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January 23, 2006


Only one error is enough for me to toss it. If anything in the universe was to be kept free of alteration, the word of God would be it. I find it highly suspect that Christians seem to spend most of their time simply fighting over what the book says.

“Brother, you say there is but one way to worship and serve the Great Spirit. If there is but one religion, why do you white people differ so much about it? Why do not all agree, as you can all read the book?”
Chief Red Jacket - 1805

Tony, you don't think this quote is accurate, do you? I mean, I know that you understand how people can have different interpretations of text. A variety of interpretations does not prove that there is not a true interpretation to be found.

Oh yes there may be one true interpretation out there. Personally I think mine is the right one.

I hope that you do think yours is right. I hope that everyone who holds a view thinks that it is right.

New Testanment scholar Bart Ehrman has a recent book out call "Misquoting Jesus". He also does video lectures for the Teaching Company on the New Testament. I recently heard him interviewed on NPR. This man started out as a committed Christian, believing in the inerrant inspiration of the Bible. Through the process of his education at Princeton, study of the original languages and earliest Biblical tests and textual criticism he now considers himself a "happy agnostic! He is popular and influencial.
I have not read his new book but reviews indicate that Ehrman now challenges the authenticity of manuscripts, inspiration of the writers and the system of scribal care presented in the Aunt Sally's narrative. I am interested in any general critique of Ehrman. I particularly would be interested in Melinda or Greg's take on his work. Specific references for other useful comments would be appreciated as well.
Textual criticism is useful for analyzing the Bible but it also challeges trust in Biblical authority. It contributed to Ehrman's loss of faith. Defenders of Islam such as Shabir Ali use it to attack the Bible and Christianity. Theologically liberal Christians use it to point out perceived mistakes and inconsistencies that are then used to undermine the general authority of scripture on topics that they contest.
I have had it put to me that the difference in the Gospels Mt.21:1-7, Mark 11:1-10 and Luke 19:29-38 illustrate not only that the the writer of Mt. made a mistake in the number of animals involved, but that the text of Mt. maintains that Jesus rode two animals simultaneously based on a misunderstanding by the writer of Zechariah 9:9. I have found reasonable reconciliations of these texts but it is an example of how both the authority of scripture and the reliablity of the authors is challenged.

"It contributed to Ehrman's loss of faith. "

doubtful. if you listen to todd wilkin's (great) interview of him he lets slip a peculiar comment: he believes ultimately that we can have very high assurance that 99% of what we read is what was in the autographs....

he just doesn't believe any of the writers accurately captured what Jesus did or said from the get-go. that is far, far from having your faith shaken by so-called textual corruption.

I'm not familiar with the Todd Wilkin interview. I'll search for it. My point is that the process of textual criticism pursued by Ehrman seems to have led him to reject the authority of scripture and produced a loss of trust in the Bible. Likely there are other contributing reasons. Why does he not think that the autographs represent an accurate account? My hope is to hear an apologetic addressed to Ehrmans scholarship.

james white of alpha and omega ministries has been providing a response to ehrman, as a Christian who understands the textual issues clearly, on his dividing line program the past few weeks, including reviewing the npr interviews. i'd check that out too.

ehrman's argument comes down to: for him to believe that the Scriptures are God's word, they would need to never have changed in any respect whatsoever. no honest scribe mistakes are possible in this scenario, and miracles-on-call arise: you could challenge a non-believer to miscopy the text of Scripture, and he'd never be able to since God would never allow his Word to be corrupted under ehrman's proposal of transmission. ehrman is set to debate william lane craig later this year which should be enlightening.

Funny --- I've written about this subject in two posts recently.

Bart Ehrman, Misquoting a Culture

Basically, Ehrman points out some quite real changes in the text, but mostly over exaggerates their importance --- but then goes on to make up changes out right, without any actual evidence of a change.

He also doesn't take into account a culture that didn't care so much about "direct" quotes (since there are no quote marks in Greek) but instead getting the "jist" right. After all --- Jesus wasn't speaking in Greek, yet the Gospels are written in Greek.


Changes in 2 Thessalonians 2:13

Here is a simple textual change that modern Bibles have actually corrected --- our texts are becoming more accurate over time, not less.


The Aunt Sally illustration is terrific. I used it with an adult Sunday school class last week and with a youth group yesterday, and everyone got a lot out of it.

Neil, I wonder how what the reception would have been had you not been presenting to a group obligated by the local culture, if not to agree with you, not to disagree publicly? Not to mention the potential cognitive dissonance involved; of course they loved it.

(Just got back from a Bible study group myself...)

vsync -- I understand your concern, that some in the group might have not agreed with it, but because of the environment they didn't feel able to voice their disagreement. I'm not sure what you meant by "the potential cognitive dissonance involved."

The illustration is meant to characterize how the Bible was transmitted, to combat the oft-held belief that it was transmitted in a "telephone game" type of manner. To answer your question, I think if it was offered in a group of open-minded non-believers, you would probably clear up the misconception for quite a few people.

Tony wrote: "I find it highly suspect that Christians seem to spend most of their time simply fighting over what the book says."

Do you mean they fight over what words should be in there, or how to interpret them? If you meant the former, I'm not sure you would be able to defend your statement (that is, I don't see that Christians spend "most of their time" arguing about what words should be in there).

I think you meant the latter, and I'm not sure why this is surprising at all. The Bible addresses the most important topics in the world, and understanding/applying its teachings on those topics fights with our very (sin) natures. Drug addicts fight tooth and nail to hold on to their addictions, finding any justification and neglecting their most obvious and necessary obligations. Why would we expect sin addicts to be any different?


"...do you mean they fight over what words should be in there, or how to interpret them? If you meant the former, I'm not sure you would be able to defend your statement (that is, I don't see that Christians spend "most of their time" arguing about what words should be in there..."

ok well "most" christens don't read the bible. you got me there. i was referring to the scholars. i.e. see all the hubbub brought up over the Jesus Seminar:


"...i think you meant the latter, and I'm not sure why this is surprising at all..."

Yes the bible does address some of the most important topics in the world. AND LOOK HOW BADLY ITS WRITTEN! Aside from the obvious organizational problems, bad editing, and redundant, seemingly conflicting story telling, it is just jammed full of the oddest things like sacrificing doves and getting mold off your tent and demons flying into farm animals, etc.

Sometimes when I look at a sheet of mathematical formulas, or a picture of a cross section of the human brain, or a picture taken from the Hubble telescope, I think, “My God truly there is a designer out there of great wisdom who composed all this beauty.”

I open the bible expecting to get the same sense of awe. What I get instead is the opinion of: “this is just a bunch of poorly written and compiled towel head fairy tales about life in an impoverished dusty landscape of pain and ignorance and war.”

There might be a god. There are good argument for his existence and, I think, even better arguments for the soul.

But I don’t think he wrote that book.

Yeah, I guess I can see where you're coming from, if a book needs to be aesthetically pleasing to everyone to make it true. There are parts that make me scratch my head, it's true, but I don't see the pandemic of problems that you apparantly see.

Oh, and FWIW, to call the "Jesus Seminar" a "team of academic New Testament scholars" strains the definition of "scholars". I suppose some of them are scholars in some field, but the majority are not biblical scholars.

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