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Paul’s Letter to the Thessalonians

In my two previous posts I discussed a textual variant that could be explained either as a scribal accident or as an intentional change.   I thought it might be interesting to point out a few other variants that also could go either way.   These are all intriguing problems in and of themselves, and by talking about them I can illustrate a bit further the kinds of quandaries textual critics find themselves in when trying to decide what an author wrote when we have different versions of his words in different manuscripts.   My plan right now is to look at three variants in three different mini-threads (all of them subsumed under the larger thread of why I wrote The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture).   Today is one of my favorites, a particularly thorny issue found in 1 Thessalonians 2:7. I can’t get to a discussion of that issue without providing some important background; just the very basics of the background will take me two posts, before I can even start to explain the textual problem. First Thessalonians [...]

2020-04-03T13:27:46-04:00August 5th, 2015|New Testament Manuscripts, Paul and His Letters|

Mark 1:1 as an Intentional Alteration of the Text

In yesterday’s post I began to explore a textual variant in Mark 1:1 that could be explained either as an accidental slip of the pen or an intentional alteration of the text.   We’re plowing into some heavy waters here – I know some members of the blog like me to go deeper into serious scholarship on occasion, and others would rather prefer that I not.  But here I am, in the thick of it. All of the posts in this thread are a lead up to answer the question from weeks ago now, about what led me to write The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture.   I’ve found that I can’t really get to that without providing some substantial background on what it is the field of textual criticism actually does. So where we are just now, by way of review:  there are thousands of textual witnesses to the NT (Greek manuscripts, manuscripts of the versions, writings of the church fathers who quote the text); these witnesses attests hundreds of thousands of variance among themselves; the vast [...]

2020-04-03T13:28:14-04:00August 4th, 2015|Canonical Gospels, New Testament Manuscripts|

A Variant in Mark 1:1 — Accidental or Intentional?

I have been talking about different kinds of changes made in our surviving New Testament manuscripts, some of them accidental slips of the pen (that’s probably the vast majority of our textual variants) and others of them intentional alterations.  One of the points that I’ve been trying to stress is that at the end of the day it is, technically speaking, impossible to know what a scribe’s “intentions” were (or if he had any, other than the intention of copying a text).  None of the scribes is around to be interviewed, and so – as with a lot of history – there is a good bit of scholarly guess-work that has to be done. This guess work is not simply shooting in the dark, however.   And it is dead easy for a highly trained expert to tell the difference between informed guesswork and just plain guesswork.   But at the end of the day we are always talking about historical probabilities, not historical certainties, when it comes to figuring out why a scribed decided to change [...]

An Intentional Change in Mark 15:34

I have started giving some instances of what appear to be “intentional” changes made by scribes, as opposed to simple, accidental, slips of the pen.  In my previous post I pointed to an example in Mark 1:2, in which scribes appear to have altered a text because it seems to embody an error.   If I’m wrong that this is the direction of the change – that is, if the text that I’m arguing is the “corruption” is in fact the original text – then there is still almost certainly an intentional change still involved, but made for some other reason.   But either way, the change does not appear to have been made simply by inattention to detail. Here I’ll give a second instance from Mark of what appears to be an intentional change.  I stress that these alterations “appear” to be intentional since, technically speaking, we can never know what a scribe intended to do.   I use the term I simply to mean an alteration to the text that a scribe appears to have made [...]

2020-04-03T13:28:51-04:00August 2nd, 2015|Canonical Gospels, New Testament Manuscripts|

Illustration of a Textual Change: Did Mark Make a Mistake?

I have started discussing “intentional” changes of the text of the New Testament – that is alterations found in manuscripts of the New Testament that appear to have been made by scribes who *wanted* to change the text, presumably in order to make it say (more closely) what they wanted it to say.   Let me illustrate my discussion by dealing with three of the most interesting textual variants in the Gospel of Mark, one of which is an easy problem to solve, one that is a bit more difficult, and one that has generated a lot of discussion over the years and no firm consensus.  This will take a couple of posts. In a still later post I will talk about the criteria and arguments that scholars typically use in order to resolve these questions.  I will be alluding to those criteria and arguments here in my explanations of why one form of the text appears to be what the author originally wrote, and the other form of the text appears to be the scribal [...]

2020-10-16T21:54:02-04:00July 31st, 2015|Canonical Gospels, New Testament Manuscripts|

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.   READER’S QUESTION: 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?   RESPONSE: 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 [...]

The Manuscripts of the New Testament

Before I start explaining what The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture was about, why I wrote it, what motivated me, and what I wanted to accomplish I (quite obviously, you may be noticing) have to provide a lot of background information. We’ve now moved on from talking about early Christian diversity (orthodoxy and heresy) and are now into discussing “textual criticism,” the academic discipline that tries to establish what an author actually wrote if you don’t have his original but only copies made from later times. To set the stage for what I really want to talk about, first I have to summarize some of the most important information about the textual “witnesses” to the text of the New Testament. I won’t be going into this information at any serious length. We could have many, many, many posts on virtually every single detail that I mention. But trust me, you don’t want that. There are three kinds of witnesses to the text of the New Testament, that is to say, three kinds of documents that can [...]

2024-03-06T21:24:50-05:00July 16th, 2015|Book Discussions, New Testament Manuscripts|

What Is Textual Criticism?

In discussing the background to my book The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture I have so far been talking about the issue of early Christian diversity, so as to explain what the term “orthodox” in the title means.  I now want to turn more fully to a discussion of the term “corruption,” and to do that I need to provide some basics about the general field of inquiry that the book is devoted to, the textual criticism of the New Testament. The first thing to emphasize is that the term “textual criticism” is a technical term with a very specific meaning.  Lay people often misuse the term, not knowing that it refers to a particular and highly specialized field of study.   The term does *not* simply mean “the study of texts” or “literary analysis of texts” or anything similar.   Thus, if someone is engaged, for example, in the interpretation of a text, that is *not* “textual criticism.” Instead, textual criticism is the discipline that seeks to reconstruct the text that an author wrote when we no [...]

2020-04-03T13:33:50-04:00July 15th, 2015|Book Discussions, New Testament Manuscripts|

What is An Orthodox Corruption of Scripture?

READER’S QUESTION: 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?   MY RESPONSE: Ah, this is a great question and it will take a number of posts to lay it all out, as it is a very complicated affair.   But it could make for an interesting thread.  We’ll see! To begin with, I need to say something about what the book was about.   I will have a lot more to say about that in subsequent posts.  At this point I’ll simply try to give the whole thing in a nutshell. First let me clarify the key terms of the title, which in full was :  The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture:  The Effect of Early Christological Controversies on the Text of the New Testament.   By “Scripture” I was referring only to the specifically Christian Scriptures, [...]

Jesus’ Sweating Blood and “intrinsic” evidence

In yesterday’s post I mentioned some of the kinds of “external” evidence that textual scholars look at when trying to establish the “original” text of a document (that is, the wording of the text as the author originally wrote it) when different manuscripts have different wordings for this or that passage.  In this post I’ll talk about one kind of “internal” evidence that is used to assist in making this kind of decision. There are two kinds of internal evidence that are usually called (1) intrinsic probabilities and (2) transcriptional probabilities.   For now, I’ll focus on the first. Intrinsic probabilities involve determining which of two (or more) forms of the text found in the manuscripts is the one that the author himself was more likely to have written.   Suppose you have a verse worded in two different ways.   If one of the ways uses the vocabulary and the writing style found elsewhere in the author, and presents ideas that he otherwise attests, whereas the other way includes words and grammatical constructions and ideas that are [...]

2020-04-03T16:29:32-04:00October 16th, 2014|Canonical Gospels, New Testament Manuscripts|

External Evidence in Textual Criticism

When I realized that I did not want to spend my life as a text-critical technician – collating and classifying Greek manuscripts – it became obvious to me the way to go.   Textual critics at the time generally understood that there were two major tasks in the discipline: to establish the original text (that is, the text in the words written by the actual authors, as opposed to the changes of the text made by later scribes) and to write the history of its transmission (seeing how it had been modified over the years in different times and places).   And I realized that through no tragic fault or brilliant plan of my own, I had been trained to do both things: the first requires substantial expertise in exegesis (the interpretation of texts), and the second requires a knowledge of early Christian history.   These were the two areas I had focused on in my graduate training, in all those years when I wanted, instead, simply to be trained in reading manuscripts. I think it is widely [...]

2020-04-03T16:29:40-04:00October 15th, 2014|New Testament Manuscripts|

Textual Scholars as Technicians

I’ve been trying in the posts of this thread to explain why textual critics are often thought not to be expert in the wide range of topics that other New Testament scholars are well versed in.  They are instead frequently seen as technicians who do the really hard, dirty work that no one else is either that interested in doing or knowledgeable about, even though some of it (not all) is thought to be necessary and important as a kind of preliminary exercise.   But it’s to be done by others. I, on the other hand, was long intrigued with textual criticism, from my early college days.  When I went to Princeton Seminary (already knowing Greek) and took a course with Metzger on palaeography (the study of ancient handwriting in the manuscripts nd related topics) I was thrilled.  In that course we learned how to “collate” manuscripts.   I thought I’d died and gone to heaven. Collating manuscripts, for most people, is no fun at all.   It involves taking a manuscript – that is, a hand written [...]

2020-04-03T16:29:48-04:00October 13th, 2014|New Testament Manuscripts|

A Text-Critical Dissertation

The point of this short thread dealing with my graduate training is to explain why it is that lots – probably most – New Testament scholars do not consider textual critics to be competent in a wide range of fields normally associated with New Testament scholarship.  I know that must seem very strange to outsiders, but it’s the case.  Textual critics are often thought of as a rather strange group of technicians without broad competency in the areas that other New Testament scholars are interested in – for example, the Jewish environment or the Greco-Roman worlds from which the New Testament emerged, the historical Jesus, the interpretation of and historical problems associated with the Gospels, the life and letters of the apostle Paul, the theology of the different NT writers, and on and on. The reason for this is that to be competently trained in textual criticism is a long and hard process and it’s very difficult to do that *and* to learn all the other things that most other NT scholars are competent and [...]

2020-12-29T01:07:27-05:00October 11th, 2014|Bart’s Biography, New Testament Manuscripts|

My Graduate Training (Textual Criticism??)

I saw my master’s thesis as the perfect assignment to get me grounded in the entire, complicated field of New Testament textual criticism.   Ever since then I’ve been in favor of students writing master's theses, even if it is not required for a master’s program.   For one thing, doing so gets you into the frame of mind that you need to be in when you get to the point of writing a dissertation at the PhD level – which for most students is the first time they write a book.   The masters thesis is usually much shorter – say 100-120 pages.  But the layout tends to be similar.  Most theses I’ve been involved with, including my own, have entailed an introduction, three chapters, and a conclusion.   So the student learns to think in terms of writing chapters, each of which has its own thesis and point; but all of them work together in order systematically to set forth the overarching thesis of the work.   This is a hard transition for some students, who for their [...]

My Training as a Textual Critic

In some of my previous posts I’ve indicated that since I was known as a textual critic (one who worked with Greek manuscripts of the New Testament in order to determine both what the authors originally wrote and how the text came to be changed over the centuries) I was not widely seen as a candidate for writing a New Testament textbook for undergraduates.   Several readers have expressed some perplexity over this.   Aren’t textual critics, by their very nature, background, and training, proficient in the wider field of New Testament studies? The answer may surprise you: it may be that they should be, but many (at one time, most) are not. It’s a little hard to explain why, but I’ll try.   As is my wont, I’ll start autobiographically. In my case, the great bulk of my graduate training actually had very little to do with textual criticism.   When I came to Princeton Theological Seminary as a master’s student ) in 1978 (after I had finished my BA in English at Wheaton college), I was required [...]

Where Does One Deal with Textual Criticism?

There were other organizational dilemmas that I faced in doing my textbook.   As I indicated, I decided to begin with chapters on the Greco-Roman world and the Jewish world of the New Testament, and – before getting to the Gospels themselves – a chapter on the controversies in early Christianity that led to the formation of the 27-book NT canon.   But there was one other rather fundamental issue.   If I was talking about the canon of the NT before getting into a discussion of the NT books – shouldn’t I also talk about the text of the NT, that is, the surviving manuscripts of the NT, before discussing individual books? Many readers on the blog will be familiar with the textual problems posed by the New Testament.  In broad outline, the problems are no different from those posed by every book, or sets of books, from the ancient world, whether the Hebrew Bible, Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, the plays of Euripides, the writings of Plato on down to the plays and essays of Seneca to [...]

2020-04-03T16:31:35-04:00October 7th, 2014|Book Discussions, New Testament Manuscripts|

Yale Shaffer Lectures 3 of 3 – Christ Against the Jews

Here is the third of my Shaffer Lectures delivered almost exactly ten years ago.   This final one has to do with textual variants and apocryphal texts that show evidence of Christian anti-Judaism.  I call this one: Christ Against the Jews.   It is a topic that I continue to be interested in, and on which I plan to write a book for a general audience, at some time in the next few years (not about textual variants, but about the rise of Christian opposition to Jews and Judaism.) Please adjust gear icon for 720p High-Definition. Quality is lacking since this is a VHS to 720p uprez:

Radio Debate with Pete Williams on Textual Variants

I'm in the midst of a thread on the textual variants of the New Testament, and whether they matter, and thought that it might be good to give an alternative perspective.  On January 3rd, 2009,  Peter J. Williams and I appeared as guests on the radio show "Unbelievable," a weekly program on UK Premier Christian Radio, moderated by Justin Brierley.   For this show we discussed my book "Misquoting Jesus" (In the UK the book, for some reason, is titled is "Whose Word Is It?").  Pete Williams is a British evangelical Christian scholar -- a very smart one, who knows a *lot* about the manuscripts of the NT -- who believes in the reliability of the New Testament and that thinks that my position is too pessimistic and extreme.  He did his PhD at Cambridge.  Peter is the author of Can We Trust the Gospels? and C S Lewis vs the New Atheists. Here's our back and forth. Please adjust gear icon for 720p High-Definition:

2020-12-17T16:38:32-05:00June 22nd, 2014|New Testament Manuscripts, Public Forum, Video Media|

Why Textual Variants Matter for the Rest of Us

In this thread I am discussing why it matters that there are so many variants in our surviving manuscripts of the New Testament.  It does not matter because there are any “fundamental Christian doctrines” at stake, per se, but for other reasons.  As I sketched in my previous post, it should matter for anyone who believes that God gave the very words of the Bible, since the facts that we don’t *have* the original words in some cases and that in many other cases the words themselves are in doubt, should call that belief into question.  (I should point out that with the Hebrew Bible we are in MUCH worse shape in knowing what anything like the “original”  -- whatever that might be – was.  The textual situation there is really quite dire.) The second group that the variants should interest would include just about anyone -- whether scholar, student, or general reader – who is interested in knowing what the various authors of the Bible had to say about this, that, or the other [...]

Fundamentalists and the Variants in our Manuscripts

In my previous post I began a discussion of why textual variants (that is, different wordings of the verses of the NT) found in the manuscripts might matter to someone other than a specialist who spends his or her life studying such things.    Most of the hundreds of thousands of variations are of very little importance for anything, as most people – even specialists – would admit.   Only a minority really matter.  And none of these seriously threatens any significant, traditional, Christian doctrine.   But I’ve argued that this should not be the criterion used to establish their importance.  Lots of things in life are important that have nothing to do with traditional Christian doctrines! I would say that the variations in the manuscripts of the New Testament should seem important to three groups of people.  If you’re not in one of these groups, then they probably are not all that important to you!   (1)  Fundamentalist and conservative evangelical Christians who believe that the Bible is an inerrant or infallible revelation from God, with no mistakes [...]

2017-12-14T23:03:23-05:00June 20th, 2014|New Testament Manuscripts, Public Forum|
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