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Thursday, March 09, 2006 

Bart Ehrman: Misquoting Jesus

Misquoting Jesus: : The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why by Bart Ehrman is a relatively new book. I pulled out an excerpt from a Washington Post article (thanks Lya!) relevant to recent discussions on here:

For the next 12 years, he studied at Moody, at Wheaton College (another Christian institution in Illinois) and finally at Princeton Theological Seminary. He found he had a gift for languages. His specialty was the ancient texts that tried to explain what actually happened to Jesus Christ, and how the world's largest religion grew into being after his execution.

What he found there began to frighten him.

The Bible simply wasn't error-free. The mistakes grew exponentially as he traced translations through the centuries. There are some 5,700 ancient Greek manuscripts that are the basis of the modern versions of the New Testament, and scholars have uncovered more than 200,000 differences in those texts.

"Put it this way: There are more variances among our manuscripts than there are words in the New Testament," Ehrman summarizes.

Most of these are inconsequential errors in grammar or metaphor. But others are profound. The last 12 verses of the Gospel of Mark appear to have been added to the text years later -- and these are the only verses in that book that show Christ reappearing after his death.

Another critical passage is in 1 John, which explicitly sets out the Holy Trinity (the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit). It is a cornerstone of Christian theology, and this is the only place where it is spelled out in the entire Bible -- but it appears to have been added to the text centuries later, by an unknown scribe.

For a man who believed the Bible was the inspired Word of God, Ehrman sought the true originals to shore up his faith. The problem: There are no original manuscripts of the Gospels, of any of the New Testament.

He wrote a tortured paper at Princeton that sought to explain how an episode in Mark might be true, despite clear evidence to the contrary. A professor wrote in the margin:

"Maybe Mark just made a mistake."

As simple as it was, it struck him to the core.

This is the kind of scholarly research I had in mind when I write posts about the bible, to read about someone with the time on their hands to actually do it is like a tease! Of course, I've had little sleep over the past two days, anything intellectual is going to sound friggin' fabulous :)

Two things about this excerpt I like, for one, it's another example to me of how people come to the truth on their own. When you are ready to see it, it's there, and no amount of reasonable facts before you are ready to see it will persuade you. Second, his let-down sounds like mine as I described. D'oh!

200 THOUSAND errors............. Wow. I'm impressed.

So much for an error free Bible. Thanks for that interesting piece of information.

The 1 John passage is known as the Comma Johanneum.

It's a little known fact that Isaac Newton (the Isaac Newton) was the one who first pointed out that it was forged.

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  • I'm the freethoughtmom from New England. Welcome!
  • The word rational means having the ability to reason. Reasoning takes time. Giving yourself the space to think is practically a luxury in our society.

    My father is a logical engineer, my mother a caring nurturer. My handwriting with my dominate hand resembles that of my father, the other, my mother. I feel lucky to have both sides to draw from.
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