Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Reflections: Misquoting Jesus

After reading Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why by Bart D. Ehrman and writing my review, I feel like I need to address the personal side of the books impact.  As I said in the review, I do not feel like Ehrman undermines Christianity at all with his book.

That said, I can tell you I felt very uncomfortable, the more I read of the changes that were made to the manuscripts that have come to be our New Testament.  As I mentioned in Part II of my Religion is Hard, Faith is Easy post, I have had issues with the seeing the Bible as the inerrant Word of God for many years.  However, I had not realized how very many changes, additions and subtractions had been made over the centuries.  It was very disconcerting to see entire passages that were not part of the original manuscripts, though they might have been in the oral tradition.  It was also alarming how much certain Christian scribes had altered manuscripts to support what they considered "orthodox" Christianity.

I'll admit to a moment of panic--how could an entire faith be built on a book that was so very changed?

Then Bart Ehrman pointed out several facts about how the Bible has been viewed over time.

I was relieved to discover that the idea of basing the Christian faith on "sola scriptura"--only scripture--was actually an idea that sprung up during the Protestant Reformation.  Until then, in the Catholic church, traditions passed down through the church were just as important as the Bible.  It was the Protestant movement--I would wager in an attempt to get away from some rather corrupt traditions that had been made up over the centuries--that started asserting the Bible as the foundation for Christianity.  It was reassuring to me that the Christian faith was not always based only on the written scriptures, but also on the legitimate traditions conserved through the generations.

Another relief came when Ehrman revealed (well, it was a revelation to me) that the idea of an inerrant Bible actually developed in the American colonies.  Before that, the Bible was not necessarily held to be a work without error.  That was comforting because it let me know that for the majority of Christianity's history, people acknowledged that the Bible had moved through human hands and thus had been subject to change and error, even if it was the Word of God.

Another aspect of Misquoting Jesus that I enjoyed was Ch. 7--"The Social Worlds of the Text".  In this chapter Ehrman examines the changes made to the manuscripts in regards to women and Jews.  It was actually validating to me to see that some of the verses that I always had the most trouble with--the chauvinistic ones, the anti-Semitic ones--were actually added in or completely altered in order to give the New Testament its stances.  It was also interesting to see how verses had been altered to make them more anti-Semitic than the original manuscript read.  It was wonderful to see that in the oldest manuscripts, women were leaders in the ancient churches and did speak alongside their husbands in church. 

So, I feel more informed and even more content with my view on the Bible after reading Ehrman's book.  As I've said I still consider myself a Christian, even if I don't agree with the inerrancy of the Bible, or that it needs to be the be all end all of the Christian faith.  After reading Ehrman's book, I have found there is good reason for my views on that score, and that I'm not alone in said views--and that the history of the New Testament actually validates them!

All in all, I feel more secure in my version of the Christian faith than I did before, and I can't wait to learn more of the history of Christianity.  The next book:  Lost Christianities also by Bart Ehrman.


  1. The Lost Christianities book looks interesting. I'm reading a History of the Medieval World book right now and it is incredible just how Christianity really wasn't solidified for a few centuries and just how many versions there were out there. Crazy interesting!

  2. Really enjoyed reading your reflections. I feel the same way, and am encouraged by not being alone. :) And I was also glad that many of those passages are actually spurious.

    My friend was reading a book you might enjoy about the historical context of the old testament, looking at the way many of the narratives are told from two different perspectives, Judah's and Israel's. I'll have to find out the name of it.

  3. Thanks! I'm glad you enjoyed reading them. And as much as most of the passages are spurious, it was interesting to me how many of the passages actually had a great impact on the overall meaning and development of the theology! It really is a good book.
    But like I said, I was relieved that the view of the Bible as infallible and the idea of "sola scriptura" are both very new, historically speaking. :-D
    Congrats on y'all new place! I can't wait to see the pictures! Are y'all going to be down again anytime this summer?


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