The Church Under Marcion’s Shadow, An Investigation Into his Prologues

       Marcion was born in 100 AD  in Sinope in Asia Minor.  He was raised in the apostolic faith and his father was a leader in the church.  Marcion devoted himself to studying scripture and later came to the conclusion that only Paul saw the message of Jesus with purity.  “Marcion came to Rome about A.D. 140, and there founded a sect which persisted for many years.  His distinctive doctrine was that the Old Testament was inferior to the New and had been rendered obsolete by Christ.  Marcion stressed the contrast between the two testaments so far as to say that the god revealed in the one was quite a different being from the God revealed in the other.  The righteous God, the Creator, Israel’s Jehovah, revealed in the Old Testament was different and inferior deity to the good God revealed by Jesus under the name ‘Father’ this, Marcion thought, was rendered sufficiently obvious by the fact that it was the worshippers of the righteous God of the Old Testament who sent the Revealer of the good God to His death.  Marcion, therefore, repudiated the authority of the Old Testament, and defined the Christian canon as consisting of one Gospel and a collection of ten Pauline epistles.  Paul, to Marcion’s way of thinking, was the only real apostle of Christ, who had remained true to His mind and revelation.” (1)  His theology was a blend of Gnosticism and Christianity.

Marcion was convinced that all the early apostles, including Peter, got the message of Jesus all wrong and only Paul had retained the true gospel.  To Marcion, the false apostles of the New Testament were actually Peter, John, James, and Apollos.  The one true apostle, Paul, had to follow after them and correct their teaching.  (Marcion’s basis for this was primarily the book of Galatians)  Marcion set out to develop his own “canon” of scripture that supported his views.  He rejected all the gospels and apostolic writing except for Luke and the writing of Paul.   In regards to Luke, Marcion edited out all references that support the Old Testament.  In July of 144,the church out rightly rejected Marcion but he continued to have influence for a number of years.  That influence is still within the church today and it is the theology that the Old Testament “has been done away with.”  This is evident in the Marcionite prologues to the epistles that the church retained from ancient origin.

     A prologue is a short summary (a type of twitter if you will) statement that Marcion placed at the beginnings of each of his books.  It gives a short synopsis of what the book was about.  For example, Marcion’s prologue to the epistle to the Romans reads, “The Romans are in the regions of Italy. They had been reached by false apostles and under the name of our Lord Jesus Christ they were led away into the law and the prophets. The apostle calls them back to the true evangelical faith, writing to them from Corinth.”  The anti-old testament theology is, of course, evident in this prologue.  These prologues exist in a number of copies of the Latin Vulgate, including the codex Fuldenesis of 546 AD.  “The codex Fuldensis, now in the Landesbibliothek of Fulda was written between AD 541 and 546 at Capua by order of Victor, the bishop of that see, and was corrected by him personally.” (2)  Please take note that the bishops of the see himself, Victor, edited the copy of this Vulgate.  This means that Victor included the prologues as part of his theology.  This demonstrates that the anti-nominal viewpoint was already deeply entrenched in the church by this time frame.  However, there is further evidence that points to an original that is deeper.  Notice that in the prologue to the Romans, the writer has to tell his readers that “The Romans are in the regions of Italy” certainly, as Adolf von Harnack points out, no western theologian would’ve written this.  Hence, the original was probably in the Greek language.
The church just adopted them into their canon.  Bruce Metzger writes, “Later the Catholic Church took over these Prologues practically unaltered.” (3) They have an ancient root that has continued throughout the centuries.  Again Metzger, “For centuries they have been a regular part of the Latin New Testament, and were taken over in pre-Reformation vernacular versions of the Bible.” (4)  Hence, the Marcionite theology that the Old Testament has been “done away with” successfully infiltrated the Catholic church and the subsequent churches/denominations that have been established since the Reformation.  Now, it is just so old that no one recognizes it as a heresy.  It has become the norm.

     Ironically, it was a Benedictine scholar named Donatien De Bruyne that discovered the origin of these prologues.  His work won almost immediate acceptance by the scholars of his day.  The one question that remains unanswered is “why?”  Why would the Catholic Church adopt the prologues of a notorious heretic as Marcion?  As far as I know, nobody knows.  Any suggestions, at this point, would be merely conjecture and I will refrain from that.  Suffice it to say, that the theology that the Old Testament has been done away with has a definite root in the writings of an early church heretic.

   Here are the remainders of the Prologues:

Prologue to the epistle to the Romans:

The Romans are in the regions of Italy. They had been reached by false apostles and under the name of our Lord Jesus Christ they were led away into the law and the prophets. The apostle calls them back to the true evangelical faith, writing to them from Corinth.

Prologue to the epistle to the Galatians:

The Galatians are Greeks. They at first accepted the word of truth from the apostle, but after his departure they were tempted by false apostles to be converted to the law and circumcision. The apostle calls them back to the faith of truth, writing to them from Ephesus.

Prologue to the epistle to Titus:

He warns and instructs Titus concerning the constitution of the presbytery and concerning spiritual conversation and heretics to be avoided who believe in the Jewish scriptures.

 

Endnotes

  1. 1.       Bruce, F.F. “The Books and The Parchments”, Revel Books, Old Tappan New Jersey, 1963, page 79.
  2. 2.      Metzger, Bruce, Ehrman, Bart, The Text of the New Testament, Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration, Oxford University Press, New York, NY, 2005, page 108.
  3. 3.      Metzger, Bruce, Flack, Elmer, and others, The Text, Canon, and Principal Versions of the Bible, Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, MI, 1956, page 24.
  4. 4.      Metzger, Bruce, The Canon of the New Testament, Claredon Press, Oxford, 1987, page 96.
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Chapter Six: Theologically Motivated Alterations to the Text

     Dr. Ehrman attempts to prove that early scribes altered the New Testament text in order to fit their own theology.  He writes, “The New Testament itself emerged out of these conflicts over God (or gods), as one group of believers acquired more converts than all the others and decided which books should be included in the canon of scripture,  During the second and third centuries, however, there was no agreed upon canon and no agreed upon theology. Instead, there was a wide range of diversity: diverse groups asserting diverse theologies based on diverse written texts, all claiming to be written by apostle of Jesus.” (1)  Basically, Dr. Ehrman would have us believe that “proto-orthodox” scribes are the ones that fashioned the New Testament to fit their own ideologies.  This is preposterous and frankly, it requires more faith to believe Ehrman’s thesis than it does to believe that the New Testament established itself in history.  Bruce Metzger’s book, “The Canon of the New Testament” is regarded by scholars, including Dr. Ehrman, and laypersons alike to be the authority on how the New Testament came into being.  In it, Dr, Metzger writes, “the church did not create the canon, but came to recognize, accept, affirm, and confirm the self-authenticating quality of certain documents that imposed themselves as such upon the Church.  If this fact is obscured, one comes into serious conflict not with dogma but with history.” (2)  These are strong words from a man who is regarded internationally as the greatest of all New Testament textual critics of our time.  According to him, Ehrman has come into serious conflict with history.  Agreed.  Nevertheless, let us press on to consider what Ehrman has to say.

     Ehrman will begin by reiterating that early manuscripts were not solidified and that they can’t really be trusted.  Much of this we have already debunked in the first few chapters of the book.  However, here we will add some things.  Metzger writes, “The Christian community soon discovered how laborious it was to try to find specific passages in their sacred books when they were written in roll form.  Early in the second century (or perhaps even at the close of the first century), the codex or leaf form of book, came into use in the Church.  A codex was made by folding one or more sheets of papyrus in the middle and sewing them together, Christians found that this for had a number of advantages over the roll:  1)  it permitted all four Gospels or all the Epistles of Paul to be bound intone book, a format that was impossible so long as the roll was used; 2)  it facilitated the consultation of proof texts; and 3) it was better adapted to receiving writing on both sides of the page, thus keeping the cost of production down.” (3)  Ehrman is not willing to admit that this is more organization than he wants his readers of Misquoting Jesus to know, so he doesn’t mention it.  However, Ehrman himself knows this because he co-wrote this book with Bruce Metzger.  Hence, he doesn’t present an unbiased opinion in Misquoting Jesus because if he did, the premise behind Misquoting Jesus would fall, particularly in this section.

     The basic thesis behind the remainder of the book is a repackaged form of Ehrman’s book, “The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture.”  This thesis is that there were competing ideas of what Christianity was, and, when the orthodox had obtained the major following by winning more converts, they altered the text to fit their theology.  As we have already stated, this supposition is a stretch.  Perhaps a brief synopsis of how the New Testament came into being would be in order because lots of this information Ehrman glosses over. Then, he will present a few passages from the gospels to support his thesis.  But, we should be wise to review all the history.

     Eusebius quotes a church father named Papias in his history.  We have already seen this in the section on the “Defense of the Marcan Appendix.”  Papias tells us that Mark recorded the teachings of Peter, some have suggested memorized (4) and then recorded them down at the request of the church. Many suggest that this was very early and that Mark is the earliest of the gospels, even as early as 50’s AD.  It is apparent that Mark was a primary source for Luke and Matthew, as previously noted 600 some verses of Mark are reproduced in Matthew and Luke.  This gives them a date of between 60-80 AD.  Additionally, Eusebius tells that Matthew was originally written in Hebrew, which would also give a date before 70AD and the fall of the temple.  John was the last gospel composed, near the end of the apostles life, and most scholars date it around 90-100 AD.  Early manuscript evidence for gospels being placed together points to about AD 125.  P 4, P64, P67, are very early second century manuscripts that contain all four gospels.  This is significant because it points to a widespread distributed codex (a collection of all four gospels) within a hundred years of the crucifixion.  It is also significant because all four gospels would’ve been recognized as having authority early in the development of the church.  Additionally, the letters of Paul and Acts are included in these manuscripts.  Additionally, this tells us that a Pauline corpus was developed very early as well.  Most agree that all of Paul’s letter were written before late 60’s AD before his martyrdom. Thus, within a few short years, the Pauline corpus was formulated and widely circulated among the church.  Please keep in mind that all of this took place very early in the church before the mid second century.  Thus, as Bruce Metzger has already pointed out and FF Bruce will reiterate, “People frequently speak and write as if the authority with which the books of the Bible are invested in the minds of Christians is the result of their having been included in the sacred list.  But the historical fact is the other way about; they were and are included in the list because they were acknowledged as authoritative…Both logically and historically, authority precedes canonicity…We are not dealing so much with the recognition of the Biblical oracles a authoritative as with the formation of a canon of those writings which had already the stamp of authority upon them.” (5)  Ehrman will argue that the manuscripts were “in-flux” and wouldn’t be finalized until after proto-orthodox scribes pushing a theological position would alter the text.  We will demonstrate how this is fanciful logic.

     The fact that centuries ago, not much unlike today, a vast array of Christian theologies existed doesn’t necessarily mean that the bulk of the text was corrupted to solidify a particular sects core beliefs. It seems more likely that the church Fathers including Tertullian, Ireaneus, and Justin developed their theologies from what was written rather than from writing them themselves.  Meaning, they developed their teachings from the apostolic writings, which we have already demonstrated, to have been widely recognized as having authority.  So, let us press into Ehrman’s position.

Anti-adoptionist Changes to the Text

     Ehrman present two different ideas concerning exactly when Jesus became the “Son of God.”  There is a school of thought (Both in ancient history and kept alive today by the Jehovah Witness and the Mormons) that Jesus was not “born divine.”  That, at His baptism, the Father “adopted Him” as His Son and that’s when he became divine with the subsequent baptism of the Holy Spirit.  Thus, Christ was never a pre-incarnate being but was flesh and blood and just a man until His baptism by John.  The premise is that because of His good life and works, the Father was so well pleased in Him to adopt Him as His Son.  Thus, the Mormon theology is developed, “As man is, God was, and as God is, man can become.”  There is a plethora of scriptures that debunk this theology and I won’t full discuss them here as Ehrman doesn’t mention them.  I will list them for the perusal of the reader and then we will discuss Ehrman’s arguments of the textual variants that he supposed are evidence of proto-orthodox scribes editing out adoptionist theology.  Here they are:  John 1:1-4; Col1:16; Eph 3:19; Phil 2:5-11, and Hebrews 1:1-4.  The Christology of these passages is not really disputed and many of them(Particularly Philippians 2:5-11 may be very old oral tradition that found its way into the text of scripture which gives it a very early date, before the development of the Pauline corpus, around 30-40 AD) are very archaic.  Setting these five witnesses aside, let’s consider Ehrman’s argument.

     Ehrman begins by making two different arguments where Joseph is referred to as the “father” of Jesus.  Older manuscript support the reading as “father” but later scribes changed the reading and replaced father with Joseph. Their motive was to clarify, perhaps, that Joseph was not the real father.  What does this change really tell us about the divinity of Christ?  Nothing!  Even if father is left in the text, Luke has painstakingly established the virgin birth of Messiah in his first chapter.  Additionally, Joseph would not have been referred to, in Jewish culture, as the “step-father.”  He would have been considered the “father” of the baby.  This is the way that God set it up according to Luke.  This same argument can be made for the incident where Jesus is left in Jerusalem and his “parents” find Him in the Temple.  Of course, Ehrman leaves out the text where Jesus responds, “Did you not know that I would be in My Father House?” (Luke 2:49)  Even if the reading was “his mother and father were looking for Him”, in light of what we have already said, it wouldn’t matter if the reading was “his parents” or “his mother and father.”

     Another interesting variant that Ehrman brings up is the account of the voice from heaven at Jesus baptism.  The common reading of “in whom I am will pleased” may very well be a later interpolation, and an older variant is “Today, I have begotten you.”  His evidence that the original is the latter is threefold.  First, it exist in an old Greek manuscript and in some Latin ones, Secondly, it is quoted by server early church fathers, and lastly, it is the most unlikely reading.  Would this reading make the adoptionist viewpoint a biblical possibility?  Not likely. Ehrman himself explains, “Luke probably did not mean that to be interpreted adoptionistically, since, after all, he had already narrated an account of Jesus’ virgin birth ( In chapters 1-2) But later Christian reading Luke 3:22 may have been take aback by its potential implications as it seems open to an adoptionistic interpretation.” (6)  So, if the older reading is correct, what does this change?  Nothing!  It could even been interpreted as a prophetic fulfillment of Psalm 2, which is a very Messianic Psalm.   So, did proto-orthodox scribes change this to push their theological agenda?  Even if they did, “the original” wouldn’t support adoptionist theology and there is a ton of other scriptures that could be cited against it as well.

I Timothy 3:16

“God (Who) was manifested in the flesh,

Justified in the Spirit

Seen by angels

Preached among the Gentiles

Believed on in the world,

Received up in glory”

 

     Ehrman here revisits a point that we touched on earlier but didn’t full develop.  This passage, which may represent a pre-biblical piece of oral tradition/hymn, has a variant in the first line.  I have included what the “original” probably says in parenthesis, mainly, “Who.”  Ehrman describes how an early textual critic named JJ Wettstein examined the Codex Alexandrinus and discovered a variant that eventually led him away from the faith.  Ehrman writes, “Wettstein examined the Codex Alexandrinus, no in the British Library, and determined that in I Timothy 3:16, where later manuscripts speak of Christ as “God made manifest in the flesh,” this early manuscript originally spoke, instead of Christ “who was made manifest in the flesh.”  The change is very slight in Greek—it is the difference between a theta and an omicron, which look very much alike (QE vs. OE).” (7)  So, let’s suppose that the original reading is “Who” which is, in all probability, the original.  What does this mean?  Well, to begin with it is an ancient hymn or piece of oral tradition that Paul relates to Timothy. This scribal variant from “God” to “Who” takes nothing away from the divinity of Christ.  In fact, it agrees with John 1:1 where the “Word” becomes flesh.  The fact that the “Who” had to be “manifested in the flesh” tends to led us to a pre-incarnate condition of Christ.  Again, this variant changes nothing of our Christology.  The variant may have been introduced by a zealous scribe who, despite his ideological desires to solidify the incarnation, mistakenly changed the text to suit that agenda.  However, the original doesn’t really effect the presentation of Christ as pre-incarnate in the bulk of the New Testament.

John 1:18:  The Unique God verses the Unique Son

“No One has seen God at any time.  The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has declared Him.” (John 1:18 NKJV)

     The variant we will look at in this verse deals with the phrase “Only-begotten-son.”  To begin with, the Greek phrase is, “monogens Qeos.” To begin with the word, “monogens” is perhaps better translated as “unique.”  The literal translation would be “a single of its kind.”  So, we can say that “unique” is a possible translation but “one of a kind” is probably more accurate.  Even Ehrman will state that the reading, “the Unique God” is the one found in the oldest and most reliable manuscripts.  However, he makes a good point about the internal evidence.  He says tha the phrase is never really repeated throughout the gospel of John while the phrase, “the unique Son” is found in John’s gospel.  Ehrman will postulate that the “Unique God” rendering could’ve been a variant started with the Alexandrian scribes and then continued.  This is possible.  Even if it is, then the reading will be “The Unique Son” which again changes nothing of our Christology. (8) Even if we can acquiesce to the thesis that Ehrman is correct with the reading, it, yet again, demonstrates nothing of adversity to the Christ of the New Testament.

Anti-Docetic Changes of the Text

     Docetism is “An early teaching, regarded as heretical, according to which Christ’s incarnation (i.e. taking human form) was only a matter of appearance (Gk dokeo “seem”).  Thus His suffering, death, and resurrection were aspects of the human Jesus’ life in which the divine Christ did not participate (That nature having withdrawn prior to these events). (9)  We must reiterate here that many antidocetic doctrines are abundant in many undisputed places of scripture.  We will, again, not dive into them as Ehrman doesn’t touch on them either.  I will list them here for the reader’s perusal as well as for the reader’s edification that antidocetic viewpoints do not rise or fall on the textual variants that Ehrman will describe.  The biblical doctrine against this teaching predates any “proto-orthodox” scribes.  Please see John 1:1-14; I John 1:1-7. I John 4:2, 2 John 7.

     Ehrman will, yet again, state the thesis that “proto-orthodox” scribes will alter the New Testament to fit their theology.  We will argue that this is absurd.  We will see that the oral traditions and doctrines of the apostles were recorded in scripture and then the church father developed their theology from them and not vice versa.  In fact, we will demonstrate that it was the heretics that altered the scriptures to fit their own doctrines.  Therefore, it is of no coincidence that Ehrman’s textual variants arise from one gospel, that of Luke, because it was also the favorite of the early church heretic Marcion.

     Ehrman will return to an argument that he developed in the last chapter and one that we have previously answered.  However, since he brings it up here, we will answer his additions.  He takes us back to Luke 22:43-44.  He writes, “Why, though, did scribes add them to the account?  We are now in a position to answer that question.  It is notable that these verses are alluded to three times by proto-orthodox authors of the mid to late second century (Just Martyr, Irenaues of Gaul, and Hippolytus of Rome); and what is more intriguing still, each time they are mentioned it is in order to counter the view that Jesus was not a real human being.  That is, the deep anguish that Jesus experiences according to these verses was taken to show that he really was a human being that he really could suffer like the rest of us.  Thus, for example, the early Christian apologist Just, after observing that “his sweat fell down like drops of blood while he was praying,” claims that this showed “that the Father wished His Son really to undergo such suffering for our sakes,” so that we “: may mot say that he, being the Son of God, did not feel what was happening to him and inflicted on him.  In other words, Just and his proto-orthodox colleagues understood that the verses showed in graphic form that Jesus did not merely “appear” to be human: he really was human, in every way.  It seems likely, then, that since, as we have seen these verses were not originally part of the gospel of Luke, they were added for an antidocetic purpose, because they portrayed so well the real humanity of Jesus.” (10)  As we have previously listed, there were plenty of other scriptures that Justin could’ve used to demonstrate the same thing.  The fact that Justin and all the other church fathers point to the scriptures as a basis for their doctrine tells us how they viewed the documents.  Additionally, the documents in question were already codified into the “Gospels” by this time as we have previously demonstrated.  It takes more faith to believe that a “proto-orthodox” coup co-opted all the manuscripts and changed them to match their theology.  It takes less faith to believe the testimony of history that testifies that the documents became the basis from which the church drew her doctrine and that it was the heretics that changed them to meet their theologies.  Marcion, is a case in point.

     Marcion was born in 100 AD. (at such a time the New Testament was written and already being codified) in Sinope in Asia Minor.  He was raised in the apostolic faith and his father was a leader in the church.  Marcion devoted himself to studying scripture and later came to the conclusion that only Paul saw the message of Jesus with purity.  “Marcion came to Rome about A.D. 140, and there founded a sect which persisted for many years.  His distinctive doctrine was that the Old Testament was inferior to the New and had been rendered obsolete by Christ.  Marcion stressed the contrast between the two testaments so far as to say that the god revealed in the one was quite a different being from the God revealed in the other.  The righteous God, the Creator, Israel’s Jehovah, revealed in the Old Testament was different and inferior deity to the good God revealed by Jesus under the name ‘Father’ this, Marcion thought, was rendered sufficiently obvious by the fact that it was the worshippers of the righteous God of the Old Testament who sent the Revealer of the good God to His death.  Marcion, therefore, repudiated the authority of the Old Testament, and defined the Christian canon as consisting of one Gospel and a collection of ten Pauline epistles.  Paul, to Marcion’s way of thinking, was the only real apostle of Christ, who had remained true to His mind and revelation.” (11)  Marcion was the very first to organize a canon of scripture.  He rejected all the gospels except for Luke and all other apostolic epistles except for Paul’s.  Marcion would apparently edit many of them to support his theories.  Hence, was it the proto-orthodox scribes who changed the text or was it the heretic Marcion?  It is interesting that Marcion recognized the authority of the gospels and the epistles and then tweaked them to his own theology.  This is evident because Marcion includes nothing from John who writes volumes of stuff against anti-docetic teachings, perhaps unbeknownst to John.  Marcion did use Luke and it is no coincidence that all of Ehrman’s proto-orthodox changes come from that gospels.  Hence, it point stands that perhaps some scribes did alter the text to prevent someone from repeating the same heresy of Marcion.  However, this doesn’t mean that anti-docetic doctrine only existed from these alterations.  AS I have already argued, the gospel of John was written and viewed as authoritative before Marcion was even born.  John writes gospels and letters contain much against Marcion theology.  Hence, anti-docetic doctrine existed prior to any scribal changes to the gospel of Luke.  So, even if Ehrman is correct, his thesis about proto-orthodox developing doctrine from their textual changes sadly crumbles.  Nevertheless, we will review his variants.

Luke 22:17-19

And taking a cup, giving thanks, He said, Take this and divide it among yourselves,  For I say to you that in no way will I drink from the produce of the vine until the kingdom of God has come.”

     Ehrman takes the position that thee verses as are present in mot translations, are not original.  However, there is some evidence that the long and more common reading/ending is more preferred, in this instant, as original.  Bruce Metzger writes, “Considerations in favor of the originality of the longer text include the following: (a) Then external evidence supporting the shorter reading represents only part of the Western type of text, whereas the other representatives of  the Western text join with witnesses belonging to all the other ancient text-types in support of the longer reading. (b) it is easier to suppose that the Bezan editor, puzzled by the sequence of cup-bread-cup, eliminated the second mention of the cup without being concerned about the inverted order of institution thus produced, than that the editor of the longer version, to rectify the inverted order, brought in from Paul the second mention of the cup, while letting the first mention stand.  (c) The rise of the shorter version can be accounted for in terms of the theory of disciplina arcane i.e. in order to protect the Bucharest from profanation, one or more copies of the Gospel according to Luke, prepared for circulation among non-Christian readers, omitted the sacramental formula after the beginning words…Kenyon and Legg, who prefer the longer form of the text, explain the origin of the other readings as follows”  ‘The whole difficulty arose, in our opinion, from a misunderstanding of the longer version.  The first cup given to the disciples to divide among themselves should be taken in connection with the previous verse (ver 16) as referring to the eating of the Passover with them at the reunion in Heaven.  This is fooled by the institution of the Sacrament, to be repeated continually on earth in memory of Him.  This gives an intelligible meaning to the whole, while at the same time it is easy to see that it would occasion difficulties of interpretation, which would give rise to the attempts at revise that appear in various forms of the shorter versions.’” (12)  This explanation seems to make much more sense than a “proto-orthodox” element that modified all the text.

Luke 24:12

“But rising up, Peter ran to the tomb, and stooping down he saw the linen lying alone. An d he went away wondering to himself at what had happened.”

 

     Ehrman writes, “There are excellent reasons for thinking that this verse was not originally part of Luke’s Gospel.  It contains a large number of stylistic features found nowhere else in Luke, including most of the key words of the text, for example, ‘stooping down’ and ‘linen cloths’ (a different word was sued for Jesus’ burial cloths earlier in the account.)  Moreover, it is hard to see why someone would want to remove this verse, if it actually formed part of the Gospel (again, there is no homoeoteleuton, etc., to account for an accidental omission).” (13)  However, the Executive committee of the United Bible Societies of the Greek new Testament write, “Although verse 12 is sometimes thought to be an interpolation, derived from Jn 20.3,5,6,10, a majority of the Committee regarded the passage as a natural antecedent to ver.24, and was inclined to explain the similarity with the verses in John as due to the likelihood that both evangelist had drawn upon a common tradition.” (14)  Hence, there is no reason to jump to any major theological decision regarding this verse.

Luke 24:51-52

“Now it came to pass, while He blessed them, that he was parted from them and carried up into heaven.  And they worshiped Him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy.”

     Ehrman writes, “it is interesting to note, however, that in some of our earliest witnesses-including the Alexandrian manuscript Codex Sinaiticus-there is an addition to the text.  After it indicates that ‘he was removed from them,’ in these manuscripts it states, ‘and he was taken up into heaven.’  This is a significant addition because it stresses the physicality of Jesus’ departure at this ascension rather than the bland ‘he was removed’.  In part, this is an intriguing variant because the same author, Luke, in hi second volume, the book of Acts, again narrates Jesus’ ascension into heaven but explicitly states that it took place ‘forty days’ after the resurrection (Acts 1:1-11)  This makes it difficult to believe that Luke wrote the phrase in question in Luke 24:51—since surely he would not think Jesus ascended to heaven on the day of his resurrection if he indicates at the beginning of his second volume that he ascended forty days later.” (15) Suffice it to say, that we could continue to quote scholars who would favor this longer ending. (16)  There is also a theological reason that supports two different ascensions.  The first is the fulfillment of the feast of first fruits (17) and the second is the actual ascension into heaven that marked the end of His ministry and the beginning of the era of the Holy Spirit.

 

Anti-separationist Alterations to the Text

     Ehrman begins this section by giving us an explanation regarding separationism and Gnosticism.  It is a good one, so for those unfamiliar with the terms, we will quote it here.  He writes, “We might call this a ‘separationist’ Christology because it divided Jesus Christ into two:  the man Jesus (who was completely human) and the divine Christ (Who was completely divine).  According to most proponents’ of this view, the man Jesus was temporarily indwelt by the divine being, Christ, enabling him to perform his miracles and deliver his teachings; but before Jesus’ death, the Christ abandoned him, forcing him to face his crucifixion alone.  The separationist Christology was most commonly advocated by groups of Christians that scholars have called Gnostic.  The term Gnosticism comes from the Greek word for knowledge, gnosis.  It is applied to a wide range of groups of early Christians who stressed the importance of secret knowledge for salvation.  According to most of these groups, the material world we live in was not the creation of the one true God.  It came about as a result of a disaster in the divine realm, in which one of the (many) divine beings was from some mysterious reasons excluded from the heavenly places; as a result of her fall from divinity the material world came to be created by a lesser deity, who captured her and imprisoned her in human bodies here on earth.  Some human beings thus have a spark of the divine within, the, and they need to learn the truth of who they are, where they came from, how they got here, and how they can return.  Learning this truth will lead to their salvation.  This truth consists of secret teachings, mysterious ‘knowledge’ (gnosis) which can only be imparted by a divine being from the heavenly realm.” (18) The starting place for Ehrman’s thesis is that Gnosticism and orthodox Christinaity “grew up” together and that orthodox Christianity won the most converts and subsequently, changed the text to meet their agenda and beliefs.  However, Gnosticism did not originate with apostolic teaching but was a later heretical development.  Bruce Metzger points out, “it was not until the mid-second century that the real showdown between the two took place.” (19)  Thus, we see that early NT documents were already widely circulated by this time period.  An orthodox corruption simply is not possible looking that the history.  Nevertheless, we will examine the variants Dr. Ehrman points out.

     The first variant Ehrman discusses is Hebrews 2:9.  This is a verse that we have already considered so it won’t be dealt with here.  Suffice it to say that both readings have spiritual benefit for the Christian and a “Gnostic” or “Anti-Gnostic” agenda need not be the case with this variant.  Again, as with the adoptionist position, a plethora of scripture exist that debunk Gnosticism and none of them are seriously questioned by Ehrman.  John seemed to make it his ambition to debunk Gnosticism (John 1:1-4 and I John 1:1-4)  Ehrman never discuses any of these text.  Thus, even if Ehrman is correct and all the variants we are about to dissect could be proven to support Gnostic viewpoints, there would still remain a largely amount of scripture that debunks it.

Mark 15:34

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me.”

     Ehrman begins his argument with, “We have solid evidence to suggest that some Gnostics took this last saying of Jesus literally, to indicate that it was at this point that the divine Christ departed from Jesus (since divinity cannot experience mortality and death).  The evidence comes from Gnostic documents that reflect on the significance of this moment in Jesus’ life.  Thus, for example, the apocryphal Gospel of Peter, which some have suspected of having a separationist Christology quotes the words in a slightly different from, “My power, O power, you have left me!”  Even more striking is the Gnostic texts known as the Gospel of Phillip in which the verse is quoted and then given a separationist interpretation:  ‘My God, my God, why Lord have you forsaken me?’ For it was on the cross that he said these words, for it was there that he was divided.  Proto-orthodox Christians knew of both these Gospels and their interpretations of this climactic moment of Jesus crucifixion.”  (20) 

     To begin with, most scholars would agree that the Gnostic gospels were not composed until, the earliest in the mid-second century, and the latest in the third or the fourth century.  Mark, as we have already written, began with oral tradition and then was written down before the late 70’s of the first century.  So, which is more likely, that scribes changed Mark to debunk Phillip or Peter, or the writers of the Gnostic gospels tweaked the original of mark to fit their own agenda.  This seems must more plausible than Ehrman’s thesis.  Secondly, Ehrman cites “one” Greek manuscript that quotes a variant.  This means that the other 5,000 or so manuscripts agree with the original wording of Mark which is a quote from Psalm 22:1.  According to Ehrman, these proto orthodox scribes were so driven to alter the text in order to prevent any Gnostic ideas from entering into the text and in their fiery zeal they went out and changed one manuscript!  There is also a few latin manuscripts that contain the variant also.  Meaning, that of the 10,000 or so manuscripts of Latin, a few posses this variant and somehow, this proves an orthodox corruption of scripture?  This just doesn’t seem plausible.

I John 4:2-3

“By this you know the Spirit of God.  Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God; and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God.  This is the spirit of the anti-Christ.”

Dr. Ehrman writes, but there is an interesting textual variant that occurs in the second half of the passage.  Instead of referring to the one ‘that does not confess Jesus,’ several witnesses refer instead to the one ‘that looses Jesus.’  What does that mean –looses Jesus—and why did this textual variant make its way into some manuscripts?  To start with, I should stress that it is not in very many7 manuscripts.  In fact, among the Greek witnesses, it occurs only in the margin of one tenth-century manuscript (Ms. 1739).  But this, as we have seen, is a remarkable manuscript because it appears to have been copied from one of the fourth century, and its marginal notes record the names of church father who had different readings for certain parts of the text.  In this particular instance, the marginal note indicates that the reading ‘looses Jesus’ was known to several late second and early third century church fathers, Irenaeus, Clement, and Origin.  Moreover, it appears in the Latin Vulgate.  Among other things, this shows that the variant was popular during the time in which proto-orthodox Christians were debating with Gnostics over matters of Christology.” (21)  Let me see if I understand this correctly, a tenth century copy of a fourth century manuscript has a marginal note that changes the reading?  Yes, this is correct.  And this is supposed to prove an orthodox corruption of the scripture?  Not likely.

Endnotes

  1.  Ehrman, Bart, Misquoting Jesus, The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why, Harper Collins Pub, New York, NY, 2005, page 153.
  2. Metzger, Bruce, The Canon of the New Testament, Claredon Press, Oxford, 1987, page 287.
  3. Metzger, Bruce, Ehrman, Bart, The Text of the New Testament, Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration, Oxford University Press, New York, NY, 2005, page 12-13.
  4. 4.      See Berger Gerhardssen, “Memory and Manuscript” Eerdmans Publishing Co, Grand Rapids, MI, 1998.
  5. 5.      Bruce, F.F. “The Books and The Parchments”, Revel Books, Old Tappan New jersey, 1963, page 95-96.
  6. 6.      Ehrman, MJ, page 160.
  7. 7.      Ibid, page 157.
  8. 8.      Metzger and the Committee on the Greek New Testament will argue for the “Unique God” to be the original reading.  I have not included their arguments here for brevities sake.  However, the interested reader is referred to, Metzger, Bruce, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament” second Edition, United Bible Societies, USA, page 169-170.  Also for a dissection of Ehrman Greek syntax and exegesis, see Komoazewski, Sawyer, and Wallace, “Re-inventing Jesus, What the Da Vinci Code and Other Novel Speculations Don’t Tell You.” Kregel Publications, 2006, page 290-292 in the endnotes section #24.
  9. 9.      Myers, Allen, The Eerdmans Bible Dictionary, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, MI, 1987.
  10. 10.  Ehrman, MJ, page 165.
  11. 11.  Bruce, F.F. TBATP, page 79.
  12. 12.  Metzger, Bruce, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament” second Edition, United Bible Societies, USA, page 149-150.
  13. 13.  Ehrman, MJ, page 168.
  14. 14.  Metzger, ATCOTGNT., page 157-158.
  15. 15.  Ehrman, MJ, page 169.
  16. 16.  See Metzger, ATCOTGNT, page 162-163.
  17. 17.  see my article entitled,  Jesus and First Sheaf, on my blog www.spiritualenrichment.wordpress.com.
  18. 18.  Ehrman, MJ, page 170-171.
  19. 19.  Metzger, TCONT, page 76.
  20. 20.  Ehrman, MJ, page 172-173.
  21. 21.  Ibid, page 174.