Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why by Bart D. Ehrman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I read Misquoting Jesus through carefully and thoughtfully and concluded it was an excellent book written by an author who clearly knows of which he speaks. Before I started reading it, I had read a number of reviews online, some supportive, some negative. The negative ones seemed to say that, yes, well, everyone knows there have been changes in the Bible over the years. Big deal. They’re minor and they don’t change the overall theme of the Bible. Well, after reading this book, I beg to differ. Like the author, I grew up believing the Bible was the inherent word of God – God’s chosen words as inspired to be written by several select human authors. You had to believe everything. Of course, as I grew older, I began to have doubts. For instance, take all of Leviticus. No one stones their children for being disobedient, people eat shrimp and bacon, men cut their hair and beards, etc. But if you followed the Bible like you were supposed to, you couldn’t do those things, right? So that prepared me for the cherry picking that Christians do with the Bible left and right to suit whatever agenda they have. So textual changes can make a big deal, yes, especially when non-changes like those in Leviticus make a big or non-big deal, depending on how you view things.
Before, I go any further, let me state that I view myself as a Christian. A liberal one, not a fundie or even an evangelical, which is what I grew up as, but still, a Bible reading and respecting Christian. Doesn’t mean it’s 100% accurate though.
Early in this book, just to show people what sort of things they’ll be exposed to, Ehrman shows us some discrepancies. He calls them mistakes. These include when Mark says Jesus was killed the day after the Passover meal, yet John says he died the day before it. And Luke indicating that Mary and Joseph had come to Nazareth a month after going to Bethlehem, while Matthew says they went to Egypt. And in Galations, when Paul says he did not go to Jerusalem after his conversion, while the book of Acts says that’s the first thing he did upon leaving Damascus. And on and on.
So what happened to the Bible? Who changed it and why? Well, the author would have us believe that scribes, both professional and nonprofessional, made numerous changes, both unintentional and intentional over the course of centuries and that as these manuscripts were handed down as gospel, the changes were handed down, so that there was no longer any possible way to know what it was the authors of the Bible and specifically the New Testament wrote. He goes into elaborate detail on the details of scribes having to copy letter by letter books (letters) of the New Testament, as well as other documents, and showed that many of these scribes were barely literate themselves, if at all. One example of unintentional changes were that Greek at the time was written without spaces between words, so that a particular phrase that was meant to have meant one thing, could have actually meant something else when copied or transcribed or translated later on. Intentional changes were made by people who, perhaps, wanted to include an agenda against women in the church when none, perhaps, may have existed in the original texts.
The book that the King James Bible was founded on was the Johannine Comma by Erasmus. The author takes great pains to show its flaws. Meanwhile, there were those who were intent upon translating the Greek New Testament and providing scholarship for it. One such person, John Mill of Queens College, Oxford, spent 30 years back in the seventeenth century compiling a list of “variations,” or discrepancies (or mistakes) in the various manuscripts he had available to him, dating back to the oldest texts available. He found over 30,000 discrepancies! That’s right – 30,000. The author then goes on to say that currently, we possess over 5,700 Greek manuscripts, 57 times as many as Mill, and that there are now known to be between 200,000 and 400,000 discrepancies in the New Testament, or more words than exist in it. It’s stunning. If that doesn’t show that the Bible is NOT the inherent word of God, I don’t know what will. And if you follow that logic, then if it’s not, then how can you believe any of it, or know what to believe or not believe?
I had meant to write a much more detailed review, but feel that I’d never finish with it. Hopefully I’ve made my point. The author certainly made his with me. Needless to say, he no longer thinks the Bible is the inherent word of God, and I’m not sure I do either, or that I have for some time. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t contain words of God – just that it was written by people and they can make mistakes over the course of centuries. I’d strongly recommend this book for anyone interested in the subject.
4 thoughts on “A Review of Misquoting Jesus”
Thanks, I really enjoyed raading this. I take the many authors who have taken a look at the Bible philosphically. I am not smart enough for either side. I have simply read the Bible clear through annually since 1965. I don’t really study it–just read. I read more books about living the Christian life than doctrine. I have a friend who was born in Greece and taught Biblical Greek in a seminary. He did not like any English translation and said the really famous translation was the worst one he ever read. lol I asked him which one he liked and there was really one—he read in the original languages. I also asked him about mistakes and he said the few he found did not change anything of any signifiance.
My wife and I have listened to some very scholory Bible teachers and preachers.
I know denominations look at the Bible philisophicall as well even though they won
Levititicus has nothing to do with today. Paul wrote in Corinthians that the stories in the Old Testament are there so we won’t make their mistakes.
So I know that there are many critics and supporters of the Bible and I have to make a judgment as to who to believe.
Thanks for sharing this.
Have a great new week.
I can’t wait to read this one Scott. I have read others with similar themes and even a few different translations. Thanks.
Of course this is circular reasoning and quite ironic, but Luke 20:45-47 says, “And while all the people were listening, He said to the disciples, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and love respectful greetings in the market places, and chief seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets, who devour widows’ houses, and for appearance’s sake offer long prayers. These will receive greater condemnation.”
Those are your Bible thumpers.
The idea of the Thomas Jefferson Bible has always intrigued me. I say we should cut and paste. “You say you are a Calvinist. I am not. I am of a sect by myself, as far as I know.” — Jefferson.
Spirit is something ethereal. I’ve always liked the idea of a personal relationship with Christ. It’s the spirit of the word in the New Testament, not what was set in stone in the Old Testament. Same goes for paper and ink or even the way these words show up here. The huge message I’ve always gotten from reading the “mistakes” is compassion. I am not always compassionate in any given moment, but the spirit of the word gives me pause.
I’ve always been intrigued by the Thomas Jefferson Bible myself. You make some good points. Thanks for the input.
Comments are closed.