Discussion of the Best News in the World, the Gospel of Jesus, and related topics
Dr. Ehrman’s Misquoting Questions
04/25/2016Posted by on
Below my comments is a quote from a text version of Misquoting Jesus by Dr. Bart D. Ehrman.
My response to his concluding questions are listed here:
In the book’s conclusion, Dr Ehrman raises some questions which can be addressed.
His first significant question is: “Was Jesus an angry man?” My response: Well, yes, He became incensed with what the Jewish religious hierarchy at the time had done to His law and teachings. For, the Old Testament and the foundation of worship and who God is rests upon the Law and the Prophets. They were Jesus’ Laws and the Prophets spoke of Him.
That He was angry is not an issue with one who can put it into context correctly. His responses and demeanor throughout His recorded life are amazing. He is the one who gave us the Beatitudes and many other wonderful teachings. His is a model to emulate.
“Was he completely distraught in the face of death?” You may choose many words here, Dr. Ehrman. Because of the intense nature of His experiences in the Garden of Gethsemane, the torture to near death and then final agony on a cross, “completely distraught” is mild language to me. I am sure Jesus, in those hours, experienced a range of emotions and desires that we can only get a glimpse of and only if we try very hard. So yes, distraught and more adjectives. He was fully human as well as being fully God in my view and in the view of billions of others.
“Did he tell his disciples that they could drink poison without being harmed?” It is doubtful because Dr. Ehrman is taking this concept from the last few statements added to the end of the Gospel of Mark, which through the discipline of textual criticism (his discipline), we have learned these statements were likely added by scribes.
“Did he let an adulteress off the hook with nothing but a mild warning?” We don’t know because the “beautiful” passage inserted in John 8 may be authentic, that is historically accurate, but just not a part of the Gospel of John. If the story is authentic, and we have reason to believe that it may be, this is Jesus in all His power and compassion freeing a woman from what bound her Dr. Ehrman. It is not a sage letting someone off mildly. You have to know the Person to understand the gravity of the interchange and their implications.
“Is the doctrine of the Trinity explicitly taught in the New Testament?” No, it is taught implicitly and using skills similar to those used in textual criticism we can discern the concept of Trinity from several passages. The teeny, tiny verse in question was not in the original but being there or not is of no consequence.
“Is Jesus actually called the ‘unique God’ there?” Without going back to the details behind this question, I will just say that Dr. Ehrman’s asking this comes from the playground of textual critics like him. They love to dig into issues like this one where in some manuscripts Jesus was referred to as “unique God” while in others in the same passages He is “unique Son.” I will give Jesus this: He is absolutely unique!!!
All of Dr. Ehrman’s questions are answerable and do not bring into doubt the core tenants of explicit faith in the God-Man, Jesus of Nazareth, the Messiah of the Old Testament and ultimately the cross-bearing Savior of humanity.
To be sure, of all the hundreds of thou- sands of textual changes found among our manuscripts, most of them are completely insignificant, immaterial, of no real importance for anything other than showing that scribes could not spell or keep fo- cused any better than the rest of us. It would be wrong, however, to
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say — as people sometimes do — that the changes in our text have no real bearing on what the texts mean or on the theological conclusions that one draws from them. We have seen, in fact, that just the oppo- site is the case. In some instances, the very meaning of the text is at stake, depending on how one resolves a textual problem: Was Jesus an angry man? Was he completely distraught in the face of death? Did he tell his disciples that they could drink poison without being harmed? Did he let an adulteress off the hook with nothing but a mild warn- ing? Is the doctrine of the Trinity explicitly taught in the New Testa- ment? Is Jesus actually called the “unique God” there? Does the New Testament indicate that even the Son of God himself does not know when the end will come? The questions go on and on, and all of them are related to how one resolves difficulties in the manuscript tradition as it has come down to us.
It bears repeating that the decisions that have to be made are by no means obvious, and that competent, well-meaning, highly intelligent scholars often come to opposite conclusions when looking at the same evidence. These scholars are not just a group of odd, elderly, basically irrelevant academics holed up in a few libraries around the world; some of them are, and always have been, highly influential on society and culture. The Bible is, by all counts, the most significant book in the history of Western civilization. And how do you think we have access to the Bible? Hardly any of us actually read it in the original language, and even among those of us who do, there are very few who ever look at a manuscript — let alone a group of manuscripts. How then do we know what was originally in the Bible? A few people have gone to the trouble of learning the ancient languages (Greek, Hebrew, Latin, Syriac, Coptic, etc.) and have spent their professional lives ex- amining our manuscripts, deciding what the authors of the New Tes- tament actually wrote. In other words, someone has gone to the trouble of doing textual criticism, reconstructing the “original” text based on the wide array of manuscripts that differ from one another in thousands of places. Then someone else has taken that reconstructed Greek text, in which textual decisions have been made (what was the
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original form of Mark 1:2? of Matt. 24:36? of John 1:18? of Luke 22:43-44? and so on), and translated it into English. What you read is that English translation — and not just you, but millions of people like you. How do these millions of people know what is in the New Testa- ment? They “know” because scholars with unknown names, identi- ties, backgrounds, qualifications, predilections, theologies, and personal opinions have told them what is in the New Testament. But what if the translators have translated the wrong text? It has happened be- fore. The King James Version is filled with places in which the trans- lators rendered a Greek text derived ultimately from Erasmus’s edition, which was based on a single twelfth-century manuscript that is one of the worst of the manuscripts that we now have available to us! It’s no wonder that modern translations often differ from the King James, and no wonder that some Bible-believing Christians pre- fer to pretend there’s never been a problem, since God inspired the King James Bible instead of the original Greek! (As the old saw goes, If the King James was good enough for Saint Paul, it’s good enough for me.)
Reality is never that neat, however, and in this case we need to face up to the facts. The King James was not given by God but was a trans- lation by a group of scholars in the early seventeenth century who based their rendition on a faulty Greek text. : Later translators based their translations on Greek texts that were better, but not perfect. Even the translation you hold in your hands is affected by these tex- tual problems we have been discussing, whether you are a reader of the New International Version, the Revised Standard Version, the New Revised Standard Version, the New American Standard Ver- sion, the New King James, the Jerusalem Bible, the Good News Bible, or something else. They are all based on texts that have been changed in places. And there are some places in which modern translations continue to transmit what is probably not the original text (so I’ve ar- gued for Mark 1:41; Luke 22:43-44; and Heb. 2:9, for example; there are other instances as well). There are some places where we don’t even know what the original text was, places, for example, about
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which highly intelligent and impressively trained textual critics con- tinue to dispute. A number of scholars — for reasons we saw in chap- ter 2 — have even given up thinking that it makes sense to talk about the “original” text.