Friday, December 15, 2006

Misquoting Jesus

I’ve just finished reading my latest book on Early Christianity. Misquoting Jesus- The Story Behind Who Changed The Bible and Why by Bart D. Ehrman. If you’ve every wondered how people could preserve the words of the Bible in a world before printing presses this would be a good book for you. If you want to go through life simply believing that Bible was preserved by God for our day and you have no desire at all to know how He preserved it then stay away from this heretical book. If you believe that a mistranslation or a mistranscription can create thousands of variations of the same book of say the Gospel of Luke then you might enjoy this book. On the other hand if you believe that the Bible has been preserved right down to every jot and tiddle and are completely comfortable with believing that way then you might want to stay away. If you are fascinated by the slightly different doctrines and seemingly contradictory personalities of Jesus in the Scriptures then you might also enjoy reading about how those doctrines and traits have been transcribed and translated differently in some of the original texts. If you have a bumper sticker that says “The Bible says it so that settles it” then you’d likely not be interested. If you can accept that the best manuscript that we have of the New testament is a copy of a copy of a copy of a copy of a copy then you too would enjoy Ehrman’s book. If you are content to simply stick you chin out, raise your voice and say, “The Bible is the inerrant word of God” as if this declaration alone will assure you a place in Heaven then you won’t enjoy reading this book.

I wanted to go on with these little “you’d like it” or “you’d hate it” sentences for a little bit longer but I think ya’ll get the point. I hope everybody knows which side oft this debate that I’m on. I really enjoyed this book. Ehrman points out how and why many of the thousands upon thousands of variations have crept into the Bible and also details the science/art of textual criticism. In the many cases when he cannot pin down how or why the changes were made he offers his own speculation as to what may have happened. Admittedly, most of the time these subtle changes have little to no effect on doctrine however, on quite a few of them they create dramatic differences in the character of Jesus as well as the doctrine. This book has inspired me to read the New Testament again, this time with a more open mind to certain aspects. At the very least I don’t see myself jumping up on a soapbox to defend a slight doctrinal variation that may not have even been included in the original text.


  1. Reminds me of a joke.

    A monk arrived at a monastery to take up his new profession of copying ancient books and scrolls. As the head Monk was explaining his new duties, the new monk asked, "Doesn't all the hand copying increase the chance of errors? How do you know you aren't copying someone else's mistakes? Are the copies compared to the original?"

    The head monk responded that monks take great pride in doing the Lord's work and were meticulous in copying the texts. As proof he would compare the most recently completed copy with the original, and went to pull the ancient tome from the archives.

    Many hours passed and the wizened monk had not yet returned, so the younger monks began to search for him. They found him at a table in the library with the two books open before him. He was sobbing uncontrollably and muttering something to himself. As they got closer they heard him saying, "The word is celebrate, celebrate!"

    Seriously though, I think in order to believe the Bible is 100% perfect you have to put logic and reason aside. The gospels don't agree 100% on every detail, even if you translate from the oldest known source documents. A question I like to ask people who believe the Bible is the infallible word is, "What did the inscription on Jesus' cross say?" The differences are subtle, but if the Bible was perfect there wouldn't even be the slightest variation.

    For those that don't know, here is your answer





  2. I should also note that the answer provided above is according to the KJV. The different versions of the Bible add another element to the infallible word of God. Which version of the Bible is the correct one?