Wednesday, October 11, 2006

A Recent Read Number 6

"Christianity from its very beginning was a literary religion, with books of all kinds playing a central role in the life and faith of the burgeoning Christian communities around the Mediterranean. How, then, was this Christian literature placed in circulation and distributed? The answer, of course, is that for a book to be distributed broadly, it had to be copied"

My latest read "Misquoting Jesus" by Bart D. Ehrman is a very interesting read. The main focus of this book is the New Testament of the Christian Holy Bible and its variations. Ehrman explains, often at length the process of copying the text of the Bible's New Testament from the first century Christians copying the scriptures by hand, to the Monks and scribes of the Middle Ages (still copying painstakingly by hand) to the early printing presses to modern mass publishing. He talks a lot about the scholarship field of textual critisim which is "the science of restoring the original words of a text from manuscripts that have altered them." The problem we have with The New Testament that we read today, is not only translation errors, but changes of the text in the "original" language by the scribes who copied the text. Changes to the text sometimes were just innocent mistakes, mispelling, letter or word switching. There were also intentional changes made. Some of these intentional changes were to correct previous errors made, but some of the changes were to clarify or support church views or theological ideas or views. Several examples of changes are described some of the examples were to support the divine nature of Jesus. This book explores only a sampling of the changes, if it were to list all of the changes it would be a series of books, since there are literally thousands of variations. Simple variations, complex variations both intentional and unintentional have been found since the original texts were first written.

One must question if the Bible is inspired by God then why all the changes? In his conclusion chapter the author writes "..even if God inspired the original words, we don't have the Original words" This opens up holes that atheists have jumped into for centuries. The author asks if God had inspired the words, then why didn't he preserve them? Who knows. My theory on this is along the lines of movies based on books. The movies make changes to the details of the text but they keep the story intact (usually). A second movie made many years later will often make more changes to the details but still keeps the basic story. The same thing has been done with the Bible, an original spelling error, or word switch in the text of an early copy has been copied many many times, but somewhere down the line some scholar or textual critic noticed the change, while comparing two versions. Once the change has been found, how significant is it? Does it matter how many women went to the tomb to prepare the body of Jesus for burial? What about the last words that Jesus said upon the cross?

Shortly after I started reading this book I noticed that another book was out there that points out some mistakes that are in this book.I guess I'll have to track that book down sometime and read it. The fact that this book may have some inaccurate information doesn't change the fact that what we read today is not the same exact wording as what the original author wrote. Does this mean the Bible is not inspired by God? Not necessarily, inspired doesn't mean dictated word for word as many people think it is. If the words of the New Testament are not the true words of God does that make them any less important?

Even though this book is subtitled "The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why" it doesn't really explain the Why completely. I don't think that can ever be known. We can discover how the text was changed, and narrow it down to when and generally speaking who, but for those changes that were intentional I don't think we will ever know why.

Misquoting Jesus - The Story Behind Who Changed The Bible and Why by Bart D. Ehrman 2005 Harper Collins Publishers 242 pages.

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