Sunday, March 02, 2008

"Misquoting Jesus" Again

A reader of our blog, "Todd" has left a new comment on an old post with a review of Ehrman's Misquoting Jesus (see the last comment). Among other things Todd says : "Ehrman speaks of the knowable truth which is all we really do have if we are being honest, as cold as it is to believers."

Sometimes, new comments are added to older posts, which are unlikely to be read by many, so I thought I would respond to Todd with this new post.

The knowable truth is what we would like to pursue on this blog, and therefore we seek to struggle with the evidence all the time. Let me take a brief example from the Epistle of Jude which makes me hesitate in relation to Ehrman's thesis of "orthodox corruption" that has been discussed on several occasions on this blog.

When I examined the complete Greek textual tradition of Jude, I found that some witnesses in Jude 5 said that "Jesus" saved the people out of Egypt ("the Lord" or "God" are among other readings). Was Jesus thought to be present in these Old Testament days? Well there is a similar problem in 1 Cor 10:9, where Ehrman thinks the reading "the Christ" (other readings "the Lord"/"God") is a doctrinal alteration attributing divine characteristics to Jesus Christ (Orthodox Corruption, 89-90). Interestingly, the MSS A (02) and 81 are among the very few witnesses that attest "God" here, but in Jude 5 they are among the few witnesses that attests to "Jesus". Now, if a theological tendency in one single direction were possible to detect on the level of individual MSS, one would not expect MSS A and 81 to be among the witnesses that read "God" in 1 Cor 10:9.

In conclusion, it is easy to attribute various variants to this or that orthodox tendency, citing various manuscripts (at best) without paying close attention to what manuscripts are cited when. What is necessary, however, if such a thesis is to be proven is to examine the evidence in closer detail, even on the level of individual manuscripts, unless one want to be guilty of "misquoting manuscripts." I have the greatest respect for Bart Ehrman, and I regard several of his works in textual criticism as very valuable, but on this major issue I simply think he is wrong. I do not deny that there are single manuscripts with a detectable theological tendency (two examples of early witnesses are P72, of which I have written at length myself, and Codex Bezae), but I do not think that "orthodox corruption" was ever a programmatic, large-scale phenomenon in the textual tradition.

As announced several times on this blog, there will be a debate in New Orleans in April 4-5 on the "Textual Reliability of the New Testament," featuring among others Bart Ehrman and Daniel Wallace. I hope we will have a report of how that proceeds. I also know that audio-files will be made available. Read more here.


  1. Dear Tommy,

    This revisiting of this thread is interesting. Apparently, the problem as regards identity is not one of the textual tradition although that sounds funny at first), but rather a scholarly aggenda to be maintained.

    I'm just curious as to how one finds theological motivation
    in the textual variants under discussion? What I mean is this; Did the Church ever (apart from heretics) even doubt who the entity is as designated in the NT or OT) as Jesus, the Lord, or God? This demarcation appears to me as a figment of their imaginations.

    The earliest textual witness B/03 supports the reading IC in verse 5 and the identity of Jesus as the Lord is earlier supported in verse 4.

    There is **NO** NT book which entertains any delusions about either the person or work of Jesus.


  2. Just as a correction: if the "earliest textual witness" happens to be not B/03 but p72, then the earliest reading becomes QEOS CRISTOS and not IHSOUS.

  3. Provenially, perhaps, if the date III/IV A.D. is slightly prior, in Egypt. But, is this designaton found elsewhere in the NT? Of course, but not verbatim (correct me if I'm wrong) Rom 9:5 and Paul's XS IC is quite profound and unmistakeable, not to mention John's ani hu' or Luke's and Matthew's virgin birth narratives or Acts preexistent entity historically fulfilled in IC in Acts 13:32ff etc.

    Is then this use QC XC scribal or biblical? If IC is found original, then does p72 materially embellish the reading or doesn't IC say it all anyway according to the NT documents? That's my whole point.


  4. Malcolm "Did the Church ever (apart from heretics) even doubt who the entity is as designated in the NT or OT) as Jesus, the Lord, or God?"

    Well, have you read your church history?

  5. Well, yes, your not speaking to a tabula rasa, and since you don't know me, perhaps it would be better not to presume. Peter's recognition and confession that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God and that this recognition and confession is the rock, the confession of which is the foundation upon which and the defining demarcation of His church, emphatically excudes any and all who don't recognize and acknowledge Him as incarnate deity.
    All such that don't, are not in the pale of the church.


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  7. Interesting article. The logic and question of consistency is good and one that must be dealt with.

    Bart Erman will also be debating Dr. James White of Alpha & Omega Ministries ( on the subject of "Does the Bible Misquote Jesus: Can the NT be inspired in light of textual variations."

  8. It can all be summed up pretty easy..

    today and for years people have said they have heard God and written down what they have heard and spoken it.

    yet we know that people at times dont hear, we also know some people hear but misunderstand, misinterpretate and also use " God said so " to manipulate for their own gain. We also know some people come from a place of BIASED based on what they have been Taught to them and the references they have drawn from..

    We would all scrutinize people today

    Yet somehow we think the people of the bible are beyond the eye of scrutinity, beyond misunderstanding, beyond biased views, beyond manipulating, beyond, misinterpretating....

    Wake up and be honest with yourselves NOONE KNOWS

    the only one that does is GOD and as long as information is passed down through history by MEN through words and text

    It will always be debated and always remain ONLY personal Truth.. Not Truth for all

    Good day!