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

by Bart D. Ehrman

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3,9021063,017 (3.83)82
When Biblical scholar 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. For almost 1500 years these manuscripts were hand copied by scribes who were 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. 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. He makes the provocative case that many of our cherished biblical stories and beliefs stem from both intentional and accidental alterations by scribes--alterations that dramatically affected subsequent versions.--From publisher description.… (more)
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I think that every person should be compelled to read this book before being baptized or confirmed in the Christian faith. Actually, I think that every would-be Christian should be compelled to read "The God Delusion" by Richard Dawkins, but for those who would still commit to religion this book should be a mandatory follow-up.

The book is written by a born-again Christian, and the purpose of it is to help lay Christians (and others) see how the New Testament cannot be viewed as the inerrant word of God because there are literally thousands of different versions of the texts which make up the New Testament. The differences were sometimes accidental (misspellings, etc.), but other times the scribes creating the texts made deliberate changes to the New Testament in order to justify and propagate their own beliefs. I thought that the book would contain more examples - I found myself wanting ten examples for every one that the author provided - but the ones he did include were very interesting. ( )
  blueskygreentrees | Jul 30, 2023 |
1CSmall wonder then if some have dared to tamper even with the word of the Lord himself, when they have conspired to mutilate my own humble efforts. 1D
14Dionysius, Bishop of Corinth (second century), quoted by Ehrman, p. 53

Someone once said that Bart Ehrman 19s book 1CMisquoting Jesus 1D does not include any examples of anyone misquoting Jesus. Actually, Ehrman cites at least thirteen such misquotations, eight of them before page 100. Now, one needs to step back and look at what Ehrman is saying. In 1707, scholar John Mill (not to be confused with John Stuart Mill, the philosopher who was born a century later) announced that after consulting 100 different ancient New Testament (NT) manuscripts he had discovered thirty thousand discrepancies in their texts. True, a great many of these discrepancies are due to accidents, and subsequent scholars have found that by carefully comparing manuscripts, they can, in a large number of cases, determine which reading is probably original. There are three problems however. 1) Not all of the thirty thousand discrepancies can be reconciled, 2) not all of the changes are accidents but were made deliberately and, although many of these are restricted to historical manuscripts, a number have become part of the New Testament in English and other modern languages (many Christians do not want these mistakes corrected even if there is a stack of evidence that the received wording is not original). 3) Scholars have now found 5,700 ancient NT mss, and there are now a lot more than just thirty thousand discrepancies, and they cannot all be reconciled.

Here are some examples of accidents:

On page 92 Ehrman points out that an early scribe left out an entire verse, Luke 12:9 1CWhoever denies me before humans [traditionally, 1Cmen 1D] will be denied before the angels of God. 1D This copyist misquoted Jesus by accidentally omitting his words. We know this was an accident because both verses, 12:8 and 12:9 end with the same words, 1Cbefore the angels of God. 1D The copyist, in looking back and forth between the copy he was making and the book being copied, must have finished copying verse 8, then looked up to see this same phrase at the end of verse 9 and thought that this was the verse he had just copied; 1Cso he proceeded to copy verse 10, leaving out verse 9 altogether, 1D explains Ehrman. This type of accident, called periblepsis from the Greek meaning 1Ceyeskip, 1D is a completely accidental case of misquoting Jesus.

Ehrman then cites a particularly mischievous example of this type of mistake found in a manuscript of John where at 17:15 the copyist has Jesus pray: 1CI do not ask that you keep them [the disciples] from the evil one. 1D Huh? The scribe left out a line that belongs between 1Cthe 1D and 1Cevil 1D: 1Cworld, but that you keep them from the. 1D

These are the easy mistakes to spot. There are many that cannot be easily resolved. Can the 1Coriginal 1D text of the New Testament be recovered at all? Many scholars have given up and simply said that it cannot be done. Bart Ehrman, chairman of the department of religious studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, is among those who believe that, although the task is difficult and the likelihood of recovering the exact original words of the New Testament is nil, it is possible to inch closer to the original and that doing so is worth the effort (p. 62). In this book, he attempts to explain to the general reader the complex reasoning that goes into deciding which of the conflicting readings of the early manuscripts is closest to the original. He points out, however, that equally qualified scholars can reach different conclusions; there may be one right answer, but it is not always possible to establish it beyond doubt.

Additionally, there is the question that Ehrman avoids by aiming to recover only the material that is most likely to have belonged to the original versions of the NT books. This means that if a story such as the one about the woman caught in adultery (John 7:53 to 8:12, considered by Ehrman pp. 63-64) can be shown not to belong to the earliest and best copies of the Gospel of John, it should either be removed from the NT or, as is generally done, flagged in order to tell the reader that the passage was added at a late date. The question remains, however, whether such a story itself was a late concoction or if it originally circulated in oral or other written sources, only to be added to John (in two different locations in John as well as in some manuscripts of Luke, right after 21:38) after John had already taken shape and had been circulating without this beloved story. In other words, if the tale of the woman caught in adultery is a story about Jesus that goes back to the first century and consequently might have as much authenticity as any other story found in John, should it be recognized as having independent authenticity? Ehrman does not deal with this question because he is only concerned with the integrity of each NT text such as John rather than chasing down the provenance of any particular addition to it. An interesting but speculative theory is that this passage did belong to the earliest versions of John (earlier than any we have, conveniently) but that it had been deleted because there were those who interpreted the passage as condoning adultery. If true, this, of course, confirms Ehrman 19s thesis that early copyists were deleting as well as adding material to the NT. But the argument that this passage was added later is supported by the fact that the Greek text betrays a style and vocabulary that is different from the rest of John both preceding and following 7:53-8:12, where the story of the adulteress is found. The theory that the story was restored to its rightful place must rest on the additional and unsupported hypothesis that the original, lost version of the story was then reconstructed by someone else who, though he made no attempt to match the style of the rest of John, really knew that such a story once belonged in the text. The trouble with such a theory is that there is no evidence for it without the discovery of the alleged original version of the story.

In any case, the story of the woman caught in adultery does raise the question of whether or not Jesus is being misquoted in the story. He has three lines, two of which are especially memorable: 1CLet the one who is without sin among you be the first to cast a stone at her 1D (This is the contemporary or revised English translation used by Ehrman, and it is different, of course, from the famous King James wording.), and 1CGo and sin no more. 1D Did Jesus really say this? If not, is this not a case of misquoting Jesus?

Another example of a questionable addition to a NT text is the last twelve verses of Mark (16:9-20) where verses 15-18 consist of words attributed to Jesus (Ehrman p. 66). If this passage was added by a later editor, is this not a case of misquoting Jesus? The problem is that analysis of these twelve verses casts doubt on them having been written by the same person who wrote the rest of the gospel attributed to Mark. (Such style and vocabulary considerations are often telling factors in establishing the authenticity of NT texts.) One theory, noted (but, I suspect, doubted) by Ehrman, is that the last page of Mark was lost and some later editor reconstructed the ending we have, probably not following the plot originally written by Mark. My guess would be that if Mark did write a lost ending, it probably depended on the opening of Mark 16 where the youth found in the tomb tells the women to inform the apostles that Jesus will meet them in Galilee. That the women evidently do not obey this commission (if we go by the ending at 16:8) is no problem because as soon as the apostles go to Galilee, Jesus will meet them there whether the women have told them or not. (Of course, at Mark 14:28, Jesus tells his disciples the same thing, but, in Mark, they have a habit of not remembering what he tells them, anyway.) This is certainly more consistent with Mark 19s theme about keeping secrets which runs throughout his gospel, more than what happens in the ending we have, which includes the women telling the apostles what they have witnessed. Nevertheless, many old manuscripts of Mark do end at Mark 16:8, whether this is because this was Mark 19s original ending or because his original subsequent verses were lost. A new ending appears to have been supplied by some well-meaning scribe whose style is different from that of the original author of Mark.

Now consider the case of Matthew 24:36, where scribes deliberately omitted the words 1Cnor even the Son 1D (Ehrman, p. 95). The problem here was that the reference to 1Cthe Son 1D in the original text could imply that He is not all-knowing. By excising this reference to the Son, the copyists considered that they had avoided a theological misunderstanding created by the wording of the original text. My point is that the verse in question consists of a saying attributed to Jesus himself. In omitting words from this saying, didn 19t copyists run the risk of misquoting Jesus?

On page 96, Ehrman cites another example where copyists omitted from Luke 5:39 words attributed to Jesus because they didn 19t like the theological implications of His words. On the next page, Ehrman tells of the manuscript in which scribes did not feel that Jesus 19s advice in Mark 9:29 of prayer was sufficient, so they added 1Cand fasting, 1D evidently correcting the Lord 19s omission. (One begins to wonder what would become of Jesus if scribes were not looking out for Him.)

Ehrman then points out the famous case of the differences between Luke and Matthew 19s versions of the Lord 19s Prayer (Luke 11:2-4 and Matt. 6:9-13). In many manuscripts, scribes changed Luke 19s shorter version so that it would match Matthew 19s version word for word. Of course, this raises the question of whether Matthew or Luke was misquoting Jesus in the first place. Ehrman points out that this example is one of many whereby scribes took different versions of the same story found in different gospels and 1Charmonized 1D them by changing one version so that it would match the other. It is all part of the veritable industry of misquoting Jesus.

Ehrman is not only concerned with NT passages that misquote Jesus himself. He shows us where the words of the evangelists, Paul, and other NT authors have been changed by scribes who either were too inattentive to copy the text properly or else actually thought that they themselves had something to add to the text. In chapters five, six, and seven, Ehrman rightly gives attention to cases in which changes were not only made deliberately but where these deliberate changes have come down to us in the official NT text. Ehrman takes pains to explain the theological problems or controversies that motivated many of these changes. For example, we have already seen where some scribes removed the words 1Cnor the Son 1D from Matthew 24:36 because they feared that this could be interpreted to mean that Jesus was not all-knowing as would be expected of a man who was also God. Who would have expected this? Ehrman (pp. 203-204) points to a heated argument in the second and third centuries between Christians and their pagan critics about evidence in the Christians 19 own writings that might show that Jesus was less than god-like. Here a pious scribe tried to help out Jesus and Matthew by removing controversial words. There are many other controversies 14not only between Christians and non-Christians but also among Christians 14that Ehrman cites, and which seem to explain why Christian scribes might have deleted problematic passages. The thought must have been that if the words went away then the controversy would go away, too.

One criticism I have is that sometimes the author leaves out useful information; for example, as far as I can tell, he never identifies the century that produced the important early manuscript of the Codex Sinaiticus (it was fourth century). He only tells us that, at the time of its discovery in the nineteenth century, it was the oldest nearly complete Bible that had been discovered. In a book about textual mistakes and alterations it is ironic that there are several typological errors including a mix up whereby there is a mistaken reference to footnote number 17 on page 60, and two subsequent footnotes 18 on pages 61 and 65, the first of which should really refer to footnote 17.

This book will be most interesting to those who see a greater implication in the quest for what the original books of the NT might have said, and who wonder whether it is possible to reconstruct them but are willing to understand that we cannot actually recover the original texts. Ehrman makes an analysis of several changes to the text of Luke (pp. 164-170) that raise in my mind 14though he does not say this in his argument 14the question of whether the version of Luke that Ehrman ends up with is still a seriously adulterated (second century) version such that any more-or-less unadulterated (first century) version behind this version of Luke is lost to us. Nevertheless, as far as he goes in his attempts to address the issues raised in this book, Ehrman cannot be ignored, and these problems can hardly be resolved without taking into consideration the kinds of things that he has to say. ( )
  MilesFowler | Jul 16, 2023 |
Quoting Wikipedia, "Bart D. Ehrman is an American New Testament scholar focusing on textual criticism of the New Testament, the historical Jesus, and the origins and development of early Christianity. He has written and edited 30 books, including three college textbooks. He has also authored six New York Times bestsellers. He is the James A. Gray Distinguished Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. According to a starred Publisher's Weekly review, "[Misquoting Jesus. . .] [is an] engaging, fascinating and absorbing story. [It uses] fresh and lively prose. . .[with] insights into the challenges of recreating the texts of the New Testament. . .[R]eaders might never read the Gospels or Paul's letters the same way again." This work includes a conclusion, notes and is well indexed.
  uufnn | Oct 10, 2022 |
The title is click-bait and now that it’s got your attention you can ignore it. This is a layman’s introduction to the textual criticism of the New Testament. What it will do is allow you to get through a conversation without looking like a total fool when the subject comes up at parties, as it invariably does.

You don’t need any Greek. Ehrman has a couple of clever tricks to get around that problem. He never let’s a technical term slip by without glossing it. You could probably still follow the book if you had only the vaguest idea of what the New Testament actually was. He uses very interesting examples. A good teacher. It’s far more enjoyable that any book on the subject really deserves to be. The style is readable and somehow friendly. Very fast paced. Reminded me a bit of The Da Vinci Code. ( )
  Lukerik | Aug 21, 2022 |
The first thing to know about Bart Ehrman is that you should ignore the titles of his books. I don't know if he comes up with him or if it is his publishers, but I do know that the titles are meant to grab eyeballs. The books are much less sensationalistic than the titles or the publisher's blurbs -- Ehrman mostly covers academically mainstream, vanilla views of the Biblical as a historical and literary text. These books, like pretty much anything that looks at the Bible as a historical and literary work, are going to be unpleasant for literalists.

The second thing to know about Ehrman is that he is one of those authors whose books cover the same topic repeatedly from different perspectives. Thus, you probably only need to read one Ehrman book to get the general gist of what he has to say. The other books give more depth for those interested in that.

Misquoting Jesus covers how a disparate set of writing came to be the Christian scriptures. It discusses the canonization of the books of the New Testament and how those texts have been altered through the years. Contrary to what it might seem, these alterations, mostly unintentional scribal errors or attempts to "fix" a text that was believed to have been corrupted by an earlier scribe, are extremely valuable. Like genetic variations within and across species, textual variants can be used to determine what the original text was most likely like. The downside of this book, for me, is that it went into a lot of depth of the story of the analysis itself -- how different variant texts were found and dated, who did the foundational work in this area, etc. This is not bad, but it was more depth than I felt I needed on the single aspect of textual variants.

It was not a bad book, but one of Ehrman's other books, Jesus, Interrupted is strictly better. I would strongly recommend that book to anyone interested in gaining more background on the Bible. ( )
  eri_kars | Jul 10, 2022 |
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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.
To discuss the copies of the New Testament that we have, we need to start at the very beginning with one of the unusual features of Christianity in the Greco-Roman world: its bookish character.
More than anyone else from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, it is to two Cambridge scholars, Brooke Foss Westcott (1825-1901) and Fenton John Anthony Hort (1828-1892), that modern textual critics owe a debt of gratitude for developing methods of analysis that help us deal with the manuscript tradition of the New Testament.
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When Biblical scholar 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. For almost 1500 years these manuscripts were hand copied by scribes who were 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. 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. He makes the provocative case that many of our cherished biblical stories and beliefs stem from both intentional and accidental alterations by scribes--alterations that dramatically affected subsequent versions.--From publisher description.

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