Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why

Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why

For almost 1,500 years, the New Testament manuscripts were copied by hand––and mistakes and intentional changes abound in the competing manuscript versions. Religious and biblical scholar Bart Ehrman makes the provocative case that many of our widely held beliefs concerning the divinity of Jesus, the Trinity, and the divine origins of the Bible itself are the results of bo...

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Title:Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why
Author:Bart D. Ehrman
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Edition Language:English

Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why Reviews

  • Wendy

    As a biblical scholar, the author wanted to read the Bible in the languages in which it was first written and so studied them and went deeper into the texts. His decision to go deeper, to fully appreciate it, led him to find out as the old saying goes more than he bargained for. It led him to reevaluate his faith which had been based on a belief in the literal truth of what he had been taught it said and in the inerrancy of it as brought down thru the ages..as it was originally written.

    What he

    As a biblical scholar, the author wanted to read the Bible in the languages in which it was first written and so studied them and went deeper into the texts. His decision to go deeper, to fully appreciate it, led him to find out as the old saying goes more than he bargained for. It led him to reevaluate his faith which had been based on a belief in the literal truth of what he had been taught it said and in the inerrancy of it as brought down thru the ages..as it was originally written.

    What he discovered was that the Bible had been changed many times by those who were translating it, copying in, interpreting it, and even adding to it for a variety of reasons. He learned of all the various debates over the nature of Jesus and God and the schools of thought which were responded to by later copyists who "clarified" and reinforced their side of the debates by adding to the text.

    He applied his expertise in analyzing the multilayered mysteries of alterations and has provided us a rich and fascinating glimpse into history including the context of various forms of Christian beliefs through the centuries, the purpose of some of the writers and the identification of multiple or single more ancient sources for some of the writing and its authorship and of controversies about the role and nature of Jesus which sparked such changes and forever changes the readers understanding of what the Bible can provide.

    I thought perhaps one of the most interesting insights I gained is how rewriting, adding or editing was an accepted practice and not as so many today would imagine as sacrilidge and evil and not in keeping with the Biblical writings being "holy or sacred" texts.

    The last person who consciously edited the new testament to strip it of what he thought was wrong, false, and irrelevant to its message was Thomas Jefferson who did so not as a surreptitious amender but who set off his version as standing on its own as an independent book, a slim volume known as The Jefferson Bible.

    Not something that a current President or crop of candidates would DARE to admit to even thinking of doing in this time of evangelical religiousity .

    Again, much is revealed about the temper of the times and how attitudes toward the Bible and its use has changed over time even within the last few hundred years thru books such as these. I heartily recommend it.

  • Trevor

    This really is a fantastic book. When Wendy recommended it I thought that it would be pretty much the same old stuff that one would expect when an Atheist recommends a book on Religion. Let me explain why this isn’t what you might expect.

    Firstly, it is written by someone who I assume still considers himself a Christian. He begins this book by telling the reader his ‘life story’ – how he became a born again Christian at fifteen and how this lead him to become fascinated in The Bible. Not in the w

    This really is a fantastic book. When Wendy recommended it I thought that it would be pretty much the same old stuff that one would expect when an Atheist recommends a book on Religion. Let me explain why this isn’t what you might expect.

    Firstly, it is written by someone who I assume still considers himself a Christian. He begins this book by telling the reader his ‘life story’ – how he became a born again Christian at fifteen and how this lead him to become fascinated in The Bible. Not in the way other fundamentalists necessarily become fascinated by The Bible, but rather really fascinated – perhaps obsessed is a better word if you can view that word positively. He knew that The Bible was the ‘inspired word of God’ – but he also knew a few other things, like that it wasn’t originally written in English. So, he wanted to know, how close is the ‘current’ Bible to the ‘original’ Bible? That is the sort of question that can send one off on a lifetime’s adventure – and that is precisely what happens in this book.

    He learns Ancient languages, including Greek, Latin and god knows what else. He studies in various (and, to a fundamentalist Christian, increasingly challenging) universities and finally has his faith – the simple-minded faith he started with – rocked to the core by what he learns.

    When someone is this engaged, this excited and this informed about what they are writing and obsessed in it is impossible not to feel your pulse race as you read. And this guy loves his stuff.

    I also really like it when someone says something that initially sounds paradoxical and then, once it is explained, makes complete sense. Take, for example, his maxim that if you have two versions of the same text and one version is easy to read and understand and the other is difficult, then the difficult one is most likely to be the original. This sounds almost perverse, but really it is obvious. If you were a scribe and you came across a piece of text, you would be much more likely to change it so as to simplify it than to change it to make it more difficult to understand. Numerous examples are given of parts of the Bible being changed (the last six verses of Mark being added is my favourite and a clear candidate for the most remarkable example) so as to make them easier to understand.

    This isn’t a book that is seeking to rub the noses of Christians in the contradictions and mistakes inherent in The Bible, but what it is about is pointing out that rather than being inerrant, the New Testament is very much a human book telling a remarkable story in various and very human ways. The book ends with a wonderful explanation of the differences between the four Gospels and makes a compelling argument for why they cannot be read as if they were one book that need to be read to tell the one story, but rather four different tellings of the one story. It is not the similarities that are important in these stories, but their differences and what these differences mean is what is vitally important.

    He spends much time addressing the differences between Mark and Luke – particularly the passion and the remarkably different portrayals of Jesus in these two Gospels. For this stuff alone the book is worth reading.

    He also quotes some terribly interesting material regarding the transcription and duplication of the early manuscripts. To be honest, it is hard to imagine that this book survived its origins at all. He quotes one person who is charged with producing a copy of the New Testament who describes how he had to transcribe it letter by letter, given he could not read the language the New Testament he was transcribing was written in. Repeatedly we are told that if you compare the earliest manuscripts of the New Testament you will find that there are more differences between them than there are words in the New Testament. A nice line. Of course, like any evolutionary process, most of these differences are clearly errors and make little or not sense, are easily identified and are almost meaningless. However, some couldn’t be more important to understanding the nature of Jesus and the meaning of his life.

    He also describes, and makes compelling cases for, intentional changes to the text made by early groups of Christians and their possible motivations for making these changes. I was particularly interested in this as it turns out Paul may not have been the misogynist old prig I’d always taken him to be. Paul’s requirement that women are not to speak in Church – something I tend to raise every time people talk about Women Bishops or Women Priests as my little contribution illuminating how irrelevant Christianity is in today’s world – is asserted to be probably a later addition and is clearly a view that is contradicted elsewhere in the same letter by Paul. Anything that helps remove or even just undermines some of the more obnoxious and objectionable ideas in the Bible (hatred of women, gays, Jews, blacks for instance) can’t be a bad thing.

    Part of the reason the author says it is important to get some idea of the original text of the New Testament – for Christians and Non-Christians alike – is that The Bible is a cornerstone of our culture and this alone makes it an important document to understand. I don’t think this is as compelling an argument as he does – in fact, getting to the ‘original text’ is quite irrelevant to The Bible as a cultural artefact, as it wasn’t the original that impacted on our culture, but the innumerable ‘error filled’ versions throughout the years. Even if one was able to prove that the original version of the New Testament stated that Jesus was not the Son of God, but just a man who lived and died – what would that matter? Two thousand years of Western religious tradition would hardly vanish as a result – no matter how good the proof.

    No, the point is that this book and the story it tells really doesn’t require external motivations to justify its telling. The history it explains is completely fascinating in itself. As someone who has spent the last seven years reading over what has been essentially the same document with very minor changes (enterprise agreements all have maternity leave clauses and hours of work clauses – but all are potentially different) I found this book utterly compelling. I think I could have quite enjoyed a life as a Biblical scholar, tracking changes to texts and researching why those changes might not have been accidental.

    There are many people in the world to whom this book really should be made compulsory reading – for the rest of us no compulsion is necessary – it really is a pleasure to read.

  • Nat

    A must for anyone who wants to know WHY the Bible isn't inerrant. A wonderful work by a biblical scholar who was motivated by his deep faith and only wanted to find the truth. One of the most interesting aspects is that the reader will come to understand how biblical scholars work and the methods they use to decide which text represents an older tradition than another text. Also, those new to the study of comparative religion will probably be amazed to learn (or refuse to believe) that some part

    A must for anyone who wants to know WHY the Bible isn't inerrant. A wonderful work by a biblical scholar who was motivated by his deep faith and only wanted to find the truth. One of the most interesting aspects is that the reader will come to understand how biblical scholars work and the methods they use to decide which text represents an older tradition than another text. Also, those new to the study of comparative religion will probably be amazed to learn (or refuse to believe) that some parts of the Bible were deliberately changed for political purposes, while others were changed due to mistakes, either of interpretation or of copy-error. In any case, a fascinating and well-written book.

  • Jeffrey

    Please, if you're Christian, read this. If you're religious, read this. If you're atheist, read this. I guess what I'm saying is read this. Misquoting Jesus reminds me of the game we played in elementary school. The teacher whispers a story in the ear of one child and it's whispered from one ear to the next until the last child tells the story out loud. And guess what? It's considerably different from the original. No dah! Well, imagine this . . . A book is copied over and over and over by monks

    Please, if you're Christian, read this. If you're religious, read this. If you're atheist, read this. I guess what I'm saying is read this. Misquoting Jesus reminds me of the game we played in elementary school. The teacher whispers a story in the ear of one child and it's whispered from one ear to the next until the last child tells the story out loud. And guess what? It's considerably different from the original. No dah! Well, imagine this . . . A book is copied over and over and over by monks that are human, prone to error, bias, deceit, and so on. And guess what? Jesus' story changes. No dah! Here's another point to consider. Even if the book were in its original form, you'd still have arguments. For what about the law "Thou shall not kill"? Not a lot of detail on what to do here. What if your country asks you to go to war, do you kill? What if someone threatens your child's life, do you kill? During a discussion, a student of mine of a particular Christian sect piped up and desired to end the discussion by saying, "Well, just do what the Bible tells you to do." OK, people have been doing that for years, and if there were only one way of doing things, why so many sects? Just look in the phone book and you get lost in all the churches in there. This is an essential book for anyone who wants a better critical thinking understanding of how "the story" can go astray based on what individuals think, feel, and hear, based on bias and personal filtering. A must read.

  • Lena

    Ehrman was just a teenager when he had a born-again experience that led him to devote his life to the study of Christianity. Hoping to help defend the Bible as the true word of God, he focused his studies on the origins of the Bible, only to discover that the history of a book whose words many faithful take as infallible truth is nowhere near as clear as most people would like to believe. It seems that God suffered the same fate as many great writers and had his words altered by numerous editors

    Ehrman was just a teenager when he had a born-again experience that led him to devote his life to the study of Christianity. Hoping to help defend the Bible as the true word of God, he focused his studies on the origins of the Bible, only to discover that the history of a book whose words many faithful take as infallible truth is nowhere near as clear as most people would like to believe. It seems that God suffered the same fate as many great writers and had his words altered by numerous editors, from sloppy scribes to church leaders seeking to make the Bible support their particular interpretation the gospel. Ehrman details with convincing clarity how earlier versions of the Bible vary greatly on such teachings as the role of women in the church and even the divinity of Christ himself. Highly recommended for anyone affected by the idea that the Bible is the true and unaltered word of God.

  • Juhem Navarro

    If you read the reviews written in the Barnes and Noble website, you’ll probably see three types of review:

    1. The smart ass academic or pseudoacademic who says the book isn’t that good anyway

    2. The fundamentalist Christian appalled at the idea of someone doubting the infallibility of the Bible

    3. Your average Joe that finds the book quite interesting

    In my case, I could be a #1 considering that I’m both a smart ass and an academic (or so I like to think). In the case ofMisquoting Jesus Cover bi

    If you read the reviews written in the Barnes and Noble website, you’ll probably see three types of review:

    1. The smart ass academic or pseudoacademic who says the book isn’t that good anyway

    2. The fundamentalist Christian appalled at the idea of someone doubting the infallibility of the Bible

    3. Your average Joe that finds the book quite interesting

    In my case, I could be a #1 considering that I’m both a smart ass and an academic (or so I like to think). In the case ofMisquoting Jesus Cover biblical stuff, I’m more like a #3. I wouldn’t say it is the best book I have ever read, but it is a good book in three aspects.

    The first aspect is readability. In this case, it is a short and entertaining book. Ehrman doesn’t go into unnecessary details on how textual criticism is conducted, but gives you an idea of how gruesome the process can be. Additionally, the side story of how he converted from a fundie believer in biblical literalism to an agnostic (or if you prefer an “atheist without balls” as Stephen Colbert called him) is both interesting and a little sad.

    The second aspect is in the delivery of the goods. Some of the B&N reviewers complained that “Misquoting Jesus” is a misnomer, but I disagree. In several instances he mentions how the things that Jesus [supposedly] said were changed by scribes or even by the gospel authors (yes Luke, you know what you did). In this case the subtitle “The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why” is more revealing. This is because he tells us some of the more common reasons to make mistakes transcribing ancient texts (reason #1: no Microsoft Word, heck! not even Gutenberg Print). People got distracted, people got tired, others weren’t very good at neither reading nor writing yet were considered literate in a time when a very small percentage of people knew how to read or write. And sometimes they changed stuff to meet their beliefs (just like some people overlook the fact that Rick Ankiel probably used HGH because they like him). In this sense the book is revealing because he is not talking about conspiracy theories (sorry DaVinci Code fans) but about how incredibly human is this supposedly divine book.

    Finally it provides a little perspective into what was going on during those early days of Christianity. Just like there are many interpretations these days, there were many interpretations in those days (and some way too odd). In a way the bible instead of being inspired, evolved for many many years until some loosely unified theology arose in which most could agree (Jesus is God, God is Jesus, both are the Holy Ghost…and nobody thinks it is a little schizophrenic?). I also used the word evolved combined with bible to piss off the intelligent designers out there.

    Why I recommend this book? Because of the reasons stated above and because if it wasn’t for this book, we would need to read all the scholarship out there and maybe even learn Greek, Latin, Hebrew, Coptic, Aramaic, and whatever. Also, because it is pissing off fundies everywhere.

  • Shaun

    This was pretty good for what it was, a textual criticism of the Bible. Sure it's a little repetitive at times, but I think this is the result of the author trying to simplify and explain a complex topic to an ignorant (at least relatively ignorant) audience.

    Bart Ehrman attended Moody Bible College and finished his Bachelors degree at Wheaton College. He then received his PhD and M.Div from Princeton Theological Seminary.

    A born-again Christian, Ehrman's desire to understand the Bible led him to

    This was pretty good for what it was, a textual criticism of the Bible. Sure it's a little repetitive at times, but I think this is the result of the author trying to simplify and explain a complex topic to an ignorant (at least relatively ignorant) audience.

    Bart Ehrman attended Moody Bible College and finished his Bachelors degree at Wheaton College. He then received his PhD and M.Div from Princeton Theological Seminary.

    A born-again Christian, Ehrman's desire to understand the Bible led him to study ancient languages and develop the art and skill of textual criticism, a branch of text scholarship which concerns itself with the identification and removal of errors from text.

    Through his studies he began to doubt that the Bible was indeed the inerrant word of God based on the fact that it suffered from centuries of editing problems. In his opinion, how can we trust that the Bible is God's word if the words have been (repeatedly) either intentionally or unintentionally changed.

    Aside from the obvious indication that the Bible is not the absolute perfect word of God, or if it is, then surely the words of an incompetent one as the Bible was manipulated throughout history, I found this to be an interesting read.

    I now better understand the origin of the Christian religion and it's refinement.

    Reading this, I was reminded of discussions that we have in the US over our constitution and the "original" intent and our present interpretation. The fact that we've needed to amend our constitution speaks volume about the complications innate in trying to live by a document that was written in a different time and that's when we can verify and agree on the original wording.

    Some things I learned:

    Though this might seem obvious to others, the point that most if not all early Christians were unable to read had not been something I gave much thought to before. Even many of the early translators could not read and were merely reproducing symbols. This would seem to encourage errors of all kinds.

    I had heard that the Bible was an incomplete canon representing various literary works at the time, but did not realize how many were excluded or how many of those included were collections of letters, some written by the original speaker and others written by others using that person's name.

    I learned that at the time of Christ, there were three distinct groups of believers...those who believed he was merely a man, those that believed he was both man and "god" simultaneously, and those who believed he was a man inhabited by Christ's spirit. I also did not realize that a number of Christians believed that the God of the Old Testament was a different God from that of the New Testament. Thus the Christianity we know today was not born in its "pure" form but evolved over time. This seems like a no brainer, but until reading this book and despite being brought up a Christian, I had never explored this idea thoroughly.

    I had no idea, nor did I think about, how many copies of the Bible were made using the most antiquated form of publication. I liked that Ehrman provided a number of examples of passages that were changed/added or taken away and the cultural context under which this was done. He also provided examples of the unintentional/editing errors that a process of dictation and hand copying texts that used no punctuation or spacing would tend to produce under even the best circumstances.

    I also have a better understanding of the rift between Christianity and Judaism.

    I definitely learned what textual criticism is and how it was/is (because we continue to fine new texts) used to try and recreate the original texts of the Bible as well as all the complications that make it difficult to actually do.

    Interestingly, I read a review this morning that said most Christians already know all about these "problems" and they don't care, but I don't find that to be the case. I'm sure many Christians I know would find ways to rationalize the inconsistencies away, but the origin and possible errors in the Bible are not something that is openly discussed in most Churches and not something the masses are aware of.

    I'm not sure whom I would recommend this to. Prior to reading this book, I did not view the Bible as the inerrant word of God (though I know many who do), but still I appreciated the history. I'm not sure how a believer would react to this. Yet whether a Christian or not, Christianity is a major player in the world we live in, and understanding it (good and bad) somehow seems worthwhile.

    Ehrman is now an atheist. I would be interested in reading a book from a believer's perspective. It would be worthwhile, I think, to see how that person would deal with the issues Ehrman has brought up.

  • Mary ~Ravager of Tomes~

    Before I write my review, I must emphasize that

    It in no way seeks to destroy the your faith, your system of belief, or convert you to atheism/agnosticism. I feel this is an important disclaimer.

    Something about me, I always feel very lost when it comes to selecting educational books on my own. I don't like to perpetuate false information, and it's overwhelming to select literature that maintains an interesting narrative while also providing

    Before I write my review, I must emphasize that

    It in no way seeks to destroy the your faith, your system of belief, or convert you to atheism/agnosticism. I feel this is an important disclaimer.

    Something about me, I always feel very lost when it comes to selecting educational books on my own. I don't like to perpetuate false information, and it's overwhelming to select literature that maintains an interesting narrative while also providing facts and support for its claims.

    Those qualifications, however, are

    in

    As I stated earlier, this book

    Rather, it challenges you to consider how and why one of the most significant books in history was changed from it's original conception into the Bible we know today.

    While reading this, I decided to view it in the same way a member of a jury may view a prosecutor's statements in a court case. The goal is not necessarily to prove what

    , but rather to raise questions based on logic and contextual evidence as to what

    Through examples, citations, and logical analysis, Ehrman contemplates how differences in the manuscripts of the New Testament were the product of scribes, both intentional and unintentional. While a large portion of these differences tend to be considered irrelevant, the fact that they

    is important to consider.

    If these changes, clarifications, and mistakes exist in what we have of old manuscripts, it is reasonable to consider that the Bible we have today is not the same Bible that was written as the inspired Word of God during it's origination. Because of this, it is also reasonable to take the words of the Bible with a grain of salt.

    I found the examples in this book

    to say the least, and I feel as though both Christians and non-Christians alike should consider giving this a read. Ehrman backs up his analysis with citations and references, along with a long history of formal education on this topic.

    His arguments create a space for one to consider that

    As someone who comes from a religious background, I have to agree with this conclusion.

    I rated this a 4 stars because there were a couple times when sentences got a little bit convoluted and I was forced to re-read to make sense of it. But overall, a wonderful book that is, for the most part, written in layman's terms. For those of us interested in analyzing the Bible, this is a must-read.

  • Skylar Burris

    While I found it interesting to see what differed in various manuscripts, I did not find any of these changes as sensational, apparently, as the back cover blurb writers did. Ehrman's subject and thesis are interesting, but, unfortunately, he is quite repetitive and his arguments are poorly organized. The introduction and conclusion are the clearest, most arresting portions of the book. The introduction is an intriguing spiritual autobiography, but his conclusion leans a little too heavily towar

    While I found it interesting to see what differed in various manuscripts, I did not find any of these changes as sensational, apparently, as the back cover blurb writers did. Ehrman's subject and thesis are interesting, but, unfortunately, he is quite repetitive and his arguments are poorly organized. The introduction and conclusion are the clearest, most arresting portions of the book. The introduction is an intriguing spiritual autobiography, but his conclusion leans a little too heavily towards deconstructionism for my taste: he states there is no meaning inherent in text. It is certainly true that texts give rise to multiple interpretations, but it is equally true that some interpretations are more correct than others.

    The book will be disturbing to those who regard the Bible as a single entity sprung full grown like Athena from Zeus's head. It will be far less disturbing to those whose Christianity has been rooted in an appreciation of both scripture and tradition. Although Ehrman's thesis was interesting, the problem is that you can take any of these phrases or words that are found in some New Testament manuscripts and not others and draw from that fact whatever implications you desire. The difference can mean something or next to nothing, and, to Ehrman, they seem to mean a bit too much. I often had the impression that he was making mountains out of molehills. Ehrman also often attributes complicated theological and social motives to scribes when much simpler motives would suffice.

    Most of the changes and additions that were made were recognized as such and therefore were not incorporated into our modern Bibles. Even those very few additions or changes that were incorporated into our modern Bibles are inconsequential; it would not alter orthodox doctrine one iota if they were eliminated, because all of the doctrines they bolster find support elsewhere in uncontested passages of the New Testament. In fact, even in Ehrman's own argument, the orthodox ideas were formed and THEN verses were altered to support them; it therefore cannot be reasonably argued that these changes have in any way affected the formation of orthodox doctrine. It is not as if the creedal doctrines we have today are based on some misquoted text; the ideas came first, even before the textual changes; they were drawn from the scriptures as a whole, and not from any one single verse. What Ehrman does make a good case for (though this does not at all seem to be his goal) is the idea that the orthodox tradition is as valuable as scripture, which many denominations recognize explicitly and most recognize implicitly (by the fact that they accept the canon as a canon at all).

    In the end, Ehrman is not saying anything new, anything that has not been said by textual critics for years and years and years. Somehow, though, he has managed to break through to a more general audience, and that takes talent. Unfortunately, however, that general audience may be ill informed about Christian history and theology and doctrine and its origins and may not be able to put the facts he reveals into context. I believe anyone who reads this should, for the sake of balance, also read Timothy Paul Jones's "Misquoting Truth."

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