Misquoting Jesus vs. Misquoting Truth
This is my first post with pictures – they are front covers of two books: Misquoting Jesus by Bart D. Ehrman and Misquoting Truth by Timothy Paul Jones. Dr. Bart Ehrman is biblical scholar and Chair of the Department of Religious Studies at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill while Timothy Paul Jones (Ed.D., The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Rolling Hills, Tulsa, Oklahoma. Misquoting Truth was written as a response to what Misquoting Jesus claims.
In Misquoting Jesus since we don’t have the original manuscript (or autograph) of all books of New Testament but only copies of copies (of copies and so on), which differ from one another in many places, the New Testament we have now is not reliable. Dr. Ehrman pointed out that scribes in the past intentionally or unintentionally altered verses or even added verses (examples of such addition are John 7:53 to 8:12 and the so-called longer ending of Mark’s Gospel, Mark 16:9-20). How do we know for sure that New Testament books we have now carry the same message or words as in their autograph? The development of canon of New Testament posed another problem to him. Why it took nearly three hundred years (in 367 AD) for Christians to finally declare only twenty-seven books belong to New Testament? The result of his study made him see New Testament as a very human book. Thus in his conclusion, Dr. Ehrman, former evangelical with born again experience, wrote (page 211): “Given the circumstance that he [God] didn’t preserve the words, the conclusion seemed inescapable to me that he hadn’t gone to the trouble of inspiring them.”
In Misquoting Truth Dr. Jones managed to refute claims of Misquoting Jesus. He admitted that there are discrepancies among manuscript but most of them are not significant: but what Ehrman doesn’t clearly communicate to his readers is the insignificance of the vast majority of these variants (Misquoting Truth, page 43). Well, actually Dr. Ehrman did communicate that fact to his readers: To be sure, of all the hundreds of thousands of textual changes found among our manuscripts, most of them are completely insignificant, immaterial, of no real importance for anything other than showing that scribes could not spell or keep focused any better than the rest of us (Misquoting Jesus, page 207). How about significant discrepancies and additional verses? Do they alter our belief? Dr. Jones pointed out that even in judging which one is the correct reading or whether particular verse(s), like Acts 8:37, should belong to Scripture or not, both options do not contradict New Testament as a whole. Certainly the dogma of Trinity is not based solely on longer version of 1 John 5:7-8. However, Dr. Jones does not offer solution for John 7:53 to 8:12 (page 63-64). He admitted those verses were not part of fourth Gospel, but how does he accept them as inspired? Catholics accept them as inspired based on the authority of the Church. There is no other option, we cannot accept them because they portrait Christ as a person with love and compassion as depicted in the rest of four Gospels. Neither can we accept them because it does not contradict authentic tradition about Christ, that’s what Dr. Jones applied to explain the acceptance of longer ending of Mark’s Gospel. How do we define authentic tradition in the first place? How about apocryphal Gospels; if they or part of them agree with this authentic “tradition” then could we accept them as inspired? As for development of New Testament canon, I cannot agree with him that what Athanasius listed in 367 AD reflected consensus of earlier Christians – Athanasius list was the earliest list with twenty-seven books treated equally as part of New Testament. As Dr. Jones admitted (page 136) only twenty books were unanimously accepted by early Christians. They are the four Gospels, Acts, all thirteen Paul’s Epistles, 1 Peter and 1 John. The other seven (Hebrews, 2 Peter, 2 & 3 John, James, Jude and Revelation), either all seven or some were accepted by some and rejected by others. Dr. Jones wrote about divine standard guiding the process of selection – to Catholics this divine standard worked through the Catholic Church. He was correct to say that Athanasius did not set the limit of New Testament books – New Testament canon was declared in Hippo and Carthage councils in 393, 397 and 419 AD and even these councils are not ecumenical ones either. To Catholics canon of the Bible, both Old and New Testaments was closed in the decrees of 16th century Trent council.
Quoting from Muratorian canon Dr. Jones pointed out that as early as second century Christians already rejected works like Shepherd of Hermas. However around the same time the same book was cited as Scripture by Irenæus, bishop of Lyon.
Truly, then, the Scripture [Shepherd of Hermas] declared, which says, “First of all believe that there is one God, who has established all things, and completed them, and having caused that from what had no being, all things should come into existence: “He who contains all things, and is Himself contained by no one.
Irenæus, Against Heresies 4.20.2
Even in the early third century Origen cited the Shepherd as Scripture, while he was aware that some did despise this book.
But that we may believe on the authority of holy Scripture that such is the case, hear how in the book of Maccabees, where the mother of seven martyrs exhorts her son to endure torture, this truth is confirmed; for she says, “I ask of thee, my son, to look at the heaven and the earth, and at all things which are in them, and beholding these, to know that God made all these things when they did not exist.” In the book of the Shepherd also, in the first commandment, he speaks as follows: “First of all believe that there is one God who created and arranged all things, and made all things to come into existence, and out of a state of nothingness.”
Origen, de Principiis 2.1.5
For as man is said to consist of body, and soul, and spirit, so also does sacred Scripture, which has been granted by the divine bounty s for the salvation of man; which we see pointed out, moreover, in the little book of The Shepherd, which seems to be despised by some, where Hermas is commanded to write two little books, and afterwards to announce to the presbyters of the Church what he learned from the Spirit. For these are the words that are written: “And you will write,” he says, “two books; and you will give the one to Clement, and the other to Grapte. And let Grapte admonish the widows and orphans, and let Clement send through all the cities.
Origen, de Principiis 4.1.11
In Table 1 Dr. Jones shows three early lists of New Testament books: Muratorian list, Codex Claromontanus and Eusebius list. In Muratorian list he combined 2 and 3 John into one book but actually the list has only 1 and 2 John (refer to my earlier post). How did he know that they were combined into one book? To the best of my knowledge they did not combine any books of New Testament in antiquity. They did that to some Old Testament books like Ruth was combined with Judges and Lamentations with Jeremiah. Table 1 also shows Codex Claromontanus (or known as Clermont list) as to have all twenty seven books. The same list in F.F. Bruce’s Canon of Scripture (page 218) does not have Philippians, 1 & 2 Thessalonians and Hebrews. Since the whole corpus of Paul’s thirteen epistles was generally accepted the omission of Philippians, 1 & 2 Thessalonians was most likely accidental, but the same may not apply to Hebrews.