19 votes, average: 4.95 out of 519 votes, average: 4.95 out of 519 votes, average: 4.95 out of 519 votes, average: 4.95 out of 519 votes, average: 4.95 out of 5 (19 votes, average: 4.95 out of 5)
You need to be a registered member to rate this post.
Loading...

How Can You Tell If the Text Has Been CHANGED?

There are some passages in the New Testament that have been either added or omitted  by scribes in the process of copying them.  This is not some kind of “opinion.”  It is a fact.   In know full well that there are always readers who have said: “Scribes would never do that!  This was the Word of God for them!”   The logic in this objection is that anyone who held the Bible to be a holy book would not change it.   Hey, think about the Jewish scribes in the Middle Ages with the Torah, or the Muslim scribes from as far back as we can go with the Qur’an!  Scribes don’t change the texts they are copying if they think they are straight from God!

It’s an intriguing argument – I hear it on occasion — but I’m afraid it is based on complete ignorance.  In reality, it is an undeniable fact that scribes sometimes omitted or added to the texts of the NT, whether we are talking about a a word, a phrase, a sentence, or an entire story.  How can I be so *certain*?   For a very simple reason: we have manuscripts of the New Testament that have the story of the woman taken in adultery (John 7:53-8:11) and others that don’t.  Same with the last twelve verses of Mark (Mark 16:9-21).  Same with the longer version of Jesus’ over the Last Supper in Luke 22:19-21.  And the passage about the “bloody sweat” in Luke 22:43-44.  And … and lots and lots of other passages.

There is no option, then.  If you have two manuscripts, and one of them has the story, but the other doesn’t, then …

This is both intriguing and fundamental to biblical studies — yet most readers of the Bible know nothing about it.  Want to learn more?  Keep reading.  And join the blog.  You’ll learn so much about the New Testament and early Christianity from a historical perspective that your family, friends, neighbors, and colleagues won’t be able to *stand* it.

You need to be logged in to see this part of the content. Please Login to access.


How Manuscripts Matter for Knowing What an Author Wrote
Maybe the Passage wasn’t “Original”!!

44

Comments

  1. Avatar
    NancyGKnapp  March 4, 2020

    I am really enjoying this series. – scholarly information that I don’t otherwise have access to.

  2. Avatar
    fishician  March 4, 2020

    We all know that the NT started out as letters and documents written at different times in different places by different people, and over the centuries some of them coalesced into what we now call the New Testament. But when would you say this collection of writings first became viewed as “the word of God?” In other words, sacred writings, not just useful writings. I can see a scribe taking a document being used for church instruction, like a gospel or a letter of Paul, and “improving” it for proper instruction, but less likely if the scribe viewed it as the inspired, literal, word of God. (Of course, there are plenty of Christians even today who don’t view the Bible in such a strict way.)

    • Bart
      Bart  March 6, 2020

      The first two hints are actually in the NT itself. 1 Tim 5:18 quotes the words of Jesus and calls them “Scripture” and 2 Peter 3:16 numbers Paul’s writings among the “Scriptures.” That’s the beginning of seeing a “new” set of Scriptures put over against the “Old” ones (the Jewish Bible)

      • Avatar
        clerrance2005  March 6, 2020

        Dear Prof Ehrman,
        I noticed 1 Tim 5:18 goes back to Deut 25:4 and 2 Peter 3:16 in my view is only referencing letters of Paul that the writer had intercepted. Wouldn’t it be therefore right in saying that the writers of the NT wrote books (as was a practice in antiquity) and probably at no point would they have thought that their words will be regarded as ‘Scripture’ in the sense that we regard it today. Don’t you think it was later Christians that made these scriptural?

        • Bart
          Bart  March 8, 2020

          I wouldn’t say “therefore” that was the case, but yes, I do think that was the case. They certainly didn’t think they were writing hte bible

  3. Avatar
    doug  March 4, 2020

    When did Christians start believing that scripture/writings about Jesus were the word of God (as opposed to being the claims of mere human beings about Jesus)?

    • Bart
      Bart  March 6, 2020

      The first two hints are actually in the NT itself. 1 Tim 5:18 quotes the words of Jesus and calls them “Scripture” and 2 Peter 3:16 numbers Paul’s writings among the “Scriptures.” That’s the beginning of seeing a “new” set of Scriptures put over against the “Old” ones (the Jewish Bible)

  4. Avatar
    Mhamed Errifi  March 4, 2020

    Hello Dr Bart

    I am surprised that it took christian scholars 1700 years to find out that new testament has been changed . We Muslims knew that 1500 years ago

    we are told in koran 2:79 So woe to those who write the Scripture with their own hands, and then say, “This is from God,” that they may exchange it for a little price. Woe to them for what their hands have written, and woe to them for what they earn.

    Ibn `Abbas ( muhamed cousin ) koranic expert said, “O Muslims! How could you ask the People of the Book ( christians and jews ) about anything, while the Book of Allah (Qur’an) that He revealed to His Prophet is the most recent Book from Him and you still read it fresh and young Allah told you that the People of the Book altered the Book of Allah, changed it and wrote another book with their own hands.

    do you have any comment on this

    Many thanks

    • Bart
      Bart  March 6, 2020

      No, sorry if I misspoke. Christian scholars knew that there had been changes in the text of the NT as far back as we have Christian scholars talking about the text of the NT, way back in early Christian antiquity (e.g., Irenaeus and Tertullian)

  5. Avatar
    Steefen  March 4, 2020

    Dr. Ehrman,

    An Italian linguist wrote, “From a philological point of view,
    chresto not only can be the Latin ablative of the Greek chrêstos, ‘the good (person)’,
    but also that of chrêston, ‘the good (thing), goods’ or
    of chrêstês, which means ‘speculator’, ‘usurer’.
    It is still in use today in urban Rome:
    far(ci) la cresta means ‘profiteer’, ‘to demand an extortionate price’.”

    To a friend in Italy, I wrote:

    I have a language question. Here is the sentence: “It is still in use today in urban Rome: ‘far(ci) la cresta’ means ‘profiteer’, ‘to demand an extortionate price’. ”

    Does “far(ci) la cresta” have anything to do with speculation, profiteering, price gouging? Thank you.

    His reply:
    Think of “far(ci) la cresta” as “make a mark up of your sale without letting you aware of.”

    Questions:

    Can chresto be the Latin ablative of the Greek chrêstos, ‘the good (person)’ ?
    Can chresto be the Latin ablative of the Greek chrêston, ‘the good (thing), goods’?
    Can chresto be the Latin ablative of the Greek chrêstês, which means ‘speculator’, ‘usurer’?
    Thank you.

    (Yes, this does relate to whether or not Nero punished construction speculators when Rome burned and it relates to the possibility that Claudius also had a problem with or dislike of speculators.)

    • Bart
      Bart  March 6, 2020

      I”m not sure I understand the question. Tacitus Annals 15.44 doesn’t use the word chresto: ergo abolendo rumori Nero subdidit reos et quaesitissimis poenis adfecit quos per flagitia invisos vulgus Christianos appellabat. auctor nominis eius Christus Tiberio imperitante per procuratorem Pontium Pilatum supplicio adfectus erat. He’s talking about Christianos, who are named after Christus. Is this what you’re asking about?

      • Avatar
        Steefen  March 7, 2020

        First, ‘The form of the name Christianos was established in manuscripts * * by correction [not by Tacitus]; it had previously been chrestianos. That this […] form had been in use is attested to by, i. a., Lactantius iv 7 and Tertullianus Apol. extr.’ (Tac. Ann. 15.44, K. Nipperday and G. Andresen (Eds.), (11)1915, p. 264, note 4).

        Second, before 1915, in 1902 Georg Andresen commented on the appearance of the first ‘i’ and subsequent gap in the earliest extant, 11th century, copy of the Annals in Florence, suggesting that

        * * the text had been altered, and an ‘e’ had originally been in the text, rather than this ‘i’. * *

        “With ultra-violet examination of the MS * * * the alteration was conclusively shown. * * *

        Even if some people were using the “e” spelling for the “i” spelling, Van Voorst has stated that it was unlikely for Tacitus himself to refer to Christians as Chrestianos i.e. “useful ones”.

        = = =
        Furthermore,

        Suet. Claud. 25.4: Iudaeos impulsore chresto assidue tumultuantis Roma expulit.

        shows chresto, not Chresto ,and more importantly not christo or Christo.

        ‘…the Jews, who caused constant turmoil at the instigation of usury/speculation, he [Claudius] expelled them from Rome.’

        So this brings us back to the original three questions:

        Can chresto be the Latin ablative of the Greek chrêstos, ‘the good (person)’ [the useful person]?
        Can chresto be the Latin ablative of the Greek chrêston, ‘the good (thing), goods’?
        Can chresto be the Latin ablative of the Greek chrêstês, which means ‘speculator’, ‘usurer’?

        Thank you.

        • Bart
          Bart  March 8, 2020

          Latin ablatives are not declined from Greek words, but only Latin words.

  6. Avatar
    forthfading  March 4, 2020

    Dr. Ehrman,

    In textual criticism are there scholars who are considered to be at the top of the field or a true authority? I know you are at the top of that field and the best known, but will you name some of the other experts? Are some of them die hard evangelicals or fundamentalist?

    Thanks, Jay

    • Bart
      Bart  March 6, 2020

      Sure, lots of top scholars. Barbara Aland and Klaus Wachtel (Germany) — and many others; David Parker and Hugh Houghton (England) — and many others; Anne Marie Luiendijk and Jennifer Knust (USA) and many others. None of these is an evangelical, let alone a fundamentalist. But there certainly are evangelical scholars at top of the field (e.g, Mike Holmes, USA; Tommy Wassermann, now in Norway).

  7. Avatar
    Lopaka  March 4, 2020

    Do you have an opinion or do scholars ever discuss why there’s no account of the resurrection in the gospels, i.e, some description of Jesus walking around in Sheol preaching and then being called up again, his body growing warm again, his eyes opening, etc…? Saying that no one else was there doesn’t seem like reason enough when no one else was there for the birth stories, his temptation with Satan, etc… Thanks

    • Bart
      Bart  March 6, 2020

      Well, walking around in Sheol would not be part of a narrative of “resurrection” but of events before resurrection; so too body warming up. As to the moment of him coming back to life, I suppose because it all happened in a closed tomb. But you’re right, there is no account of hm coming out of the tomb, except in the Gospel of Peter. The NT Gospels were more interested in the fact that he had been brought back to life, than in describing the split second when it happened.

  8. Avatar
    Bernice Templeman  March 4, 2020

    I changed some of the Ancient Egyptian texts…I omitted, added, altered, etc. The goal is to tell your story to create your life and go to heaven (have eternal life and live again). So maybe in Ancient times, some texts were used to create life and go to heaven. ” I did not sin.” results in different actions than “I’m a sinner but Jesus suffered and died to pay for my sins.”
    Rulers may have had different motives than people wanting eternal life.
    There were Jewish-Roman wars going on, so it could be political.
    It probably isn’t I good idea to disempower yourself by putting your source of power outside of yourself.
    Inequality, abuse, dividing people, sin, suffering, etc are not healthy.

  9. Avatar
    veritas  March 4, 2020

    Insightful info Bart. These scribes that made changes or added words to the manuscripts were they all *believers*
    in the movement of Christ trying to enhance the stories or continue one ? Also, you say there are huge,” debates, split decisions”, in a lot of instances. Is this a question of genuine interpretation/misunderstandings of manuscripts or intentional disagreement (admitting) to these mistakes (variations) among scholars ?

    • Bart
      Bart  March 6, 2020

      Yes, the scribes, so far as we know, were all Christians. I’m not sure what you are asking in the second question — is it whether scholars are disagreeing just because they feel like disagreeing instead of genuinely seeing things differently? I don’t know of a scholar who has argued for a particular textual variant just because he wanted to be disagreeable. But one can never read someone else’s mind.

  10. Avatar
    AstaKask  March 5, 2020

    What part of your work do you think is the most rewarding? Teaching? Research? Writing books and for profession or for the public)? Or is it the variety of tasks that keeps the job fresh?

    • Bart
      Bart  March 6, 2020

      I like it all! Lucky me….

      • Avatar
        AstaKask  March 9, 2020

        Choose a subject you love and you’ll never work a day in your life…

  11. Avatar
    timcfix  March 5, 2020

    My amateur interest is punctuation. Sometimes the placement of a comma creates a new denomination.

    • Bart
      Bart  March 6, 2020

      Eats shoots and leaves! Did you see/read the play Wit? Right up your alley.

  12. Avatar
    JacobSapp01  March 5, 2020

    Dr. Ehrman,
    Are there any passages that you personally feel were probably altered, but due to the inherent limits of textual criticism and a wide variety of scholarly opinions, you have never been able to completely make up your mind about? If so, are any of them alterations that you feel are of the very significant variety?

    • Bart
      Bart  March 6, 2020

      Do you mean “probably altered” but without textual support? Yup. Significant? Yup. I’ll be arguing later that 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 were not original to the text of 1 Corinthians, even though they are in all teh mss. These are the main verses used to show that the historical Paul insisted that women not be allowed to speak in church.

      • Avatar
        Bwana  March 7, 2020

        I looked up those verses 1Cor14:34-35, and noticed that in different translations, the 2nd part of the previous verse (“as in all the churches of the saints”) is punctuated differently. Thereby completely changing the phrase to which it refers. Quite ironical in view of the previous comment.

        So, depending on which punctuation you wish to use, that 2nd part of verse 33 may also not be original. Which makes sense, since it seems to me it would be way too early for Paul to be referring to churches of the saints.

  13. Avatar
    Zak1010  March 5, 2020

    Dr Ehrman,

    It has been clearly stated and proven by you and others that the NT and OT have serious errors in copying / adding and omitting texts, questionable authorship, forgery..ect… The third book you mentioned above, The Quran, although copied by hand, went through and still goes through extensive and high scrutiny in order to verify its authenticity. Not only has this book and its words been under this scrutiny, there are verses of challenge in the book and within it a promise of preservation. It has been preserved in its original Arabic language. Moreover, even though scholars have questioned the source and authorship of the books in the NT and OT, no one has questioned the Quran being a book that was not introduced my the prophet Muhammed. No one has ever claimed that someone else is responsible for introducing this book. The debate has a been whether or not it was revelation from The Creator or not. Those who follow prophet Muhammed claim it is revelation and those who do not, say it is was made up by Muhammed. But the question never has been whether the Quran is not directly associated with prophet Muhammed. This book began in arabic and remains in arabic, its original language. Even though it has been translated into many languages, textual criticism would have to be in arabic and they are weak in nature, The book is clear and simple to read. No need for scholarship to understand that God speaks in the first person in many places, claims to be from him ( no ambiguity ) and throughout, the message is the clear. I AM ONE, do not associate me with any other. Worship Him alone and follow His commandments. Same as what Jesus said to the children of Israel. Your God is One, worship him and follow the commandments.
    I find that we fall in a loop trying to find the truth in the Bible. It is impossible as you claim that we do not have the original text. The OT helps the NT and the NT helps the OT in clarification. We should be able to look outside the OT and NT to find some evidence. This Quran does have valuable insight on previous scriptures.

    Dr Ehrman,
    You with your great wealth of knowledge on this matter can be great help.
    Are we searching for the truth or are we to surrender and say I just don’t know?

    • Bart
      Bart  March 6, 2020

      Just because a book has been copied well does not mean the book is true. Just because it has been copied badly does not mean it is false. As to your last question, I don’t know that these are the only two options, but in any event, it depends who the “we” are that you ahve in mind. I, e.g., do both.

    • Avatar
      Niceguy  March 7, 2020

      You could the same stuff with the Mormon prophet Joseph Smith.

      • Avatar
        Kirktrumb59  March 9, 2020

        “no one has questioned the Quran being a book that was not introduced my the prophet Muhammed.”
        This simply is not accurate. Plenty of non-fundamentalist scholars have questioned Muhammed’s relationship with/to the Islamic holy book and to the religion itself. Some scholars, a minority–but there they are–have questioned the existence of Muhammed himself.
        As for Joseph Smith: well, comments on this blog are monitored for civility.

  14. Avatar
    Tm3  March 6, 2020

    Dr Ehrman,
    Do you ever make a distinction between manuscript changes made by a scribe ( copyist) and Orthodox changes directed by a Bishop or other higher ranking father?

    • Bart
      Bart  March 8, 2020

      I don’t actually make that distinction only because I don’t know of the latter possibility ever happening.

  15. Avatar
    RICHWEN90  March 6, 2020

    There might be another issue: how can you tell whether some text or passage is pure fiction? And I don’t mean passing judgement on the probability of the events described (miracles), but instead using evidence in the text and perhaps historical references. For instance if an event in a later text echoes very closely a much earlier text, in structure and wording, or echoes very closely an existing myth in some other tradition, or describes known historical events inaccurately, could that be evidence of invention or cribbing? And then there are degrees of “fiction”– perhaps in some case not PURE fiction but a degree of embellishment and cribbing from other sources that makes the entire narrative at least questionable?

    • Bart
      Bart  March 8, 2020

      Ah, yes, this is what Gospel scholars spend their lives doing. I give a lot of examples in Jesus Before the Gospels. But one point to stress is that just because a story is told by cribbing off another well known fiction, doesn’t meant he story itself is entirely fiction. E.g., today someone might tell a rags-to-riches story about someone who really did start small and end bit, but the motifs could be borrowed from the standard tropes and plot.

  16. Avatar
    clerrance2005  March 6, 2020

    Dear Prof Ehrman,
    In your debate with Dr. Dan Wallace, you held that most scholars today only appeal to the earliest form of the text whiles he argued that there is the possibility of reconstructing the original text.

    Do you still hold the assertion that scholars may not be able to determine what the original texts is? And if so, would you be able to indicate the degree of confidence lay readers should give to the texts since the majority of Bible readers are least concerned about the related scholarship. I ask this because, with all the knowledge that the likes of you have brought to light, I find it quiet worrying that Christians can hold strongly and religiously to some verses when there is a great possibility of it not been historical. These have created quite a lot of schisms and marginalization in my view and why are fundamentalist and conservative Christian scholars just seem to disagree with this viewpoint??? Is it because the evidence isn’t convincing to them enough.

    • Bart
      Bart  March 8, 2020

      Yes, I”ve blogged on this a whole lot. Just search for “original text”. We can’t put a percentage on degrees of confidence. But I should stress that textual variants have no bearing on whether an account itself is historical. I could write a completely accurate account of something I saw yesterday and someone might miscopy my account in a few places, but it wouldn’t mean that the account itself was non-historical.

      • Avatar
        Bwana  March 9, 2020

        Likewise, the mere fact that eg. the pericope on the adulterous woman was only added later does not in itself disprove the historicity of the events described. The scribe that first added this account could in theory have based the story on a separate, but historical, tradition. So in the end, even if we had the original text itself, we would *only* have proof that alterations were made. But one could never rule out certain additions being based on historical facts.

        • Bart
          Bart  March 9, 2020

          That’s right. Historicity has to be decided on *other* grounds.

  17. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  March 7, 2020

    For those new to the blog, I strongly recommend Dr. Ehrman’s “Misquoting Jesus” which deals in more detail with the material (textual criticism) Dr. Ehrman writes about in today’s blog. What his book did for me was make me realize that it is impossible to interpret the Bible literally because there is no THE Bible to interpret literally even if one wants to do so.

  18. Avatar
    jhbaker731  March 8, 2020

    Bart I’m sure you’ve addressed this but in the fundamentalist mega churches here in Dallas, several have doctrinal statements that say there are many non essentials in becoming a member but ”We believe the Bible to be the verbally inspired Word of God, without error in the original writings…” blah blah blah. And this is an essential. And I get really frustrated because they won’t admit that well then neither of us know what was truly original. Thoughts?

    • Bart
      Bart  March 9, 2020

      Yup, that’s the standard line among many fundamentalists. It’s what we held at Moody Bible Institute. It allows for their to be textual variants made by scribes that could be mistakes, and leaves open the possibility that something that really *is* a flat-out contradiction was created by a scribe, not the author.

You must be logged in to post a comment.