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on 9 October 2014
As a born again, Bible-believing Christian this has certainly given me food for thought. I see Ehrman is a scholar who has attempted (more or less) to deal honestly and scientifically with the text.

I have learned a great deal about the problems of textual criticism, and it was fun to read how early scribes may have altered the text in such a way that our modern reading has been affected by it. And how modern scholarship is attempting to recover the originals.

But it's the "more or less" that I have problems with. It is clear that Erhman has a slant, an agenda. I do not mean this in a derogatory fashion. We all have our slants and our agendas. And this has coloured his opinions. There were parts of the text where I really felt he was stretching it. It's hard to remember all of the areas i felt he was doing this, but just this morning I finished up the last chapter where he delves into the anti-Semitic reasons as to why early scribes may have changed the text. He speaks with such certainty, but like so much in this field his opinions are only conjecture. Perhaps very good and logical, but sitting there reading I was able to come up with other possible scenarios (using the principles he gives) as to why the text may have changed.

Ehrman tries to portray himself as a disinterested scholar, but it is clear he dislikes Christianity even though he has given his life to the study of it. That's fine. But one should be aware that this will affect the way one looks at the evidence and how one interprets it.

I believe Christianity is primarily about a relationship with Jesus Christ, which is why I am not too bothered by the idea that textual variants have appeared in the manuscripts. Fundamentalistic religion balks at the idea and squirms around it, but the Word is a Person, not ink on a page.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 28 October 2016
This is a very interesting and well written book, that examines how the manuscripts of the New Testament have been altered and adapted over time. The author, a biblical scholar, examines the historical process which has changed the New Testament. The original manuscripts - written during the latter part of the 1st century and the first part of the second century, no longer exist ... nor do the first copies that were made during the second 2nd century. Nor, indeed, do the initial copies of the copies - as made during the 3rd century. What we have access to are copies of the copies of the copies of the copies ... And the earliest such documents that still survive are from the 4th century. These manuscripts, written centuries after the originals, contain many differences. As such, we simply don't possess - and can't access - the originals. And what we do possess clearly show that many changes have been made.

Given that so many changes were made during the initial centuries following the writing of the original New Testament manuscripts, we can't know what those originals actually said. All we know is what later writers offer us ... and, as these later documents are so very different from each other, we've no idea which - if any - is more authentic. What's more, still later versions of the New Testament - such as the King James - are is various ways different from the earliest existing manuscripts. So further changes - throughout the second half of the first millennium, and during the first half of the second millennium - have been made. Sentences in the text have been altered; new sentences have been added!

What Ehrman does is provide us with a fascinating account on who changed the New Testament. This is a book written with a popular audience in mind, and it's straightforward to understand. I found it an enjoyable read ... But it is rather short (at some 218 pages), and it goes into little detail as regards what the alterations and changes actually are. Ehrman points out that such adaptations have been made, but says too little about their specifics. I would have enjoyed a more in-depth study. Fortunately, the author has written such a book - The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture: The Effect of Early Christological Controversies on the Text of the New Testament.
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on 30 May 2017
I enjoy all of Bart's books that I've read. This one shows his ability to write for a mass market readership.
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on 17 March 2017
Has bin used for studies and is full of yellow markings.
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on 27 May 2010
As a former-evangelical who's faith has cooled somewhat - much like Ehrman himself, though for different reasons - I thought this would be a useful book to get a more rounded view on why the Bible is a product of men rather than God. I finished feeling rather underwhelmed.

For one thing, Ehrman makes what I think is a chief error at the outset by labeling Christianity a "religion of the book". Having studied church history in some depth, I think this is highly incorrect; Christianity did not become a religion of the book until Martin Luther proclaimed "sola scriptura" as the final authority of faith. Until then, apostolic tradition was a co-equal force in determining orthodoxy, and was appealed to by the "proto-orthodox" writers at least as much as scripture.

Secondly, on a related note, Ehrman seems to think he's really pulling the rug out from under Christianity by highlighting textual variants in the manuscripts. Actually, the only faith that is having the rug pulled from under it is the kind of fundamentalist Christianity that tried to sift through the text with a fine-tooth comb and squeeze implausible amounts of significance out of specific wordings - the kind of Christianity that things we can know what the "middle verse of the Bible is". For most sensible brands of Christianity, Ehrman's revelations will scarcely be troubling; especially the Catholic and Orthodox churches which continue to recognise Tradition as a vehicle of revelation.

Thirdly, I must complain that Ehrman seems to repeat the fundamentals of his case infuriatingly often. Phrases like "on occassion the debates made an impact on the text being copied, as passages were changed to reflect the views of the scribes reproducing them" appear at the start of almost every chapter, and several times throughout. So often I found myself thinking "Yeah, you already said that, get on with it!"

Fourthly and finally, whilst Ehrman gives an excellent and accessible overview of the history of textual criticism and it's methods, I found myself wondering if modern scholarship assumes too much about the motives behind textual changes. Is it really reasonable to assume that the scribes producing the manuscripts were involved with the theological debates of their day? Can it really be said for certain that the change of a theta to an omicron in 1 Tim 3:16 - such as to render it "God made manifest" rather than "who was made manifest" was made to counter 'adoptionist' interpretations, when verses in the gospels in which Jesus says "the Father is greater than the Son" are left intact?

There are some pretty major points that come out of the book, such as the probable absence of some important Bible passages from the original autographs, but overall I think that Ehrman doesn't have as major a revelation as he thinks, and if he had originally found faith in a Catholic or Anglican theological college rather the Moody Bible Institute, I rather suspect his faith would never have been rocked by what he learned.
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on 20 October 2012
Despite the provocative title, this book is for the most part simply an easy to read introduction to the field of New Testament textual criticism. It provides a fascinating account of the history of the New Testament, including a detailed explanation of why there are variants between the ancient New Testament manuscripts, and the methods used by scholars today to determine which of these are the most likely to be the original text.

The introduction provides Ehrman's own story, of how he became a "born again" Christian at high school, and adopted the belief that the bible is the "inerrant word of God." Ehrman's study of textual criticism challenged this view, however, and his understanding of the bible and his beliefs have changed as a result.

Chapters 1 - 3 outline the broad history of the New Testament, and raise the primary problem this book is concerned with: that the scribes who made the earliest copies of the New Testament texts were usually untrained, and as a result they made numerous mistakes and alterations. As a result there are literally tens of thousands of variations that exist between the surviving manuscripts we have today.

Chapters 4-5 describe the effort of scholars, from the early 1700's onwards, to develop methods of reconstructing the original text of the New Testament. Today scholars consider a range of arguments to support the selection of one text over another, including both external evidence (evidence relating to the reliability of the manuscripts) and internal evidence (evidence relating to the variants themselves).

Chapters 6 and 7 focus on the relationship between the history of the early church, and the intentional changes made by scribes to the New Testament texts. Ehrman argues that the early scribes who copied the scriptures were intent on preserving the text accurately, but nevertheless occasional "corrections" were made for a variety of reasons relating to the apologetic concerns of the early church. Ehrman notes that these changes were usually very minor in nature, and that the scribes probably believed their changes were simply ensuring the text said what it was already believed to mean.

In the conclusion Ehrman returns to his own story, of how he came to believe the bible is a very human book, and not inspired by God - since if God inspired the individual words, he should have "miraculously preserved those words, just as he miraculously inspired them in the first place." Ehrman came to see that each New Testament author also brought their own perspectives to their writings, and reinterpreted the oral and written traditions they had received - which is something we all do whenever we interpret something.

For the majority of Christians and non-believers alike, the contents of this book will hardly be a surprise. Even the most conservative translations today, such as the NIV, detail in their footnotes information on textual variants in the ancient manuscripts where these are deemed to be problematic. Those who believe the Bible to be "inerrant", however, may find this to be a challenging read, particularly if they have not thought through the details of how the text of the bible has been transmitted to us. This is no doubt one of the reasons why this book was written - to challenge a fundamentalist understanding of the bible. The idea of inspiration, for example, can mean many things without resorting to the literalistic view that God has given us the individual words of the bible - common sense should tell us that the bible contains the many different perspectives of the authors.

My main criticism is that by focussing solely on the variants between the manuscripts, this book may leave the reader with an impression of the New Testament as being less reliable than it actually is. In reality, considering these are ancient texts, the modern translations we have today are remarkably accurate due to the large number of ancient manuscripts we have, and the diligent work of numerous textual critics to determine which variants are likely to be original. I don't think this is necessarily intentional, as Ehrman himself notes on p.94: "In a remarkable number of instances - most of them, actually - scholars by and large agree" (which variants are most likely to be original).
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on 23 September 2007
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
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on 19 September 2017
Came punctually. Quality as promised. Super
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on 13 September 2015
If you like your faith as it is - don't touch this book. If you're not afraid to put it to the test - try it.
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on 2 November 2008
There's a joke about a new monk at a scriptorium innocently asking an older monk about a particular word. The old monk has been happily copying from copies for years, but humours the novice by going into the cellar to check the original. Hours go by and nobody sees him. Eventually, they hear sobbing and descend to find the old monk slumped over the original text. They ask what's wrong, and in a choked voice he replies, "The word is celebrate."

Many Christians throughout history have believed that "the Bible is the inerrant word of God" and that it "contains no mistakes". Even if that were true, in the sense that the original words were inspired by God, the problem is, we no longer have those words. In this brilliant book, Bart Ehrman explains why - unlike in the joke - checking the Bible against the originals will forever remain a fantasy. He explores the many ways in which changes have been introduced, gives a crash course in textual criticism, and arrives at the startling conclusion that "the translations available to most English readers are based on the wrong text".

We are so used to the printed word and the reliability of modern mass manufacturing that we usually ignore the processes by which the spoken word or a writer's thoughts come to be recorded on the page. Occasionally, we may notice a typo, but that rarely interferes with meaning. Our strong impression is that, while we might not agree with the message, we can trust the medium. This trust, however, proves to be spectacularly misplaced when it comes to the ancient collection of texts known as the Bible.

Whatever you believe about the historical figure of Jesus and the existence of the Christian or any other god, someone, somewhere, wrote down for the first time the story of, say, the wedding at Cana. The manuscript thus produced was the autograph. Where is it now? Gone. Along with all the autographs for every other Bible passage! Oh dear. If you believe those were the words of God, that the production of those autographs was inspired by God, and that the truth of the stories contained within them is guaranteed by no less an authority than God, then failing to preserve them must come as quite a blow.

Thank goodness, therefore, someone made a copy. Some sensible person made a backup, and this is what we are reading, two thousand years later.

Alas, it's a little bit more complicated than that. Before computer hard drives, before printing presses, the only way things got copied was by hand. Ehrman puts it bluntly: "The more I studied the manuscript tradition of the New Testament, the more I realized just how radically the text had been altered over the years at the hands of scribes". Naturally, being human, scribes made mistakes, misspelling a word here, leaving out a line there, even bungling whole sentences. Surely, proofreading would pick up pretty much everything? Proofreading, however, implies the ability to read, and early on in the movement most Christians were "uneducated" and "illiterate". Not the scribes, surely? Sometimes, even the official local scribe - for example, Petaus, from the village of Karanis in Egypt - couldn't read "the simple words he was putting on the page."

Still, it was all sorted out "soon after the death of Jesus"? Hardly. It took until the year 367 for Athanasius to formulate the canon. That's over three centuries for an often amateur, illiterate, haphazard scribal tradition to transform the autographs into the "twenty-seven books" of our New Testament. Scribal competence is not the only issue, however. Scribes were not impartial robots; they sometimes modified the text deliberately, "for theological reasons." There was no orthodoxy, and many questions were being asked for the first time. Competing groups of Christians each claimed they possessed the truth about Christ. Appeal to scripture became crucial and what could be more tempting than for a partisan scribe to alter a text so that it supported his own position?

Does it matter, for example, that the Bible has "been altered in such a way as to oppose an adoptionistic Christology"? Does it matter that this change was made "to counter a claim that Jesus was fully human" or that scribes transformed another passage so that "Christ is not merely God's unique Son, he is the unique God himself!"? The possibility that the divinity of Jesus was a scribal invention ought to be of some interest to Christians, but how many pay the slightest attention to textual criticism?

"Christianity from the outset was a bookish religion that stressed certain texts as authoritative scripture... however, we don't actually have these authoritative texts." In the end, "we can't interpret the words of the New Testament if we don't know what the words were." That, of course, hasn't stopped many Christians down the ages from reading the scripture and claiming to know God's will. Much suffering has resulted from their overconfidence. That medieval Christians did not know what we know is one thing, but every modern Christian has a duty to reflect upon Ehrman's simple, yet profound, question: when people quote the Bible, which Bible are they quoting? Not which modern edition, of course, but which manuscript lies at the root of the text? Faith has often found fertile soil in ignorance. Given what we now know about the origins of scripture, the assertion that the Bible is the unadulterated word of God can itself only survive as an article of faith.
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