In chapter seven Ehrman begins with the claim that the copying of New Testament manuscripts was, for the most part, was a process whose motivation was to conserve the textual tradition. Thus most of the mistakes scribes made were accidental, but “on occasion they changed the text deliberately, making a ‘correction’ to the text, which in fact turned out to be an alteration of what the text’s author had originally written” (177-178). With that in mind Ehrman sets out to examine the deliberate alterations of the New Testament manuscripts in reference to one internal dispute, the role of women in the church, and two external disputes with non-Christian Jews and hostile pagans.
Ehrman rightly points out that the disagreements over the role of women in the early church took place specifically because women were prominent in the early church. The fact that the twelve disciples were all male is not surprising, what is noteworthy is the uncharacteristic way Jesus interacted with women as well as the fact that women did accompany him and his disciples as they traveled. He states, “It is intriguing to ask what it was about Jesus’ message that particularly attracted women. Most scholars remain convinced that Jesus proclaimed the coming of the Kingdom of God, in which there would be no more injustice, suffering, or evil, in which all people, rich and poor, slave and free, men and women, would be on equal footing” (179).
The earliest Christian writers of the New Testament bear witness to the prominent place of women in the early church, although Paul has an “ambivalent attitude” allowing women to participate in the church, but as women, not men. It is deutero-Paul in 1 Timothy who reduces women to second class status. By the second century some Christian communities that allow for women to be in leadership roles and others that do not.
Textual alterations that concern women’s roles almost exclusively attempt to limit the role of women in the church. Ehrman analyzes three alterations in particular: 1 Corinthians 14:34-35, which Ehrman classifies as a scribal addition; Romans 16:7, where the feminine name “Junia” is changed to the male name “Junias,” because Junias is referred to as an apostle; and Acts 17:4, “with a large number of prominent women” is altered to “with a large number of wives of prominent men.”
In reference to the church’s early conflict with non-Christian Jews, Ehrman recounts the irony of the Jewish nature of the early Christian movement, with it not too much later anti-semitism. This kind of anti-Judaism beings with Paul himself (1 Thessalonians 2:14-15). It is the second century that Judaism and Christianity clearly emerge as two distinct religions with Christians “castigating Jews in the harshest terms possible for rejecting Jesus as the messiah…” (190).
The anti-Jewish textual alterations examined are Luke 23:34 where Jesus’ prayer, “Father forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing” is omitted in some manuscripts; Matthew 27:26, “Pilate handed him over to be crucified,” is altered in some manuscripts to “Pilate handed him over to them [i.e. to the Jews] in order that they might crucify him;” Matthew 1:21, “”he will save his people from their sins,” to “he will save the world from its sins;” John 4:22, “salvation comes from the Jews,” is changed to “salvation comes from Judea;” and Luke 6:1-4 an addition in one manuscript where Jesus says, “O man, if you know what you are doing, you are blessed, but if you do not know, you are cursed, and a transgressor of the Law.”
Ehrman then deals with the conflict the early Christian had with Gentiles outside the church. He surveys the nature of the dispute referring to pagan sources. While Ehrman does not spend time on the Christian response to pagan criticism, he notes that Christians did indeed respond to the charges.