The Bookworm Report #8
Submitted by Russell Pizer
Misquoting Jesus © 2005, 242pp
The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why
by Bart D. Ehrman
It is often asked, “How can a biblical scholar who is a Christian believe in The Bible as the inerrant and/or revealed word of God? The inside flap of the dust cover of Misquoting Jesus provides a partial answer. It reads in part, “When world-class biblical scholar Bart Ehrman first began to study the texts of the Bible in their original languages he was startled to discover the multitude of mistakes and intentional alterations that had been made by earlier translators. In Misquoting Jesus, Ehrman tells the story behind the mistakes and changes that ancient scribes made to the New Testament and shows the great impact it had on the Bible* we use today. . . [His studies] made him abandon his once ultraconservative views of the Bible.” [One writer said that the living God must be a very poor communicator to have allowed such variations in his written message to mankind.]
The dust cover flap then continues, “Ehrman makes the provocative case that many of our cherished biblical stories and widely held beliefs concerning the divinity of Jesus, the Trinity, and the divine origins of the Bible itself stem from both intentional and accidental alterations by scribes – alterations that dramatically affect all subsequent versions of the Bible.”
On page 46, Ehrman explains one of the many problems that have occurred over and over throughout the early years of biblical literature. He writes: “One of the problems with ancient Greek texts . . . is that when they were copied, no marks of punctuation were used, no distinction made between lowercase and uppercase‡ letters, and, even more bizarre to modern readers, no spaces used to separate words. This kind of continuous writing is called scriptuo continua, and it obviously could make it difficult at times to read, let alone understand, a text. The word godisnowhere could mean quite different things to a theist (God is now here) and an atheist (God is nowhere) . . .”
Continuing on page 48, Ehrman writes: [scribes] “could not distinguish between the syllables. [Being as most scribes] could not read the text fluently but could only recognize the letters, and so copied them one at a time. Obviously, if you don’t know what you’re reading, the possibility of making mistakes in transcription multiply.”
On Page 88 Ehrman tells of the search made by John Mill who was an English theologian. He is noted for his critical edition of the Greek New Testament which included notes on the many variant readings. (This John Mill is not to be confused with John Stuart Mill – the great Utilitarian.) This earlier John Mill spent 30 years accumulating materials for his text that was published in 1707. During that time, he isolated some 30,000 places where different manuscript citations and versions had different readings for passages . . . Mill was not exhaustive in his presentation of the data he had collected. He had, in fact, found far more than 30,000 places of variation. He did not cite everything he discovered, leaving out variations such as those involving changes of word order . . . Whereas Mill knew of or examined some 100 Greek manuscripts to uncover his 30,000 variations, today  we know of far, far more. At last count, more than 5,700 Greek manuscripts have been discovered and catalogued. . . . These include everything from the smallest fragments of the size of a credit card to very large and magnificent productions, preserved in their entirety. . . These manuscripts range in date from the early [2nd down to the 16th century]. Some of these manuscripts are inexpensive, hastily produced copies; some were actually copied onto reused pages (a document was erased and the text . . . was written over the top of the erased pages); others are enormously lavish and expensive copies, including some written on purple-dyed parchment with silver or gold ink.”
On page 89, Ehrman adds: “Scholars differ significantly in their estimates [of the number of variants known]. [S]ome say there are 200,000 variants, some say 300,000, some say 400,000 or more! We do not know for sure because, despite impressive developments in computer technology, no one has yet been able to count them all. Perhaps . . . it is best simply to leave the matter in comparative terms. There are more variations among manuscripts than there are words in the New Testament.”
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* In modern American-English prose writing about “the Bible,” the word “the” should not only have an uppercase “t” but also be in italics. Also, the word “Bible” should be italicized. Thus the name of this particular book should appear in print as: The Bible.
‡ The terms “upper case” and “lower case” come from the suitcase-like boxes with shallow drawers called type-cases that held the “type” type for the movable-type printing presses. The “capital” letters were in the upper part of the case. The lower part of the case held the “smaller” type. We still use the word “type” today, as in “typographical” errors. That term should perhaps be changed to
“computergraphical” or “data-entry” error.