- Published on Wednesday, 27 June 2012 06:16
- Written by John Draper
- Hits: 1906
Can we rely on the new Testament to be a reliable record of the events portrayed? Is it an accurate documentation of what Jesus said and did? According to Biblical scholar Dr. Bart Ehrman it is not. He spent 30 years studying the bible and tried to determine what could be trusted to be accurate. He first started with the premise that the originally written books were accurate - the problem is , we don't have them; we have only copies. And the copies differ from one another significantly. Not just minor variations but whole passages have been changed or added.
Looking at it from a theological perspective, as Dr. Ehrman says, "If God inspired the bible without error, why hadn't he preserved the bible without error?" Surely for God it would be just as easy to make sure that copies did not introduce errors as it was to ensure the original was accurate.
Dr. Ehram featured in a debate on this subject with Craig Evans on March 31, 2010. His remarks were highlighted in a shorter video below (15m). You can see the much longer full debate here:
His main points:
- The copies of the New Testament are full of errors - they are different to each other with significant omissions and/or changes between them.
- The errors occur because the original was copied and the copy was copied etc. - the only copy we have of (e.g. Mark) is from 280AD - a hand-me-down version that had been copied and re-copied many times. How can we know which parts are errors and which are original? We can't.
- Jesus is not mentioned by any Greek or Roman non-Christian historical source until 80 years after his death. In the entire first Century, Jesus is not mentioned by a single Greek or Roman historian, religion scholar, politician, philosopher or poet. His name never occurs in a single inscription, and his name is never found in a single piece of private correspondence. Jesus is mentioned briefly (twice) by the Jewish historian Josephus in the year 93.
- The earliest documents in the New Testament are the Epistles of Paul but although he mentions the death and resurrection, he says little about what else Jesus did or said.
- Early Christianity was spread by word of mouth - mostly by people who were not eye-witnesses but simply passing on what they had heard. Errors are highly likely. When the first gospels were written, they were based on this hearsay.
- But are the differences important? Many of the beloved sayings of Jesus are errors - they are not in earlier copies of the bible. For example: "Let the one who is without sin be the one to cast the first stone at her"; "Go into all the world, and preach the gospel to the whole creation. He who believes in me and is baptized will be saved; but he that does not will be condemned." These only appear in some copies so are obviously not in the original. Much of the doctrine in the bible should not be there; much of what is quoted as being what Jesus said is highly likely to be invented by later copiers. Many Evangelical scholars claim it does not matter - why then do they devote their lives to studying the Greek manuscripts?
But note, he did not say that Jesus did not exist. In fact, although Dr. Ehram is no longer a Christian and now calls himself agnostic, he says that Jesus did exist. But he is also saying strongly: you can't trust the bible to be a literal documentation of the teachings, words or life of Jesus.
Thanks to the Friendly Atheist for the pointer