The Good News

Discussion of the Best News in the World, the Gospel of Jesus, and related topics

Have I made it to Chapter 2 of Misquoting Jesus yet?

Saint George Preca has been likened as a succe...

Apostle Paul, writing

My critique of Dr. Ehrman’s book, Misquoting Jesus continues here.

One of the problems with ancient Greek texts (which would include all the earliest Christian writings, including those of the New Testament) is that when they were copied, no marks of punctuation were used, no distinction made between lowercase and uppercase letters, and, even more bizarre to modern readers, no spaces used to separate words. Page: 38

Yes, all this is true but maybe not as insurmountable as it might appear to us. Another interesting point about Greek writing is that no quote marks were ever used in the New Testament book. So, rather than exact quotes of people, we may have summaries of spoken words. That does not preclude authors quoting verbatim but it was not uncommon and quite appropriate for an author to summarize the words of someone they were writing about.

One of the important recent findings of scholars who study the early Christian scribes, on the other hand, is that just the opposite was the case with them. It appears that the Christians copying the texts were the ones who wanted the texts—that is, they were copying the texts either for their own personal and/or communal use or they were making them for the sake of others in their community. 7 In short, the people copying the early Christian texts were not, for the most part, if at all, professionals who copied texts for a living (cf Hermas, above); they were simply the literate people in the Christian congregation who could make copies… Page: 40

So, copying of the New Testament manuscripts were done by literate Christians as opposed to paid scribes. Dr. Ehrman may perceive this to be a weakness of the copying process but I see many advantages to having believers make copies. The main advantage is that they had ownership of the documents and more importantly the words on the manuscripts. To me, that could indicate actually that greater care may have been taken. Jewish believers would have known about the traditions and processes of the Hebrew scribes and the great care with which they handled their manuscripts.

Dr. Ehrman seems to not understand that scriptures from the earliest periods were put into lectionaries verbatim for use in worship services. In fact, most of the New Testament can be found scribed into the worship service lectionaries. So, not only do translators have 5,000 Greek manuscripts of the New Testament, there are a total of 24,000 manuscripts in early languages and all these can be compared to the lectionaries of the early church.

In short, the books that were of paramount importance in early Christianity were for the most part read out loud by those who were able to read, so that the illiterate could hear, understand, and even study them. Despite the fact that early Christianity was by and large made up of illiterate believers, it was a highly literary religion. Page: 35

Thank you for that conclusion Dr. Ehrman. I agree with your statements here.

One of the problems with ancient Greek texts (which would include all the earliest Christian writings, including those of the New Testament) is that when they were copied, no marks of punctuation were used, no distinction made between lowercase and uppercase letters, and, even more bizarre to modern readers, no spaces used to separate words. Page: 38

Yes, all this is true, but maybe not as insurmountable as it might appear to us. Another interesting point about Greek writing is that no quote marks were ever used in the New Testament book. So, rather than exact quotes of people, we may have summaries of spoken words. That does not preclude authors quoting verbatim but it was not uncommon and quite appropriate for an author to summarize the words of someone they were writing about while including the gist of what was said.

One of the important recent findings of scholars who study the early Christian scribes, on the other hand, is that just the opposite was the case with them. It appears that the Christians copying the texts were the ones who wanted the texts—that is, they were copying the texts either for their own personal and/or communal use or they were making them for the sake of others in their community. 7 In short, the people copying the early Christian texts were not, for the most part, if at all, professionals who copied texts for a living (cf Hermas, above); they were simply the literate people in the Christian congregation who could make copies… Page: 40

Far and away the most changes are the result of mistakes, pure and simple—slips of the pen, accidental omissions, inadvertent additions, misspelled words, blunders of one sort or another. Page: 43

Icon depicting the First Council of Nicaea.

Depiction of First Council of Nicea

Okay, here he admits the main point about transmission. Most variants are simple slips of the pen, accidental omissions, inadvertent additions, misspelled words, blunders of one sort or another. The fact that he can say this tells us a lot. This means that Dr. Ehrman, as a textual critic, is making these discernments about the texts of manuscripts that he has reviewed. He is making that professional call about the manuscripts that he knows about. Therefore, we can rest easy. The very discipline of textual criticism, ensures that these judgments can be made and thus the original writings can be discerned by the translators of the Greek words into English or whatever other language we may be translating into.

Dr. Ehrman gets to the point of describing how the Gospels and Paul’s letters were created and notes that Paul wrote the last paragraph in Galatians while the remainder of the letter was dictated to a scribe. This is a good technique. Paul dictated the letter and a faithful scribe wrote it for him. In Misquoting Jesus, Dr. Ehrman does not make a big issue of the letter being dictated. Oops, I did not read far enough—yes he does. He asks “If the scribe filled in the rest, can we be assured that he filled it in exactly as Paul wanted?” Page: 46   I believe the answer is yes; Paul was well trained. I believe that Paul was  professional enough to get to the Galatians what he wanted them to hear. Is it not possible that the scribe read back to him what was written and that Paul verified what is in the letter? By the way, this is almost a moot point because Galatians is such a fantastic book. It is so good that every member in our church goes through the book of Galatians. Galatians was very well done!

So does the textual critic reconstruct as the original text the form of the Gospel that originally contained them? But shouldn’t we consider the “original” form to be the earlier version, which lacked them? Page: 48

What the reader needs to know is that Dr. Ehrman only lists some of the questions a textual critic might ask.

Okay, here he admits a major point about transmission. Most variants are simple slips of the pen, accidental omissions, inadvertent additions, misspelled words, blunders of one sort or another. The fact that he can say this tells us a lot. This means that Dr. Ehrman, as a textual critic, is making these discernments about the texts of manuscripts that he has reviewed. He is making that professional call about the manuscripts that he knows about. Therefore, we can rest easy. The very discipline of textual criticism, ensures that these judgments can be made and thus the original writings can be discerned by the translators of the Greek words into English or whatever other language we may be translating into.

About these ads

3 responses to “Have I made it to Chapter 2 of Misquoting Jesus yet?

  1. Pingback: What is the Message of Misquoting Jesus? | The Good News

  2. Pingback: Misquoting Jesus means the Manuscript Copies have Mistakes | The Good News

  3. papapound 03/2012 at 12:40 am

    I just went back to the critique of Misquoting Jesus, by Bart Ehrman, done by Ben Witherington and I want to list some things that Ben said:

    “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 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.”

    “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.”

    “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). ”

    “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. ”

    “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.”

    “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.”

    “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. ”

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

    Like

Would you like to add your thoughts?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 380 other followers

%d bloggers like this: