In our previous post we discovered that Bart Ehrman’s sensationalistic and rhetorically powerful statement about the 400,000 variations in the New Testament dissipates once the numbers are refined from their raw form. We learned that of these 400,000 variations 99% (396,000) are considered insignificant. These are 200,000 misspellings, and 196,000 errors that fall into other categories that simply indicate that the ancient scribes that meticulously copied the New Testament by hand had the same lapses in concentration that so many of us suffer today.
The remaining 4,000 or 1% of the variants are considered significant. These are intentional changes that add to, or subtract from the meaning of the text. What is interesting is that Dr. Ehrman in the paperback “Plus” edition of his best seller Misquoting Jesus added a Letterman-like Top Ten Verses Not Found in the New Testament (Misquoting Jesus, 265-266).
Again, I do not have the academic “chops” to even think of refuting Dr. Ehrman. So this post is in no way considered as such. Such refutations I will leave to the scholars like Daniel Wallace or Ben Witherington. What I am going to do in this post is simply look at Dr. Ehrman’s Top Ten list, and see whether or not the variations should cause anyone’s trust in the New Testament to waver. I am going to do this by using tools that are available to anyone that has a Bible with footnotes and the ability search the internet. I will be dealing with the first five of Ehrman's Top Ten in this post, and the second five in the next post.
1. 1 John 5:7-8
Scholars call this the Comma Johanneum. It is contained in most translations of 1 John from 1522 to the latter part of the 19th century. The reason for this was the widespread use of the Textus Recepetus (Received Text) as the sole source for translation. Because of this the King James Version renders 1 John 5:7-8 as follows (the Comma is in bold print)
5:7 "For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one.
5:8 And there are three that bear witness in earth, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three agree in one."
As many of you know (from previous posts), I was raised a Jehovah’s Witness. One of their positions was that the Trinity is not a biblical teaching. We were taught to immediately zero in on the fact that the earliest Greek manuscripts of 1 John do not contain the Comma as written above. One of my favorite opponents, as a JW, to encounter in the door-to-door work was King James Only Christians that would immediately jump to this verse in order to “prove” the Trinity. JWs are taught, correctly, to point out that the closer an ancient manuscript was to the originals, the closer it was to the original meaning. Further, nearly every modern translation (even the JWs New World Translation) I have read regarding this verse either omits the Comma, or has a footnote stating that the Comma is not found in the earliest manuscripts.
As I mentioned above, the Comma is not found in any Bible translation until 1522. Then, as now, scholars recognized that the Comma was a clear addition to the text. Further, if this verse was a part of the Bible at any time prior to 1522, why did the Council of Constantinople (which affirmed the Trinity) not use it as Biblical support for the Trinity? The Comma appears to be a summary of the Trinity, and not an affirmation of it by a scribe. This summary, through error made its way into the Bible because of human error. Further, Nestle-Aland 27 (NA27), the work that lists all variants in the New Testament, states that the Comma is found in only four Greek manuscripts, in the margins of three Greek manuscripts, and in one Latin manuscript. Based on this scant evidence, it is clear that the Comma does not deserve the place it has been given by the King James Version.
2. and 3. John 8:7; 11
Ehrman actually lists these verses separately. However, in the interest of brevity, we will tackle both verses in one section. These two verses are part of a larger section of John’s Gospel that scholars call the Pericope Adulterae. As with the Comma Johanneum, I am surprised that these verses can cause anyone to lose trust in the New Testament. Mainly because anyone that can read footnotes in a Bible will be able to know what the issue is with this segment of the Gospel of John.
Referring back to my upbringing in the Jehovah’s Witness religion, I can remember having to do a Bible reading in front of the congregation (what JWs call a church) on John 8:1-11. My research in JW publications on the Gospel of John, in general, and this section of Scripture in particular, led me to the conclusion that this section did not belong in the Bible. This was not something I shared at that time with my fellow JWs.
If one looks at any modern translation, you will find a footnote stating that this section of John is not found in the earliest manuscripts. However, since Jerome accepted this story as canonical, it found its way into the Latin Vulgate. Therefore, due to its inclusion in the Latin Vulgate, the Roman Catholics regard this story as canonical. It is also accepted by the Eastern Orthodox Church as canonical. Lastly, many Protestants accept this story due to its inclusion in the TR (Textus Receptus) and the King James Version.
The question remains, if it is well known among biblical scholars that this section does not exist in the earliest manuscripts, why is it still in the bible? I, and others, believe that the story is such a powerful portrayal of the forgiveness of Jesus that there would be an incredible outcry against any translation that omitted this story, which would lead to boycotts and loss of monetary income. Further, I believe that many preachers would rather preach out of a questionable text in order to elicit a certain emotional response from their congregants. Even worse, I believe that if a preacher ever taught about the textual issues regarding the Pericope, that teaching would affect the two things most pastors care about, namely cheeks in the pews and checks in the offering. This is another form verse abuse, but that is a topic for another post.
4. Luke 22:44
Again, most modern translations footnote this verse that states that this verse is not found in the earliest manuscripts. The reason that this verse is in dispute is because the addition of this verse appears to be an attempt to demonstrate Jesus’ full humanity, rather than the appearance of humanity. This was a controversy early in church history. Metzger states:
"These verses are absent from some of the oldest and best witnesses, including the majority of the Alexandrian manuscripts. It is striking to note that the earliest witnesses attesting the verses are three Church fathers - Justin, Irenaeus, and Hippolytus - each of whom uses the verses in order to counter Christological views that maintained that Jesus was not a full human who experienced the full range of human sufferings. It may well be that the verses were added to the text for just this reason, in opposition to those who held to a docetic Christology" (Bruce M. Metzger, The Text of the New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration (Oxford University Press: 2005), p. 286).
Bart Ehrman even agrees with Metzger regarding this verse. It appears to be an attempt to combat doceticism, the heresy that Jesus was divine but only seemed to have suffered (Bart D. Ehrman, The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture (Oxford University Press: 1993), pp. 187-194).
With all this said, it is important to point out that this is a problem specifically in Luke. Mark 14:32-34 gives us a parallel account with three variants. These variants deal with the distance between Jesus and the disciples, the description of Jesus’ return to His disciples, and the description of the disciples’ sleepiness. There is no variant regarding the description of Jesus’ emotional state.
5. Luke 22:20
Once again there are footnotes in the modern translations that state that some manuscripts omit, in whole or part, verses 19b-20. The question seems to be whether Jesus used one cup or two at the last supper. Personally, I do not see a reason why there has to be two cups. It seems quite reasonable to me that Jesus may have referred to the same cup twice. I will expand on this view shortly.
As with Luke 22:44, this seems to be an issue unique to Luke. We have parallel accounts in Matthew 26:26-28 and Mark 14:22-24. I want to point out that both accounts have insignificant variants. I do want to point out that Paul appears to quote Luke in 1 Cor. 11:23-25. This apparent quotation leads me to the conclusion that Luke documented Jesus reference to the same cup twice.
It appears that I will have to conclude this series with part three. I pray that this review of Dr. Ehrman’s Top Ten has helped you to not only understand the importance of knowing your Bible, but also to be able to defend your trust of the New Testament from those that have read Ehrman’s works and parrot his opinions.