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Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why

Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why

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Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why

ratings:
4/5 (202 ratings)
Length:
307 pages
5 hours
Publisher:
Released:
Oct 6, 2009
ISBN:
9780061977022
Format:
Book

Description

When world-class biblical scholar Bart Ehrman first began to study the texts of the Bible in their original languages he was startled to discover the multitude of mistakes and intentional alterations that had been made by earlier translators. In Misquoting Jesus, Ehrman tells the story behind the mistakes and changes that ancient scribes made to the New Testament and shows the great impact they had upon the Bible we use today. He frames his account with personal reflections on how his study of the Greek manuscripts made him abandon his once ultraconservative views of the Bible.

Since the advent of the printing press and the accurate reproduction of texts, most people have assumed that when they read the New Testament they are reading an exact copy of Jesus's words or Saint Paul's writings. And yet, for almost fifteen hundred years these manuscripts were hand copied by scribes who were deeply influenced by the cultural, theological, and political disputes of their day. Both mistakes and intentional changes abound in the surviving manuscripts, making the original words difficult to reconstruct. For the first time, Ehrman reveals where and why these changes were made and how scholars go about reconstructing the original words of the New Testament as closely as possible.

Ehrman makes the provocative case that many of our cherished biblical stories and widely held beliefs concerning the divinity of Jesus, the Trinity, and the divine origins of the Bible itself stem from both intentional and accidental alterations by scribes—alterations that dramatically affected all subsequent versions of the Bible.

Publisher:
Released:
Oct 6, 2009
ISBN:
9780061977022
Format:
Book

About the author

Bart D. Ehrman is one of the most renowned and controversial Bible scholars in the world today. He is the James A. Gray Distinguished Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and is the author of more than twenty books, including the New York Times bestsellers How Jesus Became God; Misquoting Jesus; God’s Problem; Jesus, Interrupted; and Forged. He has appeared on Dateline NBC, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, CNN, History, and top NPR programs, as well as been featured in TIME, the New York Times, The Washington Post, The New Yorker, and other publications. He lives in Durham, North Carolina. Visit the author online at www.bartdehrman.com.


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Misquoting Jesus - Bart D. Ehrman

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Introduction

More than almost anything I’ve ever written about, the subject of this book has been on my mind for the past thirty years, since I was in my late teens and just beginning my study of the New Testament. Because it has been a part of me for so long, I thought I should begin by giving a personal account of why this material has been, and still is, very important to me.

The book is about ancient manuscripts of the New Testament and the differences found in them, about scribes who copied scripture and sometimes changed it. This may not seem to be very promising as a key to one’s own autobiography, but there it is. One has little control over such things.

Before explaining how and why the manuscripts of the New Testament have made a real difference to me emotionally and intellectually, to my understanding of myself, the world I live in, my views of God, and the Bible, I should give some personal background.

I was born and raised in a conservative place and time—the nation’s heartland, beginning in the mid 1950s. My upbringing was nothing out of the ordinary. We were a fairly typical family of five, churchgoing but not particularly religious. Starting the year I was in fifth grade, we were involved with the Episcopal church in Lawrence, Kansas, a church with a kind and wise rector, who happened also to be a neighbor and whose son was one of my friends (with whom I got into mischief later on in junior high school—something involving cigars). As with many Episcopal churches, this one was socially respectable and socially responsible. It took the church liturgy seriously, and scripture was part of that liturgy. But the Bible was not overly emphasized: it was there as one of the guides to faith and practice, along with the church’s tradition and common sense. We didn’t actually talk about the Bible much, or read it much, even in Sunday school classes, which focused more on practical and social issues, and on how to live in the world.

The Bible did have a revered place in our home, especially for my mom, who would occasionally read from the Bible and make sure that we understood its stories and ethical teachings (less so its doctrines). Up until my high school years, I suppose I saw the Bible as a mysterious book of some importance for religion; but it certainly was not something to be learned and mastered. It had a feel of antiquity to it and was inextricably bound up somehow with God and church and worship. Still, I saw no reason to read it on my own or study it.

Things changed drastically for me when I was a sophomore in high school. It was then that I had a born-again experience, in a setting quite different from that of my home church. I was a typical fringe kid—a good student, interested and active in school sports but not great at any of them, interested and active in social life but not in the upper echelon of the school’s popular elite. I recall feeling a kind of emptiness inside that nothing seemed to fill—not running around with my friends (we were already into some serious social drinking at parties), dating (beginning to enter the mysterium tremendum of the world of sex), school (I worked hard and did well but was no superstar), work (I was a door-to-door salesman for a company that sold products for the blind), church (I was an acolyte and pretty devout—one had to be on Sunday mornings, given everything that happened on Saturday nights). There was a kind of loneliness associated with being a young teenager; but, of course, I didn’t realize that it was part of being a teenager—I thought there must be something missing.

That’s when I started attending meetings of a Campus Life Youth for Christ club; they took place at kids’ houses—the first I went to was a yard party at the home of a kid who was pretty popular, and that made me think the group must be okay. The leader of the group was a twenty-something-year-old named Bruce who did this sort of thing for a living—organized Youth for Christ clubs locally, tried to convert high school kids to be born again and then get them involved in serious Bible studies, prayer meetings, and the like. Bruce was a completely winsome personality—younger than our parents but older and more experienced than we—with a powerful message, that the void we felt inside (We were teenagers! All of us felt a void!) was from not having Christ in our hearts. If we would only ask Christ in, he would enter and fill us with the joy and happiness that only the saved could know.

Bruce could quote the Bible at will, and did so to an amazing degree. Given my reverence for, but ignorance of, the Bible, it all sounded completely convincing. And it was so unlike what I got at church, which involved old established ritual that seemed more geared toward old established adults than toward kids wanting fun and adventure, but who felt empty inside.

To make a short story shorter, I eventually got to know Bruce, came to accept his message of salvation, asked Jesus into my heart, and had a bona fide born-again experience. I had been born for real only fifteen years earlier, but this was a new and exciting experience for me, and it got me started on a lifelong journey of faith that has taken enormous twists and turns, ending up in a dead end that proved to be, in fact, a new path that I have since taken, now well over thirty years later.

Those of us who had these born-again experiences considered ourselves to be real Christians—as opposed to those who simply went to church as a matter of course, who did not really have Christ in their hearts and were therefore simply going through the motions with none of the reality. One of the ways we differentiated ourselves from these others was in our commitment to Bible study and prayer. Especially Bible study. Bruce himself was a Bible man; he had gone to Moody Bible Institute in Chicago and could quote an answer from the Bible to every question we could think of (and many we would never think of ). I soon became envious of this ability to quote scripture and got involved with Bible studies myself, learning some texts, understanding their relevance, and even memorizing the key verses.

Bruce convinced me that I should consider becoming a serious Christian and devote myself completely to the Christian faith. This meant studying scripture full time at Moody Bible Institute, which, among other things, would involve a drastic change of lifestyle. At Moody there was an ethical code that students had to sign off on: no drinking, no smoking, no dancing, no card playing, no movies. And lots of Bible. As we used to say, "Moody Bible Institute, where Bible is our middle name." I guess I looked on it as a kind of Christian boot camp. In any event, I decided not to go half-measures with my faith; I applied to Moody, got in, and went there in the fall of 1973.

The Moody experience was intense. I decided to major in Bible theology, which meant taking a lot of biblical study and systematic theology courses. Only one perspective was taught in these courses, subscribed to by all the professors (they had to sign a statement) and by all the students (we did as well): the Bible is the inerrant word of God. It contains no mistakes. It is inspired completely and in its very words—verbal, plenary inspiration. All the courses I took presupposed and taught this perspective; any other was taken to be misguided or even heretical. Some, I suppose, would call this brainwashing. For me, it was an enormous step up from the milquetoast view of the Bible I had had as a socializing Episcopalian in my younger youth. This was hard-core Christianity, for the fully committed.

There was an obvious problem, however, with the claim that the Bible was verbally inspired—down to its very words. As we learned at Moody in one of the first courses in the curriculum, we don’t actually have the original writings of the New Testament. What we have are copies of these writings, made years later—in most cases, many years later. Moreover, none of these copies is completely accurate, since the scribes who produced them inadvertently and/or intentionally changed them in places. All scribes did this. So rather than actually having the inspired words of the autographs (i.e., the originals) of the Bible, what we have are the error-ridden copies of the autographs. One of the most pressing of all tasks, therefore, was to ascertain what the originals of the Bible said, given the circumstances that (1) they were inspired and (2) we don’t have them.

I must say that many of my friends at Moody did not consider this task to be all that significant or interesting. They were happy to rest on the claim that the autographs had been inspired, and to shrug off, more or less, the problem that the autographs do not survive. For me, though, this was a compelling problem. It was the words of scripture themselves that God had inspired. Surely we have to know what those words were if we want to know how he had communicated to us, since the very words were his words, and having some other words (those inadvertently or intentionally created by scribes) didn’t help us much if we wanted to know His words.

This is what got me interested in the manuscripts of the New Testament, already as an eighteen-year-old. At Moody, I learned the basics of the field known as textual criticism—a technical term for the science of restoring the original words of a text from manuscripts that have altered them. But I wasn’t yet equipped to engage in this study: first I had to learn Greek, the original language of the New Testament, and possibly other ancient languages such as Hebrew (the language of the Christian Old Testament) and Latin, not to mention modern European languages like German and French, in order to see what other scholars had said about such things. It was a long path ahead.

At the end of my three years at Moody (it was a three-year diploma), I had done well in my courses and was more serious than ever about becoming a Christian scholar. My idea at the time was that there were plenty of highly educated scholars among the evangelical Christians, but not many evangelicals among the (secular) highly educated scholars, so I wanted to become an evangelical voice in secular circles, by getting degrees that would allow me to teach in secular settings while retaining my evangelical commitments. First, though, I needed to complete my bachelor’s degree, and to do that I decided to go to a top-rank evangelical college. I chose Wheaton College, in a suburb of Chicago.

At Moody I was warned that I might have trouble finding real Christians at Wheaton—which shows how fundamentalist Moody was: Wheaton is only for evangelical Christians and is the alma mater of Billy Graham, for example. And at first I did find it to be a bit liberal for my tastes. Students talked about literature, history, and philosophy rather than the verbal inspiration of scripture. They did this from a Christian perspective, but even so: didn’t they realize what really mattered?

I decided to major in English literature at Wheaton, since reading had long been one of my passions and since I knew that to make inroads into the circles of scholarship, I would need to become well versed in an area of scholarship other than the Bible. I decided also to commit myself to learning Greek. It was during my first semester at Wheaton, then, that I met Dr. Gerald Hawthorne, my Greek teacher and a person who became quite influential in my life as a scholar, teacher, and, eventually, friend. Hawthorne, like most of my professors at Wheaton, was a committed evangelical Christian. But he was not afraid of asking questions of his faith. At the time, I took this as a sign of weakness (in fact, I thought I had nearly all the answers to the questions he asked); eventually I saw it as a real commitment to truth and as being willing to open oneself up to the possibility that one’s views need to be revised in light of further knowledge and life experience.

Learning Greek was a thrilling experience for me. As it turned out, I was pretty good at the basics of the language and was always eager for more. On a deeper level, however, the experience of learning Greek became a bit troubling for me and my view of scripture. I came to see early on that the full meaning and nuance of the Greek text of the New Testament could be grasped only when it is read and studied in the original language (the same thing applies to the Old Testament, as I later learned when I acquired Hebrew). All the more reason, I thought, for learning the language thoroughly. At the same time, this started making me question my understanding of scripture as the verbally inspired word of God. If the full meaning of the words of scripture can be grasped only by studying them in Greek (and Hebrew), doesn’t this mean that most Christians, who don’t read ancient languages, will never have complete access to what God wants them to know? And doesn’t this make the doctrine of inspiration a doctrine only for the scholarly elite, who have the intellectual skills and leisure to learn the languages and study the texts by reading them in the original? What good does it do to say that the words are inspired by God if most people have absolutely no access to these words, but only to more or less clumsy renderings of these words into a language, such as English, that has nothing to do with the original words?¹

My questions were complicated even more as I began to think increasingly about the manuscripts that conveyed the words. The more I studied Greek, the more I became interested in the manuscripts that preserve the New Testament for us, and in the science of textual criticism, which can supposedly help us reconstruct what the original words of the New Testament were. I kept reverting to my basic question: how does it help us to say that the Bible is the inerrant word of God if in fact we don’t have the words that God inerrantly inspired, but only the words copied by the scribes—sometimes correctly but sometimes (many times!) incorrectly? What good is it to say that the autographs (i.e., the originals) were inspired? We don’t have the originals! We have only error-ridden copies, and the vast majority of these are centuries removed from the originals and different from them, evidently, in thousands of ways.

These doubts both plagued me and drove me to dig deeper and deeper, to understand what the Bible really was. I completed my degree at Wheaton in two years and decided, under the guidance of Professor Hawthorne, to commit myself to the textual criticism of the New Testament by going to study with the world’s leading expert in the field, a scholar named Bruce M. Metzger who taught at Princeton Theological Seminary.

Once again I was warned by my evangelical friends against going to Princeton Seminary, since, as they told me, I would have trouble finding any real Christians there. It was, after all, a Presbyterian seminary, not exactly a breeding ground for born-again Christians. But my study of English literature, philosophy, and history—not to mention Greek—had widened my horizons significantly, and my passion was now for knowledge, knowledge of all kinds, sacred and secular. If learning the truth meant no longer being able to identify with the born-again Christians I knew in high school, so be it. I was intent on pursuing my quest for truth wherever it might take me, trusting that any truth I learned was no less true for being unexpected or difficult to fit into the pigeonholes provided by my evangelical background.

Upon arriving at Princeton Theological Seminary, I immediately signed up for first-year Hebrew and Greek exegesis (interpretation) classes, and loaded my schedule as much as I could with such courses. I found these classes to be a challenge, both academically and personally. The academic challenge was completely welcome, but the personal challenges that I faced were emotionally rather trying. As I’ve indicated, already at Wheaton I had begun to question some of the foundational aspects of my commitment to the Bible as the inerrant word of God. That commitment came under serious assault in my detailed studies at Princeton. I resisted any temptation to change my views, and found a number of friends who, like me, came from conservative evangelical schools and were trying to keep the faith (a funny way of putting it—looking back—since we were, after all, in a Christian divinity program). But my studies started catching up with me.

A turning point came in my second semester, in a course I was taking with a much revered and pious professor named Cullen Story. The course was on the exegesis of the Gospel of Mark, at the time (and still) my favorite Gospel. For this course we needed to be able to read the Gospel of Mark completely in Greek (I memorized the entire Greek vocabulary of the Gospel the week before the semester began); we were to keep an exegetical notebook on our reflections on the interpretation of key passages; we discussed problems in the interpretation of the text; and we had to write a final term paper on an interpretive crux of our own choosing. I chose a passage in Mark 2, where Jesus is confronted by the Pharisees because his disciples had been walking through a grain field, eating the grain on the Sabbath. Jesus wants to show the Pharisees that Sabbath was made for humans, not humans for the Sabbath and so reminds them of what the great King David had done when he and his men were hungry, how they went into the Temple when Abiathar was the high priest and ate the show bread, which was only for the priests to eat. One of the well-known problems of the passage is that when one looks at the Old Testament passage that Jesus is citing (1 Sam. 21:1–6), it turns out that David did this not when Abiathar was the high priest, but, in fact, when Abiathar’s father Ahimelech was. In other words, this is one of those passages that have been pointed to in order to show that the Bible is not inerrant at all but contains mistakes.

In my paper for Professor Story, I developed a long and complicated argument to the effect that even though Mark indicates this happened when Abiathar was the high priest, it doesn’t really mean that Abiathar was the high priest, but that the event took place in the part of the scriptural text that has Abiathar as one of the main characters. My argument was based on the meaning of the Greek words involved and was a bit convoluted. I was pretty sure Professor Story would appreciate the argument, since I knew him as a good Christian scholar who obviously (like me) would never think there could be anything like a genuine error in the Bible. But at the end of my paper he made a simple one-line comment that for some reason went straight through me. He wrote: Maybe Mark just made a mistake. I started thinking about it, considering all the work I had put into the paper, realizing that I had had to do some pretty fancy exegetical footwork to get around the problem, and that my solution was in fact a bit of a stretch. I finally concluded, "Hmm…maybe Mark did make a mistake."

Once I made that admission, the floodgates opened. For if there could be one little, picayune mistake in Mark 2, maybe there could be mistakes in other places as well. Maybe, when Jesus says later in Mark 4 that the mustard seed is the smallest of all seeds on the earth, maybe I don’t need to come up with a fancy explanation for how the mustard seed is the smallest of all seeds when I know full well it isn’t. And maybe these mistakes apply to bigger issues. Maybe when Mark says that Jesus was crucified the day after the Passover meal was eaten (Mark 14:12; 15:25) and John says he died the day before it was eaten (John 19:14)—maybe that is a genuine difference. Or when Luke indicates in his account of Jesus’s birth that Joseph and Mary returned to Nazareth just over a month after they had come to Bethlehem (and performed the rites of purification; Luke 2:39), whereas Matthew indicates they instead fled to Egypt (Matt. 2:19–22)—maybe that is a difference. Or when Paul says that after he converted on the way to Damascus he did not go to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before him (Gal. 1:16–17), whereas the book of Acts says that that was the first thing he did after leaving Damascus (Acts 9:26)—maybe that is a difference.

This kind of realization coincided with the problems I was encountering the more closely I studied the surviving Greek manuscripts of the New Testament. It is one thing to say that the originals were inspired, but the reality is that we don’t have the originals—so saying they were inspired doesn’t help me much, unless I can reconstruct the originals. Moreover, the vast majority of Christians for the entire history of the church have not had access to the originals, making their inspiration something of a moot point. Not only do we not have the originals, we don’t have the first copies of the originals. We don’t even have copies of the copies of the originals, or copies of the copies of the copies of the originals. What we have are copies made later—much later. In most instances, they are copies made many centuries later. And these copies all differ from one another, in many thousands of places. As we will see later in this book, these copies differ from one another in so many places that we don’t even know how many differences there are. Possibly it is easiest to put it in comparative terms: there are more differences among our manuscripts than there are words in the New Testament.

Most of these differences are completely immaterial and insignificant. A good portion of them simply show us that scribes in antiquity could spell no better than most people can today (and they didn’t even have dictionaries, let alone spell check). Even so, what is one to make of all these differences? If one wants to insist that God inspired the very words of scripture, what would be the point if we don’t have the very words of scripture? In some places, as we will see, we simply cannot be sure that we have reconstructed the original text accurately. It’s a bit hard to know what the words of the Bible mean if we don’t even know what the words are!

This became a problem for my view of inspiration, for I came to realize that it would have been no more difficult for God to preserve the words of scripture than it would have been for him to inspire them in the first place. If he wanted his people to have his words, surely he would have given them to them (and possibly even given them the words in a language they could understand, rather than Greek and Hebrew). The fact that we don’t have the words surely must show, I reasoned, that he did not preserve them for us. And if he didn’t perform that miracle, there seemed to be no reason to think that he performed the earlier miracle of inspiring those words.

In short, my study of the Greek New Testament, and my investigations into the manuscripts that contain it, led to a radical rethinking of my understanding of what the Bible is. This was a seismic change for me. Before this—starting with my born-again experience in high school, through my fundamentalist days at Moody, and on through my evangelical days at Wheaton—my faith had been based completely on a certain view of the Bible as the fully inspired, inerrant word of God. Now I no longer saw the Bible that way. The Bible began to appear to me as a very human book. Just as human scribes had copied, and

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What people think about Misquoting Jesus

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202 ratings / 61 Reviews
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  • (4/5)
    A highly informative account of the changes made in the original text of the new testament, whether by mere scribal error or intentionally for purposes of furthering a particular early Christian theology, to address challenges by other religions (pagan or Jew), etc. Another outstanding work which informs both believers and unbelievers as regards the most significant book in the Western tradition.Mr. Ehrman's books and lectures are all highly recommended,
  • (4/5)
     It was Good to Pretty Good. Nothing earth shattering. Things get lost and lost in translation. Texts were written down and copied manually, which can introduce errors. Most errors don't matter but some may, depending. Some changes were made intentionally, for example as intentional corrections or in the context of the theological debates/controversies at the time. The people doing the copying may matter. Interesting stuff. Will think a bit more and write (maybe) write something (maybe) more profound later. I don't think this is a book that will change beliefs or opinions in either direction, but at least may raise awareness or provide examples of how of the issue that textual criticism (a field of exegesis) is important and context is critical.
  • (4/5)
    Once again Bart has opened my eyes to understand what makes up the Bible.
  • (5/5)
    Well done - good for resources.
  • (5/5)

    1 person found this helpful

    If you’ve ever wondered why your Bible has those footnotes – “some translations say…” or the equivalent – then this is the book for you. Bart Ehrman knows the ancient languages and texts, and makes them eminently accessible to the lay reader. In so doing, he looks at how different versions of the same text are analyzed and compared, and how the serious student deduces which is original and which is changed. The results are fascinating and never simple. Not just a question of which copy is found most frequently, and certainly not of which copy best fits a preferred interpretation (though the latter, in history, often resulted in the same error becoming the most common version); this book shows how history, society, and even technology determined the translations of the Bible as it comes to us.The book can be read equally by believers and non-believers, revealing an unbiased approach to what is now believed, and what was believed in Christian churches through the ages. The information on how faith changed and how it stayed the same is fascinating – a much more nuanced question that the simple East-West, Catholic-Protestant divides that I grew up with.It’s fascinating to learn how experts recognize different hands writing the same text; how word choice and story structure make a difference; and how external influences often determined which version was preferred. For myself, as a mathematician, it’s cool to see how “little” is debatable, though those of a less mathematical bent might be disturbed instead by how “much.” But the result is a very approachable, informative analysis, that leaves the reader to choose where they will stand. I really enjoyed the book, and I really learned a lot.Disclosure: I’d delved into this book on occasion before, but this is the first time I’ve read it cover to cover, and I loved it.

    1 person found this helpful

  • (4/5)
    An insightful look into how manuscripts of New Testament books were copied, transcribed, altered through time. Some changes can be seen as simple mistakes in the process, some may have been deliberately altered (not necessarily with any nefarious intent), other things may have been added to clarify a growing understanding of the theology, but were responding to questions of the time. Though this has been seen as a "debunking" of the Bible, it only makes the whole process of understanding the text more fascinating to me. And I started seeing interesting parallels between pre-Gutenberg transmission of information and the way misinformation can be disseminated and duplicated on the Internet...and imagine trying to trace it back to its original source :-)
  • (5/5)
    very cool
  • (5/5)

    2 people found this helpful

    This book contains nothing new to biblical scholars. What it does is present, in layman's terms, with copious examples, of the errors, contradictions and interpretations of the various existing copies of New Testament manuscripts. Most laypersons are not aware that we have no originals of anything from the NT - not a single gospel or letter of Paul. All are copies of copies of copies of copies and as such they are understandably filled with errors and edited omissions and additions by scribes over the centuries.There have been a few attempts to discredit Ehrman's work, but the facts and references speak for themselves. Evangelicals could have a very difficult time with the information here because it discredits much of what they have come to believe and what has been manufactured by such churches over the past century.It is enlightening for that reason alone.

    2 people found this helpful

  • (4/5)
    I read this a few years ago. I heard him give a lecture at Stanford. I can't remember which happened before the other! I think I heard the lecture first. He is quite a scholar with a fascinating story of emerging from evangelical faith to scholarly skepticism.
  • (3/5)

    1 person found this helpful

    Author Bart Ehrman is the chair of the Department of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina. The introduction to this book is autobiographical; Ehrman explains how, after being raised Episcopalian, he met a charismatic member of Campus Youth for Christ, became an Evangelical, attended the Moody Bible Institute and Wheaton College, and finally the Princeton Theological Seminary. Along the way, things gradually began to change for him; on learning Greek and Hebrew he discovered that the “original” language of the Bible sometimes wasn’t quite what it was claimed to by believers in Biblical inerrancy. Ehrman never comes right out and says he has lost his faith or become an agnostic, but he does tiptoe around the fringes of that.After this background, the next part of the book might be called “Textual Criticism for Dummies”. Textual criticism has been around for a couple hundred years or so, and it’s basically the science and art of trying to work backwards from manuscript copies to figure out what the “original” text was. If textual criticism were applied only to the Gilgamesh Epic or The Iliad or Tacitus or the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (and it has, in fact, been applied to all these) no one would care very much; it would be an esoteric field of interest only to specialists. However, it isn’t; in fact, the whole idea of textual criticism originated with the study of the Bible. Ehrman gives the history of the idea, and various explanations as to why a text might be copied wrong – carelessness or exhaustion of the scribe, losing one’s place in the text being copied and inadvertently omitting lines, interpreting a previous scribe’s marginal note as part of the text and adding lines, and just plain bad luck (in one case some ink bled through from the back of the manuscript, appearing as a short line on the other side. Unfortunately that short line just happened to change the Greek upper-case omicron to a theta).
    Even up to this point it probably wouldn’t have mattered that much to the biblical literalists, but now Ehrman goes on from accidental errors to discuss deliberate changes to the text, to resolve theological disputes in favor of one faction or another. This is where things get a little dicey for me, because Ehrman is often no longer pointing out demonstrable errors or changes from one manuscript to another but speculating as to changes that might have been made to support a theological position. In some cases, there is evidence for these changes – an older manuscript (B) has it one way and a more recent one (C) has it another – but Ehrman himself points out that the chronological sequence of manuscripts is not necessarily the final arbiter – it’s possible that the younger manuscript was copied from a now lost original (A) that was older than B or C. Nevertheless, Ehrman does make a fairly good case that some parts of the New Testament were changed during copying to support particular doctrines.
    This last, of course, is what drives Biblical literalists up the wall. Ehrman is writing a popular book, so he doesn’t give much space to refuting various arguments made by the literalists. There have already been a couple of books presenting counterarguments to Ehrman, and there are any number of Web sites bristling with indignant refutations. I’ve only skimmed these, so I’m not sure how to take them; I will definitely have to read some more on textual criticism and probably some of the counter-Ehrman books as well.
    I think I’ll give this one four stars. The writing is quite accessible and Ehrman explains his positions well. It would be nice to see more of the counterarguments presented, but you can’t have everything.

    1 person found this helpful

  • (5/5)

    1 person found this helpful

    The Bible is the inerrant word of God. It contains no mistakes. Really?

    “How does it help us to say that the Bible is the inerrant word of God if in fact we don’t have the words that God inerrantly inspired, but only the words copied by the scribes—sometimes correctly but sometimes (many times!) incorrectly? What good is it to say that the autographs (i.e., the originals) were inspired? We don’t have the originals! We have only error-ridden copies, and the vast majority of these are centuries removed from the originals and different from them, evidently, in thousands of ways.
    [...]
    I came to realize that it would have been no more difficult for God to preserve the words of scripture than it would have been for him to inspire them in the first place. If he wanted his people to have his words, surely he would have given them to them (and possibly even given them the words in a language they could understand, rather than Greek and Hebrew). The fact that we don’t have the words surely must show, I reasoned, that he did not preserve them for us. And if he didn’t perform that miracle, there seemed to be no reason to think that he performed the earlier miracle of inspiring those words.”

    1 person found this helpful

  • (3/5)
    This wasn't exactly what I expected but it was still chocked full of information. I really appreciate Bart Ehrman's ability to present very technical information to the layperson. The organization was logical and helped the reader to follow the process of textual criticism.

    This was a very long book that I could only digest in small bits. With that in mind, it soon became obvious that Ehrman was being redundant; reusing examples to make different points. It gave the appearance that there were not as many examples as the author described in his introduction and conclusion. Overall, this was an informative book and a pleasure to read.
  • (4/5)
    A good addition to the body of work examining "the historical Jesus" - in this case digging out errors in translation of original Greek texts, where available. Not exactly earth-shattering for those of us who didn't drink the Kool-Aid via the King James Bible and the 20th C. born-again movement, and there are some better books on the 'missing gospels' which go further in suggesting how modern Christianity may have been different today based on these errors in the text (some intentional, some accidental). Still, a fascinating read.
  • (1/5)

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    use cautiously

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  • (2/5)

    2 people found this helpful

    To be completely honest, reading this book was a waste of my time. I generally enjoy Ehrman's work, in spite of his sensationalist style, but I was very disappointed with this one. Misquoting Jesus was filled with page after page of Ehrman's typical version of "shock and awe," none of which is very often shocking or awing, but with none of the redeeming information and interesting facts that his other books usually contain.Rather than a scholarly and engaging look at the manuscript traditions of the New Testament and ensuing errors and alterations thereof which I assumed would be the content of this book, Ehrman spends the majority of the book speaking in the first person as a young, naive "'born again' Christian" being exposed for the first time to (what he believes are) the shocking facts that the King James Version isn't the inerrant Word of God and that the Scriptures didn't fall out of heaven one day. This reveals much less about the history and textual traditions of the New Testament than it does about Ehrman himself, who seems to live perpetually in that juvenile state and seems to honestly believe that every other self-professed Christian lives in the same state. This latter apparent view of Ehrman was revealed especially by the variety of inane statements throughout the book which seem to indicate his unfamiliarity with any form of Christianity outside of the evangelical "born again" version of his childhood (see below for an example of this).What scanty little real facts and information there were in this book were not only overshadowed by the above aspects of the book but were also basic enough that they could easily be gleaned by reading Wikipedia articles on the relevant topics (trust me, that's an insult). I've done a little reading in the area, but I'm no expert to be sure, and yet aside from a few minor dates and interesting stories, I was familiar with almost everything covered in this book.In the end, I wouldn't recommend this book at all. There's too much great reading in early Christian history and even specifically in the manuscript traditions of the New Testament (such as Jaroslav Pelikan's Whose Bible Is It? A Short History of the Scriptures, for instance) to waste your time reading such worthless trite. Rather than scholarship, you will receive a thinly-veiled attack on Ehrman's own straw-man of Christianity (he does, after all, begin the book with the story of his own conversion from "'born-again' Christianity" to atheism), made all the more pitiful for not only being possibly the weakest criticism ever leveled at Christianity but for Ehrman's halfhearted attempt to make his attack look like real scholarship.For your reading pleasure, a few outstanding examples of Ehrman's inanity in this book: "This is the account of 1 John 5:7-8, which scholars have called the Johannine Comma, found in the manuscripts of the Latin Vulgate but not in the vast majority of Greek manuscripts, a passage that had long been a favorite among Christian theologians, since it is the only passage in the entire Bible that explicitly delineates the doctrine of the Trinity, that there are three persons in the godhead, but that the three constitute just one God." Really? A purported New Testament scholar who is unfamiliar with Matthew 28:19? How about Titus 3:4-6? Still nothing? Oh well, I give up... Just out of curiosity, though: who are these "Christian theologians" amongst whom the Johannine Comma "[has] long been a favorite"? You'd think things like this would need more than vague assertions and non-arguments; not in Ehrmanworld, I guess. "... or consider all the different Christian denominations, filled with intelligent and well-meaning people who base their views of how the church should be organized and function on the Bible, yet all of them coming to radically different conclusions (Baptists, Pentecostals, Presbyterians, Roman Catholics, Appalachian snake-handlers, Greek Orthodox, and on and on)." You'd think it would be a good idea for somebody who "chairs the Department of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill" (as the author bio on the back flap of the book says) to know enough about the two largest groups of Christians in the world, Roman Catholics and Orthodox, that he would not make the ignorant statement that these two groups "base their views of how the church should be organized and function on the Bible." Really? When did the Roman Catholics and the Orthodox pick up Sola Scriptura? And all this time I thought Tradition was the basis of our system of Church governance. In addition, there can't be much reason aside from sheer ignorance why he insists on saying "Greek Orthodox" specifically (he says it twice in this book and I've noticed it in others as well, where he gives a list similar to this one for a similar reason) given that there are 26 other Orthodox jurisdictions in addition to the Greek and that the Greek jurisdiction is not even the largest of them. I can only hope that somebody in a position of power at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is reading this and thinking about hiring a chair for their Department of Religious Studies(!) who is actually familiar with ... well ... religious studies. And, of course, saving the best for last: "Put it this way: There are more variances among our manuscripts than there are words in the New Testament." Thanks to True Free Thinker for saving me the work on this one: Considering that [Bart Ehrman's] book Misquoting Jesus explored the issue of variant readings in New Testament manuscripts it may be surprising to some that Bart Ehrman’s book itself contains millions and millions of variants. Following are some examples of the variants: On p. 13 reference is made to “Timothy LeHaye and Philip Jenkins” as the authors of the Left Behind series of novels. However, the authors of the series are Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins. Thus, error 1. Tim has never published as “Timothy,” error 2. his last name is not LeHaye but LaHaye and error 3. Jenkins’s first name is not Philip but Jerry. On p. 110 error 4. “Timothy” is used as LaHaye’s last name. In the index Timothy’s name is error 5. again spelled as “LeHaye.” On p. 110 Hal Lindsey’s name is error 6. misspelled as “Hal Lindsay.” On p. 70 Desiderius Erasmus is error 7. misspelled as “Desiderus Erasmus.” …[snip]… Now, if you are paying attention—or are you like me and simply cannot afford to pay attention? :o)—you may be thinking 1) that is only 16 errors, 2) they are mostly merely misspellings, 3) they do not affect the contents of the text and certainly do not affect any major point which the book seeks to make. As for 2) and 3); thank you for noticing as this is precisely, word for word, how many of us feel about Bart Ehrman’s criticisms of the New Testament manuscripts. As for 1) how do 16 equal my assertion of there being millions and millions of variants? Well, let us learn some methodology, the sort that allows Ehrman claim, “Put it this way: There are more variances among our manuscripts than there are words in the New Testament.” I do not know how many copies Misquoting Jesus has sold but it is reported that “Within the first three months, more than 100,000 copies were sold.” The way it works is as simple as it is deceptive: you multiply the 16 variants by how many times they have been reproduced. As the 16 have been reproduced 100,000 (in three months alone) you multiply these and so the total of variants in Misquoting Jesus equals: 1,600,000. And that, boys and girls, is how Bart Ehrman manages to make sensational claims that gain him notoriety and quite a few shekels. I highly recommend giving the whole post a read. It's a better than mine, I promise!

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  • (4/5)

    1 person found this helpful

    I enjoyed the parts of this book where he gave specific changes that have been found, and the most likely original words and why the changes were made.

    I am a Christian, and I didn't find anything in this book to challenge my faith. The places where the scripture was changed was minimal at best and did not change Jesus' message.

    It is unfortunate that the author lost his faith, but I do appreciate him dedicating his life to the history of Christianity and how it's writings came to be.

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  • (5/5)
    I read Misquoting Jesus through carefully and thoughtfully and concluded it was an excellent book written by an author who clearly knows of which he speaks. Before I started reading it, I had read a number of reviews online, some supportive, some negative. The negative ones seemed to say that, yes, well, everyone knows there have been changes in the Bible over the years. Big deal. They’re minor and they don’t change the overall theme of the Bible. Well, after reading this book, I beg to differ. Like the author, I grew up believing the Bible was the inherent word of God – God’s chosen words as inspired to be written by several select human authors. You had to believe everything. Of course, as I grew older, I began to have doubts. For instance, take all of Leviticus. No one stones their children for being disobedient, people eat shrimp and bacon, men cut their hair and beards, etc. But if you followed the Bible like you were supposed to, you couldn’t do those things, right? So that prepared me for the cherry picking that Christians do with the Bible left and right to suit whatever agenda they have. So textual changes can make a big deal, yes, especially when non-changes like those in Leviticus make a big or non-big deal, depending on how you view things. Before, I go any further, let me state that I view myself as a Christian. A liberal one, not a fundie or even an evangelical, which is what I grew up as, but still, a Bible reading and respecting Christian. Doesn’t mean it’s 100% accurate though.Early in this book, just to show people what sort of things they’ll be exposed to, Ehrman shows us some discrepancies. He calls them mistakes. These include when Mark says Jesus was killed the day after the Passover meal, yet John says he died the day before it. And Luke indicating that Mary and Joseph had come to Nazareth a month after going to Bethlehem, while Matthew says they went to Egypt. And in Galations, when Paul says he did not go to Jerusalem after his conversion, while the book of Acts says that’s the first thing he did upon leaving Damascus. And on and on.So what happened to the Bible? Who changed it and why? Well, the author would have us believe that scribes, both professional and nonprofessional, made numerous changes, both unintentional and intentional over the course of centuries and that as these manuscripts were handed down as gospel, the changes were handed down, so that there was no longer any possible way to know what it was the authors of the Bible and specifically the New Testament wrote. He goes into elaborate detail on the details of scribes having to copy letter by letter books (letters) of the New Testament, as well as other documents, and showed that many of these scribes were barely literate themselves, if at all. One example of unintentional changes were that Greek at the time was written without spaces between words, so that a particular phrase that was meant to have meant one thing, could have actually meant something else when copied or transcribed or translated later on. Intentional changes were made by people who, perhaps, wanted to include an agenda against women in the church when none, perhaps, may have existed in the original texts.The book that the King James Bible was founded on was the Johannine Comma by Erasmus. The author takes great pains to show its flaws. Meanwhile, there were those who were intent upon translating the Greek New Testament and providing scholarship for it. One such person, John Mill of Queens College, Oxford, spent 30 years back in the seventeenth century compiling a list of “variations,” or discrepancies (or mistakes) in the various manuscripts he had available to him, dating back to the oldest texts available. He found over 30,000 discrepancies! That’s right – 30,000. The author then goes on to say that currently, we possess over 5,700 Greek manuscripts, 57 times as many as Mill, and that there are now known to be between 200,000 and 400,000 discrepancies in the New Testament, or more words than exist in it. It’s stunning. If that doesn’t show that the Bible is NOT the inherent word of God, I don’t know what will. And if you follow that logic, then if it’s not, then how can you believe any of it, or know what to believe or not believe?I had meant to write a much more detailed review, but feel that I’d never finish with it. Hopefully I’ve made my point. The author certainly made his with me. Needless to say, he no longer thinks the Bible is the inherent word of God, and I’m not sure I do either, or that I have for some time. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t contain words of God – just that it was written by people and they can make mistakes over the course of centuries. I’d strongly recommend this book for anyone interested in the subject.
  • (5/5)

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    Eye opening indeed
    Very critical to analytical minds!!
    Highly recommended to Christians like myself!!!!

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  • (5/5)
    _READ ANYTHING BY EHRMAN_ Think you know what the bible says? Guess again. It has been hand copied and copied and copied, the originals long since lost. Errors have crept in as well as deliberate changes. If you think the bible is the inerrant word of yahweh, you probably will not like this. But if you are prone to quoting the bible at people, you really should read this.
  • (3/5)
    Decent exploration of how our modern day scriptures came to be. It gets redundant towards the end.

    Worth the read for anyone, secular or religious, with an interest in the Bible.
  • (4/5)
    I found this book to be a highly informative and readable introduction into the analysis of Christian scripture. As a complete novice, I felt it was perfectly pitched, although I won't be going to Aramaic classes any time soon.
  • (4/5)

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    "The New Testament is a very human book."Excellent popular introduction to NT textual criticism. I had not known that Dr Ehrman had such a strong background in textual criticism. It is very impressive to find that he had worked with Bruce Metzger.(Though the review below that suggests that the title (and cover notes) are misleading is absolutely accurate.)Through his insights into textual criticism Dr Ehrman presents the NT as a human book, not fully inspired, not dictated by the Holy Spirit. It is as a human book that the NT holds it power for me.This book presents, in a very engaging and readable manner as well as personal, the basics of textual criticism as well as its history and growth as a discipline.A point that Dr Ehrman made that was new to me - the shift in the types of textual changes from the amateur period pre-4th century and the professional scribal period post 4th century.Dr Ehrman looks at specific examples of significant changes and offers interpretations of the impact of those changes on theological, Christological, and social questions.I recommend this book to all who want a deeper understanding of the New Testament as a book that documents the human striving to understand the divine.It is a very human book.

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  • (5/5)

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    I think it's delightful that a book about New Testament textual criticism not only garnered any public attention at all, but made it to the NYT Bestseller list. Ehrman is really good at making religious academia into accessible, short little books.Ehrman walks us through the basics of textual criticism, explaining everyone's motives in putting together the respective New Testament texts as they did - their own theological biases, skirmishes with heretics in their communities, "correcting" perceived mistakes from earlier scribes. Misquoting Jesus is important because it really illuminates just how fabricated the Bible is - maybe not divinely inspired, but instead crafted by many, many human hands. There are so many disparate parts to the Bible that it would be naive to approach it as only espousing a single agenda (or even call the Bible in its entirety a single "book"). And that's okay, and certainly people can still take comfort in it and find a lot of inspiration in the Bible. But Misquoting Jesus offers a more rational and historical approach to the text as well.

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  • (5/5)

    1 person found this helpful

    A noted Biblical scholar and textual critic, Dr Ehrman explains the method by which the Bible was copied by scribes, how scholars track which versions (among thousands that exist) are the oldest or most authentic, how disparant versions were reconciled at different times depending on what beliefs were the most prevalent (such as during the Nicene deliberations), and how copying errors are discovered. One of the chapters discusses the Greek translations that were later used by the group who prepared the King James version. When some refer to reading the Bible 'in the original Greek' they are usually referring to this particular translation which was prepared in the 11th century, using manuscripts that were later found to NOT be the oldest or most faithful to the oldest known copies. The King James, which is the most popular English-language translation, was based on Middle Ages manuscripts that were known, both now and in the 16th century, as being more error-ridden than other better documented copies. Dr. Ehrman is quite readable and makes history interesting.

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  • (5/5)

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    If Ehrman is correct that no one has until this point provided the general reader with an account of the textual history of the New Testament, then his book is essential reading.A good commentary to any of the NT books should offer some of the information here, and so for many students of Christianity Ehrman's basic point will not be entirely new: the texts have been so altered over the centuries that the original wordings are unrecoverable in their entirety.Here, however, we get some 230 pages on the subject, far beyond what any commentary accessible to the general reader can provide.On his central point Ehrman is insistent -- the texts have been significantly altered and it is most unlikely that the original words of any of the authors of the NT canon will be entirely known. Beyond this central issue, though, Ehrman is careful not to insist on any particular point of view, and that even-handedness makes this book that much more worth reading.

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  • (1/5)
    Ehrman's arguments have been soundly refuted by scholars like Dr. James White and Dr. Danniel Wallace, amongst others. Not worth the time.
  • (3/5)
    Equally fascinating and infuriating, this book sheds light on the early revisions of the New Testament of the bible. Somewhat repetitive, and told in a fairly simplistic fashion, it's still an interesting read. According to Ehrman (and backed up by convincing arguments) many of the things you know about Jesus are probably wrong, if you get your information from the King James Version of the bible. The infuriating parts are about how the early church fathers changed the texts to exclude women from being part of the church in any meaningful fashion.
  • (3/5)
    A look at the work of textual critics. The thesis of this book is that there are so many variant readings in the NT manuscripts that it is a moot point whether God inspired the originals or not. Although Ehrman presents several examples, his arguments fall far short of proving this thesis. However, the book does awaken a new respect for the work of textual criticism and its role in obtaining a useful version of Bible that is as true to the original manuscripts as can be.
  • (4/5)
    After a long dry streak, I'm hitting on a lot of books I'm really enjoying. This is one of those.Misquoting Jesus is a concise(ish) layperson's guide to alterations made to the Bible over its lifespan. The author is a noted Biblical scholar, and though scholarship doesn't necessarily lend itself to readable treatises, I was able to easily understand both his arguments and his explanations of the linguistics involved. Moreover, a lot of it was terribly fascinating stuff. At the very least, *I* found information about the compassionification of Jesus, the anti-Semitic edits, etc. to be fascinating. The author has an understated sense of humour about the topic that shines through at unexpected times, and he made me laugh more than once.Plus, a lot of additional recommended resources in the notes! Woo hoo!
  • (4/5)
     It was Good to Pretty Good. Nothing earth shattering. Things get lost and lost in translation. Texts were written down and copied manually, which can introduce errors. Most errors don't matter but some may, depending. Some changes were made intentionally, for example as intentional corrections or in the context of the theological debates/controversies at the time. The people doing the copying may matter. Interesting stuff. Will think a bit more and write (maybe) write something (maybe) more profound later. I don't think this is a book that will change beliefs or opinions in either direction, but at least may raise awareness or provide examples of how of the issue that textual criticism (a field of exegesis) is important and context is critical.