Misquoting Jesus: The story behind who changed the Bible and why

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Misquoting Jesus: The story behind who changed the Bible and why
After finishing reading Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why by Bart D. Ehrman, I want to deliver some comments on the book, as well as the way Ehrman presented his argument. On the overall, this book is easy to read and understand. That is the purpose of Ehrman when he wrote the book on textual criticism for a lay audience “…who know nothing about textual criticism but who might like to learn something about how scribes were changing scripture and about how we can recognize where they did so”1. I think this is also the main thesis of Misquoting Jesus. Throughout this book, Ehrman wants to point out that through long period of transmission, “the Bible is not inerrant at all but contains mistakes”2 . Also, the targeted audiences of Ehrman are not specifically Christians, but whoever has interest in the field of history, religion. In this paper, I will go chapter by chapter and examine Ehrman’s thesis. In the introduction, Ehrman begins with his personal background and reveals how the New Testament affected his life in general and his spiritual life in particular. He was born and grew up in a “churchgoing but not particularly a religious family”3. However everything was changed after he joined Campus Life Youth for Christ club, which later on led him to Moody Bible Institute where he got his diploma. His education continued at Wheaton College and Princeton. During the time in Princeton, Ehrman faced what he called “a turning point.”4 Ehrman began to think that there were mistakes in Scripture and the floodgate was open: “What we have are copies made many centuries later…And these copies all differ from one another, in many thousands of place” he stated5. The more Ehrman investigated the biblical text, the more uncertainties he found. From an extreme Christian’s stand point, that is not easy to accept. However, to conduct further research, Ehrman became more like an agnostic. In the first chapter, Ehrman wants to emphasize that Christianity, similar to Judaism, is a textually oriented religion. For the Jewish people, “traditions, customs and laws …had been recorded in sacred books, which had the status, therefore, of ‘scripture’”6. And for Christians, books were at the very heart of them. Ehrman states, “Letters were important to the lives of early Christian communities because a number of letters included in the New Testament unified faith and the practices of the Christians. These letters, formed the Christian canon of scripture. In this chapter, Ehrman also shows problems of the illiteracy for the early Christians. “Besides exceptions like Apostle Paul and other authors whose works made it into the New Testament and who were obviously skilled writers, Christians came from the ranks of illiterate”7. Despite that fact, however, Christianity was a highly literary religion8.

Chapter two is about the copyists of the early Christian writings. Back to ancient times, all texts were copied manually which allowed for the possibilities of errors. As we may know, early New Testament documents were written in Greek, and “ one of the problems with ancient Greek texts ... is that when they were copied, no marks of punctuation were used, no distinction made between lowercase and uppercase letters, and, even more bizarre to modern readers, no spaces to separate words.”, Ehrman states9. This kind of writing obviously can cause mistakes in transcription multiply. During the first two or three hundred years of the church, Christian text were not copied by professional scribes, but by amateur copyists who were more likely to make mistakes. And these amateur copyists occasionally changed the content of the text, " ... most changes are the result of mistakes, pure and simple: slips of the pen. Accidental omissions, inadvertent additions, misspelled words, blunders of one sort or another."10 The changes became permanent and got compounded by time....
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