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An Important Early Christian Writing

  I have been doing a thread in response to a reader who asked how we know we have the originals of the books of the Bible.  On one hand, the question involves how we know the words the authors originally wrote.  I've been dealing with that question over a number of posts.  But the question has another interesting and less talked about component: what is the "original" for a book that appears to have had chapters or passages added to it here or there?  Or when a book appears in fact to have been several books that were later combined into one book even before scribes started copying what we have today? There are few examples of that in the New Testament, but before dealing with those, I thought it might be useful to mention a less controversial case -- less controversial because hardly anyone has read this particular early Christian writing and even fewer people would regard it as sacred Scripture.  It is one of the "Apostolic Fathers" (the proto-orthodox writers who produced [...]

The Silencing of Women: 1 Cor. 14:34-35 as an Interpolation

In my previous post I began to address the question of whether we have the original text of 1 Cor. 14:34-35, where Paul tells women that they must be silent in the churches. I first had to show that the similar passage of 1 Tim. 10-15 is not by Paul, because 1 Timothy itself was not written by Paul. This is a standard view among scholars, that Paul did not write 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus; I won't get into the reasons here, but if you look up Timothy or Titus as a word search on the blog you'll find posts that address the matter.  Apart from that, doesn't Paul say something similar in his undisputed letters, in the harsh words of 1 Cor 14:34-35? Indeed, this passage is *so* similar to that of 1 Tim 2:11-15, and so unlike what Paul says elsewhere, that many scholars are convinced that these too are words that Paul himself never wrote, words that were later inserted into the letter of 1 Corinthians by a scribe who [...]

2024-05-15T12:46:29-04:00May 21st, 2024|Paul and His Letters, Women in Early Christianity|

Knowing Paul’s Views of Women…

I recently received this important question from a reader that is closely related to the current thread about whether we have the "original" text of the books of the New Testament. QUESTION: The question was specifically about about women's roles in the church based on 1 Corinthians 14:34-35. “Women should be silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak but should be subordinate, as the law also says. If there is something they want to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.” The questioner said:  I was raised in a strict fundamentalist sect where this was actually practiced. The women were allowed to sing but that was it. According to the Harper-Collins Study Bible some think that this was a later, non-Pauline addition to the letter, more in keeping with the Pastoral letters. Is this the common view among scholars? RESPONSE: I've dealt with this issue before on the blog, and think it's good to deal with it again. Two preliminary [...]

2024-05-15T12:46:21-04:00May 19th, 2024|Paul and His Letters, Women in Early Christianity|

When Does Life Begin? The Status of the Unborn in the Biblical Tradition.

I'm pleased to announce that I will be doing a new two-lecture course on a rather timely topic, When Does Life Begin: The Status of the Unborn in the Biblical Tradition.  The course is not connected with the Blog per se, except insofar as I'm doing it and many of you might be interested.   For more information and registration, go to Even if you can't come to the live lectures, you will be able to get a recording of the course to watch at your leisure. Here's a description of the course: **********************               The issue of abortion is one of the most divisive controversies in our country.  In many ways it comes down to a very basic question:  When Does Life Begin? At conception?  Later in gestation?  When the fetus is viable?  At birth? For many people the question is intimately connected with the Bible.  Does the Bible declare, intimate, or assume that the fetus is human?   Some emphatically say yes.  Others say no.  Other are not so sure. In these lecture, we address the question [...]

2024-05-15T12:45:47-04:00May 17th, 2024|Public Forum|

A Major Argument That We Can Be Sure We Have the Original Text

There is one particularly interesting argument sometimes used by those who believe we can know with good certainty what the original text of the New Testament books said.  This is the argument called the “tenacity of the tradition.”  The argument is prefaced on the very interesting phenomenon that whenever papyri manuscripts are discovered – say from the third or fourth Christian century – they almost *never* contain new variant readings that we did not already know about from later manuscripts, of say the seventh to fifteenth centuries.  Instead, the readings of these early manuscripts re-appear in later manuscripts. The conclusion that is sometimes drawn, then, is that that tradition is “tenacious.”  That is to say, later manuscripts did not invent their variant readings, but in almost every instance replicated variant readings that they got from earlier manuscripts.   And one corollary that is sometimes drawn, then, is variant readings do not disappear but continue to be replicated in later witnesses.   If that is the case, then the “original” readings almost certainly still survive somewhere in the [...]

2024-05-08T11:51:02-04:00May 16th, 2024|New Testament Manuscripts, Public Forum|

Dubious Arguments That We CAN Get to the “Original Text”

When I have public debates with scholars over whether we can know the original text of the New Testament or not, I stake out the claim that we cannot, and they stake out the claim that we probably can.  Part of my argument is always the one I started to outline in the previous post.  If we take something like the Gospel of Mark, our first complete manuscript of Mark is 300 years after Mark was first produced and put in circulation.  So how can we know if that manuscript is extremely close to the original?  We don’t have an original to compare it to in order to find out.  And we don’t have earlier manuscripts to compare it to in order to find out, except for one remarkable, but highly fragmentary manuscript about a century and half earlier (dating from around 200 CE), which does contain differences from the complete one. So given this fact, how does my opponent typically argue his case?  Normally he cites two important data.  There is no disputing either [...]

2024-05-08T11:57:30-04:00May 15th, 2024|New Testament Manuscripts|

Don’t the MOST Manuscripts Show What An Author Wrote?

Suppose you have thousands of manuscripts of a New Testament book and a particular verse is worded in one way in 98% of them but another way in just 2%?  Surely the 98% is right, right?  That was an issue I addressed many years ago on the blog, and to some of you, the answer may be surprising.  Here's how I said it then. ****************************** Early on in my study of textual criticism I came to understand one of the major issues confronting scholars in the field – an issue that scholars have been contending with since the eighteenth century.  For the past hundred years or so the vast majority of experts have been convinced by a solution to the problem, but the solution was slow in coming, for all sorts of reasons.  But when I was first introduced to the problem I learned there were two sides that were being taken, and I wrote a paper about it (my first year in college, at Moody Bible Institute).  I continued to be interested in the [...]

2024-05-10T11:51:50-04:00May 14th, 2024|New Testament Manuscripts|

Even If We Can Imagine an “Original” Text, How Could We Know if We Had It?

Scholars sometimes debate 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 was and 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, at least insofar as I can.  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 the “original.”  Someone copied the original in his church.   [...]

2024-05-08T15:14:28-04:00May 12th, 2024|New Testament Manuscripts, Public Forum|

Is There an Original Text Even of One of MY Books??

  Here's a way to think about what it can even mean to talk about an "original text," from a post many years ago, published when I was just finishing up one of my books. ****************************** In my debates with other scholars about whether we can know (for certain) (or at they sometimes put it, with 99% certainty) what the original words of the New Testament were, I always argue that we cannot “know,” and they argue we can.   Let me explain one reason that I find their position highly problematic by dealing with a broader issue.  What exactly *is* the original text of a document?  If we can’t agree on that very basic and fundamental question, then we can’t very well agree on the possibility of getting back to the original. I’ve dealt with this problem on the blog before, but let me approach if from a different angle this time.  I have just finished my recent book on how memory studies can help us think about the oral traditions of Jesus [...]

2024-05-06T23:41:53-04:00May 11th, 2024|New Testament Manuscripts, Public Forum|

May Gold Q&A: Keep Those (Metaphorical) Cards & Letters Coming!

Gold and Platinum members, Time again for our monthly Gold Q&A. But I can't do it (literally!) without YOU!  Send me your urgent (short, to-the-point) questions on any blog-related topic.  Have you submitted a question in the past that wasn't picked? Feel free to try again. Don't put your question in a Comment, though--send it to Diane at [email protected]. DEADLINE: Please get your question in by Friday of next week (05/17/2024) at midnight (whenever midnight is in your time zone).  

2024-05-08T11:43:32-04:00May 9th, 2024|Public Forum|

How Can We Even IMAGINE an “Original” Text of the Gospels?

QUESTION: When it comes to the gospels, how do we define the ‘original text’? Do we define it as the original manuscript that was first penned by the author, or do we define it as the gospels in their most settled canonical form?   RESPONSE: As it turns out, this is a complicated and endlessly fascinating question that, so far as I have been able to work out over the past twenty years of thinking about it, has no clear and obvious answer! By way of very simple background for readers not completely on top of the textual situation we are confronting when it comes to the Gospels (or any of the other books of the New Testament) (or of any ancient Christian writings at all) (or, in fact, of any writings of any kind at all that come down to us from antiquity) we do not have the “originals” (however we define that term: see below!).  What we have are copies made from copies, which were themselves made from copies.  Most [...]

Two KINDS of Originals. How Do We Know We Have Either?

I have recently been asked about how we know we have the originals of the books of the Bible.  By that, the questioner meant both how do we know the words we think the authors wrote were actually the words he wrote and how do we know the books we have are in the shape they were when they were written -- that is, is it possible chapters or passages have been added here or there or that several books were combined into one book even before scribes started copying what we have today? I've decided to deal with BOTH issue in a series of posts, and I've realized that many years ago I dealt with both issues very briefly TOGETHER in a single post, based on a question I received way back then when the world was younger.  So I'll begin my thread with that post: *******************************   How can we absolutely know whether we have the original words of the New Testament?  And weren’t books of the Old Testament edited progressively over time, [...]

A High-level Intellectual with an Infuriating “Solution” to Why There is Suffering

A blog member recently commented on a radio debate I did on the Problem of Suffering many years ago; over the years I've forgotten a lot of my debates -- or at least what actually happened in them -- but not this one.  I found it completely infuriating.  So I thought I would repost it.  I'm happy to hear your views, whatever they may be! ****************************** This is a radio debate that I had on January 10th, 2009 with Richard G. Swinburne, a philosopher who teaches at Oxford; Swinburne is a Christian and is well-known in philosophical circles.  The debate involved an area we are both interested in, The Problem of Suffering and whether it makes sense to be a theist in light of the pain and misery in the world. I have to say, this is probably the only radio debate that I've ever done where I got genuinely angry at an opponent.   Swinburne's answers to the worlds misery struck me as completely remote from any pain -- the stereotypical arm-chair-ivy-tower rationalism [...]

2024-05-06T23:30:03-04:00May 7th, 2024|Bart's Debates|

Did Paul Favor Gender Equality?

In this thread I have been talking about the role of women in the early church, starting with the ministry of Jesus, then in the churches of Paul (the first churches we have any real record of). In this post I continue by reflecting on Paul’s actual *views* of women; this strikes me as a particularly important topic since Paul is frequently condemned as the first Christian misogynist (or at least one of the first bad ones). Is that justified? The following represents some of my reflections as found in my discussion in my textbook on the NT for university students. The apostle Paul did not know the man Jesus nor, probably, any of his women followers. Moreover, many of the things that Paul proclaimed in light of Jesus' death and resurrection varied from the original message heard by the disciples in Galilee. For one thing, Paul believed that the end had already commenced with the victory over the forces of evil that had been won at Jesus' cross and sealed at [...]

Women in the World of Jesus

In my previous post I talked about the traditions that indicated that Jesus associated with women publicly during his ministry – in an attempt to use established historical criteria to know whether the prominence of women in the earliest Christian communities may have had precedence in the life of Jesus himself. What about the contextual credibility of these traditions? It is true that women were generally viewed as inferior by men in the ancient world (see below). But there *were* exceptions: philosophical schools like the Epicureans and the Cynics, for example, advocated equality for women. Of course, there were not many Epicureans or Cynics in Jesus' immediate environment of Palestine, and our limited sources suggest that women, as a rule, were generally even more restricted in that part of the empire with respect to their abilities to engage in social activities outside the home and away from the authority of their fathers or husbands. Is it credible, then, that a Jewish teacher would have encouraged and promoted such activities? We have no solid [...]

Reminder! WHY PROPHECY FAILS! Fundraiser for Sudan With James Tabor

If you haven't taken note of this yet, please do!  It's gonna be a really interesting topic.  Here's the original post. ***************** I am very pleased to announce a fund-raiser for the Bart Ehrman blog on MONDAY May 6, a special event in which I interview fellow New Testament scholar and social commentator Dr. James Tabor on a topic sure to be of interest.  James, as you may know, is a retired professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina Charlotte.  He is a public figure who has a large following on his own blog and in his many public appearances.  Among his numerous popular is Why Waco, which deals directly with the 1993 disaster at Waco just over 31 years ago.  James was consulted by the FBI, testified before a joint Committee in the US Congress on Waco, and was able to interpret the apocalyptic views endorsed by the Branch Davidians under David Koresh. The topic of our conversation will be connected to a broader issue that lay behind the disaster.  As you [...]

2024-05-03T18:05:56-04:00May 3rd, 2024|Public Forum|

Jesus and Women

In my previous post I tried to show that women – contrary to what one might think – were quite prominent in the ministry and churches established by Paul. One naturally wonders why that might be, given the fact that women came to be silenced in later Christian traditions (continuing on in some rather notable circles today). One answer for why women played important roles in the life of the early church is that they may have played an important role in the life of the historical Jesus. As readers of this blog know, it is not an easy matter establishing what actually happened in Jesus’ life. Historians need to apply historical criteria to all of the traditions that survive about Jesus: independent attestation (if a tradition is independently attested in multiple sources, it is more likely to be authentic); dissimilarity (if a tradition cuts against the grain of what Christians would have wanted to say about Jesus, it is more likely authentic); and contextual coherence (any tradition that cannot make sense in [...]

Was Paul a Misogynist?

I have recently had some discussions with other scholars about the role of women in the early church.  I've dealt with that issue on the blog before, of course, but now that I look I see that my fullest discussion was a thread from over ten years ago.  Time to do it again!  These posts deal with a variety of issues, starting with Paul, notorious in some circles for his views.  But ... justifiably? In my NT course I have every student participate, as part of their grade, in a formal debate on this or that topic. The topics are meant to be controversial, and one of them, years ago, was “Resolved: The Apostle Paul was a Misogynist.” Students had to choose a side to argue (I would often assign them to argue the opposite side of the side they said they preferred arguing!), they spent weeks doing research on the topic, and then they would present their debate before their small group recitation class. It was a great topic, made even more interesting by [...]

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