Misquoting Jesus - Addressing claims that the Bible has been corrupted


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Was the New Testament Corrupted? It is often alleged that the New Testament message was altered from its original form.

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Was the New Testament Corrupted? While this claim is not new, the subject was brought to public attention by Bart Ehrman’s book…

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Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why: Bart D. Ehrman

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Can claims that the Bible text is unreliable or corrupted be substantiated?

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The Great Commission Before Christ ascended into heaven, he commanded his followers to preach the gospel to everyone, teaching and baptizing according to his prior instructions.

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Matthew 28 Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.

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The message was initially proclaimed orally by preaching long before it was initially written.

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Bible Distortion Some scholars say Jesus’ followers distorted and embellished their Master’s original words and deeds.

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Bible Distortion They insist, by the time the ministry of Jesus was recorded in the Gospels, it had already reached a form that was partly fictional.

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The Jesus Seminar Scholars of the gospels are faced with a problem: Much of the lore recorded in the gospels and elsewhere in the Bible is folklore, which means that it is wrapped in memories that have been edited, deleted, augmented, and combined many times over many years.

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Telephone Gospel Stories based on eyewitness accounts are not necessarily reliable, and the same is true a hundredfold for accounts that—even if stemming from reports of eyewitnesses—have been in oral circulation long after the fact. … Imagine playing ‘Telephone’…over the expanse of the Roman Empire (some 2,500 miles across!) with thousands of participants from different backgrounds, with different concerns, and in different contexts, some of whom have to translate the stories into different languages all over the course of over the course of decades.” Bart Ehrman

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Child’s Play? This was not a game played by children, nor was the communication a silly message of no consequence.

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It was a life altering message and people staked their life on it and took pains to make sure it was accurate.

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First Century Customs The customs of the first century are much different than they are today.

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This was not the case in the first century. When we are given important information, we are inclined to write it down. www.truthseekers.ca

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In the oral culture of the first century, acts and teachings could be summarized in oral histories that reliably circulated over long periods of time. First century oral culture

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The interval between Jesus and the written Gospels was not dormant. This period was filled with a tremendous amount of activity. The followers of Jesus told and retold his story wherever they went.

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Reinventing Jesus If the earliest proclamation about Jesus was altered in later years, then surely first-generation Christians would know about the changes and would object to them. It would not even take outsiders to object to the “new and improved Christianity,” since those who were already believers would have serious problems with the differences in the content of their belief. Reinventing Jesus: What the Da Vinci Code and Other Novel Speculations Don't Tell You

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Craig Blomberg : New Testament scholar The oral tradition was accurately transmitted: Jesus’ followers believed that he proclaimed God’s Word in a way which demanded careful retelling Poetic elements made memorization easy Rote memorization was universal Shorthand written notes were often kept by rabbis and their disciples

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Reinventing Jesus The disciples recollections were not individual memories but collective ones—confirmed by other eyewitnesses and burned into their minds by the constant retelling of the story. . . . Memory in community is a deathblow to the view that the disciples simply forgot the real Jesus. Reinventing Jesus: What the Da Vinci Code and Other Novel Speculations Don't Tell You

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Why the delay in writing? The primary focus for the disciples was on preaching the gospel message. Most of the earliest disciples were non-literary, simple individuals who had little formal education. In the first century the oral transmission of tradition was the standard and preferred method of transmission. Writing books in the first century was very expensive. Many believers also looked for an early return of their Master.

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“But I shall not regret to subjoin to my interpretations, also, for your benefit, whatsoever I have at any time accurately ascertained and treasured up in my memory as I have received it from the elders, and have recorded it in order to give additional confirmation to the truth by my testimony. For I have never, like many, delighted to hear those that tell many things, but those that teach the truth; neither those that record foreign precepts, but those that are given from the Lord to our faith, and that came from the truth itself…

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But, if I met with any one who had been a follower of the elders anywhere, I made it a point to inquire what were the declarations of the elders; what was said by Andrew, Peter, or Philip; what was said by Thomas, James, John, Matthew, or any other of the disciples of our Lord; what was said by Aristion and the presbyter John, disciples of the Lord. For I do not think that I derived so much benefit from books as from the living voice of those that are still surviving.” Eusebius

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The Making of the New Testament Luke provides New Testament readers with a clue as to how the oral tradition was put into writing.

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He explains what motivated him to compose his account in the opening chapter of his Gospel… …to confirm in writing facts that Theophilus had learned orally.

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Luke 1 Forasmuch as many have taken in hand to set forth in order a declaration of those things which are most surely believed among us, Even as they delivered them unto us, which from the beginning were eyewitnesses, and ministers of the word; It seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write unto thee in order, most excellent Theophilus, That thou mightest know the certainty of those things, wherein thou hast been instructed.

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John, informs his readers that he committed the Gospel to writing so that a reading of it might produce faith in Christ as the Son of God and that by believing in Jesus men might have eternal life.

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John was selective in the material that he incorporated in the 21 chapters that comprise his Gospel.

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John 20 And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book: But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name.

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“When Peter had proclaimed the word publicly at Rome, and declared the gospel under the influence of the Spirit; as there was a great number present, they requested Mark, who had followed him from afar, and remembered well what he had said, to reduce these things in writing, and that after composing the gospel he gave it to those who requested it of him. Which, when Peter understood, he directly neither hindered nor encouraged it.” Clement of Alexandria

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“And John the presbyter also said this, Mark being the interpreter of Peter, whatsoever he recorded he wrote with great accuracy, but not, however, in the order in which it was spoken or done by our Lord, for he neither heard nor followed our Lord, but, as before said, was in company with Peter, who gave him such instruction as was necessary, but not to give a history of our Lord's discourses. Wherefore Mark has not erred in any thing, by writing some things as he has recorded them; for he was carefully attentive to one thing, not to pass by any thing that he heard, or to state any thing falsely in these accounts. . . . Matthew composed his history in the Hebrew dialect, and every one translated it as he was able.” Eusebius

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The Making of the New Testament The purpose of the written Gospels was to put into permanent form for future generations what before had been in the minds of the first witnesses of the gospel of Christ.

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These records would later be copied as the message spread and others wanted copies to take with them.

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The Making of the New Testament The scriptures were transmitted by copyists who sometimes accidently made mistakes or who occasionally may have deliberately changed the text.

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As a consequence errors were recorded and propagated by hand from one manuscript to another.

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The differences among the manuscripts have become great, either through the negligence of some copyists or through the perverse audacity of others; they either neglect to check over what they have transcribed, or; in the process of checking, they make additions or deletions as they please. Origen

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Mistakse were made All books that have been transmitted to us from ancient times have suffered from copyists’ mistakes.

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Mistakse were made This problem also existed for such writings by Plato, Homer or even Shakespeare where the original writings are no longer in existence. The authenticity of these secular writings is not questioned.

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Inspired Copies I came to realize that it would have been no more difficult for God to preserve the words of scripture than it would have been for him to inspire them in the first place. If he wanted his people to have his words, surely he would have given them to them (and possibly even given them the words in a language they could understand, rather than Greek and Hebrew). The fact that we don’t have the words surely must show that he did not preserve them for us. And if he didn’t perform that miracle, there seemed to be no reason to think that he performed the earlier miracle of inspiring those words. Bart Ehrman

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Bible Inspiration The Bible teaches that God inspired the original writers to record what was true, accurate and reliable, God did not guide the hands of copyists.

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2 Timothy 3 All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.

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To expect the preservation of a perfect copy of the text would have required a miracle every time a scribe reproduced a manuscript.

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Total Variations Scholars differ significantly in their estimates—some say there are 200,000 variants known, some say 300,000, some say 400,000 or more! We do not know for sure because, despite impressive developments in computer technology, no one has yet been able to count them all. Perhaps it is best simply to leave the matter in comparative terms. There are more variations among our manuscripts than there are words in the New Testament. Bart Ehrman

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Types of Variations Confusion of letters having nearly the same form Mistakes from words having the same sound Addition, omission and transposition of letters, syllables, or words, and even of phrases or clauses Combination of wrong words Marginal notes copied into the text Changes in the Greek language reflected in the manuscripts Variations in grammar Changes in the spellings of words Changes in the order of words, such as “the Lord Jesus Christ” instead of “Christ Jesus the Lord” Longer insertions not found in early manuscripts are considered suspect and assumed to be later additions

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The great majority of variations within the text deal with readings of no consequence; many of them are so small that they cannot be represented in translation.

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In many cases where differences occur in the Greek manuscripts scholars are able to restore the text.

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The Case for Faithful Copyists “Lest the foregoing examples of alterations should give the impression that scribes were altogether wilful and capricious in transmitting ancient copies of the New Testament, it ought to be noted that other evidence points to the careful and painstaking work on the part of many faithful copyists” Bruce Metzger

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F. F. Bruce In view of the inevitable accumulation of such errors over so many centuries, it may be thought that the original text of the New Testament documents have been corrupted beyond restoration. Some writers, indeed, insist on the likelihood of this to such a degree that one sometimes suspects they would be glad if it were so. But they are mistaken. There is no body of ancient literature in the world which enjoys such a wealth of good textual attestation as the New Testament.

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F. F. Bruce The evidence for our New Testament writings is ever so much greater than the evidence for many writings of classical author, the authenticity of which no one dreams of questioning. And if the New Testament were a collection of secular writings, their authenticity would generally be regarded as beyond all doubt.

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Frederick Kenyon It is reassuring at the end to find that the general result of all these discoveries and all this study is to strengthen the proof of the authenticity of the Scriptures, and our convictions that we have in our hands in substantial integrity, the veritable Word of God…

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Frederick Kenyon The interval then between the dates of original composition and the earliest extant evidence becomes so small as to be in fact negligible and the last foundation for any doubt that the Scriptures have come down to us substantially as they were written has now been removed. Both the authenticity and the general integrity of the books of the New Testament may be regarded as finally established.

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We don’t have the originals It is one thing to say that the originals were inspired, but the reality is that we don’t have the originals – so saying there were inspired doesn’t help much, unless the originals can be reconstructed. Moreover, the vast majority of Christians for the entire history of the church have not had access to the originals, making their inspiration something of a moot point. Not only do we not have the originals, we don’t have the first copies of the originals. We don’t even have copies of the copies of the originals, or copies of the copies of the copies of the originals.

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We don’t have the originals If one wants to insist that God inspired the very words of scripture, what would be the point if we don’t have the very words of scripture? In some places we simply cannot be sure that we have reconstructed the original text accurately. It’s a bit hard to know what the words of the Bible mean if we don’t even know what the words are! Bart Ehrman

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Bruce Metzger: 1914 - 2007 Bart Ehrman studied with the foremost leading expert in the field of New Testament textual criticism, Bruce Metzger. What does he say?

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Confidence in the New Testament Strobel: If all we have are copies of copies of copies, how can I have any confidence that the New Testament we have today bears any resemblance whatsoever to what was originally written? The Case for Christ: A Journalist’s Personal Investigation of the Evidence for Jesus

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Confidence in the New Testament Metzger: What the New Testament has in its favor, especially when compared with other ancient writings, is the unprecedented multiplicity of copies that have survived. We have copies commencing within a couple of generations from the writing of the originals, whereas in the case of other ancient texts, maybe five, eight, or ten centuries elapsed between the original and the earliest surviving copy. In addition to Greek manuscripts, we also have translations of the gospels into other languages at a relatively early time into Latin, Syriac, and Coptic. And beyond that, we have what may be called secondary translations made a little later, like Armenian and Gothic. And a lot of others - Georgian, Ethiopic, a great variety.

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Confidence in the New Testament Metzger: Even if we had no Greek manuscripts today, by piecing together the information from these translations from a relatively early date, we could actually reproduce the contents of the New Testament. In addition to that, even if we lost all the Greek manuscripts and the early translations, we could still reproduce the contents of the New Testament from the multiplicity of quotations in commentaries, sermons, letters, and so forth of the early church fathers.

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Confidence in the New Testament Strobel: All these decades of scholarship, of study, of writing textbooks, of delving into the minutiae of the New Testament text - what has all this done to your personal faith? Metzger: It has increased the basis of my personal faith to see the firmness with which these materials have come down to us, with a multiplicity of copies, some of which are very, very ancient.

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Confidence in the New Testament Strobel: So, scholarship has not diluted your faith - Metzger: On the contrary, it has built it. I've asked questions all my life, I've dug into the text, I've studied this thoroughly, and today I know with confidence that my trust in Jesus has been well placed. Very well placed.

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The Word of God It is difficult to believe that if God has given His creation a written revelation that then He would allow His Word to become corrupted to the point where future generations would be uncertain of its true meaning.

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Jesus promised his disciples that the Holy Spirit would remind them about the teachings and instructions that they had heard when they were with him.

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John 16 Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come. John 14 But the Comforter, which is the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.

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John 17 Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. John 8 If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.

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1 Corinthians 2 Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God. Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Spirit teacheth

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Galatians 1 But I certify you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached of me is not after man. For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ.

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1 Thessalonians 2 When ye received the word of God which ye heard of us, ye received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God

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If the books that comprise the Bible are merely of human origin then it follows that the facts and doctrines found in them are only as reliable as all human knowledge can be.

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The Promise If on the other hand, the biblical records were reproduced by men directed and inspired by the Holy Spirit, then we have every reason to believe that the facts and doctrines recorded in the Bible are free of those imperfections and blemishes that apply to all human productions.

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We can turn to the Bible with confidence believing that the events and doctrines found in it are trustworthy because they were recorded by men inspired by God.

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Isaiah 55 For as the rain cometh down, and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater: So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.

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Summary: It is often alleged that the New Testament message was altered from its original form. Can claims that the Bible text is unreliable or corrupted be substantiated?

Tags: bible criticism bart ehrman misquoting jesus reliability corruption transmission new testament

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