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Intentional Changes of the Text

I’m getting back now, with this post, to the thread that I started a full month ago in response to a question a member of the blog had related to the field about one of my books that deals with the textual criticism of the New Testament.   Just to bring us all back up to speed, I will here repeat the question and briefly summarize what I have covered so far.



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?



To start with, I have devoted a number of posts to unpacking what the title of my actually means.   First, in several posts, I’ve explained what the term “orthodoxy” means to scholars of early Christianity, and what it doesn’t mean.  To sum up as succinctly as I can (for fuller exposition and rationale, see the posts):  for the purposes of my study “orthodoxy” does not refer the theological views that were “right,”, but to the views that the majority of church leaders came to agree were right.

Then I devoted several posts to the general question of what it is that textual criticism does – namely, that it tries to reconstruct what the authors of the NT actually wrote, given the circumstance that we do not have their original writings but only later copies, many thousands of copies, all of which have mistakes in them, hundreds of thousands of mistakes altogether.

When I broke off the thread to deal with a recent news item, I was in the midst of discussing the kinds of mistakes one finds in our manuscripts.  Some of them are simply accidental, slips of the pen by scribes, who were possibly unskilled, or incompetent, or sleepy, or distracted, or otherwise inattentive.   I pointed out that it is very difficult indeed – impossible, probably – to know for *sure* if any change is simply the result of accident, but in lots of cases we can get pretty close to absolute certainty.  If a scribe leaves out a line or even a word necessary to the sense, he surely didn’t intend to do that.  Or so it would seem.

In my book Orthodox Corruption, I don’t …

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  1. Avatar
    dougckatyBE  July 30, 2015

    Just consulting the notes section in the NRSV following Mark 16 is a most puzzling experience.

  2. Avatar
    jhague  July 30, 2015

    Does your book, The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture, list all the universally agreed upon intentional additions to the new testament?

    • Bart
      Bart  July 31, 2015

      Not even close! Doesn’t intend to do that. It looks only at most (not all) of the variants made in light of the Christological controversies of the second and third centuries.

      • Avatar
        jhague  July 31, 2015

        I have seen some of the intentional verse additions that you have mentioned in books and on the blog. Do you view 1 Cor 14:34-35 being an intentional addition by a scribe?

        • Bart
          Bart  August 2, 2015

          I think it was intentionally added by *someone* (other than Paul)

          • Avatar
            jhague  August 3, 2015

            Why are some NT additions noted by the translations as not being in the earliest manuscripts such as Mark 16:9-20 but other additions are not noted such as 1 Cor 14:34-35?

          • Bart
            Bart  August 4, 2015

            It’s because there aren’t any manuscripts lacking 1 Cor. 14:34-35, which is why scholars tend to call it an “interpolation” (made before any of our manuscripts) rather than a scribal change.

  3. Avatar
    Adam Beaven  July 30, 2015

    “Here my point is a simple one. Whoever put this story into the Gospel of John when copying a manuscript that lacked it did not do so by a slip of the pen. He must have known that he was adding a full-length story to an account that didn’t have it (in the manuscript he was copying).”

    doctor ehrman

    would the scribe make his manuscript available to an audience who did not know of the story?

    • Avatar
      Adam Beaven  July 30, 2015

      i meant to say stories which were not widely known. is the scribe writing for church leaders who could read and right?

    • Bart
      Bart  July 31, 2015

      We have no way of knowing.

  4. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  July 30, 2015

    Why would someone add “snake handling” and “drinking poison?” And why would anyone believe that these two suggestions are “literally” true?

    • Bart
      Bart  July 31, 2015

      Ah, good questions! I wish I knew.

      • Avatar
        Rosekeister  August 1, 2015

        Do scholars believe the ending of Mark has anything to do with the odd story of Paul and the viper after the shipwreck?

        • Bart
          Bart  August 2, 2015

          That was Paul. And yes, people have made the connection. Possibly there were other stories of survived snake bites, and that led to the creation of the Markan passage.

  5. Avatar
    shakespeare66  July 31, 2015

    When one adds up the intentional changes that have taken place ( like the alteration of Jospeheus’ writing about Jesus in his Jewish Antiquities), then it almost appears to be conspiratorial. But I realize how difficult this may have been, yet these story additions to Mark and John are almost certainly Orthodox driven material. I am sure they were done over time, and they were not the work of a group or a single individual, but they speak volumes about how Jesus became what he is. It has taken a great deal of work to uncover these inconsistencies. Is it fair to say that the changes were “agenda” driven with the “agenda” to portray Christ as the Messiah who rose from the dead?

    • Bart
      Bart  July 31, 2015

      There was almost certainly a wide range of agendas behind the intentional changes.

  6. Avatar
    Mhamed Errifi  July 31, 2015

    hello bart

    i find it hard to believe that the interpolation of john 8 and mark 16 to be the work of one single scribe . usually scribe is hired to write the bible for somebody or comunity so what did he stand to gain if he added verses that dont exist.the onterpolation of those large passages in the bible was the work of more than one person maybe large christian comunity was involved

  7. Avatar
    Jana  July 31, 2015

    I am not sure where appropriately I should post unrelated questions to a current blog that have arisen from watching your videos? So please forgive and instruct if there is better venue than the current blog. In listening to your series The Historical Jesus, you included the rational that Jesus chose an Apocalyptic John the Baptist for his baptism and would not have done so if their messages differed. Where can I find more on John the Baptist? Have you written about him?

    • Bart
      Bart  August 2, 2015

      I haven’t written much on him. My friend Joel Marcus is doing a book now, that will be the definitive work. In the meantime, the best resource for all such things is the six-volume Anchor Bible Dictionary if you want to get a serious reference tool.

      • Avatar
        Jana  August 2, 2015

        I do but a six volume Anchor Bible Dictionary is a tad daunting 🙂

        • Bart
          Bart  August 3, 2015

          Ah, but it’s a *great* resource!

          • Avatar
            Jana  August 11, 2015

            Given the limitations of where I live, I’ll check amazon.com kindle ! 🙂

          • Avatar
            Jana  August 11, 2015

            I’d have a better chance waiting for you to write!

  8. Avatar
    Pattycake1974  July 31, 2015

    Do we know how many manuscripts did not have the added ending to Mark? How long of a span between the earliest manuscripts and what we have today?

    • Bart
      Bart  August 2, 2015

      I don’t have an exact tally, but the only two Greek manuscripts that end at 16:8 are our two earliest and best; they both date from the middle of the fourth century.

      • Avatar
        gabilaranjeira  September 9, 2015

        Other than being early and perhaps not fragmentary (I assume), what else is criteria for a manuscript to be the best? Thanks, as always.

        • Bart
          Bart  September 10, 2015

          Sometimes it’s obvious what hte superior reading is. Some manuscripts more often have those superior readings. And so it is assumed that if they are superior in places that we can judge with relative certainty, they are also probably superior in places where we can’t decide based on other evidence.

  9. Rick
    Rick  August 1, 2015

    If we can reasonably conclude there was significant corruption of scripture during the patristic period, in order to buttress orthodoxy, is there any reason to think the oral tradition “apostolic period” provided an any more,,,, honest record on which the gospels could be based? Rather, is it not more likely there was far more corruption or embellishment leading up to the original gospels?

  10. Avatar
    Eric  August 8, 2015

    Regarding the end of Mark,if the women left the tomb afraid and didn’t tell anyone what happened, how did we get the story

    • Bart
      Bart  August 9, 2015

      YEs, that’s part of the irony! But one *could* say that Jesus later appeared to others who spilled the beans.

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