I have just finished reading a book that has caused me to mistrust the
truth I find in the Bible. The book “Misquoting Jesus – The Story Behind
Who Changed the Bible and Why” by scholar/author Bart D. Ehrman has raised
innumerable questions in my mind as to the validity of what Jesus actually
taught his disciples. Ehrman says that the composition of the New
Testament began as lateas 70 years after the death of Jesus and was
recorded from stories passed through generations; inherent errors must
have been there. Also, for hundreds of years scribes hand copied these
words (on occasion with errors) to the printed King James Bible we study
today. I wonder, if we don?t really know the explicit words the Lord used
in his divine instruction how can we actually follow the teaching found in
the bible and know we are following the true word of God?
There has been an upsurge in such books lately. Let me assure
you that folks such as Bart Ehrman are not interested in the truth. They
have an agenda to create an unscholarly and deceitful smear campaign
against the Bible. This fits the pattern of Dan Brown, the author of the
DaVinci Code, as well as JamesCameron, the one who recently produced a
documentary on the supposed finding of the tomb and ossuary of Jesus of
Nazareth, the National Geographic group who published the Gospel of Judas
(which, by the way, is a legitimate document, but their treatment of it as
a credible testament to the life of Jesus is totally outrageous) and
others. Such witnesses are not to be trusted at all. There is not a lot
of money to be made and not much of a reputation to be gained by
supporting the truth?which is that the Bible is an accurate historical
record and is the inspired Word of God. Brown made tens of millions of
dollars by hyping the totally insupportable claim that Jesus was married
to Mary Magdalene. Cameron is cashing in on the same satanic idea. Mr.
Ehrman is of the same ilk, I am afraid.
Having made some pretty strong statements, let me add that
there are many scholars asking legitimate questions about the historical
accuracy of the Bible, about the dates at which the original letters were
penned, the authorship, the history of the texts and in what ways they
later became corrupted by copying and so forth. I do not mind at all
skeptics giving good scholarly input into the discussion. It is just that
popularizers of completely unfounded ideas who make large profits from
their bogus so-called scholarship are not welcome, in my opinion.
This is what Bart Ehrman is. I have read some of his
material. He is not a careful scholar. He may do a lot of research, but
his conclusions are blatantly biased and not useful for discussion of the
facts. First of all, there is not a single scholar (legitimate one, that
is) who says that the composition of the New Testament began seventy years
after the death of Jesus. It is obvious what Ehrman is trying to do. He
is trying to say that all the eye-witnesses were dead before the New
Testament was written. There is one problem with this thesis. It is
proven wrong by facts of which Ehrman absolutely has to be aware. We have
manuscripts as old as AD 125 (the Rylands Papyrus). In addition, there
exist a large body of letters written by the early church “fathers” such
as Clement of Rome, Polycarp, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus and others. These
early Christian writers from the very late first and the second century AD
quoted extensively from every part of the New Testament. The letters known
as the Epistle of Barnabus, the Didache and the Letter of Clement of Rome
have all been dated from around 100 AD. These authors quote from Matthew,
Mark, Luke, Acts, Romans, I Corinthians, Ephesians, Titus, Hebrews, I
Peter and others. The early church father Ignatius was martyred in 115 AD.
In a set of letters he composed on his way to his execution in Rome, he
quoted from nearly every New Testament book. One could continue by
mentioning the much more extensive writings of Justin Martyr from around
150 AD, and those of Iranaeus, from near the end of the second century.
Justin called the gospels the “memoirs of the apostles.” Experts have
claimed that using quotes from early Christian writers in the second
century, one could reconstruct nearly the entire text of the New
Testament. Nearly all scholars agree that Matthew Mark and Luke were
written before AD 70. John was almost certainly written before AD 90, and
probably at least ten years before that. Some debate whether Paul wrote 1
and 2 Timothy and Titus. However, virtually no scholars debate his
authorship of Romans, 1,2 Corinthians, and Galatians-2 Thessalonians.
Ehrman chooses, to ignore all these facts. Why? You will have to ask him.
Again, Ehrman?s mention of “hundreds of years scribes copied the New
Testament until the King James version” shows his obviously deceitful
intent. I am sure Ehrman is aware that we have entire manuscripts of the
New Testament in Greek from about AD 350, including the Codex Sinaiticus
and the Codex Vaticanus, as well as a number of manuscripts of entire
books of the New Testament and large parts of others from the third
century (The Washington Manuscripts, the Chester Beaty Papyri, etc.), and
even some from the second century. Why would anyone who was well aware of
this fact pretend that errors in copying after the second or third century
matter, when all scholars know that they are basically irrelevant to the
accuracy of the New Testament? The fact is that we have a virtually
perfect version of the original New Testament documents. We can cross
check this by reading the extensive quotes of Irenaeus, Polycarp, Justin
and others in the second century AD who were quoting from the manuscripts
in their possession.
Of the criticisms you mention by Ehrman, I believe that one of them has at
least some validity. The claim that these documents were not written by
eye-witnesses is disproved by the evidence. The claim that hundreds of
years allowed for massive mistakes in the New Testament is disproved.
However, he does raise one legitimate question, in my opinion. It is
almost certainly true that we do not have exact word-for-word transcripts
of the sayings of Jesus. I believe that the gospel writers are reliable
witnesses, but surely the speeches recorded are not exact, perfect
word-for-word quotes. Surely the memory of the apostles is a factor in
what we read. This I will concede. It is probably true that we do not
have every single word spoken by Jesus, exactly as he spoke. What we have
is the report of men who were with him for three years, twenty-four hours
per day. Jesus said many things, and I assume he had a similar message
wherever he went. There is a place for faith in this. I believe that
there is overwhelming evidence that the Bible is the inspired Word of God.
For this reason, I believe that God, through the Holy Spirit, had
influence on the final form of the things written in the Bible. “Above
all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the
prophet?s own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the
will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy
Spirit” (2 Peter 1:20-21). The original writings were inspired by God. I
believe this by faith, but also because of the incontrovertible evidence
for inspiration found everywhere I look in the Bible. I suggest you do
some reading at the web site for some evidence for biblical inspiration.
I have four books published which speak to the question of inspiration.
(From Shadow to Reality, Reasons for Belief, Daniel, Prophet to the
Nations, and Is There a God?, all available at www.ipibooks.com)
Bottom line, the original writings were inspired by God. Whether or not
the words quoted are an exact transcript of one particular discourse by
Jesus or whether they are the summary of words spoken by Jesus many times
and on many occasions is not relevant to the fact that these are the Word
of God. Please do not let the deceitful and biased words from Ehrman
disturb your faith in what is obvious?which is that the Bible is from God.
Ehrman has an agenda, which is to destroy your faith in God and in Jesus.
You would do well to take everything he says with one giant grain of salt.
John Oakes, PhD