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October 31, 2007 / vivator

Misquoting Jesus vs. Misquoting Truth

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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.

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4 Comments

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  1. Godwin A. Delali / Nov 8 2007 8:07 am

    Truly the CHURCH is the Pillar and foundation of truth. 1 Timothy 3:15

  2. TimothyPaulJones / Nov 10 2007 2:56 pm

    Even though we obviously disagree at a few points, I appreciate your weighing of the evidences! So many responses to my book—primarily, admittedly, from atheists—have not been so evenhanded.

    With reference to the combining of Johannine epistles …
    The church fathers did, at times, refer to more than one of the Johannine epistles as a single epistle. See, e.g., Irenaeus, Adversus Haereses, 3:16:5 and 3:16:8, where Irenaeus states that he’s quoting from a single epistle, even though the quotations come from two different Johannine letters. See also the work of Peter Katz, “The Johannine Epistles in the Muratorian Canon,” JTS 8 (1957): 273-74, for a slightly different angle.

    As for Codex Claromontanus, it is fairly clear that Philippians and the Thessalonian epistles were dropped out in copying the stichometric list. As for Hebrews … I must admit that I am in error at that point; in typing that list, I fell victim to parablepsis! More than a dozen academic reviewers of the manuscript, from many faith backgrounds, and none of them caught that! Thanks for noticing; I will see if that can be corrected in the next edition.

    When I stated that Athanasius was representing a previously-extant canonical standard, my intended meaning was that his list was based on a previous canonical standard of eyewitness testimony, though perhaps that could have been more clearly stated in the text.

  3. vivator / Nov 11 2007 12:21 am

    Dear Dr. Jones,

    I cheked Irenaeus’ Against Heresies 3.16.5 and 3.16.8. It seems to me Irenaeus quoted 1 and 2 John but not from 3 John (English translation from Anti Nicene Fathers with added Scripture reference)

    Therefore did the Lord also say to His disciples after the resurrection, “O thoughtless ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into His glory?” And again does He say to them: “These are the words which I spoke unto you while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the Psalms, concerning Me. Then opened He their understanding, that they should understand the Scriptures, and said unto them, Thus it is written, and thus it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise again from the dead, and that repentance for the remission of sins be preached in His name among all nations.” Now this is He who was born of Mary; for He says: “The Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected, and crucified, and on the third day rise again.” The Gospel, therefore, knew no other son of man but Him who was of Mary, who also suffered; and no Christ who flew away from Jesus before the passion; but Him who was born it knew as Jesus Christ the Son of God, and that this same suffered and rose again, as John, the disciple of the Lord, verifies, saying: “But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing ye might have eternal life in His name,”—foreseeing these blasphemous systems which divide the Lord, as far as lies in their power, saying that He was formed of two different substances. For this reason also he has thus testified to us in his Epistle: “Little children, it is the last time; and as ye have heard that Antichrist doth come, now have many antichrists appeared; whereby we know that it is the last time. They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us: but [they departed], that they might be made manifest that they are not of us. Know ye therefore, that every lie is from without, and is not of the truth. Who is a liar, but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ? This is Antichrist.” (1 John 2:18-19, 21-22, loosely quoted)
    Irenaeus, Against Heresies 3.16.5

    All, therefore, are outside of the [Christian] dispensation, who, under pretext of knowledge, understand that Jesus was one, and Christ another, and the Only-begotten another, from whom again is the Word, and that the Saviour is another, whom these disciples of error allege to be a production of those who were made Æons in a state of degeneracy. Such men are to outward appearance sheep; for they appear to be like us, by what they say in public, repeating the same words as we do; but inwardly they are wolves. Their doctrine is homicidal, conjuring up, as it does, a number of gods, and simulating many Fathers, but lowering and dividing the Son of God in many ways. These are they against whom the Lord has cautioned us beforehand; and His disciple, in his Epistle already mentioned, commands us to avoid them, when he says: “For many deceivers are entered into the world, who confess not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an antichrist. Take heed to them, that ye lose not what ye have wrought.” (2 John 7-8) And again does he say in the Epistle: “Many false prophets are gone out into the world. Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God; and every spirit which separates Jesus Christ is not of God, but is of antichrist.” (1 John 4:1-3) These words agree with what was said in the Gospel, that “the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us.” Wherefore he again exclaims in his Epistle, “Every one that believeth that Jesus is the Christ, has been born of God;”(1 John 5:1) knowing Jesus Christ to be one and the same, to whom the gates of heaven were opened, because of His taking upon Him flesh: who shall also come in the same flesh in which He suffered, revealing the glory of the Father.
    Irenaeus, Against Heresies 3.16.8

  4. TimothyPaulJones / Nov 11 2007 7:34 pm

    My point is simply—contra the statement that “they did not combine any books of New Testament in antiquity”—there is clear and valid precedent in the church fathers for combining the Johannine epistles.

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