Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Review of:
Ehrman, Bart D. Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why. New York: Harper One, 2005.

Assessment of Book from a Layman’s Perspective:

Bart Ehrman certainly accomplished his purpose in writing a book for those who “know almost nothing about textual criticism” (15). Furthermore, this book shows “how scribes were changing scripture and how we today can recognize where they did so” (15). In this regard, Ehrman did a marvelous job at fulfilling the purpose of the book. It is easy to read, clear, very simple, and full of examples and various textual critical issues in the NT to support his hypothesis. With that said, I grieve for Ehrman and for those who read the book—especially those lay people with very elementary knowledge of the NT who read this book and are swayed to believe that it is only a “human book” (12, 211).

I could foresee a number of questions arising in the minds of laymen who read this book. Such questions may include: (1) why even study the Bible if in fact we don’t have the original words of Scripture anyway? (2) if scribes and copyists merely changed, altered, misread, and overlooked some (or, many) parts of the biblical text, how do we really know that we have a reliable translation of the Bible? (3) if the early church and scribes altered the text freely for theological reasons how can we really know what the original says? And, can we change and alter the text today to fit our theological presuppositions? (4) if the Bible is really demeaning to women and anti-Semitic why would I want to read an allegedly “God-inspired” book that humiliates women and Jews?

Ehrman’s introduction where he recounted his personal history and how he gained interest in the art of textual criticism proved helpful for me. It seemed that the turning point for him was the text in Mark about “Abiathar the high priest” where he finally concluded: “Hmm … maybe Mark did make a mistake” (9). This, for Ehrman, opened the door for skepticism, criticism, and doubt regarding the inerrancy and inspiration of God’s Word (which he admits in his own words on p.9). It seems clear to me that Ehrman has a theological agenda underpinning this book from beginning to end. That agenda is that the Bible is not the inspired and inerrant word of God but that it is a human book—and only a human book. Without explicitly stating that he wants to discredit the Word of God, he does this very thing in the book by bringing much doubt on the trustworthiness of the Scriptures.

One more point that I would want to certainly share with a layman who just read this book. Nowhere in the book does Ehrman mention anything about God’s supernatural preservation of His Word. He merely brushes off inspiration and inerrancy as something that he believed “in the past” in his late teens (211). But now that he has grown in his understanding of the text and in his scholarship, he sees how the doctrine of inspiration was in a sense “irrelevant to the Bible … since the words GOd reputedly inspired had been changed and, in some cases, lost” (211).

In summary, I think the book is very helpful in that it clearly reveals much about textual criticism, the manuscripts, scribal tendencies, and theological and social contexts in a clear way for the theologically uneducated to understand. Nevertheless, I would quickly insert a book that strongly affirms the inspiration and inerrancy of God’s Word into that layman’s hands to read know that we can—and must!—believe God’s Word to be the inspired, inerrant, true Word of God in the original autographs. An essential element here is faith—something that Ehrman completely omitted from this entire book (cf. 2 Tim 3:16-17; Ps 119:89; John 10:35).


Anonymous said...


What a great critique! Thanks for making this so clear and easy to understand. It is great to be able to keep up with all that you are reading these days.

It seems as though our God has gifted you with a very discerning spirit, my love. :)

-Your Wifey

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