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The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture: The Effect of Early Christological Controversies on the Text of the New Testament

4 out of 5 stars 65 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0195102796
ISBN-10: 0195102797
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Editorial Reviews


"This detailed, carefully argued, and thoroughly documented study should be purchased for collections serving faculty and graduate students in New Testament studies and church history."--Choice

"Written in a clear and interesting style."--The Princeton Seminary Bulletin

"Ehrman's study is well written....This book will be useful for senior seminars and beginning graduate students."--The Journal of Religion

"Ehrman's is a good book, and one which deserves the attention of scholars"--Reviews in Religion and Theology

"[Ehrman's] arguments throughout deserve our attention; they are frequently compelling....Clearly set out and persuasively presented....Variants that treat of Christ's person and function must from now on always be considered with reference to Ehrman's thesis."--Novum Testamentum

"This book is highly recommended as an excellent work of scholarship that is of great importance in the development of New Testament studies. Here is a new voice that addresses some of the central theological and historical issues."--Journal of Theological Studies

"Bart D. Ehrman has written a book which will stimulate the casual reader and intrigue the academic or professional reader of the New Testament....An excellent work and definitely invaluable for lay or scholars."--Anglican Theological Review

"This is a fascinating book, which deserves a wide readership....I thoroughly recommend this book for its textual and theological interest and for its readability."--Irish Theological Quarterly

"[A] detailed and carefully documented study."--Religious Studies Review

"This is a book well worth reading. The New Testament scholar will find in it an excellent study of textual criticism, systematically organized under the rubric of scribal Tendenzen. The systematic theologian as well as the student of early Christian thought will find in it an excellent expose of the fashion in which conviction colors the way in which one reads the tradition."--Journal of Early Christian Studies

About the Author

Bart Ehrman is James A. Gray Professor and Chair of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and the author of two dozen books in the fields of New Testament and Early Christianity.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 328 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press (February 29, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195102797
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195102796
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 0.8 x 6.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (65 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #797,630 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Bart D. Ehrman is the author of more than twenty books, including the New York Times bestselling Misquoting Jesus and God's Problem. Ehrman is the James A. Gray Distinguished Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and is a leading authority on the Bible and the life of Jesus. He has been featured in Time and has appeared on Dateline NBC, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, CNN, the History Channel, major NPR shows, and other top media outlets. He lives in Durham, N.C.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
This book is about one group of Christians in the 2nd and 3rd centuries who, writing before the canon had been set, fought heatedly against sects of Christians it considered heretical. This group - the 'proto-orthodox' - modified its scriptures to avoid alternative interpretations of Jesus, and in so doing, ironically corrupted its own sacred texts.
'Corruption' sounds negative, but it's a technical term. It just means that the original text has been modified. Ehrman is not trying to make swiss cheese out of the New Testament. He states that "by far the vast majority of [textual variants] are 'accidental'." But some of them have too much relevance to the intense theological disputes of the pre-canonical period to be random error.
The 4 heretical positions discussed are 1) adoptionism, 2) separationism, 3) doceticism, and 4) Patripassianism.
Adoptionism is the belief that Jesus was a man who was 'adopted' by God to carry out one of his plans. When God adopted a man, the man became a 'Son' only at that moment to the Father. When an adult David was crowned king, he was adopted by God. When Jesus is declared 'Son of God' at his baptism - it did NOT mean he was himself divine, although he certainly had a special relationship to God. Jesus was not divine- just a great man in God's eyes, chosen for a task.
Separationism is a Gnostic view that Jesus was a man, and the Christ was a divine spirit - and that at Jesus' baptism (again!) the Christ entered him, empowered him to accomplish miracles, and then left him on the cross (helps make sense of Mark 15:34). Jesus the man was thus separable from the Christ, a divine spirit.
Docetism is the view that Jesus only appeared to have a real, fleshly human body, but being God, really did not.
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The author argues that the parties which triumphed in defining Christianity at Nicea and Chalcedon (the proto-orthodox) "improved" the not-yet-stabilized canon of the New Testament in the second and third centuries A.D. to counter those Christians whom they considered heretics. Using the proto-orthodox views of Separationist, Docetic, Adoptionist and Patripassianist beliefs, the author studies the earliest existing copies of what became the New Testament for clues to the controversies and their effect on what was actually written in these copies.
Christology is the center of this study. What the heretics believed in opposition to what the proto-orthodox believed about the nature of Christ are the only parts of the developing canon which are scrutinized. Scrutinized is perhaps too broad a word. The author puts the various extant texts under an electron microscope of scholarly inquiry. Textual variants, external attestations, transcriptional probabilities, and intrinsic probabilities of what parts were "original" and what parts are "improvements" are culled with a fine toothed comb. Have a good Greek grammar handy because many of the arguments hinge on a verb tense, word substitutions, genders, possessives and antecedents. I have no Greek so many of the proofs of these arguments were beyond me.
Did second and third century scribes change what became the New Testament as a result of Christological controversies within the early Church? It would appear so based on the evidence presented in this book. The author is throughout charitable to these individual scholars of long ago, recognizing that he can only guess at the motivations of these anonymous men of the pen.
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Format: Paperback
Ehrman goes on a investigative journey into the heart of the biblical texts to unearth evidence of quite extensive manipulation of the original text of the New Testament. Although much of this work is very detailed argumentation and goes far beyond the textual knowledge of the typical layperson it remains accessible. It's a compelling account of the textual history.
The finest chapter is that which deals with the initial environment of Christianity, the diversity of faiths present, and the struggle over an emerging orthodoxy not solidified until the fourth century. Explicating this, Ehrman provides an informative account of a particular portion of the early history of the church. He reviews the various church fathers, their writings, and their polemical attacks against their opponents. It should come as no surprise that the evidence of who these opponents actually were does not agree with the orthodox interpretation of them as sensual, deviant deceivers and idolaters. In many cases, there were honest differences of opinion and each group sought its own way of accommodating the writings of the new church and the Old Testament.
Each succeeding chapter deals with a different controversy. The lengthiest discussion is related to orthodox changes made to scripture regarding whether Jesus was the adopted Son of God, a very righteous man or the pre-existent image of God. A straight reading of the earliest gospel of Mark leads to the adoptionist conclusion. Especially troublesome was John's baptism of Jesus and the subsequent arrival of the spirit of God in bodily form and God's pronouncement of Jesus' son-ship.
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