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415 of 466 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent starting place for anyone wishing to know about New Testament textual criticism and the problems with the texts!, December 8, 2005
This review is from: Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why (Hardcover)
Ehrman's book can be described as an introduction to New Testament textual criticism for the beginners, in which he explains the subject in the context of his own background, relating his journey from being an Evangelical Christian to becoming a world renowned New Testament scholar. Besides D. C. Parker's "Living Text of the Gospels," Ehrman's "Misquoting Jesus" seems to be the only book on textual criticism designed specifically for the non-expert readers.

In short, Prof. Ehrman explains the copying practises of the earliest period and how the texts of the New Testament writings were corrupted as they were copied and recopied. He begins by introducing the diverse writings produced by the early Christians, such as gospels, Acts, apocalypses, Church orders, apologies etc. Briefly, the formation of the canon is also discussed and we are informed about the literacy level among the early Christians. Thereafter we are introduced to the world of the copyists and Ehrman explains how the early scribes copied texts and the problems associated with the copying of texts.

It is quite interesting to learn that even pagan critics of Christianity, such as Celsus, were quite aware at an early date that the Christian writings were being corrupted by the scribes and even Origen had to complain about the numerous differences between the gospel manuscripts. Marcion, an early Christian, corrupted the text of certain New Testament writings available to him and Dionysius is quoted who complains that his own writings have been modified just as "the word of the Lord" had been tampered. Marcion, of course, accused other Christians of corrupting the texts. In an earlier writings, "The Orthodox Corruption of Scriptures", Ehrman demonstrated in detail how proto-orthodox Christians corrupted the New Testament writings on occasions. It seems that the early Christians were quite aware that the writings in their possession had underwent corruption and were still being corrupted and they frequently accused each other of tampering with the texts.

I was quite surprised to learn how statistically small additions or deletions within the text changed the entire meaning of passages and even books. Ehrman discusses at length certain examples in this regard and shows that even unintentional changes can result in changes that change the meaning of texts. A previous disgruntled reviewer said that "all of the basic beliefs of the faith are clearly outlined throughout the New Testament and are not in any way in question." However, Ehrman lists a number of theologically important issues which rest upon textually uncertain passages. To quote Ehrman (pp. 207-208):

"It would be wrong, however, to say - as people sometimes do - that the changes in our text have no real bearing on what the texts mean or on the theological conclusions that one draws from them. We have seen, in fact, that just the opposite is the case. In some instances, the very meaning is at stake depending on how one resolves a textual problem: Was Jesus an angry man? Was the completely distraught in the face of death? Did he tell his disciples that they could drink poison without being harmed? Did he let an adulteress off the hook with nothing but a mild warning? Is the doctrine of the Trinity explicitly taught in the New Testament? Is Jesus actually called the "unique God" there? Does the New Testament indicate that even the Son of God does not know when the end will come? The questions go on and on, and all of them are related to how one resolves difficulties in the manuscript tradition as it has come down to us."

The above are just a few problems. Another interesting problem is whether the doctrine of the atonement is taught in the gospel according to Luke? Further, there are immense textual problems with passages such as the sayings on divorce and remarriage in the gospels (not discussed by Ehrman but addressed in detail in D. C. Parker's - The Living Text of the Gospels) and the Lord's Prayer among others. Therefore, it seems clear that the Gospels are not so well textually preserved as some people would have us imagine and that there exist many variations which have profound effects upon the meaning of texts and theological issues.

The previous reviewer - who is clearly upset at some Muslim reviewers and thus provides a link to an irrelevant polemical article in frustration - also talks about the "the oldest Christian manuscripts" and how these are "most reliable" not realizing that Ehrman, and others, have pointed out numerous times that the earliest manuscripts are precisely the most problematic - revealing the most variations, which indicates that the texts of the gospels were in a state of flux in the earliest period of their transmission. A detailed discussion of the manuscripts of the New Testament, based on writings of scholars such as Prof. Ehrman and others, is to be found here:


Moreover, the problem of the "original text" is also discussed by Ehrman and he states that many textual critics are now beginning to doubt even if there is such a thing as an "original" to be restored. In particular, Ehrman explains the problematic nature of the issue and why we cannot get back to the "original" text itself in light of the copying practises of the first three centuries. Therefore, we can only hope to recover early forms of the text, not the "originals," and hope that these early forms are relatively close to the long lost "originals".

Besides the above issues, Ehrman provides a fascinating discussion of how the various New Testament editions were produced, particularly the one by Erasmus, and how Christians reacted when certain individuals here and there stumbled across variant readings. Ehrman also goes on to explain how he eventually came to the conclusion that the New Testament writings were not inspired and that their authors were non-inspired writers.

I would recommend this book to anyone who wishes to learn about the textual criticism and transmission of the New Testament writings! If you know nothing about this complex subject, then this is where you should start. After going through "Misquoting Jesus," it should be much easier for you to read books aimed at those who already know something about the subject.
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Showing 1-10 of 10 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Feb 2, 2009 2:44:25 AM PST
Craig Ewoldt says:
Islamic critics of the Bible have nowhere to stand. On prinicple, no one should listen to them. There are few manuscripts for the Quran. What they had they burned after they reconciled the differences of the various manuscripts and made a standard version so that there would be no discrepancies. The little evidence remaining they ignore and supress. Muslims in general are discouraged from doing any critical studies, and you may take your life in your hands if you publish any critical information. The evidence that exists creates serious problems for them. The Christians have respected and preserved their manuscripts. The textual problems for the Bible are miniscule compared to those of the Quran. What the Muslims claim for the Quran is nowhere close to what the evidence shows. Are they diverting attention to their much more serious issues by looking at the Christian Scriptures? It is a deceptive practice to criticise another faith in an area where you are adverse to scruitiny.

Erhman can talk, Muslims cannot.

In reply to an earlier post on May 30, 2009 3:02:16 PM PDT
[Deleted by the author on Jan 12, 2012 8:36:35 AM PST]

In reply to an earlier post on May 30, 2009 3:12:58 PM PDT
[Deleted by the author on Jan 12, 2012 8:36:45 AM PST]

In reply to an earlier post on Oct 13, 2009 11:18:05 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Oct 13, 2009 11:24:00 AM PDT
Craig Ewoldt says:
Yes, let's do our homework: Introduction to the Qur'an, Watt and Bell; Origins of the Koran, Ibn Warraq; Variant Readings of the Qur'an, Ahmed 'Ali Al-Imam, In Search of the Original Koran, the True History of the Revealed Text, Mondher Sfar. And don't claim all these are anti-Muslims promulgating falesehoods.

You have illustrated precisely the issue stated. You make inaccurate claims for the Qu'ran, and then call it superior. One who refuses to look at their own face in the mirror, and then complains about another's, loses his credibility.

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 12, 2010 8:26:29 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Nov 29, 2015 4:18:56 AM PST
By the way there is an excellent debate/dialogue between Daniel Wallace and Bart Ehrman which also has good papers from a few other textual critics on the reliability called The Reliability of the New Testament: Bart Ehrman and Daniel Wallace in Dialogue. Its good to get many scholars views on the issue, not just Ehrman since many scholars disagree with some of his conclusions.

Some contributors in that book discuss Ehrman's views such as: Ehrman thinks that it is impossible to recover the original New Testament text in perfect from, yet he believes that the overwhelming majority of the recovered text is "probably" original and usually agrees with the comments in the United Bible Societies critical edition's reconstructions of the New Testament (he only disagrees in about 20 places with their text); Ehrman's agnosticism is often misinterpreted as being about the majority of the text, when it really is not; the very few examples he does discuss in "Orthodox Corruption" and "Misquoting Jesus" of course do not affect any Christian doctrine either; Ehrman uses a qualitative approach in his writings and he shuns doing a quantitative approach (which would test his hypothesis much better). In this book, one essay (K. Martin Heide's essay, "Assessing the Stability of the Transmitted Texts of the New Testament and the Shepherd of Hermas") actually does a statistical analysis of the extent of textual variation across early centuries in NT manuscripts, and then the same with manuscripts of the extra-canonical text, The Shepherd of Hermas. Results for NT is an average textual stability of +90% and the spread of results for individual manuscripts ranging from 87.1% to 99.7%. To achieve some perspective, Heide then conducts the same sort of analysis of extant manuscripts of Shepherd of Hermas (the single most frequently copied extra-canonical text, and more frequently copied than most canonical texts in the first several centuries). The average stability came to about 86%. Pretty good overall. Heide also notes that 87.5% (7/8th) of the NT is not in dispute at all. Only is 12.5% of the NT is viable to textual criticism and since most of this is minor errors like spelling, repeated words, etc; only about 1/60th is what textual critics debate about.

Ehrman argues (as with many other scholars) that the last 12 verses of Mark were not original, however, more recent and more exhaustive research has indicated that this is false (The Original Ending of Mark: A New Case for the Authenticity of Mark 16:9-20).

All of Bart Ehrman's objections are dealt with in New Testament Text and Translation Commentary. It is an excellent and detailed analysis on manuscript variants since it compares New Testament Manuscripts and modern editions of the Bible. It lists and discusses all major and minor variants in detail so it is a better reference than Ehrman either way.

Perhaps people should compare the textual background of MANY ancient texts to see that most texts before the printing press were all reconstructed from very few manuscripts that were available, excluding the New testament of course. The New Testament variants even from the earliest manuscripts preserve the Christian message very well since most variants are not significant at all to the Christian message (repetition of letters, repetition of words, errors in time tense, mispellings, etc.). All of these are variants, but theses variants are also found in the manuscripts of the Pali Canon for Buddhists, the Quranic manuscripts for Muslims, and Vedic manuscripts of Hinduism. These errors are the norm in pre-printing press manuscripts! Perhaps a look at the actual earliest New Testament manuscripts The Text of the Earliest New Testament Greek Manuscripts would help people understand the situation form an empirical perspective as opposed to just basic watered down scholarship that does not emphasize all of the solutions posited by textual critics on the New Testament. For a detailed text book on the earliest New Testament manuscripts and textual criticism with some excellent detailed information of early Pagan ancient and Christian publishing and how the New testament reached publication please read Encountering the Manuscripts: An Introduction to New Testament Paleography & Textual Criticism.

Bart Ehrman's book is for "popular audiences" not researchers who study the manuscripts and paleography of the ancient and medieval world. When one actually does a manual comparison of the Greek manuscripts for the New Testament you can see that the New Testament has been preserved incredibly well, considering it's antiquity. Just do the labor of true research and you will see how the New Testament did not change as much as people sometimes think. What ever variants or errors by scribes, they do not affect the over all message at all since other passages ,that are not variating, still maintain the Christian message whole and preserved. Just look at "New Testament Text and Translation Commentary" to see how most variants in the manuscripts that do exist are not significant to the message at all are just as most variants in manuscripts and accounts for the Quran do not affect the overall message of the Quran (Textual Criticism and Qur'an Manuscripts).

You would be surprised how many ancient works are here today just by thin layer of manuscript support with variants in the manuscripts. Read Texts and Transmission: A Survey of the Latin Classics for a detailed analysis of Latin ancient literature and how well or horribly preserved many ancient writings are. All ancient manuscripts had problems of transmission since humans are not perfect. However, despite the numerous errors found in the works of Plato, Herodotus, Thucydides, Caesar, Cicero, Livy, Tacitus, Suetonius, Aristotle, The Hadith, Arabian Nights, Homer, Pliny the Elder, and any other ancient and even medieval writers like Isidore of Seville; the New Testament still stands out for excellent preservation compared to many ancient writings. Look also at how ancient publishing took place and what was involved in writing, publishing, copying, editing, and transmission in Scribes and Scholars: A Guide to the Transmission of Greek and Latin Literature and Reinventing Jesus.

In reply to an earlier post on Jul 15, 2011 10:52:41 PM PDT
[Deleted by Amazon on Jul 16, 2011 8:23:55 AM PDT]

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 19, 2011 3:55:51 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Dec 19, 2011 3:59:06 PM PST
One simple fact: NO TRANSLATION can be guaranteed 100% accurate. And NO ONE reads exactly the same meaning as anyone else in ANY book, even if they are reading the original manuscript.

Most words have more than one meaning. So whether I'm translating the text into another language, or simply reading the text, it is down to me to decide which meaning I take for each word. In each case I may be right, I may be wrong. Only God knows which with any certainty.

Having said that, as far as the Bible is concerned translations are USUALLY based on the sum of all current knowledge. That has changed over time, as more and more fragments have been found. The interesting point to note is not that there are a mass of trivial differences (like the difference between "Peter said" and "the Peter said"), but how consistent the texts are on all important issues.

For a full length discussion of the subject, an an antidote for Ehrman's somewhat dubious campaign (in my opinion) I would certainly agree with F. Ramos' recommendation of "Reinventing Jesus", by Ed Komoszewski, M. James Sawyer and Daniel Wallace, or "Fabricating Jesus", by Craig A. Evans. Sawyer, Wallace and Evans are all professors and all four men are just as skilled in doing and discussing textual criticism - but without the bias and hysteria that I see as Ehrman's rants ("Misquoting", "Interrupting", "Forged", etc.).

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 27, 2011 2:16:12 AM PST
R. Salem says:
Uhm, Elizabeth, not one single book there actually furthers the idea that there is a different Qur'an that ever existed to the one we have today, except the (minority) Shi'a idea that some mythical true Qur'an exists somewhere with their Imams. That is an accusation that was never supported by evidence, only something that came from religious intolerance.

As for the "variant" readings, people need to understand what that means in terms of Arabic. The Qur'an, as revealed to Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, had variant readings AS IT WAS BEING REVEALED because Arabic requires marks that can alter meanings of words slightly and sometimes in a major way. The Qur'an, as originally written, did not include those marks but was, however, recited a certain way. In some instances, it was ok to recite different words with slightly altered marks and that's where the various readings come from.

In fact, Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, himself stated the Qur'an has 7 variant readings. That is the nature of its Arabic. Where can we find those words from Jesus, peace be upon him?

However, in no way does any of the "variant" readings change any theological or creedal issues of the text. Not ever.

So when you post silly titles of certain books in an attempt to mislead, well, you just look silly. One only needs a precursory knowledge of Arabic to understand this. Variant readings for the Qur'an are entirely different from variant readings from other scriptures, as the other scriptures vary in the text itself and its mistranslations/misinterpretations/poor copying/forgeries. Those issues have never been proven to touch the Qur'an, nor can one ascertain from the unifying of the Qur'an into one book by Ali/Uthman that it was anything BUT an attempt to make sure nothing like that does happen. Furthermore, the Qur'an is/was always a "recitation" first and foremost, so it's corruption would not only have to be written but also spread in tongue.

Again, no evidence has ever shown anything resembling such a tampering and, furthermore, there has never been any disputes between Muslims in their history as to such corruption. Well, other than the Shi'a claiming a verse about Ali, may God be pleased with him, becoming Caliph after Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, died went missing. That is a minority belief even within Shi'ism and is obviously political in origin. They never provide any proof of this other than baseless narrations from Ali himself.

There has yet to be anyone to offer any conclusive evidence that the Qur'an was ever altered from it's original revelation. No purported divine scripture has that claim today OTHER THAN THE QUR'AN. Not only that, but the circumstantial evidence that the Qur'an was never altered is way too vast to be overlooked. The fact that only one Qur'an in its original language of Arabic exists today as it did 1400 years ago with absolutely no textual difference is an incredibly damaging blow to any assertion that it was ever corrupted or tampered with. Again, NO PURPORTED DIVINE SCRIPTURE CAN CLAIM THIS OTHER THAN THE QUR'AN. The fact that there was virtually no major scholarly divides nor consistent accusations from any side of Islamic scholarship, no matter how politically divided they were, about the Qur'an's accuracy also lends to that. And, yet again, NO PURPORTED DIVINE SCRIPTURE CAN CLAIM THIS OTHER THAN THE QUR'AN. Or how about the fact that Arabic, the original language of the Qur'an, is still used today, internationally, by hundreds of millions of people? Again, NO OTHER PURPORTED DIVINE SCRIPTURE CAN CLAIM ITS ORIGINAL LANGUAGE IS STILL THAT WIDELY USED TODAY, internationally and at the level Arabic is.

But I guess those are all coincidental occurrences in the heart of the rejecting truth.

I know that must stick in your craw, unfortunately. It's too bad that it does when, instead, it should interest you to the point where you learn Arabic and actually read the source itself since it may just be truly Divine and never altered. That possibility, I'm sure, is very difficult to allow in your heart judging by your words though, so I hope you find peace.

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 29, 2011 7:46:07 AM PST
Craig Ewoldt says:
Mr. R. Salem,

Please do not treat your respondants as ignorant. Someday, you must also face the truth. THe truth is our only common ground.

The traditional Islamic account of the history of the Qur'an is that it is God's final revelation which was revealed in Arabic through the angel Gabriel to the Prophet Muhammad over a period of about twenty three years. The Qur'an as it exists today-both its very words and the sequence of its chapters and verses-is an exact reproduction without variation of the Heavenly Book which has existed eternally in heaven.
Tradition also asserts that the entire revelation was in writing and gathered in an orderly fashion at the time of Muhammad's death (Warraq 116). Later, the third caliph, `Uthman placed the Qur'an into book form. He then gathered and destroyed personal collections that differed from his compilation (Al Imam preface xi).

The Christian view of the Bible is much different from that of the orthodox Islamic view of the Qur'an. Christians believe "that the writers of the Bible were inspired by the Holy Spirit, but God allowed their circumstances and personalities to come through in the text in a way which spoke to the people of their given time" (Ghattas 11).
Because humans were involved in transmission, variants were introduced in the subsequent written manuscripts. But Christians do not believe that variants preclude inspiration. The unparalleled biblical textual evidence allows scholars to reconstruct what was originally written with a high degree of confidence.
The Islamic view of the Qur'an, in contrast, is that Muhammad repeated what was revealed without any interference of his character on the text-a dictation view (Ghattas 11). Muslims believe it is not possible that God would allow a single change in the transmission of the Qur'an from the time of revelation to the end of the world.
Next, there is the scarcity of manuscript evidence for the Qur'an. The account of the `Uthmanic recension of the Qur'an informs us of the destruction of the sources used for its compilation. Caetani calls this "violent suppression" of alternate qur'anic texts by `Uthman, and "destruction by fire" of the variants (Warraq 74). "History has been patiently and methodically rewritten" (Sfar 103). By this suppression of the evidence, Islam has made investigation or Qur'anic origins by scholars difficult.
Another deterrent to investigation of variants is Islam's contradictory position regarding textual criticism. Islam freely declares Christian and Jewish scriptures as corrupt based on textual criticism, but is totally reluctant, not to say opposed to subjecting the Qur'an to the same type of scrutiny and evaluation. No critique of the Qur'an is allowed. "One is immediately accused of plotting against Islam, of wanting to do it harm, of depreciating it, and so on. Historical truth has become suspect of impiety . . ." (Sfar 103). In particular, Muslims are free to criticize non Islamic scriptures, but for a non Muslim to critique the Quran will never be accepted.
The Qur'an has almost no early manuscripts, for the simple reason that they were intentionally destroyed at various times in Islamic history to assure uniformity.
One scholar observed obviously tongue in cheek, "By burning all of the source material, he (`Uthman) made the Koran `superior' to the New Testament and Old Testament, since they have known variations in their historical texts." Tradition has arranged things so that what has filtered down are only minor variants.
How can the Qur'an be the unchanging word of God, when it changed even during the brief 23 years when Muhammad received his revelations? That it was changed is confirmed by the Qur'an itself: Sura 2:106 states, "Such of Our revelations as We abrogate or cause to be forgotten, We bring (in place) one better or the like thereof. Knowest thou not that Allah is Able to do all things?" Sura 16:101 says, "And when We put a revelation in place of (another) revelation,-and Allah knoweth best what He revealeth-they say: Lo! thou art but inventing. Most of them know not." Yet the Qur'an even contradicts itself on this issue: "Theirs are good tidings in the life of the world and in the Hereafter-There is no changing the Words of Allah-that is the Supreme Triumph" (Sura 10:65).
So are there changes or none? On this issue, the Qur'an contradicts itself. Further, the doctrine of abrogation itself refutes that the Qur'an is a complete and exact replica of an unchanging Qur'an in heaven.
Islamic Tradition insists upon the idea of impeccable transmission. But there is good evidence that variants have been introduced into the text of the Qur'an from the time it was given to Muhammad to the present. Explanations have been given for many of these variants-but cumulatively, the case for "no variants" cannot be made with integrity. Sfar comments "that it is sufficient to recall the variants that Muslim orthodoxy has itself recognized and even codified . . . in order to reduce this pious pretention (of the myth of perfect transmission) to naught" (Sfar 95).
Bell adds, "The existence of variants has been found inconvenient, especially in modern times. The ordinary Muslim is mostly unaware of the existence of seven sets of readings, and the modern sect of the Ahmadaiyya appears to deny, in the interest of propaganda, even the existence of pre-`Uthmanic variants" (Bell 50). Textual scholarship of the Bible is encouraged; for the Qur'an it is discouraged or prohibited. Gilchrist concludes, "There are so many (qur'anic) variants, well over two thousand in fact, that it is remarkable to behold the confidence with which Muslims attack the integrity of the Bible."
When consistent standards of textual criticism and scholarship are applied, we find that the Bible and the Qur'an face similar textual issues, but on different scales. In comparing the textual histories of the Bible and the Qur'an, the significantly superior textual evidence for the Bible allows us to have confidence that the text we have today accurately represents the original manuscripts. "The Bible has only been burnt by its enemies. `Uthman burnt every other manuscript other than the one he conveniently had at hand." As a result, the Qur'an lacks similar confirmation by textual evidence (Warraq 57). Indeed, the evidence that remains indicates many textual variants, changes in the sequence of surahs, and even missing verses and surahs. The common Islamic claim of no variants from the time of revelation to the present is contradicted by the evidence and does not stand.
Following are some books I have referred to. (Expect a response that none of these are reliable or authoritative and that you can't trust a non Muslim!!! Note also that two of these authors are Muslim.):
Al-Imam, Ahmad `Ali. 2006. Variant Readings of the Qur'an; Ghattas, Raouf and Ghattas, Carol B. 2009. A Christian Guide to the Qur'an; Sfar, Mondher. 2008. In Search of the Original Koran; Warraq, Ibn, editor. 1998; The Origins of the Koran, Classic Essays on Islam's Holy Book; Watt, W. Montgomery and Bell, Richard. 1970. Introduction to the Qur'an, revised edition.

In reply to an earlier post on May 27, 2015 3:43:45 AM PDT
davidqatan says:
Nice comment. I completely agree with you. I have personally done textual criticism in my translation, and I have to say that the transmission of the text is astounding. We have hardly any copies of Livy, Tacitus, and Catullus, these writings are hardly questioned for their authenticity. The NT, on the other hand, has so many manuscripts that we can examine and essentially reconstruct the original text with a near perfect accuracy. However, the NT is always judged as being error ridden. This is only because it is a religious book for the Christians. The general trend today is to criticize Christianity and its holy books without actually knowing anything about the religion or the book.
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