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.




  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.