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Maybe the Passage wasn’t “Original”!!

How do we know if a passage in the New Testament was “originally” in the New Testament?   Scholars are widely agreed, for example (there is not a whole lot of serious debate about the matter) that the appearances of Jesus after his resurrection at the end of  Mark’s Gospel (the last twelve verses of Mark 16) were not originally there.  The Gospel ends with the announcement that he has been raised and will meet his disciples in Galilee (so that, contrary to what a lot of people say – there definitely *is* a resurrection in Mark); but no one sees him.   That makes Mark very different from the other Gospels.

So too the famous story of the woman taken in adultery in John 7:53-8:11 – arguably the most famous story from the life of Jesus in the entire New Testament, but almost certainly not originally there.  It was added later.

So how ‘bout *other* passages?  How can we know?

I’m addressing this question because …

At the end of this post I explain why it may be really important to know the answer.  Not a member of the blog?  Think about joining.  Costs very little, gives a whole lot, and every penny of the small membership fee goes to charity.

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How Can You Tell If the Text Has Been CHANGED?
Paul’s Incredibly High Christology

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Comments

  1. Avatar
    Levenson  March 3, 2020

    Hi Bart in your opinion what’s the best concordance I can purchase?

    thank you for all your work!

    • Bart
      Bart  March 4, 2020

      Pick one that is geared toward your particular preferred translation and make sure it is “comprehensive” (so it isn’t just a partial listing of words).

  2. Avatar
    fishician  March 3, 2020

    Am I correct that NT Greek does not use punctuation, like our English language does? What makes a passage like the Philippian hymn stand out as different, like poetry or song?

    • Bart
      Bart  March 4, 2020

      That’s right, and it doesn’t set up poetry in stanzas — but just like the prose. And so the decision is based on the rhythm of the sense-units, both in terms of sound and meaning (like Hebrew poetry in the OT, e.g.)

  3. Avatar
    Maracus  March 3, 2020

    Hey, Bart, interesting post. Along with the last ones, this has been quite informative after I watched Dale Martin and Michael Licona’s conversation on whether or not Jesus though he was God.

    My question points in another direction entirely, though. I’ve been marking a synopsis of Matthew and the other synoptics to have an idea of the Synoptic problem from an informed position, alongside with lots of literature on the matter. When I finished working on it, something that stood out for me was the minor agreements in the triple tradition against Mark. I of course check all of this with the Greek version(s) available. These agreements seem to me to be a bit problematic from the perpective of someone who presuposes Markan priority, Matthew and Luke’s use of Mark but lack of knowledge of each other, and their use of Q. I’m currently going through Delbert Burkett’s volume on Q and his response to this. I’ve seen other answers from other people like Goodacre. I would like to know what do you think about this matter. How do you account for these minor agreements from your perspective on the Synoptic problem?

    • Bart
      Bart  March 4, 2020

      They are usually thought of as problematic for Q but not for Markan priority. They certainly do need to be accounted for. My view is that most of them are small accidental agreements (leaveing out a few problematic words that more than one person would independently see as problematic; it’s easy to identify some of these — for example the comment about a fuller in the transfiguration scene in mark 9 or the omission of the one commandment that is not in the deaclogue from Jesus’ list of commandments the rich man must do to enter the Kingdom) and possibly derived from the fact that the Mark available to *us* could not have been worded exactly like the Mark available to matthew and Luke,so there are places they accurately copied Mark, later scribes changed Mark, we have the changed text, so taht it looks like Matthew and Luke are agreeing against Mark but they’re not.

      • Avatar
        Maracus  March 4, 2020

        Does that mean that you would agree with Delbert Burkett in that there’s Mark and then there is Proto-Mark, whence Matthew and Luke got their material, Mark being a later revision with a few editorial changes from that Proto-Mark?

        • Bart
          Bart  March 6, 2020

          I’m not that exactly. ‘Proto-Mark” refers to an earlier edition that was serious edited into what we have now. I’m not talking about a second edition, simply textual variants to what we now have (not an intentional revision of the text that was put in circulation)

  4. Avatar
    tteichma  March 3, 2020

    Hi Bart,
    Regarding the poem, based on your comments in some of your other posts or lectures (don’t remember where), I suppose another reason to think it was there from the beginning is precisely because it is difficult; because it does not exactly agree with Paul’s apparent Christology. Correct?

    It seems to me that religious poems and songs are often like this. I have repeatedly noticed when singing hymns in church that the words of the hymn don’t actually line up with the church’s doctrines – whatever church I’m in.

    • Bart
      Bart  March 4, 2020

      Yes, it’s a very tricky business because the argument can be used a different way. The differences from Paul probably show Paul didn’t write it. But some might argue (and have) that they also show that it was not original to Philippians, but was added to the text by someone other than Paul!

  5. Avatar
    anthonygale  March 3, 2020

    How hard is it to believe that interpolations exist that nobody suspects to be an interpolation?

    The line about women being silent in churches doesn’t quite seem to fit the context, making it suspect. But it seems plausible that a clever forger could plant something into a text where it seems to fit the context. In the case of the poem in Philippians, should the controversy in interpretation at least make one suspect it is an interpolation? A desire to attribute a high Christology to Paul would be an obvious motivation.

    • Bart
      Bart  March 4, 2020

      Yup, it’s certainly possible. but it would be one of those things that would have zero evidence one way or the other, so without simply not liking a passage, there would be no reason to suggest it was an interpolation. And not liking something isn’t an argument against its existence!

  6. Avatar
    anthonygale  March 3, 2020

    Why is the likelihood slight that an interpolation was made before any of the surviving manuscripts? Who’s to say someone didn’t make a deliberate change to the first copy ever made? Aren’t some of Paul’s letters, including Philippians, believed do be combinations of several letters? If so, would it be just as easy to thrown in a poem as it would be to combine letters?

    • Bart
      Bart  March 4, 2020

      Because if Philippians was copied in Philippi say, two months after it arrived in town, and teh copy was sent to Ephesus, and then another to Smyrna,and another to Rome, and the original in Philippi was altered so taht all the copies of that altered copy contained the alterations, none of the mss descended from teh un-altered copies in Ephesus, Smyrna, and Rome would have the alteration. The alteration would have to happen before *any* of the descendents of the surviving mss were made — i.e., extremely early in the copying process. It’s possible, but hard to sustain in most cases.

      • galah
        galah  March 5, 2020

        Dr. Ehrman,
        If the church later adopted the alteration from the copy of the Philippians’ letter into their doctrine, couldn’t they have entirely destroyed other early copies, more closely resembling the original, because they deemed them heretical?

        • Bart
          Bart  March 6, 2020

          The “church” of the first and second centuries was not an organized entity throughout the world that coordinated all of its efforts closely ; on teh contrary, everything indicates there were lots of communities with lots of views based on lots of persepctives and there was not a lot of widespread communication.

          • galah
            galah  March 6, 2020

            But there were many other centuries after the first and second, when the church could have, and historically was known to have, destroyed documents that it considered heretical? Wasn’t the church very organized after Constantine in the early fourth century? Couldn’t they have entirely destroyed other early copies, more closely resembling the original, during those centuries because they deemed them heretical?

          • Bart
            Bart  March 8, 2020

            There aren’t that many records of them having done so, actually. Usually if they didn’t want a book to survive, they just didn’t bother to copy it.

      • Avatar
        anthonygale  March 6, 2020

        How about the possibility, if Philippians is composed of several letters, that who combined the letters added the poem? That way it was present in the original yet didn’t come from Paul. I’d suspect it because the poem seems to create a contradiction. Perhaps it is not truly a contradiction. But if something doesn’t seem to fit, perhaps the simplest explanation is that it wasn’t originally there.

        • Bart
          Bart  March 8, 2020

          Yes, I do think and teach that Philippians comprises two separate letters — but the issue does not effect the Christ poem, since it is firmly embedded in the first letter. Great question though.

  7. Avatar
    RichardFellows  March 4, 2020

    In Phil 2:5-9 Paul offers Jesus as an example for the Philippians to follow, and in 4:2-3 he offers them the example of Euodia and Syntyche, their bishops. He incentivizes his audience to imitate Jesus by pointing out that Jesus received high exaltation, and in much the same way he incentivizes them to imitate Euodia and Syntiche by pointing out that those who act like them have their names written in the book of life (4:3). I believe that these two passages address the same concern: Paul wants the Philippians to support their leaders and stop seeking leadership positions for themselves.

    Some in the church of Philippi were ambitious for leadership roles and tried to undermine their bishops, Euodia and Syntyche (1:1; 2:14; 4:2-3). This is why Paul offers Jesus as an example for them to follow: they should not sieze leadership positions, but be like Jesus, who did not regard equality with God as something to be siezed, but humbled himself (2:3-8).

    The church of Philippi should stand firm against external opposition (4:1) and the bishops should have the same attitude (4:2), and the church should help them (4:3a) (rather then undermine them) and stand shoulder to shoulder with them, just as the bishops had struggled alongside Paul (4:3b), for those who do so will have their names in the book of life (4:3c) and should rejoice (4:4).

    So it does not surprise me that Paul refers to Jesus’s exaltation (2:9), for he does something similar in referring to the book of life (4:3).

    For more on this understanding of 4:2-3 see “Euodia and Syntyche and the Role of Syzygos: Phil 4:2–3” ZNW 2018, which is open access here.

  8. Avatar
    brenmcg  March 4, 2020

    I think the parallels between John 8 and Nehemiah 9, Exodus 34 require the PA to be original.

    In Ex 34 God gives Moses the law and proclaims his holy name in front of him. “And the Lord descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name Yahweh. Yahweh Yahweh, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and truth, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin“

    All this has parallels in John 8, including proclaiming the holy name “I am”.

    And in order for the parallel to work it must take place in the early morning, moses going up a mountain to get the law from Yahweh, the I am coming down from the mountain to give the law to the people in John.

    Exodus 34:4 καὶ *ὀρθρίσας* Μωυσῆς ἀνέβη εἰς τὸ ὄρος τὸ Σινα
    John 8:1-2 ιησους δε επορευθη εις το ορος των ελαιων. *ορθρου* δε παλιν παρεγενετο εις το ιερον

    • Bart
      Bart  March 4, 2020

      THese other passaegs could be the reasons a scribe inserted the passage.

      • Avatar
        brenmcg  March 4, 2020

        But then its not a floating passage looking for a home. Its written for the precise location its in and written to strengthen two intentional parallels by the original author of John 8.

        The PA simultaneously places the action of Ch 8 the day after the feast of tabernacles, in line with Nehemiah 9, and also early in the morning, in line Exodus 34. Without the PA the two parallels are barely noticeable.

        It would be an remarkable thing to achieve by a scribe who’s primary aim is simply to insert a story of a woman caught in adultery.

        • Bart
          Bart  March 6, 2020

          Scribes tended to choose places for their insertion for a reason, rather than doing it at random. One of the major problems with the passageis that it completely *interrupts* the discourse about hte feast of tabernacles.

          • Avatar
            brenmcg  March 7, 2020

            Jesus and the Pharisees are deliberately kept part in Chapter 7. The pharisees sending guards to arrest Jesus, and when they return without him asking them “why didn’t you bring him?”. John 8:12-13 then abruptly has Jesus and the pharisees in conversation.

            I just don’t see how anyone can say anything is being interrupted by the PA.

            The wording of 8:12 “Again therefore Jesus says to them” mean it just can’t be a direct continuation from 7:52.

          • Bart
            Bart  March 8, 2020

            Well, maybe I’ll explain some time then. If you’re really interested, see the discussion in Raymond Brown’s commentary on the Gospel of John. It’s a major interruption, widely recognized.

  9. Avatar
    Silver  March 4, 2020

    Our church minister recently said that there is a debate as to who said the words of John 3:16; whether they should be seen as spoken by Jesus in his discourse with Nicodemus or whether they were given to us by the author of John after Jesus had spoken. Do you have an opinion on this, please? And, does it make any difference one way or the other?

    • Bart
      Bart  March 4, 2020

      I debated it within myself for years, but now it looks pretty clearly to me that Jesus stops talking at 3:15 and the narrator picks u pthen at John 3:16. Of course the manuscripts themselves don’t have any punctuation; but since the discourse now speaks about Jesus in the third person instead of hte first person it seems more plausible (to me)

  10. galah
    galah  March 5, 2020

    Dr. Ehrman,
    Could Mark 1:11, ‘And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”‘ be an interpolation? The text appears to be a misquote from Psalm 2:7 “You are my son; today I have begotten you.” It’s easy to imagine why scribes would not have wanted to quote this verbatim. Looking at textual variants with my bible software, I don’t see where the Psalms is quoted properly in any manuscript. Maybe I’m missing that.

    • Bart
      Bart  March 6, 2020

      The reason it doesn’t seem so is that the verse is crucial for the understanding of Mark. The beginning of his ministry begins with the declaration he is the son of God and the end of his life ends (at the cross) with the declaration he is the son of God. The declaration brackets the life as narrated in Mark, so it looks like it is what the autor he had in mind. It is actually not from Psalm 2:7; it is based on Isa 42:1. the fact it was originally in Mark is supported by the fact that it is also exactly what one finds in Matthew 3:17 as well.

      • galah
        galah  March 6, 2020

        Dr. Ehrman,
        Why do think Mark is quoting Isa 42:1 instead of Psalm 2:7? This verse refers to God’s servant, not his son. Is it because “My chosen one” refers to the Christ? Is the one “in whom My soul delights” the equivalent of “with you I am well pleased?” Either way, what about the son? As you stated, “The beginning of his ministry begins with the declaration he is the son of God and the end of his life ends (at the cross) with the declaration he is the son of God.”

        • Bart
          Bart  March 8, 2020

          I think that’s the standard view. The voice quotes Psalm 2:7 in the textual variant of Luke 3;22 (which I have argued on the blog is the original text of the verse). But teh quotation in Mark is much closer to the Isaiah text.

          • galah
            galah  March 8, 2020

            That’s interesting. The variant listed here in my bible program stops at σήμερον, conveniently cutting off γεγέννηκά σε. Thank you!

  11. Avatar
    LoganM76  March 6, 2020

    Fascinating posts, Bart. I like hearing about the nuts and bolts, and getting a clearer idea of how scholars come to their conclusions. In one of your Great Courses lectures you spent some reviewing historical criteria for evaluating sources, and it was my favourite part of the series!

    More on topic, is the point about Christ “emptying” himself related to him shedding some of his divinity, or all of it, when he incarnates as a human? I’m thinking of something similar to the idea that although he was fully human and fully god, he was not omniscient during his time as a human. I guess it’s part of christians trying to figure out the precise nature of Christ?

    • Bart
      Bart  March 8, 2020

      That’s hjow it later came to be interpreted, in what is called “kenotic” Christology (kenosis is the Greek word relateing to “emptying” oneself)

  12. Avatar
    brenmcg  March 8, 2020

    Ok, thanks

  13. stevedemarco
    stevedemarco  March 13, 2020

    Does 2 Timothy 3:16 actually mean that the Bible is infallible?

    In regards to your question if a passage is original or not I would like to know if a passage means what it says. As you are probably aware many Christians use this verse to justify that the Bible has no mistakes. I’m quite aware that this is not a letter Paul wrote, but whoever wrote it did he intend that this verse was meant to be what many Christians believe today. When I read this verse I see quite the opposite. Especially when it says, “for reproof, for correction”. I get the impression that this meant that when a passage or verse was not correct, man had the power to change it. What are your thoughts?

    • Bart
      Bart  March 15, 2020

      It is not talking about the entire Bible, only the “Old Tesatment” It doesn’t say that the Bible has no mistakes, but only that God inspired it and that it is useful (lots of theologians think the Bible is inspired *and* has mistakes; one doesn’t lead necessarily to the other). Reproof and correction is referring to ways the Bible can be used, not to what critics can do to change the Bible.

      • stevedemarco
        stevedemarco  March 15, 2020

        A follow up to your reply: You once believed the bible was infallible, but not anymore and you wrote books such as “Misquoting Jesus”, “Jesus Interrupted”, and “Forged” expressing how the bible (New Testament) has mistakes to a general audience. I like to know why some Christians believe the bible is infallible and if not 2 Timothy 3:16, then where did that idea come from? Because I heard that verse being used to justify the argument that the bible has no mistakes.

        Also will you still have the event that is scheduled for April 1 in Washington D.C. or did you cancel it due to covid 19?

        • Bart
          Bart  March 16, 2020

          1. People didn’t start believing the Bible was inspired because of 2 Tim 3:16; the person who wrote 2 Tim 3:16 is someone who had already come to believe the Bible was inspired. It’s a belief that existed before the verse and independently of it. It’s a long story about why teh belief came about, but the short story is that people started viewing some writings as authoritative, and over time started arguing they came from the *ultimate* authority. 2. Not cancelled yet, but I’m not sanguine.

          • stevedemarco
            stevedemarco  March 16, 2020

            Thank You. I can’t wait for your new book to come out on “Heaven and Hell”.

            I like to see you in person and see you launch your new book.

          • Bart
            Bart  March 17, 2020

            Ha! Sounds like for about four months none of us is going to be seeing anyone in person!

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