He told them: "This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things" (Gospel of Luke 24: 46-48)

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Bart Ehrman on New Testament Textual Criticism: Has the Text Been Lost in the Process?

A common misconception among the common individual is to view the present New Testament scripture to be the result of centuries of scribal errors, caused by continuous trends of scribal weakness, which consequently changed its text and meaning, rendering the original text as completely lost.

However, the common reader might reach this conclusion by misunderstanding the common terms and wording within the field of textual criticism and hence they misrepresent the actual of view of textual scholars such as Bruce Metzger, Bart Ehrman and F.F. Bruce among others.

Yet has the New Testament text undergone any serious changes due to centuries of scribal copying? And have scribal errors caused the original text and meaning to vanish; lets consider the wording of the popular textual critic Bart Ehrman:

Ehrman writes:

Most changes are careless errors that are easily recognised and corrected. Christian scribes often made mistakes simply because they were tired or inattentive...In spite of the remarkable differences among our manuscripts, scholars are convinced that we can reconstruct the oldest form of the words of the New Testament with a reasonable (though not 100 percent accuracy) (Barth Ehrman, Lost Christianities: The Battle for the Scripture and Faith We Never Knew, pp. 220-21).

Ehrman agrees in his later book Misquoting Jesus:

For my part however, I continue to think that even if we cannot be 100 percent certain...that it is at least possible to get back to the oldest and earliest stage of the manuscript tradition...This oldest form of the text is no doubt closely (very closely) related to what the author originally wrote’ (Barth Ehrman, Misquoting Jesus, p. 62)


  1. What I don't understand is why Ehrman became agnostic over the text not being perfectly preserved to the letter. I'm so confused by this guy.

    P.S. I like your blogs.

  2. Hi Panda,

    Thanks for reading my blog. You are very welcome here, also to comment whenever and about whatever.

    Ehrman did not loose his faith over these matters, but over an ethical-philosophical matter, namely God and the problem of evil. I would suggest you to read his book God's Problem, in which he explains he reason for agnosticism. The book of course is anti-God in its nature, arguing against the existence of God based upon the suffering and the problem of evil. If you feel comfortable reading something like that, perhaps do so. Personally I do not find that issue problematic, and I have witnessed suffering of the worsed kind; it might sometimes challenge my trust in God, that was indeed the case with David and the other prophets, but it does not question the existence of God.

    Yet the bottom line is Ehrman is not an agnostic or disbeliever in the Bible based upon his critical views of the New Testament; in fact a number of scholars are strong Christians and yet holding to the same views as Ehrman.

    At the moment Ehrman is probably the most popular of all critical scholars, and we need to admire his choice not to present the typical conjecture of so many like him.

    The fact is however, that his position on textual criticism does not cause any signifant problem for the New Testament, and I guess that in a few years time the multitude of scholars and common readers who at the moment glorify Ehrman will turn their backs on him, since his views will only support the Christian faith; they do not see this at the moment.

    Sometimes I am tempted to think that Ehrman is simply being naugthy; that perhaps he is a Christian in disguise who fools the entire community of atheists, agnostics and muslims. I don't think that is the case, but reading his books that thought is tempting.

    Most of these people who now utilize Ehrman for their anti-Christian purposes do not understand the field of textual criticism or the terms, they assume based upon the terms used and the language used that New Testament is entirely unreliable, however that is not what textual criticism suggests at all.

    All the best and God bless