Misquoting Jesus

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In 1707, a biblical theologian named John Mill was the first to collect and combine the text of some 100 extant New Testament manuscripts. After 30 years of study he noted over 30,000 various major to mostly slight errors in the different versions of the New Testament manuscripts. His discovery brought to light the fact that so many different versions of the New Testament exist and that the book many people think of as the immutable word of God has an uncomfortably long history of changes.

The following video lecture (linked at the bottom) is a tremendously interesting look at some of the discrepancies by world renowned bible scholar and author Dr. Bart D. Ehrman.

“There are places where we don’t know what the authors of the New Testament wrote. […]

The problem of not having the originals of the New Testament, though, is a problem for everyone—not simply for those that believe that the bible was inspired by God.

For all of us, I think, the bible is the most important book in Western Civilization. It continues to be cited in public debates over gay rights, abortion, over whether to go to war with foreign countries, over how to organize and run our society. But how do we interpret the New Testament? It’s hard to know what the words of the New Testament mean, if we don’t know what the words were.

And so in this lecture I’ll be talking about not knowing what the words were and what we might know about the originals of the New Testament, how they got lost and how possibly they might be reconstructed.”

See the talk at Google Video.

8 thoughts on “Misquoting Jesus

  1. When discussing the immutability of the Bible, I often refer to the Gospels, and their reference to the sign that was over Christ’s head as he hung on the cross. Each of the gospels has a slight variation on the wording, but if the Bible were perfect, then they would be exactly the same.

    See my blog for references and links to different translations that retain the discrepancy in the wording.

  2. Jeff, what are some of the major errors in doctrine listed by John?

    I have a text that compares Masoretic Text, Septuagint, and Dead Sea Scroll manuscripts. And I scratch my head over what are the major errors in variants?

  3. Todd: Did you watch the video? I don’t think you did.

    How about John 3:1-5 (it’s the conversation where Nicodemus is learning that one needs to be born again to enter the kingdom of heaven). I found it kind of interesting that the the conversation had a double entendre in Greek that couldn’t have been used in conversation in Aramaic. It shows that someone (probably the scribes copying the story) added that conversation to the script.

    I assume since you didn’t watch the video you aren’t interested, but if you change your mind, you can see this part at around the 1 hour 34 minute point.

    As for your comparison of ancient texts, I’m no Masoretic Text, Septuagint, or Dead Sea Scrolls expert, but my quick perusal of Wikipedia indicates that the Masoretic Text came from between the 7th and 10th century, the Septuagint from the 4th, and the Dead Sea Scrolls between the middle of the 1st and 2nd century.

    These dates strike me as being written far too long after the fact to be very accurate down to specific conversations. Even if the Dead Sea Scrolls were written within 100 years, the chances that the story maintained much of it’s integrity seems like a long shot.

    Perhaps the writing in the New Testament shouldn’t be taken as literal conversations that actually happened.

  4. Hi Jeff, no I have never watched a video link on my computer. I know. I am definitely an archaic redneck. But I will try to read any article links that you provide.

    I do find that personally I must show more faith in Bart’s theories in textual criticism on John’s Gospel than the text itself. He won’t allow for much of Christ’s communication in John because it is too mature or complex in the theology. Go figure. In my opinion, Bart’s steady projection and reliance on ecclesiastical redactors is way over the top.

    And are you referring to the Dead Sea Scroll dates as 1st and 2nd century B.C. for some of the biblical scrolls? If you are thinking A.D. only, I have never heard this among any of the DSS scholars.

    I find it miraculous in how the Great Isaiah Scroll, the Masoretic text, and the Septuagint agree in fundamental content. I don’t think there is any other book for such accurate authentication in all antiquity.

    And Jeff, if I was apart of the Jesus Seminar, I would probably believe your last sentence. But for me, there are too many witnesses (spiritual and physical) that point to the contrary.

  5. From Todd’s Comment: “I do find that personally I must show more faith in Bart’s theories in textual criticism on John’s Gospel than the text itself.”

    Have you read some of Ehrman’s work elsewhere? If you never watched the video, what do you know of his “steady projection and reliance on ecclesiastical redactors”?

    (Not that I disagree, actually to be honest, I’m not quite sure I understand what you’re trying to say here)

    Todd said:
    “And are you referring to the Dead Sea Scroll dates as 1st and 2nd century B.C. for some of the biblical scrolls?”

    Right, well, I don’t know the dates, I just did a quick google on them and got the following…

    From Wikipedia:

    “According to carbon dating, textual analysis, and handwriting analysis the documents were written at various times between the middle of the 2nd century BC and the 1st century AD. At least one document has a carbon date range of 21 BC–61 AD.”

    I know, the Wikipedia isn’t to be trusted as far as I could throw it. My apologizes if those dates are way off.

    Now that I think about it, I’m not sure how much of the New Testament is actually even in the Dead Sea Scrolls anyway.

    As for your spiritual and physical witnesses (spiritual anyway) I’m impressed that you’re able to convince yourself you can rely on them. I, myself, can’t force myself to believe without stronger evidence, especially in the face of what appears to be contradictory evidence.

  6. Yep, Jeff, I have read several books written by the agnostic. And I am constantly baffled by the evidence that he uses for his rules of historical criticism.

    But where Bart is mainstream among elite “biblical scholarship” in America I choose to remain the rebel.

    Bart denies the historicity of John 5, yet all the witnesses in the latter part of John 5 to Jesus Christ are both powerful and compelling. I would hate to stand before God someday, trying to explain away one witness after another.

    I will trust the witnesses, but in doing so, I forfeit my right to be scholar by academia in America.

  7. “I would hate to stand before God someday, trying to explain away one witness after another.”

    If what Ehrman and the other scholar’s say is true, then maybe we won’t have to.

  8. “I would hate to stand before God someday, trying to explain…”

    If God is the least bit godly, you shouldn’t have any need for explaining anyway… it’s not like arguing with a traffic cop.

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