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4.0 out of 5 stars Shows the diversity humming inside the bible if you look..., August 15, 2001
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This review is from: The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture: The Effect of Early Christological Controversies on the Text of the New Testament (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. Jesus' body is more like a phantom or temporary body, a rental. This sounds strange - but surely Jesus couldn't have an erection, or defecate? The discomfort we might feel here shows the docetic in all of us. Gnostics were VERY big on docetism - since they thought that the material realm was tainted and evil.
Patripassianism is the belief that the trinity is false, that there is only ONE god. So this entails that Yahweh HIMSELF was crucified, arrested, beaten, etc.
Most of the corruptions are surprisingly subtle and minor in appearance - most of them are a change in one or two words in a single passage. For example, changing a reference from reading 'Jesus' to 'Jesus Christ' was born in a manger affirms that Jesus was divine from BIRTH, that he was UNIFIED in his being as well. This one corruption could be used by orthodoxy to maintain an interpretation that resists adoptionist or separationist attack. .
But the four heresies are, after all, pretty simple to grasp. For a book that can be meticulous and involved in its argument, the basic ideas are straightorward. In fact, there are only 6 chapters - an intro, a chapter for each heresy, and a conclusion. Very simple organization. Each chapter has substantial footnotes that can be very interesting to read themselves, as well as sources for further information.
Ehrman's book is not dry, but it is detailed and involved in parts. I don't know New Testament Greek, but he frequently quotes Greek phrases with a translation. However, there are numerous cases where he does NOT translate, and that gets a bit rough. I had to reread perhaps 5 of his passages several times to get the flow of his argument. Once he sets it up, most of the corruptions are easy to see coming. In fact, sometimes it gets a little tedious. He presents an argument for each corruption, some of them truly fascinating, though. Many of them are speculative in nature, and he acknowledges that.
The most crucial class of corruptions are the ones that Ehrman thinks have made it into the canon. These he argues very carefully, and the context he provides is terrific. Some examples are 1) the adoptionist hints in Luke 3:22 (baptism again!), Jesus' bloody sweat (Luke 22:43-44), Luke's version of the Last Supper (22:19-20), Peter's visit to the tomb in Luke 24:12, and the title 'Son of God' in Mark 1:1.
The vast majority, however, of the corruptions he lists have NOT made their way into the modern bible, at least not the NSRV Oxford bible that I own. He gives his reasons for each of these in full.
Importantly, none of the corruptions themselves were carried out in a systematic way - the orthodox church never seemed to have a policy of corruption. Ehrman is careful not to attribute any malicious intention to the orthodox scribes, as well. Rather, it comes off that a scribe here and there would see the potential misreading, and then insert his own modification to 'clarify' what (he) thought was obviously already there in the text.
Interestingly, some of the corruptions themselves cause further problems! A corruption that helps emphasize Jesus' humanity, and thereby removes a docetic threat - can also open the text up to adoptionist readings. One can't help see the tighrope walk involved for the orthodox - and Ehrman hints that this refusal to yield to either side's heresy forced the orthodox sect to embrace that paradoxical understanding of Jesus' nature - all God AND all human, one god BUT three 'aspects.' (This helped explain to me, at least, the bizarre Trinity. It's always seemed like a construct - trying to have one's theological cake and eat it too.) Learning to spot those ancient heresies helped me read the bible more carefully. Far from being a unified, flawless block of dead doctrine, the New Testament now brims with the tensions and questions of its overlapping and also competing Christological perspectives. The bible is a complex collection of writings - Ehrman's book helped the New Testament become much more of a living book to me.
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Showing 1-8 of 8 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Dec 13, 2008 5:30:00 PM PST
N. Duran says:
Have you read the "Early Church Fathers" 38 Volume set? This set is from the 1st to the 8th Century of all the early fathers of the Church, Faith, Beliefs, Doctrine, Dogma, Stuggles, Canons, Creeds, Ecumenacal Councils, and much more. If one does there research well enough they will find that The Early Church is still around. Same Faith, Beliefs, Practices. The Church is Called "Eastern Orthodox." Do your homework!

Posted on Sep 5, 2010 7:48:31 PM PDT
[Deleted by the author on Sep 18, 2014 5:24:38 AM PDT]

Posted on Jul 6, 2011 12:28:10 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Jun 7, 2014 11:33:35 PM PDT
Steve,

This is a very well written review! I thoroughly enjoyed the details of information you have provided for those who have not read the book.

I have decided to upgrade my copy of this book since I just found out that Ehrman just updated this work.

I just want to contribute to research on this topic by providing some very valuable resources to anyone who cares and is interested in more detailed and exhaustive analysis on the topic. I have read some reviews where people are not too sure what to believe on the reliability of the transmission of the New Testament text since they have only read the opinions of scholars and maybe just juggling opinions not data and tangible information - which is actually accessible.

Before I do, there is quite a bit of commentary to be found on Bart Ehrman's views in his debate The Reliability of the New Testament: Bart Ehrman and Daniel Wallace in Dialogue. It is well known that 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. His agnosticism if often misinterpreted as being about the majority of the text, when it really is not. The examples he does discuss in "Orthodox Corruption" and "Misquoting Jesus" of course do not affect any Christian doctrine either. Furthermore, Ehrman approaches more a qualitative approach rather than a quantitative approach and one of the chapters does a quantitative study showing the + 90% stability of the New Testament when compared with other manuscripts.

Anyways, in order to help people see the raw data so they can base their understanding and beliefs more firmly in real empirical data and come to their own conclusions I provide some primary sources and some focused studies on related issues to the early church and their beliefs and the New Testament text.

The Text of the Earliest New Testament Greek Manuscripts (with the complete earliest Greek New Testament manuscripts unabridged)

New Testament Text and Translation Commentary (with passage by passage documentation all major textual variants and commentary on modern Bibles and the most probable original wording and comparisons with the earliest Greek New Testament manuscripts)

"The Last Twelve Verses of Mark (Society for New Testament Studies Monograph Series)" (on one of the common examples of textual variants)

Encountering the Manuscripts: An Introduction to New Testament Paleography & Textual Criticism (a balanced and detailed manuscript history of the new testament authorship and transmission including discourse on examples of textual variants)

The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations (Greek and English documents of the early church fathers (2nd century AD) with a short history of the church fathers and their manuscript transmission. These were the people who either knew or were close to the original apostles and took their places as they died or were 1 or 2 generations away from them. These writings represent the beliefs of the earliest Christians after the apostles had died. Some of these writings were written while some apostles were alive as well it seems.)

The New Testament in the Apostolic Fathers: -1905 (focused study on the Apostolic Fathers writings and the New Testament text with direct comparisons) You can get a free pdf copy at Google books.

"On the True Doctrine: A Discourse Against the Christians" by Celsus

"Porphyry's Against the Christians: The Literary Remains" by Porphyry

"Origen: Contra Celsum" by Origen

"Paganism and Christianity 100-425 C.E." (some primary sources from Christians and Pagans)

"New Testament Background: Selected Documents: Revised and Expanded Edition"

"The Nag Hammadi Scriptures: The Revised and Updated Translation of Sacred Gnostic Texts Complete in One Volume" (updated Gnostic texts collection)

For comparing with other cultures and their transmission of their texts (textual criticism of non-Christian texts):

Texts and Transmission: A Survey of the Latin Classics

Scribes and Scholars: A Guide to the Transmission of Greek and Latin Literature

Buddhist Sutras: Origin, Development, Transmission.

Also look for books on the transmission of the Qu'ran for Islam for more information on transmission of texts in other cultures. Generally the New Testament has more manuscripts and allows us to detect errors well enough to deduce probable original wording. Many other writings including many of the Latin and Greek writings we have today don't have this luxury and often times have very late manuscripts (500 to 1000 years) that really are distant from the original.

All pre-printing press writings had the same textual issues in transmission as the New Testament, if not more, so if anyone is willing to say what we will never know the original messages of Christianity, then the same has to be said of well known authors like Plato, Aristotle, Livy, and the rest of the ancient and medieval writings from all over the world since they too were copied by people who were just as fallible as any other scribe.

Here are some books that detail textual variants and/or manuscript tradition in some popular writings:

"Homer's Text and Language (Traditions)"

"The Textual Tradition of Plato's Republic (Mnemosyne Bibliotheca Classica Batava Supplementum, 107)"

"The Oxford Handbook of Plato (Oxford Handbooks)"

"The Manuscript Tradition of Polybius (Cambridge Classical Studies)"

An interesting book that will pop out soon on the issue that looks quite promising is:

Revisiting the Corruption of the New Testament: Manuscript, Patristic, and Apocryphal Evidence (Text and Canon of the New Testament).

At least the whole Bible gets used constantly and refernced even by atheist archaeologists and "minimalists" in digs in the Middle East, Africa, and Europe (see the secular publication called "Biblical Archaeology Review (1-year auto-renewal)"). I think this sets up great context for reliability of source material.

Hope this helps people in their search for the truth.

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 8, 2011 8:19:15 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Feb 14, 2012 11:26:07 PM PST
Outstanding post F. Ramos, an especially useful addition to this great review and a real relief after the first two replies.

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 16, 2012 4:40:01 PM PDT
F Ramos, incredible review, sorry to see it buried in comments, though you responded to another great review. I marvel at the erudition you show in this and your other reviews, and the ability to somehow read more than 24 hours a day, or what it would take me to do 1/2 of what you do.

Posted on Feb 8, 2013 11:23:39 AM PST
ElkoJohn says:
Thank you for helping me understand the 4 heretical positions.

Adoptionism explains that God can only act in the world through
humans who are good (not with mighty angels or miraculous miracles).
This answers the question ''where was God'' when terrible things
happen to good people at the hands of evil humans.

Patripassianism explains that humans killed God in the form of Jesus.
(i.e. a God of love does not require her/his son to be tortured and
killed in order to show love or to be a loving God).

Posted on Sep 17, 2014 11:07:55 PM PDT
A. Valdez says:
Bart is a liar, and evidently ignorant of the New Testament and early Christianity. Read "Lord Jesus Christ: Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity," by Hurtado. This book shows that Jesus was ALWAYS considered God by the earliest Christians and the New Testament. You might also consult "Jesus As God," by Harris, and "The Case For the Deity of Christ," by Bowman.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 21, 2015 10:27:17 AM PST
Doug Jantz says:
Maybe Hurtado is the liar lol. Maybe neither of them are. This is the nature of true scholarship, unlike your post. SMH
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