Ehrman believes the history of our great stories matters. And his exploration of the New Testament's evolution is an enormous accomplishment. This is a work building on hundreds of years of research, for example, Stephanus's 1550 translation with marginal notes identifying variations between 14 different ancient Greek manuscripts. Or John Mill's 1707 comparison of over 100 Greek manuscripts to show 30,000 points of difference. And Ehrman's data base includes over 5,700 manuscripts in Greek alone, which yield a total of between 200,000 to 400,000 varients among them.
While comparing manuscripts, Ehrman gives us a parallel history of arguments and riposts among scholarly egos, making this a fascinating human story. We have, for example, the French Catholic scholar Richard Simon who in 1689 produced "A Critical History of the Text of the New Testament", giving a partisan blast at Protestant rejection of Church tradition in favor of reliance on scripture alone:
"The great changes that have taken place in the manuscripts of the Bible ... since the first originals were lost, completely destroy the principle of the Protestants ..., who consult only these same manuscripts of the Bible in the form they are today. If the truth of religion had not lived on in the Church, it would not be safe to look for it now in books that have been subjected to so many changes and that in so many matters were dependent on the will of the copyists."
Do all these differences among ancient hand-copied versions of the Bible make any difference? Ehrman shows thay do at many important points -- concerning Jesus, women, Jews, leadership, and more. And that's the really good part. I think this book is a big step forward in separating wheat from chaff in the scriptures.
--author of Correcting Jesus: 2000 Years of Changing the Story