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Misquoting Jesus and My Fundamentalist Faith

As I was saying in my previous post, when I decided to write Misquoting Jesus my friends thought I was nuts.  Even specialists in the New Testament are not, as a rule, interested in textual criticism, the scholarly endeavor to reconstruct the original Greek text of the New Testament given the fact that we have thousands of manuscripts with hundreds of thousands of minor differences among them, and even some rather major differences.  New Testament scholars know *that* much about the manuscripts, but most scholar don’t have a deep knowledge of the situation.  That is for one main reason: they find the topic terribly technical and massively boring!

So if scholars who have devoted their lives to the study of the New Testament aren’t interested in knowing more about textual criticism, why would lay people who are just lookin’ for something interesting to read on the weekend?  Who in the world would want to buy a book about *that*?

But I obviously did find it interesting.  By this point in my life (I was writing the book in 2003 and 2004) I had been enthralled with the hard-core technicalities of textual criticism for well over 25 years.  I had started looking into it in college.   I took Greek as my foreign language so I could pursue it.  I went to Princeton Theological Seminary to study with Bruce Metzger, one of the world’s experts in the field, and did my Master’s thesis with him on the topic, and then stayed on to do a PhD in the area, also with him.  I was his final student, and I think that over the course of his final ten years teaching he had only one other graduate student in the field.  And he was the only professor in North America who could train graduate students as textual critics (apart from some fundamentalists).   This was decidedly not a hot topic.

But it was for me.  One of my fundamental decisions in writing Misquoting Jesus involved …

This is where it starts to get interesting.  To see the rest of what I have to say, you need to belong to the blog.  It won’t cost much to join, and all the money goes to good causes.  So why not join???

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Conservative Reactions to Misquoting Jesus
Can Historians Be Neutral?



  1. AnotherBart  January 30, 2018

    20+ years ago, a PhD Theology candidate friend and I were lamenting over the problems of the
    1) inerrancy “doctrine” &
    2) so-called ‘domino effect’
    & that these views set adherents up with a Bible as = to a fragile house of cards, ready to tumble.

    I’ll never forget my buddy’s words:
    “I believe the Holy Spirit is watching over guys like Bruce Metzger, & [ the scribes, the manuscripts, the process of textual criticism]”

    I’ll add that the Holy Spirit is watching over, (in a good way) you, dear Dr. Ehrman. Regardless of where you land in your journey, you’ve done, and continue to do a great service to Christianity, both in the past, and the fact that today we have to work harder and dig deeper.

    I for one am grateful. Bless you, Sir, in the name above all names, Jesus Christ.

  2. wostraub  January 30, 2018

    It boggles my mind to think that there are those who would find biblical textual criticism to be “massively boring”! I can understand why fundamentalists might just want to avoid the topic, thinking that it could only lead them astray, but if one chooses to read the Bible in any way other than the purely devotional sense then one is led to Bart’s viewpoints. It’s simply unavoidable.

    My favorite is still Jesus Interrupted, which I view as the companion to my second favorite, Misquoting Jesus. I’ve read both numerous times, and each reading teaches me new ways of looking at the Bible, portions of which still represent great moral truth.

  3. Hume42  January 30, 2018

    Hi Bart!

    Yesterday I watched one of your debates with Daniel Wallace about the possibility of the original NT. I liked the professional posture of both in such sensitive question.

    Wallace said about a new NT pipyrus from the 1th century and you remained skeptic and asked for more details but the information remained sigilous, at least for more one year at that time. The video is from 2014. Any public update now?

    Thank you and have a nice day.

    • Bart
      Bart  February 1, 2018

      Nothing public, but I’ve been hearing privately that it’s bogus.

  4. GregLogan  January 30, 2018

    Thanks for sharing. I think it is fascinating to watching people’s (esp. reflective people) “conversion”.

    My conversion was finally coming to grip that there were simply errors in the Bible – the camel that broke the back of the straw was the two accounts of the Triumphal Entry in Mt and Mk – particularly with respect to that damned fig tree event….

    Since then – since the dam is broken – the errors are easy – and as Robert Price stated – acknowledging this actually makes the Bible MORE not less intriguing as I am now focused on it as literature – rather than the inspired Word of God. That literature is very valuable in that contains very early thinking of the Christian church – which is valuable indeed.

    Regardless of the above – my faith in a Creator and risen man Christ Jesus were unaffected – as this faith was developed even before I knew anything about the Bible – the knowledge of which I see as a completely distinct area.

    • ardeare  February 1, 2018

      The fig tree is almost unanimously agreed upon as referring to Israel. Bob Price and Richard Carrier use literalism to poke holes in scripture in an effort to further their agendas. Bob Price presents “evidence” that’s been around for centuries but routinely fails to mention that it’s been decisively refuted by true scholars. In oral and written debates, Bart has ripped Mr. Price to shreds and Christian scholar Larry Hurtado has done likewise to Richard Carrier. To be clear, there are areas they agree on but they are not on the same team.

      • GregLogan  February 2, 2018

        Larry Hurtado…???….:-(

        The notion of who won or lost in an encounter is usually greatly colored by partisan presupposition.

  5. fishician  January 30, 2018

    An additional flaw in the fundamentalist thinking: not only would God have to inspire the authors to get it right, and then inspire the scribes to copy it right, and then inspire the translators to translate it right, but also he would need to inspire every person in order to understand it correctly! Clearly, that hasn’t happened as not only does every denomination put their own spin on the Bible, but often even those within a denomination will disagree on various points. Of course, some fundamentalists turn that around to argue that’s the real problem: the Bible is perfect, we just don’t understand it perfectly!

    • webattorney  February 1, 2018

      I did think about that too, but then the question is why God didn’t give us the ability to understand the Bible perfectly.

  6. gwayersdds  January 30, 2018

    I am thankful that there are scholars like you who have the knowledge and ability to take a subject like textual criticism and dumb it down enough for the ignorant and uneducated like me to understand what it is all about. I was aware for some time that there were copying and editorial errors in the Bible .It is immaterial to me personally because I do believe that the gist or essence is there and worthy of belief. Everything else is really peripheral to the message and is more a matter of semantics than real substance.

  7. Nichrob  January 30, 2018

    And you knocked it out of the park. It is a great book. Thanks for all your hard work.

  8. NulliusInVerba
    NulliusInVerba  January 30, 2018

    Not to dwell on the macabre, but did the death threats come? If so, do they still come? Hopefully not often.

    • Bart
      Bart  February 1, 2018

      Ha! No, they never did. But there’s still hours left in the day….

  9. anthonygale  January 30, 2018

    Do you hear much apologetics surrounding this topic from folks other than fundamentalists? If someone believes in a God that allows horrible things to happen, like genocide and the torture of children, allowing inept scribes to mess up his book seems like a relatively minor issue. When I considered myself a Christian I simply thought: it was inspired, people screwed it up, but it still conveys truth so no big deal. Have you received feedback from liberal Christians who have objections with this issue for theological reasons?

  10. Seeker1952  January 30, 2018

    Wouldn’t the simplest solution have been for God to preserve the actual autographs themselves? Though offhand I don’t know how we could be sure they were the autographs.

    • Bart
      Bart  February 1, 2018

      Yes, that would have been a good move.

      • Matt7  February 2, 2018

        Is there some (theological?) reason Yahweh couldn’t simply have etched his words onto stone tablets (or gold plates) like he did for Charlton Heston? Having fallible humans use ancient writing and copying technology doesn’t seem like the best plan.

    • talmoore
      talmoore  February 1, 2018

      Or…and I know this might sound controversial, but what if the all-powerful, all-knowing creator of the universe simply communicated directly to his individual creations, instead of — you know — communicating to humanity via ancient texts written by a handful of Iron Age ecstatics, in dead languages that only a handful of experts can properly interpret?

      I mean, I know it’s expecting a lot.

      • GregLogan  February 2, 2018



        You mean like “you have no need of a man to teach you but the Spirit of God will teach you all things”


        Our faith does not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God???

        Those that live by the Spirit walk by the Spirit. Those that are led by the Spirit are the Sons of God. God is seeking those to worship in Spirit and Truth.

        Sounds pretty New Testament to me…:-)!!!!!

        Oh…hmmm….perhaps that is why it is controversial…. and those damned Ana-Baptists….

      • meohanlon  February 4, 2018

        Good point. I think the dogmatist wants a particular scripture to act as a kind of landmark to validate his own views, by using it with the pretense of an objective authoritative source that we can all more or less come to an agreement on. And this of course, has always backfired. Jesus himself questioned the interpretations of others on written law, even if he had his own conclusions about its validity.

        • talmoore
          talmoore  February 4, 2018

          Two thousand years ago the Chinese treatise “The Tao Te Ching” was being read by Chinese aristocrats and intellectuals as an esoteric, philosophical guide to effortless rulership. One thousand years later, Chinese peasants were putting crumbling ancient copies of The Tao Te Ching into their soup for its supposed medicinal benefits. That tells you what I think about “scripture”.

  11. darren  January 30, 2018

    As you have written in the past, one of the reasons Christianity succeeded was every time someone converted to monotheism, it eliminated a polytheist, unlike someone converting from one polytheist belief to another. Do you see a parallel with atheism? Do you see it, over the centuries, creeping in until it becomes a majority opinion, not just in Christian-majority countries but everywhere? People have access to so much information now that could accelerate the process.

    • Bart
      Bart  February 1, 2018

      There certainly are a lot more atheists now than a century ago; but teh religious impulse is massively strong.

      • Pattylt  February 2, 2018

        I agree. From an evolutionary perspective there seems to be a strong desire within us humans to assign agency to things we don’t understand. Since an atheist can no more prove that a god doesn’t exist than a theist can prove one does, religions will continue for many years to come. Having said that however, I think religions will continue to evolve and adapt as science expands our understanding of the mind/brain. It is very hard to rationalize a spiritual experience and if someone has had some epiphany that they have interpreted as “God”, all the rational explanations are meaningless. Spirituality is emotional not rational. When I finally figured that out I realized that, while I have never been spiritual, many are and nothing I say can overcome their emotional sense with rational arguments. Every atheist I know that had some belief in the supernatural had to slowly(usually) rationalize their way out of it. For some it happens and for many it never does.

      • GregLogan  March 6, 2018

        Humans are fundamentally religious in their impulses – that impulse simply manifests in different ways….

        I am still thinking Bart is pretty religious re his exegesis of John 8…:-)

  12. Pattycake1974
    Pattycake1974  January 30, 2018

    I don’t think you would have been able to conceal your religious background even if you had chosen to not put it in the book. People would have found out one way or another. Authors can’t really write about controversial topics, especially religious, and not expect their audience to question their backgrounds.

    • GregLogan  March 6, 2018

      Patty – Bart has been all about sharing his religious back-ground – totally transparent in debate and blogs. I find this to be refreshing – and try to emulate in every respect.

  13. doug  January 30, 2018

    Some people twist the meanings of scripture to “prove” the Bible is inerrant. I know they don’t think they’re twisting its meanings. But they seem to think they can say things more clearly than the “Word of God” is saying them.

  14. danielbice  January 30, 2018

    John Dominic Crossan was speaking at my church shortly after publication of “Misquoting Jesus,” so I asked him what he thought of the book. Without hesitation, Crossan likened Ehrman’s interest in textual criticism to someone who was interested only in foreplay. How’s that for a snappy review?

    • Bart
      Bart  February 1, 2018

      Ha! That’s funny. You might have pointed out to him that for all sorts of reasons it is a very real mistake to skip over the foreplay….

      • GregLogan  March 6, 2018

        …and, AMEN!

        Evidently our popish monk is not entirely familiar with the art…:-)

  15. jmmarine1  January 31, 2018

    In the past you have noted, correctly, that the speeches in the book of Acts, either by Peter, Paul, Stephen and the like, were ultimately written by Luke, highlighting Lukan themes and emphases. Have you ever done a comparative study (similar to the one you just posted about Paul and Jesus) of the teachings of Paul in his speeches recorded in Acts and the teachings of Paul in his genuine epistles?

    • Bart
      Bart  February 1, 2018

      Yes indeed. The differences are striking. Maybe I should post on this. (Spoiler: Notice that in Acts Paul never talks about the salvific importance of Jesus’ death!!)

      • GregLogan  March 6, 2018

        Bart – Thanks for pointing out the literary approach to searching through the various texts – reading them individually. Probably the most impacting for me so far is the complete absence of any mention of the virgin birth by Paul, etc. I have more or less essentially discarded this notion – and, frankly, it is completely unnecessary.

        Likewise seeing the evolution of Paul’s thought – esp. his eschatology – in say what is likely earlier texts of Thess – compared to later texts….

        I now read each text individually – and let it speak for itself (I realize that is a sort of obvious approach – BUT not for a now former fundamentalist) – and I do find the results to be fascinating, freeing – and, frankly, as Robert Price testified – I get way more out of the Bible than I formerly did.

  16. Robert
    Robert  January 31, 2018

    It is such a shame that so much NT ‘scholarship’ in the US is associated with seminaries and confessional colleges that require their instructors to abide by statements of faith, including absurd ideas such as inerrancy.

  17. Silver  January 31, 2018

    An off post question please.
    It seems to me that the gospels portray the ‘risen’ Christ in quite different ways. Sometimes he is pictured as physical (he cooks breakfast, eats a bite of fish, asks to be touched), sometimes as nonphysical and mysterious (he passes through walls, sometimes suddenly vanishes, and he is capable of being present without being recognized).
    Do you think that this results from a confusion in the minds of the gospel writers between resuscitation and resurrection?
    Is there a pre Ascension tendency to see his raising first as resuscitation (physical activities viz eating etc) with some writers developing an element of resurrection – a spiritual body – (passing through locked doors) for this to be replaced by resurrection proper ONLY after the Ascension?
    Are we given any indication in the words used that the gospel writers saw Lazarus’ coming out of the grave and the rising up of the bodies in the Zombie passage (Matt 27:52-3) as resurrection or resuscitation?

    • Bart
      Bart  February 1, 2018

      I think in part it is because different Christians telling the stories had very different understadnings of what the “resurrection” actually mean, with respect to Jesus’ actual body.

  18. tompicard
    tompicard  January 31, 2018

    did you ever figure out how
    God made sure none those words contained any mistakes, if He didn’t exactly dictate them?

    that is kind of confusing . . .

    • Bart
      Bart  February 1, 2018

      You can make sure somethign good happens without deciding precisely what that good thing might be. (E.g. making sure your kids eat healthy food)

  19. Adam0685  January 31, 2018

    There has recently been some controversy/in fighting over inerrancy at Moody

  20. Wilusa  January 31, 2018

    OT: What does a “retreat” mean these days? I’m asking here because I’d thought it meant something religious. But…a whole bunch of Republican lawmakers on a train together, going to a “retreat”? (I just heard that the train hit a garbage truck. The lawmakers are OK, but one of the two people who were in the truck is dead, the other seemingly badly injured.)

    Back at Christmas, there was a horrific murder in a city near mine. Four people bound and their throats cut, two of them young children. It was explained that the 15-year-old son of one of the adults hadn’t been there because he was at a “retreat.” I began wondering then, what sort of gathering would take a 15-year-old away from his family *at Christmas*? In that case, of course, it almost certainly saved the boy’s life. But it still struck me as odd.

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