a female womb, like God and Angels did.

High Tech Reproduction 'in vitro', is a Miracle Conception today, for a couple, or, for a single male or female.

Humans, again, Know how to Colonize a Planet, Travel in Space, and Reproduce Children without the Heterosexual Sex Act. All Acts of Man Gods and Angels.

We do Not have a High Tech Womb for making Perfect Genetic and Physical Human Adults, like the Lord God did with Cloning Eve from Adam's Rib. We do Clone copies of the same sex in animals.

Our High Tech Joining of the Two Seeds into One Child, in the lab, is sometimes up to Seven, instead of One.

Will Fallen Humans Understand and Accept, that High Tech Science was on Earth 'in the beginning', or, did Life and Humans really Evolve on Earth, up to our High Tech today?

In the End Times, will Fallen Killer Humans blow up our Home Planet, with Nuclear 'Bombs bursting in air, by the Dawn's Early Light'?

This 'will' be a Planetary War, and 'Literally', the Final War to End All Wars.

While God our Ancestors, will be in their Holy Temple, their Spaceship. 'They will be Back', for the Judgement Day.

Dolores said...


What do you consider Moral, for God and Country?

Not being an admitted Agnostic or Atheist, about Religious Movements? Is the Christian Religion the only Moral Example for Humans on Earth for you?

Exactly what Christian Morals are Humans Living under today? Christians and any Religious Humans, who are Killing Each Other and our Planet is not Moral. Their God says so. Are they doing it for God, or Country?

Reproducing more Defective Genetic and Physical Humans then our Home Planet can Support, is not Moral, for God or Country.

Worshiping GOD, the Creator of the Elements that make Life as we Know it, or, the God in our Human Image, our High Tech Ancestors that Colonized Earth, in Temples made by Humans Hands, is not Moral for God or Country.

Having Starving and Homeless Brothers/Sisters of Life, on our Home Planet is not Moral for God or Country.

Polluting our Earth Home, Species, and Ozone Canopy, is not Moral for God or Country.

So what are your Moral Standards, for Fallen High Tech Humans on our Home Planet? Should they be for God or Country? Or Both?

Dolores said...

Bill Tammeus:
"it seems to me that the important question about any such theological exploration (about apocalypse) is what, if anything, it has to do with the way we live here and now. If it makes no difference to that, you're wasting your time even thinking about it."

It seems No One 'Literally' accepts the Religious Apocalypse/End Times of Life on Earth, is for our Times.

Humans, with Free Will, have set up Planet Killing, and are Destroying our Ozone Canopy. Humans have Nuclear Bombs on Land and Sea. For Love of God?

Most Religious Humans think GOD/God will destroy our Earth Home in a Planetary Fire, like 'He' did with Water, in the Planetary Noah Flood, 'literally' caused by the High Tech Noah/Atlantis Society.

Is GOD/God an Evil Killer?

Why would GOD that made the Atom and Electro-Magnetic LIFE, Visible and Invisible, want to Kill Anything?

Why would Astronaut 'God' in our Human Image, that Colonized our Earth, from null and void, to Livable in 5000 Earth years, want to Destroy it?

Astronaut 'God', He/She Human Clones, Reproduced Male and Female Human Clones, in their Human 'Image', to be the Caretakers of All Life on Earth, and it's Eco System.

What do Religious Humans, in the here and now that Love God, have Anything to do with Polluting GODs Eco System, and Covering our Home with Nuclear Bombs on land and sea, that our Ancestors Colonized?

Are Religious Humans too busy, building Religious pagan temples, to their Human High Tech Fathers/Mothers Gods of Life on their Home Planet, to notice what is Happening to GODs Temple Earth?

Who will 'Literally' Destroy our Dying Earth Home, and the Life on it? GOD, God, Satan, or Killer Born Humans?

Dolores said...

Instead of Charity Groups, it would be better to Control Reproduction, and Share the Resources on Earth, Equally.

Why are there so many destitute Mothers, Children, and Homeless Males and Females? Haves and Havenots?

The Male and Female Seed Joins Together, and GOD makes a Human Life. A Child's Genetic and Physical information is from both seeds.

Whatsoever GOD joins together, let no Human put Asunder. Thou Shalt Not Kill.

Humans are again up to High Tech Science Cycle of Reproduction. We Join the Seed together in the Lab, and make a Human Fetus.

Instead of a High Tech Womb, we put the Child into a female womb, that will be exposed to Birth Damage and Death. Why?

The Lord God is Humans, not GOD that made the Elements and seeds of All Life and Joins them together.

Life Species made from GODs Elements, can Never Know this GOD whose Elements make the Universes.

The Heterosexual Body Birth Act, by the Purebred Adam and Eve Colony, made Imperfect Humans.

Disease, Killing and Death began on Earth, and Humans lost their High Tech Science. Generation Rebirth began.

The 2nd High Tech Generation Cycle of Rebirth, was the Noah/Atlantis Society. Their Misuse of GODs Elements, caused the Planetary Flood.

Life began again, with Natural Born Humans with Heterosexual Birth, Killing, Death and Rebirth Cycles.

The 3rd and Final High Tech Cycle of Generation Rebirth, is today. Now Humans again have a Science and Population Explosion, like in the Days of Noah and Atlantis.

We have set up the Last Destruction of Life on Earth, the Planetary Fire, with our Toxic Pollution and Nuclear Waste.

Then, All Life as we Know it, can not Continue again, for another High Tech Cycle.

Earth will be like Mars. No Eco System or Ozone Canopy. No Life as we Know it.

Dolores said...

This week's Daily promise, 1/6/09: God will fight for you
Do you sense that God is on your side?
"On the very day I call to you for help, my enemies will retreat. This I know: God is on my side. O God, I praise your word. Yes, Lord, I praise your word. I trust in God, so why should I be afraid? What can mere mortals do to me?" Psalm 56:9-11 NLT"

Why does 'God takes Sides with his Children on Earth'? Because of many Human Religious Groups, have fought and Killed, to Prove who has the Real GOD on their side?

Because of Family, or Government State Religions that a person has been raised in? Who is the One True GOD?

Did the One GOD that made the Elements that made Universes, Divide Humans on Earth, into all these Man-Made Religious Groups today? How?

How many Gods are there on One Planet? When did the One GOD decide take Sides, with All 'His'/'Her' Children?

When Did One GOD decide to become a Trinity God, a One GOD in 'Three Persons'?

If GOD has been seen, in our Human Image, then Who Made the Universes and Elements, Visible and Invisible? Not a Human.

The Fallen High Tech Human Species, Misusing GODs Elements, is about to destroy GODs Planet, with their Unbalanced Pollution, and Nuclear Bombs on GODs land and sea.

Worshiping the Lord God, our High Tech Ancestors in our Human Image, is not the GOD of the Universes.

Fallen Human Body Birth Species with Generation Living, Dying, and Rebirth, can be Overcome with GODs High Tech Purebred Human Science.

GOD is the GOD of the Living High Tech Human Clone Species, who have Eternal Physical Life After Birth, and Colonize Planets.

Been Told said...

Having read the book today I must confess to feeling like the floor was pulled away from under my feet.
I will now review, minutely, all scripture cited by Ehrmann.

If all he said were true, I would see no point in believing in the God of the Bible. What I mean is, if he were right in everything, the Bible would be practically a collection of legends and post humously invented myths and doctrines.

So now before making up my mind about Ehrman and about the Bible, I will verify everything. This review has, at least, calmed me down somewhat. I can certainly agree with the statement about Chicken Littles.

Thank you very much.

I am not a church member, I study with friends and on my own, because I have made a number of negative experiences with churches and similar communities. Jesus is dear to me and the Bible is an important point of reference - THE most important one.

Brent Nichols said...

I didn't see you mention how Bart Ehrman desribes how the story of Jesus protecting the prostitute ("let he who is without sin cast the first stone") suddenly appeared in the 3rd century and is not found in any earlier texts. Do you agree that this story appears to have been added later or is that in dispute? That example seemed like one of the most important instances of attributing to Jesus something he might not have said, or "misquoting Jesus."