Textual Criticism makes Misquoting Jesus Correctly Quoted

A portion of the Codex Sinaiticus, in Byzantin...

Portion of Codex Sinaiticus

He, Dr. Ehrman in Misquoting Jesus, gives a good definition of textual criticism in the book: a technical term for the science of restoring the “original” words of a text from manuscripts that have variants and errors and other problems.  And herein lies the issue, by the very definition of the discipline that he is in, he know that the original texts can be restored from the vast number of manuscripts that we have in 99% of the cases where there are variants. That is not a problem. However, he writes like all we have are error-ridden manuscripts from which we can never regain what the originals stated. The exact opposite is true. If you do not understand how, I can explain it. But I’d rather move on through the book now.

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? Page: 9

The answer to both questions is “No.” We have such great scholars and biblical tools now that we can get at the Greek and Hebrew words. There are so many resources available to Christians now that we can’t even attempt to use them all. There are excellent resources for study right here on the internet. In fact, the British Library has made available one of the codices online (Codex Sinaiticus) for scholars and others to use.

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? Page: 10

Luke 11, 2 in Codex Sinaiticus

Codex Sinaiticus

Okay, you are trying my patience with this statement Dr. Ehrman. “clumsy renderings” are you kidding? Now to a point he is correct. Some concepts just do not translate well into English. But by and large the translations we have coming out now are excellently accurate and very true to the originals. We have accurate renderings of the Greek into English. And, we are surrounded by scholars who can help if needed. As I said there are online resources that give us “access to these words” so we do not have a problem getting at the meaning of the Greek! Because it was such a highlight of my week, I have to mention that I just heard a seminary professor speak who loves the Greek and knows it intimately. He was delivering his speeches from an iPad but on the last night, he stepped down from the stage and looked his audience. All the while moved rapidly through the points he wanted to get across with Greek flowing smoothly from his mind with no nuance from it untouched. He was eloquent in English and versed in his koine Greek. And, He is not alone.  There are 100s of scholars who know and study the koine Greek.

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. Page: 10

marginal note on the foot to John 21:7

John 21:7, Greek

This statement is at the end of his whole exposé in chapter 1 about the autographs and the copies and is actually forming one of the premises of the book. However, the thought and the statements are totally inaccurate. We do not have error-ridden copies of the original manuscripts; we have manuscripts containing variants in spelling and wording. Some variants are much worse than this but you have to understand that through textual criticism we can go back to the Hebrew and discern the text that the Hebrew scholars altered in an attempt to throw 1st century Christians off in their grasp of the Old Testament as a collection of documents which confirm the fulfillment of prophecies in the person of Jesus Christ. Scholars today know which manuscripts were altered and how they were altered.

I decided…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 Page: 10

Since Bruce Metzger is the world’s leading expert on textual criticism, we could find out what his thoughts about these issues were.  Let’s see what Ben Witherington has to say about Dr. Bruce Metzger:

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. http://benwitherington.blogspot.com/2006/03/misanalyzing-text-criticism-bart.html

If Dr. Metzger is the leading expert and yet retains full faith in the scriptures, what happened to Bart Ehrman along the way?

… 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.” Page: 12, Misquoting Jesus

My first observation is that Ehrman uses the word “error” here while his professor (Professor Story) used “mistake.” What did the professor mean? What did Dr. Ehrman think about what the professor said? Maybe the professor meant for Ehrman to stop and reflect on the fact that he was attempting to define how a reconciliation of Mark’s apparent mistake should be done when, in fact, maybe the professor wanted Dr. Ehrman to come to the end of himself and admit that maybe there are some things that he can’t explain. This is a complex deity that we worship. Man in his finiteness, cannot know all the ways of God. Or, maybe Professor Story presumed that the original autograph was correct and that a transcription error had been made. Dr. Ehrman does not explain any follow up with the professor to understand the point the professor was making to him. And of course if we think outside the box there may even be a different viewpoint. Let’s see what Ben Witherington says about that same passage:

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. Page: 13. Misquoting Jesus

Just so you believe me that Dr. Ehrman says it himself, the immateriality is a major, major point in the discussion of these issues of variants (he calls them errors). I notice that he does not use the term variant here when most of what we are dealing with are variants in spelling and words and most of the time not variants in meaning.

Dr. Ehrman goes on to explain that the “Mark mistake” had major implications for him. That during this whole time he had “faith” that the Bible was without “error” and that he’d finally made a seismic change in his beliefs. It is interesting that others in his field and those he claim he revered, did not have the issues following the same paths of exploration that Dr. Ehrman did. Could it have something to do with Dr. Ehrman’s approach to these issues? I believe it did. And, for Dr. Ehrman, I feel sorry–that he was so “brittle” in his spirit and psyche that he could be broken so easily.

Stay tuned and we shall see.


10 thoughts on “Textual Criticism makes Misquoting Jesus Correctly Quoted

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