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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:



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?



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 this background has involved two different fields of study:  the history of early Christian theology and the textual criticism of the New Testament.  These two fields have almost always been kept almost completely distinct from one another.  Scholars in one field simply have not worked in the other.  Part of the reason is that to master either one of them takes many years of full-time work, and each of us has a limited number of years, months, weeks, days, and hours to devote to our work.  Another part of the reason is that scholars by and large (with very rare exceptions) did not see the integral relation of these two fields of inquiry.

Here by way of bullet points are…

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The Unusual Thesis of The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture
Christ’s Self-Ignorance



  1. Avatar
    Adam0685  September 11, 2015

    This is great stuff!!

  2. Avatar
    Hank_Z  September 11, 2015

    Very helpful summary of the prior posts. Thanks!

  3. Avatar
    shakespeare66  September 12, 2015

    So the path to Orthodoxy was not paved with honest intentions, but paved with the desire to win the Orthodox view that would emerge as the standard view–the revisionist history took place and it was made to seem as if there was always one view right from the beginning. Well, if one reads the history of the Catholic Church, Peter was the first Pope, the disciples spread the word ( and wrote the word), and everything was hunky dory. One can read that history on the internet today. It’s as if there was no competition for the Orthodox view. In fact, a Catholic friend of mine asked me if I thought that it happened the way the Catholic Church tells them. I said “No,” but don’t trouble yourself about it. You won’t like what you find. I am half way through the book The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture. Challenging reading, but fascinating!

  4. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  September 12, 2015

    This is a really helpful summary with a thought provoking thesis about scribes changing texts to support their theology. So far, there are two areas that I cannot fully grasp as follows:

    1. I certainly understand that by the second century there was a lot of diversity with Ebionites, Marcionites, and different types of Gnostics. This is all outlined quite well with typical Ehrman clarity in “Lost Christianities.” But what about diversity from 30 to 60 CE before the Gospels were written? I know you have touched on this issue from the point of view of the Gospel of John being different than the Synoptic Gospels, but ….I guess we really just don’t know. Could Christianity before the Gospels been less diverse at the start?

    2. It still sounds to me like this theory implies that scribes just made up stuff to fit their theology although I know it was probably more like scribes cherry picking from oral and written sources what to write.

    I guess you are going to conclude that textual criticism got reborn once scribal changes were seen as resulting from theological preferences. Very interesting but complicated.

    In 3 and 1/2 years of reading your blogs, I have learned a lot. Keep plugging away.

    • Bart
      Bart  September 12, 2015

      1. Yes, it’s possible. I’ll have a lot to say about that in my next book, due out in the spring, on Jesus Before the Gospels, and will be blogging on it nearer that time.
      2. I’ll be dealing with this in later posts, but my basic sense is that scribes thought they were simply clarifying what the text meant by changing what it said.

      • Avatar
        Rosekeister  September 12, 2015

        In an earlier post about “Il racconto e la scrittura: Introduzione alla lettura dei vangeli” by two Italian scholars, Adriana Destro and Mauro Pesce you showed how they arrived at the conclusion that there was diversity right from the very beginning of Christianity, original diversity so to speak. Is that a conclusion that you agree with and will be discussing in “Jesus Before the Gospels”? Do many scholars think this way now?

        There seem to be many lines of thought here that lead to questioning whether James, Peter and the Jerusalem community are the “authentic” or “original” Jewish-Christians as opposed to one group of several no one of which takes priority.

        • Bart
          Bart  September 13, 2015

          Yes, I think you have diversity as soon as you have different people all thinking about the same thing.

  5. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  September 12, 2015

    Thanks. I am also aware of what you have written on this blog about Paul having differences with other Christians. What I really wonder is about Christianity before Paul. Was it much less diverse? Of course, there is no way of knowing.

    • Bart
      Bart  September 13, 2015

      Yes, I think it was very diverse — but it is hard to document.

  6. Avatar
    djuarez03  September 14, 2015

    You state that:

    “These significant variations number in the hundreds, not in the hundreds of thousands, but they are important to know and isolate and analyze, because they show (in most instances) that scribes were changing their texts on occasion (not systematically or rigorously) in order to make the text say what they wanted it to say. Or to put it differently (and more generously), they sometimes changed the text to make it say what they thought it meant.”

    Can you recommend any good books that attempt to discuss and analyze most, if not all, of these “hundreds” of textual variants that continue to be debated among scholars? I’ve already read your book Jesus, Interrupted, but was left wanting to read more examples of the most hotly debated textual variants of our day.

    • Bart
      Bart  September 15, 2015

      I’d suggest you start with my book Misquoting Jesus, and go from there to Bruce Metzger, Textual Commentary on the Greek NT>

      • Avatar
        djuarez03  September 15, 2015

        Thanks! I did read Misquoting Jesus, which is what got me hooked on the topic of textual criticism. I’ll be sure to pick up Bruce Metzger’s book as well.

  7. Avatar
    momoneymohammed  July 3, 2016

    in your estimation, sir, how come books such as the synoptic gospels, which are highly devoted to jesus’ eschatological claims, remained popular and influential enough to maintain their orthodox legitmacy? there is a chapter in your new book, which gives off the indication that theologically authors of certain gospels did move towards reimagining (however, historically inaccurate, it may have been) Jesus as this jewish teacher who was warning of the impending apocalypse, like sort of rethinking that position, because they had not been borne out by the realities of history. and of course, they had evolved higher and higher exaltations of his position in the universe over time. but that core message…which seems to be at odds both with history, and the fact these particular gospels (with the exception of John) don’t particularly emphasize any divine nature of christ, why did they survive the orthodox purge. was it because they collected the sayings of jesus’ early ministry so much more accurately and abundantly than anything else is that what kept their popularity so high? and if there is a book of yours on the subject please send the title my way, i love your books, and am eager to learn more about the subject.

    • Bart
      Bart  July 5, 2016

      My sense is that the books remain popular because (a) most readers don’t realize that Jesus was making a prediction about his own day and (b) many think he is making a prediction about *our* day!!!

  8. Avatar
    PeymanSalar  April 14, 2017

    Hi Professor Bart,
    I have read Jesus interrupted, in that, you raised the argument that authors of New Testament didn’t aware of that fact that, they were written the Word of God! My question is, how would you respond to this Verse; ” if anyon thinks that he is a prophet, or spiritual, he should acknowledge that the things I am writing to you are command of the Lord?! ( 1 Co 14:37-38)
    If Paul didn’t know he writes the Word of God why he wrote like this?

    • Bart
      Bart  April 16, 2017

      I think it would show that Paul thought he was a prophet who, like other prophets, had received a revelation from God. But he didn’t know his letters would be made into the Bible!

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