Do Textual Variants Matter?? – The Bart Ehrman Weblog


In 3 days we will hit the seventh-year anniversary of the weblog.   I believed it would be exciting (for me) to appear at the earliest posts.  Right here is the really very first 1, from April three, 2012  (I’ve edited it a bit to tone down the rhetoric I was a bit additional hot-headed in these days!)   It’s about 1 of the most exciting and hotly disputed subjects I’ve dealt with all through my profession.


Almost certainly additional than any of my other books, Misquoting Jesus provoked a loud and comprehensive critique from scholars – pretty much exclusively amongst evangelical Christians, who seem to have believed that if readers have been “led astray” by my claims in the book they could be in danger of losing their faith or (pretty much worse!) altering what they believed so that they would no longer be evangelical.

I’m not so certain there is seriously significantly danger in presenting broadly held scholarship to a lay-readership, and so I was a bit shocked at the vitriol I received at the hands of some of my evangelical critics. There have been 4 books written to refute my discussion: (1) Dillon Burroughs, Misquotes in Misquoting Jesus: Why You Can Nonetheless Think (two) Timothy Paul Jones, Misquoting Truth: A Guide to the Fallacies of Bart Ehrman’s “Misquoting Jesus” (three) Nicholas Perrin, Lost In Transmission?: What We Can Know About the Words of Jesus and (four) Gregory Koukl, Misquoting Jesus? Answering Bart Ehrman.

In addition, there have been scores of blogs and a variety of Online postings taking on me and my views, some frontal assaults by New Testament scholars who are not credentialed in the field of textual criticism, some of whom made such extended-winded responses that to give a fair representation of their “points” would take an additional big book!

But there are a couple of claims that my critics have been created that appear to me to be worth addressing, and if any readers know of any in distinct that they would like me to answer, I will be additional than pleased to do so. Just let me know!

1 widespread claim created by my evangelical detractors is that regardless of the truth that there are hundreds of thousands of variations amongst our surviving manuscripts of the New Testament (and that no 1 of these manuscripts is the “original” or an “accurate copy of the original”) NONE of these variations impact “any cardinal doctrine” (as Dan Wallace has been fond of saying). Right here is 1 such statement by Ben Witherington, in his provocatively entitled response “Misanalyzing Text Criticism.”

It is basically not the case that any substantial theological truth is at problem with the textual variants that Ehrman desires to make significantly of. As I recall Bruce Metzger saying after (who educated each Bart and myself in these matters) more than 90% of the NT is rather properly established in regard to its original text, and none of the remaining 10% offers us with information that could lead to any shocking revisions of the Christian credo or doctrine. It is at the really least disingenuous to recommend it does, if not deliberately provocative to say otherwise.

I have lots of factors to say about this critique. To commence with, let’s be clear (I do not imply this as an attack, but I’m just stating what I believe are the information): when Ben indicates that each he and I have been educated in textual criticism by Bruce Metzger, I’m not fully certain what he implies. Prof. Metzger taught at Princeton Theological Seminary his whole profession. I went to PTS to study with him, worked 3 years taking all of his classes as a master’s student, wrote a master’s thesis beneath his path, stayed on to do a PhD beneath his path (I was his final doctoral student), and wrote my PhD dissertation beneath him. Altogether I worked with him for seven years – and just after that he hired me to function with him for the New Revised Typical Version translation of the Bible, an additional two years. I honestly do not know when Ben studied with him, due to the fact Ben did not study at PTS.  Perhaps he took a summer time college course after?

In any occasion, I obtain Ben’s argument that there is no “significant theological truth” at stake in any of the variant readings of the New Testament to be problematic for a quantity of factors:

  • I by no means claimed in my book (or elsewhere) that there have been theological truths at stake. What I argued is that textual variants impact theologically critical passages of the New Testament. Certainly a cautious reader – Ben prides himself on becoming a cautious reader – realizes that is a distinct matter altogether.
  • The explanation “theological truths” are not “at stake” in any of the textual variations I go over is simply because theologians, or even theologically interested interpreters like Ben, by no means, ever, create their “theological truths” on the basis of any 1 passage of the Bible. You can take away this passage or that passage, and they will nevertheless obtain techniques to obtain their “truths” in Scripture. Scripture is wonderful that way: it opens itself up to all sorts of theological speculation. If theologians can obtain the Trinity in Genesis chapter 1 (they can! You can obtain something if you appear difficult sufficient for it), then surely the alteration of a verse right here or there in the New Testament is going to have comparatively slight impact on any doctrine – any cherished doctrine whatsoever.
  • That is not to say that textual variations are unimportant for theological discourse. They are critical. But not in the way Ben is imagining (or imagining that I’m imagining). The reality is that textual variants impact a lot of passages of theological significance: the Trinity, the deity of Christ, the atoning significance of his death, and so on. If Ben desires to deny this then we will have a true brouhaha on our hands!
  • Most critical, I wonder why “theological significance” is the big criterion becoming applied to ascertain what matters when it comes to the text of the Bible. In a couple of public debates, Dan Wallace, for instance, created the bold and startling claim talked about above, in response to my views, that “not a single cardinal doctrine” of the Christian faith was impacted by the textual variation of the New Testament. Following hearing him make this claim a couple of instances, I decided to fire back. “Why ought to that be our gauge for regardless of whether textual variation matters or not?” Only somebody so deeply rooted in theology that absolutely nothing else in the end matters would even believe to use this rhetorical ploy.But believe about it in other terms. Suppose, I asked, we all woke up tomorrow only to obtain that the New Testament books of Mark, Philippians, James, and two Peter had disappeared, that they no longer exist, they are no longer in anyone’s Bible. Would their absence have any impact on “any cardinal doctrine” of the faith? Not in the least! Doctrine would stay specifically the similar for practically each Christian on the planet. But would you say their sudden disappearance would be substantial? YES it would be  HUGELY substantial. And so my point, adjustments in the Bible can be inordinately substantial with out affecting any cherished doctrines of the evangelicals.
  • And it is critical to anxiety, textual variants typically impact all sorts of factors. In numerous situations they impact what a verse implies. Or a passage. Or even an whole book!.  Just believe of some of the Large Ones: Did Jesus forgive the lady taken in adultery in the Gospel of John? It depends which manuscripts you study. Did Jesus seem to his disciples just after his resurrection, or not, in the Gospel of Mark? It depends which manuscripts you study. Did Jesus go into wonderful agony and sweat wonderful drops as if of blood in Luke’s version of his arrest? It depends which manuscripts you study. Does the Gospel of Luke teach that Jesus’ death was an atoning sacrifice “for us”? It depends which manuscripts you study. Does the Gospel of John present Jesus as “the exceptional God”? It depends which manuscripts you study. And on and on.

So, for any one who is deeply committed to his or her theology, who is worried about how the textual variants of the New Testament could impact it, let me say it after once more: none of your cherished doctrines seems to be in true danger simply because of variations in our surviving manuscripts (at least the variations that we know about). But that is not my claim and by no means has been my claim.
My claim is that there are critical variations in the surviving manuscripts of the New Testament some of these variations impact how an whole passage — certainly, in some circumstances how an whole book — is to be interpreted some of these variations impact how we fully grasp the theology of this or that biblical author there are a lot of passages exactly where scholars continue to debate what the “original” text of the New Testament stated and there are some areas exactly where we will by no means know. All of that does certainly appear to be substantial to me.

For almost seven years now, weblog members have received posts like this 5 or additional instances a week, week in and week out.  If you have been a member, you could also — and access all seven years’ worth.  It fees tiny, and each penny goes to charity.  So believe about joining!


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