Biblical Inspiration - Textual Variants and Their Impact on the Bible
When it comes to biblical inspiration, Bart Ehrman’s well-written piece on textual criticism grossly overstates the negative impact of textual variants on the integrity of the New Testament. His conclusion (direct and implied) is that “numerous” textual variants must equal “numerous” problems with the core doctrines of the Christian faith.
At the end of the book, Misquoting Jesus, Ehrman summarizes his findings as follows:
“The more I studied the manuscript tradition of the New Testament, the more I realized just how radically the text has been altered over the years at the hands of scribes, who were not only conserving scripture but also changing it. To be sure, of all the hundreds of thousands 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 focused any better than the rest of us. It would be wrong, however, 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.
“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 [Mark 1.41]? Was he completely distraught in the face of death [Hebrews 2.8–9]? Did he tell his disciples that they could drink poison without being harmed [Mark 16.9–20]? Did he let an adulteress off the hook with nothing but a mild warning [John 7.53–8.11]? Is the doctrine of the Trinity explicitly taught in the New Testament [1 John 5.7–8]? Is Jesus actually called the “unique God” there [John 1.18]? Does the New Testament indicate that even the Son of God himself does not know when the end will come [Matthew 24.36]? 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.”1
In the first half of his book, Ehrman introduces us to the academic discipline of New Testament textual criticism. In the second half of his book, Ehrman focuses on some specific New Testament textual issues. Here, at the conclusion of his book, Ehrman recaps his seven, primary, questionable texts and then declares, “The questions go on and on...”
Actually, the questions don’t go “on and on.” The seven problem texts cited by Ehrman are the same problem texts noted by biblical scholars for decades2 – Let’s take a look at each one. . .
Mark 16:9-20 - The Last 12 Verses of Mark's Gospel
John 7:53-8:11 - Pericope Adulterae
1 John 5:7-8 – The “Trinitarian Formula”
Mark 1:41, Hebrews 2:9, John 1:18, Matthew 24:36
Biblical Inspiration - My Simple Conclusion
Bart Ehrman has introduced the pop culture to the same lines of text that NT scholars (yes, even evangelical ones) have been footnoting as problematic/inauthentic for years. These same scholars have also agreed for years that these textual variations/additions affect no key doctrines of the Christian faith. Remarkably, it’s the discipline of “textual criticism” that has allowed scholars to identify and correct these variants and corruptions in the first place. Indeed, “textual criticism” over the last hundred years has given us the best, most trustworthy, Bible translations ever!
As I see it, Ehrman (and his publisher) have delivered a book in the genre of The Da Vinci Code.
A witty, credible, and provocative scholar has finally let the general public in on a tightly-held, academic secret. The “conspiracy” kept from the faithful masses has finally been exposed.
1 Misquoting, 208. [Emphasis mine. I also added the scripture references in brackets, so I can address them one-by-one later.]
2Elsewhere in his book, Ehrman cites Mark 16.9-20 and John 7.53-8.11, by far the longest and most well-known textual issues in the New Testament, to make a sweeping declaration that these two scriptures “represent just two out of thousands of places in which the manuscripts of the New Testament came to be changed by scribes” (Misquoting, 68). Sorry, but presenting these two scriptures as mere “representations” of the thousands of other textual issues is a misleading overstatement, at best. In a conciliatory attempt, Ehrman adds: “Although most of the changes are not of this magnitude, there are lots of significant changes (and lots more insignificant ones)…” (Misquoting, 69). This statement is again misleading. The next closest textual issue in scripture is the two verses of 1 John 5:7-8. Therefore, “most of the changes” should really read, “all other changes.”
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