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So Which Text is Original?? My View of 1 Thessalonians 2:7

  I am about ready to wrap up my discussion of the textual problem of 1 Thessalonians 2:7.  When recalling his time with the Thessalonians, when he had worked hard not to be a burden with any of them, did Paul indicate that he and his missionary companions had become "as infants, as a nurse tending her children" or that they had become "gentle, as a nurse tending her children."   It is not an obvious decision, whether you think the change was made accidentally or on purpose.  (If you think it *is* obvious, look at the preceding two posts).  It seems like it might go either way.  I myself have an opinion on the matter (textual scholars tend to have opinions); but I"ll hold off on that for a minute. First: some of you might be wondering--which of these readings do the best surviving manuscripts actually suggest?  Is one of the readings ("infants" or "gentle") better attested than the other?  Which reading do our oldest and best manuscripts have? Here, as it turns out, the [...]

2022-11-27T15:43:52-05:00November 30th, 2022|New Testament Manuscripts, Paul and His Letters|

Do We KNOW What Paul Wrote? If You Think So, Answer This….

Do we really KNOW what the authors of the New Testament wrote?  Sometimes we just can't decide -- despite what apologists almost always say (Most apologists, btw, have never actually studied the problem; I'm not trying to be snide or rude when I say that -- it's an empirical fact; even most PhD's in New Testament Studies have not been trained to determine which actual words of the surviving manuscripts probably go back to the authors). I am now looking at a case in point, a single word in a single passage of  Paul's first epistle to the Thessalonians (see the previous post).  The decision of what he wrote comes down to a single letter in the word. Scholars (especially, as it turns out, those few who ARE deeply trained to figure these things out) can't agree about the single letter. And the decision determines the meaning of the passage.  Did Paul remind the Thessalonians that when he and his missionary colleagues were with them they became like “infants” among them rather than great, powerful, [...]

2022-11-23T16:26:43-05:00November 29th, 2022|New Testament Manuscripts, Paul and His Letters|

November Gold Q&A

Dear Gold Members, First I'd like to apologize for a mess-up on the monthly Gold Q&A's.  It was not until a few days ago that I learned the October one had not been posted.  (Don't hesitate to tell me sooner next time!)  That was a complete snafu.  We collected your questions and I recorded the Q&A and then there was a communication breakdown.  I was out of the country and something fell through the cracks; we're not sure what or where, but we're taking steps to make sure it doesn't happen again.  So, sorry 'bout that.  The October Q&A is being posted now -- hopefully by tomorrow. The November Q&A is a different matter.  I have had a family emergency over the past couple of weeks that took me out of action (not just blog action!).  But I'm now able to get back on with life as we know it.  But that's why the November Q&A is and will be late.  On the upside -- you'll get TWO Q&A's in December! And there's another bit [...]

2022-11-29T10:48:10-05:00November 28th, 2022|Public Forum|

December Platinum Webinar!

Hey Platinum members!  I'm pleased to announce that our next Platinum Webinar for the blog will be on Thursday, December 8, at 8:00 pm ET. Topic TBA.  But I'll do my best to choose something interesting, and will let you know what it is anon. Here's the link: Any questions or concerns, let us know. And thanks for being Platinum members: if we can improve your experience, let us be the first to hear you shout!  

2022-11-29T10:50:44-05:00November 28th, 2022|Public Forum|

How Changing a Single Letter of a Single Word Can Change the Meaning of a Passage

Now that I have discussed the purpose of 1 Thessalonians I would like to discuss a scribal change of the text - a change that involves just a single letter of a single word.  Which did Paul originally write?  The word *with* the letter or the word *without* it?   How you decide the question changes the meaning of the passage.  Yikes.  A single letter? The passage occurs in an earlier part of the book where Paul is reminding the Thessalonians of the time that he had spent with them when he converted them to their new faith.  This is a very joyful part of the letter, one of the most sentimental passages of all of Paul’s letters, where he speaks of the relationship he had with his converts when he was there. But the description is a bit hard to pin down, in part because of the presence or non-presence of just one letter of the alphabet.  Some manuscripts have it, and others don’t.  And it is very hard to decide which reading is [...]

2022-11-23T17:25:08-05:00November 27th, 2022|New Testament Manuscripts, Paul and His Letters|

A Challenge Grant to the Blog! Can You Help Match It?

Holiday Season Donation Challenge! I am very pleased to announce that we have received a $20,000 challenge grant from an anonymous donor on the blog.   For the challenge to be met, we need to raise another $20,000 among us.  C’est possible?  One can always hope! I am posting this request for gifts to meet the challenge to the Platinum members of the blog, hoping that we can find some generous assistance with us to meet the goal.  It’s obviously a good time of year for generosity; given the state of the world, no time has ever been better.   Every penny we bring in will go directly to our charities to support both disaster relief and the ongoing problems of hunger. Can you help us out?  We will appreciate anything you can donate, from a buck or two to, well, 20,000.  If you choose to make a donation, please do not respond here as a comment on the blog but write us to indicate the amount, and then simply go to the Blog site, scroll down [...]

2022-12-02T15:18:54-05:00November 26th, 2022|Public Forum|

What Is Paul’s First Surviving Letter All About? 1 Thessalonians

In my two previous posts I discussed a textual variant that could be explained either as a scribal accident or as an intentional change.   I thought it might be interesting to point out a few other variants that also could go either way.   These are all intriguing problems in and of themselves, and by talking about them I can illustrate a bit further the kinds of quandaries textual critics find themselves in when trying to decide what an author wrote when we have different versions of his words in different manuscripts.   My plan right now is to look at three variants in three different mini-threads (all of them subsumed under the larger thread of why I wrote The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture).   Today is one of my favorites, a particularly thorny issue found in 1 Thessalonians 2:7. I can’t get to a discussion of that issue without providing some important background; just the very basics of the background will take me two posts, before I can even start to explain the textual problem. First Thessalonians [...]

2022-11-19T20:13:40-05:00November 25th, 2022|New Testament Manuscripts, Paul and His Letters|

How To Leave the Faith and Not Destroy the Family: Thanksgiving Reflection 2022

My beloved mom died last week.   She lived a long and good life; she brought a lot of good into the world and made many people very happy; and she died a good death – peaceful, in comfort, in the presence of family.  How good can it get? There are many things I have long been thankful for about my mom.  I would like to reflect on one of them here. Many years ago, when I left the Christian faith that my mom held so dear –  a faith that meant almost everything to her – it caused her a great deal of pain.  But she did not allow our stark differences to destroy our relationship.  We continued to love and honor each other even though we were deeply at odds on issues that both of us considered among the most important in our lives. My mom was not raised in a religious household.  She grew up in the small town of Burlington Kansas and her parents were not church people.   When she was in [...]

2022-11-25T16:00:18-05:00November 23rd, 2022|Bart’s Biography, Reflections and Ruminations|

Religion and the Wrecking Ball of Truth

In my last post I began to discuss the importance of "truth" to conservative evangelical Christianity, through a bit of autobiography.  You don't need to have read that post for this one, so I begin here with the final paragraph that I left off with there.  This is from my book Forged. ****************************** One of the ironies of modern religion is that the absolute commitment to truth in some forms of evangelical and fundamentalist Christianity, and the concomitant view that truth is objective and can be verified by any impartial observer, has led many faithful souls to follow the truth wherever it leads, but where it leads is often away from evangelical or fundamentalist Christianity.  That is to say, if you can, in theory, verify the “objective” truth of religion, and then it turns out that the religion being examined is verifiably wrong, where does that leave you?  For many one-time evangelical Christians it leaves them in the wilderness outside the evangelical camp, but with an unrepentant view of truth.  Objective truth, to paraphrase the [...]

2022-11-25T16:11:55-05:00November 22nd, 2022|Bart’s Biography, Catholic Epistles|

Me and the “Truth”: A Bit of Autobiography

I decided recently to reread my book Forged: Writing in the Name of God; How the Bible's Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are  (which, in my view, has one too many titles....).  It was a surprise: I really didn't remember a good bit of the opening part.  And oh boy, I liked it better than I expected (usually when you read your old stuff you just roll your eyes).  One of the theses of the book is that even in the ancient world, people thought that if someone wrote a book claiming to be a famous author (when they were someone else) was seen as a form of lying. I start the book with my own relation to lying and truth.  I'm sure you have your own stories to tell.  Here's part of mine: ****************************** On a bright sunny day in June, when I was fourteen years old, my mom told me that she and my dad were going out to play a round of golf.  I did a quick calculation in my head.  [...]

2022-11-09T23:15:19-05:00November 20th, 2022|Bart’s Biography|

Why Would Scribes Mess with Mark’s Very First Verse?

In yesterday’s post I discussed a textual variant in Mark 1:1 that could be explained either as an accidental slip of the pen or an intentional alteration of the text.   We’re plowing into some heavy waters here, but it involves some intriguing stuff that I can say with assurance you didn't ever learn in Sunday School... Just by way of basic review (basics not involving heavy waters, but that you *also* didn't hear in Sunday School), there are thousands of textual witnesses to the NT (Greek manuscripts, manuscripts of the versions, writings of the church fathers who quote the text); these witnesses attests hundreds of thousands of variants among themselves; the vast majority of those differences are immaterial and insignificant and don’t matter for much of anything; some of them are highly significant indeed.  Most of the changes were made by accident.  Some were consciously made by scribes who wanted to change the text. And in Mark 1:1 we have a variant where it is hard to tell which it is.  At issue are the [...]

2022-11-23T10:21:41-05:00November 19th, 2022|Canonical Gospels, New Testament Manuscripts|

Do We Know How Mark Began His Gospel? Another Scribal Change

I have been talking about different kinds of changes made in our surviving New Testament manuscripts, some of them accidental slips of the pen (that’s probably the vast majority of our textual variants) and others of them intentional alterations.  One of the points that I’ve been trying to stress is that at the end of the day it is, technically speaking, impossible to know what a scribe’s “intentions” were (or if he had any, other than the intention of copying a text).  None of the scribes is around to be interviewed, and so – as with a lot of history – there is a good bit of scholarly guess-work that has to be done. This guess work is not simply shooting in the dark, however.   And it is dead easy for a highly trained expert to tell the difference between informed guesswork and just plain guesswork.   But at the end of the day we are always talking about historical probabilities, not historical certainties, when it comes to figuring out why a scribed decided to change [...]

Did God Mock Jesus on the Cross? A Scribal Change?

I've started to show that scribes sometimes changed the New Testament texts they were copying in ways that certainly seem “intentional” (in addition to making many more simple, accidental, slips of the pen).  I last gave an example from the beginning of Mark's Gospel that appears to be a case where scribes altered a text because it seems to make a mistake. Here I’ll give a second instance, this time from near the ending of Mark, a passage that is exceedingly interesting but for a comletley different reason. One of the most intriguing variations in Mark’s Gospel comes in the Passion narrative, in the final words attributed to Jesus in the Gospel.   Jesus is being crucified, and he says nothing on the cross until he cries out his final words, which Mark records in Aramaic:  “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?”   Mark then translates the words into Greek:  “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”   Jesus then utters a loud cry and dies. What is striking is that in one early Greek manuscript BREAK  (the [...]

2022-11-06T12:05:14-05:00November 16th, 2022|Canonical Gospels, New Testament Manuscripts|

An Error in Mark? Did Scribes Change It?

In a previous post I discussed "accidental" changes of the text by scribes who appear simply to have made a mistake.  There are other changes that almost certainly were not made by a slip of the pen (as when an entire verse is added!) and it seems clear in these instances that scribes changed the text because they chose to do so, for one reason or another.  You can never tell for certain, of course -- the scribes aren't around to interview about the matter; so it's often a judgment call.  And often the judgment is rather difficult to make and involves an interesting issue (or two). I'll be illustrating the issue (how to tell if a change was an accident or made on purpose) by dealing with three of the most interesting textual variants in the Gospel of Mark, one of which is an easy problem to solve, one that is a bit more difficult, and one that has generated a lot of discussion over the years and no firm consensus. The one textual [...]

2022-11-09T22:56:35-05:00November 15th, 2022|Canonical Gospels, New Testament Manuscripts|

How Can “Group Hallucinations” Possibly Happen?

When I lecture or debate on whether it is possible to "prove" the resurrection of Jesus on historical grounds, I talk about how -- whether you believe in the resurrection or not -- almost certainly the reason the disciples originally *believed* Jesus had been raised is that one or more of them had a vision of him after he died.  (Believers would say their "vision" was something they actually saw; non-believers would say they were mistaken for one reason or another, or they imagined it, etc -- that it was a hallucination of some kind). But it is often noted that in the New Testament, after his death Jesus appears not only to individuals (Peter, Paul, and Mary, for example) (!) but to groups (the "twelve," the "apostles" and "500 people" at one time, according to 1 Cor. 15:5-8).  But how could *that* be possible?  One person might mistake something she saw for a person, or dream they saw someone, or whatever.  But *groups* of people?  How can historians possibly explain "group visions" of a [...]

2022-11-18T16:43:29-05:00November 13th, 2022|Historical Jesus, Public Forum, Reader’s Questions|

Intriguing Scribal Errors Made by Accident

As I stressed in my most recent post, the vast majority of the hundreds of thousands of differences among out surviving manuscripts (and versions, and patristic citations) are of very little or no importance in trying to establish what the authors of the NT originally wrote.  There are others that matter, and matter a lot.  Those tend to be the ones that are the most interesting.  But there are many, many more differences that are easy to detect and of no real significance. Most of these differences appear simply to be accidental scribal errors.  We can never be absolutely certain, of course, if a change was made by accident or not.  But in a huge majority of cases, there seems to be little reason to doubt it. Why Are There Mistakes in Manuscripts? The *reasons* mistakes were made are not hard to detect, but are nonetheless  hugely interesting for a reason I will explain in my next post.  The reality is that scribes were human beings and they made mistakes.  Of course, in theory, they [...]

2022-10-31T10:27:42-04:00November 12th, 2022|New Testament Manuscripts|

Why Paul Was Persecuted (Or Claimed He Was). Guest Post by Daniel Kohanski

I am pleased to publish this guest post by Platinum blog member Dan Kohanski, on an intriguing and important topic for understanding both the life (and writings) of Paul and the earliest history of the Christian movement. As you know, Platinum level members get a several perks -- I do a quarterly webinar with any of them who want to come (and provide a link to the recording afterward for those who can't make it) and they are allowed to publish posts for other Platinums.  Every month or so, the members vote on one of the platinum posts to appear on the blog for everyone to see.  This one is the current winner!  If you are interested in participating at the Platinum level, check  it out:  Register - The Bart Ehrman Blog And for now, check out Dan's post.  He will be happy to respond to your comments. ****************************** (This article is based on research I’ve been doing for my new book, A God of Our Invention: How Religion Shaped the Western World, to be [...]

2022-10-31T09:59:45-04:00November 10th, 2022|Paul and His Letters, Public Forum|

How Did Scribes Change Their Manuscripts?

As I have indicated in my recent posts, we have far more copies of the NT than of any other book from antiquity –and as a result, far more differences among our copies (i.e. more mistakes).  In addition. we have ancient translations of the NT (the early “versions”) and quotations of the NT in the writings of church fathers.  These also provide further pieces of evidence – as well as further variations in wording. As a result, it is a very complicated business trying to establish what the authors of the NT originally wrote.  Scholars continue to debate the precise wording of this that or the other verse. In some cases we simply will never know. Two points are critically important when considering all these differences.  The first is one that I always state, even though my evangelical debate opponents frequently pretend that I never say it at all.  But, in fact, I always say it: the vast majority of these (hundreds of thousands!) of differences are insignificant, immaterial, and don’t matter for thing other [...]

2022-10-31T09:57:06-04:00November 9th, 2022|New Testament Manuscripts|

Do Church Fathers Show What the Authors of the NT Actually Wrote?

What other resources do we have to figure out what the authors of the New Testament originally wrote, if we don't have their actual writings themselves? In this post I move into a very brief discussion of one other area of evidence for the text of the New Testament, the Patristic sources.  The term “patristic” stands for “fathers” (Latin: patres) of the church – that is, the early church authors who quoted the books of the New Testament in the course of their writings.  This too is an exceedingly thorny area of scholarly investigation, and one that I have long been deeply interested in.  It is the area that I did my PhD research and dissertation in. So here’s the deal.   As I have pointed out before, we don’t have complete manuscripts of the New Testament until the middle of the fourth century – some 300 years after the books were written.  We do have earlier fragmentary papyri manuscripts of this, that, or the other part of the NT, and for that we are all [...]

Was Paul Thinking about Committing Suicide?

A blog reader recently asked me about an intriguing passage in Paul's letter to the Philippians where he says that “To live is Christ, to die is gain” (1:21) and then goes on to say that he is not sure "what to choose" -- to "depart to be with Christ" or "to remain in the flesh" (1:22). Choose? Most people have never looked at the passage carefully, but as often happens, have simply skirted over it without paying it much attention.  But think about it.  What is Paul saying exactly?  In what sense does he have a "choice"?  Is he thinking about taking matters in his own hands?  Isn't that the ultimate sin? I talk about the matter briefly in my  textbook on the New Testament. Here is what I say there: ****************************** In an intriguing book that discusses suicide and martyrdom in the ancient world (A Noble Death: Suicide and Martyrdom among Christians and Jews in Antiquity. HarperSanFrancisco, 1992) Arthur Droge and James Tabor argue that the modern notion that suicide is a “sin” [...]

2022-10-26T18:28:27-04:00November 6th, 2022|Paul and His Letters, Reflections and Ruminations|
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