I have finally started reading Misquoting Jesus, by Bart Ehrman. It came in about a week ago via interlibrary loan, and I have now gotten through the introduction and the first chapter. Unlike my response to The God Delusion, I’m not going to post all sections at once, but rather I’ll just post my reactions a chapter at a time.
Before I get started, however, I want to mention that Elgin Hushbeck, Jr. has joined the list of speakers at Running Toward the Goal, a 5 minute +/- audio podcast sponsored by Pacesetters Bible School, Inc.. Elgin will focus on Christian apologetics and chose to give his response to Misquoting Jesus in his first podcast. There is also a link to the transcript there. Elgin accepts the doctrine of Biblical inerrancy, as he mentions in the show, so he will have a somewhat different perspective than I do, though his response is surprisingly similar.
I read the introduction to Misquoting Jesus with a great deal of empathy. Going into college, I was in many ways where Bart Ehrman was. I benefited from three important differences, however. First, though my parents were very conservative in their own beliefs, they did not discourage me from questioning. Second, I had already seen the number of manuscript variations by looking at the New Testament in the old Nestle-Aland text (25th edition, I believe) that I started Greek with. Third, my undergraduate professors gave great attention to dealing with questions that arise because of the differences.
Amongst my own experiences I would count a time when I was 12 years old and became concerned with just how one could prove that the Bible was true. This happened some time during Sabbath School (I was raised Seventh-day Adventist), and by the end of church I had found my solution–Bible prophecy. We could be certain the Bible was true because of prophecy. I proudly proclaimed my solution to my Dad who affirmed that prophecy was important, but pointed out that there were ways to get around prophecy. The bottom line was faith, he told me.
In college I recall facing question after question. I confronted a young earth when studying the texts of the genealogies of Genesis 5 and 11. I located the paper I wrote at that time when going through my files recently. The contents are hardly stunning, and my conclusions appear somewhat timid to me now, but I was raised on the 6000 years period–no 6-10 thousand variation for me–and the textual differences were the first break with the young earth view for me.
So dealing with manuscript variations has played a huge role in my own development as it did for Dr. Ehrman, even though the outcome was not the same. I would note that I did leave the Seventh-day Adventist Church out of seminary, and didn’t return to church, now as a United Methodist, until 12 years later, but that didn’t have to do with doubts about the Bible. I was liberal enough by the time I was working on the MA degree to have some difficulties at the SDA Theological Seminary. They were rather minor problems, to be sure, and I managed to resolve them quite reasonably, but they made it clear to me that not everyone was primarily interested in finding the truth, particularly in Biblical studies.
Since I do not believe in Biblical inerrancy myself, and have not almost from the time I formed a conscious view of inspiration, the fact that there are variations in the wording is not that major of an issue. (Note that while my views of a number of issues were altered as I discovered manuscript variations, I had not truly formulated my own view of inspiration before I was a college student. It was all sort of ad hoc.) But there is a certain shock in discovering the actual history of the Bible if one hasn’t spent serious time thinking about it.
This is very important for Christian education. I think that we are wasting most of our available educational time in the church in the mistaken view that if we have reaffirmed the doctrines enough times as a young person is growing up, they will stay in the church. Of course at the same time, many church leaders complain about the number of young people who leave the church when they get to college. The shock, in my view, is not how many leave, it’s that any of them stay.
The time is past when one can get by with providing only part of the truth. It was never right, but with the internet and the available of information generally, any young person who is reasonably curious will have access to all the negative information that the Sunday School teacher may be trying to avoid.
I realize it seems like a risk to expose children and young people to other religions, but a faith that cannot survive information is not going to be much of a faith. I have blogged on this before here.
Since I have already read chapter 1, I believe I can fairly confidently say that I will post a few thoughts on it (canonization) tomorrow.