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Q. A friend gave me a copy of Bart Ehrman's book, Misquoting Jesus. This book really bothers me because he is so educated but says the bible is full of errors - like between 200,000 to 400,000 errors. What do you think about his statements or writings?
Variants are Errors?
Bart Ehrman is a good example of someone who has used his training and writing gift to deceive a lot of people. He rejected his own faith - so it appears he wants to take as many down with him as possible.
The "errors" he hints at are really "variants" between the various manuscripts - most of which don't mean much of anything. He says they do. But, a close examination proves they don't. "Been there and done that" fits our critique of his thesis. For centuries the issues he brings up have been analyzed already. There is nothing new he brings to the table. One would surmise that he is being deliberately provocative and exploitative. Sadly, it sells.
For example, some variants are akin to adding an "e" to a word, or spelling John like "Jon," or using the word "lord" versus "Jesus." Some of the variants in manuscripts are from lectionaries where personal pronouns are added to clarify the text.
Note that such variants are like our modern One-Year bibles where the publisher has clarified who is doing what at the beginning of each day's reading. Yet, these clarifications would be considered "variants" in lectionaries.
Other variants have to do with a "moveable nu" which is like saying "an" apple or "a" boy. Even though scholars know the innocent meanings of these variants they tend to double-count these things among the total variants.
In this process they count around 300,000 variants because there are so many copies of daily or weekly church (lectionary) readings, quotes from the bible in the writings of the early Church Fathers, and so forth.
In fact, many of these so-called variant readings just add credibility to the authority and cannon of the Bible! In other words, we have lots of variant readings because we have lots of copies of the New Testament.
A few variants are a bit more significant but in the final analysis don't detract from our faith, either. For example, our earliest manuscripts leave out the story of Jesus forgiving a woman who is caught in the act of adultery. Furthermore, the ending of Mark 16:9-20 which includes passages about handling snakes and drinking poison is also left out of the earliest manuscripts. Neither affect matters of faith or salvation.
Nevertheless, many bible versions include these two accounts because they are so dear to many readers. Still others believe these accounts should be added because they were part of an original text which is probably missing. But, you will find that most versions contain footnotes about these later additions to the text. Scholars are not trying to "fool" us. They are not "pulling the wool over our eyes."
Layman's Guide to Textual Criticism
According to historian Dr. Ben Witherington III, the first four chapters in Ehrman's book are a good laypersons guide to textual criticism including basic principles applied to this discipline. But, the rest of the book is a "rehash" of an earlier writing called "The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture" along with personal testimony about why Ehrman "chucked" his faith.
70% to 80% Variants are Spelling Variations
Dr. Daniel Wallace, whose qualifications match Ehrman's and Witherington's states that Ehrman's motives are clearly spelled-out in the introduction while the last three chapters reveal his agenda. In these chapters he is "given to overstatement and non sequitur." Wallace concludes that "70 to 80 percent of all textual variants are spelling differences that can't even be translated into English and have zero impact on meaning" (Strobel 2007, 86).
Spelling Destroys Faith?
Sadly, Ehrman's Christian education began at Moody's and Wheaton College, both fine schools. He completed his M.Div. and Ph.D. at Princeton Seminary. After he presents the heart of his book in chapters 5, 6, and 7 Ehrman finally concludes, "It would be wrong…to 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 opposite is the case."
Basic Truths Remain
But, the conclusions Ehrman reaches are neither revolutionary nor novel. They have been discussed again and again by scholars throughout the centuries. Dr. Witherington concludes, "It is simply not the case that any significant theological truth is at issue with the textual variants that Ehrman wants to make much of" (Witherington 2006, 5). In fact, Wallace points out that Ehrman's book doesn't even deliver on its title! It doesn't include much about the sayings of Jesus! (2006, 2).
Choosing to Believe or Disbelieve
It comes down to this: If a person wants to disbelieve the Bible he or she can read and believe the conclusions of someone like Ehrman and refuse to read any other critique or viewpoint. This happens all the time. In the end we all "choose" to believe or disbelieve. It's a matter of personal faith. The evidence to back-up our faith is out there for anyone who wants it.
However, again and again we have seen some former believers turn hostile to their earlier faith once they encounter a personal crisis which involves a moral choice.
No Pollyanna Belief
These events can be tragic - but they shouldn't necessarily lead to disbelief. The bible does not present us with a "Pollyanna" faith to begin with anyway. Right from the start we are warned that the whole world is "in the power of the evil one" (1 John 5:19). Point well taken…
Not Everyone who calls me "Lord" will enter Heaven
I shudder to think what many of these former believers will face at the judgment. This is what Jesus points out when He says, "Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter" (Matthew 7:21, NASB).
Causing Little Ones to Stumble
It is also what He meant when He said, "but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea" (Matthew 18:6).
Read in context, Jesus is referring to His disciples in this passage. It is a shocking statement that reveals His attitude about those who deliberately seek to ruin the faith of others.
Dr. Ben Witherington concludes, "I am glad we have a book like 'Misquoting Jesus' to tease our minds into active thought…" (2006, 7).
But, let's be careful to deliberately fill our minds with good and lovely things (Philippians 4: 8) rather than with things that tear down and destroy.
"Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise" (Philippians 4:8, NLT).
Ehrman, Bart. 2005. Misquoting Jesus. San Francisco: HarperOne
Perrin, Nicholas. 2007. Lost in Transmission? Nashville, TN: Nelson
Strobel, Lee. 2007. The Case for the Real Jesus. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan
Wallace, Daniel B. "Review of Bart D. Ehrman, Misquoting Jesus," http://www.bible.org/page.php?page_id=3452
Wallace. "The Gospel according to Bart." http://www.bible.org/page.php?page_id=4000.
Witherington III, Ben. "Misanalyzing Text Criticism - Bart Ehrman's 'Misquoting Jesus.'" http://benwitherington.blogspot.com/2006/03/misanalyzing-text-criticism-bart.html.
Authors Valorie Emilio holds an MA in History from UCLA focusing on Christian origins. Ken received his BS from CSULB and an MA in Biblical Studies from Louisiana Baptist University. Both believe they must "be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of your time because the days are evil" (Ephesians 5:15, NASB).
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