Archive for November 27, 2008
Here’s Part V of Bart Ehrman’s de-conversion story (click here for Part IV):
Once I made that admission, the floodgates opened. For if there could be one little, picayune mistake in Mark 2, maybe there could be mistakes in other places as well.
Maybe, when Jesus says later in Mark 4 that the mustard seed is “the smallest of all seeds on the earth,” maybe I don’t need to come up with a fancy explanation for how the mustard seed is the smallest of all seeds when I know full well it isn’t.
And maybe these “mistakes” apply to bigger issues. Maybe when Mark says that Jesus was crucified the day after the Passover meal was eaten (Mark 14:12; 15:25) and John says he died the day before it was eaten (John 19:14)—maybe that is a genuine difference. Or when Luke indicates in his account of Jesus’s birth that Joseph and Mary returned to Nazareth just over a month after they had come to Bethlehem (and performed the rites of purification; Luke 2:39), whereas Matthew indicates they instead fled to Egypt (Matt. 2:19-22)—maybe that is a difference. Or when Paul says that after he converted on the way to Damascus he did not go to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before him (Gal. 1:16-17), whereas the book of Acts says that that was the first thing he did after leaving Damascus (Acts 9:26)—maybe that is a difference.
This kind of realization coincided with the problems I was encountering the more closely I studied the surviving Greek manuscripts of the New Testament. It is one thing to say that the originals were inspired, but the reality is that we don’t have the originals—so saying they were inspired doesn’t help me much, unless I can reconstruct the originals.
Moreover, the vast majority of Christians for the entire history of the church have not had access to the originals, making their inspiration something of a moot point. Not only do we not have the originals, we don’t have the first copies of the originals. We don’t even have copies of the copies of the originals, or copies of the copies of the copies of the originals. What we have are copies made later—much later. In most instances, they are copies made many centuries later. And these copies all differ from one another, in many thousands of places. (…)
[T]hese copies differ from one another in so many places that we don’t even know how many differences there are. Possibly it is easiest to put it in comparative terms: there are more differences among our manuscripts than there are words in the New Testament. Most of these differences are completely immaterial and insignificant. A good portion of them simply show us that scribes in antiquity could spell no better than most people can today (and they didn’t even have dictionaries, let alone spell check).
Even so, what is one to make of all these differences? If one wants to insist that God inspired the very words of scripture, what would be the point if we don’t have the very words of scripture? In some places, as we will see, we simply cannot be sure that we have reconstructed the original text accurately. It’s a bit hard to know what the words of the Bible mean if we don’t even know what the words are!
This became a problem for my view of inspiration, for I came to realize that it would have been no more difficult for God to preserve the words of scripture than it would have been for him to inspire them in the first place. If he wanted his people to have his words, surely he would have given them to them (and possibly even given them the words in a language they could understand, rather than Greek and Hebrew). The fact that we don’t have the words surely must show, I reasoned, that he did not preserve them for us. And if he didn’t perform that miracle, there seemed to be no reason to think that he performed the earlier miracle of inspiring those words.
In short, my study of the Greek New Testament, and my investigations into the manuscripts that contain it, led to a radical rethinking of my understanding of what the Bible is. This was a seismic change for me. Before this—starting with my born-again experience in high school, through my fundamentalist days at Moody, and on through my evangelical days at Wheaton—my faith had been based completely on a certain view of the Bible as the fully inspired, inerrant word of God.
Now I no longer saw the Bible that way. The Bible began to appear to me as a very human book …
To be continued.