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Why Would a Scribe Change Luke’s Account of the Last Supper?

In my previous post I started to discuss a textual variant that I covered in my book The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture, a very important variant for understanding Luke’s account of Jesus’ last days, for grasping Luke’s view of the importance of Jesus’ death, and for seeing how scribes occasionally modified their texts for theological reasons. The passage has to do with what Jesus said and did at the Last Supper.  Here is the form of the text as found in most of the manuscripts.  (I have put verse numbers in the appropriate places) 17 And he took a cup and gave thanks, and he said: “Take this and divide it among yourselves; 18 for I say to you that from now on I will not drink from the fruit of the vine until the Kingdom of God comes.” 19 And taking bread he gave thanks and broke it and gave it to them saying, “This is my body that is given for you; do this in remembrance of me.”  20  Likewise after supper (he [...]

The Last Supper in Luke: An Important Textual Problem

The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture argues that there are textual variants still preserved among our manuscripts of the New Testament that were generated by scribes who were trying to oppose various kinds of “heretical” Christologies, including the one I discussed yesterday, which said (at least which its opponents said that it said) that Christ did not have a real flesh and blood body, and that as a result he did not really experience pain and death, but only appeared to do so. The proto-orthodox theologians who responded to this view insisted that Jesus really was human, and they argued that it was precisely the bodily, human nature of Christ that allowed him to bring salvation.  By shedding his (real) blood and experiencing a (real) broken, crucified body, Christ brought about salvation for the world.  The docetists (those who claimed that Christ only “seemed” to have a body that could bleed and die), in the opinion of their opponents, had gone way too far in asserting that Christ was a divine being.  If he wasn’t human, [...]

Early Christian Docetism

I can now, at long last, start talking about the kinds of textual variants in the manuscript tradition of the New Testament that I covered in my 1993 book, The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture (I did a second edition, updating the discussion with a new Afterword in 2011).   From the surviving documents of the period, there appear to have been five major competing Christologies (= understandings of who Christ was) throughout the Christian church, and I will devote a post or two to each of the first four.  Docetism, the subject of this post, understood Christ to be a fully divine being and therefore not human; Adoptionism understood him to be a fully human being and not actually divine; Separationism understood him to be two distinct beings, one human (the man Jesus) and the other divine (the divine Christ); Modalism understood him to be God the Father become flesh.   The fifth view is the one the “won out,” the Proto-orthodox view that Christ was both human and divine, at one and the same time, that [...]

My Debate with Kyle Butt on the Problem of Suffering

On April 4, 2014 I had a lively and, well, rather rigorous and at times somewhat unpleasant debate (unpleasant for maybe both of us?) with a conservative Christian apologist named Kyle Butt at the campus of the University of North Alabama (UNA).  Gospel Broadcasting Network aired the event live on their television network, as well live streamed it on the Internet.  We were debating whether the problem of suffering can call into question the existence of God. Kyle wrote previous of the event explaining that, "He [Bart] is a self-avowed agnostic who claims that the pain and suffering he sees in the world make it impossible for him to believe that the Christian God exists. Thus, the debate will be on the subject of suffering and the existence of God. Ehrman will be affirming: “The pain and suffering in the world indicate that the Christian God does not exist.” I will be denying that proposition." Kyle Butt, M.A. is a graduate of Freed-Hardeman University, where he earned a B.A. with a double major in Bible and [...]

2017-11-27T20:33:15-05:00September 26th, 2015|Bart's Debates, Video Media|

How Can You Know A Scribe’s Intentions?

My next step in this thread about my  book The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture will be to discuss the various Christological views known from the second century (Docetic Christologies, adoptionic Christologies, separationist Christologies; and Modalistic Christologies), and then I will try to show how textual changes made by scribes in the period reflect opposition to this, that or the other Christology, in support of the “Proto-orthodox” Christology that came to dominate the early Christian tradition. Before doing that, I need to clear out one final piece of underbrush.  The argument of my book was that Christological changes of the text were “intentional” not simply accidental.  But that raises a very large question that I have not addressed on the blog, even though I have discussed intentional changes a number of times.  It is this:  how can we determine the “intention” of a scribe? This is part of a much larger question that literary scholars have dealt with for many decades now, going back at least to the middle of the twentieth century, to what is [...]

How Consistent are Orthodox Corruptions of Scripture?

The goal of my book The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture was to show all the places that I could find of where early Christian scribes modified their texts of the New Testament in order to make them more amenable to their own (the scribes’ own) polemical purposes, particularly with respect to the Christological debates they were involved with.  I will describe these second and third century debates in subsequent posts.  (Recall: there are very good reasons for thinking that the vast majority of “intentional” changes in the text of the NT were made already by around the year 300 CE – so it is debates in this earlier period that really matter for understanding textual changes.) In my previous post I indicated how I went about finding the data: I carefully combed through our most exhaustive textual apparatuses verse by verse, throughout the entire New Testament, examining every textual variant that is noted in them – many thousands indeed! – and looking to see which ones were closely, relatively closely, or distantly tied to Christological [...]

On Falsification and Forgery

On Friday I will be giving a talk at a symposium at York University in Toronto that will be focusing on the use of forgery in the early Christian apocrypha, sponsored by Tony Burke of York U. and Brent Landau at the University of Texas.  Website is here: http://tonyburke.ca/conference/  I thought it might be interesting to excerpt a portion of my talk here, as it covers some ground that I recently have gone over on the blog, but from a different perspective.  (More on the bloody sweat!  But in relation to early Christian practices of literary deception.)  In any event.  Here is a portion of what I’m planning to say. ***************************************************   I first became interested in the field of apocrypha and early Christian literary forgery about 25 years ago, when I was principally obsessed with New Testament textual criticism.  Almost everyone else at the time who was also obsessed with the manuscript tradition of the New Testament was principally obsessed with one question only:  how do we establish the original text of the New [...]

How Do You Research Orthodox Corruptions?

When I finished my dissertation on a technical area within textual criticism – it was an analysis of the quotations of the Gospels in the writings of the fourth-century church father Didymus the Blind, in an attempt to demonstrate what the manuscripts at his disposal in Alexandria Egypt must have been like – I very much wanted to continue to work in the field of textual criticism, but I wanted to do some research that had some broader applicability and wider interest to scholars who were not purely technicians in this one rather arcane subdiscipline within New Testament studies. I had always been especially interested in the detective work involved in solving textual problems in the New Testament.  Where there are important passages that have important variants among the various manuscripts, how do you decide which variants are “original”?  I’ve always loved that kind of problem, maybe because I’ve always been such an inveterate debater, and arguing for a plausible solution to a textual conundrum involves, virtually every time, mounting a convincing argument in the [...]

Do I Have a Grudge against Bruce Metzger?

QUESTION: A more personal question:  did you have a grudge against Dr. Bruce Metzger? I have always seen conservative textual critics and scholars pit you against Dr. Metzger's views.   RESPONSE: When I first read this question I was very surprised indeed.  A grudge against Bruce Metzger??? Metzger, as many readers of this blog know, was my teacher and mentor, and I never had anything but the most profound and utmost respect for him, from the moment I first had the privilege of meeting him until the time of his death – and still today. I don’t think there’s anyone in the known universe who would disagree that Bruce Metzger was the greatest NT textual scholar ever to come out of North America.  I first heard about him when I was an undergraduate at Wheaton College.  I was taking Greek there, and began to be interested in pursuing the study of Greek manuscripts.  I knew that Metzger had been one of the five editors who had produced the standard Greek New Testament that everyone used.  [...]

2020-05-11T13:30:14-04:00September 19th, 2015|Bart’s Biography, Public Forum, Reader’s Questions|

Live Stream the Debate Tonight

One of the readers of the blog has submitted this: Found this claim: Livestreaming is happening for the Friday night debate, “Did the Historical Jesus Claim to be Divine?” Instructions: To view the event you must have an account with livestream.com. If you do have an account, just sign in to your account to view. If you do not have an account you will have to go through the process of creating an account with Livestream.com. Just copy and paste the URL below and follow the instructions. https://livestream.com/accounts/12497542/events/4350731 Moreover, another asked me why in the world I'm interested in doing debates with this, against people I so thoroughly disagree with in front of audiences that are antagonistic toward me and my views. So here's the deal. First, with respect to such debates in general. I accept about five speaking (or debating) gigs each semester. I charge a healthy fee for these gigs -- minimum $5000 (depending on where it is, how much travel, and so on; west coast is $6000; international is more like $8000; [...]

2017-11-27T20:37:18-05:00September 18th, 2015|Bart's Debates|

Magic and Manuscripts

In my post yesterday I mentioned something about the importance of our surviving manuscripts for understanding practices of magic in the early Christian tradition.  Several people have asked me about it, so I thought I would follow it up. There’s been a lot written about magic over the years.  When talking about antiquity, “magic” is not what we think of today: we think of illusion artists who do tricks in order to make think something has happened which in fact has not.  In antiquity, magic was understood to be a real thing, not a clever illusion.  It involved the manipulation of the physical world through suprahuman means.  The big question was then (and still is for scholars studying the phenomenon) how to differentiate between magic and miracle.  The (very) short answer is that miracles were performed by those who were thought (by the observer) to be on the side of the good (or God or the gods) and magic was performed by those who were (thought by the observer to be) on the side of [...]

Debate in Dallas on Friday

For anyone in the Dallas area:  On Friday (two days!  Sept. 18) I will be having a public debate with Justin Bass, a Christian apologist and pastor with a PhD from Dallas Theological, on the question "Did the Historical Jesus Claim To Be Divine?"   Dr. Bass thinks the answer is YES.  I think the answer is NO. It should be an interesting back and forth.   If you want to hear the arguments, come and see it.  Free admission.  And my arguments will be worth every dime you pay to hear them.  (It will be at Collin College at 6:30 pm) Here's all the information you need: https://www.facebook.com/events/1666142046937367/    

2017-11-27T20:38:05-05:00September 17th, 2015|Historical Jesus, Public Forum|

Why Intentional Changes of the Text Might Matter

In doing the research that led up to my book The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture, I came to see that the variations of our manuscripts were important not only because they could tell us what the original writers said in the books that later became the New Testament, but also because they could tell us about what was influencing the anonymous and otherwise unknown scribes who produced the copies of these books in later times. As I pointed out in a previous post, scholars have long thought – with good reason – that most of the intentional changes of the text (that is, the alterations that scribes made on purpose – at least apparently on purpose – as opposed to simple scribal mistakes) were made sometime in the first two hundred years of copying.  If these changes were indeed made intentionally, then the scribes who made them must have had a reason for wanting to make them.  They were consciously changing their texts in places. They weren’t doing that in millions of places, but in [...]

Why Bother With Anything *Except* the “Original” Text??

In this post I would like to tie a couple of strings together that have been more or less hanging.  In a couple of earlier posts I asserted my view that we were probably as “close to the originals” of the New Testament writings as we are ever likely to get, that barring some spectacular new discoveries (such as the original themselves!) or some fantastic changes in method, we simply are not going to be able to know whether we are right or wrong in the textual decisions we have made about which among the many thousands of textual variants (most of which are completely insignificant and meaningless, but some of which are very important indeed) are probably original and which are later scribal alterations. It’s not that I think we must now have the original text.  I don’t think we be sure.   But I also don’t think we will come to know how close we are to the original any better in the future than we do now -- unless something drastically changes. And [...]

My Focus on Christology in The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture

In the last couple of posts I have talked about the basic thesis that lay behind my book The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture.   After doing my dissertation I became interested in seeing how theological disputes in early Christianity may have affected the scribes who were copying the texts that later came to be collected into the canon of the New Testament.  Rarely had a study of this sort been pursued before, and never thoroughly and rigorously. Here let me provide a bit more background.   First, for reasons I have stated earlier in this very-long thread, there is a broad consensus among textual scholars that the vast majority of textual variants found in all of our manuscripts down to the invention of printing (and beyond!) were probably generated in the first 200 years of copying.   This has to do with the phenomenon that I have earlier called “the tenacity of the tradition.” If you recall, this is the phenomenon that later scribes appear not to introduced new readings into the tradition (at least not very often [...]

The Unusual Thesis of The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture

As I started to point out in my previous post, the overarching idea behind my book The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture was that scribes copying their sacred texts in the early centuries of Christianity were not immune from the theological controversies raging in their day, but that they were, in some sense, participants in those disputes.   In pursuing that idea, I had to bring together two fields of academic inquiry that were almost always kept distinct from each other – the study of the manuscripts of the New Testament and the investigation into the development of early Christian theology.  The vast majority of scholars who worked on manuscripts were not informed about the social and doctrinal history of early Christianity (except in rather broad and basic terms) and the vast majority of scholars who worked on the theological controversies of the early church were almost completely ignorant of the manuscript tradition of the New Testament.  I wanted to bring the two together. Let me again say that I was not the first to come up [...]

Back to the Question: The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture

This is by far the most unusual thread I have had in the three and a half years of doing the blog.   It started with a question that I began to address on June 30.  It is now September 11.   I have had a few brief interludes dealing with other things, but almost all the posts in the intervening weeks (months!) have been background that I needed to lay out to answer the question.  And in fact the background has been only to answer one part of the question.   Here was the original question:   READER’S QUESTION: Dr. Ehrman, I do not know if others would find this interesting, but I would love to know how you developed the idea for The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture. How did you go about researching it? How long did it take? Is it a once in a lifetime work?   RESPONSE: OK, so to understand my response it is important to bear in mind what I have been discussing all this time.  Here I will summarize.  Roughly speaking [...]

Back to the Forgery of the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife

Some three years ago now I discussed in several posts the newly "discovered" text called "The Gospel of Jesus' Wife" (just search for "wife" and you'll find the posts).  A new development has occurred that makes it almost certain that this text is a modern forgery, done sometime in the last 20 years.  The evidence has been uncovered by Andrew Bernhard, author of Other Early Christian Gospels, and who was one of the first to establish other grounds for seeing the text as something quite fishy, and who has posted several times on the matter on Mark Goodacre's blog (as Mark informed me a couple of nights ago at a reading group).   I asked Andrew to come up with an explanation of the new evidence of foul-play (either by the person who gave the document to Harvard Professor Karen King or by the person who gave it to that other person).  I am very grateful to him for having done so.  Here is what he says: *********************************************************************************************** Confirmation that the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife [...]

2020-11-22T14:49:09-05:00September 10th, 2015|Historical Jesus, Religion in the News|

Christ’s Self-Ignorance

As chance would have it, I was asked virtually the same question within about fifteen minutes of one another, a couple of days ago.   Here is the question, in both its iterations:   QUESTION ONE:  I have a question with regard to your statement that you are not “trying to argue that Jesus is not God.” If the message of the book is that the concept of the “divinity of Jesus” was not clearly stated by Jesus and, instead, slowly evolved after His death, then doesn’t this imply that this concept of the “divinity of Jesus” is a human invention and, therefore, Jesus is not really God? ANOTHER QUESTION ONE:  I confess I don’t see how something can be theologically “true” and yet not be historically true. If Jesus did not claim to be God and his immediate disciples did not believe he was God in what sense can he be God now? If they don’t discipline their speculations with recourse to history how can theologians claim to be making truth statements of any kind? [...]

2020-04-03T13:19:56-04:00September 8th, 2015|Historical Jesus, Reader’s Questions|

On “Knowing” the Original Words of the NT

I have been discussing the question of whether we can know that we have reconstructed the original text of the New Testament at every point – or even every important point.   To me the answer is self-evidently, No, of course not.   Many of my conservative evangelical critics think that I’m being overly skeptical, that since we have thousands of manuscripts of the NT, we can surely know better what the authors of the NT said than any other authors from the ancient world.  My view is that this might be true, but that simply shows that we can’t know what *most* authors of the ancient world actually said, word for word. Why does that matter?  I’ll explain in a second, for the bulk of this post.  But first let me put the matter in very simple form (I keep trying to explain this in a way that’s satisfying to myself.).   Suppose Matthew’s Gospel was circulated for the very first time in Antioch of Syria around the year 85 CE.   We’ll call that first circulated copy [...]

2020-04-03T13:20:03-04:00September 7th, 2015|Bart's Critics, New Testament Manuscripts|
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