For almost 1,500 years, the New Testament manuscripts were copied by hand—-and mistakes and intentional changes abound in the competing manuscript versions. Religious and biblical scholar Bart Ehrman makes the provocative case that many of our widely held beliefs concerning the divinity of Jesus, the Trinity, and the divine origins of the Bible itself are the results of both intentional and accidental alterations by scribes.
In this compelling and fascinating book, Ehrman shows where and why changes were made in our earliest surviving manuscripts, explaining for the first time how the many variations of our cherished biblical stories came to be, and why only certain versions of the stories qualify for publication in the Bibles we read today. Ehrman frames his account with personal reflections on how his study of the Greek manuscripts made him abandon his once ultra–conservative views of the Bible.
User Ratings and Reviews
5 Stars Great read
This is a great read. I enjoyed the story of Ehrman's own inevitable journey out of fundamentalism and his scholarship seems impeccable.
4 Stars Good reading – did not agree with the author's conclusion though.
This is an interesting book. I enjoyed reading it. I almost didn't buy it because I was concerned that it might be too technical and above my head. The author has published a number of academic papers and books on the subject.
However after reading the first few paragraphs I realized that my concerns were unfounded. The book was easy to follow and understand. I didn't particularly agree with the author's conclusion that the Bible contains errors, but enjoyed reading his perspective and point of view.
I would recommend this book to anyone that is curious about the Bible and how the original texts were transferred to us. After reading this book I now want to read other books on the subject.
5 Stars Why Is the Bible a Best-Seller?
Bart D. Ehrman obviously believes the Bible is such a popular book because most buyers feel it contains God's own inspired words. Many foolish or simple-minded people would even go so far as to declare that every word in the Bible is inspired by God. The problem with this latter viewpoint, as Ehrman most insightfully points out, as that we no longer have access to the original, "inspired" words. The New Testament's were lost nearly 2,000 years ago. I always ask people who stand on the rock of the Bible's inerrancy, "What Bible?" The majority cite the King James version. A few brave souls claim that all Bibles are the same. So I ask what version they use. Good old King James usually surfaces again in most cases, although a few will prefer the Revised Standard. What it boils down to, as Ehrman states in his concluding chapter, is that many Fundamentalists believe that God inspired the King James translators, rather than the Bible's original authors. Yes, many people honestly feel that Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul and Peter often misunderstood the Holy Spirit and got God's words wrong. And that being the super-patient, super-tolerant God that He is, He then waited 1,600 years to correct Paul and company's idiotic mistakes!
What can you do when faced with these problems? One solution is to attempt to reconstruct the original texts, as I have done with Mark's Gospel in More Bible Wisdom for Modern Times: Selections from the Early New Testament and with John's Gospel in Essential Bible Wisdom: GOOD NEWS by John, the Beloved Disciple, and John, the Elder.
5 Stars Translations and Interpretations
Bart D. Ehrman is a Professor of Religious Studies at the UNC at Chapel Hill. Google his background to know that he is a Subject Matter Expert when it comes to the Bible. The man has dedicated most of his life to understanding the Bible. In his book, he explains he learned Greek and Hebrew so that he can study the Bible in the "original language". So his credibility is solid.
I have always wondered the same things that Dr. Ehrman, and have always used the example of William Shakespeare, whose plays, sonnets, and poems have been interpreted in every language. They were written (in English) from the late 1500s to early 1600s, and yet scholars do not agree on the interpretations.
So, if we cannot agree on what was said 400 years ago, how can we be so sure of what was said over 2000 years ago? If the biblical scholars (doing the translations) were "inspired by the Spirit" then why do they not say the same thing?
This is why this book is so interesting. It sheds light on some of these things and I commend Dr. Ehrman for his research and insight.
5 Stars A layperson's easy introduction to textual criticism for the New Testament.
The above is a decent, if dull, title for this book. The book is not about misquoting Jesus. Most of Ehrman's examples are not quotes from Jesus, and as for those the discrepancies pale besides the differences between the gospels. Nor is the book about who changed the Bible (on purpose). It only bears on the New Testament, and we are three quarters into the book before we get to a chapter on the topic of the subtitle, chapter 5, "Theologically Motivated Alterations of the Text".
So, the actual object of this book is the title I used. According to Ehrman, and I'll take his word for it, "there [has been] scarcely any single book written about [textual criticism] for a lay audience." (p. 15).
Ehrman clearly masters his topic, and as an expositor he is remarkably patient, careful and clear. The book is also short. I recommend it (under the amended title) for any non-specialist even vaguely interested in the question of New Testament textual criticism — that is, the establishment of a Greek text for the New Testament that is as close to possible to the originals of the books included in it, by painstaking analysis and comparision of available manuscripts, quotations in other works and, eventually, ancient translations, using a variety of methods. (The New Testament was entirely written in Greek.)
With its actual title, the book rates two stars, because so little space goes to the title topics. But as a lay introduction, etc., it rates five, especially if read in conjunction with Wikipedia (which includes a full Bible).
Only the last chapter gets into the matters the title leads one to expect. It is limited to three questions, but they are important: Anti-feminist modifications, anti-Jewish modifications and modifications made to deprive pagan anti-Christian debaters of an argument.
Besides the title, the main limitation of the work is that, at least in North America, the great majority of interested non-specialists have had a fundamentalist or evangelical education, and will tend to stick to it. As Ehrman explains in his introduction, he himself came to the topic from precisely that background. So he handles his topic very delicately and avoids delivering much more than what the prospective reader asked for. (See below — this was Ehrman's expectation, and mine, but we were in fact wrong about the readership.)
Thus, if on the one hand the book must be praised and promoted because of its competence, facility and great clarity, on the other hand anyone but fundamentalists will reach the end with a list of glaring omissions. No surprise: like the last chapter I just described, most chapters are built around three examples of what is being explained. What falls outside the examples usually falls outside the book entirely. The material delivers a very general understanding of the chapter's topic, and a decently detailed understanding of the few examples. The main area, between the very general and the decently detailed examples, is simply absent.
However, this edition is not the first, and Harper adds a "Plus" section after the index, provoked by reader reactions. It makes the book much more useful than it was without it. It is far freer than the main text, rather in the style of an e-mail exchange, and it deals with brass-tacks topics. From back to front the Plus section includes a list of the "Top Ten Verses That Were Not Originally in the New Testament" (not especially useful if one hasn't read the book), a serious list of famous manuscripts, a comment by Ehrman on his readers' response, and a Q&A with him.
The "Response" section notes that the book had a surprising success, and that, more surprising to Ehrman, the feedback from readers was overwhelmingly positive. (In other words, he was probably much too prudent in the book itself.) It ends with "a kind of summary of what I am trying to convey", which is helpful too.
The Q&A holds a revelation. Seven years before, Ehrman, who had long quit with biblical literalism, became an agnostic because of the problem of evil. He plans a later book with Harper to explain this. That he became an agnostic is a personal question, but that he says so in print, and will expand on that in a later book, is a gesture of great honesty and not a little courage.