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Response to Misquoting Jesus VII

. . . in which, of course, I respond to chapter 6. I will post a directory to the whole series of responses, with the final entry, but in the meantime you will get the series by choosing category “Textual Criticism” in the right sidebar. There are other entries in that category, but all the most recent ones are in this series.

In chapter 6, Theologically Motivated Alterations of the Text, Ehrman looks at some specific points of theology and the way in which scribes altered, or tried to alter the text in opposition to those viewpoints. In our surviving texts, he notes, we don’t have many non-orthodox alterations, because it was the orthodox who won the day, and their texts were the ones that were preserved.

He discusses three theological points which engendered theologically motivated changes: Adoptionist christology (Adoptionism in Wikipedia), docetic christology (Docetism in Wikipedia), and separationist christology. Adoptionism holds that Jesus was not born the son of God but was adopted, docetic christology holds that Jesus merely appeared to be human and to suffer as a human, but in fact, it was all just an illusion, while separationism suggested that Jesus was completely separated from God when he died, i.e. his divinity did not suffer death with his humanity.

In each case, these anti-orthodox positions resulted in changes. These alterations to the text did not change the theology in a major way, but in the likely view of the scribes who made the changes they prevented people from interpreting a passage in an unorthodox way.

I would simply make two notes on this chapter. First, it’s easy to make too much of such changes. The defense, as I frequently like to say, is never to base theology on a single text, but rather on an overall message an author is trying to present. Second, the abundance of Greek manuscripts lets us get behind this type of changes.

I do agree with Ehrman that these types of alterations should be of concern if one holds a verbal plenary view of inspiration. If the individual words are so critical, as opposed to the overall message, then how could God allow the inspired words to be replaced wholesale? It’s easy to say that the abundance of manuscripts means that we can get at the original texts with a high degree of accuracy, but what about all those believers who used the various flawed manuscripts? What about the English speaking church before the ERV? (Note that the ERV used the Westcott and Hort text, and thus corrected numerous inaccuracies in the KJV.)

I am absolutely comfortable saying that one can access God’s message via scripture, but when that message is reduced to the word by word level, i.e. if every word is important, then the state of the manuscripts is problematic.

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