Both read the Bible day and night,
But thou read’st black where I read white.
—William Blake, The
Blake’s sentiment in the quote above is nothing new. The New Testament
contains enough inconsistencies to have spawned a dizzying variety of
interpretations, beliefs and religions, all allegedly Bible-based. And so, we
find one author offering the amusing observation:
You can and you can’t,
You shall and you shan’t,
You will and you won’t,
And you will be damned if you do,
And you will be damned if you don’t.
Why such variance in viewpoints? To begin with,
different theological camps disagree on which books should be included in the
Bible. One camp’s apocrypha is another’s scripture. Secondly, even among
those books that have been canonized, the many variant source texts lack
uniformity. This lack of uniformity is so ubiquitous that The Interpreter’s
Dictionary of the Bible states, “It is safe to say that there is not one
sentence in the NT in which the MS [manuscript] tradition is wholly uniform.”
Not one sentence? We can’t trust a single sentence
of the Bible? Hard to believe.
The fact is that there are over 5700 Greek
manuscripts of all or part of the New Testament.
Furthermore, “no two of these manuscripts are exactly alike in all their
particulars…. And some of these differences are significant.” Factor in roughly ten
thousand manuscripts of the Latin Vulgate, add the many other ancient variants
(i.e., Syriac, Coptic, Armenian, Georgian, Ethiopic, Nubian, Gothic, Slavonic),
and what do we have?
A lot of manuscripts
A lot of manuscripts that fail to correspond in places
and not infrequently contradict one another. Scholars estimate the number of
manuscript variants in the hundreds of thousands, some estimating as high as
In Bart D. Ehrman’s now famous words, “Possibly it is easiest to put the
matter in comparative terms: there are more differences in our manuscripts than
there are words in the New Testament.”
How did this happen?
Poor record keeping. Dishonesty. Incompetence.
Doctrinal prejudice. Take your pick.
None of the original manuscripts have survived
from the early Christian period./ The
most ancient complete manuscripts (Vatican MS. No. 1209 and the Sinaitic Syriac
Codex) date from the fourth century, three hundred years after Jesus’ ministry.
But the originals? Lost. And the copies of the originals? Also lost. Our
most ancient manuscripts, in other words, are copies of the copies of the
copies of nobody-knows-just-how-many copies of the originals.
No wonder they differ
In the best of hands, copying errors would be no
surprise. However, New Testament manuscripts were not in the best of
hands. During the period of Christian origins, scribes were untrained,
unreliable, incompetent, and in some cases illiterate. Those who were visually
impaired could have made errors with look-alike letters and words, while those
who were hearing-impaired may have erred in recording scripture as it was read
aloud. Frequently scribes were overworked, and hence inclined to the errors
that accompany fatigue.
In the words of Metzger and Ehrman, “Since most,
if not all, of them [the scribes] would have been amateurs in the art of
copying, a relatively large number of mistakes no doubt crept into their texts
as they reproduced them.”
Worse yet, some scribes allowed doctrinal prejudice to influence their transmission
As Ehrman states, “The scribes who copied the texts changed them.” More
specifically, “The number of deliberate alterations made in the interest of
doctrine is difficult to assess.”
And even more specifically, “In the technical parlance of textual
criticism—which I retain for its significant ironies—these scribes ‘corrupted’
their texts for theological reasons.”
Errors were introduced in the form of additions,
deletions, substitutions and modifications, most commonly of words or lines,
but occasionally of entire verses.
fact, “numerous changes and accretions came into the text,”
with the result that “all known witnesses of the New Testament are to a greater
or lesser extent mixed texts, and even several of the earliest manuscripts are
not free from egregious errors.”
In Misquoting Jesus, Ehrman presents
persuasive evidence that the story of the woman taken in adultery (John 7:53-8:12) and the last twelve verses of Mark were not in the original gospels, but added
by later scribes.
Furthermore, these examples “represent just two out of thousands of places in
which the manuscripts of the New Testament came to be changed by scribes.”
In fact, entire books of the Bible were forged. This
doesn’t mean their content is necessarily wrong, but it certainly doesn’t mean
it’s right. So which books were forged? Ephesians, Colossians, 2
Thessalonians, 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus, 1 and 2 Peter, and Jude—a whopping nine
of the twenty-seven New Testament books and epistles—are to one degree or
Forged books? In the Bible?
Why are we not surprised? After all, even the
gospel authors are unknown. In fact, they’re anonymous. Biblical scholars
rarely, if ever, ascribe gospel authorship to Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John. As
Ehrman tells us, “Most scholars today have abandoned these identifications, and
recognize that the books were written by otherwise unknown but relatively
well-educated Greek-speaking (and writing) Christians during the second half of
the first century.”
Graham Stanton affirms, “The gospels, unlike most Graeco-Roman writings, are
anonymous. The familiar headings which give the name of an author (‘The Gospel
according to …’) were not part of the original manuscripts, for they were added
only early in the second century.”
So what, if anything, did Jesus’ disciples have
to do with authoring the gospels? Little or nothing, so far as we know. But
we have no reason to believe they authored any of the books of the Bible. To
begin with, let us remember Mark was a secretary to Peter, and Luke a companion
to Paul. The verses of Luke 6:14-16 and Matthew 10:2-4 catalogue the twelve
disciples, and although these lists differ over two names, Mark and Luke don’t
make either list. So only Matthew and John were true disciples. But
all the same, modern scholars pretty much disqualify them as authors anyway.
Good question. John being the more famous of
the two, why should we disqualify him from having authored the Gospel of “John”?
Umm … because he was dead?
Multiple sources acknowledge there is no
evidence, other than questionable testimonies of second century authors, to
suggest that the disciple John was the author of the Gospel of “John.” Perhaps
the most convincing refutation is that the disciple John is believed to have
died in or around 98 CE.
However, the Gospel of John was written circa 110 CE. So whoever Luke (Paul’s
companion), Mark (Peter’s secretary), and John (the unknown, but certainly not
the long-dead one) were, we have no reason to believe any of the gospels were
authored by Jesus’ disciples. . . .
© 2007 Laurence B. Brown; used by permission.
excerpt is taken from Dr. Brown’s forthcoming book, MisGod’ed, which is
expected to be published along with its sequel, God’ed. Both books can
be viewed on Dr. Brown’s website, www.Leveltruth.com.
Dr. Brown can be contacted at [email protected]