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Major Scribal Corruptions in the New Revised Standard Version

In my previous posts I have indicated that the King James Version includes verses in some places that are almost certainly not “original” – that is, passages that were not written by the original authors but were added by later scribes.  I chose three of the most outstanding and famous examples: the explicit reference to the Trinity in 1 John 5:7-8; the story of the woman taken in adultery in John 7:53-8:11; and Jesus’ resurrection appearance in the longer ending of Mark’s Gospel, Mark 16:9-20.

The thread actually began somewhere else, with my discussing not the King James Bible but the New Revised Standard Version, which is my preferred translation.  One might ask: how are these three passages presented in the NRSV?   Since virtually all scholars agree the passages were not original to the New Testament, are they printed there?

As it turns out, the three passages are handled differently.   The first, the affirmation of the doctrine of the Trinity (1 John 5:7-8), is not in any of our most ancient manuscripts at all.  It shows up in one manuscript of the fourteenth century, one of the fifteenth, another of the sixteenth, and finally one of the eighteenth.  Yes, that’s right, the eighteenth.  Scribes were producing manuscripts long after the invention of printing (just as my students today take notes with pen and paper, even though they all own laptops).   It can be found in the margins of four other, equally late, manuscripts, as a possible variant reading.  The result, though, is that no one except the most avid fundamentalist thinks that the verses have any claim to belong to the “original” text of the New Testament.

And so how does the NRSV present the text at this point?  It…

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Better Editions of the Greek New Testament
Responses to Misquoting Jesus: Readers’ Mailbag

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Comments

  1. wostraub  February 7, 2017

    Thanks again, Bart. I have a question:

    After speaking in the third person throughout the Gospel of John, the writer suddenly reveals himself (John 21:24-25), indicating that he supposes the entire world would be unable to contain all the things Jesus did if they were written down. I suspect these verses have been used by believers to justify the questionable scribal add-ons regarding the Trinity, the adulterous woman and the ending in Mark.

    Considering the odd narrative third-person to first-person change in John (“we” is included along with “I”), how sure are we that those two verses weren’t add-ons themselves?

    • Bart
      Bart  February 9, 2017

      It is usually thought that the entire chapter 21 is an add-on, that the Gospel ends with ch 20:31 (which sounds like an ending of a book, and ch. 21 seems completely like an afterthought).

      • AlecRozsa  February 10, 2017

        I noticed you have made a good rebuttal on the tradition that Matthew Mark Luke and John wrote these gospels. In particular, you have stated that John never claims to be written by John, but that he got his information from the disciple John. But you do agree that now the writer is speaking in first person–but he is still not claiming to be John the disciple?

      • HawksJ  February 12, 2017

        Coincidentally, I heard a sermon this morning on John chapter 21. The minister said (paraphrased):

        “Many people say that chapter 21 was added later and wasn’t original. Well, those people are wrong. First, the ‘false ending’ at the end of 20 was common in ancient writings. Second, the writing style is ‘all-John’. Third, the message dovetails perfectly with John’s message in the rest of the book.”

        Bart, how would you respond to those 3 points?

        • Bart
          Bart  February 13, 2017

          1. It does happen on occasion. The question is whether it happens here. 2. There are huge problems with the ending, widely recognized. I don’t have a horse in this race, I’m just reporting what the majority of critical scholars (have long) argue(d) 3. It dovetails pretty well, but that’ because it almost certainly was tacked on bby somebody in the Johannine community, so naturally their views were similar.

          But why we he preaching about this? Would whether it was added or not make a different to its meaning? Doesn’t seem like the kind of thing one would want to address from teh pulpit (as opposed to an adult education class).

          • HawksJ  February 14, 2017

            I wouldn’t say he ‘was preaching about it’. It was more like an ‘oh, by the way…’, that constituted about 30 seconds of a 20 minute sermon. However, as you know, for a Fundamentalist, ‘whether it was added or not’ is everything. Presumably, he saw it as an opportunity to put that to rest in case anybody had heard otherwise.

            Have you done a post or mailbag on ‘the huge problems’ of this chapter? It seems like it would be a good subject.

            Thanks!

          • Bart
            Bart  February 14, 2017

            Ah, that makes better sense — a fundamentalist in the midst of talking about something else. Yes, good idea about dealing with the problems of ch. 21.

  2. UCCLMrh  February 7, 2017

    “A few other authorities” means one thing if there are a total of seven authorities, and it means something quite different if the total is seven thousand. How does the reader know which is the case?

  3. RonaldTaska  February 7, 2017

    As a teenager, I remember being stunned that the RSV not the Revised RSV mentioned in the footnotes about the different endings of Mark. I remember thinking “You mean we don’t know what was actually in the Bible and what was not?” That started me thinking.

  4. talmoore
    talmoore  February 7, 2017

    Dr. Ehrman, have you see George Carlin’s bit on swearing oaths on the Bible? This post reminds of that bit.
    https://youtu.be/s-D3TQlSEaw

  5. Scott  February 7, 2017

    “some of the translators (including my teacher Bruce Metzger, the chair of the committee who wrote the Preface) thought that even though this story was not originally found in the Gospel of John, it undoubtedly actually happened in the life of Jesus.”

    I would be very interested in hearing the justification for this belief. To me, it seems unknowable whether this specific event happened to Jesus or if even this KIND of event happened.

    • Bart
      Bart  February 9, 2017

      My sense is that he thought that the setting and cultural assumptions of the text, along with its overarching point, make sense if placed in the time of jesus himself.

  6. johnbutleruk  February 7, 2017

    Hi Bart
    I read above that the NRSV is your preferred translation. Since I’ve started reading your books I’ve been curious: Is there a book/textbook you’d recommend that clearly shows the NT in a form where agreed later additions are removed and dubious parts highlighted or likewise removed? Or is the NRSV basically what I’m after?
    The version I’m after would also be considered “preferred” in that it would have the most agreed translation of the text too. Maybe mission impossible!
    Many thanks
    John

    • Bart
      Bart  February 9, 2017

      Yes, the NRSV tries to do that (as do all mosdern translations)

      • johnbutleruk  February 9, 2017

        Thank you!

      • SBrudney091941
        SBrudney091941  February 13, 2017

        Bart, do you think a committee will convene in the not too distant future to consider revisions to the NRSV? If so, would you and others be lobbying for better & clearer explanations of the added verses?

        • Bart
          Bart  February 14, 2017

          I really don’t know their plans. They certainly don’t keep me apprised!

  7. Rick
    Rick  February 7, 2017

    Dr. Ehrman, you said the translators felt that : “even though this story was not originally found in the Gospel of John, it [the woman in adultery] undoubtedly actually happened in the life of Jesus.”

    What evidence or reasoning was there for that conclusion?

    Doesn’t “double brackets are used to enclose a few passages that are generally regarded to be later additions to the text, but that we have retained because of their evident antiquity and their importance in the textual tradition.” sound like the fast talk on those medical commercials?

    • Bart
      Bart  February 9, 2017

      They thought that the setting, customs, and portrayal of Jesus all match what can be known about the life of Jesus itself.

  8. dankoh  February 7, 2017

    I use the RSV, which translates 1 John 5:8 as “There are three witnesses, the Spirit, the water, and the blood, and these three agree.” (A footnote – I do read them) says that the water means the baptism and the blood means the cross. This reads very different from the NRSV footnote, and not at all like a testament to the trinity. Any idea where the RSV got its version, and why they changed it so drastically in the NRSV?

    • Bart
      Bart  February 9, 2017

      Yes, all translations have those words. The textual issue involves the words immediately before those.

  9. Scorpiored48  February 7, 2017

    Dr. Ehrman,
    I think you sell short people who read the NRSV. Why would you think that people would just read past the double brackets at the end of Mark?
    I know that the three passages you have been writing about are problematic on many levels but as you pointed out there are reasons that they are retained.
    I like knowing that when I read the NRSV that I can read what I know was original and what was not and that my intelligence is not put into question because I rely on accuracy of the notations and brackets.

    • Bart
      Bart  February 9, 2017

      The reason I think so is because I teach hundreds of students every year and I know for a fact most of them never glance at the footnotes. Maybe their parents do better….

  10. wje  February 7, 2017

    Good evening, Bart. Are there any plans by anybody to come out with a new revised version of the new revised standard version? If so, will some of these issues of verses of doubtful originality be addressed in a better way?

    • Bart
      Bart  February 9, 2017

      I believer there are plans — but I don’t know at what stage the planning is. At one point they were going to include me in it all, but I’m afraid I’m a bit too controversial to be allowed anywhere near the project….

      • talmoore
        talmoore  February 9, 2017

        Dr. Ehrman, you should put out your own annotated NT translation, with all the detailed footnotes you’ve ever fantasized about. When I read the Jewish Annotated New Testament, it was 500 pages long and almost 50% footnotes. It was amazing.

  11. davitako  February 8, 2017

    Bart, this question is off the topic, but I’ve been meaning to ask you for a long time now.

    After debating Robert Price, you mentioned on the blog that one of very few things worth responding to in Price’s arguments were possible interpolations of Jesus passages in Josephus writings. Is it possible that you will discuss these passages and how likely they go back to Josephus himself? I mean whether Josephus mentioned Jesus at all, or all of it was later added by Christians.

    • Bart
      Bart  February 9, 2017

      I may do. I’m on a dissertation committee for a student at Duke who is arguing that these passages were written by the Christian church historian Eusebius.

      • davitako  February 9, 2017

        Wow, sounds great!

      • turbopro  February 9, 2017

        Wait, what? A Tarheel on a dissertation committee for a Dukie?!

        Well, I never!

      • dragonfly  February 9, 2017

        Does your student think Josephus never mentioned Jesus at all?

    • talmoore
      talmoore  February 9, 2017

      Honestly, when I read Josephus’ Antiquity, from beginning to end, and I come to the notorious Testimonium Flavianum, the passage feels like it totally comes out of left field. It interrupts the flow of the narrative in such a jarring way that I can’t help but feel that the entire passage is a complete forgery.

    • dragonfly  February 10, 2017

      Clearly the testimonium is not completely original. But is it partly original? I agree the text works perfectly well with it completely removed, but the wording of the passage makes me feel it’s unlikely to be a total interpolation. Why would a Christian choose to write “And the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day.”? I would have expected them to say they were thriving, rather than just not extinct. Then there is the passage about the stoning of James the brother of Jesus. I don’t see any compelling reason to think that wasn’t original.

  12. PeteSammataro  February 8, 2017

    Prof. Ehrman,

    Your post referred to “ancient translations” of the Greek manuscripts. Does the presence (or absence) of a particular passage in an ancient translation influence textual critics’ opinions as to whether the passage appeared in the original manuscript? Likewise, do the ancient translations get us closer to knowing the text of the original Greek manuscripts?

    • Bart
      Bart  February 9, 2017

      Yes, absolutely. The early versions (esp. Latin, Syriac, and Coptic) can tell us what Greek manuscripts that no longer survive looked like in various times and places

  13. ddecker54  February 8, 2017

    Dr. Ehrman:

    The below excerpt from your post struck me as particularly odd:

    “…my teacher Bruce Metzger, the chair of the committee who wrote the Preface) thought that even though this story was not originally found in the Gospel of John, it undoubtedly actually happened in the life of Jesus.”

    How could one believe that it “undoubtedly actually happened”? Because it’s such a nice story??

    • Bart
      Bart  February 9, 2017

      I think it’s because he thought the setting, cultural assumptions, and portrayal of Jesus were true to what we know otherwise of his life and times.

      • ddecker54  February 10, 2017

        Thanks for the reply, Bart. I guess that I was reacting to the “undoubtedly” aspect. Other than he lived and died in Palestine/Judea about 2000 years ago, I don’t believe we can say anything “undoubtedly” about Jesus.

        • Bart
          Bart  February 10, 2017

          Yes, it’s possible of course to doubt everything! But I have no doubts about some aspects of Jesus’ life (he was a Jew, he tried to keep the Jewish law, he was a Jewish teacher, he had followers, he had brothers, he was executed under Pontius Pilate in Jerusalem during a Passover feast, and so on and on.)

  14. rburos  February 8, 2017

    I just purchased a copy of the Jesus Seminar’s The Five Gospels, and in the introduction they comment that the NRSV is but an updated version of the King James’. My intuition is that’s not a fair comparison, but I can’t speak intelligently on it. Your thoughts?
    Also I read a bit into their scholarly version of Mark and wasn’t really comfortable with the tone of the translation. I thought Luke might be a bit more formal but a quick scanning gave me the same feeling. Am I off base or being too “traditional”?

    • Bart
      Bart  February 9, 2017

      The NRSV was a revision of the Revised Standard Version which was a revision of the American Standard Version which was a revision of the Revised Version which was a revision of the King James. So it’s a bit complicated. And yes, I don’t much like their translation either.

  15. ComputersHateAndrewLivingston  February 8, 2017

    Dr. Ehrman, what were Paul et al referring to when they said it was written that the Messiah would rise from the dead after three days? I don’t believe that the Jonah association (which is the most tortured analogy I’ve ever heard anyway) was being used in the early 50s so what could it be? Where did “three days” come from? All I can think of is Hosea 6:2, and I’m puzzled as to what connection they could’ve believed there was with that.

    • Bart
      Bart  February 9, 2017

      Once the Christians thought Jesus had been raised, they scoured the Scriptures to see how it could have been predicted, and yes, they did see a foreshadowing of it in Jonah and a reference to it in Hosea 6:2. They could be subtle readers of texts.

      • ComputersHateAndrewLivingston  February 9, 2017

        Why three days, though? The timeframe from cross to empty tomb doesn’t add up to three days even when you apply all of Christian apologists’ claims and excuses.

        • Bart
          Bart  February 10, 2017

          It’s usually thought that any part of a day counted as an entire day, so “on the third day” = “three days later”

          • ComputersHateAndrewLivingston  February 10, 2017

            But we’re never told when the Resurrection took place. Did the women just happen to get there two minutes before it? What I truly don’t understand, though, is why Hosea 6:2 mattered so much in all of this.

          • Bart
            Bart  February 12, 2017

            Christians searched their Scriptures for how to explain what had happened, and Hosea 6:2 naturally seemed to relate. And from that they came up with “three days”

  16. Hank_Z  February 8, 2017

    Bart, looking back on it do you think Metzger wielded too much power on the committee with respect to both (i) the woman taken in adultery and (ii) the other two subject passages?

    • Bart
      Bart  February 9, 2017

      My sense is that most of the members of the committee were pretty much on the same page.

  17. tooronga  February 8, 2017

    The NRSV has at Acts 12:19 “Then Peter went down from Judea to Caesarea and stayed there.”, with a footnote next to ‘Peter’ indicating an alternative as ‘he’. The KJV and others just have ‘he’ with it obviously referring back to Herod.
    Which manuscript(s) provides the reading referring to ‘Peter’.

    • Bart
      Bart  February 9, 2017

      No manuscript provides it. The translators are simply making sense of the text so as not to make it confusing. It would make less sense to them that Acts would be interested in explaining where Herod went than where Peter did. The point could obviously be debated.

  18. TBeard  February 8, 2017

    Subscribing to your blog is the best money I’ve spent this year. The information you provide is priceless. It’s helps out immensely when debating with fundamentalists on youtube, which is entertainment for me. Some of them are dumbfounded when presented with the truth on certain biblical topics.

  19. Judith  February 8, 2017

    May we send Valentine’s Day donations? 🙂

  20. Mhamed Errifi  February 9, 2017

    hello Bart

    few days ago i asked you about Melchizedek. your reply was : He is a preincarnate form of the Son of God. do you mean jesus ? and if so why the verse says that he does not have mother or genealogy since jesus had them

    thanks

    • Bart
      Bart  February 9, 2017

      I’m not saying he *really* was that. He was a legend. For first century Jews, he was an enigmatic figure in the life of Abraham. For first-century Christians he was the pre-incarnate Christ.

  21. Jason  February 9, 2017

    In the context of your comment about Metzger’s belief here and things you’ve written in the blog and books in the past about the scribal addition to the text probably being based on an oral tradition, does an oral tradition appended to an existing document carry a lesser weight for historicity than the collection of oral traditions assumed to be assembled originally in that document?

    • Bart
      Bart  February 10, 2017

      In most cases, yes, since these kinds of oral traditions are very difficult to trace back to the mid or early 1st century as a rule.

  22. twiskus  February 10, 2017

    You mentioned the few manuscripts that later mentioned the “explicit trinity”; what centuries did the woman taken into adultry and the longer ending(s) of Mark show up?

    • Bart
      Bart  February 12, 2017

      They both turn up for the first time in Greek manuscripts of around 400 CE. (Of course, we don’t have too many manuscripts *earlier* than that, but there are a couple)

  23. Steefen  February 11, 2017

    Bart: the New Revised Standard Version, which is my preferred translation

    Stephen: What?! and I’m making the effort to see what the Douay-Rheims says, what the Young’s Literal says, what the NET says, thinking they were more scholarly than the NRSV.

    Really, doctor, in your scholarly writings are you using your own translations or the version of most current academic consensus? I think you speak of going to the annual Society of Biblical Literature (SBL) convention. SBL and Princeton Theological scholars mostly use the NRSV like you do?

    • Bart
      Bart  February 12, 2017

      I use my own translations. Yes, NRSV is probably the preferred translation of most critical scholars in the U.S.

      • Steefen  February 12, 2017

        First, thank you.
        I’ll check the bibles I have. I’ll also check the bibles my parents left after they passed (Dad – Dec 2012 / Mom – Nov 2016).

  24. SidDhartha1953  February 11, 2017

    What I take away from this post is that even competent, critical scholars can be swayed by an overly sentimental attachment to traditional readings. I’m finding the same thing to be the case with the commentaries in the revised Harper Collins Study Bible. The commentator on Genesis goes to great lengths to explain why the stories of Abraham show him to be a great man of faith, when my reading of both the NRSV and the JPS Tanakh shows him to be a shrewd businessman and a compulsive liar (go figure!) as well as a terrible husband and father. Am I the only one who thinks Abraham was a louse?

  25. PeymanSalar  February 12, 2017

    Hi Bart,
    You may hear this question over and over.
    Has the essence of Christian faith been corrupted by the scribes?!

    • Bart
      Bart  February 12, 2017

      I’ve tried to stress this in my posts: no one who has strong Christian beliefs will have any of those beliefs overturned by textual variants, in part because those beliefs are almost never rooted in a careful reading of the precise words of one verse or another.

      • PeymanSalar  February 12, 2017

        Hi Bart, thanks for replying back, you wrote:
        “The position I argue for misquoting Jesus does not actually stand at odds with Professor Metzger’s position that the essential Christian beliefs are not affected by the textual variants in the manuscript tradition of the New Testament what he means by that (I think )is that even if one or two passages that are used to argue for a belief have a different text your reading, there are still other passages that could be used to argue for the same belief. For the most part, I think that’s true.”
        And as far as I remember Dan Wallace proclaimed that when he had asked you the same question you were agree that the essence of the Christian faith hasn’t been currupted by scribs!

        • Bart
          Bart  February 13, 2017

          It cmopletely depends on what you mean by the “essence” of the Christian faith, and how you have decided what is essential and what is not.

          • PeymanSalar  February 13, 2017

            Fundamental issues such as Jesus born Jesus life, death resurrection ….. what I mean by these are simple, Has scribe changed anything which is crucial important theologically.

          • Bart
            Bart  February 14, 2017

            Yes of course their changes involve important parts of the Bible. You may want to read my book Misquoting Jesus to get a fuller idea. But if the quesion is whether you would personally change any of your views based on changes of the text, the answer is Almost Certainly Not. That’s because your views are never based on this that or the other verse in its specific wording. But that doesn’t mean changes are not important! They just are important for other reasons.

  26. DavidBeaman  February 19, 2017

    I read footnotes. :0) That aside, I wish you would write your own translation of the New Testament and tell people the truth. I’d buy it and make it the standard version for my religious institution.

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