A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life

A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life
I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

Friday, November 03, 2006

Misquoting Jesus: Conclusion (9 of 9)

Scribes, Authors, and Readers

In his concluding chapter, Ehrman reiterates his basic thesis: There are hundreds of thousands of variant readings among our many manuscripts of the New Testament. The vast majority of these variants are quite insignificant, but that does not mean the changes have no significance for how one interprets the Bible. Indeed, "The more I studied the manuscript tradition of the New Testament, the more I realized just how radically the text had been altered over the years at the hands of scribes, who were not only conserving scripture but also changing it" (207).

I have critiqued this claim throughout my posts. What I want to focus on briefly is his overly simplistic concept of inspiration. Ehrman states, "...I began seeing the New Testament as a very human book. The New Testament as we actually have it... was the product of human hands, the hands of scribes who transmitted it.... For the only reason (I came to think) for God to inspire the Bible would be so that his people would have his actual words, but if he really wanted people to have his actual words, surely he would have miraculously preserved those words, just as he had miraculously inspired them in the first place. Given the circumstances that he didn't preserve the words, the conclusion seemed inescapable to me that he hadn't gone to the trouble of inspiring them" (211).

Ehrman is clearly operating with a very simplistic account of inspiration. He seems to assume that if the Bible is a very human book, which it is, then it cannot also be divine. It is presented as an either/or option. Throughout his book Ehrman is targeting in his critique an extreme form of non-intellectual fundamentalism. This is revealed in the following comment he makes in the Conclusion in reference to Luke's use of Mark: "Luke has changed the account, and if we wish to understand what Luke wanted to emphasize, we need to take his changes seriously. People don't take his changes seriously, I came to see, when they pretend that Luke is saying the same thing as Mark" (213-214).

The truth of the matter is that serious evangelical biblical scholarship (and there is much of it) does not treat the four Gospels as basically saying the same thing about Jesus. There are differences along with the similarities and the differences are not ignored nor reinterpreted to put all the Gospel writers on the "same page" (pun intended). Once again Ehrman's argument demonstrates lack of nuance, not only in what he argues, but in the positions he critiques. If Ehrman's argument has merit, he needs to employ it in reference to this more serious and competent form of scholarship.

It is not an unreasonable claim that God did inspire this very human book called the "Bible." Indeed, it makes perfect sense that God would produce this book in the very same way it has come down to us; for God always works within the context of the human situation. This very same claim is made in the doctrine of Incarnation. In Jesus, God involves himself in the human situation throwing himself into the muck and mire of the world. It is not that since Jesus is human, he cannot be God; rather, since Jesus is human, God is with us. When Ehrman states that the Bible cannot be divine because it is human, he sounds quite Gnostic.

Years ago, the great theologian, Karl Barth, wrote a famous essay entitled, The Humanity of God. Ehrman would benefit from reading it.


Anonymous said...


Very helpful reviews of this book, as well as your conclusion. Hard to believe that Ehrman would not be thinking in terms of theology as understood in Christian orthodoxy and the best of evangelicals, in his critique. Or maybe he's thinking according to his own reasoning, which allows no room for an incarnational faith. Would be interesting to really know why he takes the stance he does, which is a clear and seemingly surely ideologically driven interpretation. For him it seems that what is of God can have none of the stamp of humanity on it, as you well say here.


Allan R. Bevere said...


I think Ehrman has so strongly reacted to his fundamentalist upbringing, that he has overreacted in response.