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Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why
Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why
Bart D. Ehrman
HarperOne, 2005
256 pp., $24.95

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Robert H. Gundry


Post-Mortem

Death by hardening of the categories.

The first thing to say about Bart Ehrman's Misquoting Jesus is that it has little to do with misquoting Jesus.1 You'd think from the subtitle, The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why, that the main title signals an exposé of postbiblical changes of what Jesus actually said as recorded in the Bible. But not only does Ehrman disbelieve that the Bible always records what Jesus actually said. He also devotes most of his book to parts of the Bible that don't pretend to be quoting Jesus at all. None of his three parade examples of changes—from Jesus' "becoming angry" to "feeling compassion" in Mark 1:41, from nothing at all about Jesus' blood-like sweat to its later insertion in Luke 22:43–44, and from Jesus' tasting death "apart from God" to doing so "by the grace of God" in Hebrews 2:8–9—deals with what Jesus purportedly said.

Of Ehrman's 36 lesser examples of textual changes, 22 have nothing to do with the reported words of Jesus. Not even John 7:53–8:11 does; for although Jesus is quoted there ("Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more," he says to the woman taken in adultery, for example), Ehrman rightly excludes the whole passage from the canonical text but doesn't argue that Jesus is misquoted in the passage. (Regardless of one's opinion concerning historical value, denying canonicity doesn't equate with denying historicity.) Four of the lesser examples represent omissions rather than misquotations of Jesus' words, and ten—only ten—represent textual changes in which Jesus is misquoted. Of these ten, moreover, only one (in Luke 22:17–19) poses a serious question as to what the evangelist originally reported Jesus said, that is, whether he said his body was being given and his blood being shed for the disciples; and because of a partial parallel in 1 Corinthians 11:23–25, even this one hardly counts as a misquotation though Luke may not have recorded it. (Ehrman makes no argument that Paul misquoted Jesus.) ...

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