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The Trinity in the King James Bible

I’ve mentioned several problems with the King James Version in previous posts.  Arguably the most significant set of problems has to do with the text that the translators were translating.   The brief reality is that in the early 17th century, Greek editions of the New Testament were based on very few and highly inferior manuscripts.   Only after the King James was translated did scholars begin to become aware of the existence of older, and far better, manuscripts. As I have stressed on the blog before, prior to the invention of printing, the NT (and all other books) circulated in manuscript form (the word manu-script literally means “written by hand”), as scribes copied the text by hand, one page, one sentence, one word at a time.   All scribes copying long texts made mistakes; and anyone who copied a manuscript that had mistakes replicated the mistakes and made some of his own, and this process went on for centuries.   I should stress that most scribes did their best to make faithful reproductions of the copies they were copying, [...]

Pressing Jeff Siker for Answers: An Intriguing Query and Response

The comments by Jeff Siker on why he is still a Christian even though he, like me, has a thoroughly historical-critical understanding of the Bible (comments posted from four years ago) sparked some interesting responses.  One reader wrote him directly the following pressing questions, and Jeff wrote a reply that I thought was even more germane, interesting, and helpful than the original posts. Here are the questions and his response (as he forwarded them to me).  Jeff, by the way, has said he is happy to answer other questions.  So if you have any, let me know, possibly by making a comment on this post. - Jeff Siker is the author of Jesus, Sin, and Perfection in Early Christianity, Liquid Scripture: The Bible in the Digital World and Homosexuality and Religion: An Encyclopedia.   QUESTIONS FOR JEFF SIKER: I was extremely interested in the republication of your guest post from Jan. 2013 on Bart Ehrman’s blog this week.  You were addressing an issue paramount in my own life: How can I be a Christian knowing [...]

2021-02-06T00:34:39-05:00January 30th, 2017|Public Forum, Reader’s Questions|

Jeff Siker Part 2: Why I am a Christian (and yet a New Testament scholar): A Blast From the Past

This is re-post of an interesting set of comments from exactly four years ago by my friend and colleague Jeff Siker, a New Testament scholar who agrees with most of the critical views I have of the New Testament but who is still a believing and practicing Christian. This is part 2.  To make fullest sense of this post, you should read it in conjunction with the one from yesterday. Jeff Siker is the author of Jesus, Sin, and Perfection in Early Christianity, Liquid Scripture: The Bible in the Digital World and Homosexuality and Religion: An Encyclopedia.   ****************************************************************************************************************** Like Bart I became interested in pursuing an academic career, but with some grounding in the life of the church.  And so after my BA and MA (Religious Studies) at Indiana University, I went off to Yale Divinity School.  And so my trajectory from Young Life in high school to Indiana to Yale was rather different from Bart’s trajectory from Moody to Wheaton to Princeton.  Whereas much of Bart’s education involved the study and practice of [...]

2020-04-25T12:27:07-04:00January 29th, 2017|Public Forum|

Why He Is Still a Christian (And a Biblical Scholar): A Blast From the Past

The past two days I have been giving lectures at Michigan State University.  It's been great.  I've had a number of people ask me after my talks if it is possible to be a Christian and still hold the historical views I do.  My answer -- as many on the blog will know -- is OF COURSE!  And that has prompted me to want to repost this guest-post from my historian/Christian friend Jeff Siker, posted exactly four years ago today.   Here (over the course of two posts) he explains a bit about his faith journey and how he has held on to his faith despite his knowledge of biblical criticism.  I'll post part 2 tomorrow. - Jeffrey Siker is also the author of Jesus, Sin, and Perfection in Early Christianity and Homosexuality in the Church.   ***************************************************************************** Jeffrey Siker is an ordained Presbyterian minister and New Testament scholar. Jeff is senior professor of New Testament at Loyola Marymount University. He and I have been friends for over thirty years; he was two years behind [...]

2021-02-07T00:39:02-05:00January 27th, 2017|Public Forum|

Ehrman vs Craig: Evidence for Resurrection

Ehrman vs Craig. Over ten years ago now (March 28, 2006) I had a debate with William Lane Craig, author of Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics and On Guard: Defending Your Faith with Reason and Precision, at the College of the Holy Cross, on the question: “Is There Historical Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus?”  Craig is a conservative evangelical Christian philosopher.  Yes, a real philosopher -- that is, he teaches courses in philosophy and writes about it; but from a very conservative Christian perspective. Ehrman vs Craig - Our First Time Meeting I never met Craig before the debate, and in places the debate gets a little ... lively.  Even testy. Craig and I have had zero contact with each other ever since. Craig provided a full transcript of the debate on his site Reasonable Faith here:  I would assume that since he posted the transcript he thinks he pretty much mopped me up.  Maybe he did! Please Note: Please note: The video quality from the source is not great, since old-style equipment [...]

2022-05-11T18:22:11-04:00January 25th, 2017|Bart's Debates, Historical Jesus, Video Media|

Printing Errors in the King James Version

In some rather minor ways, the King James Version is not simply one thing but is many things.  By that I mean that over the years there have been minor revisions made to it – most of them very minor indeed, picayune alterations of such things as spelling and punctuation – but revisions nonetheless.   Two years after it was originally published, a new edition came out in 1613 that embodied 413 such changes.  In 1769 the translation was modernized a bit; that happened again in 1873. The “New King James Version” that is popular today (the third best-selling Bible on the market behind the NIV and the KJV itself) (these are all popular among conservative evangelicals who, to no one’s surprise, buy the most Bibles) is a somewhat different kettle of fish.  It was commissioned in 1975 and was produced by 130 people that its publisher (Thomas Nelson) indicates included scholars, church leaders, and laypeople. Whether these church leaders and laypeople actually knew any Hebrew or Greek they don’t say.  My guess is.... The Rest [...]

Does It Mean What It Says? More Problems with the King James

In my previous post I pointed out that the King James Version sometimes uses words and phrases that no longer make sense to most speakers/readers of the English language today.  That obviously makes it use complicated.  Why would you want to use a study Bible that doesn’t communicate in common English – or in this case, in English that no longer makes sense?   I can understand – and heartily support – those who want to read the King James for its sheer beauty and historical significance.  But if you want to study what the Bible actually means, it’s not the best place to go.  In fact, it’s a rather awful place. An even bigger problem comes from the fact that sometimes the King James uses a word or phrase that does in fact make perfectly good sense in modern English.  But the word means something very different now from what it meant in 1611, since the language (and hence the meanings of words) has changed over the past four hundred years.  Here are a few [...]

Problems with the Language of the King James Version

In my Introduction to the New Testament class this semester, I talked on the first day about which Bible translations I would allow students to use for the class.  The basic answer: most any modern translation would be fine (though I myself prefer the New Revised Standard Version), but I would not allow paraphrases (which are not actually translations from the original Hebrew and Greek, but are simplifications of previously existing English translations and as a result can be highly interpretive and misleading) or the King James Version. When I tell them I do not allow the King James, I let them know that I think the King James is one of the great classics of English literature.  As a piece of writing, it is arguably the most significant work every produced in English.  But it is decidedly not a good study Bible.  That is for several reasons: one is that the manuscripts of the New Testament it is based on (going back to the Textus Receptus – i.e. the original edition by Erasmus) were [...]

How Do We Know What “Most Scholars” Think?

I have received a particularly interesting question that has led to a bit of back and forth between me and a person on the blog.  This person pointed out that in my writings I often indicate that a view that I have (e.g., that the Gospel of John was not written by John the son of Zebedee; that the book of Ephesians was not really written by Paul even though the author claims to be Paul; or that the Gospels are all 40-65 years after the death of Jesus, etc.) is held by the majority of scholars.  But fundamentalist and conservative evangelical scholars say just the opposite, that their views (e.g., that John the son of Zebedee did write the Gospel of John, or that the Gospels date to before the destruction of the Jerusalem in the year 70) are the views of the majority of scholars.  So who is right?  And how can a person know? In my initial response to this person, I told him that what I always try to say (maybe [...]

Leading up to the King James Translation

The King James Version (KJV) is right hailed as one of the great classics – arguably *the* great classic – of English literature.  But most people have no idea where it came from and how it came into existence.  And so I am going to take a side-path (OK, a tangent) in my thread to devote a few posts to the KJV, also known as the Authorized Version (AV). To start with, contrary to what a lot of people think, the KJV, which appeared in 1611 under, yup, King James of England, was not the first translation of the Bible into English.  Not even close.  The first English translation was by John Wycliff (or his followers), done long before, in 1382.  Wycliff, however, did not translate the Bible from the original languages, Hebrew and Greek, but from the Latin Vulgate.  That makes sense, since the Catholic church had always used the Latin version (ultimately going back to the fifth-century church father Jerome).  And almost no one in the 14th century even knew Greek and Hebrew, [...]

Where Did the King James Bible Come From?

What were the King James Bible translators actually translating?  You may not have known it from the previous two posts – but that is what I have been getting at, when talking about the first published edition of the Greek New Testament by Erasmus, and the subsequent editions.    The King James is deservedly considered of the greatest classics ever produced in the English language.  There can be no doubt about its enormous influence on English literature and the English language itself.  But as a study Bible, it is problematic – in part because of the Greek text (for the NT) that underlies it.  Here is how I explain all that, going back to my discussion yesterday about Erasmus. ***************************************************** The larger point I am trying to make, however, is that all of these subsequent editions of the Greek New Testament  – those of Stephanus included – ultimately go back to Erasmus’s editio princeps, which was based on some rather late, and not necessarily reliable, Greek manuscripts – the ones he happened to find in Basle [...]

The First Greek New Testament

In this thread on Bible translation, I have been talking about what it is translators of the New Testament actually translate.  In order to answer the question, I have had to explain how we started to get printed editions of the Greek New Testament, including the first to come off the printing press, the Complutensian Polyglot (discussed in yesterday’s post).  Today I take the discussion a step further, to talk about the first published (not the first printed!) Greek New Testament.  Again, the discussion is taken from my book Misquoting Jesus. ************************************************************** The First Published Edition of the Greek New Testament Even though the Complutensian Polyglot was the first printed edition of the Greek New Testament, it was not the first published version.  As I pointed out, even though the work was printed by 1514, it did not actually see the light of published day until 1522.  Between those two dates a famous and enterprising Dutch scholar, the humanist intellectual Desiderius Erasmus, both produced and published an edition of the Greek New Testament, receiving the [...]

The Oldest Printed Versions of the Greek New Testament

I have started to explain what it is translators of the New Testament actually translate.  They do not translate just one manuscript or another; they translate what they take to be the “original” text as it has been reconstructed by textual specialists (some of whom are the translators themselves).  These reconstructions can be found in printed editions of the Greek New Testament. To make sense of what the translators actually have in front of them when they are translating, I need to give a brief history of the printing of the Greek New Testament.  To that end I will provide in two or three posts the directly relevant material given in my book Misquoting Jesus.  I’ve always thought this is unusually interesting information connected to “how we got our Bible.”  I start at the beginning, with the invention of printing.   *********************************************************   The text of the New Testament was copied in a fairly standardized form throughout the centuries of the Middle Ages, both in the East (the “Byzantine” text) and the West (the Latin [...]

My Problem(s) With Fundamentalism: A Blast from the Past

What are fundamentalists, and why don't I like them?  Here is a post I published almost exactly four years ago now.  My views have not changed! ********************************************************************** QUESTION: You note that fundamentalism is dangerous and harmful. How do you define fundamentalism and why do you think it’s dangerous? RESPONSE: There are of course actual definitions of “fundamentalism” that you can find in scholarship on religion, but I sense that you’re asking more for a rough-and-ready description. Years ago I started defining fundamentalism as “No fun, too much damn, and not enough mental. When I was a fundamentalist myself (yet to be described) I understood it in a positive way. Originally, in Christian circles, it referred to believers who held on to the “fundamentals” of the faith, which for us included such things as the inspiration of Scripture, the full deity of Christ, the Trinity, the virgin birth, the physical resurrection, and, well, probably a collection of other doctrines. Fundamentalism, for us, was to be differentiated from liberalism, which had sacrificed these basic fundamental doctrines to [...]

Biblical Scholars – Don’t Typically Call Themselves a Biblical Historian

Biblical Scholars, are they Biblical historians....and will I create a book from my blog posts? Two interesting questions on this week's Readers Mailbag.  If you have a question, just ask away! Biblical Scholars - How are They Seen? QUESTION: I just had a debate with a Mythicist who had no idea that any biblical scholar could be a historian.  I have to admit, I was just as ignorant of this fact until a little less than two years ago. How mainstream is it that biblical scholars are also known as historians? Maybe people think of biblical scholar–historian as two entirely separate entities.   RESPONSE It’s a good question!  I would say that most biblical scholars in fact are not historians.  But some are.  It depends on what their interests and expertise are. In most PhD programs in biblical studies – for example, those provided in seminaries and divinity schools – the training is focused principally on the texts of the Bible and their meaning.  The emphasis, in those circles, is on “exegesis,” that is, the [...]

What Text Are the Translators Translating?

What is it that Bible translators translate when they are translating?  Let me focus on the New Testament, my main area of expertise.   When a translator wants to make an English version of, say, Mark (what I say about Mark will be true of all the books of the NT), what does she actually translate into English? Obviously she cannot take Mark’s original manuscript and translate it, since we don’t have it.  Or the first copy of the original, or a copy of the copy of the original.   We have hundreds of copies of Mark.  Does she just choose one that seems good and translate that? No, as it turns out, that’s not how it works at all.  She translates a critical edition of the Greek text of Mark as it has been reconstructed by textual scholars.  This will take a good bit of explaining. From near the time in the fifteenth century when printing with moveable type was invented there have been scholars interested in producing printed versions of the Greek New Testament (and [...]

2020-04-03T02:37:29-04:00January 11th, 2017|New Testament Manuscripts, Public Forum|

What Do Translators Translate?

What do translators of the Bible actually translate?  This has been the question in the back of my mind for the thread that has been going on over the past couple of weeks.  The question has two components.  (1) Which books do they translate and call “the Bible”?  And (2) when they decide on those books, where do they find what they need in order to translate it?  Do they translate certain manuscripts?  Which ones?  How do they decide?  And when the manuscripts have differences among themselves, which ones do they follow?  And on what grounds? These are among the enormous number of fundamental questions that translators have to deal with even before they translate the first word of the Bible.  But let me be clear and emphatic: they are all questions with which every decent modern translator is intimately familiar, and these scholars always know all the ins and outs of all the issues.  I want to stress this point because about once every other week I get a question on email in which [...]

What About the Apocrypha?

What about the Apocrypha?  I have been talking about how we got the books of the Bible – both Old Testament and New Testament – and how other books came to be left out.  But what are the books of the Apocrypha, where did they come from, and why do some communities of faith (but not others) accept them as authoritative? When someone refers to “The” Apocrypha they are speaking of the “Old Testament Apocrypha,” a set collection of books written by Jewish authors (not Christian).  There are also Christian apocryphal books (e.g., other Gospels – such as the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Peter, the Gospel of Mary – and other epistles, Acts, and apocalypsese that did not make it into the NT).  But these are not called “The” Apocrypha.  That term instead refers to the books written, as a rule, between the end of the OT and the beginning of the NT that are included in some Christian Bibles as canonical or semi-canonical. Here is some basic information about the Apocrypha, lifted [...]

2020-04-03T02:41:42-04:00January 9th, 2017|Early Judaism, Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, Public Forum|

Did the Council of Nicaea Take Away Reincarnation and Give us the Bible?

In this Readers’ Mailbag I’ll deal with two questions that involve modern myths about the Council of Nicaea in the year 325.  Is it true that this is when the church fathers decided which books would be in the New Testament?  And that these authorities also removed all references to reincarnation from the Bible?   If you have a question you would like me to address in a future Mailbag, go ahead and ask!   QUESTION:  I've noticed many people have the misconception that the NT canon was decided at the Council of Nicaea. Where are people getting this misconception, and can it be quashed? QUESTION:  I have often heard that original scrolls make reference to reincarnation but that such references were removed at the Council of Nicaea to strengthen the Church's position that the imperative for living a Godly life this time around necessitated immediate adherence. Is there any truth to this claim?   RESPONSES: First, on the canon of the New Testament, let me say categorically that the Council of Nicaea did not debate [...]

How We Got the New Testament (and not some other books!)

Many people (most people?) don’t realize that the collection of the books into the New Testament did not take a year or two.  It was *centuries* before there was any widespread agreement about which books to include and which to exclude (why include the Gospel of John but not the Gospel of Thomas?  Why include the Apocalypse of John but not the Apocalypse of Peter?). Yesterday I started to explain how it all happened.  In this post I finish the task, by explaining the grounds on which the decisions were made and something of the historical process involved.  I’ve always thought this topic was unusually interesting – it was my first passion in my graduate school days (and the first topic I ever wrote a scholarly article on). Again, this discussion is taken from my Introduction to the Bible, published a couple of years ago. *************************************************************** The Criteria Used The “orthodox” church fathers who decided on the shape and content of the canon applied several criteria to determine whether a book should be included or [...]

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