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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|

Who Cares??? Do the Variants in the Manuscripts Matter for Anything?

Ever since I wrote Misquoting Jesus readers have asked – these are usually conservative Christians with a high view of Scripture, but not always – whether any of the differences in the manuscripts of the New Testament actually *matter* for anything. I have often pointed out that there are hundreds of thousands of differences among our surviving manuscripts.  We don’t know exactly how many because no one has been able to count them all.  Are there 200,000?  300,000?  400,000?   We don’t know.  But what we do know, as I’ve repeatedly said (as was first pointed out to me by no less an authority than my mentor, Bruce Metzger), there are more variant readings in the manuscripts of the New Testament than there are words in the New Testament. But do any of the variants actually *matter*?   This has become an issue with some of the readers of the blog over the past week or so as I have been devoting a thread to the question of whether it makes sense to talk about the “original” [...]

Video: Bart Ehrman vs. James White Debate

James White vs Bart Ehrman: I wasn't sure whether I should post this debate or not. Frankly, it was not a good experience. I normally do not have an aversion to the people I debate. But James White is that kind of fundamentalist who gets under my skin. James White vs Bart Ehrman To be fair, he would probably not call himself a fundamentalist. Then again, in my experience, very few fundamentalists *do* call themselves fundamentalists. Usually, a "fundamentalist" is that guy who is far to the right of *you* -- wherever you are! Someone on the blog can correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe White does hold to the absolute inerrancy of the Bible. If so, given what else I know about him, I'd call him a fundamentalist. James White vs Bart Ehrman - Here's the Debate! In any event, he's a smart fellow and came to the debate loaded for bear. But it's good to see me at not my best as well as at my best. So why [...]

2022-05-22T23:59:24-04:00April 27th, 2014|Bart's Debates, Public Forum, Video Media|

Papers at the SBL

As is typical, I spent most of my four days at the Society of Biblical Literature meeting seeing old friends in the field and former students who now have teaching careers of their own. I did make some time to go to a few papers on the final day (yesterday). Some were very stimulating, interesting, and learned, others were … not. Just to give you a sense of the sorts of things that get done in this setting, I’ll give (very) brief summaries of a couple of the papers I heard.. The sessions I went to were on New Testament Textual Criticism (this is the group that discusses the manuscripts that preserve the NT) and Social Memory and the Historical Jesus (roughly speaking, this group considers issues raised for establishing what Jesus really said and did based on advances in the study of “memory” by psychologists and historians today). The textual criticism section was long my “home” in the SBL; I was the chair of the section for six years and on the steering committee [...]

2020-04-03T17:42:13-04:00November 26th, 2013|New Testament Manuscripts|

Errant Texts and Historians

QUESTION: In your debates with James White and Dan Wallace, you argued that we cannot know what the original autographs of the NT said because we don't have the originals. In your debate with James White, you even commented that the 2nd or 3rd copier of the text of Mark could have radically altered the text so that the way it came down to us is radically different than the autographs. You've argued that this is the case even for classical writings or any textual document from antiquity. Now, if you believe we cannot know what the originals said because we don't have the autographs, then how could you know that Paul met with James and Cephas, and use that as an argument proving that we know Jesus existed? Is it not possible (according to your view) that Galatians has been radically altered? In other words, it seems that you either have to sacrifice your skepticism regarding textual criticism or sacrifice your certainty for the historicity of Jesus. RESPONSE: This is a great question! So, [...]

Luke 3:22 — More on What Luke Would Have Written

In yesterday’s post I started to discuss the “intrinsic probabilities” that can help us establish the text of Luke 3:22.  This kind of probability looks to determine what an author himself (as opposed to a scribe copying his text) would have been likely to write.  That is determined by considering his writing style, vocabulary, theological views, narrative interests and so on, and determining which of the available readings fits with these established patterns of usage better than the other(s).   What I’’ll be arguing in this post, again, taken from The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture, is that the reading found only in Codex Bezae coincides more closely with the view of Jesus’ baptism that can be found elsewhere in the two-volume work of Luke-Acts.  The first paragraph below is the one that ended yesterday’s post, to provide some context for the following observations. ***************************************************************************************************************** More fruitful is an assessment of the other references to Jesus’ baptism throughout Luke’s work, “backward glances,” as it were, that provide clues concerning what happened at that point of the narrative. [...]

Luke 3:22 — What Luke Himself Would Have Written

In my previous post I began to look at the “internal” evidence that the voice at Jesus’ baptism in Luke’s Gospel said the words that are found among Greek manuscripts *only* in Codex Bezae of the early fifth century: “You are my son, today I have begotten you,” as opposed to the words found in all the other Greek manuscripts (the voice as recorded also in Mark): “You are my son, in you I am well-pleased.” If you’ll recall, there are two kinds of internal evidence that scholars consider: “transcriptional probabilities” (which reading would a scribe more likely have preferred and therefore created by changing the text) and “intrinsic probabilities (which reading would the author have been more likely to have written originally). The last post was on transcriptional probabilities showing that the reading in Codex Bezae is probably the older form of the text. Now in this blog and the next one (or two) I will discuss the “intrinsic probabilities,” which point in the same direction. All of these arguments are meant to work [...]

More Arguments over Luke 3:22

Yesterday I posted some comments that were designed to show why knowing the Patristic evidence is so valuable in establishing what the oldest form of the text of the NT was. My illustration was from Luke 3:22, where the voice from heaven says different things, depending on which witnesses you read. The fifth century manuscript Codex Bezae is the *only* Greek manuscript that has the reading “You are my son, Today I have begotten you.” The Greek manuscripts that were produced before Bezae, and all those produced afterwards, have a different reading, the one you will find in most Bible translations, “You are my beloved son, in you I am well pleased.” The point of my post was not to give conclusive evidence that the reading found in virtually all the manuscripts is the *wrong* one; it was to show that Patristic evidence is valuable because it shows that in the second and third Christian centuries, it was the *other* reading (the one that eventually came to be found in Codex Bezae) that was most [...]

Church Fathers and the Voice at Jesus’ Baptism

In my previous post I argued that the quotations of the New Testament in the writings of the later church fathers can help both to establish the earliest form of the text and to determine when and where the text came to be changed in the process of its transmission. I indicated that I might give an example of how that works, and that’s what this post is all about. I have taken a couple of paragraphs from my book The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture to illustrate the point. The passage I am discussing here is a very important one. It has to do with what the voice said from heaven at Jesus’ baptism, as recorded in the Gospel of Luke. In virtually all the Greek manuscripts of Luke – hundreds of them – the voice says “You are my beloved Son, in you I am well pleased.”  But in one – count them, one – manuscript of the early fifth century the voice instead says “You are my beloved Son, Today I have begotten [...]

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