Chapter 4: The Quest for Origins

     In chapter 4, Dr. Ehrman begins by describing the motivation behind a Catholic scholar named Richard Simon.  He writes regarding Simon, “Christian faith could not be based solely on the scripture (the Protestant Reformation doctrine of sola scriptura), since the text was unstable and unreliable.  Instead, according to this view, the Catholics must be right that faith required the apostolic tradition preserved in the Catholic Church.” (1)  Simon’s intent was to demonstrate the superiority of the Latin text.  In so doing, he could debunk the ancient Greek manuscripts that the Protestants relied upon.  Simon believed that Jerome had edited out many problem areas form the Greek and penned a sound Latin text.  Since the manuscripts Jerome used to correct the Greek were destroyed, we are only left with error-ridden copies.  He could also demonstrate the superiority of the Latin text.  His theological bias is clearly evident.  Even Ehrman doesn’t buy into it.  He writes, “As clever as the argument is, it has never won widespread support among textual critics.  In effect, it is simply a declaration that our oldest surviving manuscripts cannot be trusted, but the revision of those manuscripts can.  On what grounds, though, did Jerome revise his text?  On the grounds of earlier manuscripts.  Even he trusted the earlier record of the text.  For us not to do likewise would be a giant step backward—even given the diversity of the textual tradition in the early centuries.” (2) Within the historical context, Simon sets the stage for Richard Bentley.

     Richard Bentley was a classic scholar and Master of Trinity College, at Cambridge.  He set his mind to clarify the Greek text and vindicate the Protestant text.  Ehrman describes his activities as, “He had decided to collate (i.e. to compare in detail) the text of the most important Greek manuscript of the New Testament in England, the early-fifth-century Codex Alexandrinus with the oldest available copies of the Latin Vulgate.  What he found was a wide range of remarkable coincidences of readings, in which these manuscripts agreed time and again with each other but against the bulk of Greek manuscripts transcribed in the Middle Ages.  The agreements extended even to such matters as word order, where the various manuscripts differed.  Bentley was convinced, then, that he could edit both the Latin Vulgate and the Greek New testament  to arrive at the most ancient forms of the these texts, so that there would be scarcely any doubt concerning their earliest reading.  Mill’s thirty thousand places of variation would thereby become a near irrelevancy to those invested in the authority of the text.  The logic behind the method was simple:  if, in fact, Jerome used the best Greek manuscripts available for editing his text, then by comparing the oldest manuscripts of the Vulgate (to ascertain Jerome’s original text) with the oldest manuscripts of the Greek New Testament (to ascertain which were the ones used by Jerome), one could determine what the best texts of Jerome’s day had looked like—and skip over more than a thousand years of textual transmission in which  the text came to be repeatedly changed.  Moreover, since Jerome’s text would have been that of his predecessor Origen, one could rest assured that this was the very best text available in the earliest centuries of Christianity.” (3) As wonderful a theory as this was, Bentley efforts would ultimately fail to produce a manuscript.  However there was another protestant working in Germany.

   Johann Bengel was a Lutheran pastor and professor who was profoundly impacted by Mill’s work and the variants that he discovered.  Bengel was deeply challenged by this since his faith was rooted in scripture.  Bengel developed a process of textual criticism that “the more difficult reading is preferable to the easier one…preference should be given not to the reading that has corrected the mistake, harmonized an account, or improved its theology, but to just the opposite one, the reading that is ‘harder’ to explain.  In every case, the more difficult reading is to be preferred.” (4)  Bengel also set out to group manuscripts into families and published his text in 1734.  Ehrman staes that it is basically the Textus Receptus with the corrections that Bengel believed he had discovered.  However, Ehrman leaves out a crucial development that Bengel originated.  Ehrman knows about his because he describes it in his book, “The Text of the New Testament.”  He writes that Bengel, “After extended study, he came to the conclusions that the variant reading were fewer in number than might have been expected and that they did not shake any article of evangelic doctrine.” (5)  While Ehrman knows this, he didn’t write this in Misquoting Jesus. Why?  No one can be sure but it does appear that Dr. Ehrman attempts to control the flow of information to fit his own agenda for the book.  Mainly, that the original text cannot be recovered.   A belief that very few of the early textual critics held.

     After this is glossed over, Ehrman describes the spiritual journey of a scholar named J.J. Wettstein.  His inclusion of this story relates closely to Ehrman’s own spiritual journey.  Wettstein loses faith and becomes an agnostic when he discovers a variant reading of I Timothy 3:16 which he believed detracted from the divinity of Jesus.  The passage read “God made manifest in the flesh.” But the variant reading (because of nomina sacra a system of abbreviating the sacred names of the text) reads, “who was manifested in the flesh.  Wettstein believed the absence of God detracted from the divinity of Jesus.  It doesn’t have to in the context of the passage; nevertheless, this is how Wettstein interpreted it.  At the end of the day, not even Ehrman appreciates Wettstein’s work.  He writes, “Despite the enormous value of Wettstein’s edition, the textual theory lying behind it is usually seen as completely retrograde.  Wettstein ignored the advances in method made by Bentley and Bengel and maintained that the ancient Greek manuscripts of the New Testament could not be trusted because, in his view, they had all been altered in conformity with the Latin witnesses.  There is no evidence of this having happened, however, and the end result of using it as a major criterion of evaluation is that when one is deciding on a textual variant, the best procedure purportedly is not to see what the oldest witnesses say, but to see what the more recent ones say.  No leading scholar of the text subscribes to this bizarre theory.” (6) I have to ask the question here.  Why put it in the book, if his conclusions don’t jive with the majority of scholarly opinion?  Perhaps, Ehrman wanted to demonstrate an example from history of his own spiritual journey.  Ehrman’s evaluation of the next scholar is particularly similar to Bengel.

     Lobegott Tischendorf is considered one of the most industrious and remarkable textual critics of all time.  It was he who discovered Codex Siniaticus at the monastery at the foot of Mt. Sinai.  He also produces a successful transmission of the Codex Ephremi Rescriptus.  However, Ehrman doesn’t paint the full picture for us.  As Daniel Wallace observes,”Tischendorf is widely acknowledged as the most industrious NT textual critic of all time.  And what motivated him was a desire to recover the earliest form of the text—a text which he believed would vindicate orthodox Christianity against the Hegelian skepticism of F. C Baur and his followers.” (7)  Dr. Ehrman never mentions any of this in Misquoting Jesus.

     Dr. Ehrman closes the chapter by discussing the work of B.F. Westcott and F.J.A. Hort.  Their joint 23 year effort produced a Greek Manuscript that they believed were, “The New testament in the Original Greek” in 1881.  Westcott and Hort picked up on Bengel’s “family” groupings and took to a new level.  Their idea was, “Identity of reading implies identity of origin.”  Meaning, that “if two manuscripts have the same working of a verse, it must be because the two manuscripts ultimately go back to the same source—either the original manuscript or a copy of it.” (8)They developed four major families of witnesses and used as their leading texts, the Codex Sinaiticus and the Codex Vaticanus.  Westcott and Hort believed that these two represented what they called the, Neutral text.  Their manuscript was a real breakthrough and has challenged the textus receptus as the accepted text.  However, I must also point out that, again, Westcott and Hort, believed they had actually discovered the “original” text.  Again, this is glossed over in Misquoting Jesus.

 

 

Endnotes

  1. 1.      Ehrman, Bart, Misquoting Jesus, The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why, Harper Collins Pub, New York, NY, 2005, page 102.
  2. 2.      Ibid, page 103.
  3. 3.      Ibid, page 107-107.
  4. 4.      Ibid, page 111.
  5. 5.      Metzger, Bruce, Ehrman, Bart, The Text of the New Testament, Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration, Oxford University Press, New York, NY, 2005, page 158.
  6. 6.      Ehrman, page 115-116.
  7. 7.      Wallace, Daniel, “The Gospel According to Bart” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 49, June 06, page 2.
  8. 8.      Ehrman, page 124.

Chapter Three: The Text of the New Testament

  In Chapter three, Dr. Ehrman again paints another bleak picture for the scriptures.  He describes the earliest scribes as. “Because they were not highly trained to perform this kind of work, they were more prone to make mistakes than professional scribes would have been.  This explains why our earliest copies of the early Christian writing tend to vary more frequently from one another and from later copies than do the later copies (say, of the high Middle Ages) from one another.” (1)  However, as Michael Kruger notes, “Even if there were no formal scriptoriums in the second century (and we are not sure), there are substantial indicators that an organized structured, and reliable process of transmission was in place amongst early Christians.  For example, scholars have long recognized that the virtual unanimity throughout all of early Christendom in its use of the codex (as opposed to the roll) reveals a striking degree of structural unity.  Moreover, scribal features such as the nomina sacra, which are also found in virtually all early Christian manuscripts (even second-century copies), show a ‘degree of organization, of conscious planning, and uniformity of practice among the Christian communities which we have hitherto had little reason to suspect, and which throws a new light on the early history of the church…such textual evidence is simply ignored by Ehrman in order to bolster the claim that Christian scribal activity was unreliable.”(2) 

     He goes on to describe how professional scribes came into the church in the fourth century and manuscript quality greatly improved and a more standardized text became available.  However, he adds, “It would be a grave mistake, though, to think that because later manuscripts agree so extensively with one another, they are therefore our superior witnesses to the ‘original’ text of the New Testament.  For one must always ask:  where did these medieval scribes get the text they copied in so professional a manner?  They got them from earlier texts, which were copies of yet earlier text, which were themselves, copies of still earlier texts.  Therefore, the texts that are closet in form to the originals, are, perhaps unexpectedly, the more variable and amateurish copies of early times, not the more standardized professional copies of later times.” (3)  The he tells us that Latin eventually replaces Greek and that all scholarly works for centuries used the Latin Vulgate which was produced by the greatest scholar of the day, Jerome.  One need not hold out hope for the Vulgate, according to Dr. Ehrman.  He writes, “Today, there are nearly twice as many copies of the Latin Vulgate as there are Greek manuscripts of the New Testament.” (4)  Hope for the scriptures didn’t improve much with the advent of the printing press.  Although, the Vulgate was the first major work printed by Gutenberg’s press, the Latin was still considered superior to the Greek and some didn’t conceive of publishing a multilingual edition until sometime later.  However, even the “Complutension Polygot” (which juxtaposed Hebrew, Latin, and Greek of the Old Testament and Greek and Latin of the New Testament) is somewhat suspect because no one really knows exactly what manuscripts they used in translation.

     Dr. Ehrman bashes the textus receptus of Erasmus by saying, “It appears that Erasmus relied heavily on just one twelfth century manuscript for the gospels, and another, also of the twelfth century for the book of Acts and the Epistles—although he was able to consult several other manuscripts and make corrections based on their readings.  For the book of Revelation he had to borrow a manuscript from his friend and German humanist Johannes Reuchiln; unfortunately, this manuscript was almost impossible to read in places, and it had lost the last page, which contained the final six verses of the book.  In his hast to have the job done, in those places Erasmus simply took the Latin Vulgate and translated its text back into Greek, thereby creating the same textual readings found today in no surviving Greek manuscripts.” (5)  He applauds the work of the Mill New Testament which he states, “On the basis of this intense thirty year effort to accumulate materials, Mill published his text with apparatus, in which he indicated places of variation among all the surviving materials available to him.  To the shock and dismay of many of his readers, Mill’s apparatus isolated some thirty thousand places of variation among the surviving witness, thirty thousand places where different manuscripts patristic (church fathers) citations, and version had different readings for the passages of the New Testament.” (6)  However, what are we really seeing with Mill’s work.  To be sure, it was a profound work.  But, as Michael Kruger points out, “it is well known that comparing Greek manuscripts with manuscripts in other languages, and citations form the Fathers, is not the same as comparing Grek manuscripts with one another.  Translation from one language to another brings in all sorts of variations and church fathers are known for loose citations of the New Testaments, citations from memory, and for paraphrasing and conflating citations.  Thus, again, the numbers are not all they appear to be.” (7) 

   Then, Dr. Ehrman makes one of the most insightful statements of the entire books, thus far.  Up to this point he paints a very bleak picture for the scriptures.  However, Dr. Ehrman, paints a profound picture regarding what this entire section means to us, the readers and lay people.  He writes, “The more manuscripts on discovers, the more the variant readings; but also the more the likelihood that somewhere among those variant readings one will be able to uncover the original text.  Therefore, the thirty thousand variants uncovered by Mill do not detract from the integrity of the New Testament; they simply provide the data that scholars need to work on to establish the text, a text that is more amply documented than any other from the ancient world.” (8) Notice closely what Dr. Ehrman is saying here.  He is telling us that the originals autographs are somewhere within the texts that we have now.  Hence, it is the job of textual criticism to tease them out.   This is an amazing statement.  Dr. Ehrman is saying that the more manuscripts we have the better the chances that we can determine what was written on the original autographs.  Hence, the multiple amounts of manuscripts and their variations aptly assist us in purifying the text.  This begs the question to Dr. Ehrman.  Why did you even write this Misquoting Jesus book in such a style that detracts from this profound statement? Furthermore, doesn’t the fact that the text is the most amply documented from the ancient world bespeak of some type of divine intervention, or dare I say, inspiration?  Perhaps, we have exactly what God intended us to have.  Perhaps, “it is the glory of God to conceal a matter but the glory of kings to search it out.” (Proverbs 25:2)  This sentiment is also echoed by Michael Kruger.  He writes, “Indeed, once a person realized that such changes are a normal part of the transmission of any historical document, then they cease to be relevant for the discussion of the New Testaments reliability.  Such variants should be expected in historical documents, not put forth as scandalous…Ehrman also doesn’t mention that the vast majority of these textual variants are easily spotted and easily corrected.  Indeed, the entire science of textual criticism (of which Ehrman is an obvious proponent) is committed to this every task.  But, Ehrman almost gives the impression that 400,000 variants exist and we have no idea what was original and what was not, throwing the entire New Testament into utter obscurity.  That is simply misleading.  In this regard, Ehrman wants to be able to have his text-critical cake and eat it too.  One the one hand, he needs to argue that test-critical methodologies are reliable and can show you what was original and what was not, otherwise he would not be able to demonstrate that changes have been made for theological reasons.  But on the other hand, he want the “original” text of the New Testament to remain inaccessible and obscure, forcing him to argue that text-critical methodologies cannot really produce an certain conclusions.  Which one is it?” (9) 

     Dr. Ehrman lists a number of “errors” in the latter part of the chapter.  These fall into two categories.  First, he lists accidental types and secondly, intentional types.  Not one of these errors affects any major tenet of Christianity and it is commonly acknowledged that they exist and that they simply don’t matter all that much.  As Timothy Jones writes, “From my perspective, a significant alteration would be one that requires Christians either to rethink a vital belief about Jesus Christ—a belief that w might find in the Apostles Creed, for example, or to doubt the historical accuracy of the New Testament documents.  Yet, when I look at the changes in the Greek manuscripts of the New Testament, I find no ‘highly significant’ alterations.” (10)

 

Endnotes

  1. Kruger, Micheal, “Review of Misquoting Jesus:  The Story of Who Changed the Bible and Why.”  Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 49, 2006 page 2
  2.  Ehrman, Bart, Misquoting Jesus, The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why, Harper Collins Pub, New York, NY, 2005, page71,.
  3. Ibid, page 74.
  4. Ibid page 75.
  5. Ibid, page 78-79.
  6. Ibid, page 84.
  7. Kruger, page 3.
  8. Ibid, page, 87.
  9. Kruger, page 2.
  10. Jones, Timothy Paul, Misquoting Truth, a Guide to the Fallacies of Bart Ehrman’s Misquoting Jesus.” Intervarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL, 2007, page 54.

The Counsel and the Eye of God

“I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will guide you with My eye.” (Psalm 32:8 NKJV)

 

     The above-quoted verse really is a wonderful verse.  It is rich with meaning despite the fact that it is challenging linguistically.  It promises that God will instruct us and teach us.  He will guide us in the way that we should go.  Similar to a father who teaches and guides his children, so God teaches and guides us.  A similar idea is echoed in the Proverbs which states, “train up a child in the way that he should go.”  Likewise, God will train and guide us.  A parent loving watches over their children and gives them council in the way that they should act.  God will do the same for us.  He gives us the perfect model of what parenting should be and this verse is a great reflection of it.

     The first part of the verse is pretty straightforward, and as previously states, is almost echoed in the Proverbs.  However, the latter part of the verse is challenging linguistically and its full meaning is almost missed by most.  We will examine this and come to some awesome conclusions.

     The last part of that verse reads, “[le nye hxeya” which is roughly translated, I will council my eye upon you.  We would clean this up a bit to translate it into English and say something like, “I will council you with my eye upon you.”  This seems to be the consensus of the older manuscripts of the Old Testament.  The Latin Vulgate has, “I will fix my eye upon you.”  The Aramaic has, “I will follow you with my eyes.  The Psalm is unknown among the Dead Sea Scrolls (one should not read too much into this, neither is the book of Esther among the Dead Sea Scrolls) and finally, the Septuagint reads, “I will establish you with my eye towards you.”  Most of them carry the main idea but they seem to be missing the heart of the verse.  The Masorites left us some clues for exegesis when they translated the Old Testament.  They are called “accents.”  What they do is divide up a verse into parts.  The latter part of the verse generally describes and adds to, the former part of the verse.  In this verse, there is an English comma where the division, called the Athnah, lies.  Hence the second part of the verse is going to modify the first part of the verse.  This makes the translation: “I will council you with My eye.”  As one can see this gives a completely different perspective that what we saw the older manuscripts are giving the verse.  Let me explain by dissecting these words.  The first word is the word to “council.”  It has rich meaning in that it refers to Messiah as the “Wonderful Counselor” and describes the Spirit that would rest upon Him as “as spirit of council.”  Hence, the word speaks of divine wisdom and council.  A supernatural anointing to guidance that comes only from God.  The word for “eye” is equally rich.  Obviously, more than just an organ is implied here.  It represents a process of seeing and by extension, of understanding.  Anthropomorphically, God is watching us because he loves us and He can’t take His eyes off of us.  His eyes are upon the earth.  His eyes search for hearts that are obedient to Him.  His eyes watch over us for good.  The Greek verb used in the Septuagint, “to establish” gives us the crux of the verse.  It denotes that God will establish us and set us firm by guiding us with His supernatural council as His eyes are upon us searching for ways to implement good in our lives.  He is infinitely up to good.  Hence, because He is always looking to implement good in our lives, we should not be resistant to the council that He gives us.  Even if we don’t understand the council that He is giving us, or if it looks extremely unpleasant to us, we must trust the character of God that He is watching over us and imparting supernatural council to us for the purpose of establishing good in our lives.  Subsequently, God tells in the next verse, “Do not be like the horse or like the mule, which has no understanding, which must be harnessed with a bit and bridle, else they will not come near you.” (Psalm 32:9)  God is saying to us, “Listen, I’m going to give you a supernatural spirit of council, it will rest upon you as it rested upon Messiah.  The driving force behind that spirit is the Messiah who is the “Wonderful Councilor.”  (Additionally, the Holy Spirit is called the “Paraclete” in Greek, which means, the “Councilor.”  In secular Greek circles, this word would me “a lawyer.” ) My eyes will continually watch over you and search for way to implement good and avoid evil in your life.  So, when I tell you to do something, be sure to do it because you can trust that I will not implement evil against you.  And in the event that you choose not implement the council that I have given you; I will put a bit in your mouth and a bridle upon your neck and will “beat you into a state of reasonableness” because my love for you is that strong.  Remember Jonah, who spent three days in the belly of the big fish.   Remember the curses of the law; they were given to drive the people to repentance.  Remember the plagues of the book of Revelation; they are designed to drive people to repentance and to turn their hearts towards God.   God is telling us that he battles the Devil, and ourselves, in order to bring about good in our lives.  He is simply asking us to trust him.  Thus, our obedience eliminates one of the enemies that He has to fight in order to establish good in our lives.

     I think this is the correct interpretation and translation of the verse.  It really surprised me that I could find no commentaries that supported it.  At least none in my personal library, there may be some out there, only I couldn’t find them.  This is a wonderful verse that speaks of how God moves towards us and how we ought to respond to Him.  We respond to Him with a heart that loves Him enough to obey Him.  In the New Covenant, we are now free to obey out of love and not out of fear.

 

Chapter Two: The Copyist of the Early Christian Writings

        Dr. Ehrman begins the chapter by leveling a charge at the manuscripts and the copyist. He writes, “Those few that were produced in multiple copies were not all alike, for the scribes who copied texts inevitably made alterations in those texts-changing the words they copied either by accident (via a slip of the pen or other carelessness) or by design (when the scribe intentionally altered the words he copied).” (1)  He goes on to further describe how the church fathers Origen and Dionysius lamented the mistakes made to manuscripts.  Additionally, he adds that even a non-believer such as Celsus was aware of the problems with Christian manuscripts.  Furthermore, the early manuscripts were written in “scriptuo continua” in which the writings contained no punctuation.  Thus, this process generates problems in translation.  Taken on the surface, Ehrman paints a very bleak picture of having any hope at all of retaining the original meaning and intent of the New Testament authors.  Is this really the case?  To begin with, let’s discuss the mistakes themselves, the testimony of those early church fathers, and the issue of “scriptuo continua”, and see if we can salvage some hope for the scriptures.

     By his own admission, Ehrman writes, “In fact, most of the changes found in our early Christian manuscripts have nothing to do with theology or ideology.  Far and away the most changes are the result of mistakes, pure and simple—slips of the pen, accidental omissions, inadvertent additions, misspelled words, blunders of one sort or another.” (2)  This is, in fact, is the case and Ehrman seems to downplay it.  Timothy Paul Jones writes, “Most of the 400,000 variations stem from differences in spelling, word order, or the relationship between nouns and definite articles—variants that are easily recognizable and, in most cases, virtually unnoticeable in translations…In the end, more than 99 percent of the 400,000 differences fall into this category of virtually unnoticeable variants.” (3)  As we can plainly see, none of the mistakes effect any changes in Christian doctrine but involve, for the most part, the definite article.  The definite article is simply “the” in English.  While English has simply one way to spell it, Greek has around 24 different spellings depending on the case, number, and gender of the nouns that it precedes.  Additionally, Greek doesn’t use the article like English does.  Dr. Mounce notes, “You will soon discover that the Greeks do not use the article the same way we do.  They use it when we never would, and they omit it when English demands it.  Languages are not codes, and there is not an exact word for word correspondence.  Therefore, we must be a little flexible at this point…Greek often uses the definite article before a proper name. You may omit the article in your translation of proper names…Greek often includes the article with abstract nous such as “the Truth” although English does not normally use the article.” (4)  As we can see, the article was used extensively, with multiple forms, and would be an easy oversight for untrained scribes.  However, this makes absolutely no difference in the main thesis of a text.  To reiterate, not one of these errors will affect one facet of Christian doctrine or belief.  The discrepancies or mistakes that fall into other categories we will address with subsequent posts later.  Here is another point regarding Greek to remember.

    Greek is a descriptive language.  I will list out here that there are actually sixteen ways to write, in Greek, the English phrase, “Jesus loves Paul.”

1. ᾿Ιησοῦς ἀγαπᾷ Παῦλον                                                                                                                 2. ᾿Ιησοῦς ἀγαπᾷ τὸν Παῦλον                                                                                                            3. ὁ ᾿Ιησοῦς ἀγαπᾷ Παῦλον

4. ὁ ᾿Ιησοῦς ἀγαπᾷ τὸν Παῦλον

5. Παῦλον ᾿Ιησοῦς ἀγαπᾷ

6. τὸν Παῦλον ᾿Ιησοῦς ἀγαπᾷ

7. Παῦλον ὁ ᾿Ιησοῦς ἀγαπᾷ

8. τὸν Παῦλον ὁ ᾿Ιησοῦς ἀγαπᾷ

9. ἀγαπᾷ ᾿Ιησοῦς Παῦλον

10. ἀγαπᾷ ᾿Ιησοῦς τὸν Παῦλον

11. ἀγαπᾷ ὁ ᾿Ιησοῦς Παῦλον

12. ἀγαπᾷ ὁ ᾿Ιησοῦς τὸν Παῦλον

13. ἀγαπᾷ Παῦλον ᾿Ιησοῦς

14. ἀγαπᾷ τὸν Παῦλον ᾿Ιησοῦς

15. ἀγαπᾷ Παῦλον ὁ ᾿Ιησοῦς

16. ἀγαπᾷ τὸν Παῦλον ὁ ᾿Ιησοῦς  (5)

 

     As we can see, all these phrases would constitute a variation in the text.  However, it wouldn’t change one thing about the statement that the phrase is making.  Discussing this in relation to “Misquoting Jesus”, Daniel Wallace writes, “The number of variants is as high as 400,000.  This is true enough, but by itself is misleading.  Anyone who teaches NT textual criticism knows that this fact is only part of the picture and that, if left dangling in front of the reader without explanation is a distorted view.  Once it is revealed that the great majority of these variants are inconsequential—involving spelling differences that cannot even be translated, articles with proper nouns, word order changes, and the like—and that only a very small minority of the variants alter the meaning of the text, the whole picture begins to come into focus.  Indeed, only about 1% of the textual variants are both meaningful and viable.” (6)  And again, it is noted that, “Indeed, once a person realizes that such changes are a normal part of the transmission of any historical document, then they cease to be relevant for the discussion of the New Testament’s reliability (lest all antiquity slip into obscurity).  Such variants should be expected in historical documents, not put for as scandalous. (7)

     The early church fathers did notice discrepancies as Ehrman has pointed out.  His point does stand.  However, Origen makes this statement as a side-note uttered out of frustration and not out of a scientific analysis.  Dionysisus appears to do the same.  As far as Celsus, there may be another translation available of what he was actually saying about Christians.  The alternate reading states, “Some believers, like persons who lay violent hand on themselves in drunken rage, have corrupted the gospel from its original wholeness, into threefold, fourfold, and manifold editions and have reworked it so that they can answer objections.’ (8)  In light of this translations, it would appear that Celsus is not discussing New Testament errors but subsequent divisions of the gospel into 3-4 divisions namely, Matthew, Mark , Luke, and John. 

     Another interesting point about Ehrmans logic regarding scribal activity and ancient testimony is here presented by Michael Kruger.  In his review of Ehrman’s book, he writes, “If the overall transmission of manuscripts in the ancient world is as Ehrman describes, then one wonders how all of ancient history is not thrown into obscurity and uncertainty.  Indeed, if manuscript production was such a ‘hit and miss’ affair, we have no grounds to think that any account of ancient events should be received with any confidence—not to mention the very ancient testimonies that Ehrman appeals to in order to show that scribal activity was uncertain (testimonies which themselves are preserved in manuscripts!)  Of course, Ehrman does not question the authenticity of those testimonies, because it is clear that he only desires to call into question the value of Christian manuscripts.” (9) 

     Oftentimes, as I read Dr. Ehrman’s writings, I notice that he seems to have a split personality something akin to Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.  It’s difficult to tease out if Mr. Bart “the happy agnostic” or Dr. Ehrman “the textual critic who has some remnants of faith” is writing.  A good example of this is the issue of “scriptura continua.”  In Misquoting Jesus, Mr. Bart, “the happy agnostic” writes, “One of the problems with ancient Greek texts (which include all the earliest Christian writings, including those of the New Testament) is that when they were copied, no marks of punctuation were used, not 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.” (10)  Meanwhile, in his book, “The Text of the New Testament, it Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration,” Dr. Ehrman the critical scholar with remnants of faith writes, “It must not be thought, however, that such ambiguities (those created by scriptuo continua) occur very often in Greek.  In that language it is the rule, with very few exceptions, that native words can end only in a vowel (or a dipthong) or in one of three consonants.  Furthermore, it should not be supposed that scriptio continua presented exceptional difficulties in reading, for apparently it was customary in antiquity to read aloud, even when one was alone.  Thus, despite the absence of spaces between words, by pronouncing to oneself what was read, syllable by syllable, one soon became used to reading scriptio continua…The experience of Hermas, who says he copied a little scroll of heavenly origin “letter by letter, for I could not make out the syllables, suggest that the normal method of copying books was by syllables.” (11 parenthetical note mine for clarity) Please note, that the data presented in Misquoting Jesus is the same data that is presented here.  What has changed?  Not the data, but Dr. Ehrman or Mr. Bart’s interpretation of this data.  What’s even more impressive is that the fourth edition of the “Text of the New Testament” was published the same year that Misquoting Jesus was published.  The explanation offered by Dr. Ehrman and Dr. Metzger in the “Text of the New Testament” seems to make the most scholarly sense.  The one offered in misquoting Jesus discounts the evidence that this issue was not really an issue at all.  Thus, even Dr. Ehrman doesn’t really believe what he is writing in Misquoting Jesus.

     In the conclusion of this chapter, Dr. Ehrman attacks two points of scripture.  First, the Marcan appendix, and secondly, the woman caught in adultery.  I will fully develop a defense for these passages in the future, but for brevity sake, I will post those later.  Suffice it to say that there is some evidence that may point to their original status.

     Again, it must be reiterated, that in a largely illiterate society, with scribes that were making theological and blunderous mistakes to manuscripts, and where writing utensils were very crude, to only have 90 percent of the errors to make absolutely no change in Christian doctrine points to inspiration.  Only God could do something like this and in fact, there is no other book from antiquity that compares to the accomplishments of either the New Testament or the Old for that matter.  This points to God being behind the text despite its errors. 

 

 

Endnotes

  1.  Ehrman, Bart, Misquoting Jesus, The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why, Harper Collins Pub, New York, NY, 2005, page 46.
  2. Ibid, page 55.
  3. Jones, Timothy Paul, Misquoting Truth, a Guide to the Fallacies of Bart Ehrman’s Misquoting Jesus.” Intervarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL, 2007, page 43-44.
  4. Mounce, William, Basics of Biblical Greek, Zondervan Publishers, Grand Rapids, MI, 1993, page 39.
  5. Wallace, Daniel, “The Gospel According to Bart” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 49, June 06, page 3.
  6. Ibid, page 4.
  7. Kruger, Micheal, “Review of Misquoting Jesus:  The Story of Who Changed the Bible and Why.”  Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 49, 2006 page 1.
  8. Jones, page 40.
  9. Kruger, page 2.
  10. Ehrman, page 48.
  11. Metzger, Bruce, Ehrman, Bart, The Text of the New Testament, Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration, Oxford University Press, New York, NY, 2005, page 22-23.

Chapter One: The Beginnings of Christian Scripture review of Bart Ehrman’s Misquoting Jesus

          Dr. Ehrman begins the chapter with establishing the fact that both Judaism and the subsequent Christianity with springs forth from it were “religions of sacred texts and books.”  He writes, “…they located sacred authority in sacred books.  Christianity at its beginning was a religion of the book.” (1)  The meaning of this statement is somewhat misguided.  Let me explain.  By saying that Christianity was a “religion of the book” Dr. Ehrman means that whole of the religion was rooted in written documents.  On the surface, this statement appears true.  However, I would like to point out that the mission of Jesus was never to write a book.  His mission has been to establish relationship with the humans that He created and loves dearly.  This is easily seen by what is written in these books.  As I stated previously, the totality of scripture can be summed up in two statements.  First, it records the God encounters that select humans have experienced.  Secondly, it consists of the instructions of godly men who lived in intimacy with Him.  Hence, Christianity, at its outset, was not primarily a religion of the sacred books, it was a religion of experiencing God and these experiences then became recorded as “sacred texts.”  Christianity, since its outset, is about making “the God encounter possible”, then it preserved these encounters into a text.  Scripture was always secondary to the experience of intimacy with the Creator of the universe.  We never hear from Jesus, “Verily, Verily, I say unto you, that I have come to produce inerrant and inspired autographs that will replace Me in the Trinity.”  Yet, this seems to be the position of many conservative evangelicals except their scholars as has been previously noted.  Unfortunately, it is this thinking that led Dr. Ehrman to view scripture as he currently does.  Again, it is not his fault; it is the faulty theology that exalts the Bible to the level of God.  Additionally, this seems to be the premise that Dr. Ehrman presents in first chapter to debunk scripture.  Mainly, that the autographs contained the original text and if they are lost forever then God must be unknowable because He didn’t preserve for us the record of the originals which made Him known to us.  This logic is simply not acceptable.  God is to be experienced in spiritual communion and the biblical text is not necessary for encounters with God.  Scripture is mainly the launching pad towards the experience but it is the relationship that is to be exalted.  And if, it is a relationship, then God must; therefore, be knowable.  Not through the text, but through the relationship.  For example, when I first started dating my wife, she wrote me a couple of letters and emails.  I didn’t come to know her through the letters and emails (although they were an instrument of getting to know here) I got to know her through the relationship.  To be specific, I got to know her by spending time with her.  It is the same way with God.  To get to know Him, we spend time with Him, in worship, prayer, meditation, fellowship with other believers, and yes, through the record of the biblical text.

     Misquoting Jesus is a wonderful and challenging book.  There are things that I read in it that I have never really heard before.  I guess I have heard of them but have never given them serious consideration.  This book challenges me to give them consideration.  One such example is this, “Scholars have long suspected that some of the letters found in the New Testament under Paul’s name were in fact written by his later followers pseudonymously.” (2) Dr. Ehrman doesn’t go into serious discussion of this topic so neither will I.  However, I do want to give a quote regarding his position because it is neither the main consensus of history nor of modern scholarly opinion.  Dr. Ehrman specifically mentions the pastoral letters of I and II Timothy and Titus as suspect.  The Nelson Study Bible writes:

     “The letter names Paul as its author, and the authors statements about his life are consistent with what is known of him.  The early church fathers Clement of Rome and Polycarp accepted the letters as one of Paul’s, as did Irenaeus, Tertullian, and Clement of Alexandria.  Early in the nineteenth century, some scholars began to question Paul’s authorship of the Pastoral Epistles.  Critics claimed that these letters were “pious forgeries” written in the second century.  They leveled four different attacks on the integrity and authenticity of these letters.  First is a historical problem.  Since the chronological references n these letters do not correspond with the book of Acts, critics assume that the letters were written at a much later time by an impostor.  However, the letters could have been written soon after the events described in the book of Acts.  Many scholars hold that Paul was acquitted and released from the imprisonment described n Acts 28, and then traveled for several years in Asia Minor and Macedonia.  During this time he wrote the disputed letters.  Eventually he was imprisoned in
Rome again, and then died in Nero’s persecution.  Second, critics argue that the Pastoral Epistles do not fit Paul writing style.  These letters contain a number of words that occur only here in the New Testament but are common in the writings of the second century.  This is taken as evidence that the letters are form the second century.  The weakness of this argument is that there is a limited body of literature form the second century form with to draw such a dogmatic conclusion.  The third point relates to the form of church leadership described in the Pastoral Epistles.  The structure of authority, including elders and deacons seems to represent a more developed, second-century church.  However, it is clear from Phil 1:1 that the offices of elder and deacon were already functioning during Paul’s ministry.  The fourth argument involves theology.  Critics claim that the heresy combated in the Pastoral Epistles is the full-grown Gnosticism for the second century.  While it is true that Gnosticism was not fully developed until the second century, it is also certain that the heresy began slowly and evolved before it became a complete theological system.  Paul dealt with similar false teachings in Colossae.  The heresy if First Timothy appears to e an early form of Gnostic teaching that combined elements of Judaism, Persian thought, and Christianity.  There is no reason therefore, to conclude that first and Second Timothy are not authentic Pauline Epistles.” (3)

     Dr. Ehrman levels a similar charge at the letters written by Peter.  Similar arguments could be listed here but for sake of brevity, and also because Dr. Ehrman doesn’t fully develop his thought, we shall not either.  Suffice it to say, that there is just as much scholarship and history to state that Peter was the author. (4)  Additionally, Dr. Ehrman takes a cheap shot at Jesus teaching on divorce.  He writes, “On some occasions these authoritative interpretations of scripture appear, in effect, to countermand the laws of scripture themselves.  For example, Jesus says, “You have heard it said, ‘Whomever divorces his wife should give her a certificate of divorce’ [a command found in Deut. 24:1], but I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife for reason other than sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.”  It is hard to see how one can follow Moses’ command to give a certificate of divorce, if in fact divorce is not an option.” (5)  I call this a “cheap shot” because it is the same argument that the Pharisees of old put to Jesus in the gospel of Mark.  It reads, “The Pharisees came and asked Him, ‘Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?’ testing Him.  And he answered and said to them, ‘What did Moses’ command you?’  They said, ‘Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and to dismiss her.’  And Jesus answered and said to them, ‘Because of the hardness of your heart he wrote this precept.  But from the beginning of the creation, God made them male and female.  For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh, so then , they are no longer two, but one flesh.  Therefore, what God has joined together let not man separate.”   In the house His disciples also asked Him again about the same matter.  So he said to them, ‘Whoever divorces his wife and marries another, commits adultery against her.  And if a woman divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.” (Mark 10:2-10)  One of the expectations of Messiah was that He would fully explain and develop the Torah.  This is exactly what Jesus is doing here.  Dr. Ehrman doesn’t fully develop the argument which is why I call it a “cheap shot.”  But, Jesus clearly answers Dr. Ehrman’s question as He did with the Pharisees.

       In the end, Dr. Ehrman makes three profound points about early Christian writing.  First, the society that produced them was largely illiterate.  Second, the utensils used for writing were very crude which lead to problems with preservation and lead to mistakes with writing.  Thirdly, the scribes themselves oftentimes made intentional and unintentional mistakes.  These are facts and no one can dispute them.  However, the conclusions that one can draw from this data becomes the issue.  I take issue with Dr. Ehrman’s conclusion of the data.  He points at the data and determines that it is evidence of the un-inspiration of scripture.  In my estimations, he has it backwards.   What Dr. Ehrman doesn’t tell us is that despite the issues, every major tenet of Christian doctrine is preserved to the present day.  I point at this data and conclude:  Who else but God could preserve the heart of Christianity despite the fact that the society was illiterate, the writing materials and mediums were crude, and theologically biased and sloppy scribes would make mistakes.  I point at this and say God must be behind it!  This is a point that Dr. Timothy Paul Jones makes in his book which refutes Dr. Ehrman.  He writes, “Where Ehrman errs is in his assumption that these manuscript differences somehow demonstrate that the New Testament does not represent God’s inerrant Word.  The problem with this line of reasoning is that the inspired truth of Scripture does not depend on word-for-word agreement among all biblical manuscripts or between parallel accounts of the same event…Yet, when someone asks, Does everything in Scripture and in the biblical manuscripts agree word-for-word?  That person is asking the wrong question.  The answer to that question will always be a resounding no.  Instead, the question should be, though they may have been imperfectly copied at times and though different writers may have described the same events in different ways, do the biblical texts that are available to us provide a sufficient testimony for us to understand God’s inspired truth?” (6)  To this question, we must answer with a resounding, yes!

    The real question about the beginnings of the scripture we have not addressed in this review.  For example, who were the authors, when did they write, what did they write, and how do we know that what we have today carries the same central themes?  These questions are involved and lengthy and I will try to answer them in a subsequent posts.

    Endnotes

  1.  Ehrman, Bart, Misquoting Jesus, The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why, Harper Collins Pub, New York, NY, 2005, page 20.
  2. Ibid, page 23.
  3. Radmacher Earl D. (General Editor), The Nelson Study Bible, Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, TN, page:  2039.
  4. Also see the Nelson Study Bible on pages 2128 and 2113.
  5. Ehrman, page 30-31.
  6. Jones, Timothy Paul, Misquoting Truth, a Guide to the Fallacies of Bart Ehrman’s Misquoting Jesus.” Intervarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL, 2007, page 31-32.

“Misquoting Jesus”: A book review of Bart Ehrman’s bestseller

     I recently began reading, “Misquoting Jesus” by Bart Ehrman.  It made the New York Times Bestseller list and was written in 2005.  It tells the “Story behind who changed the Bible and Why.”  While Dr. Ehrman is a biblical scholar, he writes so that even the layman can understand.  In his introduction, Dr. Ehrman gives his testimony which begins with life in an Episcopalian church as a young man being raised in Kansas.  Then, he has a “born-again” experience and goes off to Moody Bible Institute to learn the Bible.  Additionally, he would study at Wheaton College and Princeton Seminary.  He raises two very poignant objections to beliefs that conservative evangelical Christians hold regarding the bible.  First, that it in inerrant (Meaning without error) in the originals and that scripture is inspired by God.  In regards to the former, he gives an almost heart wrenching account of how this belief was shattered through his deeper studies of the Biblical text.  He is correct, the Bible is not inerrant.  It does have errors.  It does have issues.  Dr. Ehrman concludes that, “at the end of the day, the Bible is a very human book.”  I’m not exactly sure what conclusion Dr. Ehrman will draw from this statement but I’d like to offer my own.  To begin with, by his own admission, the majority of the errors in scripture are fairly insignificant.  He writes, “Most of these differences are completely immaterial and insignificant.”  Agreed, I’m not aware of any biblical error that changes any major tenet of Christianity.  Additionally, I have no real problem with saying that the Bible is a very human book.  And I don’t think that God would have a problem with it either.  God has always desired to co-labor with people.  Very rarely, does He ever act independently of His image-bearers.  So, there is no really question that scripture was written by humans.  I think God wanted it that way.  Let’s examine this closer.  What really is scripture?  Simply, it is a record of the experiences that humans have had with God and instruction that come from men who lived lives of intimacy with Him.  Scripture is not God and it is not the experience of God.  It is not Father, Son, and Holy Bible.  It is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

     There is a tremendous fallacy in modern western Christianity.  We exalt the Bible to the status of God and try to make it something that it is not.  As one pastor friend of mine told me, “I used to preach that God has exalted His Word above His Name and that if we were to go to the throne of God in heaven, we would see that right above the throne of God would be the King James Bible.”  I’m happy to report that he has since come to his senses.  I’ve also experienced this when I was studying Greek.  The Greek word for “Word” that John uses in chapter one to describe Jesus is the Greek word, “logos” pronounced “logos.”  The instructor point to his Bible and says, “This is the logos.”  To which I reply, “No it isn’t, Jesus is the logos.” We can’t make scripture something it is not. When we give it this supreme status and label it as infallible and inerrant we set up young men, like Dr. Ehrman, for failure.  Simply because, the deeper into scripture that these young men go, the faster this illusion will vanish and it will cause some trauma.  The bible is not inerrant.  Scripture is the launching pad for the God encounter.  God desires the relationship and the encounter.  The primary mission of Jesus Christ was not to write a book.  It was to redeem mankind so that the fellowship that was lost in the garden could be restored.  His mission was the redemption of mankind, not to write a sacred book.  Humans recorded what He did under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.  But being under inspiration does not mean that they would be perfect.  I think God knew full well that they were going to make mistakes.  But the mistakes are not evidence of un-inspiration.  This is where Dr. Ehrman’s logic is difficult to follow.

     First, Dr. Ehrman makes an assumption.  The assumption is that if scripture has errors, it must not be inspired.  Also, he makes the assumption that only the originals were inspired because the copies have issues.  He writes, “If he wanted his people to have his words surely he would have given them to them (and possibly even given them the words in a language they could understand, rather than Greek and Hebrew).  The fact that we don’t have the word s surely must show, I reasoned, that he did not preserve them for us.  And if he didn’t perform that miracle, there seemed to be no reason to think that he performed the earlier miracle of inspiring those words.”  This is a huge assumption to make.   Mainly, that we dictate the terms of what the inspiration of the Holy Spirit must look like.  He assumes that it must be perfect and that it must have remained intact over time.  Perhaps this is not the case at all.  Perhaps what we have, this jumbled up mess of language, manuscripts, and mistakes is exactly what God wanted us to have.  And if this is so, then what we do have is inspired.  What we do have has withstood some pretty impressive test.  As I have already alluded to, God co-labors with humans and He expects us to make mistakes.  Not to mention that there is a spiritual war going on where the Devil and his demonic hordes would love to destroy the recorded encounters of God with humans.  No wonder there are issues.  If there are issues with the text, we should probably not hang that on God but on the enemy that seeks to destroy all that is good about God.  Perhaps, logic like Dr. Ehrman’s plays right into the hands of the enemy, unbeknownst, I’m sure, to Dr. Ehrman.  Be that as it may, God expects us to make mistakes and this is what grace is all about.  Doesn’t it stand to reason that since God co-labors with humans and He expects us to make mistakes that perhaps what we have in scripture today is what he intended for us to have?  Or, doesn’t it stand to reason that an enemy has been seeking to destroy what has been recorded of God to blind the remainder of humanity but what has been preserved is every major doctrinal piece of Christianity and the errors are of small significance?  Wouldn’t that point to some inspiration?  I think so.  I believe that what we do have, mess and all, is inspired.

     I’m not writing this as a “bash-Bart” review.  I simply want to hear what the man has to say.  He makes some valid points.  My heart goes out to him as I too came through the fog of finding out that the bible is not inerrant.  It was painful and it shook me.  But, I soon realized exactly what I have stated earlier.  It is my hope, that Dr. Ehrman may find this realization.  I appreciate his scholarship and his viewpoints, and I, like he, am searching for facts.  However, when those facts are discovered they will be interpreted by scholars through their own worldview.  “Misquoting Jesus” is coming from Dr. Ehrman worldview that scripture is not inspired and not inerrant.  Hence, the conclusion that he will draw will be tainted toward this direction.  Nevertheless, we will press on and continue the book.  Iron does indeed sharpen iron.

Inerrancy versus Inspiration

     Before leaving this topic, perhaps some points from the evangelical conservatives are in order.  Up to here, their voice has not been heard in either Dr. Ehrman’s work or in my own.(although there are echoes of it in both)  Hence, I will attempt to summarize their arguments on inerrancy and inspiration.  My dear and beloved friend Patrick Pegues wrote his master’s thesis with the underlying premise that, “He who defines the terms, wins!”  Absolutely!  The point is this.  Once a scholar defines the terms of his argument, he can simply construct his arguments around this point to validate the definition.  This seems to be very appropriate in the case of inerrancy and inspiration of scripture.  We have already discussed my own and Dr. Ehrman’s views on this issue, so let’s allow the conservative evangelicals to weigh in with their voice.

     Charles Caldwell Ryrie wrote in his book, What You Should Know About Inerrancy, ironically published by the Moody press, states that, “inerrancy is from Latin, in ‘not” + errancy “in a state of error.” The inerrancy of the Bible means simply that the bible tells the truth.  Truth can and does include approximations, free quotations, language of appearances, and different accounts of the same event as long as those do not contradict.”  It should be noted that not even all conservative evangelicals agree on the definition of inerrancy and inspiration, but the quote from Ryrie gives the synopsis. 

   The doctrine of inspiration is much more complicated.  The following is a quote from “EVANGELICAL DEFINITIONS OF INSPIRATION:CRITIQUES AND A SUGGESTED DEFINITION” and the author attempts to define for us the term.  He writes, “Spirit’s taking possession of the personality and processes of the human authors so that the otherwise impenetrable wisdom of God is made known through that which is written.” (1) He will cite a number of biblical passages where God instructs different authors to write what they wrote, or prophets that dictated to scribes, or the apostles who wrote under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.  He gives us five characteristics of inspiration.  First, “those evangelicals do not worship the Bible.  Rather, it is the authoritative instrument inerrant in the original manuscripts that God uses to make known his truth to his people in the present age.”  Secondly, “that inspiration is limited to a small company of messengers whom God specifically choose to use in communication of his Word to mankind.  It is not a universally shared experience but one that is phenomenoligcally distinctive.”  Hence, it does not continue to the present day. “The canon was completed with the appearance of the final book written within the apostolic circle.”  Thirdly, ) The uniqueness of inspiration rules out the possibility of either a partial inspiration of Scripture

or degrees of inspiration. All of Scripture is equally inspired by the Holy Spirit.  Fourthly, differences in Biblical genre, which must be recognized, mean that the relation between the divine and human participation is not always the same. For this reason a distinction has been

Suggested between the prophetic mode (e.g. Jeremiah) and the scribal mode (e.g. Luke) that is similar to the distinction made by Aquinas between the speculative judgment and the practical judgment exercised by the authors of Scripture.  Behind many texts there is the possibility of a

Complex contributory process, which includes the relating of historical incidents (Job, Ruth), the selection and collection of hymns wisdom (Psalms, Proverbs), observation and reflection (Ecclesiastes), or the critical study and use of many sources (Luke). Lastly, the mode of inspiration involves a great mystery. Scripture does not provide a full explanation

of the way in which the divine and human authors interact in the production of the sacred books. Therefore no theologian can pen the absolute and final word on the subject.” (2)

     Having now given them voice on the subject, here is how they answer Ehrman.  Michael Kruger writes in the Journal of Evangelical Theological Society a book review on Misquoting Jesus.  He writes, “Ehrman declares in his conclusion, ‘If God really wanted people to have his actual words, surely he would have miraculously preserved those words, just as he miraculously inspired them in the first place.’  In other words, if God really inspired the New Testament there would be no scribal variations at all.  It is this shocking admission by Ehrman that reveals the core problem with Misquoting Jesus.  Ehrman is working with his own self-appointed definition of inspiration which sets up an arbitrary and irrational standard that could never be met.  Does inspiration really require that once the books of the Bible were written that God would miraculously guarantee that no one would ever write it down incorrectly?  Are we to believe that inspiration demands that no adult, no child, no scribe, no scholar, not anyone would ever write down a passage of scripture where a word was left out—for the entire course of human history?  Would Ehrman have been more pleased if the New Testament were delivered from heaven on gold tablets, and not through normal historical processes?  I imagine he would then object to the act the New Testament does not bear the ‘marks of history.’  It seems clear that Ehrman has investigated the New Testament documents with a priori conviction that inspiration requires zero scribal variations—a standard that could never be met in the real historical world of the first century.  Ironically, as much as Ehrman claims to be about real history, his private view of inspiration, by definition, prevents there from ever being a New Testament from God that would have anything to do with real history.” (3)

     Daniel Wallace, also writing for the Journal of Evangelical Theological Society, has this to say.  “Inspiration relates to the wording of the Bible, while inerrancy relates to the truth of a statement…Regardless of what one thinks about the doctrine of inerrancy, the argument against it on the basis of the unknown autographs is logically fallacious. This is so for two reasons. First, we have the text of the New Testament somewhere in the manuscripts.  There is no need for conjecture, except perhaps in one or two places.  Second, the text we have in any viable variants is no more a problem for inerrancy than other problems where the text is secure.  Now, to be sure, there are some challenges in the textual variants to inerrancy.  This is not denied.  But there are simply bigger fish to fry when ti comes to issues that inerrancy faces.  Thus, if conjectural emendation is unnecessary, and if no viable variant register much of a blip on the radar called ‘problems for inerrancy,’ then not having the originals is a moot point for this doctrine” (4) 

      Having heard all viewpoints, let us press on to chapter one.

 Endnotes

  1.  Hodges, Louis, “EVANGELICAL DEFINITIONS OF INSPIRATION:CRITIQUES AND A SUGGESTED DEFINITION” journal of the evangelical theological society, June 94, viewed on line at http://www.etsjets.org/files/JETS-PDFs/37/37-1/JETS_37-1_099-114_Hodges.pdf.
  2. Ibid, page 102-103.
  3. Kruger, Micheal, “Review of Misquoting Jesus:  The Story of Who Changed the Bible and Why.”  Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 49, 2006 page 4.
  4. Wallace, Daniel, “The Gospel According to Bart” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 49, June 06, page

     

The Manifestation of Messiah Necessitates Law

“Behold!  My Servant whom I uphold My Elect One in whom My Soul delights!  I have put My Spirit upon Him.  He will bring forth justice to the Gentiles.  He will not Cry out, nor raise His voice, nor cause His voice to be heard in the street.  A bruised reed he will not break, and smoking flax He will not quench; He will bring forth justice for truth.  He will not fail nor be discouraged, till He has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands shall wait for His Law.” (Isaiah 42:1-4)

 

     No real question that this passage refers to Messiah.  The New Testament quotes it in Matthew chapter 12 with reference to Jesus.  The Jewish Targums reference it to Messiah.  Hence, it would seem appropriate to break this verse down to examine its deep meaning.

     What one will notice immediately when comparing the Old Testament passage with the New Testament is an apparent discrepancy in translation.  Mainly, that the Septuagint, which is quoted in Matthew 12, has a seemingly different translation than that of the Masoretic text of the Old Testament. (the Hebrew manuscript used for just about all English translations) The passage in the New Testament is this:  “Behold!  My Servant whom I have chosen, My Beloved in whom My soul is well pleased!  I will put my Spirit upon Him, and He will declare justice to the Gentiles, He will not quarrel nor cry out, Nor will anyone hear His voice in the streets.  A bruised reed he will not break, and smoking flax, He will not quench Till he sends forth justice to victory; And in His name Gentiles will trust.” (Matthew 12:18-21 NKJV)   The bulk of the passage seems to be congruent.  However, it is verse 4 that comes into question.  There is a huge difference between, “The coastlands will wait for His Law.”  And, “In His name, the Gentiles will trust.”   Or do they?  While discrepancies between the Septuagint and the Masoretic do exist, this particular passage, if examined closely, doesn’t seem to be one of those occasions.  Let’s examine this latter part of verse four from the Hebrew and then the Greek, and we will arrive at a consensus of meaning but not of wording.

     The Hebrew here is “oooWljy mya WjrWtlO” which is roughly translated. “And on His Law the coastlands will hope.”  The Greek of the Septuagint reads, “Kai epi tw onomati autou eqnh elpison.” Which is also roughly translated, “And upon His Name, Gentiles will hope.”  Again, here are the verses linguistically, now let’s dissect their meanings and I believe we will arrive at a consensus of ideas if not of words.

     First, we will begin with the Hebrew.  The first word of the verse is “WjrWtlO” Let the dissection begin.  The “O” in the beginning of the word is called the conjunctive vav and it is the most frequently occurring word in all of the Old Testament (over 50,000 times).  Its meaning is “and, even, but, or also.” The Hebrew student will notice that this is also a vowel called a “shoorook” which makes the sound “oo”.  It is different from the consonant vav but when the conjunctive vav is attached, it oftentimes will become a “shoorook” which changes it pronunciation but does not change its translation. The “l” which follows is called an inseparable preposition.  They are called inseparable prepositions because they attach to the root word and become part of that word.  With the lamid “l”, the meaning is “to, toward, for.”  The next part of the word is “hrWt” and is pronounced “torah.”  One need not be a Hebrew scholar to determine the meaning of this word, it is “law.”  Lastly, the “W” on the end of the root word is called a pronominal suffix.  Its meaning is simply third person or “His.”  So, to summarize all that encompasses this first word, “And for His Law” is the literal translation.  The next word “mya” is an obscure Hebrew word.  It is roughly translated,, “regions or coastlands.”  However, we must consider what this word would have meant to the Jewish people of the 1st century and the subsequent time previous, particularly, to the time when the rabbis where translating the Septuagint.  All the “regions” surrounding Israel were bordered by the Mediterranean Sea.  The passage must be referring to the peoples of those coastlands that they would be the ones hoping or trusting in His Law.  The rabbis of the Septuagint translated that word “eqnh” in the Greek.  The Greek meaning of this word is actually “race; people, or the Gentiles.”  From the Jewish perspective the people of the coastlands would be considered the “eqnh” of the coastlands.  This is evident in the New Testament with the writing of Paul. He refers to the Gentile Christians as “eqnh” (please see Romans 10:13, 15:27, 16:4, Gal 2:12)  so, our first discrepancy is resolved.  The coastlands and the Gentiles are really referring to the same group of people.  To reiterate, the Masoretic text and the Septuagint are using different words but they are saying the same things.  Now, what we have from the Hebrew so far is, “And for His Law, the Coastlands (or the peoples dwelling therein, namely the Gentiles).”  The final Hebrew word is “ljy”.  This is a fantastic Hebrew word.  The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament explains it much better than I could.  It states, “This “yahal” is not a pacifying wish of the imagination which drowns out troubles, nor is it uncertain, but rather “yahal” is the solid ground of expectation for the righteous.  As such it is directed towards God…no greater testimony to such confident expectation is given than when Job cries out, “Though He slay me, I will hope in Him.” (Job 13:15).” (1)  This type of “hope” for the Gentiles can only come through the Messiah of Israel.  Without Him, we are a lost cause.  Hence, the passage in question is strongly Messianic and refers particularly to the ministry of Jesus to the Gentiles.  Let’s put this together:  “And for His Law, the coastlands (the people dwelling therein, the Gentiles) will hope.” This seems to reconcile any apparent discrepancies between Gentiles and coastlands,  However, there is another discrepancy that needs to be cleared up.  Mainly, Law vs Name.

     The Greek reads, ““Kai epi tw onomati autou eqnh elpison.”  Again, this is roughly translated, “And upon His name, the gentiles will hope.”  Having cleared up the issue of the Gentiles, let us move into “the name.”  The Greek word “onomati” means “fame, reputation, character, and the sum of all a person is.”  The rabbis who translated the Septuagint, used this word as a reference to the Messiah (This is my own supposition.)  Meaning, that in His character and Person will all the nations hope.  Here is the first point of the verse.  That the character of Messiah would be such that it would usher in order and good government which the nations of the world would confidently place all their expectations.  In His complete character comes Law.  Here is the second point, for the ministry of the messiah to establish a system of lawlessness would be outside of the bounds of His character.   Modern theologians would have us believe that Messiah would come and “do away with the Law” and establish a system of lawlessness. This doesn’t seem to make much sense for two reasons.  First, Jeremiah testifies, “Why does the land perish and burn up like a wilderness, so, that no one can pass through it?  And the LORD said, ‘Because they have forsaken My law which I set before them, and have not obeyed My voice, nor walked according to it, but they have walked according to the dictates (“Imaginations” in Hebrew) of their own hearts and after the Baals, which their father taught them.” (Jeremiah 9:12-13) For the Messiah to come and “do away with the law” and establish a system of lawlessness, would not make any sense.  Why would God send Messiah to reconcile us so that we can live a lifestyle that is exactly like the lifestyle of the children of Israel when he sent them into exile?  Secondly, Paul clarifies this in the New Testament.  He writes, “Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one’s slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness?”  What the apostle is saying is that it makes no sense for Messiah to “set us free to commit sin or break the Law” because this would make us slaves of sin.  Messiah has set us free for obedience out of love and not out of fear.  Thus, Paul clarifies, “And having been set free form sin, you became slaves of righteousness.” And again, “But now having been set free form sin, and having become slaves of God you have your fruit to holiness, and the end, everlasting life.” (Romans 5:16-18-22)  For pastors and theologians to tell us that Messiah has nailed the law to the cross is simply not acceptable.  The character and nature of God is to establish order and government.  This must have been the intention of the rabbis translating the Septuagint.  Torah finds its ultimate fulfillment in Messiah.  The very character and nature of Messiah and His ministry towards us establishes order and government by making the goals and proposals of the law possible.  Through Jesus, it’s possible to consistently love God and love your neighbor as yourself.  The Law without the Messiah is an incomplete system.  This is why the Old covenant needed to be updated with something New.  However, Messiah without Torah makes no sense either.  It creates a lawless system.  The Messiah establishes upon the earth a system of good government by making the demands of the law an achievable reality in the life of all who believe in His name, both Jew and Gentiles, through the Holy Spirit.

     All of these principles find agreement in the first part of the passage. In the passages quoted at the beginning of the article, the word “justice” is mentioned three times.  It is something that Messiah is going to “establish.”  The Hebrew word for justice is the word “tpvm” which is pronounced, “mishphat.”  Justice doesn’t quite effectively convey the essence of this Hebrew word.  An example of what it means may readily explain what it means.  Solomon, when he prays for wisdom, asks God to give him wisdom so that he can “misphat” the children of Israel.  Mishphat means to establish an order.  The establishment of the correct understanding of order or government.  The essence is the establishment of an order where justice is the normal function of the established system.  This word has also been translated as manner or custom meaning that the system that is established yields a social more or law that all are expected to order their lives according too.  Mainly, that of Torah, according to this passage.  The Greek word that is used in the Septuagint carries a very similar meaning but also carries the idea of separation.  This implies that judgment will separate the people of justice from the people of lawlessness.  This is exactly the function of a life ordered around the torah, it separates from the world making one holy.

Another Possibility

.  In all fairness, there may be another explanation for the discrepancies in the text.  We may be seeing a corruption of the Septuagint by pro-anti-nominal Christian (anti-nominal means without law or torah) scribes.  This is a possibility for two distinct reasons.  First, the Greek word for torah is very similar to the Greek word for name.  The Greek word for Torah is “nomos” pronounced “nomos.”  The Greek word used in the passage for name is “onomos.”  The simple addition of an “o” can completely negate the role of law and replace it with name.  It is a faulty theology, as we have already established that God would not establish a system of lawlessness for this is out of order with His character.  Secondly, the other manuscripts of the Old Testament (The Dead Sea Scrolls, The Latin Vulgate, the Aramaic Peshitta, the Masoretic text) all use the word law.  This points to an issue with the Greek of the Septuagint.  Even if the passage has been corrupted, we can still obtain its original meaning, as we have demonstrated above. Isaiah is telling us here that Messiah would establish a system of government for the Jews and the Gentiles that are hoping and trusting in His name.  That system of order would be His law or, the Torah. It was long held by Jewish rabbis that Messiah would come and completely explain the Law of Moses.  This is so evident with Jesus in his “Sermon on the mount” and in the “Sermon on the plain.” 

     In conclusion, the Messiah of Israel will establish a system of justice and order.  The torah finds its ultimate fulfillment in the Messiah.  The believer that accepts Torah as a standard of holiness and orders their life according to it by the power of the Holy Spirit, will find fulfillment of all the promises that the law has given.  It is the way of “life” and it is beautiful.

 

 

 

Endnotes

  1. Harris, Laird R., Archer, Gleason L., Waltke, Bruce K., Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament.” Moody Publishers, Chicago, IL, 1980, page 373.