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.
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Chapter 5: Originals That Matter

    Finally, a chapter of this book that I resonate with and, dare I say, love it!  By far, this section is the climax of the book thus far.  Let me give some of the specifics

     Ehrman begins the chapter by providing two brief lessons on types of evidence used in textual criticism.  They are internal and external evidence.  Because many of you may be unfamiliar with these terms, I will give a brief summary of Ehrman’s main points, which are very good.

     External evidence, of a particular text, “has to do with the surviving manuscript support for one reading or another.  Which manuscripts attest to the reading?  Are these manuscripts reliable?  Why are they are reliable or not?  Most scholars today, however, are not at all convinced that the majority of manuscripts necessarily provide the best available test.” (1)  The transmission of the text, the age of it, the place of its origin, as well as, the number of manuscript are all factors of external evidence.  It takes some detective work and ultimately a scholar will choose which texts are reliable.  This can be somewhat subjective as we have seen with the Marcan appendix as well as the Pericope Adulterae. 

     Internal evidence involves two different categories of probabilities.  Intrinsic probabilities are “probabilities based on what the author of the text was himself most likely to have written.  We are able to study, of course, the writing style, the vocabulary, and the theology of an author,.  When two or more variant readings are preserved among our manuscripts, and one of them uses words or stylistic features otherwise not found in that author’s work, or if it represents a point of view that is at variance with what the author otherwise embraces, then it is unlikely that that is what the author wrote—especially if another attested reading coincides perfectly well with the author’s writing elsewhere.” (2)  Again, we have this with the Marcan appendix as well as PA.

     The second kind of internal evidence is transcriptional probabilities.  “This asks, not which reading an author was likely to have written, but which reading a scribe was likely to have created.  Ultimately, this kind of evidence goes back to Bengel’s idea that the “more difficult” reading is more likely to be original.  This is premised on the idea that scribes are more likely to try to correct what they take to be mistakes, to harmonize passages that they regard as contradictory and to bring the theology of a text more into line with their own theology.  Readings that might seem , on the surface, to contain a ‘mistake’  or lack of harmony, or peculiar theology, are therefore more like to have been changed by a scribe than are ‘easier readings.  This criterion is sometimes expressed as:  The reading that best explains the existence of the others is more likely to be original.” (3)  One most realize, of course, that even if the data here is “pretty good” there is a great deal of subjectivity with these criteria.  Be that as it may, Ehrman is going to examine three passages where “the determination of the original text has a significant bearing on how one understands the message of some of the New Testament authors.  As it turns out, in each of these cases I think most English translators have chosen the wrong reading and so present a translation not of the original text but of the text that scribes created when they altered the original.”  This will be Ehrmans premise as he dissects three different passages on from Mark, one from Luke, and one from Hebrews.  Again, I love some of his points, and if I love them, they are not drastic changes that somehow alter theology or any doctrinal issue, for that matter, of Christianity.

     To begin with, I love the interpretation that Ehrman presents of Mark 1:42.  I’ve written a subsequent article regarding it but won’t include it here for brevities sake.  The reader is referred to “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry Jesus”  for details.  It is an article that I recommend for my fellow members of the faith.  Before leaving this section, we should draw some attention to Dr. Ehrman’s conclusions regarding the “angry Jesus.” 

     Dr. Ehrman will attempt to make a case that Luke and Matthew edited out Mark’s section about anger.  Dr. Ehrman will take a mustard seed of doubt and turn it into a mountain of unbelief.  He states, “Scholars have long recognized that Mark was the first Gospel to be written, and that both Matthew and Luke used Mark’s account as a source for their own stories about Jesus.  It is possible, then, to examine Matthew and Luke to see how they changed Mark, wherever they tell the same story but in a (more or less) different way.  When we do this, we find that Mathew and Luke have both taken over this story from mark, their common source.  It is striking that Matthew and Luke are almost word for word the same as mark in the leper’s request and in Jesus’ response in verses 40-41. Which word, then, do they use to describe Jesus’ reaction?  Does he become compassionate or angry?  Oddly enough, Matthew and Luke both omit the word altogether.” (4)

     To begin with, I’m not so sure that I agree with Dr. Ehrman’s assessment regarding the parallels of the lepers.  I think it may be misguided for three distinct reasons.  They are the setting, source, and some of the differences n the Greek.  Even if, we set those aside, and agree that Luke and Matthew edited out some sections, does it really create an issue?  Before answering, let me discuss the three objections.

      First, the setting of Matthew 8:2 is that of Jesus coming down of the mountain and not in the synagogue.  Secondly, the setting of Luke is “in a certain city” (Luke 5:12) and, as previously mentioned, Mark 1:40 appears to be n the synagogue.  It is possible that, while these share many commonalities, that they are actually describing three different cleansings of three different lepers.  Thus, the setting of Matthew and Luke do not seem to necessitate an angry reaction from Messiah.  It is very probable that Jesus cleansed more than one leper in his ministry and even more probable that more than one was recorded in the gospels.

     Secondly, it is possible that Matthew and Luke were using another source other than Mark.  Although, Mark seems to be a primary source for both, as FF Bruce notes:  “606 out of the 661 verse of Mark appears in Mathew, and that some 350 of Mark’s verses reappear with little material change in Luke.  Or, to put it another way, out of the 1068 verses of Matthew, about 500 contain material also found in Mark; of the 1,149 verses of Luke, about 350 are paralleled in Mark.  Altogether, there are only 31 verses in Mark which have no parallel either in Matthew or Luke.” (5)  But, Mark may not be the only source.  Luke tells us that he used several eyewitness accounts (Luke 1:2) and Matthew, who traveled with the Lord, may have just used his own memory when writing.  Again, itt seems that Jesus probably cleansed more than just one leper in his entire ministry.  A similar eyewitness account but definitely different may account for similarities but also account for different situations.

     Lastly, there are some differences in the Greek.  Luke and Matthew use the term “kurie”, meaning “Lord” while it is absent from Mark.  They also use the terms “prospon kai prosleqen” which are more worshipful and reverent terms.  Hence, since the lepers approaching seemingly had some idea of who they were addressing and seemingly had some regard for others, there may have been no reason for any anger.  Perhaps, Dr. Ehrman assessment about the editing out of the words is a bit hasty.

     In all fairness, there are some striking parallels between the accounts.  First, the Greek of what the lepers say is exactly the same, even the use of the subjunctive mood.  Secondly, Jesus response is exactly the same in Greek minus the anger and rebuking and casting out stuff from Mark.  Thirdly, the healing command is the same in Greek.  Finally, all are sent to the priest as a witness to offer the requirements of Moses.  For the sake of argument, let’s suppose that Dr. Ehrman is right and Luke and Matthew edited out the angry Jesus.  (Even thought we have demonstrated that this is unlikely)  What does this do?

     Not much!  Each author presented his own work to a different target audience.  Luke was writing to recently converted Christians who had largely lived in a polytheistic society completely removed from Jewish roots and customs.  For Luke to include “angry Jesus at the synagogue” would have required some extensive explanations that really aren’t necessary for the essence of the text.  So, for the sake of simplicity, Luke may have edited it out.  So what?

     Matthew may very well have done the same thing to avoid similar situations with his target audience.  Certainly, this is very plausible and it detracts nothing from the text.  The same arguments can be made for the other passages regarding anger in mark 3:15; and Mark 10:14.

 

Luke 22: 43& 44

“And an angel from heaven appeared to him, strengthening him.  And being in agony he began to pray yet more fervently and his sweat became like drops of blood falling to the ground.”

     The thesis of Ehrman’s argument is this:  The manuscripts that are known to be earliest and that are generally conceded to be the best (the Alexandrian text) do not, as a rule, include these verses.  So, perhaps they are a later, scribal addition.  On the other hand, they verses are found in several other early witnesses and are, on the whole, widely distributed throughout the entire manuscript tradition.  So were they added by scribes who wanted them in or deleted by scribes who wanted them out?  It is difficult to say on the basis of the manuscripts themselves.” (6)  He also argues that the “literary structure” (here called a chiasmus structure and is Ehrman’s internal evidence against it originality) is employed here and is out of Lukan character.  When this is removed, it presents Jesus in a manner that is more in keeping with the remainder of Luke’s gospel.  Only here, as Ehrman argues, is Jesus presented as not being completely in control.  He writes, “Luke has completely remodeled the scene to show Jesus at peace in the face of death.  The only exception is the account of Jesus’ “bloody sweat,” an account absent from our earliest and best witnesses…It is clear that Luke does not share Mark’s understanding that Jesus was in anguish, bordering on despair.  Nowhere is this more evident than in their subsequent accounts of Jesus’ crucifixion.” (7)  He thus argues that this passage it not genuine, as only here in Luke is Jesus presented as “pout of control.”  What conclusion does Ehrman draw from this?  Mainly, that Luke as a gospel is untrustworthy because he edited his primary source, which would’ve been mark.  Luke, therefore, doesn’t present Jesus as an atoning sacrifice.

     In answering this, we will argue from two directions.  First, for the originality of the passage as a piece of oral tradition that is worthy of canonization similar to that of PA.  (Please see post on PA outside the box)  Secondly, that Luke is permitted to edit his work as he saw fit.

     It does seem unlikely that they were part of Luke’s original work.  But, that doesn’t mean that this is an unhistorical event in Jesus life that should be canonized.  Again, like PA we must think outside the box.  Bruce Metzger writes, “Their presence in many manuscripts, some ancient, as well as their citation by Justin, Irenaeus, Hippolytus, Eusebius, and many other Fathers, is proof of the antiquity of the account…While acknowledging that the passage is a later addition to the text, in view of its evident antiquity and its importance in the textual tradition, a majority of the Committee decided to retain the words in the text but to enclose them within double square brackets.” (8)  What this means is that the Committee working with Metzger to produce what they felt was the most accurate “Greek manuscript” considered it to be a mistake to remove it.  They are correct.  Aland and Aland write, “Luke 22:43-44 is placed in double brackets in the Greek text.  This expresses the editors’ conviction that these verses were not a part of the original text of the gospel of Luke.  The fact that they were not removed and relegated to the apparatus, but retained in the text within double brackets indicates that this is recognized as a very early tradition coming at least from the second century if not even earlier (attested by patristic quotations and allusions.” (9)  Additionally, the absence or presence of these verses neither takes away nor adds anything different to the overall presentation of the Messiah in the sum of the gospel narratives.  Furthermore, the fact that the writer of Hebrews makes allusion to it, points to the antiquity of the oral transmission.  In my estimation, this qualifies the passage to be included within the gospel narratives somewhere.  Ehrman argues that its placement in Luke debunks the authority of the gospels, I would argue in the opposite direction.  Mainly, that its placement here, further solidifies the gospel narratives as being very historically reliable.

     Luke is permitted to edit his source.  He is given the license to address the needs of his audience Timothy Jones writes, “Ehrman is correct that Luke’s Gospel doesn’t emphasize Jesus’ death as an atoning sacrifice for people’s sins.  The idea of sacrificial atonement for sins was; after all, more prominent in Jewish theology and Luke was writing for an audience that was more influenced by Greek culture.  For this audience, what was most meaningful wasn’t that Jesus would suffer as a sacrifice for sin. What would impress them was the fact that a person so righteous and so divine would submit himself not only hot live in human flesh but also to die the darkest possible death.  This does not mean, however, that Luke did not view Jesus’ death in terms of atonement.  Neither does it mean that the sacrificial aspects of the crucifixion didn’t i9nterest Luke.  It simply means that sacrificial atonement was not the aspect of Jesus’ death that was most meaningful to Luke’s audience.  So, Luke focused on Jesus as a divine martyr-a different emphasis, to be sure, but not at odds with the other New Testament depictions of Jesus.  Simply put, different emphases do not amount to contradictory understandings of the same event.” (10)  So, different emphasis doesn’t negate historical reliability and the different accounts actually complement each other rather than detract.

Apart from the Grace of God:  Hebrews 2:9

‘But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angles, for the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, that He, by the grace of God, might taste death for everyone.’ (Hebrews 2:9 NKJV)

    To begin with, Ehrman will argue that the passage should read, “apart from God” rather than “by the grace of God.”  We will state our thesis abruptly, So what?  Both are theologically acceptable and have other witnesses in the New Testament.  Ehrmans analysis is somewhat flawed and we will, despite the fact that it doesn’t matter which reading we “land on”, follow along.

     Ehrman will gloss over the enormous amount of external evidence in support for “the grace of God.”  He writes, “I don’t need to go into the intricacies of the manuscript support for the reading “apart from God” except to say that even thought it occurs in only two documents of the tenth century, one of these (Ms. 1739) is known to have been produced from a copy that was at least as ancient as our earliest manuscripts.  Of yet greater interest, the early third century scholar Origen tells us that this was the reading of the majority of manuscripts of his own day.  Other evidence also suggests its early popularity:  it was found in manuscripts known to Ambrose and Jerome in the Latin West, and it is quoted by a range of church writers down to the eleventh century. And so, despite the fact that it is not widely attested among our surviving manuscripts, the reading was at one time supported by strong external evidence.” (11)  Let me just say that, Ehrman’s gloss of the external evidence in for the reading “by the grace of God” is simply, a mistake.  Bruce Metzger writes, “Cariti Qeou, which is very strongly support by good representative of both the Alexandrian and the Western types of text (P46 a A B C D 33 81 330 614 it bg cop).” (12)  Meaning, that the oldest and most reliable manuscripts attest to the reading, “by the grace of God.”  However, Ehrman’s point may still stand and, for the sake of argument, we will play along.  Metzger admits that some older manuscripts have “apart from God” and he also admits that many “Fathers” read the text as “apart from God.”  Metzger will argue that the reading “apart from God” will occur from a scribal error of some type.  He writes, “The reading cwris qeou, appears to have arisen either trough a scribal lapse, misreading Cariti as cwris or more probably, as a marginal gloss (suggested by I Cor 15:27) to explain that everything in verse 8 does not include God; this gloss, being erroneously regarded by a later transcriber as a correction of Cariti Qeou was introduced into the text of verse 9.” (13)  However, Ehrman will argue, “Despite the popularity of the solution, ti is probably too clever by half, and requires too many dubious steps to work.  There is no manuscript that attests both reading in the text (i.e. the correction in the margin or text of verse 8, where it would belong, and the original text of verse 9) Moreover, if a scribe thought that the note was a marginal correction, why did he find it in the margin next to verse 8 rather than verse 9?  Finally, if the scribe who created the noted had done so in reference to I Corinthians, would he not have written “except for God” (the phrase that occurs in the text of I Corinthians) rather than “apart from God.” (14) So, Ehrman makes a great case for his rendering of “apart from God.”  What does this tell us?  Bravo!  In the case of the crucifixion it is not “either/or” it is “both/and” meaning that Jesus died both “apart from God” and by the “grace of God.”  Nothing in this changes anything about he presentation of Jesus in the New Testament.  If anything, it validates the older argument from Mark which again, makes the basis for the New Testament that much more reliable as Ehrman’s reading supports the oldest witness of the synoptic gospels.  This is wonderful news for Christianity.

       Finally, Ehrman treatment of the Origen is not accurate.  Ehrman knows that the church father Origen agrees with everything that I’m saying because in a different book he writes, “Similarly Origen notices the two reading in Heb 2:9 “apart from God and “by the grace of God” but is not interested in deciding between them, for he finds spiritual significance in both.” (15)  Why doesn’t Ehrman tell us this in Misquoting Jesus when he tells us this in a book that released the same year as Misquoting Jesus?  I don’t know, but at best, it’s simply a lapse of judgment, at worst, it demonstrates his bias and desire to control the flow of information to a largely skeptical and uninformed public.

   

 

Endnotes

  1. 1.        Ehrman, Bart, Misquoting Jesus, The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why, Harper Collins Pub, New York, NY, 2005, page 128.
  2. 2.       Ibid, page 131.
  3. 3.       Ibid, page 131-132.
  4. 4.       Ibid,  page 135.
  5. 5.       Bruce, FF., The New Testament Documents Are they Reliable?, Wilder Publications, Blacksburg VA., 2009 republished, page 23.
  6. 6.       Ehrman, MJ, page 139-140
  7. 7.       Ibid, page 142-143.
  8. 8.       Metzger, Bruce, A Textual Commentary on The Greek New Testament, United Bible Societies, USA, Second Edition, 1971, page 151.
  9. 9.       Aland, Kurt, and Aland, Barbara, The Text of the New Testament, Erdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, MI, second edition, 1981, page 310.
  10. 10.   Jones, Timothy Paul, Misquoting Truth, a Guide to the Fallacies of Bart Ehrman’s Misquoting Jesus.” Intervarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL, 2007, page 75-76.
  11. 11.   Ehrman, MJ, page 145.
  12. 12.   Metzger, page 594.
  13. 13.   Ibid.
  14. 14.   Ehrman, MJ, page 147.
  15. 15.   Metzger, Bruce, Ehrman, Bart, The Text of the New Testament, Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration, Oxford University Press, New York, NY, 2005, page 200.

Sinners in the Hands of an Angry Jesus

     The surviving manuscripts of Mark 1:42 preserve two variant readings.  Here is the passage as Bart Ehrman has translated it.  He writes, “And he came preaching in their synagogues in all of Galilee and casting out demons.  And a leper came to him beseeching him and saying to him, ‘If you wish,you are able to cleanse me.’  And feeling compassion (Greek splangnistheis)/ becoming angry (Orgistheis), reaching out his hand, he touched him and said, “I wish, be cleansed.’  And immediately the leprosy went out from him, and he was cleansed.” (1)  I will differ in the way that Ehrman translates some of this passage, but we will come to that later.  But first, let’s hear what he has to say.  The oldest manuscript which preserves’, “becoming angry” is the codex Bezae.  Now, Dr Ehrman doesn’t give us much external evidence about this particular codex, so I will.

     This manuscript is also known as the “Codex Cantabrigiensis.”  It was “presented in 1581 to the library at Cambridge University by Theodore Beza, the celebrated French scholar who became the successor of Calvin as the leader of the Genevan Church.  Dating from the fifth century, this codex contains most of the text of the four gospels and Acts, with a small fragment of 3 John.  The text is presented in Greek and Latin, the two languages facing each other on opposite pages, the Greek being on the left and the Latin on the right…The Gospels stand in the so-called Western order, with the two apostles first and the two companions of the apostles following, (Mathew, John, Luke and Mark)…No known manuscript has so many and such remarkable variations from what is usually taken to be the normal New Testament text.  Codex Bezae’s special characteristics are the free addition (and occasional omission) of words, sentences, and even incidents…Codex Bezae is the principal representative of the Western text.” (2)  Did you catch what that quote said?  It said that it has more variants than any other manuscript available, which, makes it somewhat of a sketchy source on occasion.  This is somewhat relevant to our point because it is this manuscript that is the primary evidence for Ehrman’s thesis.  I’m not saying that Ehrman’s points are to be dismissed; I’m only presenting a flow of data that Ehrman glosses over.  As far as the Western texts are concerned, they represent a certain group of manuscripts.  There are three groups of text; they are the Western, the Alexandrian, and the Caesarean.  Regarding the Western group as a whole, of which Bezae is the poster child, are considered to be the “undisciplined and wild growth of manuscripts” (3) where many folks where translating as “seemed good to him.” To reiterate, the manuscript for Dr. Ehrman’s thesis may not exactly be the most reliable from an external evidential standard.  Nevertheless, he will make a brilliant argument to support his position.  Hence, we will accept Bezae for the moment as containing the most “accurate reading.”

  He writes, “The fact that one of the readings makes such good sense and is easy to understand is precisely what makes some scholars suspect that it is wrong.  For, as we have seen, scribes also would have preferred the text to be non-problematic and simple to understand.  The question to be asked is this:  which is more likely, that a scribe copying this text would change it to say that Jesus became wrathful instead of compassionate, or to say that Jesus became compassionate instead of wrathful?  Which reading better explains the existence of the other?  When seen from this perspective, the latter is obviously more likely.  The reading that indicates Jesus became angry is the ‘more difficult’ reading and therefore more likely to be original…Mark begins his Gospel by portraying Jesus as a physically and charismatically powerful authority figure who is not to be messed with.  He is introduced by a wild-man prophet in the wilderness; he is cast out from society to do battle in the wilderness with Satan and wild beasts; he returns to call for urgent repentance in the face of imminent coming of God’s judgment, he rips his followers away from their families, he overwhelms his audiences with his authority, he rebukes and overpowers demonic forces that can completely subdue mere mortals; he refuses to accede to popular demand, ignoring people who plead for an audience with him…It is possible that Jesus is being portrayed in the opening scenes of Mark’s Gospel as a powerful figure with a strong will and an agenda of his own, a charismatic authority who doesn’t like to be disturbed?  It would certainly make sense of his response to the healed leper whom he harshly rebukes and then casts out.” (4) Love it!!!

     Paul tells us to “be angry and do not sin.” (Eph 4:26).  For far too long have the church sat castrated in pews sticking to the meek and the mild side.  If Ehrman is correct, the Jesus, on occasion, was far from the meek and mild.  He was a, pardon the expression, a “bad-ass!”   And we, as His followers and imitators, ought to be bad-ass about the things that he was bad-ass about.  We should be angry at unbelief, the devil, disease, sin, doubt, spiritual blindness, demonic oppression, and anything else that sets itself against the mind and will of God. There are only two camps in the spiritual realm.  For far too long has the church lived in compromise with its holiness, lifestyle, and relationship with a cursed and dying world.  We should be angry at the flesh, the world, and the devil. Not only should we be angry towards it, we should act towards it as Jesus acts.  John tells us in no uncertain terms that, “the reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.” (I John 3:8)  Peter tells us the secret of Messiah’s success, “God anointed Jesus o f Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil,.” (Acts 10:38)  We, As His people, should be rightly related to God in such as way that we do the same.  In fact, Jesus tells us that, “the works that I do you will do also, and greater works than these will you do because I go to the Father.” (John 14:12)  I’m beginning to drool here!!!  This is an awesome presentation of Messiah and I think it time that thechurch became angry about some things.  We should respond as He did.  Be angry and do not sin.

     There is some other corroborative evidence for Jesus being angry in the Greek text.  If you will grant me the leisure to perform a little Greek exegetical syntaxical dissection of the verse, a reason for His angry blatantly presents itself.  The Greek of verse 40 reads:

“Kai ercetai pros auton lepos parakalwn auton kai gonupetwn kai legwn autw oti      ean qelns dunasai me kaqarisai.”  

     Indulge me a little and we will quickly come to a plausible reason for Messiah to be angry.  The first two words read, “and coming.”  The etai ending indicates the progressive middle voice.  This means that the action may have repeated over and over again, implying that the leper kept coming and coming and coming.  The middle voice tells us that the subject of the sentence, the leper, identified by the os ending in lepros, makes it the nomitive case.  So, the leper is coming over and over again and something is going to act upon him.  The direct object is generally the one who will do the acting.  In this verse the word auton meaning “Him” is the direct object as evidenced by the “on” ending.  This ending represents the accusative case which is the case for the direct object.  Hence, Him will be doing something upon the leper as the leper keeps coming and coming.  The word pros means to or toward Him.  There are three additional verbs that are written describing the action of the leper and they are parakalwn, gonupetwn, and legwn.  Notice the wn ending with the verbal stem means that this word is a participle written in the nomitive singular.  This tells us that it will describe the action of the subject of the sentence which is the leper.  In English, participles are made by adding “ing” to a verb.  Participles are verbal adjectives.  Hence, the adjectives describing the actions of this beggar are basically, begging, and kneeling, and speaking.  The picture that we have so far is “A leper keeps on coming and coming towards Him and begging, kneeling, and saying over and over again.”  This is the essence of what he will be saying.  “Ean” which means “if” introduces a new mood into the verse.  It is the subjunctive mood.  The subjunctive mood, in Greek, represents an unfulfilled statement in the mind of the speaker.  It bespeaks of a possible future but one that is not certain.  For the passage at hand, our leper has zero faith in the willingness and power of Messiah to heal.  Here is how we know this.  First, he uses the words “qelhs” which would be “if you will it, or have the ability to will it.”  Another definition is, “to be resolved, determined, to purpose.” (5)  The leper is unsure of Messiah purpose, His determination, and His resolve to restore that which has been lost.  And in this case that the “lepers will be cleansed.” (Matthew 11:4).  The next word makes the case even stronger.  The man doubted Jesus “dunasai.” This word means, “the inherent power residing within a thing by the virtue of its nature.” (6)  The leper is not only doubting Messiah ability and willingness to heal but he even doubts if Jesus has the ability to do it.  All of this, probably, takes place in the synagogue as Jesus is attempting to teach.  This might be enough to upset someone.  While this is an issue in and of itself, there were many who came to Jesus in unbelief without His becoming angry.  Perhaps there was something else at work here.  Even though, this might be enough to upset someone who was so spiritually blind that they couldn’t see the things taking place right before their eyes.  The angry could be directed at the hardness of a heart which is so solidified in unbelief that even if miracles were taking place right in front of them, they still wouldn’t have faith.  Remember, it is always those who “had faith” that Jesus praised.  Why?  Because their hearts were open and soft to the movement of God that was taking place before their very eyes.  Much could be said about this in our own day, but it is not really the subject at hand.  Suffice it to say here, that Messiah, and subsequently, we, as His church, should get angry at the hardness of the world’s heart to the movements of God within our own time.  Not only the world’s, but also of those who say that they are Christians and yet they are hardened to the movements of God today.  Having said that, there may be more at issue here than just the hardness of heart of one of God’s people.   Although, this would be enough to spark some anger, there is even more here

     As we have already determined, the coming, begging, and proclaiming of doubt and unbelief by this leper was possibly of a repetitive nature related to the tense of the Greek verbs.  One additional factor should be included.  Mainly, the place where all of this was happening.  Dr. Timothy Jones writes, “It’s important to notice where Jesus was teaching when this healing occurred.  Apparently Jesus was in a synagogue (Mark 1:39) where the Jews of that town had gathered to hear God’s Word.  If so, this man’s presence could have rendered an entire Jewish community unclean!  Although Jesus challenged the traditions that had been added to the Law O Moses, he consistently called his people to live by the laws that God had graciously given them through Moses ( see Mark 1:44)  According to these laws, the leprous man was supposed to have sequestered himself away from his fellow Jews (Leviticus 13).  Instead he placed an entire Jewish community in danger of ceremonial uncleanness.  Is it any wonder that Jesus became angry?” (7)  This paints a totally different picture than that which appears in the English translations.

     This leper had absolutely no concern for the instructions of the Torah regarding leprosy.  He is so caught up in the selfishness of his own condition that he cares little about God and about others.  He completely disregards Torah and completely disregards his fellows and repeatedly came bringing defilement, doubt, and unbelief with him into the most sacred place in the town, the synagogue.  No wonder Messiah gets angry.  It awesome to see that Jesus heals him despite this lepers own plethora of issues. (Grace is not about the behavior and attitude of the leper; it is unmerited favor despite his own problems)  However this is not the end of the story.

     In verse 43, Jesus “sternly charged” the leper according to the English Standard Version.  The actual Greek word is “embrismhsamenos.”  This is a first aorist middle particle as evidenced by the “samenos” ending.  The aorist use here conveys the idea of “afterward.” (8)  (Oftentimes a participle is translated with an English temporal relative clause to give the sense of the time that is being used in Greek.  The Greek doesn’t explicitidly state afterward, but it is understood as such by the use of the first aorist participle.  Hence, to make it translate into English, we would add “afterward.”)  The basic meaning of this word is, “An expression of anger and displeasure…to scold…to be indignant.” (9)  Ehrman translates it “rebuked him severely” and this seems to be the case, and, rightfully so.  Then, after this scolding, Jesus will “cast him out.”  This is the literal readings of verse 43.  (I will spare you all of the gory and perhaps even boring Greek details that render it such as I have already subjected you to the tortuous dissection of verse 42)  The word used for “cast him out” is the verb “ekballw” which also conveys the idea of anger.  This is the same word that is used in verse 39 and is most often associated with the casting out of demonic spirits.  Its basic meaning is, “to cast out, to drive out, and to send with the included notion of more or less violence.” (10)  So, after healing him and severely rebuking him for his actions and attitudes Jesus then throws him out of the synagogue.  But, cast him out to where?  To the priest.   Why? To offer the sacrifices for his cleansing as commanded in the Law of Moses.  Jesus re-orients and disciplines his people away from his misguided and selfish mindset back toward the attitudes and inclinations of God which can be summed up in “love your neighbor as yourself” and “love the Lord thy God.”  Messiah sends the cleansed leper to perform an act of obedience to re-orient him back to the law and the attitudes of God.  Not only does this leper receive his physical healing, he also receives spiritual instruction as to the attitudes of God. This is awesome!!  It is also an expression of His love.  The scriptures tell us that those whom He loves He disciplines.  I love this interpretation of the passage and it seems to fit with evidence from internal as well as external witnesses.

Endnotes

  1. 1.       1. Ehrman, Bart, Misquoting Jesus, The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why, Harper Collins Pub, New York, NY, 2005, page 128.
  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 70-71, 73.
  3. 3.       Ibid, 307.
  4. 4.       Ehrman, MJ, page 137-138.
  5. 5.       Thayer, Joseph, Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, Hendrickson Publishers, Peabody, MA, 2005, page 285.
  6. 6.       Ibid, page 159.
  7. 7.       Jones, Timothy Paul, Misquoting Truth, a Guide to the Fallacies of Bart Ehrman’s Misquoting Jesus.” Intervarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL, 2007, page 73-74.
  8. 8.       Mounce, William, Basics of Biblical Greek, Zondervan Publishers, Grand Rapids, MI, 1993, page 202.
  9. 9.       Bauer, Walter, Gingrich, F.W., Danker, Fredrick, A Greek English Lexicon of the New Testament and Early Christian Literature, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, IL, second edition, 1979, page 254.
  10. 10.   Ibid.

Pericope Adulterae: Outside the Box

    In Misquoting Jesus, Bart Ehrman writes this concerning John 7:53-8:12, “Despite the brilliance of the story, its captivating quality, and its inherent intrigue, there is one other enormous problem that it poses.  As it turns out, it was not originally in the Gospel of John.  In fact, it was not originally part of any of the Gospels.  It was added by later scribes.  How do we know this? In fact, scholars who work on the manuscript tradition have no doubts about this particular case…:  the story is not found in our oldest and best manuscripts of the gospel of John; its writing style is very different from what we find in the rest of John (including the stories immediately before and after); and it includes a large number of words and phrases that are otherwise alien to the Gospel.  The conclusion is unavoidable:  this passage was not originally part of the Gospel.” (1)  In answering this, let us take a look at textual criticism before we dive into discussing the various claims of Ehrman’s statement. 

     The science of textual criticism seeks to restore the original autographs of the New Testament.  As such, the critic invested in this science must believe that such an endeavor is possible.  If it is impossible, then textual criticism ceases to have importance and becomes an extreme exercise in futility.  Who, but a madman, would seek to restore something that he believed was impossible to restore?  So, the critics, in order to continue his endeavors in the science, must somewhere, perhaps deep down in the hidden recesses of the soul, must believe that the original text is attainable.  We have seen this with Dr. Ehrman and noted it already. The point here is this. Despite all the data we have regarding the New Testament, and it is a substantial amount of data (more than any other book in the history of humanity), we still lack the most crucial piece of evidence pertaining to what was in the originals.  Mainly, the originals themselves remain aloof.  Again, in order for the textual critic to say that “this or that passage is not in the originals” is a statement made in arrogance.  We can say that, “according to all the present data that we posses, this or that passage of scripture may be suspect of a later interpolation.  But to say, flat out, that it wasn’t in the original is to say that one has complete knowledge, from beginning to end, of all that is included in the original.  This is the only way to make a complete and absolute statement about the original.  To date, this remains impossible. Hence, here, like with the defense of the Marcan appendix, the attempt will be to mount another plausible defense to the woman caught in adultery (or the Pericope Adulterae as it is often called and abbreviated as PA.  For brevity sake, we will use PA when referring to it from here forward).  It is our supposition that a full and exhaustive view of the data has not been completed by Dr. Ehrman.  It is our opinion that this review will allow for its placement within the canon of scripture.  Additionally, it is our position that to completely axe it from the text, as “Ehrman seems to imply, is, to throw out the proverbial baby with the bath water.  The fact that the Editorial Committee of the United bible Societies of the Greek New Testament headed by Bruce Metzger (who is largely considered the most celebrated textual critic of our time) states, “Although the Committee was unanimous that the periscope was originally no part of the Fourth Gospel, in deference to the evident antiquity of the passage a majority decided to print it, enclosed within double square brackets, at its traditional place following John 7:5” (2) demonstrates that they were responsible enough scholars to agree with what I’m saying here.  We will examine the manuscript evidence for and against PA.  We will also view the writing styles comparatively, and lastly, we will consider whether the incident actually occurred in history and, if so, it is reliable.

 

Manuscripts/External Evidence

     The manuscript evidence against PA is colossal to say the least.  It is the primary piece of evidence that textual critics use to “toss out” the section.  Bruce Metzger writes, “The evidence for the non-Johannine origin of the periscope of the adulteress is overwhelming.  It is absent from such early and diverse manuscripts as P66, 75 a B L N T W X Y D Q Y 0141 0211 22 33 124 157 209 788 828 1230 1241 1242 1253 2193 al. Codices A and C are defective in this part of John, but it is highly probable that neither contained the periscope, for careful measurement discloses that there would not have been space enough on the missing leaves to include the section along with the rest of the text.  In the East the passage is absent from the oldest form of the Syraic version, as well as the Sahidic and the sub-Achmimic versions and the older Bohairic manuscripts.  Some Armenian manuscripts and the Old Georgian version omit it.  In the West the passage is absent from the Gothic version and form several Old Latin manuscripts.  No Greek Church Father prior to Euthymius Zigabenus (twelfth century) comments on the passage, and Euthymius declare that the accurate copies of the Gospel do not contain it.” (3) SHEW!!  WOW!!  If we just took this at face value, and it is very impressive, we might just close the case on it, get out our scissors and systematically remove it from our gospels (even if this were the case, it would change nothing of major Christian doctrine).  However, it is not the end of the story.  There are some manuscripts that do contain it.  Again Metzger, “At the same time the account has all the earmarks of historical veracity.  It is obviously a piece of oral tradition which circulated in certain parts of the Western church and which was subsequently incorporated into various manuscripts at various places.  Most copyists apparently thought that it would interrupt John’s narrative least if it were inserted after 7.52 (D E F G H K M U G 28 P 700 892 al) others placed it after 7.36 (ms 225) or after 7.44 (several Georgina mss.) or after 21.25 (1 55 1076 1570 1582 arm.mss) or after Luke 21.38 (f13).” (4)  Let’s re-cap what Dr. Metzger is saying.  He is taking the position that this is a piece of oral tradition that eventually found its way into the writing of scripture.  This is significant.  In a society, that Dr. Ehrman presents, as being largely illiterate, oral transmission was crucial for the transmission of actual sayings and events of Christ.  This means that this event, in all probability, did happen in the life and ministry of Jesus.  Thus, it may not have been included in the “originals” but nevertheless, deserves a place among them. Hence, many scribes thought to add it and were unsure of where to place it, as Dr. Metzger has pointed out.  Simply because it is not in the same place in all manuscripts, missing from the majority, and appears in different places and at different times, does not mean that it has no place in the canon of scripture.  I would like to ask textual critics to think outside of the box in regards to this passage and regards to this evidence.  PA is certainly unlike any other piece of New Testament scripture.  Perhaps an overall review of this data would permit, if not justify, its continued placement in scripture.  As well as, continuing its right to be seen as an authoritative piece of scripture.  Before leaving the external evidence of manuscripts, I would like to draw our attention to the placement of PA at Luke 21.38.

     The placement of PA in Luke is contained in a group of manuscripts called family 13 or f13.  “In 1868, a professor of Latin at Dublin University, William Hugh Ferrar, discovered that four medieval manuscripts, namely 13, 69, 124, and 346, were closely related textually.  His collations were published posthumously in 1877 by his friend and colleague, T.K. Abbott.  It is known today that this group (the Ferrar group) comprises about a dozen members (including manuscripts 230, 543, 788, 826, 983, 1689, and 1709).  They were copied between the eleventh and fifteenth centuries and are descendants of an archetype that came either from Calabira in southern Italy or from Sicily.” (5)  Kurt and Barbara Aland describes this family as a category III uncial.  This means “Manuscripts of a distinctive character with an independent text, usually important for establishing the original text, but particularly important for the history of the text.” (6)  This tells us that the Greek text that was preserved here in f 13 represented an independent work from the regions in Italy.  This means that there were not any other manuscripts around from which to compare their text.  Hence, it is preserved without much change.  Indeed, “There were of course Greek-speaking enclaves which continued to thrive and preserve their texts well in the medieval period, e.g. in Italy (cf. the manuscript groups of f1 and f 13 which developed in southern Italy).” (7)  What we may be seeing here is an ancient saying that has been preserved for centuries through a largely isolated text.  Given that it was originally a saying, and then preserved in the text in various places, f 13 demonstrates this but it also demonstrates that is can be traced to an ancient root.  Dr. Bart Ehrman explains to us how this makes a manuscript reliable.  He writes, “In terms of logic, suppose a manuscript of the fifth century has one reading, but a manuscript of the eight century ahs a different one.  Is the reading from in the fifth-century manuscript necessarily the older form of the text?  No, not necessarily.  What if the firth-century manuscript had been produced from a copy of the fourth century but the eighth-century manuscript had been produced from one of the third century? In that case, the eight-century manuscript would preserve the older reading.” (8)  Perhaps that is what we are seeing here with f13 and PA.

     While the manuscript evidence appears to be overwhelming, we have here answered that it is largely absent from the oldest and earliest manuscripts because of its early oral transmission.  At some point, it was included into the scripture as authentic only the scribes were unsure of where to place it.  So, the massive case against PA doesn’t quite seem so massive when it is viewed in this context.  This theory is “outside the box” for most textual critics, but then again, real life human events that bear marks of actual history occasionally don’t fit inside of the boxes of Academia.  Many will, but some will not.  PA doesn’t fit in the box.  Does this mean that it should be axed from the text?  I think not. 

Are There Differences in Style and who was the Author?

          The data concerning the internal evidence is somewhat stronger.  There has recently been a surge of scholarship that has discerned the internal evidence in favor of PA.  I think the motivating factor behind this is the desire to show some justification for keeping it in the text despite all the external evidence against it.  No question, that it is a piece of oral tradition really, the question becomes is it reliable oral transmission as it was transmitted at the time or shortly thereafter of Jesus.  Stylistic differences here should demonstrate that the oral transmission is reliable. It style, content, and vocabulary are all strikingly similar to the other gospels.  Hence, it would appear that this oral transmission is historically reliable and it deserves a place in the canon as an actual saying and happening in the life and ministry of Jesus.  Hence, we will demonstrate the similarities, in this section, between PA and the gospels, in particular, John.

     There are 12-15 words used in PA that are found nowhere else in John.  Most of these can be reconciled to the distinction of this occurrence.  Specifically, the vocabulary is different because of the content, being solely a Jewish occurrence and John’s frequent use of language from the Septuagint.  Many of those words are used in the Septuagint and are used here.  For example, the Greek phrase, panti laos is used in this section meaning, “all of the people.” This is the only occurrence of this phrase in John.  (Normally John uses the more common oclos meaning “the crowd).  However,  laos is the common designation used in the Septuagint describing the Jewish people.  Most of the words used here can have a similar explanation.  None of them are earth shattering as far as the case for validity is concerned. It should also be pointed out here that 26 of John’s favorite phrases are used in this section.  That almost 50 percent frequency of the phrases in the section are the favorites of John.  This is particularly compelling.  

     As far as literary patters, Heil has four similarities with the rest of the gospel of John.  He identifies, ‘The Narrator Asides in John 8 and also in John 6.”  Meaning, that the narrator will interrupt the story to give us “aside” comments and details.  Secondly, the phrase, “to throw a stone” is used twice in John 8, once in PA and then later in the chapter.  Thirdly, “Teaching in the Temple” occurs in John 7 and also in John 8.  On a side note, it seems to fit nicely here in the section that details the Feast of Tabernacles.  There would’ve been a huge crowd in Jerusalem as this is one of the commanded pilgrimages.  This may also account for John’s use of os in describing “the people” meaning God’s people who have obediently come up for the feast.  Heil also identifies, the phrase “sin no longer” as being used in PA as well in John 5:14.  All these suggest Johanine similarities, if not, authorship. (9). Another wonderful work concerning the internal evidence supporting PA is done by J.D. Punch.  It is exhaustive and won’t be given in detail here.  However, the reader is referred to his work for further details.  However, we will quote his conclusion here.  He states, “The internal evidence of vocabulary and style may not be as much of a hindrance to belief that Pericope Adulterae is Johannine as at first imagined.  In fact, the evidence actually tends to point in favor of Johannine authorship in many cases.” (10)

    Another possibility is that Luke was the author.  Here is some of the evidence that supports Luke as the author.  (Remember that it is found in Luke in some manuscripts)  My point in including it here is only to validate the oral transmission as reliable.  What I mean is that it has striking similarities to other pieces of scripture which validates its place in the canon.  Here is some of the evidence:

    • The inclusion of the story in some mss. of Luke.
    • The use of unique Lukan or Synoptic vocabulary:
      • orthros (“early” — John 8:2; Luke 24:1, Acts 5:21
      • “all the people” (John 8:2; appears almost 20 times in Luke-Acts, but only 5 times in Mark and Matthew together)
      • paraginomai (“appear” — John 8:2; appears over two dozen times in Luke-Acts, but only 3 times in Matt, once in Mark, and once elsewhere in John)
      • kategoros (“accusers” — found elsewhere only in Acts, 5 times)
      • suneideis (“conscience” — found only here, and twice in Acts)
      • “Mount of Olives”, “scribes and Pharisees”, “eldest” (8:1, 8:3, 8:9) — unique to the Synoptics, other than here in John
    • The story fits well with Luke’s special interest in women. (11)

     At the end of the day, authorship by an apostle doesn’t necessarily qualify the passage as original.  It is possible that PA existed as oral tradition until John penned his gospel, which is the latest of the four, and then he included it.  It is also possible that Luke, by his own admission, collected the account; likewise from oral tradition, and had difficulty placing it somewhere.  It is also possible that a later scribe inserted it recognizing it as a genuine and trustworthy piece of information.  Either way, it seems appropriate that PA deserves a place among the canon.

Historical Evidence

        We have already quoted that Metzger believed that PA was a historical event.  He writes, “It is obviously a piece of oral tradition which circulated in certain parts of the Western church.” (12)  Additionally, FF Bruce had a similar opinion in regards to PA.  He writes, “They constitute, in fact, a fragment of authentic gospel material not originally included in any of the four Gospels.  Its preservation (for which we should be thankful) is due to the fact that it was inserted at what seemed to be a not inappropriate place in the Gospel of John and Luke.” (13) Both of these, trustworthy scholars considered tops in their fields, regard PA as historically reliable.  We could stop here and take their expert testimony on the matter.  However, let’s dive a little deeper into how they drew their conclusions.

     Perhaps the oldest piece of information comes from Papias through Eusebius.  Papias tells his methods for collecting data and it fits well with the oral transmission of PA.  Papias states, “But if I met with anyone who had been a follower of the elders anywhere, I made it a point to inquire what the declarations of the elders were.  What was said by Andrew, Peter or Philip?  What by Thomas, James, John, Matthew, or any other of the disciples of our Lord.  What was said by Aristion, and the presbyter John, disciples of the Lord; for I do not think that I derived so much benefit from books as from the living voice of those that are still surviving.”(14)  (So much for Ehrman’s theory that early Christianity was a “religion of the book”, it was a religion of experience and of oral transmission, (because the society was largely illiterate) as Papias tells us.)  This witness tells us that Papias would’ve been very familiar with the oral transmissions of the first century.  He is dated at about 100 AD.  Eusebius points to Papias knowledge of PA.  He writes, “The same author (Papias) made use of testimonies from the first epistle of John and likewise from that of Peter.  He also gave another history of a woman who had been accused of many sins before the Lord, which was also contained in the gospel according to the Hebrews.” (15)  If he is referring to PA, this is awesome evidence in support of the passage.  First, it is very early, around 100 AD.  Second, it tells us that by the time of Papias, it was already considered authoritative and being placed in the writings.  Lastly, this makes PA a historically reliable gem as the oral transmission and the writing would have occurred within perhaps a few as 30 years from the events that it describes.  Unprecedented as historically reliable in the history of antiquity!

Conclusion

       It has been my attempt here to present PA outside of the box.  Why?  Because it is unlike any other piece of scripture and it really is “outside” the box if we are going to consider all of the evidence.  It is not listed among the ancient manuscripts and yet textual critics and historians consider it a reliable oral transmission.  It turns up in an isolated manuscript in Luke that point to an early origin.  It is very historically reliable by the testimony of Papias.  Finally, there is evidence to suggest that either John or Luke composed PA.  Considering all this, should we follow Ehrman’s implied suggestion that is should not be considered authoritative simply because it is not in the oldest and reliable manuscripts.  If we just looked at the manuscript evidence alone, this might be the case.  However, if we step outside the box and consider PA from a more holistic approach, we can see that it does deserve a place of authority in the canon of scripture.  In my opinion, to simply axe it or to relegate it to some insignificance because of the manuscript evidence would be at best, irresponsible and short-sided scholarship, and at worst, biased to support a skeptical view of scripture. 

 

Endnotes

  1.  Ehrman, Bart, Misquoting Jesus, The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why, Harper Collins Pub, New York, NY, 2005, page 64-65.
  2. Metzger, Bruce, A Textual Commentary on The Greek New Testament, United Bible Societies, USA, Second Edition, 1971, page 189.
  3. Ibid, page 187-188.
  4. Ibid, page 188-189.
  5. Metzger, Bruce, Ehrman, Bart, The Text of the New Testament, Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration, Oxford University Press, New York, NY, 2005, page 87. Emphasis added is my own.
  6. Aland, Kurt, and Aland, Barbara, The Text of the New Testament, Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, MI, second edition, 1981, page 106. Emphasis added is my own
  7. Ibid, page 68.
  8. Ehrman, Bart, MJ, page 129.
  9. Heil, J.P.  “The story of Jesus and the Adulteress Reconsidered” as viewed on line at”  http://adultera.awardspace.com/INT-EV/Heil1.html.
  10. Punch, J.D.  The Pericope Adulterae: Theories of Insertion & Omission ,  as viewed on line at:  http://adultera.awardspace.com/AB/Punch1.html.
  11. Author unknown, Is John 8 Genuine?  As viewed on line @:  http://www.tektonics.org/af/adulterypericope.html.
  12. Ibid, Metzger, TCGNT.
  13. Bruce, F.F., The Gospel and Epistles of John, Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, MI, 1983, page 413.
  14. Cruse, C.F. “Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History” Hendrickson Publishers, Peabody Mass., 2003, third printing, book 3: 39:14-16, page, 104.
  15. Ibid, page 106.

A Defense for the Marcan Appendix

Preface:  A Brief Observation on Textual Criticism

           Before we dive into the issue of the Marcan appendix, I would like to step back for a minute and consider the science of textual criticism.  In a nutshell, the science is geared towards reproducing the most original text as possible.  One thing is certain about this, many have said that they have done it, (including Tischendorf and Westcott and Hort) only to have their work updated at a later time.  Hence, we have not, as of yet, discovered the original autographs.  This point is substantial.  We can have a pretty good idea of what the originals looked like, and we can say that the major doctrines of Christianity have remained to this day, but we cannot say, “Here is the original text!”  On that day, the science of textual criticism would cease to be necessary and subsequently become extinct.  In light of the fact that we have not the originals, a note of caution is in order.  What is it that we are saying when we say, “This or that piece of scripture was not in the originals.”  On the surface, critics toss this around all the time.  I would point out that this is an extremely arrogant statement.  Why?  In order to make this statement with absolute certainty, the proclaimer is saying that he has actually seen the originals and has traversed them from beginning to end and can tell you beyond all reason that this or that piece of scripture is absent in the original autographs.  Since no one has ever seen the originals in our day, at best, that statement is conjecture.  Even if it is based upon pretty good data, it is still conjecture.  Simply put, no one really knows what the originals say, in their entirety, because they have yet to be recovered so any assessment of what is or is not in them, is at best a hypothesis.   They may even be making this assumption on really good data that is currently possessed.  However, there is one crucial piece of data that is missing.  The original.  Coming to the piece of scripture at hand, the majority of textual critics will tell us that this is not included in the originals.  In Misquoting Jesus, Dr. Ehrman agrees with them.  He tells us this to throw doubt on the character of scripture.  Was this section in the originals?  Perhaps not.  It is possible that it was included in the original and got lost.  It is the point of this article to be a voice in the opposite direction of most textual critics.  Why?  To, at least, make a plausible case, beyond a reasonable doubt, that to toss it out completely, might be hasty.  The fact that Jerome, who doubted its inclusion, kept it in the Vulgate demonstrates that he, like me, may have been thinking along these lines.  Furthermore, every major translation of the scripture to date includes it in their manuscripts, even if a footnote identifies it as “suspect.”  This demonstrates that many translators, like me, may be thinking along these lines.  So, having said that, let me decry an “apologia”, a defense for the Marcan appendix.

 

A Summary of the Evidence against It

       Crucial objections have been raised regarding the authenticity of the “Marcan appendix”.  The argument attempts to weaken the case for the appendix by attacking the authorship, mainly, that Mark did not write it and it was a later interpolation into the text.  Secondly, it is not found in the oldest of the New Testament manuscripts. Thirdly, the writing style varies from what we have seen in Mark previously.  Lastly, Eusebius and Jerome question its authenticity.

                                                                              Authorship

      Many scholars question rather Mark really wrote this part of the gospel. The case for Marcan authorship is linked to its inclusion in the gospel as a whole.  That is, despite the differences in style and lack of inclusion in the oldest manuscripts (which we will discuss in a minute) Mark did actually write the appendix and it was included in his gospel.  To begin with, Papias, an early church father from around 125 AD, quotes an earlier church father, John the Presbyter, who could have been an elder at the church of Ephesus.  Papias tells us that this was his practice.  He says, “But if I met with anyone who had been a follower of the elders anywhere, I made it a point to inquire what the declarations of the elders were.  What was said by Andrew, Peter or Philip?  What by Thomas, James, John, Matthew, or any other of the disciples of our Lord.  What was said by Aristion, and the presbyter John, disciples of the Lord; for I do not think that I derived so much benefit from books as from the living voice of those that are still surviving.” (1) Regarding what he learned about Marcan authorship of the gospel, he states, “And John the Presbyter also said this, Mark being the interpreter of Peter whatsoever he recorded he wrote with great accuracy but not however, in the order in which it was spoken or done by our Lord, for he neither heard nor followed our Lord, but as before said, he was in company with Peter, who gave him such instruction as was necessary, but not to give a history of our Lord’s discourses; wherefore, Mark has not erred in anything, by writing some things as he has recorded them; for he was carefully attentive to one thing, not to pass by anything that he heard, or to state anything falsely in these accounts.” (2) This testimony may account for why the transition seems somewhat awkward.(another point we will come to later)  The appendix may have been written earlier, by Mark, then inserted at this particular place when Mark was editing and piecing together his gospel.  Additionally, this testimony dates the gospel before the time that the church at Ephesus had ceased. This makes the date for Mark very earlier.  Additionally, Eusebius testifies of Marcan authorship of the gospel.  He writes, “So greatly, however, did the splendor of piety enlighten the minds of Peter’s hearers that it was not sufficient to hear but once, nor to receive the unwritten doctrine of the gospel of God, but they persevered in every variety of entreaties to solicit Mark as the companion of Peter, and whose Gospel we have, that he should leave them a monument in writing of the doctrine thus orally communicated.  Nor did they cease their solicitations until they had prevailed with the man and thus became the means of that history which is called the gospel according to Mark…This account is given by Clement in the sixth book of his Institutions…” (3) Additionally, Ireanus testifies of Marcan authorship in his “Against Heresies.” He writes, “After their departure [of Peter and Paul from earth], Mark, the disciple and interpreter of Peter, did also hand down to us in writing what had been preached by Peter.” (4)  Hence, we see that the unanimous testimony of history declares that Mark is the author of the gospel.  Subsequently, if the appendix was in the gospel, it would have been written by Mark.  Also, the style of Mark seems to match the style of Peter’s speech in Acts, so that Mark wrote down the teachings of Peter seems to also be accurate.  Lastly, if Mark wrote sections of the gospel and then pieced them together, as Papias tells us, this may account for why it is missing in the older manuscripts (which we will discuss later) and why the transition seems awkward. (Again, we will discuss this later) 

 

Manuscript Evidence

     The external evidence for the inclusion of the Marcan appendix in Mark’s original is massive.  Dr. Floyd Nolen Jones writes, “The external evidence is massive.  Not only is the Greek manuscript attestation ratio over 600 to 1 in support of the verses (99.99%)-around 8,000 Latin mss about 1,000 Syriac versions as well as all the over 2,000 known Greek Lectionaries contain the verses.” (5)  Even those who would not include it in the canon will admit this fact.  However, manuscript evidence comes against the appendix because the oldest and most reliable manuscripts.  The two principle witnesses are Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Vaticanas.  Many scholars reject the Marcan appendix because it is not found in these two manuscripts.  However, Dr. Jones has an interesting comment about the missing section.  He writes, “Further, the Vatican MSS has a blank space exactly the six required to include the 12 verses at the end of the 16th chapter.  The scribe who prepared B obviously knew of the existence of the verses and their precise content.  Indeed, as Tischendorf observed, Sinaiticus exhibit’s a different handwriting and ink on this page, and there is a change in spacing and size of the individual letter in an attempt to fill up the void left by the removal of the verses.” (6)  So, it would appear that the scribe writing these oldest and most reliable manuscripts knew of their existence.  In addition, the Nelson Study Bible Commentary states:   “The authenticity of these last twelve verses has been disputed.  Those who doubt Mark’s authorship of this passage point to two fourth-century manuscripts that omit these verses.  Others believe that they should be included because even these two manuscripts leave space for all or some of the verses, indication that their copyists knew of their existence.  ” (7) It is possible that the scribe who wrote these manuscripts left out the appendix.  If he had left them in place, the issue of the authenticity of this gospel would never be questioned.  Considering the fact that 99 percent of the manuscript evidence points to its inclusion and spaces were provided for its inclusion in the oldest and most reliable, the appendix does appear to have a place at the end of the gospel.  It does seem doubtful that Mark would end his gospel on a note of fear.  

     Finally, here is a graph that demonstrates the manuscript evidence:

 

In Favor of Mark 16:9-20

  • Codex Alexandrinus (A) – (5th c. uncial, Byzantine in Gospels)
  • Ephraemi Rescriptus (C) – (5th c. uncial, Alexandrian)
  • Codex Bezae Cantabrigiensis (D) – (5th/6th c. uncial, Western)
  • K (9th c. uncial, Byzantine)
  • W (5th c. uncial, generally thought to be Caesarean in Mark 5:31-16:20)
  • X (10th c. uncial, Alexandrian)
  • Delta (9th c. uncial, Alexandrian)
  • Theta (9th c. uncial, Caesarean)
  • Pi (9th c. uncial, Byzantine)
  • f1 and f13 (total of 16 Caesarean texts, 11th-14th c.)
  • 28 (11th c. minuscule, Caesarean)
  • 33 (9th c. minuscule, Alexandrian)
  • 565 (9th c. minuscule, Caesarean)
  • 700 (11th c. minuscule, Caesarean)
  • 892 (9th c. minuscule, Alexandrian)
  • 1010 (12th c. minuscule, Byzantine)
  • The Byzantine textual set
  • Some of the Greek lectionaries

Opposed to Mark 16:9-20

  • Codex Sinaiticus (À) – (4th c. uncial, Alexandrian)
  • Codex Vaticanus (B) – (4th c. uncial, Alexandrian)
  • 304 (12th c. minuscule, Byzantine)
  • 2386 (11th c. minuscule, Byzantine)
  • Most of the Greek lectionaries  (8)

A final note of manuscript evidence can be found.  One of the most important majuscule manuscripts was discovered in the twentieth century and is a codex of four gospels.  It dates form the late fourth century and even into the fifth.  It does contain the gospels in the, so called, Western order (That is Matthew, John, Luke, and Mark) It includes the Marcan appendix in a Caesarean format that resembles that of p45, 42, which are two of our oldest papyrus available.  This links our text to an ancient root.  Ehrman knows this because he writes in one of his books, “In the opinion of its editor, Henry A. Sanders, this stratification of different kinds of text is explained by the theory that the codex goes back to an ancestor made up of fragments from different manuscripts of the Gospels pieced together after the attempt of the Emperor Diocletian to crush Christianity by destroying its sacred books.” (9)

 

Church Fathers

 

     The evidence from the “fathers” against the appendix is twofold.  First, Eusebius and Jerome question its authenticity.  Secondly, Origen and Clement of Alexandria never quote from it, so they are silent regarding it.  Some will venture as far as to say that they “had never heard of it.”  Let’s take the fathers one at a time.

 

     Eusebius’ objection is noted mostly in “Questions to Marinum” where he reports that the appendix is missing from some manuscripts.  In this letter, he is attempting to answer a question regarding the harmonization of Matthew 28:1 and Mark 16:9.  It is in this, that his objection is noted.  However, it should be pointed out that, “It should not be surprising that the manuscripts with which Eusebius would be familiar should largely lack the longer ending, as they were Alexandrian in origin, and in fact were probably closely related to Sinaiticus and Vaticanus, which have been suggested by some to be actual original copies from among the fifty Eusebius prepared for Emperor Constantine in or around 315 AD.”(10) Regarding this, Metzger and Ehrman quote T.C. Skeat of the British Museum “has suggested that Codex Vaticanus was a ‘reject’ among the 50 copies for it is deficient in the Eusebian canon tables, has many corrections by different scribes, and…lacks the books of Macccabees, apparently through an oversight.” (11) This evidence really blows a hole in the objections to the appendix.  It offers a plausible explanation as to why it is missing from the “oldest and most reliable” manuscripts.  Now, coming back to how all this relates to Eusebius.  “Eusebius would likely have lacked much access to the wider catholic body of manuscripts available elsewhere in the Empire and which did contain the disputed ending, which were used by the likes of Irenaeus and Papias. Further, Eusebius’ objection is presented as one of two options for harmonization, with the other actually being an argument based upon punctuating Mark 16:9 in a certain way so as to attain what Eusebius considered to be sufficient harmonization. This suggests that Eusebius himself was not only aware of the ending, but that it also existed in a greater body of manuscripts than his prior statement would suggest, else he would likely have just dismissed the verses as false and been done with them altogether.” (12)  Thus passes the heaviest evidence against the appendix by a church father.  Let us now turn to Jerome.

 

     Jerome’s objections are basically an echo of Eusebius.  However, it should be noted that Jerome does quote from the appendix in some of his letters and, in fact, did include them in the Vulgate.  This is particularly compelling.  If Jerome had found them in no Greek manuscripts, how did he put them in the Vulgate?  It stands to reason that the appendix was in some of the manuscripts that he was using, or he never would’ve known about them to begin with.  Secondly, the appendix may have been missing from the Alexandrian texts, as we have previously noted, and this would also spark the similarity between Jerome’s comments and Eusebius.

 

     As far as Origen and Clement, the fact that they simply don’t quote from them doesn’t just make the appendix vanish.  All it tells us is, they didn’t quote from it.  It speaks nothing to the authenticity of the passage.  Now, let us turn our attention to the church fathers that do quote from it.  Please note the early date from which these fathers quote the appendix.  These quotes predate the manuscript evidence against it by two hundred years.  This bespeaks of a substantial amount of historically reliable evidence that the appendix existed and it was used as authoritative.

 

     Perhaps the earliest mention of it comes from Papias.  Please remember the quote above concerning how Papias got his information.  Papias makes reference to Mark 16:18 and this dates the authorship before 100 AD.  One must take into account that Mark had to write it, then it had to be circulated and then seen as authoritative by the early 100’s when Papias quotes from it.  Ireaneus quotes from it around 125 AD.  Tatian, in 172 AD arranged the gospels into a narrative called the Diatessnion that included the appendix. Justin Martyr, mid 100’s quotes from it.  Tertullian included it in his 2nd edition of the New Testament.  Vincentius of Thibris, Bishop of Carthage in 256 AD quotes from it.  Hippolytus died in 235 and he also quotes it.  Lastly, Aphrahat the Persina Sage who died in 345 AD also quotes from it.  All this evidence points to the fact that it was in existence and used as authoritative hundreds of years before our current oldest manuscripts existed.  These are only the references before the fourth century; there are many others afterwards that could be mentioned to support the passage as genuine. (13)

 

 

The Differences of Style (14)

 

     There are three distinct areas in which scholars debate the differences in style with the remainder of mark.  They are that of juncture, vocabulary, and phraseology.  Let’s examine them one at a time.

 

Juncture

 

     First, the objections in juncture are five.  First, there is an abrupt subject change in verse eight to verse nine.  In verse eight, the subject is the woman and in verse nine, it switches to Jesus.  This suggests a later interpolation.  Secondly, the other women of verses 1-8 are lost in the remaining verses of 9-20.  Again, it suggests a later addition.  Thirdly, Mary Magdalene is mentioned in verse 9 but is not mentioned in the previous verses.  Fourthly, the use of “auastas” and the position of “proton” are appropriate at the beginning of a comprehensive essay and are here added to the middle of a section.  This suggests that it was a literary work that was developed extensively and then inserted here at a later time.  Finally, use of the conjunction “gar” with a two word phrase is unique to this section.  Again, pointing to the difficulty of the flow of the narrative.  One at a time we will address these issues.

 

     To be sure, the transition is awkward and it cannot be imitated in Mark.  What I mean is that there is no other transition that has all five of these characteristics.  However, they are all characteristics that can be found in the gospel.  The first two features, that of the awkward shifts of subject, is frequently found in Mark.  It is noted in Mark 2:13; 6:45; 7:31; 8:1, and 14:3.  All of these transitions meet the first two conditions.  Thus, it is not unusual for Mark to make an abrupt shift of subject matter.

     As far as May Magdalene is concerned, the phraseology that, “he had cast seven demons out of her” is not an identifying phrase as much as it is providing additional information about Mary.  There were several Mary’s present in the section and this addition could’ve given some specific information making her as distinct from the Mary’s previously listed in the section.  Thus, it is flows with the first eight verses.  This type of style is found in mark 3:16, Mark 6:16, and Mark 7:26 where the subject is given some identifying factors despite the fact that they were not mentioned for several previous verses.

 

     The fourth objection is easily dismissed.   Mainly, that mark is not continuing from verse 8 but is beginning a new concluding section that begins with the resurrection.  Additionally, it could’ve been something that mark had written previously and then added to the end of the narrative from 1-8.  It seems that the previously mentioned testimony of Papias supports that fact that Mark wrote out his gospel in sections.  It is possible that the subject matter of the appendix, which covers the commissioning of the apostles, was one of the first sections penned by Mark and then he inserted it after finishing the remainder of the gospel.

 

    The fifth objection is also very valid.  Mainly, that Mark didn’t use the conjunction “gar” with any other two word sentences.  This is true.  However, Mark does use it in three word and four word sentences.  To throw out the section based upon a one word difference, might seem somewhat irresponsible.

 

Vocabulary

 

     There are three main objections to the vocabulary of the appendix.  First, there are 16 words that are used in the appendix that are not used elsewhere in the gospel.  Secondly, three of those words are used more than one in this section.  Finally, the section contains none of Mark’s favorite words such as “euqeus” and “palin” meaning “immediately” and “all” respectively.

 

     In all fairness, these objections are fairly strong.  However, it should be noted that 8 of the root words are used in other places in the gospel.  Additionally, 3 of the 16 words are only found in the gospel accounts that involve post-resurrection events.  But if this to be the test, than all other chapters of Mark should have vocabulary ratios that are substantially less than that of the appendix.  Is this the case?  No, in the section of Mark 15:40-16:4-21 such words are found that don’t match the remainder of Marks’ vocabulary either.  Should those sections be thrown out also?  No one seems to doubt its genuineness.  Therefore, the vocabulary issue while appearing profound on the surface seems to not be a legitimate litmus test to the legitimacy of a piece of scripture.

 

     As far as not containing Mark’s “favorite words,” not only do the last verses of Mark not contain them, that is, in the appendix, but neither do they appear in the last 53 verses of Mark.  Likewise, should those passages be tossed out because they lack the repetitive favorite phrases of the gospel author?  I think not

 

Problems of Phraseology

 

     The argument regarding phraseology consists of two parts.  First, eight phrases are used in this appendix that are not used elsewhere in Mark.  Secondly, the phrase “met autou genmenoi” meaning, “those who were with him” is only used here to designate the disciples.

 

     Again, on the surface, this looks like a really strong argument and this large number of phrases occurring only here does make it looks suspect.  However, let us follow the same logic as previously.  Is this the only place in Mark where such variations occur?  Again, the answer is no.  it should be noted that between verses 15:42-16:6, 9 such phrases can be identified.  That is one more than we find in the appendix.  We seem to be identifying a pattern here.  It seems to be a characteristic of Mark to use additional phrase depending upon the context of his discussion.  So, in all actuality, all of this evidence actually points to Marcan authorship rather than detracting from it.  Simply because, we can find a pattern of linguistic phraseology outside of the appendix itself that matches the appendix itself.

 

     As far as the second objection is concerned, it would hardly have been appropriate in mark’s narrative to refer to the disciples as “those who were with Him” prior to His crucifixion and subsequent resurrection.  Thus, the uniqueness of the phrase in relation to the appendix is actually appropriate because of the subject matter in the section.

 

 

   In closing this section, Metzger and Ehrman have some interesting points about the grammar at the end of verse 8.  It doesn’t seem reasonable that Mark would end his “evangelion” of “good news” on a note of fear.  In relation to this, they write, “Furthermore, from a stylistic point of view, to terminate a Greek sentence with the word gar is most unusual and exceedingly rare:  only a relatively few examples have been found throughout the vast range of Greek literary works, and not instance has been found where gar stands at the end of a book.  Moreover, it is possible that in verse 8 Mark uses the verb efobounto to mean ‘they were afraid of’ (as he does in four of the other occurrences of this verb in his Gospel) In that case, obviously something is needed to finish the sentence.  It appears, therefore, that efobounto gar of Mark 16:8 does not represent what mark intended to stand at the end of his Gospel.” (15)  Although Metzger and Ehrman would disagree with our conclusion, it seems reasonable, in light of the data presented in this article, that the appendix was placed exactly where Mark wanted it.  Even the stylistic notes of verse 8 point to it.

 

Conclusion

    

     Was the longer ending Mark included in the gospels?  To be honest, I really don’t know because I have yet to see a copy of the originals.  Does the evidence against it qualify it for removal from the canon of scripture?  I think not.  At the end of the day, it has been my attempt to demonstrate that an argument can be made for its authenticity despite the fact that the school of textual criticism disputes it.  I believe that I have made the case that it is at least possible that it was in the originals.  The bulk of the evidence of manuscripts points to it.  It is only missing in four of those manuscripts.  Two of those, Siniaticus and Vaticanius were of the Alexandrian variety which Eusebius and Jerome tells us were missing the appendix in their manuscripts.  However, the testimony of the church father validates that it was in circulation and considered authoritative long before Constantine commissioned Eusebius to print 50 Bibles.  The alleged differences in style really seem to point to Mark as the author and we have argued that rather than detract from its genuineness, it actually complements it.  In the final analysis, the last verses of Mark should stay exactly where they are in our Bibles.  It seems, this is exactly where they are supposed to be. 

 

Endnotes

  1. Cruse, C.F. “Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History” Hendrickson Publishers, Peabody Mass., 2003, third printing, book 3: 39:14-16, page, 104.
  2. Ibid, page 105-106.
  3. Ibid, book 2:15:1. Page 50.
  4. Irenaeus Against Heresies, 3:1:1.
  5. Floyd Nolan Jones, Which Version is the Bible?,Kings Word Press, Woodlands, T X.                   Pages 21-32.
  6. Ibid    
  7. Earl D Radmacher, The Nelson Study Bible, Nelson Publishing, Nashville, TN-commentary on Mark.  Underlining emphasis is my own.
  8. Found on-line at: author unkown:  http://www.studytoanswer.net/bibleversions/markend.html.
  9. Metzger, Bruce, Ehrman, Bart, The Text of the New Testament, Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration, Oxford University Press, New York, NY, 2005, page 80-81..
  10. Ibid from 8.
  11. Metzger and Ehrman, page 68-69.
  12. Ibid.
  13. Ibid, from 8.
  14. The majority of this section was gleaned from:  Snapp, James Edward, The Authenticity of Mark 16:9-20, available on-line at: http://www.textexcavation.com/snapp/PDF/snappmark.pdf, it really is a wonderful read and he puts forth more evidence that just this section.
  15. Metzger and Ehrman, page 326.

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.