The New Testament

20:33 Posted by Saaib Ahmed

Both read the Bible day and night,
But thou read’st black where I read white.
—William Blake, The Everlasting Gospel

Of course, Blake’s sentiment in the quote above is nothing new. The New
Testament contains enough inconsistencies to have spawned a dizzying variety of
interpretations, beliefs and religions, all allegedly Bible-based. And so, we find
one author offering the amusing observation:

You can and you can’t,
You shall and you shan’t,
You will and you won’t,
And you will be damned if you do,
And you will be damned if you don’t.[1]

Why such variance in viewpoints? To begin with, different theological camps
disagree on which books should be included in the Bible. One camp’s apocrypha
is another’s scripture. Secondly, even among those books that have been
canonized, the many variant source texts lack uniformity. This lack of uniformity
is so ubiquitous that The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible states, “It is safe to
say that there is not one sentence in the NT in which the MS [manuscript] tradition
is wholly uniform.”[2]

Not one sentence? We can’t trust a single sentence of the Bible? Hard to


The fact is that there are over 5700 Greek manuscripts of all or part of the New
Testament.[3] Furthermore, “no two of these manuscripts are exactly alike in all
their particulars…. And some of these differences are significant.”[4] Factor in
roughly ten thousand manuscripts of the Latin Vulgate, add the many other ancient
variants (i.e., Syriac, Coptic, Armenian, Georgian, Ethiopic, Nubian, Gothic,
Slavonic), and what do we have?

A lot of manuscripts

A lot of manuscripts that fail to correspond in places and not infrequently
contradict one another. Scholars estimate the number of manuscript variants in the
hundreds of thousands, some estimating as high as 400,000.[5] 

In Bart D. Ehrman’s now famous words, “Possibly it is easiest to put the matter in
comparative terms: there are more differences in our manuscripts than there are
words in the New Testament.”[6]

How did this happen?

Poor record keeping. Dishonesty. Incompetence. Doctrinal prejudice. Take
your pick.

None of the original manuscripts have survived from the early Christian
period.[7]/[8] The most ancient complete manuscripts (Vatican MS. No. 1209 and
the Sinaitic Syriac Codex) date from the fourth century, three hundred years after
Jesus’ ministry. But the originals? Lost. And the copies of the originals? Also
lost. Our most ancient manuscripts, in other words, are copies of the copies of the
copies of nobody-knows-just-how-many copies of the originals.

No wonder they differ

In the best of hands, copying errors would be no surprise. However, New
Testament manuscripts were not in the best of hands. During the period of
Christian origins, scribes were untrained, unreliable, incompetent, and in some
cases illiterate.[9] Those who were visually impaired could have made errors with
look-alike letters and words, while those who were hearing-impaired may have
erred in recording scripture as it was read aloud. Frequently scribes were
overworked, and hence inclined to the errors that accompany fatigue.
In the words of Metzger and Ehrman, “Since most, if not all, of them [the
scribes] would have been amateurs in the art of copying, a relatively large number
of mistakes no doubt crept into their texts as they reproduced them.”[10] Worse
yet, some scribes allowed doctrinal prejudice to influence their transmission of
scripture.[11] As Ehrman states, “The scribes who copied the texts changed them.”
[12] More specifically, “The number of deliberate alterations made in the interest
of doctrine is difficult to assess.”[13] And even more specifically, “In the technical
parlance of textual criticism—which I retain for its significant ironies—these
scribes ‘corrupted’ their texts for theological reasons.”[14]
Errors were introduced in the form of additions, deletions, substitutions and
modifications, most commonly of words or lines, but occasionally of entire verses.
[15] [16] In fact, “numerous changes and accretions came into the text,”[17] with
the result that “all known witnesses of the New Testament are to a greater or lesser
extent mixed texts, and even several of the earliest manuscripts are not free from
egregious errors.”[18]
In Misquoting Jesus, Ehrman presents persuasive evidence that the story of the
woman taken in adultery (John 7:53-8:12) and the last twelve verses of Mark were
not in the original gospels, but added by later scribes.[19] Furthermore, these
examples “represent just two out of thousands of places in which the manuscripts
of the New Testament came to be changed by scribes.”[20]
In fact, entire books of the Bible were forged.[21] This doesn’t mean their
content is necessarily wrong, but it certainly doesn’t mean it’s right. So which
books were forged? Ephesians, Colossians, 2 Thessalonians, 1 and 2 Timothy,
Titus, 1 and 2 Peter, and Jude—a whopping nine of the twenty-seven New
Testament books and epistles—are to one degree or another suspect.[22]
Forged books? In the Bible?
Why are we not surprised? After all, even the gospel authors are unknown. In
fact, they’re anonymous.[23] Biblical scholars rarely, if ever, ascribe gospel
authorship to Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John. As Ehrman tells us, “Most scholars
today have abandoned these identifications, and recognize that the books were
written by otherwise unknown but relatively well-educated Greek-speaking (and
writing) Christians during the second half of the first century.”[24] Graham
Stanton affirms, “The gospels, unlike most Graeco-Roman writings, are
anonymous. The familiar headings which give the name of an author (‘The
Gospel according to …’) were not part of the original manuscripts, for they were
added only early in the second century.”[25]

So what, if anything, did Jesus’ disciples have to do with authoring the
gospels? Little or nothing, so far as we know. But we have no reason to believe
they authored any of the books of the Bible. To begin with, let us remember Mark
was a secretary to Peter, and Luke a companion to Paul. The verses of Luke 6:14-
16 andMatthew 10:2-4 catalogue the twelve disciples, and although these lists
differ over two names, Mark and Luke don’t make either list. So only Matthew
and John were true disciples. But all the same, modern scholars pretty much
disqualify them as authors anyway.


Good question. John being the more famous of the two, why should we
disqualify him from having authored the Gospel of “John”?
Umm… because he was dead?

Multiple sources acknowledge there is no evidence, other than questionable
testimonies of second century authors, to suggest that the disciple John was the
author of the Gospel of “John.”[26] [27] Perhaps the most convincing refutation is
that the disciple John is believed to have died in or around 98 CE.[28] However,
the Gospel of John was written circa 110 CE.[29] So whoever Luke (Paul’s
companion), Mark (Peter’s secretary), and John (the unknown, but certainly not
the long-dead one) were, we have no reason to believe any of the gospels were
authored by Jesus’ disciples. . . .

Copyright© 2007 Laurence B. Brown

[1] Dow, Lorenzo. Reflections on the Love of God.
[2] Buttrick, George Arthur (Ed.). 1962 (1996 Print). The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible.
Volume 4. Nashville: Abingdon Press. pp. 594-595 (Under Text, NT).
[3] Ehrman, Bart D. 2005. Misquoting Jesus. HarperCollins. P. 88.
[4] Ehrman, Bart D. 2003. Lost Christianities. Oxford University Press. P. 78.
[5] Ehrman, Bart D. Misquoting Jesus. P. 89.
[6] Ehrman, Bart D. The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early ChristianWritings.
2004. Oxford University Press. P. 12.
[7] Ehrman, Bart D. Lost Christianities. P. 49.
[8] Metzger, Bruce M. 2005. A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament. Deutsche
Bibelgesellschaft, D—Stuttgart. Introduction, p. 1.
[9] Ehrman, Bart D. Lost Christianities and Misquoting Jesus.
[10] Metzger, Bruce M. and Ehrman, Bart D. The Text of the New Testament: Its Transmission,
Corruption, and Restoration. P. 275.
[11] Ehrman, Bart D. Lost Christianities. Pp. 49, 217, 219-220.
[12] Ehrman, Bart D. Lost Christianities. P. 219.
[13] Metzger, Bruce M. and Ehrman, Bart D. The Text of the New Testament: Its Transmission,
Corruption, and Restoration. P. 265. See also Ehrman, Orthodox Corruption of Scripture.
[14] Ehrman, Bart D. 1993. The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture. Oxford University Press. P.
[15] Ehrman, Bart D. Lost Christianities. P. 220.
[16] Metzger, Bruce M. A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament. Introduction, p. 3
[17] Metzger, Bruce M. A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament. Introduction, p. 10.
[18] Metzger, Bruce M. and Ehrman, Bart D. The Text of the New Testament: Its Transmission,
Corruption, and Restoration. P. 343.
[19] Ehrman, Bart D. Misquoting Jesus. Pp. 62-69.
[20] Ehrman, Bart D. Misquoting Jesus. P. 68.
[21] Ehrman, Bart D. Lost Christianities. Pp. 9-11, 30, 235-6.
[22] Ehrman, Bart D. Lost Christianities. P. 235.
[23] Ehrman, Bart D. Lost Christianities. P. 3, 235. Also, see Ehrman, Bart D. The New
Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings. P. 49.
[24] Ehrman, Bart D. Lost Christianities. P. 235.
[25] Stanton, Graham N. 1989. The Gospels and Jesus. Oxford University Press. p. 19.
[26] Kee, HowardClark (Notes and References by). 1993. The Cambridge Annotated Study Bible,
New Revised Standard Version. Cambridge University Press. Introduction to gospel of ‘John.’
[27] Butler, Trent C. (General Editor). Holman Bible Dictionary. Nashville: Holman Bible
Publishers. Under ‘John, the Gospel of’
[28] Easton,M. G.,M.A., D.D. Easton’s Bible Dictionary. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.
Under ‘John the Apostle.’
[29] Goodspeed, Edgar J. 1946. How to Read the Bible. The John C.Winston Company. p. 227
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    Posted on 27 June 2011 at 23:32


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