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New York Times Bestseller 

The Story Behind Who Changed the Bihle and Why 

Bart D. Ehrman 


Author of Lost Christianities 


USA. $24.95 
CAN $32.50 

^*J^~. Bart Ehrman first began to study 
the texts of the Bible in their original languages 
he was startled to discover the multitude 
of mistakes and intentional alterations that 
had been made by earlier translators. In 
Misquotingjesus, Ehrman tells the story behind 
the mistakes and changes that ancient scribes 
made to the New Testament and shows the 
great impact they had upon the Bible we use 
today. He frames his account with personal 
reflections on how his study of the Greek 
manuscripts made him abandon his once 
ultraconservative views of the Bible. 

Since the advent of the printing press 
and the accurate reproduction of texts, most 
people have assumed that when they read the 
New Testament they are reading an exact 
copy of Jesus's words or Saint Paul's writings. 
And yet, for almost fifteen hundred years 
these manuscripts were hand copied by scribes 
who were deeply influenced by the cultural, 
theological, and political disputes of their 
day. Both mistakes and intentional changes 
abound in the surviving manuscripts , making 
the original words difficult to reconstruct. 
For the first time, Ehrman reveals where 
and why these changes were made and 
how scholars go about reconstructing the 
original words of the New Testament as 
closely as possible. 

Ehrman makes the provocative case 
that many of our cherished biblical stories 
and widely held beliefs concerning the 
divinity of Jesus, the Trinity, and the divine 

continued on the back flap 

..■ ■ ...... 


The Story Behind Who 
Changed the Bible and Why 

BartD. Ehrman 

Harper S anFranci sco 

A Division ofHanperCollinsPublishers 

Photography and Illustration Credits 

Introduction— The Pierpont Morgan Library, New York; M. 777, f.3v, f 24V, f. 37V, 

andf 58 v 
Chapter 1 — Biblioteca Laurenziana, Florence, Italy; Photo: Scala/Art Resource, NY 
Chapter 2 — Courtesy of Bart Ehrman Chapter 3 — Victoria & Albert Museum, 
London; Photo: Victoria & Albert Museum, 

London/Art Resource, NY 
Chapter 4 — British Library, London; Photo: LHP/Art Resource, NY Chapter 5 — 
From the Winchester Psalter, British Library, London; Photo: HIP/ 

Art Resource, NY Chapter 6 — Golden Gospels of Henry VTA, Germany, Abbey of 
St. Maximin, Trier. 

The Pierpont Morgan Library, New York; Photo: The Pierpont Morgan Library/ 

Art Resource, NY Chapter 7 — The Pierpont Morgan Library; Photo: The 
Pierpont Morgan Library/ 

Art Resource, NY Chapter 8 — British Library; Cott. Nero.D.I. V. Folio 
No:211; Photo: HTP/Art 

Resource, NY 

misquoting jesus : The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why. Copyright © 
2005 by Bart D. Ehrman. All rights reserved. Printed in the United States of America. 
No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without 
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data is available. 

ISBN-13: 978-0-06073817-4 
ISBN-10: 0-06-073817-0 

06 07 08 09 RRD(H) 20 19 18 17 16 15 14 

To Bruce M. Metzger 












Editions, Manuscripts, and Differences 




Methods and Discoveries 









changing scripture 

Scribes, Authors, and Readers 







I owe a debt of gratitude to four keen and careful scholars who have 
read my manuscript and suggested (occasionally urged and pleaded 
for) changes: Kim Haines-Eitzen of Cornell University; Michael W. 
Holmes of Bethel College in Minnesota; Jeffrey Siker of Loyola Mary- 
mount University; and my wife, Sarah Beckwith, a medieval scholar 
at Duke University. The scholarly world would be a happier place if 
all authors had readers such as these. 

Thanks are also due to the editors at Harper San Francisco: John 
Loudon, for encouraging the project and signing it up; Mickey Maudlin, 
for bringing it home to completion; and above all Roger Freet, for a 
careful reading of the text and helpful comments. 

Translations of biblical texts, unless otherwise indicated, are my own. 

I have dedicated this book to my mentor and "Doctor-Father," 
Bruce M. Metzger, who taught me the field and continues to inspire 
me in my work. 

The Four Gospel Writers, with their traditional animal symbols, each highlighting 

an aspect of their portrayal of Jesus: Matthew as a man (humanity), Mark as a 

lion (royalty), Luke as an ox (servility), and John as an eagle (divinity). 


More than almost anything I've ever written about, the subject 
of this book has been on my mind for the past thirty years, 
since I was in my late teens and just beginning my study of the New 
Testament. Because it has been a part of me for so long, I thought I 
should begin by giving a personal account of why this material has 
been, and still is, very important to me. 

The book is about ancient manuscripts of the New Testament and 
the differences found in them, about scribes who copied scripture and 
sometimes changed it. This may not seem to be very promising as a 
key to one's own autobiography, but there it is. One has little control 
over such things. 

Before explaining how and why the manuscripts of the New Tes- 
tament have made a real difference to me emotionally and intellectu- 
ally, to my understanding of myself, the world I live in, my views of 
God, and the Bible, I should give some personal background. 

I was born and raised in a conservative place and time — the na- 
tion's heartland, beginning in the mid 1950s. My upbringing was 
nothing out of the ordinary. We were a fairly typical family of five, 
churchgoing but not particularly religious. Starting the year I was in 
fifth grade, we were involved with the Episcopal church in Lawrence, 

2 Misquoting Jesus 

Kansas, a church with a kind and wise rector, who happened also 
to be a neighbor and whose son was one of my friends (with whom I 
got into mischief later on in junior high school — something involving 
cigars). As with many Episcopal churches, this one was socially re- 
spectable and socially responsible. It took the church liturgy seriously, 
and scripture was part of that liturgy. But the Bible was not overly 
emphasized: it was there as one of the guides to faith and practice, 
along with the church's tradition and common sense. We didn't actu- 
ally talk about the Bible much, or read it much, even in Sunday school 
classes, which focused more on practical and social issues, and on how 
to live in the world. 

The Bible did have a revered place in our home, especially for my 
mom, who would occasionally read from the Bible and make sure 
that we understood its stories and ethical teachings (less so its "doc- 
trines"). Up until my high school years, I suppose I saw the Bible as a 
mysterious book of some importance for religion; but it certainly was 
not something to be learned and mastered. It had a feel of antiquity to 
it and was inextricably bound up somehow with God and church and 
worship. Still, I saw no reason to read it on my own or study it. 

Things changed drastically for me when I was a sophomore in 
high school. It was then that I had a "born-again" experience, in a set- 
ting quite different from that of my home church. I was a typical 
"fringe" kid — a good student, interested and active in school sports 
but not great at any of them, interested and active in social life but not 
in the upper echelon of the school's popular elite. I recall feeling a 
kind of emptiness inside that nothing seemed to fill — not running 
around with my friends (we were already into some serious social 
drinking at parties), dating (beginning to enter the mysterium tremen- 
dum of the world of sex), school (I worked hard and did well but was 
no superstar), work (I was a door-to-door salesman for a company 
that sold products for the blind), church (I was an acolyte and pretty 
devout — one had to be on Sunday mornings, given everything that 
happened on Saturday nights). There was a kind of loneliness associ- 
ated with being a young teenager; but, of course, I didn't realize that 

Introduction 3 

it was part of being a teenager — I thought there must be something 

That's when I started attending meetings of a Campus Life Youth 
for Christ club; they took place at kids' houses — the first I went to was 
a yard party at the home of a kid who was pretty popular, and that 
made me think the group must be okay. The leader of the group was a 
twenty-something -year-old named Bruce who did this sort of thing 
for a living — organized Youth for Christ clubs locally, tried to convert 
high school kids to be "born again" and then get them involved in se- 
rious Bible studies, prayer meetings, and the like. Bruce was a com- 
pletely winsome personality — younger than our parents but older and 
more experienced than we — with a powerful message, that the void 
we felt inside (We were teenagers! All of us felt a void!) was from not 
having Christ in our hearts. If we would only ask Christ in, he would 
enter and fill us with the joy and happiness that only the "saved" 
could know. 

Bruce could quote the Bible at will, and did so to an amazing de- 
gree. Given my reverence for, but ignorance of, the Bible, it all 
sounded completely convincing. And it was so unlike what I got at 
church, which involved old established ritual that seemed more 
geared toward old established adults than toward kids wanting fun 
and adventure, but who felt empty inside. 

To make a short story shorter, I eventually got to know Bruce, 
came to accept his message of salvation, asked Jesus into my heart, 
and had a bona fide born-again experience. I had been born for real 
only fifteen years earlier, but this was a new and exciting experience 
for me, and it got me started on a lifelong journey of faith that has 
taken enormous twists and turns, ending up in a dead end that proved 
to be, in fact, a new path that I have since taken, now well over thirty 
years later. 

Those of us who had these born-again experiences considered 
ourselves to be "real" Christians — as opposed to those who simply went 
to church as a matter of course, who did not really have Christ in their 
hearts and were therefore simply going through the motions with 

4 Misquoting Jesus 

none of the reality. One of the ways we differentiated ourselves from 
these others was in our commitment to Bible study and prayer. Espe- 
cially Bible study. Bruce himself was a Bible man; he had gone to 
Moody Bible Institute in Chicago and could quote an answer from 
the Bible to every question we could think of (and many we would 
never think of). I soon became envious of this ability to quote scrip- 
ture and got involved with Bible studies myself, learning some texts, 
understanding their relevance, and even memorizing the key verses. 

Bruce convinced me that I should consider becoming a "serious" 
Christian and devote myself completely to the Christian faith. This 
meant studying scripture full time at Moody Bible Institute, which, 
among other things, would involve a drastic change of lifestyle. At 
Moody there was an ethical "code" that students had to sign off on: no 
drinking, no smoking, no dancing, no card playing, no movies. And 
lots of Bible. As we used to say, "Moody Bible Institute, where Bible is 
our middle name." I guess I looked on it as a kind of Christian boot 
camp. In any event, I decided not to go half-measures with my faith; I 
applied to Moody, got in, and went there in the fall of 1973. 

The Moody experience was intense. I decided to major in Bible 
theology, which meant taking a lot of biblical study and systematic the- 
ology courses. Only one perspective was taught in these courses, sub- 
scribed to by all the professors (they had to sign a statement) and by all 
the students (we did as well): the Bible is the inerrant word of God. It 
contains no mistakes. It is inspired completely and in its very words — 
"verbal, plenary inspiration." All the courses I took presupposed and 
taught this perspective; any other was taken to be misguided or even 
heretical. Some, I suppose, would call this brainwashing. For me, it 
was an enormous "step up" from the milquetoast view of the Bible I 
had had as a socializing Episcopalian in my younger youth. This was 
hard-core Christianity, for the fully committed. 

There was an obvious problem, however, with the claim that the 
Bible was verbally inspired — down to its very words. As we learned 
at Moody in one of the first courses in the curriculum, we don't actu- 
ally have the original writings of the New Testament. What we have 
are copies of these writings, made years later — in most cases, many 

Introduction 5 

years later. Moreover, none of these copies is completely accurate, 
since the scribes who produced them inadvertently and/or intention- 
ally changed them in places. All scribes did this. So rather than actu- 
ally having the inspired words of the autographs (i.e., the originals) of 
the Bible, what we have are the error-ridden copies of the autographs. 
One of the most pressing of all tasks, therefore, was to ascertain what 
the originals of the Bible said, given the circumstances that (1) they 
were inspired and (2) we don't have them. 

I must say that many of my friends at Moody did not consider this 
task to be all that significant or interesting. They were happy to rest 
on the claim that the autographs had been inspired, and to shrug off, 
more or less, the problem that the autographs do not survive. For me, 
though, this was a compelling problem. It was the words of scripture 
themselves that God had inspired. Surely we have to know what 
those words were if we want to know how he had communicated to 
us, since the very words were his words, and having some other words 
(those inadvertently or intentionally created by scribes) didn't help us 
much if we wanted to know His words. 

This is what got me interested in the manuscripts of the New Tes- 
tament, already as an eighteen-year-old. At Moody, I learned the basics 
of the field known as textual criticism — a technical term for the sci- 
ence of restoring the "original" words of a text from manuscripts that 
have altered them. But I wasn't yet equipped to engage in this study: 
first I had to learn Greek, the original language of the New Testament, 
and possibly other ancient languages such as Hebrew (the language 
of the Christian Old Testament) and Latin, not to mention modern 
European languages like German and French, in order to see what 
other scholars had said about such things. It was a long path ahead. 

At the end of my three years at Moody (it was a three-year diploma), 
I had done well in my courses and was more serious than ever about 
becoming a Christian scholar. My idea at the time was that there were 
plenty of highly educated scholars among the evangelical Christians, 
but not many evangelicals among the (secular) highly educated schol- 
ars, so I wanted to become an evangelical "voice" in secular circles, by 
getting degrees that would allow me to teach in secular settings while 

6 Misquoting Jesus 

retaining my evangelical commitments. First, though, I needed to 
complete my bachelor's degree, and to do that I decided to go to a top- 
rank evangelical college. I chose Wheaton College, in a suburb of 

At Moody I was warned that I might have trouble finding real 
Christians at Wheaton — which shows how fundamentalist Moody 
was: Wheaton is only for evangelical Christians and is the alma mater 
of Billy Graham, for example. And at first I did find it to be a bit lib- 
eral for my tastes. Students talked about literature, history, and philoso- 
phy rather than the verbal inspiration of scripture. They did this from 
a Christian perspective, but even so: didn't they realize what really 
mattered ? 

I decided to major in English literature at Wheaton, since reading 
had long been one of my passions and since I knew that to make in- 
roads into the circles of scholarship, I would need to become well 
versed in an area of scholarship other than the Bible. I decided also to 
commit myself to learning Greek. It was during my first semester at 
Wheaton, then, that I met Dr. Gerald Hawthorne, my Greek teacher 
and a person who became quite influential in my life as a scholar, 
teacher, and, eventually, friend. Hawthorne, like most of my profes- 
sors at Wheaton, was a committed evangelical Christian. But he was 
not afraid of asking questions of his faith. At the time, I took this as a 
sign of weakness (in fact, I thought I had nearly all the answers to the 
questions he asked); eventually I saw it as a real commitment to truth 
and as being willing to open oneself up to the possibility that one's views 
need to be revised in light of further knowledge and life experience. 

Learning Greek was a thrilling experience for me. As it turned 
out, I was pretty good at the basics of the language and was always 
eager for more. On a deeper level, however, the experience of learning 
Greek became a bit troubling for me and my view of scripture. I came 
to see early on that the full meaning and nuance of the Greek text of 
the New Testament could be grasped only when it is read and studied 
in the original language (the same thing applies to the Old Testament, 
as I later learned when I acquired Hebrew). All the more reason, I 
thought, for learning the language thoroughly. At the same time, this 

Introduction 7 

started making me question my understanding of scripture as the ver- 
bally inspired word of God. If the full meaning of the words of scrip- 
ture can be grasped only by studying them in Greek (and Hebrew), 
doesn't this mean that most Christians, who don't read ancient lan- 
guages, will never have complete access to what God wants them to 
know? And doesn't this make the doctrine of inspiration a doctrine 
only for the scholarly elite, who have the intellectual skills and leisure 
to learn the languages and study the texts by reading them in the orig- 
inal? What good does it do to say that the words are inspired by God 
if most people have absolutely no access to these words, but only to 
more or less clumsy renderings of these words into a language, such as 
English, that has nothing to do with the original words?' 

My questions were complicated even more as I began to think in- 
creasingly about the manuscripts that conveyed the words. The more 
I studied Greek, the more I became interested in the manuscripts that 
preserve the New Testament for us, and in the science of textual criti- 
cism, which can supposedly help us reconstruct what the original 
words of the New Testament were. I kept reverting to my basic ques- 
tion: how does it help us to say that the Bible is the inerrant word of 
God if in fact we don't have the words that God inerrantly inspired, 
but only the words copied by the scribes — sometimes correctly but 
sometimes (many times!) incorrectly? What good is it to say that the 
autographs (i.e., the originals) were inspired? We don't have the origi- 
nals! We have only error-ridden copies, and the vast majority of these 
are centuries removed from the originals and different from them, 
evidently, in thousands of ways. 

These doubts both plagued me and drove me to dig deeper and 
deeper, to understand what the Bible really was. I completed my degree 
at Wheaton in two years and decided, under the guidance of Profes- 
sor Hawthorne, to commit myself to the textual criticism of the New 
Testament by going to study with the world's leading expert in the 
field, a scholar named Bruce M. Metzger who taught at Princeton 
Theological Seminary. 

Once again I was warned by my evangelical friends against going 
to Princeton Seminary, since, as they told me, I would have trouble 

8 Misquoting Jesus 

finding any "real" Christians there. It was, after all, a Presbyterian 
seminary, not exactly a breeding ground for born-again Christians. 
But my study of English literature, philosophy, and history — not to 
mention Greek — had widened my horizons significantly, and my 
passion was now for knowledge, knowledge of all kinds, sacred and 
secular. If learning the "truth" meant no longer being able to identify 
with the born-again Christians I knew in high school, so be it. I was 
intent on pursuing my quest for truth wherever it might take me, 
trusting that any truth I learned was no less true for being unexpected 
or difficult to fit into the pigeonholes provided by my evangelical 

Upon arriving at Princeton Theological Seminary, I immediately 
signed up for first-year Hebrew and Greek exegesis (interpretation) 
classes, and loaded my schedule as much as I could with such courses. 
I found these classes to be a challenge, both academically and person- 
ally. The academic challenge was completely welcome, but the per- 
sonal challenges that I faced were emotionally rather trying. As I've 
indicated, already at Wheaton I had begun to question some of the 
foundational aspects of my commitment to the Bible as the inerrant 
word of God. That commitment came under serious assault in my de- 
tailed studies at Princeton. I resisted any temptation to change my 
views, and found a number of friends who, like me, came from con- 
servative evangelical schools and were trying to "keep the faith" (a 
funny way of putting it — looking back — since we were, after all, in 
a Christian divinity program). But my studies started catching up 
with me. 

A turning point came in my second semester, in a course I was tak- 
ing with a much revered and pious professor named Cullen Story. The 
course was on the exegesis of the Gospel of Mark, at the time (and 
still) my favorite Gospel. For this course we needed to be able to read 
the Gospel of Mark completely in Greek (I memorized the entire 
Greek vocabulary of the Gospel the week before the semester began); 
we were to keep an exegetical notebook on our reflections on the in- 
terpretation of key passages; we discussed problems in the interpreta- 
tion of the text; and we had to write a final term paper on an 

Introduction 9 

interpretive crux of our own choosing. I chose a passage in Mark 2, 
where Jesus is confronted by the Pharisees because his disciples had 
been walking through a grain field, eating the grain on the Sabbath. 
Jesus wants to show the Pharisees that "Sabbath was made for hu- 
mans, not humans for the Sabbath" and so reminds them of what the 
great King David had done when he and his men were hungry, how 
they went into the Temple "when Abiathar was the high priest" and 
ate the show bread, which was only for the priests to eat. One of the 
well-known problems of the passage is that when one looks at the Old 
Testament passage that Jesus is citing (1 Sam. 21:1-6), it turns out that 
David did this not when Abiathar was the high priest, but, in fact, 
when Abiathar's father Ahimelech was. In other words, this is one of 
those passages that have been pointed to in order to show that the 
Bible is not inerrant at all but contains mistakes. 

In my paper for Professor Story, I developed a long and compli- 
cated argument to the effect that even though Mark indicates this 
happened "when Abiathar was the high priest," it doesn't really mean 
that Abiathar was the high priest, but that the event took place in the 
part of the scriptural text that has Abiathar as one of the main charac- 
ters. My argument was based on the meaning of the Greek words in- 
volved and was a bit convoluted. I was pretty sure Professor Story 
would appreciate the argument, since I knew him as a good Christian 
scholar who obviously (like me) would never think there could be 
anything like a genuine error in the Bible. But at the end of my paper 
he made a simple one-line comment that for some reason went 
straight through me. He wrote: "Maybe Mark just made a mistake." I 
started thinking about it, considering all the work I had put into the 
paper, realizing that I had had to do some pretty fancy exegetical foot- 
work to get around the problem, and that my solution was in fact a bit 
of a stretch. I finally concluded, "Hmm . . . maybe Mark did make a 

Once I made that admission, the floodgates opened. For if there 
could be one little, picayune mistake in Mark 2, maybe there could be 
mistakes in other places as well. Maybe, when Jesus says later in Mark 
4 that the mustard seed is "the smallest of all seeds on the earth," 

1 Misquoting Jesus 

maybe I don't need to come up with a fancy explanation for how the 
mustard seed is the smallest of all seeds when I know full well it isn't. 
And maybe these "mistakes" apply to bigger issues. Maybe when 
Mark says that Jesus was crucified the day after the Passover meal was 
eaten (Mark 14:12; 15:25) and John says he died the day before it 
was eaten (John 19: 14) — maybe that is a genuine difference. Or when 
Luke indicates in his account of Jesus's birth that Joseph and Mary re- 
turned to Nazareth just over a month after they had come to Bethle- 
hem (and performed the rites of purification; Luke 2:39), whereas 
Matthew indicates they instead fled to Egypt (Matt. 2:19-22) — maybe 
that is a difference. Or when Paul says that after he converted on the 
way to Damascus he did not go to Jerusalem to see those who were 
apostles before him (Gal. 1:16-17), whereas the book of Acts says that 
that was the first thing he did after leaving Damascus (Acts 9:26) — 
maybe that is a difference. 

This kind of realization coincided with the problems I was en- 
countering the more closely I studied the surviving Greek manu- 
scripts of the New Testament. It is one thing to say that the originals 
were inspired, but the reality is that we don't have the originals — so 
saying they were inspired doesn't help me much, unless I can recon- 
struct the originals. Moreover, the vast majority of Christians for the 
entire history of the church have not had access to the originals, mak- 
ing their inspiration something of a moot point. Not only do we not 
have the originals, we don't have the first copies of the originals. We 
don't even have copies of the copies of the originals, or copies of the 
copies of the copies of the originals. What we have are copies made 
later — much later. In most instances, they are copies made many cen- 
turies later. And these copies all differ from one another, in many 
thousands of places. As we will see later in this book, these copies dif- 
fer from one another in so many places that we don't even know how 
many differences there are. Possibly it is easiest to put it in compara- 
tive terms: there are more differences among our manuscripts than 
there are words in the New Testament. 

Most of these differences are completely immaterial and insignifi- 
cant. A good portion of them simply show us that scribes in antiquity 

Introduction 1 1 

could spell no better than most people can today (and they didn't even 
have dictionaries, let alone spell check). Even so, what is one to make 
of all these differences? If one wants to insist that God inspired the 
very words of scripture, what would be the point if we don't have the 
very words of scripture? In some places, as we will see, we simply can- 
not be sure that we have reconstructed the original text accurately. It's 
a bit hard to know what the words of the Bible mean if we don't even 
know what the words are! 

This became a problem for my view of inspiration, for I came to 
realize that it would have been no more difficult for God to preserve 
the words of scripture than it would have been for him to inspire 
them in the first place. If he wanted his people to have his words, 
surely he would have given them to them (and possibly even given 
them the words in a language they could understand, rather than 
Greek and Hebrew). The fact that we don't have the words surely 
must show, I reasoned, that he did not preserve them for us. And if he 
didn't perform that miracle, there seemed to be no reason to think 
that he performed the earlier miracle of inspiring those words. 

In short, my study of the Greek New Testament, and my investi- 
gations into the manuscripts that contain it, led to a radical rethinking 
of my understanding of what the Bible is. This was a seismic change 
for me. Before this — starting with my born-again experience in high 
school, through my fundamentalist days at Moody, and on through 
my evangelical days at Wheaton — my faith had been based completely 
on a certain view of the Bible as the fully inspired, inerrant word of 
God. Now I no longer saw the Bible that way. The Bible began to ap- 
pear to me as a very human book. Just as human scribes had copied, 
and changed, the texts of scripture, so too had human authors origi- 
nally written the texts of scripture. This was a human book from be- 
ginning to end. It was written by different human authors at different 
times and in different places to address different needs. Many of these 
authors no doubt felt they were inspired by God to say what they did, 
but they had their own perspectives, their own beliefs, their own 
views, their own needs, their own desires, their own understandings, 
their own theologies; and these perspectives, beliefs, views, needs, 

12 Misquoting Jesus 

desires, understandings, and theologies informed everything they 
said. In all these ways they differed from one another. Among other 
things, this meant that Mark did not say the same thing that Luke 
said because he didn't mean the same thing as Luke. John is different 
from Matthew — not the same. Paul is different from Acts. And 
James is different from Paul. Each author is a human author and 
needs to be read for what he (assuming they were all men) has to say, 
not assuming that what he says is the same, or conformable to, or con- 
sistent with what every other author has to say. The Bible, at the end 
of the day, is a very human book. 

This was a new perspective for me, and obviously not the view I 
had when I was an evangelical Christian — nor is it the view of most 
evangelicals today. Let me give an example of the difference my 
changed perspective could have for understanding the Bible. When I 
was at Moody Bible Institute, one of the most popular books on campus 
was Hal Lindsey's apocalyptic blueprint for our future, The Late Great 
Planet Earth. Lindsey's book was popular not only at Moody; it was, in 
fact, the best-selling work of nonfiction (apart from the Bible; and 
using the term nonfiction somewhat loosely) in the English language 
in the 1970s. Lindsey, like those of us at Moody, believed that the Bible 
was absolutely inerrant in its very words, to the extent that you could 
read the New Testament and know not only how God wanted you to 
live and what he wanted you to believe, but also what God himself 
was planning to do in the future and how he was going to do it. The 
world was heading for an apocalyptic crisis of catastrophic propor- 
tions, and the inerrant words of scripture could be read to show what, 
how, and when it would all happen. 

I was particularly struck by the "when." Lindsey pointed to Jesus's 
parable of the fig tree as an indication of when we could expect the fu- 
ture Armageddon. Jesus's disciples want to know when the "end" will 
come, and Jesus replies: 

From the fig tree learn this parable. When its branch becomes tender 
and it puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also you, 
when you see all these things you know that he [the Son of Man] is 

Introduction 13 

near, at the very gates. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass 
away before all these things take place. (Matt. 24:32-34) 

What does this parable mean? Lindsey, thinking that it is an in- 
errant word from God himself, unpacks its message by pointing out 
that in the Bible the "fig tree" is often used as an image of the nation of 
Israel. What would it mean for it to put forth its leaves? It would 
mean that the nation, after lying dormant for a season (the winter), 
would come back to life. And when did Israel come back to life? In 
1948, when Israel once again became a sovereign nation. Jesus indi- 
cates that the end will come within the very generation that this was 
to occur. And how long is a generation in the Bible? Forty years. Hence 
the divinely inspired teaching, straight from the lips of Jesus: the end 
of the world will come sometime before 1988, forty years after the re- 
emergence of Israel. 

This message proved completely compelling to us. It may seem 
odd now — given the circumstance that 1988 has come and gone, with 
no Armageddon — but, on the other hand, there are millions of Chris- 
tians who still believe that the Bible can be read literally as completely 
inspired in its predictions of what is soon to happen to bring history as 
we know it to a close. Witness the current craze for the Tim 
LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins series Left Behind, another apocalyptic vi- 
sion of our future based on a literalistic reading of the Bible, a series 
that has sold more than sixty million copies in our own day. 

It is a radical shift from reading the Bible as an inerrant blueprint 
for our faith, life, and future to seeing it as a very human book, with 
very human points of view, many of which differ from one another 
and none of which provides the inerrant guide to how we should live. 
This is the shift in my own thinking that I ended up making, and to 
which I am now fully committed. Many Christians, of course, have 
never held this literalistic view of the Bible in the first place, and for 
them such a view might seem completely one-sided and unnuanced 
(not to mention bizarre and unrelated to matters of faith). There are, 
however, plenty of people around who still see the Bible this way. Oc- 
casionally I see a bumper sticker that reads: "God said it, I believe it, 

14 Misquoting Jesus 

and that settles it. " My response is always, What if God didn't say it? 
What if the book you take as giving you God's words instead contains 
human words? What if the Bible doesn't give a foolproof answer to 
the questions of the modern age — abortion, women's rights, gay rights, 
religious supremacy, Western-style democracy, and the like? What if 
we have to figure out how to live and what to believe on our own, 
without setting up the Bible as a false idol — or an oracle that gives us 
a direct line of communication with the Almighty? There are clear 
reasons for thinking that, in fact, the Bible is not this kind of inerrant 
guide to our lives: among other things, as I've been pointing out, in 
many places we (as scholars, or just regular readers) don't even know 
what the original words of the Bible actually were. 

My personal theology changed radically with this realization, tak- 
ing me down roads quite different from the ones I had traversed in 
my late teens and early twenties. I continue to appreciate the Bible 
and the many and varied messages that it contains — much as I have 
come to appreciate the other writings of early Christians from about 
the same time and soon thereafter, the writings of lesser-known fig- 
ures such as Ignatius of Antioch, Clement of Rome, and Barnabas of 
Alexandria, and much as I have come to appreciate the writings of 
persons of other faiths at roughly the time, the writings of Josephus, 
and Lucian of Samosata, and Plutarch. All of these authors are trying 
to understand the world and their place in it, and all of them have 
valuable things to teach us. It is important to know what the words of 
these authors were, so that we can see what they had to say and judge, 
then, for ourselves what to think and how to live in light of those 

This brings me back to my interest in the manuscripts of the New 
Testament and the study of those manuscripts in the field known as 
textual criticism. It is my conviction that textual criticism is a com- 
pelling and intriguing field of study of real importance not just to 
scholars but to everyone with an interest in the Bible (whether a liter- 
alist, a recovering literalist, a never-in-your-life-would-I-ever-be-a- 
literalist, or even just anyone with a remote interest in the Bible as a 

Introduction 15 

historical and cultural phenomenon). What is striking, however, is 
that most readers — even those interested in Christianity, in the Bible, 
in biblical studies, both those who believe the Bible is inerrant and 
those who do not — know almost nothing about textual criticism. And 
it's not difficult to see why. Despite the fact that this has been a topic of 
sustained scholarship now for more than three hundred years, there 
is scarcely a single book written about it for a lay audience — that is, 
for those who know nothing about it, who don't have the Greek and 
other languages necessary for the in-depth study of it, who do not 
realize there is even a "problem" with the text, but who would be in- 
trigued to learn both what the problems are and how scholars have set 
about dealing with them. 2 

That is the kind of book this is — to my knowledge, the first of its 
kind. It is written for people who know nothing about textual criti- 
cism but who might like to learn something about how scribes were 
changing scripture and about how we can recognize where they did 
so. It is written based on my thirty years of thinking about the subject, 
and from the perspective that I now have, having gone through such 
radical transformations of my own views of the Bible. It is written for 
anyone who might be interested in seeing how we got our New Testa- 
ment, seeing how in some instances we don't even know what the words 
of the original writers were, seeing in what interesting ways these 
words occasionally got changed, and seeing how we might, through 
the application of some rather rigorous methods of analysis, recon- 
struct what those original words actually were. In many ways, then, 
this is a very personal book for me, the end result of a long journey. 
Maybe, for others, it can be part of a journey of their own. 

. r<U.,, ... 



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An image from the famous Rabula Gospels, an elegant 
biblical manuscript from sixth-century Syria. 


The Beginnings of 
Christian Scripture 

To discuss the copies of the New Testament that we have, we need 
to start at the very beginning with one of the unusual features 
of Christianity in the Greco-Roman world: its bookish character. In 
fact, to make sense of this feature of Christianity, we need to start 
before the beginnings of Christianity with the religion from which 
Christianity sprang, Judaism. For the bookishness of Christianity was 
in some sense anticipated and foreshadowed by Judaism, which was 
the first "religion of the book" in Western civilization. 

Judaism as a Religion of the Book 

The Judaism from which Christianity sprang was an unusual religion 
in the Roman world, although by no means unique. Like adherents of 
any of the other (hundreds of) religions in the Mediterranean area, 
Jews acknowledged the existence of a divine realm populated by su- 
perhuman beings (angels, archangels, principalities, powers); they 
subscribed to the worship of a deity through sacrifices of animals and 

1 8 Misquoting Jesus 

other food products; they maintained that there was a special holy 
place where this divine being dwelt here on earth (the Temple in 
Jerusalem), and it was there that these sacrifices were to be made. 
They prayed to this God for communal and personal needs. They told 
stories about how this God had interacted with human beings in the 
past, and they anticipated his help for human beings in the present. In 
all these ways, Judaism was "familiar" to the worshipers of other gods 
in the empire. 

In some ways, though, Judaism was distinctive. All other religions 
in the empire were polytheistic — acknowledging and worshiping 
many gods of all sorts and functions: great gods of the state, lesser 
gods of various locales, gods who oversaw different aspects of human 
birth, life, and death. Judaism, on the other hand, was monotheistic; 
Jews insisted on worshiping only the one God of their ancestors, the 
God who, they maintained, had created this world, controlled this 
world, and alone provided what was needed for his people. Accord- 
ing to Jewish tradition, this one all-powerful God had called Israel to 
be his special people and had promised to protect and defend them in 
exchange for their absolute devotion to him and him alone. The Jew- 
ish people, it was believed, had a "covenant" with this God, an agree- 
ment that they would be uniquely his as he was uniquely theirs. Only 
this one God was to be worshiped and obeyed; so, too, there was 
only one Temple, unlike in the polytheistic religions of the day in 
which, for example, there could be any number of temples to a god 
like Zeus. To be sure, Jews could worship God anywhere they lived, 
but they could perform their religious obligations of sacrifice to God 
only at the Temple in Jerusalem. In other places, though, they could 
gather together in "synagogues" for prayer and to discuss the ances- 
tral traditions at the heart of their religion. 

These traditions involved both stories about God's interaction 
with the ancestors of the people of Israel — the patriarchs and matri- 
archs of the faith, as it were: Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rachel, Jacob, 
Rebecca, Joseph, Moses, David, and so on — and detailed instructions 
concerning how this people was to worship and live. One of the things 

The Beginnings of Christian Scripture 1 9 

that made Judaism unique among the religions of the Roman Empire 
was that these instructions, along with the other ancestral traditions, 
were written down in sacred books. 

For modern people intimately familiar with any of the major con- 
temporary Western religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam), it may be 
hard to imagine, but books played virtually no role in the polytheistic 
religions of the ancient Western world. These religions were almost 
exclusively concerned with honoring the gods through ritual acts of 
sacrifice. There were no doctrines to be learned, as explained in books, 
and almost no ethical principles to be followed, as laid out in 
books. This is not to say that adherents of the various polytheistic reli- 
gions had no beliefs about their gods or that they had no ethics, but 
beliefs and ethics — strange as this sounds to modern ears — played al- 
most no role in religion per se. These were instead matters of personal 
philosophy, and philosophies, of course, could be bookish. Since an- 
cient religions themselves did not require any particular sets of "right 
doctrines" or, for the most part, "ethical codes," books played almost 
no role in them. 

Judaism was unique in that it stressed its ancestral traditions, cus- 
toms, and laws, and maintained that these had been recorded in sacred 
books, which had the status, therefore, of "scripture" for the Jewish 
people. During the period of our concern — the first century of the com- 
mon era, 1 when the books of the New Testament were being writ- 
ten — Jews scattered throughout the Roman Empire understood in 
particular that God had given direction to his people in the writings 
of Moses, referred to collectively as the Torah, which literally means 
something like "law" or "guidance." The Torah consists of five books, 
sometimes called the Pentateuch (the "five scrolls"), the beginning of 
the Jewish Bible (the Christian Old Testament): Genesis, Exodus, 
Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. Here one finds accounts of 
the creation of the world, the calling of Israel to be God's people, the 
stories of Israel's patriarchs and matriarchs and God's involvement 
with them, and most important (and most extensive), the laws that 
God gave Moses indicating how his people were to worship him and 

20 Misquoting Jesus 

behave toward one another in community together. These were sacred 
laws, to be learned, discussed, and followed — and they were written 
in a set of books. 

Jews had other books that were important for their religious lives 
together as well, for example, books of prophets (such as Isaiah, Jere- 
miah, and Amos), and poems (Psalms), and history (such as Joshua 
and Samuel). Eventually, some time after Christianity began, a group 
of these Hebrew books — twenty-two of them altogether — came to be 
regarded as a sacred canon of scripture, the Jewish Bible of today, ac- 
cepted by Christians as the first part of the Christian canon, the "Old 
Testament." 2 

These brief facts about Jews and their written texts are important 
because they set the backdrop for Christianity, which was also, from 
the very beginning, a "bookish" religion. Christianity began, of course, 
with Jesus, who was himself a Jewish rabbi (teacher) who accepted the 
authority of the Torah, and possibly other sacred Jewish books, and 
taught his interpretation of those books to his disciples. 3 Like other 
rabbis of his day, Jesus maintained that God's will could be found in 
the sacred texts, especially the Law of Moses. He read these scriptures, 
studied these scriptures, interpreted these scriptures, adhered to these 
scriptures, and taught these scriptures. His followers were, from the 
beginning, Jews who placed a high premium on the books of their 
tradition. And so, already, at the start of Christianity, adherents of this 
new religion, the followers of Jesus, were unusual in the Roman Em- 
pire: like the Jews before them, but unlike nearly everyone else, they 
located sacred authority in sacred books. Christianity at its beginning 
was a religion of the book. 

Christianity as a Religion of the Book 

As we will see momentarily, the importance of books for early Chris- 
tianity does not mean that all Christians could read books; quite the 
contrary, most early Christians, like most other people throughout the 

The Beginnings of Christian Scripture 2 1 

empire (including Jews!), were illiterate. But that did not mean that 
books played a secondary role in the religion. In fact, books were cen- 
trally important, in fundamental ways, to the lives of Christians in 
their communities. 

Early Christian Letters 

The first thing to notice is that many different kinds of writing were 
significant for the burgeoning Christian communities of the first cen- 
tury after Jesus's death. The earliest evidence we have for Christian 
communities comes from letters that Christian leaders wrote. The 
apostle Paul is our earliest and best example. Paul established churches 
throughout the eastern Mediterranean, principally in urban centers, 
evidently by convincing pagans (i.e., adherents of any of the empire's 
polytheistic religions) that the Jewish God was the only one to be wor- 
shiped, and that Jesus was his Son, who had died for the sins of the 
world and was returning soon for judgment on the earth (see 1 Thess. 
1:9-10). It is not clear how much Paul used scripture (i.e., the writings 
of the Jewish Bible) in trying to persuade his potential converts of the 
truth of his message; but in one of his key summaries of his preaching 
he indicates that what he preached was that "Christ died, in accor- 
dance with the scriptures . . . and that he was raised, in accordance 
with the scriptures" (1 Cor. 15:3-4). Evidently Paul correlated the 
events of Christ's death and resurrection with his interpretation of 
key passages of the Jewish Bible, which he, as a highly educated Jew, 
obviously could read for himself, and which he interpreted for his 
hearers in an often successful attempt to convert them. 

After Paul had converted a number of people in a given locale, he 
would move to another and try, usually with some success, to convert 
people there as well. But he would sometimes (often?) hear news 
from one of the other communities of believers he had earlier estab- 
lished, and sometimes (often?) the news would not be good: members 
of the community had started to behave badly, problems of immoral- 
ity had arisen, "false teachers" had arrived teaching notions contrary 
to his own, some of the community members had started to hold to 

22 Misquoting Jesus 

false doctrines, and so on. Upon hearing the news, Paul would write a 
letter back to the community, dealing with the problems. These let- 
ters were very important to the lives of the community, and a number 
of them eventually came to be regarded as scripture. Some thirteen 
letters written in Paul's name are included in the New Testament. 

We can get a sense of how important these letters were at the earli- 
est stages of the Christian movement from the very first Christian 
writing we have, Paul's first letter to the Thessalonians, usually dated 
to about 49 C.E., 4 some twenty years after Jesus's death and some 
twenty years before any of the Gospel accounts of his life. Paul ends 
the letter by saying, "Greet all the brothers and sisters with a holy kiss; 
I strongly adjure you in the name of the Lord that you have this letter 
read to all the brothers and sisters" (1 Thess. 5:26-27). This was not a 
casual letter to be read simply by anyone who was mildly interested; 
the apostle insists that it be read, and that it be accepted as an authori- 
tative statement by him, the founder of the community. 

Letters thus circulated throughout the Christian communities 
from the earliest of times. These letters bound together communi- 
ties that lived in different places; they unified the faith and the practices 
of the Christians; they indicated what the Christians were supposed to 
believe and how they were supposed to behave. They were to be read 
aloud to the community at community gatherings — since, as I pointed 
out, most Christians, like most others, would not have been able to 
read the letters themselves. 

A number of these letters came to be included in the New Testa- 
ment. In fact, the New Testament is largely made up of letters written 
by Paul and other Christian leaders to Christian communities (e.g., 
the Corinthians, the Galatians) and individuals (e.g., Philemon). More- 
over, the letters that survive — there are twenty-one in the New Testa- 
ment — are only a fraction of those written. Just with respect to Paul, 
we can assume that he wrote many more letters than the ones attrib- 
uted to him in the New Testament. On occasion, he mentions other 
letters that no longer survive; in 1 Cor. 5:9, for example, he mentions a 

The Beginnings of Christian Scripture 23 

letter that he had earlier written the Corinthians (sometime before 
First Corinthians). And he mentions another letter that some of the 
Corinthians had sent him (1 Cor. 7:1). Elsewhere he refers to letters 
that his opponents had (2 Cor. 3:1). None of these letters survives. 

Scholars have long suspected that some of the letters found in the 
New Testament under Paul's name were in fact written by his later 
followers, pseudonymously. 5 If this suspicion is correct, it would pro- 
vide even more evidence of the importance of letters in the early 
Christian movement: in order to get one's views heard, one would write 
a letter in the apostle's name, on the assumption that this would carry 
a good deal of authority. One of these allegedly pseudonymous letters 
is Colossians, which itself emphasizes the importance of letters and 
mentions yet another one that no longer survives: "And when you 
have read this epistle, be sure that it is read in the church of the 
Laodiceans, and that you read the letter written to Laodicea" (Col. 
4:16). Evidently Paul — either himself, or someone writing in his 
name — wrote a letter to the nearby town of Laodicea. This letter too 
has been lost. 6 

My point is that letters were important to the lives of the early 
Christian communities. These were written documents that were to 
guide them in their faith and practice. They bound these churches to- 
gether. They helped make Christianity quite different from the other 
religions scattered throughout the empire, in that the various Chris- 
tian communities, unified by this common literature that was being 
shared back and forth (cf Col. 4:16), were adhering to instructions 
found in written documents or "books." 

And it was not only letters that were important to these communi- 
ties. There was, in fact, an extraordinarily wide range of literature 
being produced, disseminated, read, and followed by the early Chris- 
tians, quite unlike anything else the Roman pagan world had ever 
seen. Rather than describe all this literature at great length, here I can 
simply mention some examples of the kinds of books that were being 
written and distributed. 

24 Misquoting Jesus 

Early Gospels 
Christians, of course, were concerned to know more about the life, 
teachings, death, and resurrection of their Lord; and so numerous 
Gospels were written, which recorded the traditions associated with 
the life of Jesus. Four such Gospels became most widely used — those 
of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John in the New Testament — but 
many others were written. We still have some of the others: for exam- 
ple, Gospels allegedly by Jesus's disciple Philip, his brother Judas 
Thomas, and his female companion Mary Magdalene. Other Gospels, 
including some of the very earliest, have been lost. We know this, for 
example, from the Gospel of Luke, whose author indicates that in 
writing his account he consulted "many" predecessors (Luke 1:1), which 
obviously no longer survive. One of these earlier accounts may have 
been the source that scholars have designated Q, which was probably 
a written account, principally of Jesus's sayings, used by both Luke 
and Matthew for many of their distinctive teachings of Jesus (e.g., the 
Lord's Prayer and the Beatitudes). 7 

Jesus's life, as we have seen, was interpreted by Paul and others in 
light of the Jewish scriptures. These books too — both the Pentateuch 
and other Jewish writings, such as the Prophets and Psalms — were in 
wide use among Christians, who explored them to see what they could 
reveal about God's will, especially as it had been fulfilled in Christ. 
Copies of the Jewish Bible, usually in Greek translation (the so-called 
Septuagint), were widely available, then, in early Christian communi- 
ties as sources for study and reflection. 

Early Acts of the Apostles 
Not just the life of Jesus, but also the lives of his earliest followers 
were of interest to the growing Christian communities of the first and 
second centuries. It is no surprise, then, to see that accounts of the 
apostles — their adventures and missionary exploits, especially after 
the death and resurrection of Jesus — came to occupy an important 
place for Christians interested in knowing more about their religion. 

The Beginnings of Christian Scripture 25 

One such account, the Acts of the Apostles, eventually made it into 
the New Testament. But many other accounts were written, mainly 
about individual apostles, such as those found in the Acts of Paul, the 
Acts of Peter, and the Acts of Thomas. Other Acts have survived only in 
fragments, or have been lost altogether. 

Christian Apocalypses 
As I have indicated, Paul (along with other apostles) taught that Jesus 
was soon to return from heaven in judgment on the earth. The com- 
ing end of all things was a source of continuous fascination for early 
Christians, who by and large expected that God would soon intervene 
in the affairs of the world to overthrow the forces of evil and establish 
his good kingdom, with Jesus at its head, here on earth. Some Chris- 
tian authors produced prophetic accounts of what would happen at 
this cataclysmic end of the world as we know it. There were Jewish 
precedents for this kind of "apocalyptic" literature, for example, in 
the book of Daniel in the Jewish Bible, or the book of 1 Enoch in the 
Jewish Apocrypha. Of the Christian apocalypses, one eventually came 
to be included in the New Testament: the Apocalypse of John. Others, 
including the Apocalypse of Peter and The Shepherd of Hermas, were 
also popular reading in a number of Christian communities in the 
early centuries of the church. 

Church Orders 

The early Christian communities multiplied and grew, starting in 
Paul's day and continuing in the generations after him. Originally the 
Christian churches, at least those established by Paul himself, were 
what we might call charismatic communities. They believed that each 
member of the community had been given a "gift" (Greek: charisma) 
of the Spirit to assist the community in its ongoing life: for example, 
there were gifts of teaching, administration, almsgiving, healing, and 
prophecy. Eventually, however, as the expectation of an imminent 
end of the world began to fade, it became clear that there needed to be 
a more rigid church structure, especially if the church was to be around 

26 Misquoting Jesus 

for the long haul (cf. 1 Corinthians 11; Matthew 16, 18). Churches 
around the Mediterranean, including those founded by Paul, started 
appointing leaders who would be in charge and make decisions 
(rather than having every member as "equally" endowed with the 
Spirit); rules began to be formulated concerning how the community 
was to live together, practice its sacred rites (e.g., baptism and eu- 
charist), train new members, and so on. Soon documents started being 
produced that indicated how the churches were to be ordered and 
structured. These so-called church orders became increasingly impor- 
tant in the second and third Christian centuries, but already by about 
100 C.E. the first (to our knowledge) had been written and widely dis- 
seminated, a book called The Didache [Teaching] of the Twelve Apostles. 
Soon it had numerous successors. 

Christian Apologies 
As the Christian communities became established, they sometimes 
faced opposition from Jews and pagans who saw this new faith as a 
threat and suspected its adherents of engaging in immoral and so- 
cially destructive practices (just as new religious movements today are 
often regarded with suspicion). This opposition sometimes led to local 
persecutions of Christians; eventually the persecutions became "offi- 
cial," as Roman administrators intervened to arrest Christians and try 
to force them to return to the old ways of paganism. As Christianity 
grew, it eventually converted intellectuals to the faith, who were well 
equipped to discuss and dismiss the charges typically raised against 
the Christians. The writings of these intellectuals are sometimes called 
apologies, from the Greek word for "defense" (apologia). The apolo- 
gists wrote intellectual defenses of the new faith, trying to show that 
far from being a threat to the social structure of the empire, it was a 
religion that preached moral behavior; and far from being a danger- 
ous superstition, it represented the ultimate truth in its worship of the 
one true God. These apologies were important for early Christian 
readers, as they provided them with the arguments they needed when 

The Beginnings of Christian Scripture 27 

themselves faced with persecution. Already this kind of defense was 
found in the New Testament period, for example, in the book of 
1 Peter (3:15: "always be prepared to make a defense to anyone who 
asks you to give an account of the hope that is in you") and in the book 
of Acts, where Paul and other apostles defend themselves against 
charges leveled at them. By the second half of the second century, 
apologies had become a popular form of Christian writing. 

Christian Martyrologies 
At about the same time that apologies began to be written, Christians 
started producing accounts of their persecutions and the martyrdoms 
that happened as a result of them. There is some portrayal of both 
matters already in the New Testament book of Acts, where opposi- 
tion to the Christian movement, the arrest of Christian leaders, and 
the execution of at least one of them (Stephen) form a significant part 
of the narrative (see Acts 7). Later, in the second century, martyrolo- 
gies (accounts of the martyrs) began to appear. The first of them is the 
Martyrdom of Polycarp, who was an important Christian leader who 
served as bishop of the church of Smyrna, in Asia Minor, for almost 
the entire first half of the second century. The account of Polycarp's 
death is found in a letter produced by members of his church, written 
to another community. Soon afterward, accounts of other martyrs 
began to appear. These too were popular among Christians, as they 
provided encouragement to those who were also persecuted for the 
faith, and guidance about how to face the ultimate threats of arrest, 
torture, and death. 

Antiheretical Tractates 

The problems Christians faced were not confined to external threats 
of persecution. From the earliest times, Christians were aware that a 
variety of interpretations of the "truth" of the religion existed within 
their own ranks. Already the apostle Paul rails against "false teachers" — 
for example, in his letter to the Galatians. Reading the surviving 

28 Misquoting Jesus 

accounts, we can see clearly that these opponents were not outsiders. 
They were Christians who understood the religion in fundamentally 
different ways. To deal with this problem, Christian leaders began to 
write tractates that opposed "heretics" (those who chose the wrong way 
to understand the faith); in a sense, some of Paul's letters are the earli- 
est representations of this kind of tractate. Eventually, though, Chris- 
tians of all persuasions became involved in trying to establish the "true 
teaching" (the literal meaning of "orthodoxy") and to oppose those 
who advocated false teaching. These antiheretical tractates became an 
important feature of the landscape of early Christian literature. What 
is interesting is that even groups of "false teachers" wrote tractates 
against "false teachers," so that the group that established once and for 
all what Christians were to believe (those responsible, for example, for 
the creeds that have come down to us today) are sometimes polemi- 
cized against by Christians who take the positions eventually decreed 
as false. This we have learned by relatively recent discoveries of 
"heretical" literature, in which the so-called heretics maintain that 
their views are correct and those of the "orthodox" church leaders are 
false. 8 

Early Christian Commentaries 

A good deal of the debate over right belief and false belief involved 
the interpretation of Christian texts, including the "Old Testament," 
which Christians claimed as part of their own Bible. This shows yet 
again how central texts were to the life of the early Christian commu- 
nities. Eventually, Christian authors began to write interpretations of 
these texts, not necessarily with the direct purpose of refuting false in- 
terpretations (although that was often in view as well), but sometimes 
simply to unpack the meaning of these texts and to show their rele- 
vance to Christian life and practice. It is interesting that the first 
Christian commentary on any text of scripture that we know about 
came from a so-called heretic, a second-century Gnostic named Hera- 
cleon, who wrote a commentary on the Gospel of John. 9 Eventually 

The Beginnings of Christian Scripture 29 

commentaries, interpretive glosses, practical expositions, and homi- 
lies on texts became common among the Christian communities of 
the third and fourth centuries. 

I have been summarizing the different kinds of writings that were 
important to the lives of the early Christian churches. As I hope can be 
seen, the phenomenon of writing was of uppermost importance to 
these churches and the Christians within them. Books were at the 
very heart of the Christian religion — unlike other religions of the em- 
pire — from the very beginning. Books recounted the stories of Jesus 
and his apostles that Christians told and retold; books provided 
Christians with instruction in what to believe and how to live their 
lives; books bound together geographically separated communities 
into one universal church; books supported Christians in their times 
of persecution and gave them models of faithfulness to emulate in the 
face of torture and death; books provided not just good advice but 
correct doctrine, warning against the false teachings of others and 
urging the acceptance of orthodox beliefs; books allowed Christians 
to know the true meaning of other writings, giving guidance in what 
to think, how to worship, how to behave. Books were completely cen- 
tral to the life of the early Christians. 

The Formation of the Christian Canon 

Eventually, some of these Christian books came to be seen not only as 
worthy of reading but as absolutely authoritative for the beliefs and 
practices of Christians. They became Scripture. 

The Beginnings of a Christian Canon 
The formation of the Christian canon of scripture was a long, in- 
volved process, and I do not need to go into all the details here. 10 As I 
have already indicated, in some sense Christians started with a canon 

3 Misquoting Jesus 

in that the founder of their religion was himself a Jewish teacher 
who accepted the Torah as authoritative scripture from God, and who 
taught his followers his interpretation of it. The earliest Christians 
were followers of Jesus who accepted the books of the Jewish Bible 
(which was not yet set as a "canon," once and for all) as their own 
scripture. For the writers of the New Testament, including our earli- 
est author, Paul, the "scriptures" referred to the Jewish Bible, the col- 
lection of books that God had given his people and that predicted the 
coming of the Messiah, Jesus. 

It was not long, however, before Christians began accepting other 
writings as standing on a par with the Jewish scriptures. This accept- 
ance may have had its roots in the authoritative teaching of Jesus 
himself, as his followers took his interpretation of scripture to be equal 
in authority to the words of scripture itself. Jesus may have encour- 
aged this understanding by the way he phrased some of his teachings. 
In the Sermon on the Mount, for example, Jesus is recorded as stating 
laws given by God to Moses, and then giving his own more radical in- 
terpretation of them, indicating that his interpretation is authorita- 
tive. This is found in the so-called Antitheses recorded in Matthew, 
chapter 5. Jesus says, "You have heard it said, 'You shall not commit 
murder' [one of the Ten Commandments], but / say to you, 'whoever 
is even angry with a brother or sister is liable to judgment.'" What 
Jesus says, in his interpretation of the Law, appears to be as authorita- 
tive as the Law itself. Or Jesus says, "You have heard it said, You shall 
not commit adultery' [another of the Ten Commandments]. But / say 
to you, 'whoever looks at a woman to lust after her in his heart has al- 
ready committed adultery with her.'" 

On some occasions these authoritative interpretations of scripture 
appear, in effect, to countermand the laws of scripture themselves. 
For example, Jesus says, "You have heard it said, 'Whoever divorces 
his wife should give her a certificate of divorce' [a command found in 
Deut. 24:1], but / say to you that everyone who divorces his wife for 
reason other than sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and 

The Beginnings of Christian Scripture 31 

whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery." It is hard to 
see how one can follow Moses' command to give a certificate of di- 
vorce, if in fact divorce is not an option. 

In any event, Jesus's teachings were soon seen to be as authorita- 
tive as the pronouncements of Moses — that is, those of the Torah it- 
self. This becomes even more clear later in the New Testament period, 
in the book of 1 Timothy, allegedly by Paul but frequently taken by 
scholars to have been written in his name by a later follower. In 1 Tim. 
5: 18 the author is urging his readers to pay those who minister among 
them, and supports his exhortation by quoting "the scripture." What 
is interesting is that he then quotes two passages, one found in the 
Torah ("Do not muzzle an ox that is treading," Deut. 25:4) and the 
other found on the lips of Jesus ("A workman is worthy of his hire"; 
see Luke 10:7). It appears that for this author, Jesus's words are al- 
ready on a par with scripture. 

Nor was it just Jesus's teachings that were being considered scrip- 
tural by these second- or third-generation Christians. So too were the 
writings of his apostles. Evidence comes in the final book of the New 
Testament to be written, 2 Peter, a book that most critical scholars be- 
lieve was not actually written by Peter but by one of his followers, 
pseudonymously. In 2 Peter 3 the author makes reference to false 
teachers who twist the meaning of Paul's letters to make them say 
what they want them to say, "just as they do with the rest of the scrip- 
tures" (2 Pet. 3:16). It appears that Paul's letters are here being under- 
stood as scripture. 

Soon after the New Testament period, certain Christian writings 
were being quoted as authoritative texts for the life and beliefs of the 
church. An outstanding example is a letter written by Polycarp, the 
previously mentioned bishop of Smyrna, in the early second century. 
Polycarp was asked by the church at Philippi to advise them, particu- 
larly with respect to a case involving one of the leaders who had evi- 
dently engaged in some form of financial mismanagement within the 
church (possibly embezzling church funds). Polycarp's letter to the 

32 Misquoting Jesus 

Philippians, which still survives, is intriguing for a number of reasons, 
not the least of which is its propensity to quote earlier writings of the 
Christians. In just fourteen brief chapters, Polycarp quotes more than 
a hundred passages known from these earlier writings, asserting their 
authority for the situation the Philippians were facing (in contrast to 
just a dozen quotations from the Jewish scriptures); in one place he 
appears to call Paul's letter to the Ephesians scripture. More commonly, 
he simply quotes or alludes to earlier writings, assuming their author- 
itative status for the community." 

The Role of Christian Liturgy in the Formation of the Canon 
Some time before the letter of Polycarp, we know that Christians were 
hearing the Jewish scriptures read during their worship services. The 
author of 1 Timothy, for example, urges that the letter's recipient "pay 
close attention to [public] reading, to exhortation, and to teaching" 
(4:13). As we saw in the case of the letter to the Colossians, it appears 
that letters by Christians were being read to the gathered community 
as well. And we know that by the middle of the second century, a good 
portion of the Christian worship services involved the public reading 
of scripture. In a much discussed passage from the writings of the 
Christian intellectual and apologist Justin Martyr, for example, we get 
a glimpse of what a church service involved in his home city of Rome: 

On the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country 
gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the 
writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits; then, when 
the reader has ceased, the president verbally instructs, and exhorts to the 
imitation of these good things. . . (1 Apol. 67) 

It seems likely that the liturgical use of some Christian texts — for 
example, "the memoirs of the apostles," which are usually understood 
to be the Gospels — elevated their status for most Christians so that 
they, as much as the Jewish scriptures ("the writings of the prophets"), 
were considered to be authoritative. 

The Beginnings of Christian Scripture 3 3 

The Role of Marcion in the Formation of the Canon 

We can trace the formation of the Christian canon of scripture a bit 
more closely still, from the surviving evidence. At the same time that 
Justin was writing in the mid second century, another prominent 
Christian was also active in Rome, the philosopher-teacher Marcion, 
later declared a heretic. 12 Marcion is an intriguing figure in many 
ways. He had come to Rome from Asia Minor, having already made a 
fortune in what was evidently a shipbuilding business. Upon arriving 
in the Rome, he made an enormous donation to the Roman church, 
probably, in part, to get in its good favor. For five years he stayed in 
Rome, spending much of his time teaching his understanding of the 
Christian faith and working out its details in several writings. Ar- 
guably his most influential literary production was not something he 
wrote but something he edited. Marcion was the first Christian that 
we know of who produced an actual "canon" of scripture — that is, a 
collection of books that, he argued, constituted the sacred texts of the 

To make sense of this initial attempt to establish the canon, we 
need to know a bit about Marcion's distinctive teaching. Marcion was 
completely absorbed by the life and teachings of the apostle Paul, 
whom he considered to be the one "true" apostle from the early days 
of the church. In some of his letters, such as Romans and Galatians, 
Paul had taught that a right standing before God came only by faith 
in Christ, not by doing any of the works prescribed by the Jewish law. 
Marcion took this differentiation between the law of the Jews and 
faith in Christ to what he saw as its logical conclusion, that there was 
an absolute distinction between the law on the one hand and the 
gospel on the other. So distinct were the law and the gospel, in fact, 
that both could not possibly have come from the same God. Marcion 
concluded that the God of Jesus (and Paul) was not, therefore, the 
God of the Old Testament. There were, in fact, two different Gods: 
the God of the Jews, who created the world, called Israel to be his 

34 Misquoting Jesus 

people, and gave them his harsh law; and the God of Jesus, who sent 
Christ into the world to save people from the wrathful vengeance of 
the Jewish creator God. 

Marcion believed this understanding of Jesus was taught by Paul 
himself, and so, naturally, his canon included the ten letters of 
Paul available to him (all those in the New Testament apart from the 
pastoral Epistles of 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus); and since Paul some- 
times referred to his "Gospel," Marcion included a Gospel in his 
canon, a form of what is now the Gospel of Luke. And that was all. 
Marcion's canon consisted of eleven books: there was no Old Testa- 
ment, only one Gospel, and ten Epistles. But not only that: Marcion 
had come to believe that false believers, who did not have his under- 
standing of the faith, had transmitted these eleven books by copying 
them, and by adding bits and pieces here and there in order to accom- 
modate their own beliefs, including the "false" notion that the God of 
the Old Testament was also the God of Jesus. And so Marcion "cor- 
rected" the eleven books of his canon by editing out references to the 
Old Testament God, or to the creation as the work of the true God, or 
to the Law as something that should be followed. 

As we will see, Marcion's attempt to make his sacred texts con- 
form more closely to his teaching by actually changing them was not 
unprecedented. Both before and after him, copyists of the early Chris- 
tian literature occasionally changed their texts to make them say what 
they were already thought to mean. 

The "Orthodox" Canon after Marcion 

Many scholars are convinced that it was precisely in opposition to 
Marcion that other Christians became more concerned to establish the 
contours of what was to become the New Testament canon. It is inter- 
esting that in Marcion's own day, Justin could speak rather vaguely 
about the "memoirs of the apostles" without indicating which of these 
books (presumably Gospels) were accepted in the churches or why, 
whereas some thirty years later another Christian writer, who equally 

The Beginnings of Christian Scripture 3 5 

opposed Marcion, took a far more authoritative stand. This was the 
bishop of Lyons in Gaul (modern France), Irenaeus, who wrote a five- 
volume work against heretics such as Marcion and the Gnostics, and 
who had very clear ideas about which books should be considered 
among the canonical Gospels. 

In a frequently cited passage from his work Against Heresies, Ire- 
naeus says that not just Marcion, but also other "heretics," had mis- 
takenly assumed that only one or another of the Gospels was to be 
accepted as scripture: Jewish Christians who held to the ongoing va- 
lidity of the Law used only Matthew; certain groups who argued that 
Jesus was not really the Christ accepted only the Gospel of Mark; 
Marcion and his followers accepted only (a form of) Luke; and a group 
of Gnostics called the Valentinians accepted only John. All these groups 
were in error, however, because 

it is not possible that the Gospels can be either more or fewer in 
number than they are. For, since there are four zones of the world in 
which we live, and four principal winds, while the Church is 
scattered throughout the world, and the pillar and ground of the 
Church is the Gospel. . . it is fitting that she should have four 
pillars. . . (Against Heresies 3. 11.7) 

In other words, four corners of the earth, four winds, four pillars — 
and necessarily, then, four Gospels. 

And so, near the end of the second century there were Christians 
who were insisting that Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John were the 
Gospels; there were neither more nor fewer. 

Debates about the contours of the canon continued for several cen- 
turies. It appears that Christians by and large were concerned to know 
which books to accept as authoritative so that they would (1) know which 
books should be read in their services of worship and, relatedly, (2) 
know which books could be trusted as reliable guides for what to be- 
lieve and how to behave. The decisions about which books should fi- 
nally be considered canonical were not automatic or problem-free; the 

36 Misquoting Jesus 

debates were long and drawn out, and sometimes harsh. Many Chris- 
tians today may think that the canon of the New Testament simply ap- 
peared on the scene one day, soon after the death of Jesus, but nothing 
could be farther from the truth. As it turns out, we are able to pinpoint 
the first time that any Christian of record listed the twenty-seven 
books of our New Testament as the books of the New Testament — 
neither more nor fewer. Surprising as it may seem, this Christian was 
writing in the second half of the fourth century, nearly three hundred 
years after the books of the New Testament had themselves been 
written. The author was the powerful bishop of Alexandria named 
Athanasius. In the year 367 C.E., Athanasius wrote his annual pastoral 
letter to the Egyptian churches under his jurisdiction, and in it he in- 
cluded advice concerning which books should be read as scripture in 
the churches. He lists our twenty-seven books, excluding all others. 
This is the first surviving instance of anyone affirming our set of books 
as the New Testament. And even Athanasius did not settle the matter. 
Debates continued for decades, even centuries. The books we call the 
New Testament were not gathered together into one canon and con- 
sidered scripture, finally and ultimately, until hundreds of years after 
the books themselves had first been produced. 

The Readers of Christian Writings 

In the preceding section our discussion focused on the canonization of 
scripture. As we saw earlier, however, many kinds of books were 
being written and read by Christians in the early centuries, not just 
the books that made it into the New Testament. There were other 
gospels, acts, epistles, and apocalypses; there were records of persecu- 
tion, accounts of martyrdom, apologies for the faith, church orders, 
attacks on heretics, letters of exhortation and instruction, expositions 
of scripture — an entire range of literature that helped define Chris- 
tianity and make it the religion it came to be. It would be helpful at 

The Beginnings of Christian Scripture 3 7 

this stage of our discussion to ask a basic question about all this litera- 
ture. Who, actually, was reading it? 

In the modern world, this would seem to be a rather bizarre ques- 
tion. If authors are writing books for Christians, then the people read- 
ing the books would presumably be Christians. When asked about 
the ancient world, however, the question has special poignancy be- 
cause, in the ancient world, most people could not read. 

Literacy is a way of life for those of us in the modern West. We 
read all the time, every day. We read newspapers and magazines and 
books of all kinds — biographies, novels, how-to books, self-help books, 
diet books, religious books, philosophical books, histories, memoirs, 
and on and on. But our facility with written language today has little 
to do with reading practices and realities in antiquity. 

Studies of literacy have shown that what we might think of as 
mass literacy is a modern phenomenon, one that appeared only with 
the advent of the Industrial Revolution. 13 It was only when nations 
could see an economic benefit in having virtually everyone able to 
read that they were willing to devote the massive resources — espe- 
cially time, money, and human resources — needed to ensure that 
everyone had a basic education in literacy. In nonindustrial societies, 
the resources were desperately needed for other things, and literacy 
would not have helped either the economy or the well-being of society 
as a whole. As a result, until the modern period, almost all societies 
contained only a small minority of people who could read and write. 

This applies even to ancient societies that we might associate with 
reading and writing — for example, Rome during the early Christian 
centuries, or even Greece during the classical period. The best and 
most influential study of literacy in ancient times, by Columbia Uni- 
versity professor William Harris, indicates that at the very best of 
times and places — for example, Athens at the height of the classical 
period in the fifth century B.C.E. — literacy rates were rarely higher 
than 10-15 percent of the population. To reverse the numbers, this 
means that under the best of conditions, 85-90 percent of the population 

3 8 Misquoting Jesus 

could not read or write. In the first Christian century, throughout the 
Roman Empire, the literacy rates may well have been lower. 14 

As it turns out, even defining what it means to read and write is a 
very complicated business. Many people can read but are unable to 
compose a sentence, for example. And what does it mean to read? Are 
people literate if they can manage to make sense of the comic strips 
but not the editorial page? Can people be said to be able to write if 
they can sign their name but cannot copy a page of text? 

The problem of definition is even more pronounced when we turn 
to the ancient world, where the ancients themselves had difficulty 
defining what it meant to be literate. One of the most famous illustra- 
tive examples comes from Egypt in the second Christian century. 
Throughout most of antiquity, since most people could not write, 
there were local "readers" and "writers" who hired out their services 
to people who needed to conduct business that required written texts: 
tax receipts, legal contracts, licenses, personal letters, and the like. In 
Egypt, there were local officials who were assigned the task of over- 
seeing certain governmental tasks that required writing. These as- 
signments as local (or village) scribes were not usually sought after: 
as with many "official" administrative posts, the people who were re- 
quired to take them were responsible for paying for the job out-of- 
pocket. These jobs, in other words, went to the wealthier members of 
the society and carried a kind of status with them, but they required 
the expenditure of personal funds. 

The example that illustrates the problem of defining literacy in- 
volves an Egyptian scribe called Petaus, from the village of Karanis in 
upper Egypt. As often happened, Petaus was assigned to duties in a 
different village, Ptolemais Hormou, where he was given oversight 
of financial and agricultural affairs. In the year 184 C.E., Petaus had 
to respond to some complaints about another village scribe from 
Ptolemais Hormou, a man named Ischyrion, who had been assigned 
somewhere else to undertake responsibilities as a scribe. The villagers 
under Ischyrion's jurisdiction were upset that Ischyrion could not ful- 

The Beginnings of Christian Scripture 3 9 

fill his obligations, because, they charged, he was "illiterate." In deal- 
ing with the dispute Petaus argued that Ischyrion wasn't illiterate at 
all, because he had actually signed his name to a range of official doc- 
uments. In other words, for Petaus "literacy" meant simply the ability 
to sign one's name. 

Petaus himself had trouble doing much more than that. As it turns 
out, we have a scrap of papyrus on which Petaus practiced his writing, 
on which he wrote, twelve times over, the words (in Greek) that he 
had to sign on official documents: "I Petaus, the village scribe, have 
submitted this." What is odd is that he copied the words correctly the 
first four times, but the fifth time he left off the first letter of the final 
word, and for the remaining seven times he continued to leave off the 
letter, indicating that he was not writing words that he knew how to 
write but was merely copying the preceding line. He evidently couldn't 
read even the simple words he was putting on the page. And he was 
the official local scribe! 15 

If we count Petaus among the "literate" people in antiquity, how 
many people could actually read texts and make sense of what they 
said? It is impossible to come up with an exact figure, but it appears 
that the percentage would not be very high. There are reasons for 
thinking that within the Christian communities, the numbers would 
have been even lower than in the population at large. This is because 
it appears that Christians, especially early on in the movement, came 
for the most part from the lower, uneducated classes. There were al- 
ways exceptions, of course, like the apostle Paul and the other authors 
whose works made it into the New Testament and who were obvi- 
ously skilled writers; but for the most part, Christians came from the 
ranks of the illiterate. 

This is certainly true of the very earliest Christians, who would 
have been the apostles of Jesus. In the Gospel accounts, we find that 
most of Jesus's disciples are simple peasants from Galilee — unedu- 
cated fishermen, for example. Two of them, Peter and John, are ex- 
plicitly said to be "illiterate" in the book of Acts (4: 13). The apostle 

40 Misquoting Jesus 

Paul indicates to his Corinthian congregation that "not many of you 
were wise by human standards" (1 Cor. 1:27) — which might mean 
that some few were well educated, but not most. As we move into the 
second Christian century, things do not seem to change much. As I 
have indicated, some intellectuals converted to the faith, but most 
Christians were from the lower classes and uneducated. 

Evidence for this view comes from several sources. One of the 
most interesting is a pagan opponent of Christianity named Celsus 
who lived in the late second century. Celsus wrote a book called The 
True Word, in which he attacked Christianity on a number of grounds, 
arguing that it was a foolish, dangerous religion that should be wiped 
off the face of the earth. Unfortunately, we do not have The True Word 
itself; all we have are quotations from it in the writings of the famous 
Christian church father Origen, who lived about seventy years after 
Celsus and was asked to produce a reply to his charges. Origen's book 
Against Celsus survives and is our chief source of information about 
what the learned critic Celsus said in his book directed against the 
Christians. 16 One of the great features of Origen's book is that he 
quotes Celsus's earlier work at length, line by line, before offering his 
refutation of it. This allows us to reconstruct with fair accuracy Cel- 
sus's claims. One of these claims is that the Christians are ignorant 
lower-class people. What is striking is that in his reply, Origen does 
not deny it. Consider the following charges made by Celsus. 

[The Christians'] injunctions are like this. "Let no one educated, no 
one wise, no one sensible draw near. For these abilities are thought by 
us to be evils. But as for anyone ignorant, anyone stupid, anyone 
uneducated, anyone who is a child, let him come boldly. " (Against 
Celsus 3.44) 

Moreover, we see that those who display their secret lore in the market- 
places and go about begging would never enter a gathering of 
intelligent men, nor would they dare to reveal their noble beliefs in 
their presence; but whenever they see adolescent boys and a crowd 

The Beginnings of Christian Scripture 

of slaves and a company of fools, they push themselves in and show off 
(Against Celsus 3.50) 

In private houses also we see wool-workers, cobblers, laundry -workers, 
and the most illiterate and bucolic yokels, who would not dare to say 
anything at all in front of their elders and more intelligent masters. But 
whenever they get hold of children in private and some stupid women 
with them, they let out some astonishing statements, as, for example, 
that they must not pay any attention to their father and school 
teachers. . .; they say that these talk nonsense and have no un- 
derstanding. . . . But, if they like, they should leave father and their 
schoolmasters, and go along with the women and little children who 
are their playfellows to the wooldresser's shop, or to the cobbler's or the 
washerwoman's shop, that they may learn perfection. And by saying 
this they persuade them (Against Celsus 3.56) 

Origen replies that the true Christian believers are in fact wise 
(and some, in fact, are well educated), but they are wise with respect to 
God, not with respect to things in this world. He does not deny, in 
other words, that the Christian community is largely made up of the 
lower, uneducated classes. 

Public Reading in Christian Antiquity 

We appear, then, to have a paradoxical situation in early Christianity. 
This was a bookish religion, with writings of all kinds proving to be 
of uppermost importance to almost every aspect of the faith. Yet most 
people could not read these writings. How do we account for this 

In fact, the matter is not all that strange if we recall what was 
hinted at earlier, that communities of all kinds throughout antiquity 
generally used the services of the literate for the sake of the illiterate. 
For in the ancient world "reading" a book did not mean, usually, 

42 Misquoting Jesus 

reading it to oneself; it meant reading it aloud, to others. One could be 
said to have read a book when in fact one had heard it read by others. 
There seems to be no way around the conclusion that books — as im- 
portant as they were to the early Christian movement — were almost 
always read aloud in social settings, such as in settings of worship. 

We should recall here that Paul instructs his Thessalonian hearers 
that his "letter is to be read to all of the brothers and sisters" (1 Thess. 
5:27). This would have happened out loud, in community. And the 
author of Colossians wrote: "And when you have read this epistle, be 
sure that it is read in the church of the Laodiceans, and that you read 
the letter written to Laodicea" (Col. 4:16). Recall, too, Justin Martyr's 
report that "On the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the 
country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles 
or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits" (1 
Apol. 67). The same point is made in other early Christian writings. 
For example, in the book of Revelation we are told, "Blessed is the one 
who reads the words of the prophecy and blessed are those who hear 
the words" (1:3) — obviously referring to the public reading of the 
text. In a lesser4aiown book called 2 Clement, from the mid second 
century, the author indicates, in reference to his words of exhortation, 
"I am reading you a request to pay attention to what has been written, 
so that you may save yourselves and the one who is your reader" (2 
Clem. 19.1). 

In short, the books that were of paramount importance in early 
Christianity were for the most part read out loud by those who were 
able to read, so that the illiterate could hear, understand, and even 
study them. Despite the fact that early Christianity was by and large 
made up of illiterate believers, it was a highly literary religion. 

Other key issues need to be discussed, however. If books were so 
important to early Christianity, if they were being read to Christian 
communities around the Mediterranean, how did the communities 
actually get those books? How were they put in circulation? This was 
in the days before desktop publishing, electronic means of reproduc- 

The Beginnings of Christian Scripture 43 

tion, and even moveable type. If communities of believers obtained 
copies of various Christian books in circulation, how did they acquire 
those copies? Who was doing the copying? And most important for 
the ultimate subject of our investigation, how can we (or how could 
they) know that the copies they obtained were accurate, that they 
hadn't been modified in the process of reproduction? 

!W i ■ • i. ■ • 

|3|f| ■ 

, \ ,:■ i i a >■>. .. 


v, . ' • 


, yw.M &M; , 


.t& : M 

. .,., 

■•:: : : > i 


■■ ■ ■(■ : 

: 7 v.. ' ....I., 


S^**'K ^it; 

A page from the fourth-century Codex Vaticanus, with a note in the margin 

(between columns one and two) in which a medieval scribe maligns a predecessor 

for altering the text: Fool and knave, leave the old reading, don't change it! 

The Copyists of 

the Early Christian 


As we saw in chapter 1, Christianity from its very beginning was 
a literary religion, with books of all kinds playing a central 
role in the life and faith of the burgeoning Christian communities 
around the Mediterranean. How, then, was this Christian literature 
placed in circulation and distributed? The answer, of course, is that 
for a book to be distributed broadly, it had to be copied. 

Copying in the Greco-Roman World 

The only way to copy a book in the ancient world was to do it by hand, 
letter by letter, one word at a time. It was a slow, painstaking process — 
but there was no alternative. Accustomed as we are today to seeing 
multiple copies of books appear on the shelves of major book chains 
around the country just days after they are published, we simply ac- 
cept that one copy of, say, The Da Vinci Code will be exactly like any 

46 Misquoting Jesus 

other copy. None of the words will ever vary — it will be exactly the 
same book no matter which copy we read. Not so in the ancient world. 
Just as books could not easily be distributed en masse (no trucks or 
planes or railroads), they could not be produced en masse (no printing 
presses). And since they had to be copied by hand, one at a time, 
slowly, painstakingly, most books were not mass produced. Those 
few that were produced in multiple copies were not all alike, for the 
scribes who copied texts inevitably made alterations in those texts — 
changing the words they copied either by accident (via a slip of the 
pen or other carelessness) or by design (when the scribe intentionally 
altered the words he copied). Anyone reading a book in antiquity 
could never be completely sure that he or she was reading what the 
author had written. The words could have been altered. In fact, they 
probably had been, if only just a little. 

Today, a publisher releases a set number of books to the public by 
having them sent to bookstores. In the ancient world, since books 
were not mass produced and there were no publishing companies 
or bookstores, things were different. 1 Usually an author would write a 
book, and possibly have a group of friends read it or listen to it being 
read aloud. This would provide a chance for editing some of the 
book's contents. Then when the author was finished with the book, he 
or she would have copies made for a few friends and acquaintances. 
This, then, was the act of publication, when the book was no longer 
solely in the author's control but in the hands of others. If these others 
wanted extra copies — possibly to give to other family members or 
friends — they would have to arrange to have copies made, say, by a 
local scribe who made copies for a living, or by a literate slave who 
copied texts as part of his household duties. 

We know that this process could be maddeningly slow and inac- 
curate, that the copies produced this way could end up being quite 
different from the originals. Testimony comes to us from ancient 
writers themselves. Here I will mention just a couple of interesting 
examples from the first century C.E. In a famous essay on the problem 
of anger, the Roman philosopher Seneca points out that there is a dif- 

The Copyists of the Early Christian Writings 47 

ference between anger directed at what has caused us harm and anger 
at what can do nothing to hurt us. To illustrate the latter category he 
mentions "certain inanimate things, such as the manuscript which we 
often hurl from us because it is written in too small a script or tear up 
because it is full of mistakes." 2 It must have been a frustrating experi- 
ence, reading a text that was chock-full of "printer's errors" (i.e., copy- 
ist's errors), enough to drive one to distraction. 

A humorous example comes to us from the epigrams of the witty 
Roman poet Martial, who, in one poem, lets his reader know 

If any poems in those sheets, reader, seem to you either too obscure or 
not quite good Latin, not mine is the mistake: the copyist spoiled them in 
his haste to complete for you his tale of verses. But if you think that not 
he, but I am at fault, then I will believe that you have no intelligence. 
"Yet, see, those are bad. "As if I denied what is plain! They are bad, but 
you don't make better 

Copying texts allowed for the possibilities of manual error; and 
the problem was widely recognized throughout antiquity. 

Copying in Early Christian Circles 

We have a number of references in early Christian texts to the prac- 
tices of copying. 4 One of the most interesting comes from a popular 
text of the early second century called The Shepherd of Hermas. This 
book was widely read during the second to fourth Christian centuries; 
some Christians believed that it should be considered part of the 
canon of scripture. It is included as one of the books of the New Testa- 
ment, for example, in one of our oldest surviving manuscripts, the fa- 
mous fourth-century Codex Sinaiticus. In the book, a Christian prophet 
named Hermas is given a number of revelations, some of them con- 
cerning what is to come, others concerned with the personal and com- 
munal lives of Christians of the day. At an early point in the book (it is 
a lengthy book, longer than any of the books that made it into the 

48 Misquoting Jesus 

New Testament), Hermas has a vision of an elderly woman, a kind of 
angelic figure symbolizing the Christian church, who is reading aloud 
from a little book. She asks Hermas if he can announce the things he 
has heard to his fellow Christians. He replies that he can't remember 
everything she has read and asks her to "Give me the book to make a 
copy." She gives it to him, and he then relates that 

I took it and went away to another part of the field, where I copied the 
whole thing, letter by letter, for I could not distinguish between the 
syllables. And then, when I completed the letters of the book it was 
suddenly seized from my hand; but I did not see by whom (Shepherd 

Even though it was a small book, it must have been a difficult 
process copying it one letter at a time. When Hermas says that he 
"could not distinguish between the syllables," he may be indicating 
that he was not skilled in reading — that is, that he was not trained as a 
professional scribe, as one who could read texts fluently. One of the 
problems with ancient Greek texts (which would include all the earli- 
est Christian writings, including those of the New Testament) is that 
when they were copied, no marks of punctuation were used, no dis- 
tinction made between lowercase and uppercase letters, and, even more 
bizarre to modern readers, no spaces used to separate words. This 
kind of continuous writing is called scriptuo continua, and it obviously 
could make it difficult at times to read, let alone understand, a text. 
The words godisnowhere could mean quite different things to a theist 
(God is now here) and an atheist (God is nowhere); 5 and what would it 
mean to say lastnightatdinnerisawabundanceonthetable? Was 
this a normal or a supernormal event? 

When Hermas says he could not distinguish between the syllables, 
he evidently means he could not read the text fluently but could rec- 
ognize the letters, and so copied them one at a time. Obviously, if you 
don't know what you're reading, the possibilities of making mistakes 
in transcription multiply. 

The Copyists of the Early Christian Writings 49 

Hermas again refers to copying somewhat later in his vision. The 
elderly woman comes to him again and asks whether he has yet 
handed over the book he copied to the church leaders. He replies that 
he has not, and she tells him: 

You have done well. For I have some words to add. Then, when I 
complete all the words they will be made known through you to all 
those who are chosen. And so, you will write two little books, sending 
one to Clement and the other to Grapte. Clement will send his to the 
foreign cities, for that is his commission. But Grapte will admonish the 
widows and orphans. And you will read yours in this city, with the 
presbyters who lead the church. (Shepherd 8.3) 

And so the text he had slowly copied had some additions that he 
was to make; and he was to make two copies. One of these copies 
would go to a man named Clement, who may have been a person 
known from other texts to have been the third bishop of the city of 
Rome. Possibly this is before he became the head of the church, as it 
appears here that he is a foreign correspondent for the Roman Chris- 
tian community. Was he a kind of official scribe who copied their 
texts? The other copy is to go to a woman named Grapte, who possi- 
bly was also a scribe, perhaps one who made copies of texts for some 
of the church members in Rome. Hermas himself is to read his copy of 
the book to the Christians of the community (most of whom would 
have been illiterate, and so unable to read the text themselves) — 
although how he can be expected to do so if he still can't distinguish 
the syllables from one another is never explained. 

Here, then, we get a real-life glimpse into what copying practices 
were like in the early church. Presumably the situation was similar in 
various churches scattered throughout the Mediterranean region, 
even though no other church was (probably) as large as the one in 
Rome. A select few members were scribes for the church. Some of 
these scribes were more skilled than others: Clement appears to have 
had as one of his duties the dissemination of Christian literature: 

50 Misquoting Jesus 

Hermas simply does the task because on this one occasion it was as- 
signed to him. The copies of texts that are reproduced by these literate 
members of the congregation (some of them more literate than oth- 
ers) are then read to the community as a whole. 

What more can we say about these scribes in the Christian com- 
munities? We don't know exactly who Clement and Grapte were, al- 
though we do have additional information about Hermas. He speaks 
of himself as a former slave (Shepherd 1.1). He was obviously literate, 
and so comparatively well educated. He was not one of the leaders of 
the church in Rome (he is not included among the "presbyters"), al- 
though later tradition claims that his brother was a man named Pius, 
who became bishop of the church in the mid second century. 6 If so, 
then possibly the family had attained a prestigious status level in the 
Christian community — even though Hermas had once been a slave. 
Since only educated people, obviously, could be literate, and since get- 
ting educated normally meant having the leisure and money needed 
to do so (unless one was trained in literacy as a slave), it appears that 
the early Christian scribes were the wealthier, more highly educated 
members of the Christian communities in which they lived. 

As we have seen, outside the Christian communities, in the Roman 
world at large, texts were typically copied either by professional scribes 
or by literate slaves who were assigned to do such work within a house- 
hold. That means, among other things, that the people reproducing 
texts throughout the empire were not, as a rule, the people who 
wanted the texts. The copyists were by and large reproducing the 
texts for others. One of the important recent findings of scholars who 
study the early Christian scribes, on the other hand, is that just the op- 
posite was the case with them. It appears that the Christians copying 
the texts were the ones who wanted the texts — that is, they were copy- 
ing the texts either for their own personal and/or communal use or 
they were making them for the sake of others in their community. 7 In 
short, the people copying the early Christian texts were not, for the 
most part, if at all, professionals who copied texts for a living (cf Her- 

The Copyists of the Early Christian Writings 5 1 

mas, above); they were simply the literate people in the Christian con- 
gregation who could make copies (since they were literate) and wanted 
to do so. 

Some of these people — or most of them? — may have been the 
leaders of the communities. We have reason to think that the earliest 
Christian leaders were among the wealthier members of the church, 
in that the churches typically met in the homes of their members 
(there were no church buildings, that we know of, during the first two 
centuries of the church) and only the homes of the wealthier members 
would have been sufficiently large to accommodate very many people, 
since most people in ancient urban settings lived in tiny apartments. It 
is not unreasonable to conclude that the person who provided the 
home also provided the leadership of the church, as is assumed in a 
number of the Christian letters that have come down to us, in which 
an author will greet so-and-so and "the church that meets in his 
home." These wealthier homeowners would probably have been more 
educated, and so it is no surprise that they are sometimes exhorted to 
"read" Christian literature to their congregations, as we have seen, for 
example, in 1 Tim. 4:13: "Until I come, pay special heed to [public] 
reading, to exhortation, and to teaching." Is it possible, then, that church 
leaders were responsible, at least a good bit of the time, for the copy- 
ing of the Christian literature being read to the congregation? 

Problems with Copying 
Early Christian Texts 

Because the early Christian texts were not being copied by profes- 
sional scribes, 8 at least in the first two or three centuries of the church, 
but simply by educated members of the Christian congregations who 
could do the job and were willing to do so, we can expect that in the 
earliest copies, especially, mistakes were commonly made in tran- 
scription. Indeed, we have solid evidence that this was the case, as it 

52 Misquoting Jesus 

was a matter of occasional complaint by Christians reading those texts 
and trying to uncover the original words of their authors. The third- 
century church father Origen, for example, once registered the fol- 
lowing complaint about the copies of the Gospels at his disposal: 

The differences among the manuscripts have become great, either 
through the negligence of some copyists or through the perverse 
audacity of others; they either neglect to check over what they have 
transcribed, or, in the process of checking, they make additions or 
deletions as they please. 9 

Origen was not the only one to notice the problem. His pagan op- 
ponent Celsus had, as well, some seventy years earlier. In his attack on 
Christianity and its literature, Celsus had maligned the Christian 
copyists for their transgressive copying practices: 

Some believers, as though from a drinking bout, go so far as to oppose 
themselves and alter the original text of the gospel three or four or 
several times over, and they change its character to enable them to deny 
difficulties in face of criticism (Against Celsus 2.27) 

What is striking in this particular instance is that Origen, when 
confronted with an outsider's allegation of poor copying practices 
among Christians, actually denies that Christians changed the text, 
despite the fact that he himself decried the circumstance in his other 
writings. The one exception he names in his reply to Celsus involves 
several groups of heretics, who, Origen claims, maliciously altered the 
sacred texts. 10 

We have already seen this charge that heretics sometimes modi- 
fied the texts they copied in order to make them stand in closer con- 
formity with their own views, for this was the accusation leveled 
against the second-century philosopher-theologian Marcion, who pre- 
sented his canon of eleven scriptural books only after excising those 
portions that contradicted his notion that, for Paul, the God of the 
Old Testament was not the true God. Marcion's "orthodox" opponent 
Irenaeus claimed that Marcion did the following: 

The Copyists of the Early Christian Writings 5 3 

dismembered the epistles of Paul, removing all that is said by the apostle 
respecting that God who made the world, to the effect that He is the 
Father of our LordJesus Christ, and also those passages from the 
prophetical writings which the apostle quotes, in order to teach us that 
they announced beforehand the coming of the Lord. (Against Heresies 

Marcion was not the only culprit. Living roughly at the same time 
as Irenaeus was an orthodox bishop of Corinth named Dionysius who 
complained that false believers had unscrupulously modified his own 
writings, just as they had done with more sacred texts. 

When my fellow-Christians invited me to write letters to them I did so. 
These the devil's apostles have filled with tares, taking away some things 
and adding others. For them the woe is reserved. Small wonder then if 
some have dared to tamper even with the word of the Lord himself, 
when they have conspired to mutilate my own humble efforts. 

Charges of this kind against "heretics" — that they altered the texts 
of scripture to make them say what they wanted them to mean — are 
very common among early Christian writers. What is noteworthy, 
however, is that recent studies have shown that the evidence of our 
surviving manuscripts points the finger in the opposite direction. 
Scribes who were associated with the orthodox tradition not infre- 
quently changed their texts, sometimes in order to eliminate the pos- 
sibility of their "misuse" by Christians affirming heretical beliefs and 
sometimes to make them more amenable to the doctrines being es- 
poused by Christians of their own persuasion." 

The very real danger that texts could be modified at will, by 
scribes who did not approve of their wording, is evident in other ways 
as well. We need always to remember that the copyists of the early 
Christian writings were reproducing their texts in a world in which 
there were not only no printing presses or publishing houses but also 
no such thing as copyright law. How could authors guarantee that 
their texts were not modified once put into circulation? The short 

54 Misquoting Jesus 

answer is that they could not. That explains why authors would 
sometimes call curses down on any copyists who modified their texts 
without permission. We find this kind of imprecation already in one 
early Christian writing that made it into the New Testament, the 
book of Revelation, whose author, near the end of his text, utters a 
dire warning: 

I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If 
anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this 
book; and if anyone removes any of the words of the book of this 
prophecy, God will remove his share from the tree of life and from the 
holy city, as described in this book (Rev. 22: 18-19) 

This is not a threat that the reader has to accept or believe every- 
thing written in this book of prophecy, as it is sometimes interpreted; 
rather, it is a typical threat to copyists of the book, that they are not to 
add to or remove any of its words. Similar imprecations can be found 
scattered throughout the range of early Christian writings. Consider 
the rather severe threats uttered by the Latin Christian scholar Rufi- 
nus with respect to his translation of one of Origen's works: 

Truly in the presence of God the Father and of the Son and of the Holy 
Spirit, I adjure and beseech everyone who may either transcribe or read 
these books, by his belief in the kingdom to come, by the mystery of the 
resurrection from the dead, and by that everlasting fire prepared for the 
devil and his angels, that, as he would not possess for an eternal 
inheritance that place where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth and 
where their fire is not quenched and their spirit does not die, he add 
nothing to what is written and take nothing away from it, and make no 
insertion or alteration, but that he compare his transcription with the 
copies from which he made it. 12 

These are dire threats — hellfire and brimstone — for simply chang- 
ing some words of a text. Some authors, though, were fully determined 
to make sure their words were transmitted intact, and no threat could 

The Copyists of the Early Christian Writings 5 5 

be serious enough in the face of copyists who could change texts at 
will, in a world that had no copyright laws. 

Changes of the Text 

It would be a mistake, however, to assume that the only changes being 
made were by copyists with a personal stake in the wording of the 
text. In fact, most of the changes found in our early Christian manu- 
scripts have nothing to do with theology or ideology. Far and away 
the most changes are the result of mistakes, pure and simple — slips 
of the pen, accidental omissions, inadvertent additions, misspelled 
words, blunders of one sort or another. Scribes could be incompetent: 
it is important to recall that most of the copyists in the early centuries 
were not trained to do this kind of work but were simply the literate 
members of their congregations who were (more or less) able and 
willing. Even later, starting in the fourth and fifth centuries, when 
Christian scribes emerged as a professional class within the church, 13 
and later still when most manuscripts were copied by monks devoted 
to this kind of work in monasteries — even then, some scribes were 
less skilled than others. At all times the task could be drudgery, as is 
indicated in notes occasionally added to manuscripts in which a scribe 
would pen a kind of sigh of relief, such as "The End of the Manu- 
script. Thanks Be to God!" 14 Sometimes scribes grew inattentive; 
sometimes they were hungry or sleepy; sometimes they just couldn't 
be bothered to give their best effort. 

Even scribes who were competent, trained, and alert sometimes 
made mistakes. Sometimes, though, as we have seen, they changed 
the text because they thought it was supposed to be changed. This was 
not just for certain theological reasons, however. There were other 
reasons for scribes to make an intentional change — for example, when 
they came across a passage that appeared to embody a mistake that 
needed to be corrected, possibly a contradiction found in the text, or a 

5 6 Misquoting Jesus 

mistaken geographical reference, or a misplaced scriptural allusion. 
Thus, when scribes made intentional changes, sometimes their mo- 
tives were as pure as the driven snow. But the changes were made 
nonetheless, and the author's original words, as a result, may have be- 
come altered and eventually lost. 

An interesting illustration of the intentional change of a text is 
found in one of our finest old manuscripts, Codex Vaticanus (so named 
because it was found in the Vatican library), made in the fourth cen- 
tury. In the opening of the book of Hebrews there is a passage in 
which, according to most manuscripts, we are told that "Christ bears 
[Greek: PHERON] all things by the word of his power" (Heb. 1:3). In 
Codex Vaticanus, however, the original scribe produced a slightly dif- 
ferent text, with a verb that sounded similar in Greek; here the text 
instead reads: "Christ manifests [Greek: PHANERON] all things by 
the word of his power." Some centuries later, a second scribe read this 
passage in the manuscript and decided to change the unusual word 
manifests to the more common reading bears — erasing the one word 
and writing in the other. Then, again some centuries later, a third 
scribe read the manuscript and noticed the alteration his predecessor 
had made; he, in turn, erased the word bears and rewrote the word 
manifests. He then added a scribal note in the margin to indicate what 
he thought of the earlier, second scribe. The note says: "Fool and 
knave! Leave the old reading, don't change it!" 

I have a copy of the page framed and hanging on the wall above 
my desk as a constant reminder about scribes and their proclivities to 
change, and rechange, their texts. Obviously it is the change of a sin- 
gle word: so why does it matter? It matters because the only way to 
understand what an author wants to say is to know what his words — 
all his words — actually were. (Think of all the sermons preached on 
the basis of a single word in a text: what if the word is one the author 
didn't actually write?) Saying that Christ reveals all things by his 
word of power is quite different from saying that he keeps the uni- 
verse together by his word! 

The Copyists of the Early Christian Writings 5 7 

Complications in Knowing 
the "Original Text" 

And so, all kinds of changes were made in manuscripts by the scribes 
who copied them. We will be looking at the types of changes in greater 
depth in a later chapter. For the moment, it is enough to know that 
the changes were made, and that they were made widely, especially in 
the first two hundred years in which the texts were being copied, 
when most of the copyists were amateurs. One of the leading ques- 
tions that textual critics must deal with is how to get back to the origi- 
nal text — the text as the author first wrote it — given the circumstance 
that our manuscripts are so full of mistakes. The problem is exacer- 
bated by the fact that once a mistake was made, it could become 
firmly embedded in the textual tradition, more firmly embedded, in 
fact, than the original. 

That is to say, once a scribe changes a text — whether accidentally 
or intentionally — then those changes are permanent in his manuscript 
(unless, of course, another scribe comes along to correct the mistake). 
The next scribe who copies that manuscript copies those mistakes 
(thinking they are what the text said), and he adds mistakes of his own. 
The next scribe who then copies that manuscript copies the mistakes of 
both his predecessors and adds mistakes of his own, and so on. The 
only way mistakes get corrected is when a scribe recognizes that a 
predecessor has made an error and tries to resolve it. There is no guar- 
antee, however, that a scribe who tries to correct a mistake corrects it 
correctly. That is, by changing what he thinks is an error, he may in 
fact change it incorrectly, so now there are three forms of the text: the 
original, the error, and the incorrect attempt to resolve the error. Mis- 
takes multiply and get repeated; sometimes they get corrected and 
sometimes they get compounded. And so it goes. For centuries. 

Sometimes, of course, a scribe may have more than one manu- 
script at hand, and can correct the mistakes in one manuscript by the 
correct readings of the other manuscript. This does, in fact, improve 

5 8 Misquoting Jesus 

the situation significantly. On the other hand, it is also possible that a 
scribe will sometimes correct the correct manuscript in light of the 
wording of the incorrect one. The possibilities seem endless. 

Given these problems, how can we hope to get back to anything 
like the original text, the text that an author actually wrote? It is an 
enormous problem. In fact, it is such an enormous problem that a 
number of textual critics have started to claim that we may as well 
suspend any discussion of the "original" text, because it is inaccessible 
to us. This may be going too far, but a concrete example or two taken 
from the New Testament writings can show the problems. 

Examples of the Problems 

For the first example, let's take Paul's letter to the Galatians. Even at 
the point of the original penning of the letter, we have numerous diffi- 
culties to consider, which may well make us sympathetic with those 
who want to give up on the notion of knowing what the "original" 
text was. Galatia was not a single town with a single church; it was a 
region in Asia Minor (modern Turkey) in which Paul had established 
churches. When he writes to the Galatians, is he writing to one of 
the churches or to all of them? Presumably, since he doesn't single out 
any particular town, he means for the letter to go to all of them. Does 
that mean that he made multiple copies of the same letter, or that he 
wanted the one letter to circulate to all the churches of the region? We 
don't know. 

Suppose he made multiple copies. How did he do it? To begin 
with, it appears that this letter, like others by Paul, was not written by 
his hand but was dictated to a secretarial scribe. Evidence for this 
comes at the end of the letter, where Paul added a postscript in his 
own handwriting, so that the recipients would know that it was he 
who was responsible for the letter (a common technique for dictated 
letters in antiquity): "See with what large letters I am writing you 
with my own hand" (Gal. 6: 1 1). His handwriting, in other words, was 

The Copyists of the Early Christian Writings 5 9 

larger and probably less professional in appearance than that of the 
scribe to whom he had dictated the letter. 15 

Now, if Paul dictated the letter, did he dictate it word for word? 
Or did he spell out the basic points and allow the scribe to fill in the 
rest? Both methods were commonly used by letter writers in antiq- 
uity. 16 If the scribe filled in the rest, can we be assured that he filled it 
in exactly as Paul wanted? If not, do we actually have Paul's words, 
or are they the words of some unknown scribe? But let's suppose 
that Paul dictated the letter word for word. Is it possible that in 
some places the scribe wrote down the wrong words? Stranger things 
have happened. If so, then the autograph of the letter (i.e., the origi- 
nal) would already have a "mistake" in it, so that all subsequent copies 
would not be of Paul's words (in the places where his scribe got them 

Suppose, though, that the scribe got all the words 100 percent cor- 
rect. If multiple copies of the letter went out, can we be sure that all 
the copies were also 100 percent correct? It is possible, at least, that 
even if they were all copied in Paul's presence, a word or two here or 
there got changed in one or the other of the copies. If so, what if only 
one of the copies served as the copy from which all subsequent copies 
were made — then in the first century, into the second century and the 
third century, and so on? In that case, the oldest copy that provided 
the basis for all subsequent copies of the letter was not exactly what 
Paul wrote, or wanted to write. 

Once the copy is in circulation — that is, once it arrives at its desti- 
nation in one of the towns of Galatia — it, of course, gets copied, and 
mistakes get made. Sometimes scribes might intentionally change the 
text; sometimes accidents happen. These mistake-ridden copies get 
copied; and the mistake-ridden copies of the copies get copied; and so 
on, down the line. Somewhere in the midst of all this, the original 
copy (or each of the original copies) ends up getting lost, or worn out, 
or destroyed. At some point, it is no longer possible to compare a copy 
with the original to make sure it is "correct," even if someone has the 
bright idea of doing so. 

60 Misquoting Jesus 

What survives today, then, is not the original copy of the letter, nor 
one of the first copies that Paul himself had made, nor any of the 
copies that were produced in any of the towns of Galatia to which the 
letter was sent, nor any of the copies of those copies. The first reason- 
ably complete copy we have of Galatians (this manuscript is fragmen- 
tary; i.e., it has a number of missing parts) is a papyrus called P 46 (since 
it was the forty-sixth New Testament papyrus to be catalogued), which 
dates to about 200 C.E. 17 That's approximately 150 years after Paul 
wrote the letter. It had been in circulation, being copied sometimes 
correctly and sometimes incorrectly, for fifteen decades before any 
copy was made that has survived down to the present day. We cannot 
reconstruct the copy from which P 46 was made. Was it an accurate 
copy? If so, how accurate? It surely had mistakes of some kind, as did 
the copy from which it was copied, and the copy from which that copy 
was copied, and so on. 

In short, it is a very complicated business talking about the "origi- 
nal" text of Galatians. We don't have it. The best we can do is get back 
to an early stage of its transmission, and simply hope that what we re- 
construct about the copies made at that stage — based on the copies 
that happen to survive (in increasing numbers as we move into the 
Middle Ages) — reasonably reflects what Paul himself actually wrote, 
or at least what he intended to write when he dictated the letter. 

As a second example of the problems, let's take the Gospel of John. 
This Gospel is quite different from the other three Gospels of the 
New Testament, telling a range of stories that differ from theirs and 
employing a very different style of writing. Here, in John, the sayings 
of Jesus are long discourses rather than pithy, direct sayings; Jesus 
never tells a parable, for example, in John, unlike in the other three 
Gospels. Moreover, the events narrated in John are often found only 
in this Gospel: for example, Jesus's conversations with Nicodemus (in 
chapter 3) and with the Samaritan woman (chapter 4) or his miracles 
of turning water into wine (chapter 2) and raising Lazarus from the 
dead (chapter 10). The author's portrayal of Jesus is quite different 
too; unlike in the other three Gospels, Jesus spends much of his time 

The Copyists of the Early Christian Writings 6i 

explaining who he is (the one sent from heaven) and doing "signs" in 
order to prove that what he says about himself is true. 

John no doubt had sources for his account — possibly a source that 
narrated Jesus's signs, for example, and sources that described his dis- 
courses. 18 He put these sources together into his own flowing narra- 
tive of Jesus's life, ministry, death, and resurrection. It is possible, 
though, that John actually produced several different versions of his 
Gospel. Readers have long noted, for example, that chapter 21 ap- 
pears to be a later add-on. The Gospel certainly seems to come to an 
end in 20:30-3 1; and the events of chapter 21 seem to be a kind of af- 
terthought, possibly added to fill out the stories of Jesus's resurrection 
appearances and to explain that when the "beloved disciple" responsi- 
ble for narrating the traditions in the Gospel had died, this was not 
unforeseen (cf 21:22-23). 

Other passages of the Gospel also do not cohere completely with 
the rest. Even the opening verses 1:1 — 18, which form a kind of pro- 
logue to the Gospel, appear to be different from the rest. This highly 
celebrated poem speaks of the "Word" of God, who existed with God 
from the beginning and was himself God, and who "became flesh" in 
Jesus Christ. The passage is written in a highly poetic style not found 
in the rest of the Gospel; moreover, while its central themes are re- 
peated in the rest of the narrative, some of its most important vocabu- 
lary is not. Thus, Jesus is portrayed throughout the narrative as the 
one who came from above, but never is he called the Word elsewhere 
in the Gospel. Is it possible that this opening passage came from a dif- 
ferent source than the rest of the account, and that it was added as an 
appropriate beginning by the author after an earlier edition of the 
book had already been published? 

Assume, for a second, just for the sake of the argument, that chap- 
ter 21 and 1:1 — 18 were not original components of the Gospel. What 
does that do for the textual critic who wants to reconstruct the "origi- 
nal" text? Which original is being constructed? All our Greek manu- 
scripts contain the passages in question. So does the textual critic 
reconstruct as the original text the form of the Gospel that originally 

62 Misquoting Jesus 

contained them? But shouldn't we consider the "original" form to be 
the earlier version, which lacked them ? And if one wants to recon- 
struct that earlier form, is it fair to stop there, with reconstructing, say, 
the first edition of John's Gospel? Why not go even further and try to 
reconstruct the sources that lie behind the Gospel, such as the signs 
sources and the discourse sources, or even the oral traditions that lie 
behind them? 

These are questions that plague textual critics, and that have led 
some to argue that we should abandon any quest for the original text — 
since we can't even agree on what it might mean to talk about the 
"original" of, say, Galatians or John. For my part, however, I continue 
to think that even if we cannot be 100 percent certain about what we 
can attain to, we can at least be certain that all the surviving manu- 
scripts were copied from other manuscripts, which were themselves 
copied from other manuscripts, and that it is at least possible to get 
back to the oldest and earliest stage of the manuscript tradition for 
each of the books of the New Testament. All our manuscripts of 
Galatians, for example, evidently go back to some text that was copied; 
all our manuscripts of John evidently go back to a version of John that 
included the prologue and chapter 2 1 . And so we must rest content 
knowing that getting back to the earliest attainable version is the best 
we can do, whether or not we have reached back to the "original" text. 
This oldest form of the text is no doubt closely (very closely) related to 
what the author originally wrote, and so it is the basis for our inter- 
pretation of his teaching. 

Reconstructing the Texts of 
the New Testament 

Similar problems, of course, apply to all our early Christian writings, 
both those in the New Testament and those outside it, whether gospels, 
acts, epistles, apocalypses, or any of the other kinds of early Christian 
writing. The task of the textual critic is to determine what the earliest 

The Copyists of the Early Christian Writings 63 

form of the text is for all these writings. As we will see, there are es- 
tablished principles for making this determination, ways of deciding 
which differences in our manuscripts are mistakes, which are inten- 
tional changes, and which appear to go back to the original author. 
But it's not an easy task. 

The results, on the other hand, can be extremely enlightening, in- 
teresting, and even exciting. Textual critics have been able to deter- 
mine with relative certainty a number of places in which manuscripts 
that survive do not represent the original text of the New Testament. 
For those who are not at all familiar with the field, but who know the 
New Testament well (say, in English translation), some of the results 
can be surprising. To conclude this chapter, I will discuss two such 
passages — passages from the Gospels, in this case, that we are now 
fairly certain did not originally belong in the New Testament, even 
though they became popular parts of the Bible for Christians down 
through the centuries and remain so today. 

The Woman Taken in Adultery 

The story of Jesus and the woman taken in adultery is arguably the 
best-known story about Jesus in the Bible; it certainly has always been 
a favorite in Hollywood versions of his life. It even makes it into Mel 
Gibson's The Passion of the Christ, although that movie focuses only on 
Jesus's last hours (the story is treated in one of the rare flashbacks). 
Despite its popularity, the account is found in only one passage of the 
New Testament, in John 7:53-8:12, and it appears not to have been 
original even there. 

The story line is familiar. Jesus is teaching in the temple, and a 
group of scribes and Pharisees, his sworn enemies, approach him, 
bringing with them a woman "who had been caught in the very act of 
adultery." They bring her before Jesus because they want to put him 
to the test. The Law of Moses, as they tell him, demands that such a 
one be stoned to death; but they want to know what he has to say 
about the matter. Should they stone her or show her mercy? It is a 
trap, of course. If Jesus tells them to let the woman go, he will be 

64 Misquoting Jesus 

accused of violating the Law of God; if he tells them to stone her, he 
will be accused of dismissing his own teachings of love, mercy, and 

Jesus does not immediately reply; instead he stoops to write on the 
ground. When they continue to question him, he says to them, "Let 
the one who is without sin among you be the first to cast a stone at 
her." He then returns to his writing on the ground, while those who 
have brought the woman start to leave the scene — evidently feeling 
convicted of their own wrongdoing — until no one is left but the 
woman. Looking up, Jesus says, "Woman, where are they? Is there no 
one who condemns you?" To which she replies, "No one, Lord." He 
then responds, "Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more." 

It is a brilliant story, filled with pathos and a clever twist in which 
Jesus uses his wits to get himself — not to mention the poor woman — 
off the hook. Of course, to a careful reader, the story raises numerous 
questions. If this woman was caught in the act of adultery, for exam- 
ple, where is the man she was caught with? Both of them are to be 
stoned, according to the Law of Moses (see Lev. 20:10). Moreover, 
when Jesus wrote on the ground, what exactly was he writing? (Ac- 
cording to one ancient tradition, he was writing the sins of the accus- 
ers, who seeing that their own transgressions were known, left in 
embarrassment!) And even if Jesus did teach a message of love, did he 
really think that the Law of God given by Moses was no longer in 
force and should not be obeyed? Did he think sins should not be pun- 
ished at all? 

Despite the brilliance of the story, its captivating quality, and its 
inherent intrigue, there is one other enormous problem that it poses. 
As it turns out, it was not originally in the Gospel of John. In fact, it 
was not originally part of any of the Gospels. It was added by later 

How do we know this? In fact, scholars who work on the manu- 
script tradition have no doubts about this particular case. Later in this 
book we will be examining in greater depth the kinds of evidence that 
scholars adduce for making judgments of this sort. Here I can simply 

The Copyists of the Early Christian Writings 65 

point out a few basic facts that have proved convincing to nearly all 
scholars of every persuasion: the story is not found in our oldest and 
best manuscripts of the Gospel of John; 18 its writing style is very dif- 
ferent from what we find in the rest of John (including the stories im- 
mediately before and after); and it includes a large number of words 
and phrases that are otherwise alien to the Gospel. The conclusion is 
unavoidable: this passage was not originally part of the Gospel. 

How then did it come to be added? There are numerous theories 
about that. Most scholars think that it was probably a well-known 
story circulating in the oral tradition about Jesus, which at some point 
was added in the margin of a manuscript. From there some scribe 
or other thought that the marginal note was meant to be part of the 
text and so inserted it immediately after the account that ends in John 
7:52. It is noteworthy that other scribes inserted the account in differ- 
ent locations in the New Testament — some of them after John 21:25, 
for example, and others, interestingly enough, after Luke 21:38. In 
any event, whoever wrote the account, it was not John. 

That naturally leaves readers with a dilemma: if this story was not 
originally part of John, should it be considered part of the Bible? Not 
everyone will respond to this question in the same way, but for most 
textual critics, the answer is no. 

The Last Twelve Verses of Mark 

The second example that we will consider may not be as familiar to 
the casual reader of the Bible, but it has been highly influential in the 
history of biblical interpretation and poses comparable problems for 
the scholar of the textual tradition of the New Testament. This exam- 
ple comes from the Gospel of Mark and concerns its ending. 

In Mark's account, we are told that Jesus is crucified and then buried 
by Joseph of Arimathea on the day before the Sabbath (15:42-47). On 
the day after Sabbath, Mary Magdalene and two other women come 
back to the tomb in order properly to anoint the body (16:1-2). When 
they arrive, they find that the stone has been rolled away. Entering the 
tomb, they see a young man in a white robe, who tells them, "Do not 

66 Misquoting Jesus 

be startled! You are seeking Jesus the Nazarene, who has been cruci- 
fied. He has been raised and is not here — see the place where they laid 
him?" He then instructs the women to tell the disciples that Jesus is 
preceding them into Galilee and that they will see him there, "just as 
he told you." But the women flee the tomb and say nothing to anyone, 
"for they were afraid" (16:4-8). 

Then come the last twelve verses of Mark in many modern Eng- 
lish translations, verses that continue the story. Jesus himself is said to 
appear to Mary Magdalene, who goes and tells the disciples; but they 
do not believe her (w. 9-1 1). He then appears to two others (w. 12-14), 
and finally to the eleven disciples (the Twelve, not including Judas Is- 
cariot) who are gathered together at table. Jesus upbraids them for 
failing to believe, and then commissions them to go forth and pro- 
claim his gospel "to the whole creation." Those who believe and are 
baptized "will be saved," but those who do not "will be condemned." 
And then come two of the most intriguing verses of the passage: 

And these are the signs that will accompany those who believe: they 
will cast out demons in my name; they will speak in new tongues; and 
they will take up snakes in their hands; and if they drink any poison, it 
will not harm them; they will place their hands upon the sick and heal 
them. (w. 17-18) 

Jesus is then taken up into heaven, and seated at the right hand of 
God. And the disciples go forth into the world proclaiming the 
gospel, their words being confirmed by the signs that accompany 
them (w. 19-20). 

It is a terrific passage, mysterious, moving, and powerful. It is one 
of the passages used by Pentecostal Christians to show that Jesus's fol- 
lowers will be able to speak in unknown "tongues," as happens in 
their own services of worship; and it is the principal passage used by 
groups of "Appalachian snake-handlers," who till this day take poi- 
sonous snakes in their hands in order to demonstrate their faith in the 
words of Jesus, that when doing so they will come to no harm. 

But there's one problem. Once again, this passage was not origi- 
nally in the Gospel of Mark. It was added by a later scribe. 

The Copyists of the Early Christian Writings 67 

In some ways this textual problem is more disputed than the pas- 
sage about the woman taken in adultery, because without these final 
verses Mark has a very different, and hard to understand, ending. 
That doesn't mean that scholars are inclined to accept the verses, as 
we'll see momentarily. The reasons for taking them to be an addition 
are solid, almost indisputable. But scholars debate what the genuine 
ending of Mark actually was, given the circumstance that this ending 
found in many English translations (though usually marked as inau- 
thentic) and in later Greek manuscripts is not the original. 

The evidence that these verses were not original to Mark is similar 
in kind to that for the passage about the woman taken in adultery, and 
again I don't need to go into all the details here. The verses are absent 
from our two oldest and best manuscripts of Mark's Gospel, along 
with other important witnesses; the writing style varies from what we 
find elsewhere in Mark; the transition between this passage and the 
one preceding it is hard to understand (e.g., Mary Magdalene is intro- 
duced in verse 9 as if she hadn't been mentioned yet, even though she 
is discussed in the preceding verses; there is another problem with the 
Greek that makes the transition even more awkward); and there are a 
large number of words and phrases in the passage that are not found 
elsewhere in Mark. In short, the evidence is sufficient to convince 
nearly all textual scholars that these verses are an addition to Mark. 

Without them, though, the story ends rather abruptly. Notice what 
happens when these verses are taken away. The women are told to in- 
form the disciples that Jesus will precede them to Galilee and meet 
them there; but they, the women, flee the tomb and say nothing to 
anyone, "for they were afraid." And that's where the Gospel ends. 

Obviously, scribes thought the ending was too abrupt. The women 
told no one? Then, did the disciples never learn of the resurrection? 
And didn't Jesus himself ever appear to them? How could that be the 
ending! To resolve the problem, scribes added an ending. 19 

Some scholars agree with the scribes in thinking that 16:8 is too 
abrupt an ending for a Gospel. As I have indicated, it is not that these 
scholars believe the final twelve verses in our later manuscripts were 
the original ending — they know that's not the case — but they think 

68 Misquoting Jesus 

that, possibly, the last page of Mark's Gospel, one in which Jesus actu- 
ally did meet the disciples in Galilee, was somehow lost, and that all 
our copies of the Gospel go back to this one truncated manuscript, 
without the last page. 

That explanation is entirely possible. It is also possible, in the opin- 
ion of yet other scholars, that Mark did indeed mean to end his Gospel 
with 16:8. 20 It certainly is a shocker of an ending. The disciples never 
learn the truth of Jesus's resurrection because the women never tell 
them. One reason for thinking that this could be how Mark ended his 
Gospel is that some such ending coincides so well with other motifs 
throughout his Gospel. As students of Mark have long noticed, the 
disciples never do seem to "get it" in this Gospel (unlike in some of the 
other Gospels). They are repeatedly said not to understand Jesus 
(6:51-52; 8:21), and when Jesus tells them on several occasions that he 
must suffer and die, they manifestly fail to comprehend his words 
(8:31-33; 9:30-32; 10:33-40). Maybe, in fact, they never did come to 
understand (unlike Mark's readers, who can understand who Jesus 
really is from the very beginning). Also, it is interesting to note that 
throughout Mark, when someone comes to understand something 
about Jesus, Jesus orders that person to silence — and yet often the per- 
son ignores the order and spreads the news (e.g., 1:43-45). How ironic 
that when the women at the tomb are told not to be silent but to 
speak, they also ignore the order — and are silent! 

In short, Mark may well have intended to bring his reader up 
short with this abrupt ending — a clever way to make the reader stop, 
take a faltering breath, and ask: What? 


The passages discussed above represent just two out of thousands of 
places in which the manuscripts of the New Testament came to be 
changed by scribes. In both of the examples, we are dealing with addi- 
tions that scribes made to the text, additions of sizable length. Al- 

The Copyists of the Early Christian Writings 69 

though most of the changes are not of this magnitude, there are lots of 
significant changes (and lots more insignificant ones) in our surviving 
manuscripts of the New Testament. In the chapters that follow we 
will want to see how scholars began to discover these changes and 
how they developed methods for figuring out what the oldest form of 
the text (or the "original" text) is; we will especially like to see more 
examples of where this text has been changed — and how these changes 
affected our English translations of the Bible. 

I would like to end this chapter simply with an observation about 
a particularly acute irony that we seem to have discovered. As we saw 
in chapter 1, Christianity from the outset was a bookish religion that 
stressed certain texts as authoritative scripture. As we have seen in 
this chapter, however, we don't actually have these authoritative texts. 
This is a textually oriented religion whose texts have been changed, 
surviving only in copies that vary from one another, sometimes in 
highly significant ways. The task of the textual critic is to try to re- 
cover the oldest form of these texts. 

This is obviously a crucial task, since we can't interpret the words 
of the New Testament if we don't know what the words were. More- 
over, as I hope should be clear by now, knowing the words is impor- 
tant not just for those who consider the words divinely inspired. It is 
important for anyone who thinks of the New Testament as a signifi- 
cant book. And surely everyone interested in the history, society, and 
culture of Western civilization thinks so, because the New Testament, 
if nothing else, is an enormous cultural artifact, a book that is revered 
by millions and that lies at the foundation of the largest religion of the 
world today. 

MI • AB • AI B£R fO • UV KERO-A 

Early sixteenth century engraving of Albrecht Duerer depicting 

Desiderus Erasmus, the famous humanist of Rotterdam who produced the 

first published edition of the Greek New Testament. 

Texts of the 
New Testament 

Editions, Manuscripts, 
and Differences 

The copying practices we have considered thus far have been 
principally those of the first three centuries of Christianity, when 
most of the copyists of the Christian texts were not professionals trained 
for the job but simply literate Christians of this or that congregation, 
able to read and write and so called upon to reproduce the texts of the 
community in their spare time. 1 Because they were not highly trained 
to perform this kind of work, they were more prone to make mistakes 
than professional scribes would have been. This explains why our ear- 
liest copies of the early Christian writings tend to vary more frequently 
from one another and from later copies than do the later copies (say, of 
the high Middle Ages) from one another. Eventually a kind of profes- 
sional scribal class came to be a part of the Christian intellectual land- 
scape, and with the advent of professional scribes came more controlled 
copying practices, in which mistakes were made much less frequently. 

72 Misquoting Jesus 

Before that happened, during the early centuries of the church, 
Christian texts were copied in whatever location they were written or 
taken to. Since texts were copied locally, it is no surprise that different 
localities developed different kinds of textual tradition. That is to say, 
the manuscripts in Rome had many of the same errors, because they 
were for the most part "in-house" documents, copied from one an- 
other; they were not influenced much by manuscripts being copied in 
Palestine; and those in Palestine took on their own characteristics, 
which were not the same as those found in a place like Alexandria, 
Egypt. Moreover, in the early centuries of the church, some locales 
had better scribes than others. Modern scholars have come to recog- 
nize that the scribes in Alexandria — which was a major intellectual 
center in the ancient world — were particularly scrupulous, even in 
these early centuries, and that there, in Alexandria, a very pure form 
of the text of the early Christian writings was preserved, decade after 
decade, by dedicated and relatively skilled Christian scribes. 

Professional Cetristian Scribes 

When did the church begin to use professional scribes to copy its texts? 
There are good reasons for thinking that this happened sometime 
near the beginning of the fourth century. Until then, Christianity was 
a small, minority religion in the Roman Empire, often opposed, some- 
times persecuted. But a cataclysmic change occurred when the emperor 
of Rome, Constantine, converted to the faith about 3 12 C.E. Suddenly 
Christianity shifted from being a religion of social outcasts, persecuted 
by local mobs and imperial authorities alike, to being a major player in 
the religious scene of the empire. Not only were persecutions halted, 
but favors began to pour out upon the church from the greatest power 
in the Western world. Massive conversions resulted, as it became a 
popular thing to be a follower of Christ in an age in which the emperor 
himself publicly proclaimed his allegiance to Christianity. 

More and more highly educated and trained persons converted to 

Texts of the New Testament 73 

the faith. They, naturally, were the ones most suited to copy the texts 
of the Christian tradition. There are reasons to suppose that about this 
time Christian scriptoria arose in major urban areas. 2 A scriptorium is a 
place for the professional copying of manuscripts. We have hints of 
Christian scriptoria functioning by the early part of the fourth cen- 
tury. In 331 C.E. the emperor Constantine, wanting magnificent Bibles 
to be made available to major churches he was having built, wrote a 
request to the bishop of Caesarea, Eusebius, 3 to have fifty Bibles pro- 
duced at imperial expense. Eusebius treated this request with all the 
pomp and respect it deserved, and saw that it was carried out. Obvi- 
ously, an accomplishment of this magnitude required a professional 
scriptorium, not to mention the materials needed for making lavish 
copies of the Christian scriptures. We are clearly in a different age 
from just a century or two earlier when local churches would simply 
request that one of their members cobble together enough free time to 
make a copy of a text. 

Starting in the fourth century, then, copies of scripture began to be 
made by professionals; this naturally curtailed significantly the number 
of errors that crept into the text. Eventually, as the decades grew into 
centuries, the copying of the Greek scriptures became the charge of 
monks working out of monasteries, who spent their days copying the 
sacred texts carefully and conscientiously. This practice continued on 
down through the Middle Ages, right up to the time of the invention 
of printing with moveable type in the fifteenth century. The great 
mass of our surviving Greek manuscripts come from the pens of these 
medieval Christian scribes who lived and worked in the East (for ex- 
ample, in areas that are now Turkey and Greece), known as the Byzan- 
tine Empire. For this reason, Greek manuscripts from the seventh 
century onward are sometimes labeled "Byzantine" manuscripts. 

As I have pointed out, anyone familiar with the manuscript tradi- 
tion of the New Testament knows that these Byzantine copies of the 
text tend to be very similar to one another, whereas the earliest copies 
vary significantly both among themselves and from the form of text 
found in these later copies. The reason for this should now be clear: it 

74 Misquoting Jesus 

had to do with who was copying the texts (professionals) and where 
they were working (in a relatively constricted area). It would be a 
grave mistake, though, to think that because later manuscripts agree 
so extensively with one another, they are therefore our superior wit- 
nesses to the "original" text of the New Testament. For one must al- 
ways ask: where did these medieval scribes get the texts they copied in 
so professional a manner? They got them from earlier texts, which 
were copies of yet earlier texts, which were themselves copies of still 
earlier texts. Therefore, the texts that are closest in form to the origi- 
nals are, perhaps unexpectedly, the more variable and amateurish 
copies of early times, not the more standardized professional copies of 
later times. 

The Latin Vulgate 

The copying practices I have been summarizing principally involve 
the eastern part of the Roman Empire, where Greek was, and contin- 
ued to be, the principal language. It was not long, however, before 
Christians in non-Greek-speaking regions wanted the Christian sacred 
texts in their own, local languages. Latin, of course, was the language 
of much of the western part of the empire; Syriac was spoken in Syria; 
Coptic in Egypt. In each of these areas, the books of the New Testa- 
ment came to be translated into the indigenous languages, probably 
sometime in the mid to late second century. And then these translated 
texts were themselves copied by scribes in their locales. 4 

Particularly important for the history of the text were the transla- 
tions into Latin, because a very large number of Christians in the 
West had this as their principal language. Problems emerged very 
soon, however, with the Latin translations of scripture, because there 
were so many of them and these translations differed broadly from 
one another. The problem came to a head near the end of the fourth 
Christian century, when Pope Damasus commissioned the greatest 
scholar of his day, Jerome, to produce an "official" Latin translation 

Texts of the New Testament 75 

that could be accepted by all Latin-speaking Christians, in Rome and 
elsewhere, as an authoritative text. Jerome himself speaks of the plethora 
of available translations, and set himself to resolving the problem. 
Choosing one of the best Latin translations available, and comparing 
its text with the superior Greek manuscripts at his disposal, Jerome 
created a new edition of the Gospels in Latin. It may be that he, or one 
of his followers, was also responsible for the new edition of the other 
books of the New Testament in Latin. 5 

This form of the Bible in Latin — Jerome's translation — came to 
be known as the Vulgate (= Common) Bible of Latin-speaking Chris- 
tendom. This was the Bible for the Western church, itself copied and 
recopied many times over. It was the book that Christians read, schol- 
ars studied, and theologians used for centuries, down to the modern 
period. Today there are nearly twice as many copies of the Latin 
Vulgate as there are Greek manuscripts of the New Testament. 

The First Printed Edition of 
the Greek New Testament 

As I have indicated, the text of the New Testament was copied in a 
fairly standardized form throughout the centuries of the Middle 
Ages, both in the East (the Byzantine text) and in the West (the Latin 
Vulgate). It was the invention of the printing press in the fifteenth 
century by Johannes Gutenberg (1400-1468) that changed everything 
for the reproduction of books in general and the books of the Bible 
in particular. By printing books with moveable type, one could guar- 
antee that every page looked exactly like every other page, with no 
variations of any kind in the wording. Gone were the days when tran- 
scribers would each produce different copies of the same text by means 
of accidental and intentional alterations. What was set in print was set 
in stone. Moreover, books could be made far more rapidly: no longer 
did they need to be copied one letter at a time. And, as a result, they 
could be made much more cheaply. Scarcely anything has made a more 

76 Misquoting Jesus 

revolutionary impact on the modern world than the printing press; 
the next closest thing (which may, eventually, surpass it in significance) 
is the advent of the personal computer. 

The first major work to be printed on Gutenberg's press was a mag- 
nificent edition of the Latin (Vulgate) Bible, which took all of 1450-56 
to produce. 6 In the half century that followed, some fifty editions of the 
Vulgate were produced at various printing houses in Europe. It may 
seem odd that there was no impulse to produce a copy of the Greek New 
Testament in those early years of printing. But the reason is not hard to 
find: it is the one already alluded to. Scholars throughout Europe — in- 
cluding biblical scholars — had been accustomed for nearly a thousand 
years to thinking that Jerome's Vulgate was the Bible of the church 
(somewhat like some modern churches assume that the King James 
Version is the "true" Bible). The Greek Bible was thought of as foreign 
to theology and learning; in the Latin West, it was thought of as belong- 
ing to the Greek Orthodox Christians, who were considered to be schis- 
matics who had branched off from the true church. Few scholars in 
Western Europe could even read Greek. And so, at first, no one felt 
compelled to put the Greek Bible in print. 

The first Western scholar to conceive the idea of producing a ver- 
sion of the Greek New Testament was a Spanish cardinal named 
Ximenes de Cisneros (1437-1517). Under his leadership, a group of 
scholars, including one named Diego Lopez de Zufiiga (Stunica), un- 
dertook a multivolume edition of the Bible. This was a polyglot edi- 
tion; that is, it reproduced the text of the Bible in a variety of 
languages. And so, the Old Testament was represented by the original 
Hebrew, the Latin Vulgate, and the Greek Septuagint, side by side in 
columns. (What these editors thought of the superiority of the Vul- 
gate can be seen in their comments on this arrangement in their pref- 
ace: they likened it to Christ — represented by the Vulgate — being 
crucified between two criminals, the false Jews represented by the 
Hebrew and the schismatic Greeks represented by the Septuagint.) 

The work was printed in a town called Alcala, whose Latin name 
is Complutum. For this reason, Ximenes's edition is known as the 

Texts of the New Testament 77 

Complutensian Polyglot. The New Testament volume was the first to 
be printed (volume 5, completed in 1514); it contained the Greek text 
and included a Greek dictionary with Latin equivalents. But there 
was no plan to publish this volume separately — all six volumes (the 
sixth included a Hebrew grammar and dictionary, to assist in the 
reading of volumes 1-4) were to be published together, and this took 
considerable time. The entire work was finished, evidently, by 1517; 
but as this was a Catholic production, it needed the sanction of the 
pope, Leo X, before it could appear. This was finally obtained in 1520, 
but because of other complications, the book did not come to be dis- 
tributed until 1522, some five years after Ximenes himself had died. 

As we have seen, by this time there were many hundreds of Greek 
manuscripts (i.e., handwritten copies) available to Christian churches 
and scholars in the East. How did Stunica and his fellow editors de- 
cide which of these manuscripts to use, and which manuscripts were 
actually available to them? Unfortunately, these are questions that 
scholars have never been able to answer with confidence. In the Dedi- 
cation of the work, Ximenes expresses his gratitude to Pope Leo X for 
Greek copies lent "from the Apostolical Library." And so the manu- 
scripts for the edition may have come from the Vatican's holdings. 
Some scholars, however, have suspected that manuscripts available 
locally were used. About 250 years after the production of the Com- 
plutum, a Danish scholar named Moldenhawer visited Alcala to sur- 
vey their library resources in order to answer the question, but he 
could find no manuscripts of the Greek New Testament at all. Sus- 
pecting that the library must have had some such manuscripts at some 
point, he made persistent inquiries until he was finally told by the li- 
brarian that the library had indeed previously contained ancient 
Greek manuscripts of the New Testament, but that in 1 749 all of 
them had been sold to a rocket maker named Toryo "as useless parch- 
ments" (but suitable for making fireworks). 

Later scholars have tried to discredit this account. 7 At the very 
least, though, it shows that the study of the Greek manuscripts of the 
New Testament is not rocket science. 

78 Misquoting Jesus 

The First Published Edition of 
the Greek New Testament 

Even though the Complutensian Polyglot was the first printed edition 
of the Greek New Testament, it was not the first published version. 
As we have seen, the Complutum had been printed by 1514, but it did 
not see the light of published day until 1522. Between those two dates 
an enterprising Dutch scholar, the humanist intellectual Desiderius 
Erasmus, both produced and published an edition of the Greek New 
Testament, receiving the honor, then, of editing the so-called editio 
princeps (= first published edition). Erasmus had studied the New 
Testament, along with other great works of antiquity, on and off for 
many years, and had considered at some point putting together an 
edition for printing. But it was only when he visited Basel in August 
1514 that he was persuaded by a publisher named Johann Froben to 
move forward. 

Both Erasmus and Froben knew that the Complutensian Polyglot 
was in the works, and so they made haste to publish a Greek text as 
quickly as possible, although other obligations prevented Erasmus 
from taking up the task seriously until July of 15 15. At that time he 
went to Basel in search of suitable manuscripts that he could use as the 
basis of his text. He did not uncover a great wealth of manuscripts, 
but what he found was sufficient for the task. For the most part, he re- 
lied on a mere handful of late medieval manuscripts, which he marked 
up as if he were copyediting a handwritten copy for the printer; the 
printer took the manuscripts so marked and set his type directly from 

It appears that Erasmus relied heavily on just one twelfth-century 
manuscript for the Gospels and another, also of the twelfth century, for 
the book of Acts and the Epistles — although he was able to consult 
several other manuscripts and make corrections based on their read- 
ings. For the book of Revelation he had to borrow a manuscript from 
his friend the German humanist Johannes Reuchlin; unfortunately, 
this manuscript was almost impossible to read in places, and it had lost 

Texts of the New Testament 79 

its last page, which contained the final six verses of the book. In his 
haste to have the job done, in those places Erasmus simply took the 
Latin Vulgate and translated its text back into Greek, thereby creating 
some textual readings found today in no surviving Greek manuscript. 
And this, as we will see, is the edition of the Greek New Testament 
that for all practical purposes was used by the translators of the King 
James Bible nearly a century later. 

The printing of Erasmus's edition began in October 1515 and was 
finished in just five months. The edition included the rather hastily 
gathered Greek text and a revised version of the Latin Vulgate, side 
by side (in the second and later editions, Erasmus included his own 
Latin translation of the text in lieu of the Vulgate, much to the con- 
sternation of many theologians of the day, who still considered the 
Vulgate to be "the" Bible of the church). The book was a large one, 
nearly a thousand pages. Even so, as Erasmus himself later said, it was 
"rushed out rather than edited" (in his Latin phrasing: praecipitatum 
verius quam editum). 

It is important to recognize that Erasmus's edition was the editio prin- 
ceps of the Greek New Testament not simply because it makes for an in- 
teresting historical tale, but even more so because, as the history of the 
text developed, Erasmus's editions (he made five, all based ultimately on 
this first rather hastily assembled one) became the standard form of the 
Greek text to be published by Western European printers for more than 
three hundred years. Numerous Greek editions followed, produced by 
publishers whose names are well known to scholars in this field: 
Stephanus (Robert Estienne), Theodore Beza, and Bonaventure and 
Abraham Elzevir. All these texts, however, relied more or less on the 
texts of their predecessors, and all those go back to the text of Erasmus, 
with all its faults, based on just a handful of manuscripts (sometimes just 
two or even one — or in parts of Revelation, none!) that had been pro- 
duced relatively late in the medieval period. Printers for the most part 
did not search out new manuscripts that might be older and better in 
order to base their texts on them. Instead, they simply printed and 
reprinted the same text, making only minor changes. 

80 Misquoting Jesus 

Some of these editions, to be sure, are significant. For example, 
Stephanus's third edition of 1550 is notable as the first edition ever to 
include notes documenting differences among some of the manu- 
scripts consulted; his fourth edition (1551) is possibly even more sig- 
nificant, as it is the first edition of the Greek New Testament that 
divides the text into verses. Until then, the text had been printed all 
together, with no indication of verse division. There's an amusing an- 
ecdote associated with how Stephanus did his work for this edition. 
His son later reported that Stephanus had decided on his verse divi- 
sions (most of which are retained for us in our English translations) 
while making a journey on horseback. Undoubtedly he meant that 
his father was "working on the road" — that is, that he entered verse 
numbers in the evenings at the inns in which he was staying. But since 
his son literally says that Stephanus made these changes "while on 
horseback," some wry observers have suggested that he actually did 
his work in transit, so that whenever his horse hit an unexpected 
bump, Stephanus's pen jumped, accounting for some of the rather 
odd verse placements that we still find in our English translations of 
the New Testament. 

The larger point I am trying to make, however, is that all these 
subsequent editions — those of Stephanus included — ultimately go back 
to Erasmus's editio princeps, which was based on some rather late, and 
not necessarily reliable, Greek manuscripts — the ones he happened to 
find in Basel and the one he borrowed from his friend Reuchlin. 
There would be no reason to suspect that these manuscripts were par- 
ticularly high in quality. They were simply the ones he could lay his 
hands on. 

Indeed, as it turns out, these manuscripts were not of the best qual- 
ity: they were, after all, produced some eleven hundred years after the 
originals ! For example, the main manuscript that Erasmus used for 
the Gospels contained both the story of the woman taken in adultery 
in John and the last twelve verses of Mark, passages that did not origi- 
nally form part of the Gospels, as we learned in the preceding chapter. 

There was one key passage of scripture that Erasmus's source man- 

Texts of the New Testament 8i 

uscripts did not contain, however. This is the account of i John 5:7-8, 
which scholars have called the Johannine Comma, found in the man- 
uscripts of the Latin Vulgate but not in the vast majority of Greek 
manuscripts, a passage that had long been a favorite among Christian 
theologians, since it is the only passage in the entire Bible that explic- 
itly delineates the doctrine of the Trinity, that there are three persons 
in the godhead, but that the three all constitute just one God. In the 
Vulgate, the passage reads: 

There are three that bear witness in heaven: the Father, the Word, and 
the Spirit, and these three are one; and there are three that bear witness 
on earth, the Spirit, the water, and the blood, and these three are one. 

It is a mysterious passage, but unequivocal in its support of the tra- 
ditional teachings of the church on the "triune God who is one." 
Without this verse, the doctrine of the Trinity must be inferred from a 
range of passages combined to show that Christ is God, as is the Spirit 
and the Father, and that there is, nonetheless, only one God. This pas- 
sage, in contrast, states the doctrine directly and succinctly. 

But Erasmus did not find it in his Greek manuscripts, which in- 
stead simply read: "There are three that bear witness : the Spirit, the 
water, and the blood, and these three are one." Where did the "Father, 
the Word, and the Spirit" go? They were not in Erasmus's primary 
manuscript, or in any of the others that he consulted, and so, natu- 
rally, he left them out of his first edition of the Greek text. 

More than anything else, it was this that outraged the theologians 
of his day, who accused Erasmus of tampering with the text in an at- 
tempt to eliminate the doctrine of the Trinity and to devalue its corol- 
lary, the doctrine of the full divinity of Christ. In particular, Stunica, 
one of the chief editors of the Complutensian Polyglot, went public 
with his defamation of Erasmus and insisted that in future editions he 
return the verse to its rightful place. 

As the story goes, Erasmus — possibly in an unguarded moment — 
agreed that he would insert the verse in a future edition of his Greek 

82 Misquoting Jesus 

New Testament on one condition: that his opponents produce a 
Greeks manuscript in which the verse could be found (finding it in 
Latin manuscripts was not enough). And so a Greek manuscript was 
produced. In fact, it was produced for the occasion. It appears that 
someone copied out the Greek text of the Epistles, and when he came 
to the passage in question, he translated the Latin text into Greek, 
giving the Johannine Comma in its familiar, theologically useful form. 
The manuscript provided to Erasmus, in other words, was a six- 
teenth-century production, made to order. 

Despite his misgivings, Erasmus was true to his word and included 
the Johannine Comma in his next edition, and in all his subsequent 
editions. These editions, as I have already noted, became the basis for 
the editions of the Greek New Testament that were then reproduced 
time and again by the likes of Stephanus, Beza, and the Elzevirs. 
These editions provided the form of the text that the translators of the 
King James Bible eventually used. And so familiar passages to readers 
of the English Bible — from the King James in 1611 onward, up until 
modern editions of the twentieth century — include the woman taken 
in adultery, the last twelve verses of Mark, and the Johannine Comma, 
even though none of these passages can be found in the oldest and su- 
perior manuscripts of the Greek New Testament. They entered into 
the English stream of consciousness merely by a chance of history, 
based on manuscripts that Erasmus just happened to have handy to 
him, and one that was manufactured for his benefit. 

The various Greek editions of the sixteenth and seventeenth cen- 
turies were so much alike that eventually printers could claim that 
they were the text that was universally accepted by all scholars and 
readers of the Greek New Testament — as indeed they were, since 
there were no competitors! The most-quoted claim is found in an edi- 
tion produced in 1633 by Abraham and Bonaventure Elzevir (who 
were uncle and nephew), in which they told their readers, in words 
that have since become famous among scholars, that "You now have 
the text that is received by all, in which we have given nothing changed 
or corrupted." 8 The phrasing of this line, especially the words "text 

Texts of the New Testament 83 

that is received by all," provides us with the common phrase Textus 
Receptus (abbreviated T.R.), a term used by textual critics to refer to 
that form of the Greek text that is based, not on the oldest and best 
manuscripts, but on the form of text originally published by Erasmus 
and handed down to printers for more than three hundred years, 
until textual scholars began insisting that the Greek New Testament 
should be established on scientific principles based on our oldest and 
best manuscripts, not simply reprinted according to custom. It was 
the inferior textual form of the Textus Receptus that stood at the base 
of the earliest English translations, including the King James Bible, 
and other editions until near the end of the nineteenth century. 

Mill's Apparatus of the 
Greek New Testament 

The text of the Greek New Testament, then, appeared to be on solid 
footing to most scholars who could avail themselves of the printed 
editions throughout the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. After 
all, nearly all the editions were the same in their wording. Occasion- 
ally, though, scholarship was devoted to finding and noting that the 
Greek manuscripts varied from the text as it was familiarly printed. 
We have seen that Stephanus, in his edition of 1550, included mar- 
ginal notes identifying places of variation among several manuscripts 
he had looked at (fourteen altogether). Somewhat later, in the seven- 
teenth century, editions were published by English scholars such as 
Brian Walton and John Fell who took the variations in the surviving 
(and available) manuscripts more seriously. But almost no one recog- 
nized the enormity of the problem of textual variation until the ground- 
breaking publication in 1707 of one of the classics in the field of New 
Testament textual criticism, a book that had a cataclysmic effect on 
the study of the transmission of the Greek New Testament, opening 
the floodgates that compelled scholars to take the textual situation of 
our New Testament manuscripts seriously. 9 

84 Misquoting Jesus 

This was an edition of the Greek New Testament by John Mill, fel- 
low of Queens College, Oxford. Mill had invested thirty years of hard 
work amassing the materials for his edition. The text that he printed 
was simply the 1550 edition of Stephanus; what mattered for Mill's 
publication was not the text he used, but the variant readings from that 
text that he cited in a critical apparatus. Mill had access to the readings 
of some one hundred Greek manuscripts of the New Testament. In 
addition, he carefully examined the writings of the early church fa- 
thers to see how they quoted the text — on the assumption that one 
could reconstruct the manuscripts available to those fathers by exam- 
ining their quotations. Moreover, even though he could not read many 
of the other ancient languages, except for Latin, he used an earlier edi- 
tion published by Walton to see where the early versions in languages 
such as Syriac and Coptic differed from the Greek. 

On the basis of this intense thirty-year effort to accumulate mate- 
rials, Mill published his text with apparatus, in which he indicated 
places of variation among all the surviving materials available to him. 
To the shock and dismay of many of his readers, Mill's apparatus iso- 
lated some thirty thousand places of variation among the surviving 
witnesses, thirty thousand places where different manuscripts, Patris- 
tic (= church father) citations, and versions had different readings for 
passages of the New Testament. 

Mill was not exhaustive in his presentation of the data he had col- 
lected. He had, in fact, found far more than thirty thousand places of 
variation. He did not cite everything he discovered, leaving out varia- 
tions such as those involving changes of word order. Still, the places 
he noted were enough to startle the reading public away from the 
complacency into which it had fallen based on the constant republica- 
tion of the Textus Receptus and the natural assumption that in the 
T.R. one had the "original" Greek of the New Testament. Now the 
status of the original text was thrown wide open to dispute. If one did 
not know which words were original to the Greek New Testament, 
how could one use these words in deciding correct Christian doctrine 
and teaching? 

Texts of the New Testament 85 

The Controversy Created by 
Mill's Apparatus 

The impact of Mill's publication was immediately felt, although he 
himself did not live to see the drama play out. He died, the victim of a 
stroke, just two weeks after his massive work was published. His un- 
timely death (said by one observer to have been brought on by "drink- 
ing too much coffee"!) did not prevent detractors from coming to the 
fore, however. The most scathing attack came three years later in a 
learned volume by a controversialist named Daniel Whitby, who in 
1710 published a set of notes on the interpretation of the New Testa- 
ment, to which he added an appendix of one hundred pages examin- 
ing, in great detail, the variants cited by Mill in his apparatus. Whitby 
was a conservative Protestant theologian whose basic view was that 
even though God certainly would not prevent errors from creeping 
into scribal copies of the New Testament, at the same time he would 
never allow the text to be corrupted (i.e., altered) to the point that it 
could not adequately achieve its divine aim and purpose. And so he 
laments, "I GRIEVE therefore and am vexed that I have found so 
much in Mill's Prolegomena which seems quite plainly to render the 
standard of faith insecure, or at best to give others too good a handle 
for doubting." 10 

Whitby goes on to suggest that Roman Catholic scholars — whom 
he calls "the Papists" — would be all too happy to be able to show, on 
the basis of the insecure foundations of the Greek text of the New 
Testament, that scripture was not a sufficient authority for the faith — 
that is, that the authority of the church instead is paramount. As he 
states: "Morinus [a Catholic scholar] argued for a depravation of the 
Greek Text which would render its authority insecure from the vari- 
ety of readings which he found in the Greek Testament of R. Stephens 
[= Stephanus]; what triumphs then will the Papists have over the same 
text when they see the variations quadrupled by Mill after sweating for 
thirty years at the work?" 11 Whitby proceeds to argue that, in fact, the 
text of the New Testament is secure, since scarcely any variant cited by 

86 Misquoting Jesus 

Mill involves an article of faith or question of conduct, and the vast 
majority of Mill's variants have no claim to authenticity. 

Whitby may have intended his refutation to have its effect without 
anyone actually reading it; it is a turgid, dense, unappealing one hun- 
dred pages of close argumentation, which tries to make its point sim- 
ply through the accumulated mass of its refutation. 

Whitby's defense might well have settled the issue had it not been 
taken up by those who used Mill's thirty thousand places of variation 
precisely to the end that Whitby feared, to argue that the text of scrip- 
ture could not be trusted because it was in itself so insecure. Chief 
among those who argued the point was the English deist Anthony 
Collins, a friend and follower of John Locke, who in 1713 wrote a 
pamphlet called Discourse on Free Thinking. The work was typical of 
early-eighteenth-century deistic thought: it urged the primacy of 
logic and evidence over revelation (e.g., in the Bible) and claims of the 
miraculous. In section 2 of the work, which deals with "Religious 
Questions," Collins notes, in the midst of a myriad of other things, 
that even the Christian clergy (i.e., Mill) have been "owning and labour- 
ing to prove the Text of the Scripture to be precarious," making refer- 
ence then to Mill's thirty thousand variants. 

Collins's pamphlet, which was widely read and influential, provoked 
a number of pointed responses, many of them dull and laborious, 
some of them learned and indignant. Arguably its most significant re- 
sult was that it drew into the fray a scholar of enormous international 
reputation, the Master of Trinity College, Cambridge, Richard Bent- 
ley. Bentley is renowned for his work on classical authors such as 
Homer, Horace, and Terence. In a reply to both Whitby and Collins, 
written under the pseudonym Phileleutherus Lipsiensis (which means 
something like "the lover of freedom from Leipzig" — an obvious al- 
lusion to Collins's urging of "free thinking"), Bentley made the obvi- 
ous point that the variant readings that Mill had accumulated could 
not render the foundation of the Protestant faith insecure, since the 
readings existed even before Mill had noticed them. He didn't invent 
them; he only pointed them out! 

Texts of the New Testament 87 

[I]f we are to believe not only this wise Author [Collins] but a wiser 
Doctor of your own [ Whitby] , He [Mil] was labouring all that 
while, to prove the Text of the Scripture precarious. . . . For what is 
it, that your Whitbyus so inveighs and exclaims at? The Doctor's 
Labours, says he, make the whole Text precarious; and expose both the 
Reformation to the Papists, and Religion itself to the Atheists. God 
forbid! We'll still hope better things. For sure those Various Readings 
existed before in the several Exemplars; Dr Mil did not make and coin 
them, he only exhibited them to our View. If Religion therefore was 
true before, though such Various Readings were in being: it will be as 
true and consequently as safe still, though every body sees them. Depend 
on't; no Truth, no matter of Fact fairly laid open, can ever subvert true 
Religion. 12 

Bentley, an expert in the textual traditions of the classics, goes on 
to point out that one would expect to find a multitude of textual vari- 
ants whenever one uncovers a large number of manuscripts. If there 
were only one manuscript of a work, there would be no textual vari- 
ants. Once a second manuscript is located, however, it will differ from 
the first in a number of places. This is not a bad thing, however, as a 
number of these variant readings will show where the first manu- 
script has preserved an error. Add a third manuscript, and you will 
find additional variant readings, but also additional places, as a result, 
where the original text is preserved (i.e., where the first two manu- 
scripts agree in an error). And so it goes — the more manuscripts one 
discovers, the more the variant readings; but also the more the likeli- 
hood that somewhere among those variant readings one will be able 
to uncover the original text. Therefore, the thirty thousand variants 
uncovered by Mill do not detract from the integrity of the New Testa- 
ment; they simply provide the data that scholars need to work on to 
establish the text, a text that is more amply documented than any 
other from the ancient world. 

As we will see in the next chapter, this controversy over Mill's pub- 
lication eventually induced Bentley to turn his remarkable powers of 

88 Misquoting Jesus 

intellect to the problem of establishing the oldest available text of the 
New Testament. Before moving to that discussion, however, perhaps 
we should take a step back and consider where we are today vis-a-vis 
Mill's astonishing discovery of thirty thousand variations in the man- 
uscript tradition of the New Testament, 

Our Current Situation 

Whereas Mill knew of or examined some one hundred Greek manu- 
scripts to uncover his thirty thousand variations, today we know of 
far, far more. At last count, more than fifty-seven hundred Greek 
manuscripts have been discovered and catalogued. That's fifty-seven 
times as many as Mill knew about in 1707. These fifty-seven hundred 
include everything from the smallest fragments of manuscripts — the 
size of a credit card — to very large and magnificent productions, pre- 
served in their entirety. Some of them contain only one book of the 
New Testament; others contain a small collection (for example, the 
four Gospels or the letters of Paul); a very few contain the entire New 
Testament. 13 There are, in addition, many manuscripts of the various 
early versions (= translations) of the New Testament. 

These manuscripts range in date from the early second century (a 
small fragment called P 52 , which has several verses from John 18) 
down to the sixteenth century. 14 They vary greatly in size: some are 
small copies that could fit in the hand, such as Coptic copy of Matthew's 
Gospel, called the Scheide Codex, which measures 4x5 inches; others 
are very large and impressive copies, among them the previously men- 
tioned Codex Sinaiticus, which measures 15 x 13.5 inches, making an 
impressive spread when opened up completely. Some of these manu- 
scripts are inexpensive, hastily produced copies; some were actually 
copied onto reused pages (a document was erased and the text of the 
New Testament was written over the top of the erased pages); others 
are enormously lavish and expensive copies, including some written 
on purple-dyed parchment with silver or gold ink. 

Texts of the New Testament 89 

As a rule, scholars speak of four kinds of Greek manuscripts. 15 
(1) The oldest are papyrus manuscripts, written on material manufac- 
tured from the papyrus reed, a valuable but inexpensive and efficient 
writing material in the ancient world; they date from the second to 
the seventh centuries. (2) The majuscule (= large-lettered) manu- 
scripts are made of parchment (= animal skins; sometimes called vel- 
lum) and are named after the large letters, somewhat like our capital 
letters, that are used; these date, for the most part, from the fourth to 
the ninth centuries. (3) Minuscule (= small-lettered) manuscripts are 
also made of parchment but are written in smaller letters that are fre- 
quently combined (without the pen leaving the page) into what looks 
something like the Greek equivalent of cursive writing; these date 
from the ninth century onward. (4) Lectionaries are usually minuscule 
in form as well, but instead of consisting of the books of the New Tes- 
tament, they contain, in a set order, "readings" taken from the New 
Testament to be used in church each week or on each holiday (like the 
lectionaries used in churches today). 

In addition to these Greek manuscripts, we know of about ten 
thousand manuscripts of the Latin Vulgate, not to mention the manu- 
scripts of other versions, such as the Syriac, Coptic, Armenian, Old 
Georgian, Church Slavonic, and the like (recall that Mill had access to 
only a few of the ancient versions, and these he knew only through 
their Latin translations). In addition, we have the writings of church 
fathers such as Clement of Alexandria, Origen, and Athanasius 
among the Greeks and Tertullian, Jerome, and Augustine among the 
Latins — all of them quoting the texts of the New Testament in places, 
making it possible to reconstruct what their manuscripts (now lost, 
for the most part) must have looked like. 

With this abundance of evidence, what can we say about the total 
number of variants known today? Scholars differ significantly in their 
estimates — some say there are 200,000 variants known, some say 
300,000, some say 400,000 or more! We do not know for sure because, 
despite impressive developments in computer technology, no one has yet 
been able to count them all. Perhaps, as I indicated earlier, it is best simply 

90 Misquoting Jesus 

to leave the matter in comparative terms. There are more variations 
among our manuscripts than there are words in the New Testament. 

Kinds of Changes in Our Manuscripts 

If we have trouble talking about the numbers of changes that still sur- 
vive, what can we say about the kinds of changes found in these manu- 
scripts? Scholars typically differentiate today between changes that 
appear to have been made accidentally through scribal mistakes and 
those made intentionally, through some forethought. These are not 
hard and fast boundaries, of course, but they still seem appropriate: 
one can see how a scribe might inadvertently leave out a word when 
copying a text (an accidental change), but it is hard to see how the last 
twelve verses of Mark could have been added by a slip of the pen. 

And so, it might be worthwhile to end this chapter with a few ex- 
amples of each kind of change. I will start by pointing out some kinds 
of "accidental" variants. 

Accidental Changes 
Accidental slips of the pen 16 no doubt were exacerbated, as we have 
seen, by the fact that Greek manuscripts were all written in scriptuo 
continua — with no punctuation, for the most part, or even spaces be- 
tween words. This means that words that looked alike were often mis- 
taken for one another. For example, in 1 Cor. 5:8, Paul tells his readers 
that they should partake of Christ, the Passover lamb, and should not 
eat the "old leaven, the leaven of wickedness and evil." The final word, 
evil, is spelled PONERAS in Greek, which, it turns out, looks a lot like 
the word for "sexual immorality," PORNEIAS. The difference in 
meaning may not be overwhelming, but it is striking that in a couple of 
surviving manuscripts, Paul explicitly warns not against evil in gen- 
eral, but against sexual vice in particular. 

This kind of spelling mistake was made even more likely by the 

Texts of the New Testament 91 

circumstance that scribes sometimes abbreviated certain words to 
save time or space. The Greek word for "and," for example, is KAI, 
for which some scribes simply wrote the initial letter K, with a kind of 
downstroke at the end to indicate that it was an abbreviation. Other 
common abbreviations involved what scholars have called the nomina 
sacra (= sacred names), a group of words such as God, Christ, Lord, 
Jesus, and Spirit that were abbreviated either because they occurred so 
frequently or else to show that they were being paid special attention. 
These various abbreviations sometimes led to confusion for later 
scribes, who mistook one abbreviation for another or misread an ab- 
breviation as a full word. So, for example, in Rom. 12:11, Paul urges 
his reader to "serve the Lord." But the word Lord, KUPJW, was typi- 
cally abbreviated in manuscripts as KW (with a line drawn over the 
top), which some early scribes misread as an abbreviation for KAIRW, 
which means "time." And so in those manuscripts, Paul exhorts his 
readers to "serve the time." 

Similarly, in 1 Cor. 12:13, Paul points out that everyone in Christ 
has been "baptized into one body" and they have all "drunk of one 
Spirit." The word Spirit (PNEUMA) would have been abbreviated in 
most manuscripts as PMA, which understandably could be — and 
was — misread by some scribes as the Greek word for "drink" 
(POMA); and so in these witnesses Paul is said to indicate that all have 
"drunk of one drink." 

One common type of mistake in Greek manuscripts occurred when 
two lines of the text being copied ended with the same letters or the 
same words. A scribe might copy the first line of text, and then when his 
eye went back to the page, it might pick up on the same words on the 
next line, instead of the line he had just copied; he would continue copy- 
ing from there and, as a result, leave out the intervening words and/or 
lines. This kind of mistake is called periblepsis (an "eye-skip") occa- 
sioned by homoeoteleuton (the "same endings"). I teach my students that 
they can lay claim to a university education when they can speak intelli- 
gently about periblepsis occasioned by homoeoteleuton. 

92 Misquoting Jesus 

How this works can be illustrated by the text of Luke 12:8-9, 
which reads: 

8 Whoever confesses me before humans, the son of man 

will confess before the angels of God 
9 But whoever denies me before humans 

will be denied before the angels of God 

Our earliest papyrus manuscript of the passage leaves off all of 
verse 9; and it is not difficult to see how the mistake was made. The 
scribe copied the words "before the angels of God" in verse 8, and 
when his eye returned to the page, he picked up the same words in 
verse 9 and assumed those were the words just copied — and so he 
proceeded to copy verse 10, leaving out verse 9 altogether. 

Sometimes this kind of error can be even more disastrous to the 
meaning of a text. In John 17:15, for example, Jesus says in his prayer 
to God about his followers: 

I do not ask that you keep them from the world, 
but that you keep them from the evil one. 

In one of our best manuscripts (the fourth-century Codex Vati- 
canus), however, the words "world . . . from the" are omitted, so that 
now Jesus utters the unfortunate prayer "I do not ask that you keep 
them from the evil one"! 

Sometimes accidental mistakes were made not because words 
looked alike, but because they sounded alike. This could happen, for 
example, when a scribe was copying a text by dictation — when one 
scribe would be reading from a manuscript and one or more 
other scribes would be copying the words into new manuscripts, as 
sometimes happened in scriptoria after the fourth century. If two 
words were pronounced the same, then the scribe doing the copying 
might inadvertently use the wrong one in his copy, especially if it 
made perfectly good (but wrong) sense. This appears to be what hap- 

Texts of the New Testament 93 

pened, for example, in Rev. 1:5, where the author prays to "the one 
who released us from our sins." The word for "released" (LUSANTI) 
sounds exactly like the word for "washed" (LOUSANTI), and so it is 
no surprise that in a number of medieval manuscripts the author 
prays to the one "who washed us from our sins." 

Another example occurs in Paul's letter to the Romans, where 
Paul states that "since we have been justified by faith, we have peace 
with God" (Rom. 5:1). Or is that what he said? The word for "we 
have peace," a statement of fact, sounded exactly like the word "let 
us have peace," an exhortation. And so in a large number of manu- 
scripts, including some of our earliest, Paul doesn't rest assured that 
he and his followers have peace with God, he urges himself and oth- 
ers to seek peace. This is a passage for which textual scholars have dif- 
ficulty deciding which reading is the correct one. 17 

In other cases there is little ambiguity, because the textual change, 
while understandable, actually makes for nonsense instead of sense. 
This happens a lot, and often for some of the reasons we have been 
discussing. As an example, in John 5:39, Jesus tells his opponents to 
"search the scriptures ... for they bear witness to me." In one early 
manuscript, the final verb was changed to one that sounds similar but 
makes no sense in the context. In that manuscript Jesus says to "search 
the scriptures ... for they are sinning against me"! A second example 
comes from the book of Revelation, where the prophet has a vision of 
the throne of God, around which there "was a rainbow that looked 
like an emerald" (1:3). In some of our earliest manuscripts there is a 
change, in which, odd as it might seem, we are told that around the 
throne "were priests that looked like an emerald" ! 

Of all the many thousands of accidental mistakes made in our 
manuscripts, probably the most bizarre is one that occurs in a minus- 
cule manuscript of the four Gospels officially numbered 109, which 
was produced in the fourteenth century. 18 Its peculiar error occurs in 
Luke, chapter 3, in the account of Jesus's genealogy. The scribe was ev- 
idently copying a manuscript that gave the genealogy in two columns. 

94 Misquoting Jesus 

For some reason, he did not copy one column at a time, but copied 
across the two columns. As a result, the names of the genealogy are 
thrown out of whack, with most people being called the sons of the 
wrong father. Worse still, the second column of the text the scribe was 
copying did not have as many lines as the first, so that now, in the copy 
he made, the father of the human race (i.e., the last one mentioned) is 
not God but an Israelite named Phares; and God himself is said to be 
the son of a man named Aram! 

Intentional Changes 
In some respects, the changes we have been looking at are the easiest 
to spot and eliminate when trying to establish the earliest form of the 
text. Intentional changes tend to be a bit more difficult. Precisely be- 
cause they were (evidently) made deliberately, these changes tend to 
make sense. And since they make sense, there will always be critics 
who argue that they make the best sense — that is, that they are origi- 
nal. This is not a dispute between scholars who think the text has been 
altered and those who think it has not. Everyone knows that the text 
has been changed; the only question is which reading represents the 
alteration and which represents the earliest attainable form of the 
text. Here scholars sometimes disagree. 

In a remarkable number of instances — most of them, actually — 
scholars by and large agree. It is perhaps useful for us here to consider 
an array of the kinds of intentional changes one finds among our 
manuscripts, as these can show us the reasons scribes had for making 

Sometimes scribes changed their texts because they thought the 
text contained a factual error. This appears to be the case at the very 
beginning of Mark, where the author introduces his Gospel by saying, 
"Just as is written in Isaiah the prophet, 'Behold I am sending a mes- 
senger before your face. . . . Make straight his paths.'" The problem is 
that the beginning of the quotation is not from Isaiah at all but rep- 
resents a combination of a passage from Exod. 23:20 and one from 

Texts of the New Testament 95 

Mai. 3:1. Scribes recognized that this was a difficulty and so changed 
the text, making it say, "Just as is written in the prophets. ..." Now 
there is no problem with a misattribution of the quotation. But there 
can be little doubt concerning what Mark originally wrote: the attri- 
bution to Isaiah is found in our earliest and best manuscripts. 

On occasion the "error" that a scribe attempted to correct was 
not factual, but interpretive. A well-known example comes in Matt. 
24:36, where Jesus is predicting the end of the age and says that "con- 
cerning that day and hour, no one knows — not the angels in heaven, 
nor even the Son, but only the Father." Scribes found this passage dif- 
ficult: the Son of God, Jesus himself, does not know when the end will 
come? How could that be? Isn't he all-knowing? To resolve the prob- 
lem, some scribes simply modified the text by taking out the words 
"nor even the Son." Now the angels may be ignorant, but the Son of 
God isn't. 19 

In other cases scribes changed a text not because they thought that 
it contained a mistake but because they wanted to circumvent a mis- 
understanding of it. An example is Matt. 17:12-13, in which Jesus 
identifies John the Baptist as Elijah, the prophet to come at the end of 

"I tell you that Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, 
but did to him as much as they wished. Thus also the Son of Man is 
about to suffer by them" Then his disciples realized that he was spea\ing 
to them about John the Baptist. 

The potential problem is that, as it reads, the text could be inter- 
preted to mean not that John the Baptist was Elijah, but that he was 
the Son of Man. Scribes knew full well this was not the case, and so 
some of them switched the text around, making the statement "his 
disciples realized that he was speaking to them about John the Bap- 
tist" occur before the statement about the Son of Man. 

Sometimes scribes changed their text for more patently theologi- 
cal reasons, to make sure that the text could not be used by "heretics" 

96 Misquoting Jesuss 

or to ensure that it said what it was already supposed (by the scribes) 
to mean. There are numerous instances of this kind of change, which 
we will consider at greater length in a later chapter. For now I will 
simply point out a couple of brief examples. 

In the second century there were Christians who firmly believed 
that the salvation brought by Christ was a completely new thing, su- 
perior to anything the world had ever seen and certainly superior to 
the religion of Judaism from which Christianity had emerged. Some 
Christians went so far as to insist that Judaism, the old religion of the 
Jews, had been completely circumvented by the appearance of Christ. 
For some scribes of this persuasion, the parable that Jesus tells of new 
wine and old wineskins may have seemed problematic. 

No one places new wine in old wineskins. . . . But new wine must be 
placed in new wineskins. And no one who drinks the old wine wishes 
for the new, for they say, "The old is better." (Luke 5:38-39) 

How could Jesus indicate that the old is better than the new? Isn't 
the salvation he brings superior to anything Judaism (or any other re- 
ligion) had to offer? Scribes who found the saying puzzling simply 
eliminated the last sentence, so that now Jesus says nothing about the 
old being better than the new. 

Sometimes scribes altered their text to ensure that a favorite doc- 
trine was duly emphasized. We find this, for example, in the account 
of Jesus's genealogy in Matthew's Gospel, which starts with the father 
of the Jews, Abraham, and traces Jesus's line from father to son all the 
way down to "Jacob, who was the father of Joseph, the husband of 
Mary, from whom was born Jesus, who is called the Christ" (Matt. 
1:16). As it stands, the genealogy already treats Jesus as an exceptional 
case in that he is not said to be the "son" of Joseph. For some scribes, 
however, that was not enough, and so they changed the text to read 
"Jacob, who was the father of Joseph, to whom being betrothed the 
virgin Mary gave birth to Jesus, who is called the Christ." Now Joseph 
is not even called Mary's husband, but only her betrothed, and she is 

Texts of the New Testament 97 

clearly stated to be a virgin — an important point for many early scribes! 

On occasion scribes modified their texts not because of theology 
but for liturgical reasons. As the ascetic tradition strengthened in 
early Christianity, it is not surprising to find this having an impact on 
scribal changes to the text. For example, in Mark 9, when Jesus casts 
out a demon that his disciples had been unable to budge, he tells them, 
"This kind comes out only by prayer" (Mark 9:29). Later scribes made 
the appropriate addition, in view of their own practices, so that now 
Jesus indicates that "This kind comes out only by prayer and fasting." 

One of the best-known liturgical changes to the text is found 
in Luke's version of the Lord's Prayer. The prayer is also found in 
Matthew, of course, and it is that longer, Matthean form that was, and 
is, most familiar to Christians. 20 By comparison, Luke's version 
sounds hopelessly truncated. 

Father, hallowed be your name. May your kingdom come. Give us each 
day our daily bread. And forgive our sins, for we forgive our debtors. 
And do not lead us into temptation. (Luke 11:2-4) 

Scribes resolved the problem of Luke's shortened version by 
adding the petitions known from the parallel passage in Matt. 6:9-13, 
so that now, as in Matthew, the prayer reads: 

Our Father who is in heaven, hallowed be your name. May your king- 
dom come and your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us 
each day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts as we forgive our 
debtors. And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil. 

This scribal tendency to "harmonize" passages in the Gospels is 
ubiquitous. Whenever the same story is told in different Gospels, one 
scribe or another is likely to have made sure that the accounts are per- 
fectly in harmony, eliminating differences by strokes of their pens. 

Sometimes scribes were influenced not by parallel passages but by 
oral traditions then in circulation about Jesus and the stories told 
about him. We have already seen this in a big way in the case of the 

98 Misquoting Jesus 

woman taken in adultery and the last twelve verses of Mark. In 
smaller cases as well, we can see how oral traditions affected the writ- 
ten texts of the Gospels. One outstanding example is the memorable 
story in John 5 of Jesus healing an invalid by the pool of Bethzatha. 
We are told at the beginning of the story that a number of people — in- 
valids, blind, lame, and paralyzed — lay beside this pool, and that 
Jesus singled out one man, who had been there for thirty-eight years, 
for healing. When he asks the man if he would like to be healed, the 
man replies that there is no one who can place him in the pool, so that 
"when the water is troubled" someone always beats him into it. 

In our oldest and best manuscripts there is no explanation for 
why this man would want to enter the pool once the waters became 
disturbed, but the oral tradition supplied the lack in an addition to 
verses 3-4 found in many of our later manuscripts. There we are told 
that "an angel would at times descend into the pool and disturb the 
water; and the first to descend after the water was disturbed would be 
healed." 21 A nice touch to an already intriguing story. 


We could go on nearly forever talking about specific places in which 
the texts of the New Testament came to be changed, either acciden- 
tally or intentionally. As I have indicated, the examples are not just in 
the hundreds but in the thousands. The examples given are enough to 
convey the general point, however: there are lots of differences among 
our manuscripts, differences created by scribes who were reproduc- 
ing their sacred texts. In the early Christian centuries, scribes were 
amateurs and as such were more inclined to alter the texts they 
copied — or more prone to alter them accidentally — than were scribes 
in the later periods who, starting in the fourth century, began to be 

It is important to see what kinds of changes, both accidental and 
intentional, scribes were susceptible of making, because then it is eas- 

Texts of the New Testament 99 

ier to spot the changes and we can eliminate some of the guesswork 
involved in determining which form of the text represents an alter- 
ation and which represents its earliest form. It is also important to see 
how modern scholars have devised methods for making this kind of 
determination. In the next chapter we will trace some of that story, 
starting from the time of John Mill and carrying it down to the pres- 
ent, seeing the methods that have developed for reconstructing the 
text of the New Testament and for recognizing the ways that it came 
to be changed in the process of its transmission. 

' iO; 

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Mi, y yOMTU.>HiX»f * 

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m or 

f'K"ll< );.J-H 


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Acri'IOyNAYIimT ,i„|ii),i iiiiwi; i h7i'iev.i«lNl i . ,'l.ik ■■„ .- •■. ' '■ 

r jJUAlXMI Hlfl>r ( , , ; > , s , ,, , ii'.M //-f-i.'v, .-j.' KAfO f |*>AAA.M' , n H 1 1 ' - 

.(>l,<>,ii a(-H»"- K | Yllr ,. u r,'lAT|-f i.|, ■iihi-.-Ii IHH>F ...lUHHM>M)[J 

'" '"" " kM f Vl ",'.' "M-Al (<> AI'Jl-IH ;,|,MTUll,tiMlH -j.,1 IAIKV... fH>Y 

M.-i.-yMl-ACf !•> [»<1 IWS HHIOff h Y H>lJl.lMM»» 

», m>NH *.., M , {-" ,■ . .^ (...,.; ;- :; K > ),*. ^ i....ik:Myijxjiifiu> 

• .--. > • >y>i.> fi Mt./M«'.i)< i -ir.|M |MP*>«J>OI»WM**« 

>NKAtt T ||, jVl) „-,.„.■, A,.- Ki|-i, S .,H:-,.-(.l> 1 H»!>' 

K*JirjK.< ! lATl* IMIllfkH't'l!' lo-i-K.A, „iui,l . T *.l I- M-i, 

K V. ill, > ]'.,>' ''I , n<||,M«TOHiO' M*,l.m. ,.;,!.,,,,, " ". ■ 

lO'fMKHOOil !>!>" " m ,l„0,11J AYllH-f. i >AH A r, ] IA< i . A.'.J KAlA 

tft rtifJoi-Antf"* l«l>APM'AiiY<MH-l' 

c: tAACi fAHt 
If It MM 

l-(U)H M'l I'll 



if Nl >*" if" fAHX j I ft: 



The final page of the Gospel of John in the famous Codex Sinaiticus, 

found in the nineteenth century by the determined discoverer of manuscripts, 

Tischendorf in St. Catherine's monastery on Mount Sinai. 

The Quest for Origins 

Methods and Discoveries 

As we have seen, long before Mill published his edition of the 
Greek New Testament with its notation of thirty thousand 
places of variation among the surviving witnesses, some (few) scholars 
had recognized that there was a problem with the New Testament 
text. Already in the second century, the pagan critic Celsus had argued 
that Christians changed the text at will, as if drunk from a drinking 
bout; his opponent Origen speaks of the "great" number of differences 
among the manuscripts of the Gospels; more than a century later Pope 
Damasus was so concerned about the varieties of Latin manuscripts 
that he commissioned Jerome to produced a standardized translation; 
and Jerome himself had to compare numerous copies of the text, both 
Greek and Latin, to decide on the text that he thought was originally 
penned by its authors. 

The problem lay dormant, however, through the Middle Ages and 
down to the seventeenth century, when Mill and others started to deal 
with it seriously. 1 While Mill was in the process of compiling the data 

1 02 Misquoting Jesus 

for his landmark edition of 1707, another scholar was also assiduously 
working on the problem of the New Testament text; this scholar was 
not English, however, but French, and he was not a Protestant but a 
Catholic. Moreover, his view was precisely the one that many English 
Protestants feared would result from a careful analysis of the New 
Testament text, namely that the wide-ranging variations in the tradi- 
tion showed that Christian faith could not be based solely on scripture 
(the Protestant Reformation doctrine of sola scriptura), since the text was 
unstable and unreliable. Instead, according to this view, the Catholics 
must be right that faith required the apostolic tradition preserved in 
the (Catholic) church. The French author who pursued these thoughts 
in a series of significant publications was Richard Simon (1638-1712). 

Richard Simon 

Although Simon was principally a Hebrew scholar, he worked on the 
textual tradition of both the Old and the New Testaments. His magis- 
terial study, A Critical History of the Text of the New Testament, ap- 
peared in 1689 while Mill was still laboring to uncover variants in the 
textual tradition; Mill had access to this work and, in the opening dis- 
cussion of his 1707 edition, acknowledges its erudition and impor- 
tance for his own investigations even while disagreeing with its 
theological conclusions. 

Simon's book is devoted not to uncovering every available variant 
reading but to discussing textual differences in the tradition, in order 
to show the uncertainty of the text in places and to argue, at times, for 
the superiority of the Latin Bible, still held to be the authoritative text 
by Catholic theologians. He is all too familiar with key textual prob- 
lems. He discusses at length, for example, a number of the ones we 
have examined ourselves to this point: the woman taken in adultery, 
the last twelve verses of Mark, and the Johannine Comma (which ex- 
plicitly affirms the doctrine of the Trinity). Throughout his discussion 

The Quest for Origins 1 03 

he strives to show that it was Jerome who provided the church with a 
text that could be used as the basis for theological reflection. As he 
says in the preface to part 1 of his work: 

St. Jerome has done the Church no small Service, in Correcting and 
Reviewing the ancient Latin Copies, according to the strictest Rules of 
Criticism This we endeavor to demonstrate in this work, and that the 
most ancient Greek Exemplars of the New Testament are not the best, 
since they are suited to those Latin Copies, which St. Jerome found so 
degenerous as to need an Alteration. 2 

This is at heart a clever argument, which we will meet again: the 
oldest Greek manuscripts are unreliable because they are precisely 
the degenerate copies that Jerome had to revise in order to establish the 
superior text; surviving Greek copies produced before Jerome's day, 
even though they may be our earliest copies, are not to be trusted. 

As clever as the argument is, it has never won widespread support 
among textual critics. In effect, it is simply a declaration that our old- 
est surviving manuscripts cannot be trusted, but the revision of those 
manuscripts can. On what grounds, though, did Jerome revise his 
text? On the grounds of earlier manuscripts. Even he trusted the ear- 
lier record of the text. For us not to do likewise would be a giant step 
backward — even given the diversity of the textual tradition in the early 

In any event, in pursuing his case, Simon argues that all manu- 
scripts embody textual alterations, but especially the Greek ones (here 
we may have more polemic against "Greek schismatics" from the 
"true" church). 

There would not be at this day any Copy even of the New Testament, 
either Greek Latin, Syriack or Arabick that might be truly called au- 
thentick because there is not one, in whatsoever Language it be written, 
that is absolutely exempt from Additions. I might also avouch, 

1 04 Misquoting Jesus 

that the Greeks Transcribers have taken a very great liberty in writing 
their Copies, as shall be proved in another place} 

Simon's theological agenda for such observations is clear through- 
out his long treatise. At one point he asks rhetorically: 

Is it possible. . . that God hath given to his church Books to serve her for 
a Rule, and that he hath at the same time permitted that the first 
Originals of these Books should be lost ever since the beginning of the 
Christian Religion? 4 

His answer, of course, is no. The scriptures do provide a founda- 
tion for the faith, but it is not the books themselves that ultimately 
matter (since they have, after all, been changed over time), but the in- 
terpretation of these books, as found in the apostolic tradition handed 
down through the (Catholic) church. 

Although the Scriptures are a sure Rule on which our Faith is founded, 
yet this Rule is not altogether sufficient of itself; it is necessary to know, 
besides this, what are the Apostolical Traditions; and we cannot learn 
them but from the Apostolical Churches, who have preserved the true 
Sense of Scriptures. 5 

Simon's anti-Protestant conclusions become even clearer in some 
of his other writings. For example, in a work dealing with the "princi- 
pal commentators on the New Testament," he is forthright in stating: 

The great changes that have taken place in the manuscripts of the 
Bible. . . since the first originals were lost, completely destroy the 
principle of the Protestants. . ., who only consult these same manu- 
scripts of the Bible in the form they are today. If the truth of religion 
had not lived on in the Church, it would not be safe to look for it now 
in books that have been subjected to so many changes and that in so 
many matters were dependent on the will of the copyists. 6 

This kind of intellectually rigorous attack on the Protestant un- 
derstanding of scripture was taken quite seriously in the halls of acad- 

The Quest for Origins 1 05 

eme. Once Mill's edition appeared in 1707, Protestant biblical scholars 
were driven by the nature of their materials to reconsider and defend 
their understanding of the faith. They could not, of course, simply do 
away with the notion of sola scriptura. For them, the words of the 
Bible continued to convey the authority of the Word of God. But how 
does one deal with the circumstance that in many instances we don't 
know what those words were? One solution was to develop methods 
of textual criticism that would enable modern scholars to reconstruct 
the original words, so that the foundation of faith might once again 
prove to be secure. It was this theological agenda that lay behind 
much of the effort, principally in England and Germany, to devise 
competent and reliable methods of reconstructing the original words 
of the New Testament from the numerous, error-ridden copies of it 
that happened to survive. 

Richard Bentley 

As we have seen, Richard Bentley, the classical scholar and Master of 
Trinity College, Cambridge, turned his renowned intellect to the 
problems of the New Testament textual tradition in response to 
the negative reactions elicited by the publication of Mill's Greek New 
Testament with its massive collection of textual variation among the 
manuscripts. 7 Bentley's response to the deist Collins, A Reply to a Trea- 
tise of Free-Thinking, proved to be very popular and went through 
eight editions. His overarching view was that thirty thousand varia- 
tions in the Greek New Testament were not too many to expect from 
a textual tradition endowed with such a wealth of materials, and that 
Mill could scarcely be faulted for undermining the truth of the Chris- 
tian religion when he had not invented these places of variation but 
simply observed them. 

Eventually Bentley himself became interested in working on the 
New Testament textual tradition, and once he turned his mind to it, he 
concluded that he could in fact make significant progress in establishing 

1 06 Misquoting Jesus 

the original text in the majority of places where textual variation ex- 
isted. In a 1716 letter to a patron, Archbishop Wake, he stated the 
premise of a proposed new edition of the Greek Testament: he would 
be able, by careful analysis, to restore the text of the New Testament 
to its state at the time of the Council of Nicea (early fourth century), 
which would have been the form of the text promulgated in the pre- 
ceding centuries by the great textual scholar of antiquity, Origen, 
many centuries before the vast majority of textual variations (Bentley 
believed) had come to corrupt the tradition. 

Bentley was never one given over to false modesty. As he claims in 
this letter: 

I find I am able (what some thought impossible) to give an edition of 
the Greek Testament exactly as it was in the best exemplars at the time 
of the Council of Nice; so that there shall not be twenty words, nor 
even particles, difference. . . so that that book which, by the present 
management, is thought the most uncertain, shall have a testimony of 
certainty above all other books whatever, and an end be put at once to 
all Various Lections [i.e., variant readings] now and hereafter. 8 

Bentley's method of proceeding was rather straightforward. He 
had decided to collate (i.e., to compare in detail) the text of the most 
important Greek manuscript of the New Testament in England, the 
early-fifth-century Codex Alexandrinus, with the oldest available copies 
of the Latin Vulgate. What he found was a wide range of remarkable 
coincidences of readings, in which these manuscripts agreed time and 
again with each other but against the bulk of Greek manuscripts tran- 
scribed in the Middle Ages. The agreements extended even to such 
matters as word order, where the various manuscripts differed. Bent- 
ley was convinced, then, that he could edit both the Latin Vulgate and 
the Greek New Testament to arrive at the most ancient forms of these 
texts, so that there would be scarcely any doubt concerning their earli- 
est reading. Mill's thirty thousand places of variation would thereby 
become a near irrelevancy to those invested in the authority of the 
text. The logic behind the method was simple: if, in fact, Jerome used 

The Quest for Origins 1 07 

the best Greek manuscripts available for editing his text, then by com- 
paring the oldest manuscripts of the Vulgate (to ascertain Jerome's 
original text) with the oldest manuscripts of the Greek New Testa- 
ment (to ascertain which were the ones used by Jerome), one could de- 
termine what the best texts of Jerome's day had looked like — and skip 
over more than a thousand years of textual transmission in which the 
text came to be repeatedly changed. Moreover, since Jerome's text would 
have been that of his predecessor Origen, one could rest assured that this 
was the very best text available in the earliest centuries of Christianity. 
And so, Bentley draws what for him was the ineluctable conclusion: 

By taking two thousand errors out of the Pope's Vulgate, and as many out 
of the Protestant Pope Stephens' [i.e., the edition of Stephanus — the 
T.R.] I can set out an edition of each in columns, without using any 
book under nine hundred years old, that shall so exactly agree word for 
word, and, what at first amazed me, order for order, that no two tallies 
nor two indentures can agree better. 9 

Spending further time in collating manuscripts, and in examining 
the collations made by others, only increased Bentley's confidence in 
his ability to do the job, to do it right, and to do it once and for all. In 
1720 he published a pamphlet entitled Proposals for Printing designed 
to bring in support for his project by acquiring a number of financial 
subscribers. In it he lays out his proposed method of reconstructing 
the text and argues for its incomparable accuracy. 

The author believes that he has retrieved (except in very few places) the 
true exemplar of Origen. . . . And he is sure, that the Greek and Latin 
MSS., by their mutual assistance, do so settle the original text to the 
smallest nicety, as cannot be performed now in any Classic author 
whatever: and that out of a labyrinth of thirty thousand various readings, 
that crowd the pages of our present best editions, all put upon equal credit 
to the offence of many good persons; this clue so leads and extricates us, 
that there will scarce be two hundred out of so many thousands that can 
deserve the least consideration. 10 

108 Misquoting Jesus 

Paring down the significant variants from Mill's thirty thousand 
to a mere two hundred is obviously a major advance. Not everyone, 
however, was sure that Bentley could produce the goods. In an anony- 
mous tractate written in response to the Proposals (this was an age of 
controversialists and pamphleteers), which discussed the pamphlet 
paragraph by paragraph, Bentley was attacked for his program and 
was said, by his anonymous opponent, to have "neither talents nor 
materials proper for the work he had undertaken." 11 

Bentley took this, as one can imagine, as a slur on his (self- 
acknowledged) great talents and responded in kind. Unfortunately, 
he mistook the identity of his opponent, who was actually a Cam- 
bridge scholar named Conyers Middleton, for another, John Colbatch, 
and wrote a vitriolic reply, naming Colbatch and, as was the style in 
those days, calling him names. Such controversial pamphlets are a 
marvel to behold in our own day of subtle polemics; there was noth- 
ing subtle about personal grievance in those days. Bentley remarks 
that "We need go no further than this paragraph for a specimen of the 
greatest malice and impudence, that any scribbler out of the dark 
committed to paper." 12 And throughout his reply he provides a smat- 
tering of rather graphic terms of abuse, calling Colbatch (who in fact 
had nothing to do with the pamphlet in question) a cabbage-head, in- 
sect, worm, maggot, vermin, gnawing rat, snarling dog, ignorant 
thief, and mountebank. 13 Ah, those were the days. 

Once Bentley was alerted to the real identity of his opponent, he 
was naturally a bit embarrassed about barking up the wrong tree, but 
he continued his self-defense, and both sides had more than one volley 
left in the exchange. These defenses hampered the work itself, of 
course, as did other factors, including Bentley's onerous obligations as 
an administrator of his college at Cambridge, his other writing proj- 
ects, and certain disheartening setbacks, which included his failure to 
obtain an exemption on import duties for the paper he wanted to use 
for the edition. In the end, his proposals for printing the Greek New 
Testament, with the text not of late corrupted Greek manuscripts 

The Quest for Origins 1 09 

(like those lying behind the Textus Receptus) but of the earliest possi- 
ble attainable text, came to naught. After his death, his nephew was 
forced to return the sums that had been collected by subscription, 
bringing closure to the entire affair. 


From France (Simon) to England (Mill, Bentley), and now to Ger- 
many, textual problems of the New Testament were occupying the 
leading biblical scholars of the day in major areas of European Chris- 
tendom. Johann Albrecht Bengel (1687-1752) was a pious Lutheran 
pastor and professor who early in his life became deeply disturbed by 
the presence of such a large array of textual variants in the manuscript 
tradition of the New Testament, and was particularly thrown off as a 
twenty-year-old by the publication of Mill's edition and its thirty 
thousand places of variation. These were seen as a major challenge to 
Bengel's faith, rooted as it was in the very words of scripture. If these 
words were not certain, what of the faith based on them? 

Bengel spent much of his academic career working on this prob- 
lem, and as we will see, he made significant headway in finding solu- 
tions to it. First, though, we need to look briefly at Bengel's approach 
to the Bible. 14 

Bengel's religious commitments permeated his life and thought. 
One can get a sense of the seriousness with which he approached his 
faith from the title of the inaugural lecture he delivered when ap- 
pointed a junior tutor at the new theological seminary in Denkendorf: 
"De certissima ad veram eruditonem perveniendi ratione per studium 
pietatis" (The diligent pursuit of piety is the surest method of attain- 
ing sound learning). 

Bengel was a classically trained, extremely careful interpreter of 
the biblical text. He is possibly best known as a biblical commentator: 
he wrote extensive notes on every book of the New Testament, 

1 1 Misquoting Jesus 

exploring grammatical, historical, and interpretive issues at length, in 
expositions that were clear and compelling — and still worth reading 
today. At the heart of this work of exegesis was a trust in the words of 
scripture. This trust went so far that it took Bengel in directions that 
today might seem a shade bizarre. Thinking that all the words of 
scripture were inspired — including the words of the prophets and the 
book of Revelation — Bengel became convinced that God's great in- 
volvement with human affairs was nearing a climax, and that biblical 
prophecy indicated that his own generation was living near the end of 
days. He, in fact, believed he knew when the end would come: it 
would be about a century in the future, in 1836. 

Bengel was not taken aback by verses such as Matt. 24:36, which 
says that "of that day and hour no one knows, not the angels in 
heaven, nor even the Son, but the Father only." Careful interpreter 
that he was, Bengel points out that here Jesus speaks in the present 
tense: in his own day Jesus could say "no one knows," but that doesn't 
mean that at a later time no one would know. By studying the biblical 
prophecies, in fact, later Christians could come to know. The papacy 
was the Antichrist, the freemasons may have represented the false 
"prophet" of Revelation, and the end was but a century away (he was 
writing in the 1730s). 

The Great Tribulation, which the primitive church looked for from 
the future Antichrist, is not arrived, but is very near; for the predic- 
tions of the Apocalypse, from the tenth to the fourteenth chapter, have 
been fulfilling for many centuries; and the principal point stands 
clearer and clearer in view, that within another hundred years, the great 
expected change of things may take place. . . . Still, let the remainder 
stand, especially the great termination which I anticipate 

Clearly, the predictors of doom in our own age — the Hal Lindseys 
(author of The J^ate Great Planet Earth) and the Timothy LaHayes 
(coauthor of the Ixft Behind series) — have had their predecessors, just 
as they will have their successors, world without end. 

The Quest for Origins 111 

For our purposes here, Bengel's quirky interpretations of prophecy 
matter because they were rooted in knowing the precise words of 
scripture. If the number of the Antichrist were not 666 but, say, 616, 
that would have a profound effect. Since the words matter, it matters 
that we have the words. And so Bengel spent a good deal of his research 
time exploring the many thousands of variant readings available in 
our manuscripts, and in his attempt to get beyond the alterations of 
later scribes back to the texts of the original authors, he came up with 
several breakthroughs in methodology. 

The first is a criterion he devised that more or less summed up his 
approach to establishing the original text whenever the wording was 
in doubt. Scholars before him, such Simon and Bentley, had tried to 
devise criteria of evaluation for variant readings. Some others, whom 
we have not discussed here, devised long lists of criteria that might 
prove helpful. After intense study of the matter (Bengel studied every- 
thing intensely), Bengel found that he could summarize the vast ma- 
jority of proposed criteria in a simple four-word phrase: "Proclivi 
scriptioni praestat ardua" — the more difficult reading is preferable to the 
easier one. The logic is this: when scribes changed their texts, they 
were more likely to try to improve them. If they saw what they took 
to be a mistake, they corrected it; if they saw two accounts of the same 
story told differently, they harmonized them; if they encountered a 
text that stood at odds with their own theological opinions, they al- 
tered it. In every instance, to know what the oldest (or even "origi- 
nal") text said, preference should be given not to the reading that has 
corrected the mistake, harmonized the account, or improved its theol- 
ogy, but to just the opposite one, the reading that is "harder" to ex- 
plain. In every case, the more difficult reading is to be preferred. 16 

The other breakthrough that Bengel made involves not so much 
the mass of readings we have at our disposal as the mass of documents 
that contain them. He noticed that documents that are copied from 
one another naturally bear the closest resemblance to the exemplars 
from which they were copied and to other copies made from the same 
exemplars. Certain manuscripts are more like some other manuscripts 

1 1 2 Misquoting Jesus 

than others are. All the surviving documents, then, can be arranged in 
a kind of genealogical relationship, in which there are groups of docu- 
ments that are more closely related to one another than they are to 
other documents. This is useful to know, because in theory one could 
set up a kind of family tree and trace the lineage of documents back to 
their source. It is a bit like finding a mutual ancestor between you and 
a person in another state with the same last name. 

Later, we will see more fully how grouping witnesses into families 
developed into a more formal methodological principle for helping 
the textual critic establish the original text. For now, it is enough to 
note that it was Bengel who first had the idea. In 1734 he published his 
great edition of the Greek New Testament, which printed for the most 
part the Textus Receptus but indicated places in which he thought he 
had uncovered superior readings to the text. 


One of the most controversial figures in the ranks of biblical scholar- 
ship in the eighteenth century was J. J. Wettstein (1693-1754). At a 
young age Wettstein became enthralled with the question of the text 
of the New Testament and its manifold variations, and pursued the 
subject in his early studies. The day after his twentieth birthday, on 
March 17, 1713, he presented a thesis at the University of Basel on 
"The Variety of Readings in the Text of the New Testament." Among 
other things, the Protestant Wettstein argued that variant readings 
"can have no weakening effect on the trustworthiness or integrity of 
the Scriptures." The reason: God has "bestowed this book once and 
for all on the world as an instrument for the perfection of human 
character. It contains all that is necessary to salvation both for belief 
and conduct." Thus, variant readings may affect minor points in 
scripture, but the basic message remains intact no matter which read- 
ings one notices. 17 

The Quest for Origins 1 1 3 

In 1715 Wettstein went to England (as part of a literary tour) and 
was given full access to the Codex Alexandrinus, which we have al- 
ready heard about in relation to Bentley. One portion of the manu- 
script particularly caught Wettstein's attention: it was one of those 
tiny matters with enormous implications. It involved the text of a key 
passage in the book of 1 Timothy. 

The passage in question, 1 Tim. 3:16, had long been used by advo- 
cates of orthodox theology to support the view that the New Testa- 
ment itself calls Jesus God. For the text, in most manuscripts, refers to 
Christ as "God made manifest in the flesh, and justified in the Spirit." 
As I pointed out in chapter 3, most manuscripts abbreviate sacred names 
(the so-called nomina sacra), and that is the case here as well, where the 
Greek word God (0EOE) is abbreviated in two letters, theta and 
sigma (©£), with a line drawn over the top to indicate that it is an ab- 
breviation. What Wettstein noticed in examining Codex Alexandri- 
nus was that the line over the top had been drawn in a different ink 
from the surrounding words, and so appeared to be from a later hand 
(i.e., written by a later scribe). Moreover, the horizontal line in the 
middle of the first letter, 0, was not actually a part of the letter but 
was a line that had bled through from the other side of the old vellum. 
In other words, rather than being the abbreviation (theta-sigma) for 
"God" (©2), the word was actually an omicron and a sigma (OE), a 
different word altogether, which simply means "who." The original 
reading of the manuscript thus did not speak of Christ as "God made 
manifest in the flesh" but of Christ "who was made manifest in the 
flesh." According to the ancient testimony of the Codex Alexandri- 
nus, Christ is no longer explicitly called God in this passage. 

As Wettstein continued his investigations, he found other passages 
typically used to affirm the doctrine of the divinity of Christ that in 
fact represented textual problems; when these problems are resolved 
on text-critical grounds, in most instances references to Jesus's divinity 
are taken away. This happens, for example, when the famous Johannine 
Comma (1 John 5:7-8) is removed from the text. And it happens in a 

114 Misquoting Jesus 

passage in Acts 20:28, which in many manuscripts speaks of "the Church 
of God, which he obtained by his own blood." Here again, Jesus ap- 
pears to be spoken of as God. But in Codex Alexandrinus and some 
other manuscripts, the text instead speaks of "the Church of the 
Lord, which he obtained by his own blood." Now Jesus is called 
the Lord, but he is not explicitly identified as God. 

Alerted to such difficulties, Wettstein began thinking seriously 
about his own theological convictions, and became attuned to the 
problem that the New Testament rarely, if ever, actually calls Jesus 
God. And he began to be annoyed with his fellow pastors and teach- 
ers in his home city of Basel, who would sometimes confuse language 
about God and Christ — for example, when talking of the Son of God 
as if he were the Father, or addressing God the Father in prayer and 
speaking of "your sacred wounds." Wettstein thought that more pre- 
cision was needed when speaking about the Father and the Son, since 
they were not the same. 

Wettstein's emphasis on such matters started raising suspicions 
among his colleagues, suspicions that were confirmed for them when, 
in 1730, Wettstein published a discussion of the problems of the 
Greek New Testament in anticipation of a new edition that he was 
preparing. Included among the specimen passages in his discussion 
were some of these disputed texts that had been used by theologians to 
establish the biblical basis for the doctrine of the divinity of Christ. 
For Wettstein, these texts in fact had been altered precisely in order to 
incorporate that perspective: the original texts could not be used in 
support of it. 

This raised quite a furor among Wettstein's colleagues, many of 
whom became his opponents. They insisted to the Basel city council 
that Wettstein not be allowed to publish his Greek New Testament, 
which they labeled "useless, uncalled for, and even dangerous work"; 
and they maintained that "Deacon Wettstein is preaching what is un- 
orthodox, is making statements in his lectures opposed to the teaching 
of the Reformed Church, and has in hand the printing of a Greek 
New Testament in which some dangerous innovations very suspect of 

The Quest for Origins 1 1 5 

Socinianism [a doctrine that denied the divinity of Christ] will ap- 
pear." 18 Called to account for his views before the university senate, he 
was found to have "rationalistic" views that denied the plenary inspi- 
ration of scripture and the existence of the devil and demons, and that 
focused attention on scriptural obscurities. 

He was removed from the Christian diaconate and compelled to 
leave Basel; and so he set up residence in Amsterdam, where he con- 
tinued his work. He later claimed that all the controversy had forced 
a delay of twenty years in the publication of his edition of the Greek 
New Testament (175 1-52). 

Even so, this was a magnificent edition, still of value to scholars 
today, more than 250 years later. In it Wettstein does print the Textus 
Receptus, but he also amasses a mind-boggling array of Greek, Roman, 
and Jewish texts that parallel statements found in the New Testament 
and can help illuminate their meaning. He also cites a large number 
of textual variants, adducing as evidence some twenty-five majuscule 
manuscripts and some 250 minuscules (nearly three times the number 
available to Mill), arranging them in a clear fashion by referring to 
each majuscule with a different capital letter and using arabic numer- 
als to denote the minuscule manuscripts — a system of reference that 
became standard for centuries and is still, in essence, widely used 

Despite the enormous value of Wettstein' s edition, the textual the- 
ory lying behind it is usually seen as completely retrograde. Wettstein 
ignored the advances in method made by Bentley (for whom he had 
once worked, collating manuscripts) and Bengel (whom he consid- 
ered an enemy) and maintained that the ancient Greek manuscripts 
of the New Testament could not be trusted because, in his view, they 
had all been altered in conformity with the Latin witnesses. There is 
no evidence of this having happened, however, and the end result of 
using it as a major criterion of evaluation is that when one is deciding 
on a textual variant, the best procedure purportedly is not to see what 
the oldest witnesses say (these, according to the theory, are farthest re- 
moved from the originals!), but to see what the more recent ones (the 

116 Misquoting Jesus 

Greek manuscripts of the Middle Ages) say. No leading scholar of the 
text subscribes to this bizarre theory. 

Karl Lachmann 

After Wettstein there were a number of textual scholars who made 
greater or lesser contributions to the methodology for determining 
the oldest form of the biblical text in the face of an increasing number 
of manuscripts (as these were being discovered) that attest variation, 
scholars such as J. Semler and J. J. Griesbach. In some ways, though, 
the major breakthrough in the field did not come for another eighty 
years, with the inauspicious-looking but revolutionary publication of 
a comparatively thin edition of the Greek New Testament by the Ger- 
man philologist Karl Lachmann (1793-185 1). 19 

Early on in his work, Lachmann decided that the textual evidence 
was simply not adequate to determine what the original authors wrote. 
The earliest manuscripts that he had access to were those of the fourth 
or fifth centuries — hundreds of years after the originals had been pro- 
duced. Who could predict the vicissitudes of transmission that had oc- 
curred between the penning of the autographs and the production of 
the earliest surviving witnesses some centuries later? Lachmann there- 
fore set for himself a simpler task. The Textus Receptus, he knew, was 
based on the manuscript tradition of the twelfth century. He could 
improve upon that — by eight hundred years — by producing an edi- 
tion of the New Testament as it would have appeared at about the end 
of the fourth century. The surviving manuscripts in Greek, along with 
the manuscripts of Jerome's Vulgate and the quotations of the text in 
such writers as Irenaeus, Origen, and Cyprian, would at the very least 
allow that. And so that is what he did. Relying on a handful of early 
majuscule manuscripts plus the oldest Latin manuscripts and the pa- 
tristic quotations of the text, he chose not simply to edit the Textus Re- 
ceptus wherever necessary (the tack followed by his predecessors who 

The Quest for Origins 1 1 7 

were dissatisfied with the T.R.), but to abandon the T.R. completely 
and to establish the text anew, on his own principles. 

Thus, in 1831 he produced a new version of the text, not based on 
the T.R. This was the first time anyone had dared to do so. It had 
taken more than three hundred years, but finally the world was given 
an edition of the Greek New Testament that was based exclusively on 
ancient evidence. 

Lachmann's aim of producing a text as it would have been known 
in the late fourth century was not always understood, and even when 
understood it was not always appreciated. Many readers thought that 
Lachmann was claiming to present the "original" text and objected 
that in doing so he had, on principle, avoided almost all the evidence 
(the later textual tradition, which contains an abundance of manu- 
scripts). Others noted the similarity of his approach to that of Bentley, 
who also had the idea of comparing the earliest Greek and Latin 
manuscripts to determine the text of the fourth century (which Bent- 
ley took, however, to be the text known to Origen in the early third 
century); as a result, Lachmann was sometimes called Bentley's Ape. 
In reality, though, Lachmann had broken through the unhelpful cus- 
tom established among printers and scholars alike of giving favored 
status to the T.R., a status it surely did not deserve, since it was printed 
and reprinted not because anyone felt that it rested on a secure textual 
basis but only because its text was both customary and familiar. 


While scholars like Bentley, Bengel, and Lachmann were refining the 
methodologies that were to be used in examining the variant readings 
of New Testament manuscripts, new discoveries were regularly being 
made in old libraries and monasteries, both East and West. The 
nineteenth-century scholar who was most assiduous in discovering 

118 Misquoting Jesus 

biblical manuscripts and publishing their texts had the interesting 
name Lobegott Friedrich Constantine von Tischendorf (1815-1874). 
He was called Lobegott (German for "Praise God") because before he 
was born, his mother had seen a blind man and succumbed to the su- 
perstitious belief that this would cause her child to be born blind. 
When he was born completely healthy, she dedicated him to God by 
giving him this unusual first name. 

Tischendorf was an inordinately ardent scholar who saw his work 
on the text of the New Testament as a sacred, divinely ordained task. 
As he once wrote his fiancee, while still in his early twenties: "I am 
confronted with a sacred task, the struggle to regain the original form 
of the New Testament. " 20 This sacred task he sought to fulfill by lo- 
cating every manuscript tucked away in every library and monastery 
that he could find. He made several trips around Europe and into the 
"East" (meaning what we would call the Middle East), finding, tran- 
scribing, and publishing manuscripts wherever he went. One of his 
earliest and best-known successes involved a manuscript that was al- 
ready known but that no one had been able to read. This is the Codex 
Ephraemi Rescriptus, housed at the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris. 
The codex was originally a fifth-century Greek manuscript of the New 
Testament, but it had been erased in the twelfth century so that its vel- 
lum pages could be reused to record some sermons by the Syriac church 
father Ephraim. Since the pages had not been erased thoroughly, 
some of the underwriting could still be seen, although not clearly enough 
to decipher most of the words — even though several fine scholars had 
done their best. By Tischendorf s time, however, chemical reagents 
had been discovered that could help bring out the underwriting. Ap- 
plying these reagents carefully, and plodding his way slowly through 
the text, Tischendorf could make out its words, and so produced the 
first successful transcription of this early text, gaining for himself 
something of a reputation among those who cared about such things. 

Some such people were induced to provide financial support for 
Tischendorf s journeys to other lands in Europe and the Middle East 

The Quest for Origins 1 1 9 

to locate manuscripts. By all counts, his most famous discovery in- 
volves one of the truly great manuscripts of the Bible still available, 
Codex Sinaiticus. The tale of its discovery is the stuff of legend, al- 
though we have the account direct from Tischendorf s own hand. 

Tischendorf had made a journey to Egypt in 1844, when not yet 
thirty years of age, arriving on camelback eventually at the 
wilderness monastery of Saint Catherine. What happened there on 
May 24, 1844, is still best described in his own words: 

It was at the foot of Mount Sinai, in the Convent of St Catherine, that I 
discovered the pearl of all my researches. In visiting the monastery in the 
month of May 1844,1 perceived in the middle of the great hall a large 
and wide basket full of old parchments; and the librarian who was a man 
of information told me that two heaps of papers like these, mouldered by 
time, had been already committed to the flames. What was my surprise 
to find amid this heap of papers a considerable number of sheets of a 
copy of the Old Testament in Greek which seemed to me to be one of the 
most ancient that I had ever seen. The authorities of the monastery 
allowed me to possess myself of a third of these parchments, or about forty 
three sheets, all the more readily as they were designated for the fire. But 
I could not get them to yield up possession of the remainder. The too 
lively satisfaction which I had displayed had aroused their suspicions as 
to the value of the manuscript. I transcribed a page of the text of Isaiah 
and Jeremiah and enjoined on the moniks to take religious care of all 
such remains which might fall their way. 21 

Tischendorf attempted to retrieve the rest of this precious manu- 
script but could not persuade the monks to part with it. Some nine 
years later he made a return trip and could find no trace of it. Then in 
1859 he set out once again, now under the patronage of Czar Alexan- 
der II of Russia, who had an interest in all things Christian, especially 
Christian antiquity. This time Tischendorf found no trace of the 
manuscript until the last day of his visit. Invited into the room of the 
convent's steward, he discussed with him the Septuagint (the Greek 

120 Misquoting Jesus 

Old Testament), and the steward told him, "I too have read a Septu- 
agint. " He proceeded to pull from the corner of his room a volume 
wrapped in a red cloth. Tischendorf continues: 

I unrolled the cover, and discovered, to my great surprise, not only those 
very fragments which, fifteen years before, I had taken out of the basket, 
but also other parts of the Old Testament, the New Testament 
complete, and in addition, the Epistle of Barnabas and a part of the 
Pastor of Hernias. Full of joy, which this time I had the self-command 
to conceal from the steward and the rest of the community, I asked, as 
if in a careless way, for permission to take the manuscript into my 
sleeping chamber to look over it more at leisure. 22 

Tischendorf immediately recognized the manuscript for what it 
was — the earliest surviving witness to the text of the New Testament: 
"the most precious Biblical treasure in existence — a document whose 
age and importance exceeded that of all the manuscripts which I had 
ever examined." After complicated and prolonged negotiations, in 
which Tischendorf not so subtly reminded the monks of his patron, 
the Czar of Russia, who would be overwhelmed with the gift of such 
a rare manuscript and would no doubt reciprocate by bestowing cer- 
tain financial benefactions on the monastery, Tischendorf eventually 
was allowed to take the manuscript back to Leipzig, where at the ex- 
pense of the Czar he prepared a lavish four-volume edition of it that 
appeared in 1862 on the one-thousandth anniversary of the founding 
of the Russian empire. 23 

After the Russian revolution, the new government, needing money 
and not being interested in manuscripts of the Bible, sold Codex 
Sinaiticus to the British Museum for £100,000; it is now part of the 
permanent collection of the British Library, prominently displayed in 
the British Library's manuscript room. 

This was, of course, just one of Tischendorf s many contributions 
to the field of textual studies. 24 Altogether he published twenty-two 
editions of early Christian texts, along with eight separate editions of 

The Quest for Origins 1 2 1 

the Greek New Testament, the eighth of which continues to this day 
to be a treasure trove of information concerning the attestation of Greek 
and versional evidence for this or that variant reading. His productiv- 
ity as a scholar can be gauged by the bibliographical essay written on 
his behalf by a scholar named Caspar Rene Gregory: the list of Tis- 
chendorf s publications takes up eleven solid pages. 25 

Brooke Foss Westcott and 
Fenton John Anthony Hort 

More than anyone else from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, 
it is to two Cambridge scholars, Brooke Foss Westcott (1825-1901) 
and Fenton John Anthony Hort (1828-1892), that modern textual critics 
owe a debt of gratitude for developing methods of analysis that help 
us deal with the manuscript tradition of the New Testament. Since 
their famous work of 1881, The New Testament in the Original Greek, 
these have been the names that all scholars have had to contend 
with — in affirming their basic insights, or in tinkering with the de- 
tails of their claims, or in setting up alternative approaches in view of 
Westcott and Hort's well-defined and compelling system of analysis. 
The strength of the analysis owes more than a little to the genius of 
Hort in particular. 

Westcott and Hort's publication appeared in two volumes, one of 
which was an actual edition of the New Testament based on their 
twenty-eight years of joint labor in deciding which was the original 
text wherever variations appeared in the tradition; the other was an 
exposition of the critical principles they had followed in producing 
their work. The latter was written by Hort and represents an inordi- 
nately closely reasoned and compelling survey of the materials and 
methods available to scholars wanting to undertake the tasks of tex- 
tual criticism. The writing is dense; not a word is wasted. The logic is 
compelling; not an angle has been overlooked. This is a great book, 

122 Misquoting Jesus 

which in many ways is the classic in the field. I do not allow my grad- 
uate students to go through their studies without mastering it. 

In some ways, the problems of the text of the New Testament ab- 
sorbed the interests of Westcott and Hort for most of their publishing 
lives. Already as a twenty-three-year-old, Hort, who had been trained 
in the classics and was not at first aware of the textual situation of the 
New Testament, wrote in a letter to his friend John Ellerton: 

I had no idea till the last few weeks of the importance of texts, having 
read so little Greek Testament, and dragged on with the villainous 
Textus Receptus. ... So many alterations on good MS [manuscript] 
authority made things clear not in a vulgar, notional way, but by giving 
a deeper and fuller meaning. . . . Think of that vile Textus Receptus 
leaning entirely on late MSS [manuscripts] ; it is a blessing there are 
such early ones. 26 

Only a couple of years later, Westcott and Hort had decided to edit 
a new edition of the New Testament. In another letter to Ellerton on 
April 19, 1853, Hort relates: 

I have not seen anybody that I know except Westcott, whom ... I vis- 
ited for a few hours. One result of our talk I may as well tell you. He 
and I are going to edit a Greek text of the N. T. some two or three years 
hence, if possible. Lachmann and Tischendorf will supply rich materi- 
als, but not nearly enough. . . . Our object is to supply clergymen gen- 
erally, schools, etc., with a portable Greek Testament, which shall not 
be disfigured with Byzantine [i.e., medieval] corruptions., 27 

Hort's sanguine expectation that this edition would not take long 
to produce is still in evidence in November of that year, when he indi- 
cates that he hopes Westcott and he can crank out their edition "in lit- 
tle more than a year." 28 As soon as work began on the project, however, 
the hopes for a quick turnaround faded. Some nine years later Hort, 
in a letter written to bolster up Westcott, whose spirits were flagging 
with the prospect of what still lay ahead, urged: 

The Quest for Origins 1 23 

The work has to be done, and never can be done satisfactorily . . . without 
vast labour, a fact of which hardly anybody in Europe except ourselves 
seems conscious. For a great mass of the readings, if we separate them in 
thought from the rest, the labour is wholly disproportionate. But 
believing it to be absolutely impossible to draw a line between important 
and unimportant readings, I should hesitate to say the entire labour is 
disproportionate to the worth of fixing the entire text to the utmost extent 
now practicable. It would, I think be utterly unpardonable for us to give 
up our task 29 

They were not to give up the task, but it became more intricate 
and involved as time passed. In the end, it took the two Cambridge 
scholars twenty-eight years of almost constant work to produce their 
text, along with an Introduction that came from the pen of Hort. 

The work was well worth it. The Greek text that Westcott and 
Hort produced is remarkably similar to the one still widely used by 
scholars today, more than a century later. It is not that no new manu- 
scripts have been discovered, or that no theoretical advances have 
been made, or that no differences of opinion have emerged since 
Westcott and Hort's day. Yet, even with our advances in technology 
and methodology, even with the incomparably greater manuscript re- 
sources at our disposal, our Greek texts of today bear an uncanny re- 
semblance to the Greek text of Westcott and Hort. 

It would not serve my purpose here to enter a detailed discussion 
of the methodological advances that Westcott and Hort made in es- 
tablishing the text of the Greek New Testament. 30 The area in which 
their work has perhaps proved most significant is in the grouping of 
manuscripts. Since Bengel had first recognized that manuscripts 
could be gathered together in "family" groupings (somewhat like 
drawing up genealogies of family members), scholars had attempted 
to isolate various groups of witnesses into families. Westcott and Hort 
were very much involved in this endeavor as well. Their view of the 
matter was based on the principle that manuscripts belong in the 

124 Misquoting Jesus 

same family line whenever they agree with one another in their word- 
ing. That is, if two manuscripts have the same wording of a verse, it 
must be because the two manuscripts ultimately go back to the same 
source — either the original manuscript or a copy of it. As the principle 
is sometimes stated, Identity of reading implies identity of origin. 

One can then establish family groups based on textual agreements 
among the various surviving manuscripts. For Westcott and Hort 
there were four major families of witnesses: (1) the Syrian text (what 
other scholars have called the Byzantine text), which comprises most 
of the late medieval manuscripts; these are numerous but not particu- 
larly close in wording to the original text; (2) the Western text, made 
up of manuscripts that could be dated very early — the archetypes 
must have been around sometime in the second century at the latest; 
these manuscripts, however, embody the wild copying practices of 
scribes in that period before the transcription of texts had become the 
business of professionals; (3) the Alexandrian text, which was derived 
from Alexandria, where the scribes were trained and careful but oc- 
casionally altered their texts to make them grammatically and stylisti- 
cally more acceptable, thereby changing the wording of the originals; 
and (4) the Neutral text, which consisted of manuscripts that had not 
undergone any serious change or revision in the course of their trans- 
mission but represented most accurately the texts of the originals. 

The two leading witnesses of this Neutral text, in Westcott and 
Hort's opinion, were Codex Sinaiticus (the manuscript discovered by 
Tischendorf) and, even more so, Codex Vaticanus, discovered in the 
Vatican library. These were the two oldest manuscripts available to 
Westcott and Hort, and in their judgment they were far superior to 
any other manuscripts, because they represented the so-called Neutral 

Many things have changed in nomenclature since Westcott and 
Hort's day: scholars no longer talk about a Neutral text, and most re- 
alize that Western text is a misnomer, since wild copying practices 
were found in the East as well as in the West. Moreover, Westcott and 

The Quest for Origins 1 25 

Hort's system has been overhauled by subsequent scholars. Most mod- 
ern scholars, for example, think that the Neutral and Alexandrian 
texts are the same: it is just that some manuscripts are better represen- 
tatives of this text than are others. Then, too, significant manuscript 
discoveries, especially discoveries of papyri, have been made since 
their day. 31 Even so, Westcott and Hort's basic methodology contin- 
ues to play a role for scholars trying to decide where in our surviving 
manuscripts we have later alterations and where we can find the earli- 
est stage of the text. 

As we will see in the next chapter, this basic methodology is rela- 
tively simple to understand, once it is laid out clearly. Applying it to 
textual problems can be interesting and even entertaining, as we work 
to see which variant readings in our manuscripts represent the words 
of the text as produced by their authors and which represent changes 
made by later scribes. 


■ ■'■»■'..■■ \Vi " ' ■■■''■■>f 

An eleventh-century image of Christ's cruxification, with the symbolic 

representations of the Gospel writers in the four corners: an angel (Matthew), 

an eagle (John), a lion (Mark), and a bull (Luke). 

Originals That 

In this chapter we will examine the methods that scholars have de- 
vised to identify the "original" form of the text (or at least the 
"oldest attainable" form) and the form of the text that represents a 
later scribal alteration. After laying out these methods, I will illustrate 
how they can be used by focusing on three textual variants found in 
our manuscript tradition of the New Testament. I have chosen these 
three because each of them is critical for interpreting the book it is in; 
what is more, none of these variant readings is reflected in most of our 
modern English translations of the New Testament. That is to say, in 
my judgment the translations available to most English readers are 
based on the wrong text, and having the wrong text makes a real dif- 
ference for the interpretation of these books. 

First, however, we should consider the methods scholars have de- 
veloped for making decisions about which textual readings are origi- 
nal and which represent later changes made by scribes. As we will see, 
establishing the earliest form of the text is not always a simple matter; 
it can be a demanding exercise. 

1 2 8 Misquoting Jesus 

Modern Methods of Textual Criticism 

The majority of textual critics today would call themselves rational 
eclecticists when it comes to making decisions about the oldest form of 
the text. This means that they "choose" (the root meaning of eclectic) 
from among a variety of textual readings the one that best represents 
the oldest form of the text, using a range of (rational) textual argu- 
ments. These arguments are based on evidence that is usually classi- 
fied as either external or internal in nature. 1 

External Evidence 

Arguments based on external evidence have to do with the surviving 
manuscript support for one reading or another. Which manuscripts 
attest the reading? Are those manuscripts reliable? Why are they reli- 
able or not reliable? 

In thinking about the manuscripts supporting one textual variant 
over another, one might be tempted simply to count noses, so to speak, 
in order to see which variant reading is found in the most surviving 
witnesses. Most scholars today, however, are not at all convinced that 
the majority of manuscripts necessarily provide the best available text. 
The reason for this is easy to explain by way of an illustration. 

Suppose that after the original manuscript of a text was produced, 
two copies were made of it, which we may call A and B. These two 
copies, of course, will differ from each other in some ways — possibly 
major and probably minor. Now suppose that A was copied by one 
other scribe, but B was copied by fifty scribes. Then the original 
manuscript, along with copies A and B, were lost, so that all that re- 
mains in the textual tradition are the fifty-one second-generation 
copies, one made from A and fifty made from B. If a reading found in 
the fifty manuscripts (from B) differs from a reading found in the one 
(from A), is the former necessarily more likely to be the original read- 
ing? No, not at all — even though by counting noses, it is found in fifty 
times as many witnesses. In fact, the ultimate difference in support for 
that reading is not fifty manuscripts to one. It is a difference of one to 

Originals That Matter 1 29 

one (A against B). The mere question of numbers of manuscripts sup- 
porting one reading over another, therefore, is not particularly ger- 
mane to the question of which reading in our surviving manuscripts 
represents the original (or oldest) form of the text. 2 

Scholars are by and large convinced, therefore, that other consid- 
erations are far more important in determining which reading is best 
considered the oldest form of the text. One other consideration is the 
age of the manuscripts that support a reading. It is far more likely that 
the oldest form of the text will be found in the oldest surviving manu- 
scripts — on the premise that the text gets changed more frequently 
with the passing of time. This is not to say that one can blindly follow 
the oldest manuscripts in every instance, of course. This is for two rea- 
sons, the one a matter of logic and the other a matter of history. In 
terms of logic, suppose a manuscript of the fifth century has one read- 
ing, but a manuscript of the eighth century has a different one. Is the 
reading found in the fifth-century manuscript necessarily the older 
form of the text? No, not necessarily. What if the fifth-century manu- 
script had been produced from a copy of the fourth century, but the 
eighth-century manuscript had been produced from one of the third 
century? In that case, the eighth-century manuscript would preserve 
the older reading. 

The second, historical, reason that one cannot simply look at what 
the oldest manuscript reads, with no other considerations, is that, as 
we have seen, the earliest period of textual transmission was also the 
least controlled. This is when nonprofessional scribes, for the most part, 
were copying our texts — and making lots of mistakes in their copies. 

And so, age does matter, but it cannot be an absolute criterion. 
This is why most textual critics are rational eclecticists. They believe 
that they have to look at a range of arguments for one reading or an- 
other, not simply count the manuscripts or consider only the verifiably 
oldest ones. Still, at the end of the day, if the majority of our earliest 
manuscripts support one reading over another, surely that combina- 
tion of factors should be seen as carrying some weight in making a 
textual decision. 

1 3 Misquoting Jesus 

Another feature of the external evidence is the geographical range 
of manuscripts in support of one reading over another. Suppose a 
reading is found in a number of manuscripts, but all these manu- 
scripts can be shown to have originated, say, in Rome, whereas a wide 
range of other manuscripts from, say, Egypt, Palestine, Asia Minor, 
and Gaul all represent some other reading. In that case, the textual 
critic might suspect that the one reading was a "local" variant (the 
copies in Rome all having the same mistake) and that the other read- 
ing is the one that is older and more likely to preserve the original 

Probably the most important external criterion that scholars fol- 
low is this: for a reading to be considered "original," it normally 
should be found in the best manuscripts and the best groups of manu- 
scripts. This is a rather tricky assessment, but it works this way: some 
manuscripts can be shown, on a variety of grounds, to be superior to 
others. For example, whenever internal evidence (discussed below) is 
virtually decisive for a reading, these manuscripts almost always have 
that reading, whereas other manuscripts (usually, as it turns out, the 
later manuscripts) have the alternative reading. The principle in- 
volved here states that if some manuscripts are known to be superior 
in readings when the oldest form is obvious, they are more likely to be 
superior also in readings for which internal evidence is not as clear. In 
a way, it is like having witnesses in a court of law or knowing friends 
whose word you can trust. When you know that a person is prone to 
lying, then you can never be sure that he or she is to be trusted; but if 
you know that a person is completely reliable, then you can trust that 
person even when he or she is telling you something you can't other- 
wise verify. 

The same applies to groups of witnesses. We saw in chapter 4 that 
Westcott and Hort developed Bengel's idea that manuscripts could be 
grouped into textual families. Some of these textual groupings, as it 
turns out, are more to be trusted than others, in that they preserve the 
oldest and best of our surviving witnesses and, when tested, are shown 

Originals That Matter 131 

to provide superior readings. In particular, most rational eclecticists 
think that the so-called Alexandrian text (this includes Hort's "Neu- 
tral" text), originally associated with the careful copying practices of 
the Christian scribes in Alexandria, Egypt, is the superior form of text 
available, and in most cases provides us with the oldest or "original" 
text, wherever there is variation. The "Byzantine" and "Western" 
texts, on the other hand, are less likely to preserve the best readings, 
when they are not also supported by Alexandrian manuscripts. 

Internal Evidence 

Textual critics who consider themselves rational eclecticists choose 
from a range of readings based on a number of pieces of evidence. In 
addition to the external evidence provided by the manuscripts, two 
kinds of internal evidence are typically used. The first involves what 
are called intrinsic probabilities — probabilities based on what the au- 
thor of the text was himself most likely to have written. We are able to 
study, of course, the writing style, the vocabulary, and the theology of 
an author. When two or more variant readings are preserved among 
our manuscripts, and one of them uses words or stylistic features oth- 
erwise not found in that author's work, or if it represents a point of 
view that is at variance with what the author otherwise embraces, 
then it is unlikely that that is what the author wrote — especially if an- 
other attested reading coincides perfectly well with the author's writ- 
ing elsewhere. 

The second kind of internal evidence is called transcriptional prob- 
ability. This asks, not which reading an author was likely to have 
written, but which reading a scribe was likely to have created. Ulti- 
mately, this kind of evidence goes back to Bengel's idea that the "more 
difficult" reading is more likely to be original. This is premised on the 
idea that scribes are more likely to try to correct what they take to be 
mistakes, to harmonize passages that they regard as contradictory, 
and to bring the theology of a text more into line with their own theol- 
ogy. Readings that might seem, on the surface, to contain a "mistake," 

132 Misquoting Jesus 

or lack of harmony, or peculiar theology, are therefore more likely to 
have been changed by a scribe than are "easier" readings. This crite- 
rion is sometimes expressed as: The reading that best explains the 
existence of the others is more lively to be original. A 

I have been laying out the various external and internal forms of evi- 
dence that textual critics consider, not because I expect everyone read- 
ing these pages to master these principles and start applying them to 
the manuscript tradition of the New Testament, but because it is im- 
portant to recognize that, when we try to decide what the original text 
was, a range of considerations must be taken into account and a lot of 
judgment calls have to be made. There are times when the various 
pieces of evidence are at odds with one another, for example, when 
the more difficult reading (transcriptional probabilities) is not well at- 
tested in the early manuscripts (external evidence), or when the more 
difficult reading does not coincide with the writing style of the author 
otherwise (intrinsic probabilities). 

In short, determining the original text is neither simple nor 
straightforward! It requires a lot of thought and careful sifting of the 
evidence, and different scholars invariably come to different conclu- 
sions — not only about minor matters that have no bearing on the 
meaning of a passage (such as the spelling of a word or a change of 
word order in Greek that can't even be replicated in English transla- 
tion), but also about matters of major importance, matters that affect 
the interpretation of an entire book of the New Testament. 

To illustrate the importance of some textual decisions, I turn now 
to three textual variants of the latter sort, where the determination of 
the original text has a significant bearing on how one understands the 
message of some of the New Testament authors. 4 As it turns out, in 
each of these cases I think most English translators have chosen the 
wrong reading and so present a translation not of the original text but 
of the text that scribes created when they altered the original. The 
first of these texts comes from Mark and has to do with Jesus's becom- 
ing angry when a poor leper pleads with him to be healed. 

Originals That Matter 133 


The textual problem of Mark 1:41 occurs in the story of Jesus healing 
a man with a skin disease. 5 The surviving manuscripts preserve verse 
41 in two different forms; both readings are shown here, in brackets. 


'And he came preaching in their synagogues in all of Galilee and 

■40 i 

casting out the demons. Anda leper came to him beseeching him and 
saying to him, "If you wish, you are able to cleanse me." 41 And [feel- 
ing compassion (Greek: SPLANGNISTHEIS)/becoming angry 
(Greek: ORGISTHEIS)] , reaching out his hand, he touched him and 
said, "I wish, be cleansed." 42 And immediately the leprosy went out from 
him, and he was cleansed. 43 And rebuking him severely, immediately he 
cast him out; ^and said to him, "See that you say nothing to anyone, but 
go, show your self to the priest and offer for your cleansing that which 
Moses commanded as a witness to them." 45 But when he went out he 
began to preach many things and to spread the word, so that he [Jesus] 
was no longer able to enter publicly into a city. 

Most English translations render the beginning of verse 41 so as to 
emphasize Jesus's love for this poor outcast leper: "feeling compassion" 
(or the word could be translated "moved with pity") for him. In doing 
so, these translations are following the Greek text found in most of 
our manuscripts. It is certainly easy to see why compassion might be 
called for in the situation. We don't know the precise nature of the 
man's disease — many commentators prefer to think of it as a scaly 
skin disorder rather than the kind of rotting flesh that we commonly 
associate with leprosy. In any event, he may well have fallen under the 
injunctions of the Torah that forbade "lepers" of any sort to live nor- 
mal lives; they were to be isolated, cut off from the public, considered 
unclean (Leviticus 13-14). Moved with pity for such a one, Jesus 
reaches out a tender hand, touches his diseased flesh, and heals him. 

The simple pathos and unproblematic emotion of the scene may 
well account for translators and interpreters, as a rule, not considering 
the alternative text found in some of our manuscripts. For the 

134 Misquoting Jesus 

wording of one of our oldest witnesses, called Codex Bezae, which is 
supported by three Latin manuscripts, is at first puzzling and 
wrenching. Here, rather than saying that Jesus felt compassion for the 
man, the text indicates that he became angry. In Greek it is a differ- 
ence between the words SPLANGNISTHEIS and ORGISTHEIS. 
Because of its attestation in both Greek and Latin witnesses, this other 
reading is generally conceded by textual specialists to go back at least 
to the second century. Is it possible, though, that this is what Mark 
himself wrote? 

As we have already seen, we are never completely safe in saying 
that when the vast majority of manuscripts have one reading and only 
a couple have another, the majority are right. Sometimes a few manu- 
scripts appear to be right even when all the others disagree. In part, 
this is because the vast majority of our manuscripts were produced 
hundreds and hundreds of years after the originals, and they them- 
selves were copied not from the originals but from other, much later 
copies. Once a change made its way into the manuscript tradition, it 
could be perpetuated until it became more commonly transmitted 
than the original wording. In this case, both readings we are consider- 
ing appear to be very ancient. Which one is original? 

If Christian readers today were given the choice between these 
two readings, no doubt almost everyone would choose the one more 
commonly attested in our manuscripts : Jesus felt pity for this man, 
and so he healed him. The other reading is hard to figure out: what 
would it mean to say that Jesus felt angry? Isn't this in itself sufficient 
ground for assuming that Mark must have written that Jesus felt 

On the contrary, the fact that one of the readings makes such good 
sense and is easy to understand is precisely what makes some scholars 
suspect that it is wrong. For, as we have seen, scribes also would have 
preferred the text to be nonproblematic and simple to understand. 
The question to be asked is this: which is more likely, that a scribe 
copying this text would change it to say that Jesus became wrathful 
instead of compassionate, or to say that Jesus became compassionate 

Originals That Matter 135 

instead of wrathful? Which reading better explains the existence of 
the other? When seen from this perspective, the latter is obviously more 
likely. The reading that indicates Jesus became angry is the "more dif- 
ficult" reading and therefore more likely to be "original." 

There is even better evidence than this speculative question of 
which reading the scribes were more likely to invent. As it turns out, 
we don't have any Greek manuscripts of Mark that contain this pas- 
sage until the end of the fourth century, nearly three hundred years 
after the book was produced. But we do have two authors who copied 
this story within twenty years of its first production. 

Scholars have long recognized that Mark was the first Gospel to be 
written, and that both Matthew and Luke used Mark's account as a 
source for their own stories about Jesus. 6 It is possible, then, to exam- 
ine Matthew and Luke to see how they changed Mark, wherever they 
tell the same story but in a (more or less) different way. When we do 
this, we find that Matthew and Luke have both taken over this story 
from Mark, their common source. It is striking that Matthew and 
Luke are almost word for word the same as Mark in the leper's re- 
quest and in Jesus's response in verses 40-41. Which word, then, do 
they use to describe Jesus's reaction? Does he become compassionate 
or angry? Oddly enough, Matthew and Luke both omit the word al- 

If the text of Mark available to Matthew and Luke had described 
Jesus as feeling compassion, why would each of them have omitted 
the word? Both Matthew and Luke describe Jesus as compassionate 
elsewhere, and whenever Mark has a story in which Jesus's compas- 
sion is explicitly mentioned, one or the other of them retains this de- 
scription in his own account. 7 

What about the other option? What if both Matthew and Luke 
read in Mark's Gospel that Jesus became angry? Would they have been 
inclined to eliminate that emotion? There are, in fact, other occasions 
on which Jesus becomes angry in Mark. In each instance, Matthew 
and Luke have modified the accounts. In Mark 3:5 Jesus looks around 
"with anger" at those in the synagogue who are watching to see if he 

1 3 6 Misquoting Jesus 

will heal the man with the withered hand. Luke has the verse almost 
the same as Mark, but he removes the reference to Jesus's anger. 
Matthew completely rewrites this section of the story and says nothing 
of Jesus's wrath. Similarly, in Mark 10:14 Jesus is aggravated at his 
disciples (a different Greek word is used) for not allowing people to 
bring their children to be blessed. Both Matthew and Luke have the 
story, often verbally the same, but both delete the reference to Jesus's 
anger (Matt. 19:14; Luke 18:16). 

In sum, Matthew and Luke have no qualms about describing 
Jesus as compassionate, but they never describe him as angry. When- 
ever one of their sources (Mark) did so, they both independently 
rewrote the term out of their stories. Thus, whereas it is difficult to 
understand why they would have removed "feeling compassion" 
from the account of Jesus's healing of the leper, it is altogether easy to 
see why they might have wanted to remove "feeling anger." Com- 
bined with the circumstance that the latter term is attested in a very 
ancient stream of our manuscript tradition and that scribes would 
have been unlikely to create it out of the much more readily compre- 
hensible "feeling compassion," it is becoming increasingly evident 
that Mark, in fact, described Jesus as angry when approached by the 
leper to be healed. 

One other point must be emphasized before we move on. I have 
indicated that whereas Matthew and Luke have difficulty ascribing 
anger to Jesus, Mark has no problem doing so. Even in the story 
under consideration, apart from the textual problem of verse 41, Jesus 
does not treat this poor leper with kid gloves. After he heals him, he 
"severely rebukes him" and "throws him out." These are literal ren- 
derings of the Greek words, which are usually softened in translation. 
They are harsh terms, used elsewhere in Mark always in contexts of 
violent conflict and aggression (e.g., when Jesus casts out demons). It 
is difficult to see why Jesus would harshly upbraid this person and 
cast him out if he feels compassion for him; but if he is angry, perhaps 
it makes better sense. 

At what, though, would Jesus be angry? This is where the rela- 

Originals That Matter 137 

tionship of text and interpretation becomes critical. Some scholars 
who have preferred the text that indicates that Jesus "became angry" 
in this passage have come up with highly improbable interpretations. 
Their goal in doing so appears to be to exonerate the emotion by mak- 
ing Jesus look compassionate even though they realize that the text 
says he became angry. 8 One commentator, for example, argues that 
Jesus is angry with the state of the world that is full of disease; in other 
words, he loves the sick but hates the sickness. There is no textual 
basis for the interpretation, but it does have the virtue of making Jesus 
look good. Another interpreter argues that Jesus is angry because this 
leprous person had been alienated from society, overlooking the facts 
that the text says nothing about the man being an outsider and that, 
and even if it assumes he was, it would not have been the fault of 
Jesus's society but of the Law of God (specifically the book of Leviti- 
cus). Another argues that, in fact, that is what Jesus was angry about, 
that the Law of Moses forces this kind of alienation. This interpreta- 
tion ignores the fact that at the conclusion of the passage (v. 44) Jesus 
affirms the Law of Moses and urges the former leper to observe it. 

All these interpretations have in common the desire to exonerate 
Jesus's anger and the decision to bypass the text in order to do so. 
Should we opt to do otherwise, what might we conclude? It seems to 
me that there are two options, one that focuses on the immediate liter- 
ary context of the passage and the other, on its broader context. 

First, in terms of the more immediate context, how is one struck 
by the portrayal of Jesus in the opening part of Mark's Gospel? Brack- 
eting for a moment our own preconceptions of who Jesus was and 
simply reading this particular text, we have to admit that Jesus does 
not come off as the meek-and-mild, soft-featured, good shepherd of 
the stain-glassed window. Mark begins his Gospel by portraying Jesus 
as a physically and charismatically powerful authority figure who is 
not to be messed with. He is introduced by a wild-man prophet in the 
wilderness; he is cast out from society to do battle in the wilderness 
with Satan and the wild beasts; he returns to call for urgent repen- 
tance in the face of the imminent coming of God's judgment; he rips 

1 3 8 Misquoting Jesus 

his followers away from their families; he overwhelms his audiences 
with his authority; he rebukes and overpowers demonic forces that 
can completely subdue mere mortals; he refuses to accede to popular 
demand, ignoring people who plead for an audience with him. The 
only story in this opening chapter of Mark that hints at personal com- 
passion is the healing of Simon Peter's mother-in-law, sick in bed. But 
even that compassionate interpretation may be open to question. 
Some wry observers have noted that after Jesus dispels her fever, she 
rises to serve them, presumably bringing them their evening meal. 

Is it possible that Jesus is being portrayed in the opening scenes of 
Mark's Gospel as a powerful figure with a strong will and an agenda 
of his own, a charismatic authority who doesn't like to be disturbed? 
It would certainly make sense of his response to the healed leper, 
whom he harshly rebukes and then casts out. 

There is another explanation, though. As I've indicated, Jesus 
does get angry elsewhere in Mark's Gospel. The next time it happens 
is in chapter 3, which involves, strikingly, another healing story. Here 
Jesus is explicitly said to be angry at Pharisees, who think that he has 
no authority to heal the man with the crippled hand on the Sabbath. 

In some ways, an even closer parallel comes in a story in which 
Jesus's anger is not explicitly mentioned but is nonetheless evident. In 
Mark 9, when Jesus comes down from the Mount of Transfiguration 
with Peter, James, and John, he finds a crowd around his disciples and 
a desperate man in their midst. The man's son is possessed by a 
demon, and he explains the situation to Jesus and then appeals to him: 
"If you are able, have pity on us and help us." Jesus fires back an angry 
response, "If you are able? Everything is possible to the one who be- 
lieves." The man grows even more desperate and pleads, "I believe, 
help my unbelief." Jesus then casts out the demon. 

What is striking in these stories is that Jesus's evident anger erupts 
when someone doubts his willingness, ability, or divine authority to 
heal. Maybe this is what is involved in the story of the leper as well. As 
in the story of Mark 9, someone approaches Jesus gingerly to ask: "If 
you are willing you are able to heal me." Jesus becomes angry. Of 

Originals That Matter 139 

course he's willing, just as he is able and authorized. He heals the man 
and, still somewhat miffed, rebukes him sharply and throws him out. 
There's a completely different feel to the story, given this way of 
construing it, a construal based on the text as Mark appears to have 
written it. Mark, in places, portrays an angry Jesus. 9 

Luke and an Imperturbable Jesus 

Unlike Mark, the Gospel of Luke never explicitly states that Jesus be- 
comes angry. In fact, here Jesus never appears to become disturbed at 
all, in any way. Rather than an angry Jesus, Luke portrays an imper- 
turbable Jesus. There is only one passage in this Gospel in which Jesus 
appears to lose his composure. And that, interestingly enough, is in a 
passage whose authenticity is hotly debated among textual scholars. 10 

The passage occurs in the context of Jesus's prayer on the Mount of 
Olives just before he is betrayed and arrested (Luke 22:39-46). After 
enjoining his disciples to "pray, lest you enter into temptation," Jesus 
leaves them, bows to his knees, and prays, "Father, if it be your will, 
remove this cup from me. Except not my will, but yours be done." In a 
large number of manuscripts the prayer is followed by the account, 
found nowhere else among our Gospels, of Jesus's heightened agony 
and so-called bloody sweat: "And an angel from heaven appeared to 
him, strengthening him. And being in agony he began to pray yet 
more fervently, and his sweat became like drops of blood falling to the 
ground" (vv. 43-44). The scene closes with Jesus rising from prayer 
and returning to his disciples to find them asleep. He then repeats his 
initial injunction for them to "pray, lest you enter into temptation." 
Immediately Judas arrives with the crowds, and Jesus is arrested. 

One of the intriguing features of the debate about this passage is 
the balance of arguments back and forth over whether the disputed 
verses (w. 43-44) were written by Luke or were instead inserted by a 
later scribe. The manuscripts that are known to be earliest and that 
are generally conceded to be the best (the "Alexandrian" text) do not, 

1 40 Misquoting Jesus 

as a rule, include the verses. So perhaps they are a later, scribal addi- 
tion. On the other hand, the verses are found in several other early 
witnesses and are, on the whole, widely distributed throughout the 
entire manuscript tradition. So were they added by scribes who wanted 
them in or deleted by scribes who wanted them out? It is difficult to 
say on the basis of the manuscripts themselves. 

Some scholars have proposed that we consider other features of 
the verses to help us decide. One scholar, for example, has claimed 
that the vocabulary and style of the verses are very much like what is 
found in Luke otherwise (this is an argument based on "intrinsic 
probabilities"): for example, appearances of angels are common in 
Luke, and several words and phrases found in the passage occur in 
other places in Luke but nowhere else in the New Testament (such as 
the verb for "strengthen"). The argument hasn't proved convincing to 
everyone, however, since most of these "characteristically Lukan" 
ideas, constructions, and phrases are either formulated in uncharacter- 
istically Lukan ways (e.g., angels never appear elsewhere in Luke 
without speaking) or are common in Jewish and Christian texts out- 
side the New Testament. Moreover, there is an inordinately high con- 
centration of unusual words and phrases in these verses: for example, 
three of the key words (agony, sweat, and drops) occur nowhere else in 
Luke, nor are they found in Acts (the second volume that the same 
author wrote). At the end of the day, it's difficult to decide about these 
verses on the basis of their vocabulary and style. 

Another argument scholars have used has to do with the literary 
structure of the passage. In a nutshell, the passage appears to be delib- 
erately structured as what scholars have called a chiasmus. When a 
passage is chiastically structured, the first statement of the passage 
corresponds to the last one; the second statement corresponds to the 
second to last; the third to the third to last, and so on. In other words, 
this is an intentional design; its purpose is to focus attention on the 
center of the passage as its key. And so here: 

Jesus (a) tells his disciples to "pray lest you enter into temptation" 
(v. 40). He then (b) leaves them (v. 41a) and (c) kneels to pray (v. 41b). 

Originals That Matter 141 

The center of the passage is (d) Jesus's prayer itself, a prayer bracketed 
by his two requests that God's will be done (v. 42). Jesus then (c) rises 
from prayer (v. 45a), (b) returns to his disciples (v. 45b), and (a) finding 
them asleep, once again addresses them in the same words, telling 
them to "pray lest you enter into temptation" (w. 45C-46). 

The mere presence of this clear literary structure is not really the 
point. The point is how the chiasmus contributes to the meaning of 
the passage. The story begins and ends with the injunction to the dis- 
ciples to pray so as to avoid entering into temptation. Prayer has long 
been recognized as an important theme in the Gospel of Luke (more 
so than in the other Gospels); here it comes into special prominence. 
For at the very center of the passage is Jesus's own prayer, a prayer 
that expresses his desire, bracketed by his greater desire that the Fa- 
ther's will be done (w. 41C-42). As the center of the chiastic structure, 
this prayer supplies the passage's point of focus and, correspondingly, 
the key to its interpretation. This is a lesson on the importance of 
prayer in the face of temptation. The disciples, despite Jesus's re- 
peated request to them to pray, fall asleep instead. Immediately the 
crowd comes to arrest Jesus. And what happens? The disciples, who 
have failed to pray, do "enter into temptation"; they flee the scene, 
leaving Jesus to face his fate alone. What about Jesus, the one who has 
prayed before the coming of his trial? When the crowd arrives, he 
calmly submits to his Father's will, yielding himself up to the martyr- 
dom that has been prepared for him. 

Luke's Passion narrative, as has long been recognized, is a story of 
Jesus's martyrdom, a martyrdom that functions, as do many others, to 
set an example to the faithful of how to remain firm in the face of death. 
Luke's martyrology shows that only prayer can prepare one to die. 

What happens, though, when the disputed verses (w. 43-44) are 
injected into the passage? On the literary level, the chiasmus that fo- 
cuses the passage on Jesus's prayer is absolutely destroyed. Now the 
center of the passage, and hence its focus, shifts to Jesus's agony, an 
agony so terrible as to require a supernatural comforter for strength to 
bear it. It is significant that in this longer version of the story, Jesus's 

142 Misquoting Jesus 

prayer does not produce the calm assurance that he exudes through- 
out the rest of the account; indeed, it is only after he prays "yet more 
fervently" that his sweat takes on the appearance of great drops of 
blood falling to the ground. My point is not simply that a nice literary 
structure has been lost, but that the entire focus of attention shifts to 
Jesus in deep and heartrending agony and in need of miraculous in- 

This in itself may not seem like an insurmountable problem, until 
one realizes that nowhere else in Luke's Gospel is Jesus portrayed in 
this way. Quite the contrary, Luke has gone to great lengths to counter 
precisely the view of Jesus that these verses embrace. Rather than en- 
tering his passion with fear and trembling, in anguish over his coming 
fate, the Jesus of Luke goes to his death calm and in control, confident 
of his Father's will until the very end. It is a striking fact, of particular 
relevance to our textual problem, that Luke could produce this image 
of Jesus only by eliminating traditions that contradicted it from his 
sources (e.g., the Gospel according to Mark). Only the longer text of 
Luke 22:43-44 stands out as anomalous. 

A simple comparison with Mark's version of the story at hand is 
instructive in this regard (understanding that Mark was Luke's source — 
which he changed to create his own distinctive emphases). For Luke 
has completely omitted Mark's statement that Jesus "began to be dis- 
tressed and agitated" (Mark 14:33), as well as Jesus's own comment to 
his disciples, "My soul is deeply troubled, even unto death" (Mark 
14:34). Rather than falling to the ground in anguish (Mark 14:35), 
Luke's Jesus bows to his knees (Luke 22:41). In Luke, Jesus does not 
ask that the hour might pass from him (cf Mark 14:35); and rather 
than praying three times for the cup to be removed (Mark 14:36, 39, 
41), he asks only once (Luke 22:42), prefacing his prayer, only in Luke, 
with the important condition, "If it be your will." And so, while 
Luke's source, the Gospel of Mark, portrays Jesus in anguish as he 
prays in the garden, Luke has completely remodeled the scene to 
show Jesus at peace in the face of death. The only exception is the ac- 
count of Jesus's "bloody sweat," an account absent from our earliest 

Originals That Matter 143 

and best witnesses. Why would Luke have gone to such lengths to 
eliminate Mark's portrayal of an anguished Jesus if in fact Jesus's an- 
guish were the point of his story? 

It is clear that Luke does not share Mark's understanding that 
Jesus was in anguish, bordering on despair. Nowhere is this more evi- 
dent than in their subsequent accounts of Jesus's crucifixion. Mark 
portrays Jesus as silent on his path to Golgotha. His disciples have 
fled; even the faithful women look on only "from a distance." All those 
present deride him — passers-by, Jewish leaders, and both robbers. 
Mark's Jesus has been beaten, mocked, deserted, and forsaken, not 
just by his followers but finally by God himself. His only words in the 
entire proceeding come at the very end, when he cries aloud, "Eloi, 
Eloi, lema sabachthani" (My God, my God, why have you forsaken 
me?). He then utters a loud cry and dies. 

This portrayal, again, stands in sharp contrast to what we find in 
Luke. In Luke's account, Jesus is far from silent, and when he speaks, 
he shows that he is still in control, trustful of God his Father, confi- 
dent of his fate, concerned for the fate of others. En route to his cruci- 
fixion, according to Luke, when Jesus sees a group of women bewailing 
his misfortune, he tells them not to weep for him, but for themselves 
and their children, because of the disaster that is soon to befall them 
(23:27-31). While being nailed to the cross, rather than being silent, he 
prays to God, "Father, forgive them, for they don't know what they 
are doing" (23:34). On the cross, in the throes of his passion, Jesus en- 
gages in an intelligent conversation with one of the robbers crucified 
beside him, assuring him that they will be together that day in para- 
dise (23:43). Most telling of all, rather than uttering his pathetic cry of 
dereliction at the end, Luke's Jesus, in full confidence of his standing 
before God, commends his soul to his loving Father: "Father, into 
your hands I commend my spirit" (24:46). 

It would be difficult to overestimate the significance of these changes 
that Luke made in his source (Mark) for understanding our textual 
problem. At no point in Luke's Passion narrative does Jesus lose con- 
trol; never is he in deep and debilitating anguish over his fate. He is in 

144 Misquoting Jesus 

charge of his own destiny, knowing what he must do and what will 
happen to him once he does it. This is a man who is at peace with him- 
self and tranquil in the face of death. 

What, then, shall we say about our disputed verses? These are the 
only verses in the entire Gospel of Luke that undermine this clear 
portrayal. Only here does Jesus agonize over his coming fate; only 
here does he appear out of control, unable to bear the burden of his 
destiny. Why would Luke have totally eliminated all remnants of 
Jesus's agony elsewhere if he meant to emphasize it in yet stronger 
terms here? Why remove compatible material from his source, both 
before and after the verses in question? It appears that the account of 
Jesus's "bloody sweat," not found in our earliest and best manuscripts, 
is not original to Luke but is a scribal addition to the Gospel. 11 

Hebrews and a Forsaken Jesus 

Luke's portrayal of Jesus stands in contrast not only to that of Mark, 
but also to that of other New Testament authors, including the un- 
known author of the Epistle to the Hebrews, who appears to presup- 
pose knowledge of passion traditions in which Jesus was terrified in 
the face of death and died with no divine succor or support, as can be 
seen in the resolution of one of the most interesting textual problems 
of the New Testament. 12 

The problem occurs in a context that describes the eventual sub- 
jugation of all things to Jesus, the Son of Man. Again, I have placed in 
brackets the textual variants in question. 

For when [God] subjects to him all things, he leaves nothing that is 
not subjected to him. But we do not yet see all things subjected to him. 
But we do see Jesus, who, having been made for a little while lower 
than the angels, was crowned with glory and honor on account of his 
suffering of death, so that [by the grace of God/apart from God] he 
might taste death for everyone. (Heb. 2:8-9) 

Originals That Matter 145 

Although almost all the surviving manuscripts state that Jesus 
died for all people "by the grace of God" (CHARITI THEOU), a couple 
of others state, instead, that he died "apart from God" (CHORIS 
THEOU). There are good reasons for thinking that the latter, how- 
ever, was the original reading of the Epistle to the Hebrews. 

I don't need to go into the intricacies of the manuscript support for 
the reading "apart from God" except to say that even though it occurs 
in only two documents of the tenth century, one of these (Ms. 1739) is 
known to have been produced from a copy that was at least as ancient 
as our earliest manuscripts. Of yet greater interest, the early-third- 
century scholar Origen tells us that this was the reading of the major- 
ity of manuscripts of his own day. Other evidence also suggests its 
early popularity: it was found in manuscripts known to Ambrose and 
Jerome in the Latin West, and it is quoted by a range of church writ- 
ers down to the eleventh century. And so, despite the fact that it is not 
widely attested among our surviving manuscripts, the reading was at 
one time supported by strong external evidence. 

When one turns from external to internal evidence, there can be 
no doubt concerning the superiority of this poorly attested variant. 
We have already seen that scribes were far more likely to make a 
reading that was hard to understand easier, rather than make an 
easy reading harder. This variant provides a textbook case of the phe- 
nomenon. Christians in the early centuries commonly regarded 
Jesus's death as the supreme manifestation of God's grace. To say, 
though, that Jesus died "apart from God" could be taken to mean any 
number of things, most of them unpalatable. Since scribes must have 
created one of these readings out of the other, there is little question 
concerning which of the two is more likely the corruption. 

But was the alteration deliberate? Advocates of the more commonly 
attested text ("grace of God") have naturally had to claim that the 
change was not made on purpose (otherwise their favored text would 
almost certainly be the modification). By virtue of necessity, then, they 
have devised alternative scenarios to explain the accidental origin of 
the more difficult reading. Most commonly, it is simply supposed that 

1 46 Misquoting Jesus 

because the words in question are similar in appearance (XARITI/ 
XWRIS), a scribe inadvertently mistook the word grace for the prepo- 
sition apart from. 

This view, however, seems a shade unlikely. Is a negligent or ab- 
sentminded scribe likely to have changed his text by writing a word 
used less frequently in the New Testament ("apart from") or one used 
more frequently ("grace," four times as common)? Is he likely to have 
created a phrase that occurs nowhere else in the New Testament 
("apart from God") or one that occurs more than twenty times ("by 
the grace of God")? Is he likely to have produced a statement, even by 
accident, that is bizarre and troubling or one that is familiar and easy? 
Surely, it's the latter: readers typically mistake unusual words for 
common ones and simplify what is complex, especially when their 
minds have partially strayed. Thus, even a theory of carelessness sup- 
ports the less-attested reading ("apart from God") as original. 

The most popular theory among those who think that the phrase 
apart from God is not original is that the reading was created as a mar- 
ginal note: a scribe read in Heb. 2:8 that "all things" are to be subjected 
to the lordship of Christ, and immediately thought of 1 Cor. 15:27: 

"For all things will be subjected under his [Christ's] feet." But when it 
says that "all things will be subjected," it is clear that it means all 
things except for the one who subjected them [i.e., God himself is not 
among the things subjected to Christ at the end] . 

According to this theory, the scribe copying Hebrews 2 wanted it 
to be clear here as well that when the text indicates that everything 
is to be subjected to Christ, this does not include God the Father. To 
protect the text from misconstrual, the scribe then inserted an ex- 
planatory note in the margin of Heb. 2:8 (as a kind of cross-reference 
to 1 Cor. 15:27), pointing out that nothing is left unsubjected to Christ, 
"except for God." This note was subsequently transferred by a later, 
inattentive, scribe into the text of the next verse, Heb. 2:9, where he 
thought it belonged. 

Originals That Matter 1 47 

Despite the popularity of the solution, it is probably too clever by 
half, and requires too many dubious steps to work. There is no manu- 
script that attests both readings in the text (i.e., the correction in the 
margin or text of verse 8, where it would belong, and the original text 
of verse 9). Moreover, if a scribe thought that the note was a marginal 
correction, why did he find it in the margin next to verse 8 rather than 
verse 9? Finally, if the scribe who created the note had done so in ref- 
erence to 1 Corinthians, would he not have written "except for God" 
(EKTOS THEOU — the phrase that actually occurs in the 1 Corinthi- 
ans passage) rather than "apart from God" (CHORIS THEOU — a 
phrase not found in 1 Corinthians)? 

In sum, it is extremely difficult to account for the phrase apart from 
God if the phrase by the grace of God was the original reading of Heb. 
2:9. At the same time, whereas a scribe could scarcely be expected to 
have said that Christ died "apart from God," there is every reason to 
think that this is precisely what the author of Hebrews said. For this 
less-attested reading is also more consistent with the theology of He- 
brews ("intrinsic probabilities"). Never in this entire Epistle does the 
word grace (CHARIS) refer to Jesus's death or to the benefits of 
salvation that accrue as a result of it. Instead, it is consistently 
connected with the gift of salvation that is yet to be bestowed upon 
the believer by the goodness of God (see especially Heb. 4:16; also 
10:29; 12:15; 13:25). To be sure, Christians historically have been 
more influenced by other New Testament authors, notably Paul, who 
saw Jesus's sacrifice on the cross as the supreme manifestation of the 
grace of God. But Hebrews does not use the term in this way, even 
though scribes who thought that this author was Paul may not have 
realized that. 

On the other hand, the statement that Jesus died "apart from 
God" — enigmatic when taken in isolation — makes compelling sense 
in its broader literary context in the book of Hebrews. Whereas this 
author never refers to Jesus's death as a manifestation of divine 
"grace," he repeatedly emphasizes that Jesus died a fully human, shame- 
ful death, totally removed from the realm whence he came, the realm 

148 Misquoting Jesus 

of God; his sacrifice, as a result, was accepted as the perfect expiation 
for sin. Moreover, God did not intervene in Jesus's passion and did 
nothing to minimize his pain. Thus, for example, Heb. 5:7 speaks of 
Jesus, in the face of death, beseeching God with loud cries and tears. 
In 12:2 he is said to endure the "shame" of his death, not because God 
sustained him, but because he hoped for vindication. Throughout this 
Epistle, Jesus is said to experience human pain and death, like other 
human beings "in every respect." His was not an agony attenuated by 
special dispensation. 

Yet more significant, this is a major theme of the immediate con- 
text of Heb. 2:9, which emphasizes that Christ lowered himself below 
the angels to share fully in blood and flesh, experience human suffer- 
ings, and die a human death. To be sure, his death is known to bring 
salvation, but the passage says not a word about God's grace as mani- 
fest in Christ's work of atonement. It focuses instead on Christology, 
on Christ's condescension into the transitory realm of suffering and 
death. It is as a full human being that Jesus experiences his passion, 
apart from any succor that might have been his as an exalted being. 
The work he began at his condescension he completes in his death, a 
death that had to be "apart from God." 

How is it that the reading "apart from God," which can scarcely 
be explained as a scribal alteration, conforms to the linguistic prefer- 
ences, style, and theology of the Epistle to the Hebrews, while the al- 
ternative reading "by the grace of God," which would have caused 
scribes no difficulties at all, stands at odds both with what Hebrews 
says about the death of Christ and with the way it says it? Heb. 2:9 ap- 
pears originally to have said that Jesus died "apart from God," for- 
saken, much as he is portrayed in the Passion narrative of Mark's Gospel. 


In each of the three cases we have considered, there is an important 
textual variant that plays a significant role in how the passage in ques- 

Originals That Matter 149 

tion is interpreted. It is obviously important to know whether Jesus 
was said to feel compassion or anger in Mark 1:41; whether he was 
calm and collected or in deep distress in Luke 22:43-44; and whether 
he was said to die by God's grace or "apart from God" in Heb. 2:9. We 
could easily look at other passages as well, to get the sense of how im- 
portant it is to know the words of an author if we want to interpret his 

But there is far more to the textual tradition of the New Testa- 
ment than merely establishing what its authors actually wrote. There 
is also the question of why these words came to be changed, and how 
these changes affect the meanings of their writings. This question of 
the modification of scripture in the early Christian church will be the 
subject of the next two chapters, as I try to show how scribes who 
were not altogether satisfied with what the New Testament books 
said modified their words to make them more clearly support ortho- 
dox Christianity and more vigorously oppose heretics, women, Jews, 
and pagans. 

u uvusi-xouonu--. 

A page from the Gospel of John from one of the most extravagant biblical 
manuscripts of the tenth century: written on purple vellum with silver ink. 


Motivated Alterations 

of the Text 

Textual criticism involves more than simply determining the 
original text. It also entails seeing how that text came to be 
modified over time, both through scribal slips and as scribes made de- 
liberate modifications. The latter, the intentional changes, can be 
highly significant, not because they necessarily help us understand what 
the original authors were trying to say, but because they can show us 
something about how the authors' texts came to be interpreted by the 
scribes who reproduced them. By seeing how scribes altered their 
texts, we can discover clues about what these scribes thought was im- 
portant in the text, and so we can learn more about the history of the 
texts as they came to be copied and recopied over the centuries. 

The thesis of this chapter is that sometimes the texts of the New 
Testament were modified for theological reasons. This happened 
whenever the scribes copying the texts were concerned to ensure that 
the texts said what they wanted them to say; sometimes this was be- 
cause of theological disputes raging in the scribes' own day. To make 

152 Misquoting Jesus 

sense of this kind of change, we need to understand something about 
theological disputes in the early centuries of Christianity — the centuries 
in which most alterations of scripture were made, before the widespread 
appearance of "professional" scribes. 

The Theological Context of 
the Transmission of the Texts 

We know a good deal about Christianity during the second and third 
centuries — the time, say, between the completion of the writing of the 
New Testament books and the conversion of the Roman emperor 
Constantine to the religion, which, as we have seen, changed every- 
thing. 1 These two centuries were particularly rich in theological di- 
versity among the early Christians. In fact, the theological diversity 
was so extensive that groups calling themselves Christian adhered to 
beliefs and practices that most Christians today would insist were not 
Christian at all. 2 

In the second and third centuries there were, of course, Christians 
who believed that there was only one God, the Creator of all there is. 
Other people who called themselves Christian, however, insisted that 
there were two different gods — one of the Old Testament (a God of 
wrath) and one of the New Testament (a God of love and mercy). 
These were not simply two different facets of the same God: they were 
actually two different gods. Strikingly, the groups that made these 
claims — including the followers of Marcion, whom we have already 
met — insisted that their views were the true teachings of Jesus and his 
apostles. Other groups, for example, of Gnostic Christians, insisted 
that there were not just two gods, but twelve. Others said thirty. 
Others still said 365. All these groups claimed to be Christian, insist- 
ing that their views were true and had been taught by Jesus and his 

Why didn't these other groups simply read their New Testaments 
to see that their views were wrong? It is because there was no New 

Theologically Motivated Alterations of the Text 1 5 3 

Testament. To be sure, all the books of the New Testament had been 
written by this time, but there were lots of other books as well, also 
claiming to be by Jesus's own apostles — other gospels, acts, epistles, 
and apocalypses having very different perspectives from those found 
in the books that eventually came to be called the New Testament. 
The New Testament itself emerged out of these conflicts over God (or 
the gods), as one group of believers acquired more converts than all 
the others and decided which books should be included in the canon 
of scripture. During the second and third centuries, however, there 
was no agreed-upon canon — and no agreed-upon theology. Instead, 
there was a wide range of diversity: diverse groups asserting diverse 
theologies based on diverse written texts, all claiming to be written by 
apostles of Jesus. 

Some of these Christian groups insisted that God had created 
this world; others maintained that the true God had not created this 
world (which is, after all, an evil place), but that it was the result of a 
cosmic disaster. Some of these groups insisted that the Jewish scrip- 
tures were given by the one true God; others claimed that the Jewish 
scriptures belong to the inferior God of the Jews, who was not the one 
true God. Some of these groups insisted that Jesus Christ was the 
one Son of God who was both completely human and completely di- 
vine; other groups insisted that Christ was completely human and not 
at all divine; others maintained that he was completely divine and not 
at all human; and yet others asserted that Jesus Christ was two 
things — a divine being (Christ) and a human being (Jesus). Some of 
these groups believed that Christ's death brought about the salvation 
of the world; others maintained that Christ's death had nothing to do 
with the salvation of this world; yet other groups insisted that Christ 
had never actually died. 

Each and every one of these viewpoints — and many others be- 
sides — were topics of constant discussion, dialogue, and debate in the 
early centuries of the church, while Christians of various persuasions 
tried to convince others of the truth of their own claims. Only one 
group eventually "won out" in these debates. It was this group that 

154 Misquoting Jesus 

decided what the Christian creeds would be: the creeds would affirm 
that there is only one God, the Creator; that Jesus his Son is both 
human and divine; and that salvation came by his death and resurrec- 
tion. This was also the group that decided which books would be in- 
cluded in the canon of scripture. By the end of the fourth century, 
most Christians agreed that the canon was to include the four Gospels, 
Acts, the letters of Paul, and a group of other letters such as 1 John 
and 1 Peter, along with the Apocalypse of John. And who had been 
copying these texts? Christians from the congregations themselves, 
Christians who were intimately aware of and even involved in the de- 
bates over the identity of God, the status of the Jewish scriptures, the 
nature of Christ, and the effects of his death. 

The group that established itself as "orthodox" (meaning that it 
held what it considered to be the "right belief) then determined what 
future Christian generations would believe and read as scripture. 
What should we call the "orthodox" views before they became the 
majority opinion of all Christians? Possibly it is best to call them proto- 
orthodox. That is to say, they represented the views of the "orthodox" 
Christians before this group had won its disputes by the early fourth 
century or so. 

Did these disputes affect the scribes as they reproduced their scrip- 
tures? In this chapter I will be arguing that they did. To make the 
point, I will restrict myself to just one aspect of the ongoing theological 
disputes in the second and third centuries, the question over the nature 
of Christ. Was he human? Was he divine? Was he both? If he was 
both, was he two separate beings, one divine and one human? Or was 
he one being who was simultaneously human and divine? These are 
questions that were eventually resolved in the creeds that were formu- 
lated and then handed down even till today, creeds that insist that 
there is "one Lord Jesus Christ" who is both fully God and fully man. 
Before these determinations came to be made, there were widespread 
disagreements, and these disputes affected our texts of scripture. 3 

To illustrate this point I will consider three areas of the dispute 
over Christ's nature, looking at ways in which the texts of the books 

Theologically Motivated Alterations of the Text 1 5 5 

that were to become the New Testament came to be changed by (no 
doubt) well-meaning scribes, who intentionally altered their texts in 
order to make them more amenable to their own theological views, 
and less amenable to the views of their theological opponents. The 
first area I will consider involves the claim made by some Christians 
that Jesus was so fully human that he could not be divine. This was 
the view of a group of Christians that scholars today call the adoption- 
ists. My contention is that Christian scribes who opposed adoptionis- 
tic views of Jesus modified their texts in places in order to stress their 
view that Jesus was not just human, but also divine. We might call 
these modifications antiadoptionistic alterations of scripture. 


Early Christian Adoptionists 

We know of a number of Christian groups from the second and third 
centuries that had an "adoptionistic" view of Christ. This view is 
called adoptionist because its adherents maintained that Jesus was not 
divine but a full flesh-and-blood human being whom God had 
"adopted" to be his son, usually at his baptism. 4 

One of the best-known early Christian groups who held to an 
adoptionistic Christology was a sect of Jewish-Christians known as 
the Ebionites. We aren't sure why they were given this name. It may 
have originated as a self-designation based on the Hebrew term Ebyon, 
which means "poor." These followers of Jesus may have imitated the 
original band of Jesus's disciples in giving up everything because of 
their faith, and so taking upon themselves voluntary poverty for the 
sake of others. 

Wherever their name came from, the views of this group are 
clearly reported in our early records, principally written by their ene- 
mies who saw them as heretics. These followers of Jesus were, like 
him, Jews; where they differed from other Christians was in their in- 
sistence that to follow Jesus one had to be a Jew. For men, this meant 

1 5 6 Misquoting Jesus 

becoming circumcised. For men and women, it meant following the 
Jewish law given by Moses, including kosher food laws and the obser- 
vance of Sabbath and Jewish festivals. 

In particular, it was their understanding of Jesus as the Jewish 
messiah that set these Christians apart from others. For since they 
were strict monotheists — believing that only One could be God — 
they insisted that Jesus was not himself divine, but was a human being 
no different in "nature" from the rest of us. He was born from the sex- 
ual union of his parents, Joseph and Mary, born like everyone else (his 
mother was not a virgin), and reared, then, in a Jewish home. What 
made Jesus different from all others was that he was more righteous 
in following the Jewish law; and because of his great righteousness, 
God adopted him to be his son at his baptism, when a voice came from 
heaven announcing that he was God's son. From that moment on, 
Jesus felt called to fulfill the mission God had allotted him — dying on 
the cross, as a righteous sacrifice for the sins of others. This he did in 
faithful obedience to his calling; God then honored this sacrifice by 
raising Jesus from the dead and exalting him up to heaven, where he 
still waits before returning as the judge of the earth. 

According to the Ebionites, then, Jesus did not preexist; he was not 
born of a virgin; he was not himself divine. He was a special, right- 
eous man, whom God had chosen and placed in a special relationship 
to himself. 

In response to these adoptionistic views, proto-orthodox Chris- 
tians insisted that Jesus was not "merely" human, but that he was ac- 
tually divine, in some sense God himself. He was born of a virgin, he 
was more righteous than anyone else because he was different by na- 
ture, and at his baptism God did not make him his son (via adoption) 
but merely affirmed that he was his son, as he had been from eternity 

How did these disputes affect the texts of scripture that were in 
circulation in the second and third centuries, texts being copied by 
nonprofessional scribes who were themselves involved to a greater or 
lesser degree in the controversies? There are very few, if any, variant 

Theologically Motivated Alterations of the Text 1 5 7 

readings that appear to have been created by scribes who held to an 
adoptionistic point of view. The reason for this lack of evidence 
should not be surprising. If an adoptionistic Christian had inserted his 
views into the texts of scripture, surely they would have been cor- 
rected by later scribes who took a more orthodox line. What we do 
find, however, are instances in which texts have been altered in such a 
way as to oppose an adoptionistic Christology. These changes empha- 
size that Jesus was born of a virgin, that he was not adopted at his bap- 
tism, and that he was himself God. 

Antiadoptionist Changes of the Text 

We have, in fact, already seen one textual variation related to this 
christological controversy, in our discussion in chapter 4 of the textual 
researches of } . J. Wettstein. Wettstein examined the Codex Alexan- 
drinus, now in the British Library, and determined that in 1 Tim. 
3:16, where most later manuscripts speak of Christ as "God made 
manifest in the flesh," this early manuscript originally spoke, instead, 
of Christ "who was made manifest in the flesh." The change is very 
slight in Greek — it is the difference between a theta and an omicron, 
which look very much alike (0E and OE). A later scribe had altered 
the original reading, so that it no longer read "who" but "God" (made 
manifest in the flesh). In other words, this later corrector changed the 
text in such a way as to stress Christ's divinity. It is striking to realize 
that the same correction occurred in four of our other early manu- 
scripts of 1 Timothy, all of which have had correctors change the text 
in the same way, so that it now explicitly calls Jesus "God." This be- 
came the text of the vast majority of later Byzantine (i.e., medieval) 
manuscripts — and then became the text of most of the early English 

Our earliest and best manuscripts, however, speak of Christ 
"who" was made manifest in the flesh, without calling Jesus, explic- 
itly, God. The change that came to dominate the medieval manu- 
scripts, then, was made in order to emphasize Jesus's divinity in a text 
that was ambiguous about it, at best. This would be an example of an 

1 5 8 Misquoting Jesus 

antiadoptionistic change, a textual alteration made to counter a claim 
that Jesus was fully human but not himself divine. 

Other antiadoptionistic changes took place in the manuscripts that 
record Jesus's early life in the Gospel of Luke. In one place we are told 
that when Joseph and Mary took Jesus to the Temple and the holy 
man Simeon blessed him, "his father and mother were marveling at 
what was said to him" (Luke 2:33). His father? How could the text 
call Joseph Jesus's father if Jesus had been born of a virgin? Not sur- 
prisingly, a large number of scribes changed the text to eliminate the 
potential problem, by saying "Joseph and his mother were marvel- 
ing. ..." Now the text could not be used by an adoptionist Christian 
in support of the claim that Joseph was the child's father. 

A similar phenomenon happens a few verses later in the account of 
Jesus as a twelve-year-old in the Temple. The story line is familiar: 
Joseph, Mary, and Jesus attend a festival in Jerusalem, but then when 
the rest of the family heads home in the caravan, Jesus remains behind, 
unbeknownst to them. As the text says, "his parents did not know 
about it." But why does the text speak of his parents when Joseph is not 
really his father? A number of textual witnesses "correct" the problem 
by having the text read, "Joseph and his mother did not know it." And 
again, some verses later, after they return to Jerusalem to hunt high 
and low for Jesus, Mary finds him, three days later, in the Temple. She 
upbraids him: "Your father and I have been looking for you!" Once 
again, some scribes solved the problem — this time by simply altering 
the text to read "We have been looking for you! " 

One of the most intriguing antiadoptionist variants among our manu- 
scripts occurs just where one might expect it, in an account of Jesus's 
baptism by John, the point at which many adoptionists insisted Jesus 
had been chosen by God to be his adopted son. In Luke's Gospel, as in 
Mark, when Jesus is baptized, the heavens open up, the Spirit de- 
scends upon Jesus in the form of a dove, and a voice comes from 
heaven. But the manuscripts of Luke's Gospel are divided concerning 
what exactly the voice said. According to most of our manuscripts, it 

Theologically Motivated Alterations of the Text 1 5 9 

spoke the same words one finds in Mark's account: "You are my 
beloved Son in whom I am well pleased" (Mark 1:11; Luke 3:23). In 
one early Greek manuscript and several Latin ones, however, the 
voice says something strikingly different: "You are my Son, today I 
have begotten you." Today I have begotten you! Doesn't that suggest 
that his day of baptism is the day on which Jesus has become the Son 
of God? Couldn't this text be used by an adoptionist Christian to 
make the point that Jesus became the Son of God at this time? As this 
is such an interesting variant, we might do well to give it a more ex- 
tended consideration, as a further illustration of the complexities of 
the problems that textual critics face. 

The first issue to resolve is this: which of these two forms of the text 
is original, and which represents the alteration? The vast majority of 
Greek manuscripts have the first reading ("You are my beloved Son in 
whom I am well pleased"); and so one might be tempted to see the 
other reading as the alteration. The problem in this case is that the 
verse was quoted a lot by early church fathers in the period before most 
of our manuscripts were produced. It is quoted in the second and third 
centuries everywhere from Rome, to Alexandria, to North Africa, to 
Palestine, to Gaul, to Spain. And in almost every instance, it is the other 
form of the text that is quoted ("Today I have begotten you"). 

Moreover, this is the form of text that is more unlike what is found 
in the parallel passage in Mark. As we have seen, scribes typically try to 
harmonize texts rather than take them out of harmony; it is therefore 
the form of the text that differs from Mark that is more likely to be 
original to Luke. These arguments suggest that the less-attested read- 
ing — "Today I have begotten you" — is indeed the original, and that it 
came to be changed by scribes who feared its adoptionistic overtones. 

Some scholars have taken the opposite view, however, by arguing 
that Luke could not have had the voice at the baptism say "Today I 
have begotten you" because it is already clear before this point in 
Luke's narrative that Jesus is the Son of God. Thus, in Luke 1:35, be- 
fore Jesus's birth, the angel Gabriel announces to Jesus's mother that 
"the Holy Spirit shall come upon you and the Power of the Most High 

1 60 Misquoting Jesus 

will overshadow you, therefore the one who is to be born of you shall 
be called holy, the Son of God." For Luke himself, in other words, 
Jesus already was the Son of God at his birth. According to this argu- 
ment, Jesus could not be said to have become the Son of God at his 
baptism — and so the more widely attested reading, "You are my 
beloved Son in whom I am well pleased," is probably original. 

The difficulty with this line of thinking — as persuasive as it is at 
first glance — is that it overlooks how Luke generally uses designa- 
tions of Jesus throughout his work (including not just the Gospel but 
also the second volume of his writing, the book of Acts). Consider, for 
example, what Luke says about Jesus as the "Messiah" (which is the 
Hebrew word for the Greek term Christ). According to Luke 2:11, 
Jesus was born as the Christ, but in one of the speeches in Acts, Jesus is 
said to have become the Christ at his baptism (Acts 10:37-38); in an- 
other passage Luke states that Jesus became the Christ at his resurrec- 
tion (Acts 2:38). How can all these things be true? It appears that for 
Luke, it was important to emphasize the key moments of Jesus's exis- 
tence, and to stress these as vital for Jesus's identity (e.g., as Christ). 
The same applies to Luke's understanding of Jesus as the "Lord." He 
is said to have been born the Lord in Luke 2:11; and he is called the 
Lord while living, in Luke 10: 1; but Acts 2:38 indicates that he became 
the Lord at his resurrection. 

For Luke, Jesus's identity as Lord, Christ, and Son of God is im- 
portant. But the time at which it happened, evidently, is not. Jesus is 
all these things at crucial points of his life — birth, baptism, and resur- 
rection, for example. 

It appears, then, that originally in Luke's account of Jesus's bap- 
tism, the voice came from heaven to declare "You are my Son, today I 
have begotten you." Luke probably did not mean that to be inter- 
preted adoptionistically, since, after all, he had already narrated an ac- 
count of Jesus's virgin birth (in chapters 1-2). But later Christians 
reading Luke 3:22 may have been taken aback by its potential impli- 
cations, as it seems open to an adoptionistic interpretation. To prevent 
anyone from taking the text that way, some proto-orthodox scribes 

Theologically Motivated Alterations of the Text 1 6 1 

changed the text to make it stand in complete conformity with the 
text of Mark 1:11. Now, rather than being said to have been begotten 
by God, Jesus is simply affirmed: "You are my beloved Son in whom I 
am well pleased. " This is, in other words, another antiadoptionistic 
change of the text. 

We will conclude this part of the discussion by looking at one other 
such change. Like 1 Tim. 3:16, this one involves a text in which a 
scribe has made an alteration to affirm in very strong terms that Jesus 
is to be understood completely as God. The text occurs in the Gospel 
of John, a Gospel that more than any of the others that made it into 
the New Testament already goes a long way toward identifying Jesus 
himself as divine (see, e.g., John 8:58; 10:30; 20:28). This identification 
is made in a particularly striking way in a passage in which the origi- 
nal text is hotly disputed. 

The first eighteen verses of John are sometimes called its Pro- 
logue. Here is where John speaks of the "Word of God" who was "in 
the beginning with God" and who "was God" (vv. 1-3). This Word of 
God made all things that exist. Moreover, it is God's mode of commu- 
nication to the world; the Word is how God manifests himself to oth- 
ers. And we are told that at one point the "Word became flesh and 
dwelt among us." In other words, God's own Word became a human 
being (v. 14). This human being was "Jesus Christ" (v. 17). According 
to this understanding of things, then, Jesus Christ represents the "in- 
carnation" of God's own Word, who was with God in the beginning 
and was himself God, through whom God made all things. 

The Prologue then ends with some striking words, which come in 
two variant forms: "No one has seen God at any time, but the unique 
Son/the unique God who is in the bosom of Father, that one has made 
him known" (v. 18). 

The textual problem has to do with the identification of this 
"unique" one. Is he to be identified as the "unique God in the bosom 
of the Father" or as the "unique Son in the bosom of the Father"? It 
must be acknowledged that the first reading is the one found in the 

1 62 Misquoting Jesus 

manuscripts that are the oldest and generally considered to be the 
best — those of the Alexandrian textual family. But it is striking that it 
is rarely found in manuscripts not associated with Alexandria. Could 
it be a textual variant created by a scribe in Alexandria and popular- 
ized there? If so, that would explain why the vast majority of manu- 
scripts from everywhere else have the other reading, in which Jesus is 
not called the unique God, but the unique Son. 

There are other reasons for thinking that the latter reading is, in 
fact, the correct one. The Gospel of John uses this phrase "the unique 
Son" (sometimes mistranslated as "only begotten Son") on several 
other occasions (see John 3:16,18); nowhere else does it speak of Christ 
as "the unique God." Moreover, what would it even mean to call 
Christ that? The term unique in Greek means "one of a kind." There 
can be only one who is one of a kind. The term unique God must refer 
to God the Father himself — otherwise he is not unique. But if the 
term refers to the Father, how can it be used of the Son? Given the 
fact that the more common (and understandable) phrase in the Gospel 
of John is "the unique Son," it appears that that was the text originally 
written in John 1:18. This itself is still a highly exalted view of Christ — 
he is the "unique Son who is in the bosom of the Father." And he is 
the one who explains God to everyone else. 

It appears, though, that some scribes — probably located in Alex- 
andria — were not content even with this exalted view of Christ, and 
so they made it even more exalted, by transforming the text. Now 
Christ is not merely God's unique Son, he is the unique God himself! 
This too, then, appears to be an antiadoptionistic change of the text 
made by proto-orthodox scribes of the second century. 

Antidocetic Alterations of the Text 

Early Christian Docetists 

Standing at the opposite end of the theological spectrum from the 
Jewish-Christian Ebionites and their adoptionistic Christology were 

Theologically Motivated Alterations of the Text 1 63 

groups of Christians known as docetists. 5 The name comes from the 
Greek word DOKEO, which means "to seem" or "to appear." Do- 
cetists maintained that Jesus was not a full flesh-and-blood human 
being. He was instead completely (and only) divine; he only "seemed" 
or "appeared" to be a human being, to feel hunger, thirst, and pain, to 
bleed, to die. Since Jesus was God, he could not really be a man. He 
simply came to earth in the "appearance" of human flesh. 

Probably the best-known docetist from the early centuries of 
Christianity was the philosopher-teacher Marcion. We know a good 
deal about Marcion because proto-orthodox church fathers such as 
Irenaeus and Tertullian considered his views a real threat, and so wrote 
extensively about them. In particular, we still have a five-volume work 
by Tertullian called Against Marcion in which Marcion's understand- 
ing of the faith is detailed and attacked. From this polemical tractate 
we are able to discern the major features of Marcion's thought. 

As we have seen, 6 Marcion appears to have taken his cues from the 
apostle Paul, whom he considered to be the one true follower of Jesus. 
In some of his letters Paul differentiates between the Law and the 
gospel, insisting that a person is made right with God by faith in 
Christ (the gospel), not by performing the works of the Jewish law. 
For Marcion, this contrast between the gospel of Christ and the Law 
of Moses was absolute, so much so that the God who gave the Law ob- 
viously could not be the one who gave the salvation of Christ. They 
were, in other words, two different gods. The God of the Old Testa- 
ment was the one who created this world, chose Israel to be his people, 
and gave them his harsh Law. When they break his Law (as they all 
do), he punishes them with death. Jesus came from a greater God, 
sent to save people from the wrathful God of the Jews. Since he did 
not belong to this other God, who created the material world, Jesus 
himself obviously could not be part of this material world. That 
means, then, that he could not actually have been born, that he did not 
have a material body, that he did not really bleed, that he did not re- 
ally die. All these things were an appearance. But since Jesus appeared 
to die — an apparently perfect sacrifice — the God of the Jews accepted 

1 64 Misquoting Jesus 

this death as payment for sins. Anyone who believes in it will be saved 
from this God. 

Proto-orthodox authors such as Tertullian objected strenuously to 
this theology, insisting that if Christ was not an actual human being, 
he could not save other human beings, that if he did not actually shed 
blood, his blood could not bring salvation, that if he did not actually 
die, his "apparent" death would do nobody any good. Tertullian and 
others, then, took a strong stand that Jesus — while still divine (despite 
what the Ebionites and other adoptionists said) — was nonetheless 
fully human. He had flesh and blood; he could feel pain; he really 
bled; he really died; he really, physically, was raised from the dead; 
and he really, physically, ascended to heaven, where he is now waiting 
to return, physically, in glory. 

Antidocetic Changes of the Text 
The debate over docetic Christologies affected the scribes who copied 
the books that eventually became the New Testament. To illustrate 
this point I will examine four textual variants in the final chapters of 
the Gospel of Luke, which, as we have seen, was the one Gospel that 
Marcion accepted as canonical scripture. 7 

The first involves a passage we also considered in chapter 5 — the 
account of Jesus's "sweating blood." As we saw there, the verses in ques- 
tion were probably not original to Luke's Gospel. Recall that the pas- 
sage describes events that take place immediately before Jesus's arrest, 
when he leaves his disciples to go off by himself to pray, asking that the 
cup of his suffering be removed from him, but praying that God's "will 
be done." Then, in some manuscripts, we read the disputed verses: 
"And an angel from heaven appeared to him, strengthening him. And 
being in agony he began to pray yet more fervently, and his sweat be- 
came like drops of blood falling to the ground" (w. 43-44). 

I argued in chapter 5 that verses 43-44 disrupt the structure of this 
passage in Luke, which is otherwise a chiasmus that focuses attention 
on Jesus's prayer for God's will to be done. I also suggested that the 
verses contain a theology completely unlike that otherwise found in 

Theologically Motivated Alterations of the Text 1 65 

Luke's Passion narrative. Everywhere else, Jesus is calm and in con- 
trol of his situation. Luke, in fact, has gone out of his way to remove 
any indication of Jesus's agony from the account. These verses, then, 
not only are missing from important and early witnesses, they also 
run counter to the portrayal of Jesus facing his death otherwise found 
in Luke's Gospel. 

Why, though, did scribes add them to the account? We are now in 
a position to answer that question. It is notable that these verses are al- 
luded to three times by proto-orthodox authors of the mid to late sec- 
ond century (Justin Martyr, Irenaeus of Gaul, and Hippolytus of 
Rome); and what is more intriguing still, each time they are men- 
tioned it is in order to counter the view that Jesus was not a real 
human being. That is, the deep anguish that Jesus experiences accord- 
ing to these verses was taken to show that he really was a human 
being, that he really could suffer like the rest of us. Thus, for example, 
the early Christian apologist Justin, after observing that "his sweat fell 
down like drops of blood while he was praying," claims that this 
showed "that the Father wished his Son really to undergo such suffer- 
ings for our sakes," so that we "may not say that he, being the Son of 
God, did not feel what was happening to him and inflicted on him." 8 

In other words, Justin and his proto-orthodox colleagues under- 
stood that the verses showed in graphic form that Jesus did not merely 
"appear" to be human: he really was human, in every way. It seems 
likely, then, that since, as we have seen, these verses were not origi- 
nally part of the Gospel of Luke, they were added for an antidocetic 
purpose, because they portrayed so well the real humanity of Jesus. 

For proto-orthodox Christians, it was important to emphasize that 
Christ was a real man of flesh and blood because it was precisely the 
sacrifice of his flesh and the shedding of his blood that brought salva- 
tion — not in appearance but in reality. Another textual variant in 
Luke's account of Jesus's final hours emphasizes this reality. It occurs in 
the account of Jesus's last supper with his disciples. In one of our oldest 
Greek manuscripts, as well as in several Latin witnesses, we are told: 

1 66 Misquoting Jesus 

And taking a cup, giving thanks, he said, "Take this and divide it 
among yourselves, for I say to you that I will not drink from the fruit 
of the vine from now on, until the kingdom of God comes. " And taking 
bread, giving thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, "This is 
my body. But behold, the hand of the one who betrays me is with me 
at the table." (Luke 22: 17-19) 

In most of our manuscripts, however, there is an addition to the 
text, an addition that will sound familiar to many readers of the Eng- 
lish Bible, since it has made its way into most modern translations. 
Here, after Jesus says "This is my body," he continues with the words 
'"which has been given for you; do this in remembrance of me'; And 
the cup likewise after supper, saying 'this cup is the new covenant in 
my blood which is shed for you.'" 

These are the familiar words of the "institution" of the Lord's 
Supper, known in a very similar form also from Paul's first letter to 
the Corinthians (1 Cor. 1 1:23-25). Despite the fact that they are famil- 
iar, there are good reasons for thinking that these verses were not 
originally in Luke's Gospel but were added to stress that it was Jesus's 
broken body and shed blood that brought salvation "for you." For one 
thing, it is hard to explain why a scribe would have omitted the verses 
if they were original to Luke (there is no homoeoteleuton, for exam- 
ple, that would explain an omission), especially since they make such 
clear and smooth sense when they are added. In fact, when the verses 
are taken away, most people find that the text sounds a bit truncated. 
The unfamiliarity of the truncated version (without the verses) may 
have been what led scribes to add the verses. 

Moreover, it should be noted that the verses, as familiar as they 
are, do not represent Luke's own understanding of the death of Jesus. 
For it is a striking feature of Luke's portrayal of Jesus's death — this 
may sound strange at first — that he never, anywhere else, indicates 
that the death itself is what brings salvation from sin. Nowhere in 
Luke's entire two-volume work (Luke and Acts), is Jesus's death said 
to be "for you." In fact, on the two occasions in which Luke's source 
(Mark) indicates that it was by Jesus's death that salvation came (Mark 

Theologically Motivated Alterations of the Text 1 67 

10:45; 15 39), Luke changed the wording of the text (or eliminated it). 
Luke, in other words, has a different understanding of the way in 
which Jesus's death leads to salvation than does Mark (and Paul, and 
other early Christian writers). 

It is easy to see Luke's own distinctive view by considering what 
he has to say in the book of Acts, where the apostles give a number 
of speeches in order to convert others to the faith. In none of these 
speeches, though, do the apostles indicate that Jesus's death brings 
atonement for sins (e.g., in chapters 3,4,13). It is not that Jesus's death 
is unimportant. It is extremely important for Luke — but not as an 
atonement. Instead, Jesus's death is what makes people realize their 
guilt before God (since he died even though he was innocent). Once 
people recognize their guilt, they turn to God in repentance, and then 
he forgives their sins. 

Jesus's death for Luke, in other words, drives people to repen- 
tance, and it is this repentance that brings salvation. But not according 
to these disputed verses that are missing from some of our early wit- 
nesses: here Jesus's death is portrayed as an atonement "for you." 

Originally the verses appear not to have been part of Luke's 
Gospel. Why, then, were they added? In a later dispute with Marcion, 
Tertullian emphasized: 

Jesus declared plainly enough what he meant by the bread, when he 
called the bread his own body. He likewise, when mentioning the cup and 
making the new testament to be sealed in his blood, affirms the reality of 
his body. For no blood can belong to a body which is not a body of flesh. 
Thus from the evidence of the flesh we get a proof of the body, and a 
proof of the flesh from the evidence of the blood. (Against Marcion 4, 40) 

It appears that the verses were added to stress Jesus's real body and 
flesh, which he really sacrificed for the sake of others. This may not 
have been Luke's own emphasis, but it certainly was the emphasis of 
the proto-orthodox scribes who altered their text of Luke in order to 
counter docetic Christologies such as that of Marcion. 9 

168 Misquoting Jesus 

Another verse that appears to have been added to Luke's Gospel by 
proto-orthodox scribes is Luke 24:12, which occurs just after Jesus has 
been raised from the dead. Some of Jesus's women followers go to the 
tomb, find that he is not there, and are told that he has been raised. 
They go back to tell the disciples, who refuse to believe them because 
it strikes them as a "silly tale." Then, in many manuscripts, occurs the 
account of 24:12: "But Peter, rising up, ran to the tomb, and stooping 
down he saw the linen cloths alone, and he returned home marveling 
at what had happened." 

There are excellent reasons for thinking that this verse was not 
originally part of Luke's Gospel. It contains a large number of stylistic 
features found nowhere else in Luke, including most of the key words 
of the text, for example, "stooping down" and "linen cloths" (a differ- 
ent word was used for Jesus's burial cloths earlier in the account). 
Moreover, it is hard to see why someone would want to remove this 
verse, if it actually formed part of the Gospel (again, there is no ho- 
moeoteleuton, etc., to account for an accidental omission). As many 
readers have noted, the verse sounds very much like a summary of an 
account in the Gospel of John (20:3-10), where Peter and the "beloved 
disciple" race to the tomb and find it empty. Could it be that someone 
has added a similar account, in summary fashion, to Luke's Gospel? 

If so, it is a striking addition, because it supports so well the proto- 
orthodox position that Jesus was not simply some kind of phantasm 
but had a real, physical body. Moreover, this was recognized by the 
chief apostle, Peter, himself. Thus, rather than letting the story of 
the empty tomb remain a "silly tale" of some untrustworthy women, the 
text now shows that the story was not just believable but true: as veri- 
fied by none other than Peter (a trustworthy man, one might suppose). 
Even more important, the verse stresses the physical nature of the res- 
urrection, because the only thing left in the tomb is the physical proof 
of the resurrection: the linen cloths that had covered Jesus's body. 
This was a fleshly resurrection of a real person. The importance of 
this point is made, once again, by Tertullian: 

Theologically Motivated Alterations of the Text 1 69 

Nowif [Christ's] death be denied, because ofthe denial of his flesh, 
there will be no certainty of his resurrection. For he rose not, for the 
wry same reason that he died not, even because he possessed not the 
reality ofthe flesh, to which as death accrues, so does resurrection 
likewise. Similarly, if Christ's resurrection be nullified, ours also is 
destroyed. (Against Marcion 3, 8) 

Christ must have had a real fleshly body, which was really raised, 
physically, from the dead. 

Not only did Jesus physically suffer and die, and physically come to be 
raised: for the proto-orthodox he was also physically exalted to 
heaven. A final textual variant to consider comes at the end of Luke's 
Gospel, after the resurrection has occurred (but on the same day). 
Jesus has spoken to his followers for the last time, and then departs 
from them: 

And it happened that while he was blessing them, he was removed 
from them; and they returned into Jerusalem with great joy. (Luke 

It is interesting to note, however, that in some of our earliest wit- 
nesses — including the Alexandrian manuscript Codex Sinaiticus — 
there is an addition to the text. 10 After it indicates that "he was 
removed from them," in these manuscripts it states "and he was taken 
up into heaven." This is a significant addition because it stresses the 
physicality of Jesus's departure at his ascension (rather than the bland 
"he was removed"). In part, this is an intriguing variant because the 
same author, Luke, in his second volume, the book of Acts, again nar- 
rates Jesus's ascension into heaven, but explicitly states that it took 
place "forty days" after the resurrection (Acts 1:1-11). 

This makes it difficult to believe that Luke wrote the phrase in 
question in Luke 24:51 — since surely he would not think Jesus as- 
cended to heaven on the day of his resurrection if he indicates at the 
beginning of his second volume that he ascended forty days later. It is 

1 70 Misquoting Jesus 

noteworthy, too, that the key word in question ("was taken up") never 
occurs anywhere else in either the Gospel of Luke or the book of Acts. 
Why might someone have added these words? We know that proto- 
orthodox Christians wanted to stress the real, physical nature of 
Jesus's departure from earth: Jesus physically left, and will physically 
return, bringing with him physical salvation. This they argued 
against docetists, who maintained that it was all only an appearance. 
It may be that a scribe involved in these controversies modified his text 
in order to stress the point. 

Antiseparationist Alterations of the Text 

Early Christian Separationists 
A third area of concern to proto-orthodox Christians of the second 
and third centuries involved Christian groups who understood Christ 
not as only human (like the adoptionists) and not as only divine (like 
the docetists) but as two beings, one completely human and one com- 
pletely divine." We might call this a "separationist" Christology because 
it divided Jesus Christ into two: the man Jesus (who was completely 
human) and the divine Christ (who was completely divine). Accord- 
ing to most proponents of this view, the man Jesus was temporarily 
indwelt by the divine being, Christ, enabling him to perform his mir- 
acles and deliver his teachings; but before Jesus's death, the Christ 
abandoned him, forcing him to face his crucifixion alone. 

This separationist Christology was most commonly advocated by 
groups of Christians that scholars have called Gnostic. 12 The term 
Gnosticism comes from the Greek word for knowledge, gnosis. It is 
applied to a wide range of groups of early Christians who stressed the 
importance of secret knowledge for salvation. According to most of 
these groups, the material world we live in was not the creation of the 
one true God. It came about as a result of a disaster in the divine 
realm, in which one of the (many) divine beings was for some myste- 
rious reason excluded from the heavenly places; as a result of her fall 

Theologically Motivated Alterations of the Text 1 7 1 

from divinity the material world came to be created by a lesser deity, 
who captured her and imprisoned her in human bodies here on earth. 
Some human beings thus have a spark of the divine within them, and 
they need to learn the truth of who they are, where they came from, 
how they got here, and how they can return. Learning this truth will 
lead to their salvation. 

This truth consists of secret teachings, mysterious "knowledge" 
(gnosis), which can only be imparted by a divine being from the heav- 
enly realm. For Christian Gnostics, Christ is this divine revealer of the 
truths of salvation; in many Gnostic systems, the Christ came into the 
man Jesus at his baptism, empowered him for his ministry, and then 
at the end left him to die on the cross. That is why Jesus cried out, "My 
God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" For these Gnostics, the 
Christ literally had forsaken Jesus (or "left him behind"). After Jesus's 
death, though, he raised him from the dead as a reward for his faith- 
fulness, and continued through him to teach his disciples the secret 
truths that can lead to salvation. 

Proto-orthodox Christians found this teaching offensive on just 
about every level. For them, the material world is not an evil place 
that resulted from a cosmic disaster, but is the good creation of the one 
true God. For them, salvation comes by faith in Christ's death and 
resurrection, not by learning the secret gnosis that can illuminate the 
truth of the human condition. And most important for our purposes 
here, for them, Jesus Christ is not two beings, but one being, both di- 
vine and human, at one and the same time. 

Antiseparationist Changes of the Text 
The controversies over separationist Christologies played some role in 
the transmission of the texts that were to become the New Testament. 
We have seen one instance already in a variant we considered in chapter 
5, Hebrews 2:9, in which Jesus was said, in the original text of the letter, 
to have died "apart from God." In that discussion, we saw that most 
scribes had accepted the variant reading, which indicated that Christ 
died "by the grace of God," even though that was not the text that the 

1 72 Misquoting Jesus 

author originally wrote. But we did not consider at any length the 
question of why scribes might have found the original text potentially 
dangerous and therefore worth modifying. Now, with this brief back- 
ground to Gnostic understandings of Christ, the change makes better 
sense. For according to separationist Christologies, Christ really did die 
"apart from God," in that it was at his cross that the divine element that 
had indwelt him removed itself, so that Jesus died alone. Aware that the 
text could be used to support such a view, Christian scribes made a sim- 
ple but profound change. Now rather than indicating that his death 
came apart from God, the text affirmed that Christ's death was "by the 
grace of God." This, then, is an antiseparationist alteration. 

A second intriguing example of the phenomenon occurs almost 
exactly where one might expect to find it, in a Gospel account of Jesus's 
crucifixion. As I have already indicated, in Mark's Gospel Jesus is silent 
throughout the entire proceeding of his crucifixion. The soldiers cru- 
cify him, the passers-by and Jewish leaders mock him, as do the two 
criminals who are crucified with him; and he says not a word — until 
the very end, when death is near, and Jesus cries out the words taken 
from Psalm 22: "Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani," which translated 
means "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (Mark 15:34). 

It is interesting to note that according to the proto-orthodox writer 
Irenaeus, Mark was the Gospel of choice for those "who separated 
Jesus from the Christ" — that is, for Gnostics who embraced a separa- 
tionist Christology. 13 We have solid evidence to suggest that some 
Gnostics took this last saying of Jesus literally, to indicate that it was at 
this point that the divine Christ departed from Jesus (since divinity 
cannot experience mortality and death). The evidence comes from 
Gnostic documents that reflect on the significance of this moment in 
Jesus's life. Thus, for example, the apocryphal Gospel of Peter, which 
some have suspected of having a separationist Christology, quotes the 
words in a slightly different form, "My power, O power, you have left 
me!" Even more striking is the Gnostic text known as the Gospel of 
Philip, in which the verse is quoted and then given a separationist 

Theologically Motivated Alterations of the Text 1 73 

"My God, my God, why Lord have you forsaken me?" For it was 
on the cross that he said these words, for it was there that he was 

Proto-orthodox Christians knew of both these Gospels and their 
interpretations of this climactic moment of Jesus's crucifixion. It is 
perhaps no great surprise, then, that the text of Mark's Gospel was 
changed by some scribes in a way that would have circumvented this 
Gnostic explanation. In one Greek manuscript and several Latin wit- 
nesses, Jesus is said not to call out the traditional "cry of dereliction" 
from Psalm 22, but instead to cry out, "My God, my God, why have 
you mocked me?" 

This change of the text makes for an interesting reading — and 
one particularly suited to its literary context. For as already indicated, 
nearly everyone else in the story has mocked Jesus at this point — the 
Jewish leaders, the passers-by, and both robbers. Now, with this vari- 
ant reading, even God himself is said to have mocked Jesus. In despair, 
Jesus then utters a loud cry and dies. This is a powerful scene, filled 
with pathos. 

Nonetheless the reading is not original, as shown by the circum- 
stance that it is lacking in nearly all our oldest and best witnesses (in- 
cluding those of the Alexandrian text) as well as by the fact that it does 
not correspond to the Aramaic words Jesus actually utters (lema 
sabachthani — which mean "why have you forsaken me," not "why 
have you mocked me"). 

Why, then, did scribes alter the text? Given its usefulness for those 
arguing in favor of a separationist Christology, there can be little 
question why. Proto-orthodox scribes were concerned that the text 
not be used against them by their Gnostic opponents. They made an 
important, and contextually suitable change, so that now rather than 
abandoning Jesus, God is said to have mocked him. 

As a final example of a variant of this kind, made in order to counter 
a separationist Christology, we might consider a passage that occurs in 
the Epistle of 1 John. In the oldest form of the text of 4:2-3, we are told: 

1 74 Misquoting Jesus 

By this you know the Spirit of God. Every spirit that confesses that 
Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God; and every spirit that does 
not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the anti-Christ. 

This is a clear, straightforward passage: only those who acknowl- 
edge that Jesus really came in the flesh (as opposed, say, to accepting 
the docetist view) belong to God; those who do not acknowledge this 
are opposed to Christ (anti-Christs). But there is an interesting textual 
variant that occurs in the second half of the passage. Instead of refer- 
ring to the one "that does not confess Jesus," several witnesses refer in- 
stead to the one "that looses Jesus." What does that mean — looses 
Jesus — and why did this textual variant make its way into some manu- 

To start with, I should stress that it is not in very many manu- 
scripts. In fact, among the Greek witnesses it occurs only in the mar- 
gin of one tenth-century manuscript (Ms. 1739). But this, as we have 
seen, is a remarkable manuscript because it appears to have been 
copied from one of the fourth century, and its marginal notes record 
the names of church fathers who had different readings for certain 
parts of the text. In this particular instance, the marginal note in- 
dicates that the reading "looses Jesus" was known to several late- 
second- and early-third-century church fathers, Irenaeus, Clement, 
and Origen. Moreover, it appears in the Latin Vulgate. Among other 
things, this shows that the variant was popular during the time in 
which proto-orthodox Christians were debating with Gnostics over 
matters of Christology. 

Still, the variant probably cannot be accepted as the "original" text, 
given its sparse attestation — it is not found, for example, in any of our 
earliest and best manuscripts (in fact, not in any Greek manuscript ex- 
cept for this one marginal note). Why, though, would it have been 
created by a Christian scribe? It appears to have been created to pro- 
vide a "biblical" attack on separationist Christologies, in which Jesus 
and Christ are divided from each other into separate entities, or as this 

Theologically Motivated Alterations of the Text 1 75 

variant would have it, in which Jesus is "loosed" from the Christ. 
Anyone who supports such a view, the textual variant suggests, is not 
from God, but is in fact an anti-Christ. Once again, then, we have a 
variant that was generated in the context of the christological disputes 
of the second and third centuries. 


One of the factors contributing to scribes' alterations of their texts was 
their own historical context. Christian scribes of the second and third 
centuries were involved with the debates and disputes of their day, 
and occasionally these disputes affected the reproduction of the texts 
over which the debates raged. That is, scribes occasionally altered 
their texts to make them say what they were already believed to mean. 

This is not necessarily a bad thing, since we can probably assume 
that most scribes who changed their texts often did so either semicon- 
sciously or with good intent. The reality, though, is that once they al- 
tered their texts, the words of the texts quite literally became different 
words, and these altered words necessarily affected the interpreta- 
tions of the words by later readers. Among the reasons for these alter- 
ations were the theological disputes of the second and third centuries, 
as scribes sometimes modified their texts in light of the adoptionistic, 
docetic, and separationist Christologies that were vying for attention 
in the period. 

Other historical factors were also at work, factors relating less to 
theological controversy and more to social conflicts of the day, con- 
flicts involving such things as the role of women in early Christian 
churches, the Christian opposition to Jews, and the Christian defense 
against attacks by pagan opponents. In the next chapter we will see 
how these other social conflicts affected the early scribes who repro- 
duced the texts of scripture in the centuries before the copying of texts 
became the province of professional scribes. 


■'""'%.% mm 

1 ;' ; ' 


One of the earliest copies of the Gospel of Matthew; from 
the sixth century, written in Greeks letters on papyrus. 


The Social Worlds 
of the Text 

It is probably safe to say that the copying of early Christian texts was 
by and large a "conservative" process. The scribes — whether non- 
professional scribes in the early centuries or professional scribes of the 
Middle Ages — were intent on "conserving" the textual tradition they 
were passing on. Their ultimate concern was not to modify the tradi- 
tion, but to preserve it for themselves and for those who would follow 
them. Most scribes, no doubt, tried to do a faithful job in making sure 
that the text they reproduced was the same text they inherited. 

Nonetheless, changes came to be made in the early Christian texts. 
Scribes would sometimes — lots of times — make accidental mistakes, 
by misspelling a word, leaving out a line, or simply bungling the sen- 
tences they were supposed to be copying; and on occasion they changed 
the text deliberately, making a "correction" to the text, which in fact 
turned out to be an alteration of what the text's author had originally 

178 Misquoting Jesus 

written. We examined in the preceding chapter one kind of inten- 
tional change — changes relating to some of the theological controver- 
sies raging in the second and third centuries, when most of the changes 
of our textual tradition were made. I do not want to convey the false 
impression that this kind of theological change of the text happened 
every time a scribe sat down to copy a passage. It happened on occa- 
sion. And when it happened, it had a profound effect on the text. 

In this chapter, we will look at other contextual factors that led, on 
occasion, to the alteration of the text. In particular, we will be examin- 
ing three kinds of disputes that were evident in the early Christian 
communities: one internal dispute, about the role of women in the 
church, and two external disputes, one with non-Christian Jews and 
the other with antagonistic pagans. We will see in each case that, on 
scattered occasions, these disputes also played a role in the transmis- 
sion of the texts that scribes (themselves involved in the disputes) were 
reproducing for their communities. 

Women and the Texts of Scripture 

Debates over the role of women in the church did not play an enor- 
mous role in the transmission of the texts of the New Testament, but 
they did play a role, in interesting and important passages. To make 
sense of the kinds of textual changes that were made, we need some 
background on the nature of these debates. 1 

Women in the Early Church 

Modern scholars have come to recognize that disputes over the role of 
women in the early church occurred precisely because women had a 
role — often a significant and publicly high profile role. Moreover, this 
was the case from the very beginning, starting with the ministry of 
Jesus himself. It is true that Jesus's closest followers — the twelve disci- 
ples — were all men, as would be expected of a Jewish teacher in first- 
century Palestine. But our earliest Gospels indicate that Jesus was also 

The Social Worlds of the Text 1 79 

accompanied by women on his travels, and that some of these women 
provided for him and his disciples financially, serving as patrons for 
his itinerant preaching ministry (see Mark 15:40-51; Luke 8:1-3). 
Jesus is said to have engaged in public dialogue with women and to 
have ministered to them in public (Mark 7:24-30; John 4:1-42). In 
particular, we are told that women accompanied Jesus during his final 
trip to Jerusalem, where they were present at his crucifixion and 
where they alone remained faithful to him at the end, when the male 
disciples had fled (Matt. 27:55; Mark 15:40-41). Most significant of all, 
each of our Gospels indicates that it was women — Mary Magdalene 
alone, or with several companions — who discovered his empty tomb 
and so were the first to know about and testify to Jesus's resurrection 
from the dead (Matt. 28:1-10; Mark 16:1-8; Luke 23:55-24:10; John 

It is intriguing to ask what it was about Jesus's message that partic- 
ularly attracted women. Most scholars remain convinced that Jesus 
proclaimed the coming Kingdom of God, in which there would be no 
more injustice, suffering, or evil, in which all people, rich and poor, 
slave and free, men and women, would be on equal footing. This ob- 
viously proved particularly attractive as a message of hope to those 
who in the present age were underprivileged — the poor, the sick, the 
outcast. And the women. 2 

In any event, it is clear that even after his death, Jesus's message 
continued to be attractive to women. Some of Christianity's early op- 
ponents among the pagans, including, for example, the late-second- 
century critic Celsus, whom we have met before, denigrated the 
religion on the grounds that it was made up largely of children, slaves, 
and women (i.e., those of no social standing in society at large). Strik- 
ingly, Origen, who wrote the Christian response to Celsus, did not 
deny the charge but tried to turn it against Celsus in an attempt to 
show that God can take what is weak and invest it with strength. 

But we do not need to wait until the late second century to see that 
women played a major role in the early Christian churches. We al- 
ready get a clear sense of this from the earliest Christian writer whose 

1 80 Misquoting Jesus 

works have survived, the apostle Paul. The Pauline letters of the New 
Testament provide ample evidence that women held a prominent place 
in the emerging Christian communities from the earliest of times. We 
might consider, for example, Paul's letter to the Romans, at the end of 
which he sends greetings to various members of the Roman congre- 
gation (chapter 16). Although Paul names more men than women 
here, it is clear that women were seen as in no way inferior to their 
male counterparts in the church. Paul mentions Phoebe, for example, 
who is a deacon (or minister) in the church of Cenchreae, and Paul's 
own patron, whom he entrusts with the task of carrying his letter to 
Rome (vv. 1-2). And there is Prisca, who along with her husband, 
Aquila, is responsible for missionary work among the Gentiles and 
who supports a Christian congregation in her home (vv. 3-4: notice 
that she is mentioned first, ahead of her husband). Then there is Mary, 
a colleague of Paul's who works among the Romans (v. 6); there are 
also Tryphaena, Tryphosa, and Persis, women whom Paul calls his 
"co-workers" in the gospel (vv. 6, 12). And there are Julia and the 
mother of Rums and the sister of Nereus, all of whom appear to have 
a high profile in the community (w. 13, 15). Most impressive of all, 
there is Junia, a woman whom Paul calls "foremost among the apos- 
tles" (v. 7). The apostolic band was evidently larger than the list of 
twelve men with whom most people are familiar. 

Women, in short, appear to have played a significant role in the 
churches of Paul's day. To some extent, this high profile was unusual 
in the Greco-Roman world. And it may have been rooted, as I have 
argued, in Jesus's proclamation that in the coming Kingdom there 
would be equality of men and women. This appears to have been 
Paul's message as well, as can be seen, for example, in his famous dec- 
laration in Galatians: 

For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 
There is neither Jew nor Greek neither slave nor free; there is not male 
and female; for all of you are one in Jesus Christ. (Gal. 3.27-28) 

The Social Worlds of the Text 1 8 1 

The equality in Christ may have manifested itself in the actual 
worship services of the Pauline communities. Rather than being silent 
"hearers of the word," women appear to have been actively involved 
in the weekly fellowship meetings, participating, for example, by 
praying and prophesying, much as the men did (1 Corinthians 1 1). 

At the same time, to modern interpreters it may appear that Paul 
did not take his view of the relationship of men and women in Christ 
to what could be thought of as its logical conclusion. He did require, 
for example, that when women prayed and prophesied in church they 
do so with their heads covered, to show that they were "under author- 
ity" (1 Cor. 11:3-16, esp. v. 10). In other words, Paul did not urge a so- 
cial revolution in the relationship of men and women — just as he did 
not urge the abolition of slavery, even though he maintained that in 
Christ there "is neither slave nor free." Instead he insisted that since 
"the time is short" (until the coming of the Kingdom), everyone 
should be content with the roles they had been given, and that no one 
should seek to change their status — whether slave, free, married, sin- 
gle, male, or female (1 Cor. 7:17-24). 

At best, then, this can be seen as an ambivalent attitude toward the 
role of women: they were equal in Christ and were allowed to partici- 
pate in the life of the community, but as women, not as men (they were, 
for example, not to remove their veils and so appear as men, without an 
"authority" on their head). This ambivalence on Paul's part had an in- 
teresting effect on the role of women in the churches after his day. In 
some churches it was the equality in Christ that was emphasized; in oth- 
ers it was the need for women to remain subservient to men. And so in 
some churches women played very important, leadership roles; in oth- 
ers, their roles were diminished and their voices quieted. Reading later 
documents associated with Paul's churches, after his death, we can see 
that disputes arose about the roles women should play; eventually there 
came an effort to suppress the role of women in the churches altogether. 

This becomes evident in a letter that was written in Paul's name. 
Scholars today are by and large convinced that 1 Timothy was not 

1 82 Misquoting Jesus 

written by Paul but by one of his later, second-generation followers. 
Here, in one of the (in)famous passages dealing with women in the 
New Testament, we are told that women must not be allowed to teach 
men because they were created inferior, as indicated by God himself 
in the Law; God created Eve second, for the sake of man; and a woman 
(related to Eve) must not therefore lord it over a man (related to 
Adam) through her teaching. Furthermore, according to this author, 
everyone knows what happens when a woman does assume the role 
of teacher: she is easily duped (by the devil) and leads the man astray. 
So, women are to stay at home and maintain the virtues appropriate 
to women, bearing children for their husbands and preserving their 
modesty. As the passage itself reads: 

Let a woman learn in silence with full submission. I permit no woman 
to teach or to have authority over a man; she is to keep silent. For 
Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the 
woman was deceived and became a transgressor. Yet she will be saved 
through childbearing, provided they continue in faith and love and 
holiness, with modesty, (1 Tim 2:11-15) 

This seems a long way from Paul's view that "in Christ there is . . . 
not male and female." As we move into the second century, the battle 
lines appear clearly drawn. There are some Christian communities 
that stress the importance of women and allow them to play signifi- 
cant roles in the church, and there are others that believe women must 
be silent and subservient to the men of the community. 

The scribes who were copying the texts that later became scripture 
were obviously involved in these debates. And on occasion the debates 
made an impact on the text being copied, as passages were changed to 
reflect the views of the scribes who were reproducing them. In almost 
every instance in which a change of this sort occurs, the text is changed 
in order to limit the role of women and to minimize their importance 
to the Christian movement. Here we can consider just a few examples. 

The Social Worlds of the Text 1 83 

Textual Alterations Involving Women 
One of the most important passages in the contemporary discussion of 
the role of women in the church is found in 1 Corinthians 14. As rep- 
resented in most of our modern English translations, the passage reads 
as follows. 

God is not a God of confusion but of peace. As in all the churches 
of the saints, 34 let the women keep silent. For it is not permitted for them 
to speak, but to be in subjection, just as the law says. 35 But if they wish to 
learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home. For it is 
shameful for a woman to speak in church. 36 What! Did the word go forth 
only from you, or has it reached you alone? 

The passage appears to be a clear and straightforward injunction 
for women not to speak (let alone teach!) in the church, very much 
like the passage from 1 Timothy 2. As we have seen, however, most 
scholars are convinced that Paul did not write the 1 Timothy passage, 
because it occurs in a letter that appears to have been written instead 
by a second-generation follower of Paul in his name. No one doubts, 
however, that Paul wrote 1 Corinthians. But there are doubts about 
this passage. For as it turns out, the verses in question (w. 34-35) are 
shuffled around in some of our important textual witnesses. In three 
Greek manuscripts and a couple of Latin witnesses, they are found 
not here, after verse 33, but later, after verse 40. That has led some 
scholars to surmise that the verses were not written by Paul but origi- 
nated as a kind of marginal note added by a scribe, possibly under the 
influence of 1 Timothy 2. The note was then inserted in different places 
of the text by various scribes — some placing the note after verse 33 
and others inserting it after verse 40. 

There are good reasons for thinking that Paul did not originally 
write these verses. For one thing, they do not fit well into their imme- 
diate context. In this part of 1 Corinthians 14, Paul is addressing the 
issue of prophecy in the church, and is giving instructions to Christian 

184 Misquoting Jesus 

prophets concerning how they are to behave during the Christian 
services of worship. This is the theme of verses 26-33, and it is the 
theme again of verses 36-40. If one removes verses 34-35 from their 
context, the passage seems to flow seamlessly as a discussion of the 
role of Christian prophets. The discussion of women appears, then, as 
intrusive in its immediate context, breaking into instructions that Paul 
is giving about a different matter. 

Not only do the verses seem intrusive in the context of chapter 14, 
they also appear anomalous with what Paul explicitly says elsewhere 
in 1 Corinthians. For earlier in the book, as we have already noticed, 
Paul gives instructions to women speaking in the church: according 
to chapter 1 1, when they pray and prophesy — activities that were al- 
ways done aloud in the Christian services of worship — they are to be 
sure to wear veils on their heads (11:2-16). In this passage, which no 
one doubts Paul wrote, it is clear that Paul understands that women 
both can and do speak in church. In the disputed passage of chapter 
14, however, it is equally clear that "Paul" forbids women from speak- 
ing at all. It is difficult to reconcile these two views — either Paul al- 
lowed women to speak (with covered heads, chapter 11) or not 
(chapter 14). As it seems unreasonable to think that Paul would flat 
out contradict himself within the short space of three chapters, it ap- 
pears that the verses in question do not derive from Paul. 

And so on the basis of a combination of evidence — several manu- 
scripts that shuffle the verses around, the immediate literary context, 
and the context within 1 Corinthians as a whole — it appears that Paul 
did not write 1 Cor. 14:34-35. One would have to assume, then, that 
these verses are a scribal alteration of the text, originally made, per- 
haps, as a marginal note and then eventually, at an early stage of the 
copying of 1 Corinthians, placed in the text itself. The alteration was 
no doubt made by a scribe who was concerned to emphasize that 
women should have no public role in the church, that they should be 
silent and subservient to their husbands. This view then came to be 
incorporated into the text itself, by means of a textual alteration. 4 

The Social Worlds of the Text 1 85 

We might consider briefly several other textual changes of a simi- 
lar sort. One occurs in a passage I have already mentioned, Romans 
16, in which Paul speaks of a woman, Junia, and a man who was pre- 
sumably her husband, Andronicus, both of whom he calls "foremost 
among the apostles" (v. 7). This is a significant verse, because it is the 
only place in the New Testament in which a woman is referred to as 
an apostle. Interpreters have been so impressed by the passage that a 
large number of them have insisted that it cannot mean what it says, 
and so have translated the verse as referring not to a woman named 
Junia but to a man named Junias, who along with his companion An- 
dronicus is praised as an apostle. The problem with this translation is 
that whereas Junia was a common name for a woman, there is no evi- 
dence in the ancient world for "Junias" as a man's name. Paul is refer- 
ring to a woman named Junia, even though in some modern English 
Bibles (you may want to check your own!) translators continue to 
refer to this female apostle as if she were a man named Junias. 5 

Some scribes also had difficulty with ascribing apostleship to this 
otherwise unknown woman, and so made a very slight change in the 
text to circumvent the problem. In some of our manuscripts, rather 
than saying "Greet Andronicus and Junia, my relatives and fellow 
prisoners, who are foremost among the apostles," the text is now 
changed so as to be more readily translated: "Greet Andronicus and 
Junia, my relatives; and also greet my fellow prisoners who are fore- 
most among the apostles." With this textual change, no longer does 
one need to worry about a woman being cited among the apostolic 
band of men! 

A similar change was made by some scribes who copied the book 
of Acts. In chapter 17 we learn that Paul and his missionary compan- 
ion Silas spent time in Thessalonica preaching the gospel of Christ to 
the Jews of the local synagogue. We are told in verse 4 that the pair 
made some important converts: "And some of them were persuaded 
and joined with Paul and Silas, as did a great many of the pious Greeks, 
along with a large number of prominent women." 

1 86 Misquoting Jesus 

The idea of women being prominent — let alone prominent con- 
verts — was too much for some scribes, and so the text came to be 
changed in some manuscripts, so that now we are told: "And some of 
them were persuaded and joined with Paul and Silas, as did a great 
many of the pious Greeks, along with a large number of wives of 
prominent men." Now it is the men who are prominent, not the wives 
who converted. 

Among Paul's companions in the book of Acts were a husband 
and wife named Aquila and Priscilla; sometimes when they are men- 
tioned, the author gives the wife's name first, as if she had some kind 
of special prominence either in the relationship or in the Christian 
mission (as happens in Rom. 16:3 as well, where she is called Prisca). 
Not surprisingly, scribes occasionally took umbrage at this sequenc- 
ing and reversed it, so that the man was given his due by having his 
name mentioned first: Aquila and Priscilla rather than Priscilla and 
Aquila. 6 

In short, there were debates in the early centuries of the church 
over the role of women, and on occasion these debates spilled over 
into the textual transmission of the New Testament itself, as scribes 
sometimes changed their texts in order to make them coincide more 
closely with the scribes' own sense of the (limited) role of women in 
the church. 

Jews and the Texts of Scripture 

To this point we have looked at various controversies that were inter- 
nal to early Christianity — disputes over christological issues and over 
the role of women in the church — and have considered how they af- 
fected the scribes who reproduced their sacred texts. These were not 
the only kinds of controversy with which Christians were involved, 
however. Just as poignant for those involved, and significant for our 
considerations here, were conflicts with those outside the faith, Jews 
and pagans who stood in opposition to Christians and engaged in 

The Social Worlds of the Text 1 87 

polemical controversies with them. These controversies also played 
some role in the transmission of the texts of scripture. We can begin 
by considering the disputes that Christians of the early centuries had 
with non-Christian Jews. 

Jews and Christians in Conflict 

One of the ironies of early Christianity is that Jesus himself was a Jew 
who worshiped the Jewish God, kept Jewish customs, interpreted the 
Jewish law, and acquired Jewish disciples, who accepted him as the 
Jewish messiah. Yet, within just a few decades of his death, Jesus's fol- 
lowers had formed a religion that stood over-against Judaism. How 
did Christianity move so quickly from being a Jewish sect to being an 
anti-Jewish religion? 

This is a difficult question, and to provide a satisfying answer 
would require a book of its own. 7 Here, I can at least provide a histor- 
ical sketch of the rise of anti-Judaism within early Christianity as a 
way of furnishing a plausible context for Christian scribes who occa- 
sionally altered their texts in anti-Jewish ways. 

The last twenty years have seen an explosion of research into the 
historical Jesus. As a result, there is now an enormous range of opin- 
ion about how Jesus is best understood — as a rabbi, a social revolu- 
tionary, a political insurgent, a cynic philosopher, an apocalyptic 
prophet: the options go on and on. The one thing that nearly all schol- 
ars agree upon, however, is that no matter how one understands the 
major thrust of Jesus's mission, he must be situated in his own context 
as a first-century Palestinian Jew. Whatever else he was, Jesus was 
thoroughly Jewish, in every way — as were his disciples. At some point — 
probably before his death, but certainly afterward — Jesus's followers 
came to think of him as the Jewish messiah. This term messiah was 
understood in different ways by different Jews in the first century, but 
one thing that all Jews appear to have had in common when thinking 
about the messiah was that he was to be a figure of grandeur and 
power, who in some way — for example, through raising a Jewish army 
or by leading the heavenly angels — would overcome Israel's enemies 

1 8 8 Misquoting Jesus 

and establish Israel as a sovereign state that could be ruled by God 
himself (possibly through human agency). Christians who called Jesus 
the messiah obviously had a difficult time convincing others of this 
claim, since rather than being a powerful warrior or a heavenly judge, 
Jesus was widely known to have been an itinerant preacher who had 
gotten on the wrong side of the law and had been crucified as a low- 
life criminal. 

To call Jesus the messiah was for most Jews completely ludicrous. 
Jesus was not the powerful leader of the Jews. He was a weak and 
powerless nobody — executed in the most humiliating and painful 
way devised by the Romans, the ones with the real power. Christians, 
however, insisted that Jesus was the messiah, that his death was not a 
miscarriage of justice or an unforeseen event, but an act of God, by 
which he brought salvation to the world. 

What were Christians to do with the fact that they had trouble 
convincing most Jews of their claims about Jesus? They could not, of 
course, admit that they themselves were wrong. And if they weren't 
wrong, who was? It had to be the Jews. Early on in their history, 
Christians began to insist that Jews who rejected their message were 
recalcitrant and blind, that in rejecting the message about Jesus, they 
were rejecting the salvation provided by the Jewish God himself. 
Some such claims were being made already by our earliest Christian 
author, the apostle Paul. In his first surviving letter, written to the 
Christians of Thessalonica, Paul says: 

For you, our brothers, became imitators of the churches of God that 
are in Judea in Christ Jesus, because you suffered the same things from 
your own compatriots as they did from the Jews, who killed both the 
Lord Jesus and the prophets, and persecuted us, and are not pleasing to 
God, and are opposed to all people, (1 Thess. 2: 14-15) 

Paul came to believe that Jews rejected Jesus because they under- 
stood that their own special standing before God was related to the 
fact that they both had and kept the Law that God had given them 

The Social Worlds of the Text 1 89 

(Rom. 10:3-4). For Paul, however, salvation came to the Jews, as well 
as to the Gentiles, not through the Law but through faith in the death 
and resurrection of Jesus (Rom. 3:21-22). Thus, keeping the Law 
could have no role in salvation; Gentiles who became followers of 
Jesus were instructed, therefore, not to think they could improve their 
standing before God by keeping the Law. They were to remain as 
they were — and not convert to become Jews (Gal. 2:15-16). 

Other early Christians, of course, had other opinions — as they did 
on nearly every issue of the day! Matthew, for example, seems to pre- 
suppose that even though it is the death and resurrection of Jesus that 
brings salvation, his followers will naturally keep the Law, just as 
Jesus himself did (see Matt. 5:17-20). Eventually, though, it became 
widely held that Christians were distinct from Jews, that following 
the Jewish law could have no bearing on salvation, and that joining 
the Jewish people would mean identifying with the people who had 
rejected their own messiah, who had, in fact, rejected their own God. 

As we move into the second century we find that Christianity and 
Judaism had become two distinct religions, which nonetheless had a 
lot to say to each other. Christians, in fact, found themselves in a bit of 
a bind. For they acknowledged that Jesus was the messiah anticipated 
by the Jewish scriptures; and to gain credibility in a world that cher- 
ished what was ancient but suspected anything "recent" as a dubious 
novelty, Christians continued to point to the scriptures — those an- 
cient texts of the Jews — as the foundation for their own beliefs. This 
meant that Christians laid claim to the Jewish Bible as their own. But 
was not the Jewish Bible for Jews? Christians began to insist that Jews 
had not only spurned their own messiah, and thereby rejected their 
own God, they had also misinterpreted their own scriptures. And so 
we find Christian writings such as the so-called Letter of Barnabas, a 
book that some early Christians considered to be part of the New Tes- 
tament canon, which asserts that Judaism is and always has been a 
false religion, that Jews were misled by an evil angel into interpreting 
the laws given to Moses as literal prescriptions of how to live, when in 
fact they were to be interpreted allegorically. 8 

190 Misquoting Jesus 

Eventually we find Christians castigating Jews in the harshest 
terms possible for rejecting Jesus as the messiah, with authors such as 
the second-century Justin Martyr claiming that the reason God com- 
manded the Jews to be circumcised was to mark them off as a special 
people who deserved to be persecuted. We also find authors such as 
Tertullian and Origen claiming that Jerusalem was destroyed by the 
Roman armies in 70 C.E. as a punishment for the Jews who killed 
their messiah, and authors such as Melito of Sardis arguing that in 
killing Christ, the Jews were actually guilty of killing God. 

Pay attention all families of the nations and observe! An extraordinary 
murder has taken place in the center of Jerusalem, in the city devoted 
to God's Law, in the city of the Hebrews, in the city of the prophets, in 
the city thought of as just. And who has been murdered? And who is 
the murderer? I am ashamed to give the answer, but give it I must. . . . 
The one who hung the earth in space, is himself hanged; the one who 
fixed the heavens in place is himself impaled; the one who firmly fixed 
all things is himself firmly fixed to the tree. The Ix>rd is insulted, God 
has been murdered, the King of Israel has been destroyed by the right 
hand of Israel. (Paschal Homily, 94-96) 9 

Clearly we have come a long way from Jesus, a Palestinian Jew 
who kept Jewish customs, preached to his Jewish compatriots, and 
taught his Jewish disciples the true meaning of the Jewish law. By the 
second century, though, when Christian scribes were reproducing the 
texts that eventually became part of the New Testament, most Chris- 
tians were former pagans, non-Jews who had converted to the faith 
and who understood that even though this religion was based, ulti- 
mately, on faith in the Jewish God as described in the Jewish Bible, it 
was nonetheless completely anti-Jewish in its orientation. 

Anti- Jewish Alterations of the Text 
The anti-Jewishness of some second- and third-century Christian 
scribes played a role in how the texts of scripture were transmitted. One 

The Social Worlds of the Text 1 9 1 

of the clearest examples is found in Luke's account of the crucifixion, in 
which Jesus is said to have uttered a prayer for those responsible: 

And when they came to the place that is called "The Skull," they cru- 
cified him there, along with criminals, one on his right and the other on 
his left. And Jesus said, "Father, forgive them, for they don't know what 
they are doing." (Luke 23:33-34) 

As it turns out, however, this prayer of Jesus cannot be found in all 
our manuscripts: it is missing from our earliest Greek witness (a pa- 
pyrus called P 75 , which dates to about 200 C.E.) and several other high- 
quality witnesses of the fourth and later centuries; at the same time, 
the prayer can be found in Codex Sinaiticus and a large range of 
manuscripts, including most of those produced in the Middle Ages. 
And so the question is, Did a scribe (or a number of scribes) delete the 
prayer from a manuscript that originally included it? Or did a scribe 
(or scribes) add it to a manuscript that originally lacked it? 

Scholarly opinion has long been divided on the question. Because 
the prayer is missing from several early and high-quality witnesses, 
there has been no shortage of scholars to claim that it did not origi- 
nally belong to the text. Sometimes they appeal to an argument based 
on internal evidence. As I have pointed out, the author of the Gospel 
of Luke also produced the Acts of the Apostles, and a passage similar 
to this one can be found in Acts in the account of the first Christian 
martyr, Stephen, the only person whose execution is described at any 
length in Acts. Because Stephen was charged with blasphemy, he was 
stoned to death by a crowd of angry Jews; and before he expired he 
prayed, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them" (Acts 7:60). 

Some scholars have argued that a scribe who did not want Jesus to 
look any less forgiving than his first martyr, Stephen, added the 
prayer to Luke's Gospel, so that Jesus also asks that his executioners 
be forgiven. This is a clever argument, but it is not altogether convinc- 
ing, for several reasons. The most compelling is this: whenever scribes 
try to bring texts into harmony with each other, they tend to do so by 

1 92 Misquoting Jesus 

repeating the same words in both passages. In this case, however, we 
do not find identical wording, merely a similar kind of prayer. This is 
not the kind of "harmonization" that scribes typically make. 

Also striking in conjunction with this point is that Luke, the au- 
thor himself, on a number of occasions goes out of his way to show the 
similarities between what happened to Jesus in the Gospel and what 
happened to his followers in Acts: both Jesus and his followers are 
baptized, they both receive the Spirit at that point, they both proclaim 
the good news, they both come to be rejected for it, they both suffer at 
the hands of the Jewish leadership, and so on. What happens to Jesus 
in the Gospel happens to his followers in Acts. And so it would be no 
surprise — but rather expected — that one of Jesus's followers, who 
like him is executed by angry authorities, should also pray that God 
forgive his executioners. 

There are other reasons for suspecting that Jesus's prayer of for- 
giveness is original to Luke 23. Throughout both Luke and Acts, for 
example, it is emphasized that even though Jesus was innocent (as 
were his followers), those who acted against him did so in ignorance. 
As Peter says in Acts 3: "I know that you acted in ignorance" (v. 17); or 
as Paul says in Acts 17: "God has overlooked the times of ignorance" 
(v. 27). And that is precisely the note struck in Jesus's prayer: "for they 
don't know what they are doing." 

It appears, then, that Luke 23:34 was part of Luke's original text. 
Why, though, would a scribe (or a number of scribes) have wanted to 
delete it? Here is where understanding something about the historical 
context within which scribes were working becomes crucial. Readers 
today may wonder for whom Jesus is praying. Is it for the Romans 
who are executing him in ignorance? Or is it for the Jews who are re- 
sponsible for turning him over to the Romans in the first place? How- 
ever we might answer that question in trying to interpret the passage 
today, it is clear how it was interpreted in the early church. In almost 
every instance in which the prayer is discussed in the writings of the 
church fathers, it is clear that they interpreted the prayer as being ut- 

The Social Worlds of the Text 1 93 

tered not on behalf of the Romans but on behalf of the Jews. 10 Jesus 
was asking God to forgive the Jewish people (or the Jewish leaders) 
who were responsible for his death. 

Now it becomes clear why some scribes would have wanted to omit 
the verse. Jesus prayed for the forgiveness of the Jews? How could that 
be? For early Christians there were, in fact, two problems with the 
verse, taken in this way. First, they reasoned, why would Jesus pray 
for forgiveness for this recalcitrant people who had willfully rejected 
God himself? That was scarcely conceivable to many Christians. Even 
more telling, by the second century many Christians were convinced 
that God had not forgiven the Jews because, as mentioned earlier, they 
believed that he had allowed Jerusalem to be destroyed as a punish- 
ment for the Jews in killing Jesus. As the church father Origen said: 
"It was right that the city in which Jesus underwent such sufferings 
should be completely destroyed, and that the Jewish nation be over- 
thrown" (Against Celsus 4, 22)" 

The Jews knew full well what they were doing, and God obvi- 
ously had not forgiven them. From this point of view, it made little 
sense for Jesus to ask for forgiveness for them, when no forgiveness 
was forthcoming. What were scribes to do with this text, then, in 
which Jesus prayed, "Father, forgive them, for they don't know what 
they are doing"? They dealt with the problem simply by excising the 
text, so that Jesus no longer asked that they be forgiven. 

There were other passages in which the anti-Jewish sentiment of 
early Christian scribes made an impact on the texts they were copy- 
ing. One of the most significant passages for the eventual rise of anti- 
Semitism is the scene of Jesus's trial in the Gospel of Matthew. 
According to this account, Pilate declares Jesus innocent, washing his 
hands to show that "I am innocent of this man's blood! You see to it!" 
The Jewish crowd then utters a cry that was to play such a horrendous 
role in the violence manifest against the Jews down through the Middle 
Ages, in which they appear to claim responsibility for the death of 
Jesus: "His blood be upon us and our children" (Matt. 27:24-25). 

194 Misquoting Jesus 

The textual variant we are concerned with occurs in the next 
verse. Pilate is said to have flogged Jesus and then "handed him over 
to be crucified." Anyone reading the text would naturally assume that 
he handed Jesus over to his own (Roman) soldiers for crucifixion. 
That makes it all the more striking that in some early witnesses — in- 
cluding one of the scribal corrections in Codex Sinaitius — the text is 
changed to heighten even further the Jewish culpability in Jesus's 
death. According to these manuscripts, Pilate "handed him over to 
them [i.e., to the Jews] in order that they might crucify him." Now the 
Jewish responsibility for Jesus's execution is absolute, a change moti- 
vated by anti-Jewish sentiment among the early Christians. 

Sometimes anti-Jewish variants are rather slight and do not catch 
one's attention until some thought is given to the matter. For example, 
in the birth narrative of the Gospel of Matthew, Joseph is told to call 
Mary's newborn son Jesus (which means "salvation") "because he will 
save his people from their sins" (Matt. 1:21). It is striking that in one 
manuscript preserved in Syriac translation, the text instead says "be- 
cause he will save the world from its sins." Here again it appears that a 
scribe was uncomfortable with the notion that the Jewish people 
would ever be saved. 

A comparable change occurs in the Gospel of John. In chapter 4, 
Jesus is talking with the woman from Samaria and tells her, "You 
worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, because 
salvation comes from the Jews" (v. 22). In some Syriac and Latin 
manuscripts, however, the text has been changed, so that now Jesus 
declares that "salvation comes from Judea." In other words, it is not 
the Jewish people who have brought salvation to the world; it is 
Jesus's death in the country of Judea that has done so. Once again we 
might suspect that it was anti-Jewish sentiment that prompted the 
scribal alteration. 

My final example in this brief review comes from the fifth-century 
Codex Bezae, a manuscript that arguably contains more interesting 
and intriguing variant readings than any other. In Luke 6, where the 

The Social Worlds of the Text 1 95 

Pharisees accuse Jesus and his disciples of breaking the Sabbath 
(6:1-4), we find in Codex Bezae an additional story consisting of a sin- 
gle verse: "On the same day he saw a man working on the Sabbath, 
and he said to him, 'O man, if you know what you are doing, you are 
blessed, but if you do not know, you are cursed, and a transgressor of 
the Law.'" A full interpretation of this unexpected and unusual pas- 
sage would require a good deal of investigation. 12 For our purposes 
here it is enough to note that Jesus is quite explicit in this passage, in a 
way that he never is elsewhere in the Gospels. In other instances, 
when Jesus is accused of violating the Sabbath, he defends his activi- 
ties, but never does he indicate that the Sabbath laws are to be vio- 
lated. In this verse, on the other hand, Jesus plainly states that anyone 
who knows why it is legitimate to violate Sabbath is blessed for doing 
so; only those who don't understand why it is legitimate are doing what 
is wrong. Again, this is a variant that appears to relate to the rising 
tide of anti -Judaism in the early church. 

Pagans and the Texts of Scripture 

Thus far we have seen that internal disputes over correct doctrine or 
church management (the role of women) affected early Christian 
scribes, and so too did conflicts between church and synagogue, as the 
church's anti-Jewish sentiment played a role in how those scribes 
transmitted the texts that were eventually declared to be the New 
Testament. Christians in the early centuries of the church not only 
had to contend with heretical insiders and Jewish outsiders, they also 
saw themselves embattled in the world at large, a world that was for 
the most part made up of pagan outsiders. The word pagan in this 
context, when used by historians, does not carry negative connota- 
tions. It simply refers to anyone in the ancient world who subscribed 
to any of the numerous polytheistic religions of the day. Since this in- 
cluded anyone who was neither Jewish nor Christian, we are talking 

1 96 Misquoting Jesus 

about something like 90-93 percent of the population of the empire. 
Christians were sometimes opposed by pagans because of their un- 
usual form of worship and their acceptance of Jesus as the one Son of 
God whose death on the cross brought salvation; and occasionally this 
opposition came to affect the Christian scribes who were reproducing 
the texts of scripture. 

Pagan Opposition to Christianity 
Our earliest records indicate that Christians were sometimes violently 
opposed by pagan mobs and/or authorities. 13 The apostle Paul, for ex- 
ample, in a listing of his various sufferings for the sake of Christ, re- 
counts that on three occasions he was "beaten with rods" ( 1 Cor. 1 1:25), 
a form of punishment used by Roman municipal authorities against 
criminals judged to be socially dangerous. And as we have seen, Paul 
writes in his first surviving letter that his Gentile-Christian congrega- 
tion in Thessalonica had "suffered from your own compatriots what 
they [the church of Judea] did from the Jews" (1 Thess. 2:14). In the 
latter case, it appears that the persecution was not "official" but the re- 
sult of some kind of mob violence. 

In fact, most of the pagan opposition to Christians during the 
church's first two centuries happened on the grassroots level rather 
than as a result of organized, official Roman persecution. Contrary to 
what many people appear to think, there was nothing "illegal" about 
Christianity, per se, in those early years. Christianity itself was not 
outlawed, and Christians for the most part did not need to go into 
hiding. The idea that they had to stay in the Roman catacombs in 
order to avoid persecution, and greeted one another through secret 
signs such as the symbol of the fish, is nothing but the stuff of legend. 
It was not illegal to follow Jesus, it was not illegal to worship the Jew- 
ish God, it was not illegal to call Jesus God, it was not illegal (in most 
places) to hold separate meetings of fellowship and worship, it was 
not illegal to convince others of one's faith in Christ as the Son of 

And yet Christians were sometimes persecuted. Why was that? 

The Social Worlds of the Text 1 97 

To make sense of Christian persecution, it is important to know 
something about pagan religions in the Roman Empire. All these reli- 
gions — and there were hundreds of them — were polytheistic, wor- 
shiping many gods; all of them emphasized the need to worship these 
gods through acts of prayer and sacrifice. For the most part, the gods 
were not worshiped to secure for the worshiper a happy afterlife; by 
and large, people were more concerned about the present life, which 
for most people was harsh and precarious at best. The gods could pro- 
vide what was impossible for people to secure for themselves — for the 
crops to grow, for the livestock to be fed, for enough rain to fall, for 
personal health and well-being, for the ability to reproduce, for vic- 
tory in war, for prosperity in peace. The gods protected the state and 
made it great; the gods could intervene in life to make it livable, long, 
and happy. And they did this in exchange for simple acts of wor- 
ship — worship on the state level during civic ceremonies honoring 
the gods, and worship on the local level, in communities and families. 

When things did not go well, when there were threats of war, or 
drought, or famine, or disease, this could be taken as a sign that the 
gods were not satisfied with how they were being honored. At such 
times, who would be blamed for this failure to honor the gods? Obvi- 
ously, those who refused to worship them. Enter the Christians. 

Of course, Jews would not worship the pagan gods either, but they 
were widely seen as an exception to the need for all people to worship 
the gods, since Jews were a distinctive people with their own ancestral 
traditions that they faithfully followed. 14 When Christians came on 
the scene, however, they were not recognized as a distinctive people — 
they were converts from Judaism and from an entire range of pagan 
religions, with no blood ties to one another or any other connections 
except their peculiar set of religious beliefs and practices. Moreover, 
they were known to be antisocial, gathering together in their own 
communities, abandoning their own families and deserting their for- 
mer friends, not participating in communal festivals of worship. 

Christians were persecuted, then, because they were regarded as 
detrimental to the health of society, both because they refrained from 

198 Misquoting Jesus 

worshiping the gods who protected society and because they lived to- 
gether in ways that seemed antisocial. When disasters hit, or when 
people were afraid they might hit, who more likely as the culprits 
than the Christians? 

Only rarely did the Roman governors of the various provinces, let 
alone the emperor himself, get involved in such local affairs. When 
they did, however, they simply treated Christians as a dangerous so- 
cial group that needed to be stamped out. Christians were usually 
given the chance to redeem themselves by worshiping the gods in the 
ways demanded of them (for example, by offering some incense to a 
god); if they refused, they were seen as recalcitrant troublemakers and 
treated accordingly. 

By the middle of the second century, pagan intellectuals began tak- 
ing note of the Christians and attacking them in tractates written 
against them. These works not only portrayed the Christians them- 
selves in negative ways. They also attacked the Christians' beliefs as lu- 
dicrous (they claimed to worship the God of the Jews, for example, and 
yet refused to follow the Jewish law!) and maligned their practices as 
scandalous. On the latter point, it was sometimes noted that Christians 
gathered together under the cloak of darkness, calling one another 
"brother" and "sister" and greeting one another with kisses; they were 
said to worship their god by eating the flesh and drinking the blood of 
the Son of God. What was one to make of such practices? If you can 
imagine the worst, you won't be far off. Pagan opponents claimed that 
Christians engaged in ritual incest (sexual acts with brothers and sis- 
ters), infanticide (killing the Son), and cannibalism (eating his flesh 
and drinking his blood). These charges may seem incredible today, but 
in a society that respected decency and openness, they were widely ac- 
cepted. Christians were perceived as a nefarious lot. 

In the intellectual attacks against Christians, considerable attention 
was paid to the founder of this newfangled and socially disreputable 
faith, Jesus himself 15 Pagan writers pointed to his impoverished ori- 
gins and lower-class status in order to mock Christians for thinking 
that he was worthy of worship as a divine being. Christians were said 

The Social Worlds of the Text 1 99 

to worship a crucified criminal, foolishly asserting that he was some- 
how divine. 

Some of these writers, starting near the end of the second century, 
actually read the Christian literature in order better to build their 
cases. As the pagan critic Celsus once said, concerning the basis of his 
attack on Christian beliefs: 

These objections come from your own writings, and we need no 
other witnesses: for you provide your own refutation. (Against 
Celsus 2, 74) 

These writings were sometimes held up to ridicule, as in the words 
of the pagan Porphry: 

The evangelists were fiction-writers — not observers or eyewitnesses of 
the life of Jesus. Each of the four contradicts the other in writing his 
account of the events of his suffering and crucifixion. (Against the 
Christians 2, 12-15) 16 

In response to these kinds of attacks, claims the pagan Celsus, 
Christian scribes altered their texts in order to rid them of the prob- 
lems so obvious to well-trained outsiders: 

Some believers, as though from a drinking bout, go so far as to oppose 
themselves and alter the original text of the gospel three or four or several 
times over, and change its character to enable them to deny difficulties in 
the face of criticism. (Against Celsus 2, 27) 

As it turns out, we do not need to rely on pagan opponents of 
Christianity to find evidence of scribes occasionally changing their 
texts in light of pagan opposition to the faith. There are places within 
our surviving manuscript tradition of the New Testament that show 
this kind of scribal tendency at work. 17 

Before considering some of the relevant passages, I should point 
out that these pagan charges against Christianity and its founder did 
not go unanswered from the Christian side. On the contrary, as intel- 
lectuals began to be converted to the faith, starting in the mid-second 

200 Misquoting Jesus 

century, numerous reasoned defenses, called apologies, were forth- 
coming from the pens of Christians. Some of these Christian authors 
are well known to students of early Christianity, including the likes of 
Justin Martyr, Tertullian, and Origen; others are lesser known but 
nonetheless noteworthy in their defense of the faith, including such 
authors as Athenagoras, Aristides, and the anonymous writer of the 
Letter to Diognetus. 18 As a group, these Christian scholars worked to 
show the fallacies in the arguments of their pagan opponents, arguing 
that, far from being socially dangerous, Christians were the glue that 
held society together; insisting not only that the Christian faith was 
reasonable but that it was the only true religion the world had ever 
seen; claiming that Jesus was in fact the true Son of God, whose death 
brought salvation; and striving to vindicate the nature of the early 
Christian writings as inspired and true. 

How did this "apologetic" movement in early Christianity affect 
the second- and third-century scribes who were copying the texts of 
the faith? 

Apologetic Alterations of the Text 
Although I did not mention it at the time, we have already seen one 
text that appears to have been modified by scribes out of apologetic 
concerns. As we saw in chapter 5, Mark 1:41 originally indicated that 
when Jesus was approached by a leper who wanted to be healed, he 
became angry, reached out his hand to touch him, and said "Be 
cleansed." Scribes found it difficult to ascribe the emotion of anger to 
Jesus in this context, and so modified the text to say, instead, that Jesus 
felt "compassion" for the man. 

It is possible that what influenced the scribes to change the text 
was something more than a simple desire to make a difficult passage 
easier to understand. One of the constant points of debate between 
pagan critics of Christianity and its intellectual defenders had to do 
with the deportment of Jesus and whether he conducted himself in a 
way that was worthy of one who claimed to be the Son of God. I 

The Social Worlds of the Text 201 

should emphasize that this was not a dispute over whether it was con- 
ceivable that a human being could also, in some sense, be divine. That 
was a point on which pagans and Christians were in complete agree- 
ment, as pagans too knew of stories in which a divine being had be- 
come human and interacted with others here on earth. The question 
was whether Jesus behaved in such a way as to justify thinking of him 
as someone of that sort, or whether, instead, his attitudes and behav- 
iors eliminated the possibility that he was actually a son of God. 19 

By this period it was widely believed among pagans that the gods 
were not subject to the petty emotions and whims of mere mortals, 
that they were, in fact, above such things. 20 How was one to deter- 
mine, then, whether or not an individual was a divine being? Obvi- 
ously, he would have to display powers (intellectual or physical) that 
were superhuman; but he would also need to comport himself in a 
way that was compatible with the claim that he originated in the di- 
vine realm. 

We have a number of authors from this period who insist that the 
gods do not get "angry," as this is a human emotion induced by frus- 
tration with others, or by a sense of being wronged, or by some other 
petty cause. Christians, of course, could claim that God became "angry" 
with his people for their misbehavior. But the Christian God, too, was 
above any kind of peevishness. In this story about Jesus and the leper, 
however, there is no very obvious reason for Jesus to get angry. Given 
the circumstance that the text was changed during the period in 
which pagans and Christians were arguing over whether Jesus com- 
ported himself in a way that was appropriate to divinity, it is altogether 
possible that a scribe changed the text in light of that controversy. This, 
in other words, may have been an apologetically driven variation. 

Another such alteration comes several chapters later in Mark's 
Gospel, in a well-known account in which Jesus's own townsfolk 
wonder how he could deliver such spectacular teachings and perform 
such spectacular deeds. As they put it, in their astonishment, "Isn't this 
the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joseph and 

202 Misquoting Jesus 

Judas and Simon, and aren't his sisters here with us?" (Mark 6:3). 
How, they wondered, could someone who grew up as one of them, 
whose family they all knew, be able to do such things? 

This is the one and only passage in the New Testament in which 
Jesus is called a carpenter. The word used,TEKTON, is typically ap- 
plied in other Greek texts to anyone who makes things with his 
hands; in later Christian writings, for example, Jesus is said to have 
made "yokes and gates." 21 We should not think of him as someone 
who made fine cabinetry. Probably the best way to get a "feel" for this 
term is to liken it to something more in our experience; it would be 
like calling Jesus a construction worker. How could someone with 
that background be the Son of God? 

This was a question that the pagan opponents of Christianity took 
quite seriously; in fact, they understood the question to be rhetorical: 
Jesus obviously could not be a son of God if he was a mereTEKTON 
The pagan critic Celsus particularly mocked Christians on this point, 
tying the claim that Jesus was a "woodworker" into the fact that he 
was crucified (on a stake of wood) and the Christian belief in the 
"tree" of life. 

And everywhere they speak in their writings of the tree of life. . . I 
imagine because their master was nailed to a cross and was a carpenter 
by trade. So that if he happened to be thrown off a cliff or pushed into a 
pit or suffocated by strangling, or if he had been a cobbler or stone- 
mason or blacksmith, there would have been a cliff of life above the 
heavens, or a pit of resurrection, or a rope of immortality, or a blessed 
stone, or an iron of love, or a holy hide of leather. Would not an old 
woman who sings a story to lull a little child to sleep have been 
ashamed to whisper tales such as these? (Against Celsus 6, 34) 

Celsus's Christian opponent, Origen, had to take seriously this 
charge that Jesus was a mere "carpenter," but oddly enough he dealt 
with it not by explaining it away (his normal procedure), but by deny- 
ing it altogether: "[Celsus is] blind also to this, that in none of the 

The Social Worlds of the Text 203 

Gospels current in the Churches is Jesus himself ever described as 
being a carpenter" (Against Celsus 6,36). 

What are we to make of this denial? Either Origen had forgotten 
about Mark 6:3 or else he had a version of the text that did not indicate 
that Jesus was a carpenter. And as it turns out, we have manuscripts 
with just such an alternative version. In our earliest manuscript of 
Mark's Gospel, called P 45 , which dates to the early third century (the 
time of Origen), and in several later witnesses, the verse reads differ- 
ently. Here Jesus's townsfolk ask, "Is this not the son of the carpen- 
ter?" Now rather than being a carpenter himself, Jesus is merely the 
carpenter's son. 22 

Just as Origen had apologetically motivated reasons for denying 
that Jesus is anywhere called a carpenter, it is conceivable that a scribe 
modified the text — making it conform more closely with the parallel 
in Matthew 13:55 — in order to counteract the pagan charge that Jesus 
could not be the Son of God because he was, after all, a mere lower- 

Another verse that appears to have been changed for apologetic 
reasons is Luke 23:32, which discusses Jesus's crucifixion. The transla- 
tion of the verse in the New Revised Standard Version of the New 
Testament reads: "Two others also, who were criminals, were led away 
to be put to death with him." But the way the verse is worded in the 
Greek, it could also be translated "Two others, who were also crimi- 
nals, were led away to be put to death with him." Given the ambiguity 
of the Greek, it is not surprising that some scribes found it necessary, 
for apologetic reasons, to rearrange the word order, so that it unam- 
biguously reports that it was the two others, not Jesus as well, who 
were criminals. 

There are other changes in the textual tradition that appear to be 
driven by the desire to show that Jesus, as a true son of God, could not 
have been "mistaken" in one of his statements, especially with regard 
to the future (since the Son of God, after all, would know what was to 
happen). It may have been this that led to the change we have already 

204 Misquoting Jesus 

discussed in Matthew 24:36, where Jesus explicitly states that no one 
knows the day or the hour in which the end will come, "not even the 
angels of heaven nor even the Son, but the Father alone." A signifi- 
cant number of our manuscripts omit "nor even the Son." The reason 
is not hard to postulate; if Jesus does not know the future, the Chris- 
tian claim that he is a divine being is more than a little compromised. 

A less obvious example comes three chapters later in Matthew's 
crucifixion scene. We are told in Matt. 27:34 that while on the cross 
Jesus was given wine to drink, mixed with gall. A large number of 
manuscripts, however, indicate that it was not wine that he was given, 
but vinegar. The change may have been made to conform the text 
more closely with the Old Testament passage that is quoted to explain 
the action, Psalm 69:22. But one might wonder if something else was 
motivating the scribes as well. It is interesting to note that at the Last 
Supper, in Matt. 26:29, after distributing the cup of wine to his disci- 
ples, Jesus explicitly states that he will not drink wine again until he 
does so in the kingdom of the Father. Was the change of 27:34 from 
wine to vinegar meant to safeguard that prediction, so that he in fact 
did not taste wine after claiming that he would not? 

Or we might consider the alteration to Jesus's prediction to the 
Jewish high priest at his trial in Mark 14:62. When asked whether he 
is the Christ, the Son of the Blessed, Jesus replies, "I am, and you will 
see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of power and coming with 
the clouds of heaven." Widely considered by modern scholars to em- 
body or approximate an authentic saying of Jesus, these words have 
proved discomforting for many Christians since near the end of the 
first century. For the Son of Man never did arrive on the clouds of 
heaven. Why then did Jesus predict that the high priest would himself 
see him come? The historical answer may well be that Jesus actually 
thought that the high priest would see it, that is, that it would happen 
within his lifetime. But, obviously, in the context of second-century 
apologetics, this could be taken as a false prediction. It is no wonder 
that one of our earliest witnesses to Mark modifies the verse by elimi- 
nating the offending words, so that now Jesus simply says that the 

The Social Worlds of the Text 205 

high priest will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of power 
with the clouds of heaven. No mention remains of an imminent ap- 
pearance by One who, in fact, never came. 

In sum, a number of passages in our surviving manuscripts appear 
to embody the apologetic concerns of the early Christians, especially as 
these relate to the founder of their faith, Jesus himself. Just as with the- 
ological conflicts in the early church, the question of the role of 
women, and the controversies with Jews, so too with the disputes rag- 
ing between Christians and their cultured despisers among the pagans: 
all of these controversies came to affect the texts that were eventually to 
become part of the book that we now call the New Testament, as this 
book — or rather this set of books — was copied by nonprofessional 
scribes in the second and third centuries, and occasionally came to be 
altered in light of the contexts of their day. 


ii : "4- : -"W;i0-y :4 

Hfe-'f i "WWk 




One of the most famous and ornate manuscript pages in existence, the 

frontispiece of the Gospel of John in the Latin Lindisfarne Gospels 

(off the northeast coast of Northumberland, England). 


Changing Scripture 

Scribes, Authors, and Readers 

I began this book on a personal note by describing how I became in- 
terested in the question of the New Testament text and why it 
took on so much importance for me. I think what has held my interest 
over the years has been the mystery of it all. In many ways, being a 
textual critic is like doing detective work. There is a puzzle to be 
solved and evidence to be uncovered. The evidence is often ambigu- 
ous, capable of being interpreted in various ways, and a case has to be 
made for one solution of the problem over another. 

The more I studied the manuscript tradition of the New Testa- 
ment, the more I realized just how radically the text had been altered 
over the years at the hands of scribes, who were not only conserving 
scripture but also changing it. To be sure, of all the hundreds of thou- 
sands of textual changes found among our manuscripts, most of them 
are completely insignificant, immaterial, of no real importance for 
anything other than showing that scribes could not spell or keep fo- 
cused any better than the rest of us. It would be wrong, however, to 

208 Misquoting Jesus 

say — as people sometimes do — that the changes in our text have no 
real bearing on what the texts mean or on the theological conclusions 
that one draws from them. We have seen, in fact, that just the oppo- 
site is the case. In some instances, the very meaning of the text is at 
stake, depending on how one resolves a textual problem: Was Jesus an 
angry man? Was he completely distraught in the face of death? Did 
he tell his disciples that they could drink poison without being harmed? 
Did he let an adulteress off the hook with nothing but a mild warn- 
ing? Is the doctrine of the Trinity explicitly taught in the New Testa- 
ment? Is Jesus actually called the "unique God" there? Does the New 
Testament indicate that even the Son of God himself does not know 
when the end will come? The questions go on and on, and all of them 
are related to how one resolves difficulties in the manuscript tradition 
as it has come down to us. 

It bears repeating that the decisions that have to be made are by no 
means obvious, and that competent, well-meaning, highly intelligent 
scholars often come to opposite conclusions when looking at the same 
evidence. These scholars are not just a group of odd, elderly, basically 
irrelevant academics holed up in a few libraries around the world; 
some of them are, and always have been, highly influential on society 
and culture. The Bible is, by all counts, the most significant book in 
the history of Western civilization. And how do you think we have 
access to the Bible? Hardly any of us actually read it in the original 
language, and even among those of us who do, there are very few who 
ever look at a manuscript — let alone a group of manuscripts. How 
then do we know what was originally in the Bible? A few people have 
gone to the trouble of learning the ancient languages (Greek, Hebrew, 
Latin, Syriac, Coptic, etc.) and have spent their professional lives ex- 
amining our manuscripts, deciding what the authors of the New Tes- 
tament actually wrote. In other words, someone has gone to the 
trouble of doing textual criticism, reconstructing the "original" text 
based on the wide array of manuscripts that differ from one another 
in thousands of places. Then someone else has taken that reconstructed 
Greek text, in which textual decisions have been made (what was the 

Conclusion: Changing Scripture 209 

original form of Mark 1:2? of Matt. 24:36? of John 1:18? of Luke 
22:43-44? and so on), and translated it into English. What you read is 
that English translation — and not just you, but millions of people like 
you. How do these millions of people know what is in the New Testa- 
ment? They "know" because scholars with unknown names, identi- 
ties, backgrounds, qualifications, predilections, theologies, and personal 
opinions have told them what is in the New Testament. But what if 
the translators have translated the wrong text? It has happened be- 
fore. The King James Version is filled with places in which the trans- 
lators rendered a Greek text derived ultimately from Erasmus's 
edition, which was based on a single twelfth-century manuscript that 
is one of the worst of the manuscripts that we now have available to 
us! It's no wonder that modern translations often differ from the 
King James, and no wonder that some Bible-believing Christians pre- 
fer to pretend there's never been a problem, since God inspired the 
King James Bible instead of the original Greek! (As the old saw goes, 
If the King James was good enough for Saint Paul, it's good enough 
for me.) 

Reality is never that neat, however, and in this case we need to face 
up to the facts. The King James was not given by God but was a trans- 
lation by a group of scholars in the early seventeenth century who 
based their rendition on a faulty Greek text. : Later translators based 
their translations on Greek texts that were better, but not perfect. 
Even the translation you hold in your hands is affected by these tex- 
tual problems we have been discussing, whether you are a reader of 
the New International Version, the Revised Standard Version, the 
New Revised Standard Version, the New American Standard Ver- 
sion, the New King James, the Jerusalem Bible, the Good News Bible, 
or something else. They are all based on texts that have been changed 
in places. And there are some places in which modern translations 
continue to transmit what is probably not the original text (so I've ar- 
gued for Mark 1:41; Luke 22:43-44; and Heb. 2:9, for example; there 
are other instances as well). There are some places where we don't 
even know what the original text was, places, for example, about 

210 Misquoting Jesus 

which highly intelligent and impressively trained textual critics con- 
tinue to dispute. A number of scholars — for reasons we saw in chap- 
ter 2 — have even given up thinking that it makes sense to talk about 
the "original" text. 

I personally think that opinion may be going too far. I do not 
mean to deny that there are difficulties that may be insurmountable in 
reconstructing the originals: for example, if Paul dictated his letter 
to the Galatians and the secretarial scribe writing down what he 
said misheard a word because someone in the room coughed, then the 
"original" copy would already have a mistake in it! Stranger things 
have happened. Even so — despite the imponderable difficulties — we 
do have manuscripts of every book of the New Testament; all of these 
manuscripts were copied from other, earlier manuscripts, which were 
themselves copied from earlier manuscripts; and the chain of trans- 
mission has to end somewhere, ultimately at a manuscript produced ei- 
ther by an author or by a secretarial scribe who was producing the 
"autograph" — the first in the long line of manuscripts that were 
copied for nearly fifteen centuries until the invention of printing. So 
at least it is not "non"-sense to talk about an original text. 

When I was a student just beginning to think about those fifteen cen- 
turies of copying and the vicissitudes of the text, I kept reverting to 
the fact that whatever else we may say about the Christian scribes — 
whether of the early centuries or of the Middle Ages — we have to 
admit that in addition to copying scripture, they were changing scrip- 
ture. Sometimes they didn't mean to — they were simply tired, or inat- 
tentive, or, on occasion, inept. At other times, though, they did mean 
to make changes, as when they wanted the text to emphasize precisely 
what they themselves believed, for example about the nature of 
Christ, or about the role of women in the church, or about the wicked 
character of their Jewish opponents. 

This conviction that scribes had changed scripture became an in- 
creasing certitude for me as I studied the text more and more. And 

Conclusion: Changing Scripture 2 1 1 

this certitude changed the way I understood the text, in more ways 
than one. 

In particular, as I said at the outset, I began seeing the New Testa- 
ment as a very human book. The New Testament as we actually have 
it, I knew, was the product of human hands, the hands of the scribes 
who transmitted it. Then I began to see that not just the scribal text 
but the original text itself was a very human book. This stood very 
much at odds with how I had regarded the text in my late teens as a 
newly minted "born-again" Christian, convinced that the Bible was 
the inerrant Word of God and that the biblical words themselves had 
come to us by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. As I realized already 
in graduate school, even if God had inspired the original words, we 
don't have the original words. So the doctrine of inspiration was in a 
sense irrelevant to the Bible as we have it, since the words God reput- 
edly inspired had been changed and, in some cases, lost. Moreover, I 
came to think that my earlier views of inspiration were not only irrel- 
evant, they were probably wrong. For the only reason (I came to 
think) for God to inspire the Bible would be so that his people would 
have his actual words; but if he really wanted people to have his actual 
words, surely he would have miraculously preserved those words, just 
as he had miraculously inspired them in the first place. Given the cir- 
cumstance that he didn't preserve the words, the conclusion seemed 
inescapable to me that he hadn't gone to the trouble of inspiring them. 

The more I reflected on these matters, the more I began to see that 
the authors of the New Testament were very much like the scribes 
who would later transmit those authors' writings. The authors too 
were human beings with needs, beliefs, worldviews, opinions, loves, 
hates, longings, desires, situations, problems — and surely all these 
things affected what they wrote. Moreover, in an even more tangible 
way these authors were like the later scribes. They too were Chris- 
tians who had inherited traditions about Jesus and his teachings, who 
had learned about the Christian message of salvation, who had come 
to believe in the truth of the gospel — and they too passed along the 

2 1 2 Misquoting Jesus 

traditions in their writings. What is striking, once one sees them for 
the human beings they were, with their own beliefs, worldviews, situ- 
ations, and so on, is that all these authors passed along the traditions 
they inherited in different words. Matthew, in fact, is not exactly like 
Mark; Mark is not the same as Luke; or Luke as John; or John as Paul; 
or Paul as James. Just as scribes modified the words of the tradition, 
by sometimes putting these words "in other words," so too had the au- 
thors of the New Testament itself, telling their stories, giving their in- 
structions, and recording their recollections by using their own words 
(not just the words they had heard), words that they came up with to 
pass along their message in ways that seemed most appropriate for the 
audience and the time and place for which they were writing. 

And so I began to see that since each of these authors is different, it 
was not appropriate to think that any one of them meant the same 
thing as some other author meant — any more than it is fair to say that 
what I mean in this book must be the same as what some other author 
writing about textual criticism means in his or her book. We might 
mean different things. How can you tell? Only by reading each of us 
carefully and seeing what each of us has to say — not by pretending 
that we are both saying the same thing. We're often saying very dif- 
ferent things. 

The same is true of the authors of the New Testament. This can be 
seen in a very tangible way. As I pointed out earlier in this book, it has 
been clear to most scholars since the nineteenth century that Mark 
was the first Gospel written, and that Matthew and Luke both used 
Mark as one of the sources for their stories about Jesus. On the one 
hand, there's nothing particularly radical about this claim. Authors 
have to get their stories somewhere, and Luke himself indicates that 
he had read and used earlier accounts in coming up with his own 
(1:1-4). On the other hand, this means that it is possible to compare 
what Mark says with what Matthew and/or Luke say, in any story 
shared between them; and by doing so, one can see how Mark was 
changed by these later authors. 

Conclusion: Changing Scripture 2 1 3 

Engaging in this different kind of detective work can also be in- 
teresting and enlightening. For these later authors sometimes borrowed 
Mark's sentences wholesale, but on other occasions they changed what 
he had to say, sometimes radically. In that sense, they, like the scribes, 
were changing scripture. We have seen some examples in the course 
of our study. Mark, for example, portrays Jesus as in deep agony in the 
face of death, telling his disciples that his soul was "sorrowful unto 
death," falling on his face in prayer, and beseeching God three times 
to take away the cup of his suffering; on his way to be crucified he is 
silent the entire time, and he says nothing on the cross when mocked 
by everyone, including both robbers, until the very end when he calls 
out in anguish, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" He 
then utters a loud cry and dies. 

Luke had this version of the story available to him, but he modi- 
fied it significantly. He removed Mark's comment that Jesus was 
highly distraught, as well as Jesus's own comment that he was sorrow- 
ful unto death. Rather than falling on his face, Jesus simply kneels, 
and instead of pleading three times to have the cup removed, he asks 
only once, prefacing his prayer with "if it be your will." He is not at all 
silent on the way to his crucifixion but speaks to a group of weeping 
women, telling them to grieve not for him but for the fate to befall 
themselves. While being crucified he is not silent but asks God to for- 
give those responsible, "for they don't know what they're doing." 
While on the cross he is not silent: when one of the robbers mocks him 
(not both, as in Mark), the other asks for his help, and Jesus replies in 
full assurance of what was happening, "Truly I tell you, today you 
will be with me in paradise." And at the end, rather than asking God 
why he had been forsaken — there is no cry of dereliction here — he in- 
stead prays in full confidence of God's support and care: "Father, into 
your hands I commend my Spirit. " 

Luke has changed the account, and if we wish to understand what 
Luke wanted to emphasize, we need to take his changes seriously. 
People don't take his changes seriously, I came to see, when they 

2 1 4 Misquoting Jesus 

pretend that Luke is saying the same thing as Mark. Mark wanted to 
emphasize the utter forsakenness and near-despair of Jesus in the face 
of death. Interpreters differ in their explanations of why this is what 
Mark wanted to emphasize; one interpretation is that Mark wanted 
to stress that God works in highly mysterious ways, and that seem- 
ingly inexplicable suffering (Jesus at the end seems to be in the throes 
of doubt: "Why have you forsaken me?") can in fact be the way of re- 
demption. Luke wanted to teach a different lesson. For him, Jesus 
was not in despair. He was calm and in control, knowing what was 
happening to him, why it was happening, and what would occur later 
("today you will be with me in paradise"). Again interpreters are di- 
vided on why Luke portrayed Jesus this way in the face of death, but 
it may be that Luke wanted to give an example to persecuted Chris- 
tians about how they themselves should face death, in full assurance 
that God is on their side despite their torments ("into your hands I 
commend my spirit"). 

The point is that Luke changed the tradition he inherited. Read- 
ers completely misinterpret Luke if they fail to realize this — as hap- 
pens, for example, when they assume that Mark and Luke are in fact 
saying the same thing about Jesus. If they are not saying the same 
thing, it is not legitimate to assume they are — for example, by taking 
what Mark says, and taking what Luke says, then taking what 
Matthew and John say and melding them all together, so that Jesus 
says and does all the things that each of the Gospel writers indicates. 
Anyone who interprets the Gospels this way is not letting each author 
have his own say; anyone who does this is not reading what the 
author wrote in order to understand his message; anyone who does 
this is not reading the Gospels themselves — he or she is making up a 
new Gospel consisting of the four in the New Testament, a new 
Gospel that is not like any of the ones that have come down to us. 

The idea that Luke changed the text before him — in this case the 
Gospel of Mark — does not put him in a unique situation among 
the early Christian authors. This, in fact, is what all the writers of the 
New Testament did — along with all the writers of all the Christian 

Conclusion: Changing Scripture 2 1 5 

literature outside the New Testament, indeed writers of every kind 
everywhere. They modified their tradition and put the words of the 
tradition in their own words. John's Gospel is quite different from 
each of the other three (he never has Jesus tell a parable, for example, 
or cast out a demon; and in his account, unlike theirs, Jesus gives long 
discourses about his identity and does "signs" in order to prove that 
what he says about himself is true). The message of Paul is both like 
and unlike what we find in the Gospels (he doesn't say much about 
Jesus's words or deeds, for example, but focuses on what for Paul 
were the critical issues, that Christ died on the cross and was raised 
from the dead). The message of James differs from the message of 
Paul; the message of Paul differs from the message of Acts; the mes- 
sage of the Revelation of John differs from the message of the Gospel 
of John; and so forth. Each of these authors was human, each of them 
had a different message, each of them was putting the tradition he in- 
herited into his own words. Each of them, in a sense, was changing 
the "texts" he inherited. 

This, of course, is also what the scribes were doing. On one level, 
ironically perhaps, the scribes were changing scripture much less radi- 
cally than the authors of the New Testament themselves were. When 
Luke prepared his Gospel and used Mark as his source, it was not his 
intention simply to copy Mark for posterity. He planned to alter Mark 
in light of other traditions that he had read and heard about Jesus. 
Later scribes who were producing our manuscripts, on the other hand, 
were principally interested in copying the texts before them. They, for 
the most part, did not see themselves as authors who were writing 
new books; they were scribes reproducing the old books. The changes 
they made — at least the intentional ones — were no doubt seen as im- 
provements of the text, possibly made because the scribes were con- 
vinced that the copyists before them had themselves mistakenly altered 
the words of the text. For the most part, their intention was to con- 
serve the tradition, not to change it. 

But change it they did, sometimes accidentally, sometimes inten- 
tionally. In numerous places, the scribes altered the tradition they 

2 1 6 Misquoting Jesus 

inherited; and on occasion they did this in order to make the text say 
what it was already supposed to mean. 

As the years went by and I continued to study the text of the New Tes- 
tament, I gradually became less judgmental toward the scribes who 
changed the scriptures they copied. Early on, I suppose I was a bit sur- 
prised, maybe even scandalized, by the number of changes these 
anonymous copyists of the text had made in the process of transcrip- 
tion, as they altered the words of the texts, putting the text in their 
own words rather than the words of the original authors. But I soft- 
ened my view of these transcribers of the text as I (slowly) came to re- 
alize that what they were doing with the text was not all that different 
from what each of us does every time we read a text. 

For the more I studied, the more I saw that reading a text neces- 
sarily involves interpreting a text. I suppose when I started my studies 
I had a rather unsophisticated view of reading: that the point of read- 
ing a text is simply to let the text "speak for itself," to uncover the 
meaning inherent in its words. The reality, I came to see, is that mean- 
ing is not inherent and texts do not speak for themselves. If texts could 
speak for themselves, then everyone honestly and openly reading a 
text would agree on what the text says. But interpretations of texts 
abound, and people in fact do not agree on what the texts mean. This 
is obviously true of the texts of scripture: simply look at the hundreds, 
or even thousands, of ways people interpret the book of Revelation, or 
consider all the different Christian denominations, filled with intelli- 
gent and well-meaning people who base their views of how the 
church should be organized and function on the Bible, yet all of them 
coming to radically different conclusions (Baptists, Pentecostals, Pres- 
byterians, Roman Catholics, Appalachian snake-handlers, Greek Or- 
thodox, and on and on). 

Or think back on the last time you were involved in a heated de- 
bate in which the Bible was invoked, and someone volunteered an in- 
terpretation of a scripture verse that left you wondering, How did he 
(or she) come up with that? We hear this all around us in discussions 


of homosexuality, women in the church, abortion, divorce, and even 
American foreign policy, with both sides quoting the same Bible — 
and sometimes even the same verses — to make their case. Is this be- 
cause some people are simply more willful or less intelligent than others 
and can't understand what the text plainly says? Surely not — surely 
the texts of the New Testament are not simply collections of words 
whose meaning is obvious to any reader. Surely the texts have to be in- 
terpreted to make sense, rather than simply read as if they can divulge 
their meanings without the process of interpretation. And this, of 
course, applies not just to the New Testament documents, but to texts 
of every kind. Why else would there be such radically different un- 
derstandings of the U.S. Constitution, or Das Kapital, or Mddlemarch? 
Texts do not simply reveal their own meanings to honest inquirers. Texts 
are interpreted, and they are interpreted (just as they were written) by 
living, breathing human beings, who can make sense of the texts only 
by explaining them in light of their other knowledge, explicating 
their meaning, putting the words of the texts "in other words." 

Once readers put a text in other words, however, they have changed 
the words. This is not optional when reading; it is not something you 
can choose not to do when you peruse a text. The only way to make 
sense of a text is to read it, and the only way to read it is by putting it 
in other words, and the only way to put it in other words is by having 
other words to put it into, and the only way you have other words to 
put it into is that you have a life, and the only way to have a life is by 
being filled with desires, longings, needs, wants, beliefs, perspectives, 
worldviews, opinions, likes, dislikes — and all the other things that 
make human beings human. And so to read a text is, necessarily, to 
change a text. 

That's what the scribes of the New Testament did. They read the 
texts available to them and they put them in other words. Sometimes, 
however, they literally put them in other words. On the one hand, 
when they did this, they did what all of us do every time we read a 
text, but on the other, they did something very different from the rest 
of us. For when we put a text in other words in our minds, we don't 

2 1 8 Misquoting Jesus 

actually change the physical words on the page, whereas the scribes 
sometimes did precisely that, changing the words so that the words 
later readers would have before them were different words, which 
then had to be put into yet other words to be understood. 

In that respect, the scribes changed scripture in ways that we do 
not. In a more basic sense, though, they changed scripture the way we 
all change scripture, every time we read it. For they, like we, were try- 
ing to understand what the authors wrote while also trying to see how 
the words of the authors' texts might have significance for them, and 
how they might help them make sense of their own situations and 
their own lives. 



1. My friend Jeff Siker says that reading the New Testament in Greek is like 
seeing it in color, whereas reading it in translation is like seeing it in black and white: 
one gets the point but misses a lot of the nuances. 

2. The book that comes closest is David C. Parker's The Living Text of the Gospels 
(Cambridge: The Univ. Press, 1 997). 

Chapter 1 

1. Scholars today use the "common era" (abbreviated C.E.) for the older designa 
tion anno Domini (= A.D., or "in the year of the Lord"), since the former is more in 
elusive of all faiths. 

2. For a sketch that deals with the formation of the Jewish canon of scripture, 
see James Sanders's "Canon, Hebrew Bible" in the. Anchor Bible Dictionary, ed. David 
Noel Freedman (New York: Doubleday, 1992), 1 :838-52. 

3. By calling Jesus a rabbi I do not mean to say that he had some kind of official 
standing within Judaism but simply that he was a Jewish teacher. He was, of course, 
not only a teacher; he can perhaps best be understood as a "prophet." For further dis 
cussion, see Bart D. Ehrman, Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium (New 
York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1999) 

4. For this abbreviation, see n. 1 above. 

5. These would include the three "Deutero-Pauline" letters of Colossians, 
Ephesians, and 2 Thessalonians and, especially, the three "pastoral" letters of 1 and 2 

220 Notes 

Timothy and Titus. For scholars' reasons for doubting that these letters were from 
Paul himself, see Bart D. Ehrman, The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to 
the Early Christian Writings, 3d ed. (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 2004), chap. 23. 

6. At a later time, there were several forged letters claiming to be the letter to the 
Laodiceans. We still have one of them, which is usually included in the so-called 
New Testament Apocrypha. It is little more than a pastiche of Pauline phrases and 
clauses, patched together to look like one of Paul's letters. Another letter called To the 
Laodiceans was evidently forged by the second-century "heretic" Marcion; this one 
no longer survives. 

7. Although Q obviously no longer exists, there are good reasons for thinking 
that it was a real document — even if we cannot know for sure its complete contents. 
See Ehrman, The New Testament, chap. 6. The name Q is short for the German word 
Quelle, which means "source" (that is, the source for much of Matthew's and Luke's 
sayings material). 

8. For example, in the tractates known as the Apocalypse of Peter and the Second 
Treatise of the Great Seth, both discovered in 1945 in a cache of "Gnostic" documents 
near the village of Nag Hammadi in Egypt. For translations, see James M. Robinson, 
ed., The Nag Hammadi Library in English, 3d ed. (San Francisco: HarperSanFran- 
cisco, 1988), 362-78. 

9. The name Gnostic comes from the Greek word gnosis, which means "knowl 
edge. " Gnosticism refers to a group of religions from the second century onward that 
emphasized the importance of receiving secret knowledge for salvation from this 
evil, material world. 

10. For a fuller discussion, see Bart D. Ehrman, Lost Christianities: The Battles 
for Scripture and the Faiths We Never Knew (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 2003), 
esp. chap. 1 1 . More information about the entire process can be found in Harry Gam- 
ble, The New Testament Canon: Its Making and Meaning (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 
1985). For the standard authoritative scholarly account, see Bruce M. Metzger, The 
Canon of the New Testament: Its Origin, Development and Significance (Oxford: 
Clarendon Press, 1987). 

11. For a recent translation of the letter of Polycarp, see Bart D. Ehrman, The 
Apostolic Fathers (Loeb Classical Library; Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 2003), 
vol. 1. 

12 For further information on Marcion and his teachings, see Ehrman, Lost 
Christianities, 103-8. 

13. See especially William V. Harris, Ancient Literacy (Cambridge: Harvard 
Univ. Press, 1989). 

14 For literacy rates among Jews in antiquity, see Catherine H.ezser, Jewish Lit 
eracy in Roman Palestine (Tubingen: Mohr/Siebeck, 2001). 

15. See the discussion of Kim Haines-Eitzen, Guardians of Letters: Literacy, 
Power, and the Transmitters of Early Christian Literature (New York: Oxford Univ. 
Press, 2000), 27-28, and the articles by H. C. Youtie that she cites there. 

Notes 221 

16. The standard English translation is by Henry Chadwick, Origen's "Contra 
Celsum" (Cambridge: The Univ. Press, 1953), which I follow here. 

Chapter 2 

1. For further discussion, see Harry Y. Gamble, Books and Readers in the Early 
Church: A History of Early Christian Texts (New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 1995), 
chap. 3. 

2. Seneca: Moral Essays, ed. and trans. John W. Basore (Loeb Classical Library; 
London: Heinemann, 1925), 221. 

3. Martial: Epigrams, ed. and trans. Walter C. A. Ker (Loeb Classical Library; 
Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 1968), 1:115. 

4. The fullest discussion is in Haines-Eitzen's Guardians of Letters. 

5. I borrow this example from Bruce M. Metzger. See Bruce M. Metzger and 
Bart D. Ehrman, The Text of the New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption, and 
Restoration, 4th ed. (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 2005), 22-23. 

6. This is stated in the famous Muratorian Canon, the earliest list of the books 
accepted as "canonical" by its anonymous author. See Ehrman, Lost Christianities, 

7. This is one of the key conclusions of Kim Haines-Eitzen, Guardians of Letters. 

8. By professional I mean scribes who were specially trained and/or paid to copy 
texts as part of their vocation. At a later period, monks in monasteries were typically 
trained, but not paid; I would include them among the ranks of professional 

9. Commentary onMatthewl5. 14, as quoted in Bruce M. Metzger, "ExplicitRef 
erences in the Works of Origen to Variant Readings in New Testament Manu 
scripts," in Biblical and Patristic Studies in Memory of Robert Pierce Casey, ed. 
J. Neville Birdsall and Robert W. Thomson (Freiburg: Herder, 1968), 78-79. 

10. Against Celsus 2.27. 

11. See Bart D. Ehrman, The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture: The Effects of 
Early Christological Controversies on the Text of the New Testament (New York: Oxford 
Univ. Press, 1993). 

12 Origen, On First Principles, Preface by Rufinus; as quoted in Gamble, BooLs 
and Readers, 124. 

13. See n. 8 above. 

14. For other notes added to manuscripts by tired or bored scribes, see the exam 
pies cited in Metzger and Ehrman, Text of the New Testament, chap. 1, sect. iii. 

15. On only one occasion does one of Paul's secretarial scribes identify himself; 
this is a man named Tertius, to whom Paul dictated his letter to the Romans. See 
Rom. 16:22. 

16. See, especially, E. Randolph Richards, The Secretary in the Letters of Paul 
(Tubingen: Mohr/Siebeck, 1991). 

222 Notes 

17. Even the New Testament indicates that the Gospel writers had "sources" 
for their accounts. In Luke 1:1-4, for example, the author states that "many" 
predecessors had written an account of the things Jesus said and did, and that after 
reading them and consulting with "eyewitnesses and ministers of the word," he 
decided to produce his own account, one which he says is, in contrast to the others, 
"accurate. " In other words, Luke had both written and oral sources for the events 
he narrates — he was not himself an observer of Jesus's earthly life. The same was 
probably true of the other Gospel writers as well. On John's sources, see Ehrman, 
Lhe New Testament, 164-67. 

18. Later we will see how some manuscripts can be established as "better" 
than others. 

19. In fact, there were different endings added by different scribes — not just 
the final twelve verses familiar to readers of the English Bible. For an account of 
all the endings, see Bruce M. Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Gree\ New 
Testament, 2d ed. (New York: United Bible Society, 1994), 102-6. 

20. See Ehrman, Lhe New Testament, chap. 5, esp. 79-80. 

Chapter 3 

1. For my understanding of the term professional scribe, see n. 8 in chapter 2. 

2. For an argument that there is no evidence of scriptoria in the earlier 
centuries, see Haines-Eitzen, Guardians of Letters, 83-91. 

3. Eusebius is widely known today as the father of church history, based on 
his ten- volume account of the church's first three hundred years. 

4. For an account of these early "versions" (i.e., translations) of the New 
Lestament, see Metzger and Ehrman, Lext of the New Lestament, chap. 2, sect. ii. 

5. On the Latin versions of the New Lestament, including the work of Jerome, 
see Metzger and Ehrman, Lext of the New Lestament, chap. 2, ii.2. 

6. For fuller information on this, and on the other printed editions discussed in 
the following pages, see Metzger and Ehrman, Lext of the New Lestament, chap. 3. 

7. See, especially, the informative account in Samuel P. Lregelles, An Account 
of the Printed Lext of the Greek New Lestament (London: Samuel Bagster & Sons, 

8. Lhe Latin reads: "textum ergo habes, nunc ab omnibus receptum: in quo 
nihil immutatum aut corruptum damus. " 

9. See Metzger and Ehrman, Lext of the New Lestament, chap. 3, sect. ii. 

10. Whitby's emphasis. Quoted in Adam Fox, John Mil and Richard Bentley: 
A Study of Textual Criticism of the New Lestament, 1675-1729 (Oxford: Blackwell, 
1954), 106. 

11. Fox, Mil and Bentley, 106. 

12. Phileleutherus Lipsiensis, Remarks upon a Late Discourse of Free 
Thinking, 7th ed. (London: W. Lhurbourn, 1737), 93-94. 

13. My friend Mchael Holmes points out to me that of the seven thousand 
copies of the Greek Bible (both Greek New Testament and Greek Old Lestament), 

Notes 223 

fewer than ten, to our knowledge, ever contained the entire Bible, both Old and New 
Testaments. All ten of these are now defective (missing pages here and there); and 
only four of them predate the tenth century. 

14. Manuscripts — handwritten copies — continued to be made after the inven 
tion of printing, just as some people continue to use typewriters today, even though 
word processors are available. 

15. It will be seen that the four categories of manuscripts are not grouped on the 
same principles. The papyri are written in majuscule script, as are the majuscules, 
but on a different writing surface; the minuscules are written on the same kind of 
writing surface as the majuscules (parchment) but in a different kind of script. 

16. For additional examples of accidental changes, see Metzger and Ehrman, 
Text of the New Testament, chap. 7, sect. I. 

17. Those interested in seeing how scholars debate back and forth concern 
ing the virtues of one reading over another should consult Metzger, Textual Com 

18. I owe this example, along with several of the preceding ones, to Bruce M. 
Metzger. See Metzger and Ehrman, Text of the New Testament, p. 259. 

19. For a further discussion of this variant, see pp. 203-04. 

20. For a fuller discussion of the variants in the traditions of the Lord's Prayer, 
see Parker, Living Text of the Gospels, 49-74. 

21. There are a number of textual variants among the witnesses that attest this 
longer form of the passage. 

Chapter 4 

1. For a classic study of how the Bible was understood and treated in the Mddle 
Ages, see Beryl Smalley, The Study of the Bible in the Mddle Ages (Oxford: Clarendon 
Press, 1941). 

2. Richard Simon, A Critical History of the Text of the New Testament (London: 
R.Taylor, 1689), Preface. 

3. Simon, Critical History, pt 1, p. 65. 

4. Simon, Critical History, pt. 1 , pp. 30-31. 

5. Simon, Critical History, pt. 1, p. 31. 

6. Quoted in Georg Werner Kiimmel, The New Testament: The History of the In 
vestigation of Its Problems (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1 972), 4 1 . 

7. The fullest biography is still that by James Henry Monk, The Life of Richard 
Bentley, D.D., 2 vols. (London: Rivington, 1833). 

8. Quoted in Monk, Life of Bentley, 1 :398. 

9. Monk, Life of Bentley, 399. 

10. Proposals for Printing a New Edition of the Greek New Testament and St. 
Hieroms Latin Version (London, 1721), 3. 

11. See Monk, Life ofBentley, 2:130-33. 
12 Monk, Life ofBentley, 136. 

224 Notes 

13. Monk, Life of Bentley, 135-37. 

14. For a full biography, see John C. F. Burk, AMemoir of the Life and Writings of 
John Albert Bengel (London: R. Gladding, 1842). 

15. Burk AMemoir, 316. 

16. We have seen this principle at work already; see the examples of Mark 1 :2 
and Matt. 24:36 discussed in chapter 3. 

17. C. L. Hulbert-Powell, John James Wettstein, 1693-1754: An Account of His 
Life, Work and Some of His Contemporaries (London: SPCK, 1938), 15, 17. 

18. Hulbert-Powell, John James Wettstein, 43. 

19. Lachmann is famous in the annals of scholarship as one who, more than any 
other, devised a method for establishing the genealogical relationship among manu 
scripts in the textual tradition of the classical authors. His primary professional inter 
est was not, in fact, the writings of the New Testament, but he did see these writings 
as posing a unique and interesting challenge to textual scholars. 

20. Cited in Metzger and Ehrman, Text of the New Testament, 172. 

21. Constantine von Tischendorf, When Were Our Gospels Written? (London: 
The Religious Tract Society, 1866), 23. 

22. Tischendorf, When Were Our Gospels Written?, 29. 

23. To this day the monks of Saint Catherine's monastery maintain that Tis 
chendorf was not "given" the manuscript but absconded with it. 

24. Since Tischendorf s day, even more significant manuscripts have been dis 
covered. In particular, throughout the twentieth century archaeologists unearthed 
numerous papyrus manuscripts, which predate Codex Sinaiticus by up to 1 50 years. 
Most of these papyri are fragmentary, but some are extensive. To date, some 1 16 pa 
pyri are known and catalogued; they contain portions of most of the books of the 
New Testament. 

25. Caspar R. Gregory, "Tischendorf," Bibliotheca Sacra 33 (1876): 153-93. 

26. Arthur Fenton Hort, ed., Life and Letters of Fenton John Anthony Hort (Lon 
don: Macmillan, 1 896), 211. 

27 Hort, Life and Letters, 250. 

28. Hort, Life and Letters, 264. 

29. Hort, Life and Letters, 455. 

30. For a summary of the text-critical principles that Westcott and Hort used in 
establishing their text, see Metzger and Ehrman, Text of the New Testament, 174-81 . 

31. Seen. 24., above. 

Chapter 5 

1. For further explanation of these methods, see Metzger and Ehrman, Text of 
the New Testament, 300-15. 

2. Among other things, this means that the readings in the "Byzantine" major 
ity text are not necessarily the best readings. They simply have the most manuscript 

Notes 225 

support in terms of sheer numbers. As an old text-critical adage says, however: Man- 
uscripts are to be weighed, not counted. 

3. Some scholars take this to be the most basic and reliable text-critical principle 
of all. 

4. Much of what follows is taken from my article "Text and Tradition: The Role 
of New Testament Manuscripts in Early Christian Studies," found in TC: A Journal 
of Textual Criticism [ 5 (2000). 

5. For a fuller discussion of this variant, and its significance for interpretation, 
see my article "A Sinner in the Hands of an Angry Jesus, " in New Testament Greeks 
and Exegesis: Essays in Honor of Gerald F. Hawthorne, ed. Amy M. Donaldson and 
Timothy B. Sailors (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003). I have relied on this article for 
much of the following discussion. 

6. See Ehrman, The New Testament, chap. 6. 

7. On only two other occasions in Mark's Gospel is Jesus explicitly described as 
compassionate: in Mark 6:34, at the feeding of the five thousand, and in Mark 8:2, at 
the feeding of the four thousand. Luke tells the first story completely differently, and 
he does not include the second. Matthew, however, has both stories and retains Mark's 
description of Jesus's being compassionate on both occasions (Matt. 14: 14 [and 9:30]; 
15:32). On three additional occasions in Matthew, and yet one other occasion in Luke, 
Jesus is explicitly described as compassionate, with this term (SPLANGNTZO) used. 
It is difficult to imagine, then, why they both, independently of each other, would have 
omitted the term from the account we are discussing if they had found it in Mark. 

8. For these various interpretations, see Ehrman, "A Sinner in the Hands of an 
Angry Jesus. " 

9. For a more detailed discussion of why scribes changed the original account, 
see pp. 200-01, below. 

10. For a fuller discussion of this variant, see Ehrman, Orthodox Corruption 
of Scripture, 187-94. My first treatment of this passage was co-written with Mark 

11. For a discussion of why scribes added the verses to Luke's account, see pp. 
164-65, below. 

12 For a fuller discussion of this variant reading, see Ehrman, Orthodox Corrup 
tion of Scripture, 146-50. 

Chapter 6 

1. For primary texts from this period, see Bart D. Ehrman, After the New Testa 
ment: A Reader in Early Christianity (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1999). A nice in 
troduction to the period can be found in Henry Chadwick, The Early Church (New 
York: Penguin, 1967). 

2. For a fuller discussion of the material covered in the following paragraphs, 
see especially Ehrman, Lost Christianities, chapter 1 . 

226 Notes 

3. For a full discussion, see Ehrman, Orthodox Corruption of Scripture. 

4. For a fuller discussion of adoptionistic views, and of those who held them, 
see Ehrman, Orthodox Corruption of Scripture, 47-54. 

5. For a fuller discussion of docetism and docetic Christologies, see Ehrman, 
Orthodox Corruption of Scripture, 181-87. 

6. See pp. 33-34, above. 

7. He also accepted ten letters of Paul as scripture (all those in the New Testa- 
ment except 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus); he rejected the entire Old Testament, 
since it was the book of the Creator God, not of the God of Jesus. 

8. The quotations come from Justin's Dialogue with Trypho, 103. 

9. For further demonstration that these verses were not original to Luke but 
were added as an antidocetic polemic, see Ehrman, Orthodox Corruption of 
Scripture, 198-209. 

10. For another textual addition, and a fuller discussion of this one, see 
Ehrman, Orthodox Corruption of Scripture, 227-32. 

1 1 . For further information on separationist Christologies, and the Gnostic 
groups that held them, see Ehrman, Orthodox Corruption of Scripture, 119-24. 

12. For additional discussion of Gnosticism, see Ehrman, Lost Christianities, 
chap. 6. 

13. Against Heresies 3, 11,7. 

Chapter 7 

1 . See Ehrman, Lhe New Testament, chap. 24. 1 have depended on this chapter 
for much of the following discussion. For fuller discussion and documentation, see 
Ross Kraemer and Mary Rose D'Angelo, Women and Christian Origins (New 
York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1999). See also R. Kraemer, Her Share of the Blessings: 
Women's Religions Among Jews, Pagans, and Christians in the Graeco-Roman 
World (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1992), and Karen J. Torjesen, When Women 
Were Priests: Women's Leadership in the Early Church and the Scandal of Lheir 
Subordination in the Rise of Christianity (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 

2. For further elaboration, see Ehrman, Jesus', 188-91. 

3. See Ehrman, Lhe New Lestament, chap. 23. 

4. For a fuller discussion that shows that Paul did not write verses 34-35, see 
especially the commentary by Gordon D. Fee, Lhe First Epistle to the Corinthians 
(Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987). 

5. Lhe fullest recent discussion is by Eldon Jay Epp, "Lext-critical, Exegetical, 
and Sociocultural Factors Affecting the Junia/Junias Variation in Rom 16:7," in A. 
Denaux, New Lestament Textual Criticism and Exegesis (Leuven: Univ. Press, 
2002), 227-92. 

6. For other changes of this sort in Acts, see Ben Witherington, "Lhe Anti- 
Feminist Lendencies of the Western' Lext of Acts," Journal of Biblical Literature 
103 (1984): 82-84. 

Notes 227 

7. For two standard treatments in the field, see Rosemary Ruether, Faith and 
Fratricide: The Theological Roots of Anti-Semitism (New York: Seabury, 1974), and 
John Gager, The Origins of Anti-Semitism: Attitudes Toward Judaism in Pagan and 
Christian Antiquity (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1 983). A more recent study is 
Miriam Taylor's Anti- Judaism and Early Christian Identity: A Critique of the Scholarly 
Consensus (Leiden: Brill, 1995). 

8. SeeEhrman, Apostolic Fathers, 2:3-83. 

9. Translation of Gerald Hawthorne; the entire translation of the homily may be 
found in Bart D. Ehrman, After the New Testament, 1 1 5-28. 

10. See especially David Daube, "For They Know Not What They Do," in Sta- 
dia Patristica, vol. 4, ed. by F. L. Cross (Berlin: Akademie-Verlag, 1961), 58-70, and 
Haines-Eitzen, Guardians of Letters, 119-23. 

11. Translations of Against Celsus are taken from Henry Chadwick's edition; 
Origin: Contra Celsum (Oxford: Clarendon, 1953). 

12 See Ernst Bammel, "The Cambridge Pericope: The Addition to Luke 6.4 in 
Codex Bezae," New Testament Studies 32 (1986): 404-26. 

13. The classic study of early Christian persecution is W.H.C. Frend's Martyr 
dom and Persecution in the Early Church (Oxford: Blackwell, 1 965). See also Robert 
Wilken, Lhe Christians as the Romans SawLhem (New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 

14 Moreover, before 70 c.E. (when the Temple was destroyed), Jews were 
known to perform sacrifices on behalf of the emperor, a sign of their loyalty to the 

15. For a taller discussion, see the recent book by Wayne Kannaday, Apologetic 
Discourse of the Scribal Tradition (Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature Press, 2004), 
esp. chap. 2. 

16. Translation of R. Joseph Hoffman (Amherst, NY: Prometheus, 1994). 
17 The tallest study is that of Wayne Kannaday, cited in n. 15 above. 

18. See Robert M. Grant, Gree\ Apologists of the Second Century (Philadelphia: 
Westminster Press, 1988). 

19. See, especially, Eugene Gallagher, Divine Man or Magician: Celsus and Origen 
on Jesus (Chico, CA: Scholars Press, 1982). 

20. See Dale B. Martin, Inventing Superstition (Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 

21. Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, 88. 

22. There is a hole in the manuscript P 45 at this point, but it is clear by counting 
the number of letters that could fill this gap that this was its original reading. 


1 . For a recent discussion, see Adam Nicolson, God's Secretaries: Lhe Making of 
the King James Bible (New York: HarperCollins, 2003). 


Citations of Biblical and ancient texts appear in bold print. 

Account of the Printed Text of the Greek 
New Testament, An (Tregelles), 

Acts of the Apostles, 24-25; account of 
Paul after conversion, 10; alter- 
ations in the text involving women, 
185-86, 226n. 6; apologies in, 27; 
copyist error and doctrine of 
Christ's divinity, 1 14; illiteracy of 
apostles, 3940; martyrologies in, 
27; 1:1-11, 169; 2:38, 160; 3:17, 192; 
4, 185-86; 4: 13,39; 7, 27; 7:60, 191; 
9:26,10; 17:27, 192; 20:28, 114 

Acts of Paul, 25 

Acts of Peter, 25 

Acts of Thomas, 25 

adoptionists, 155-57, 158, 164, 226n. 4 

After the New Testament (Ehrman), 

Against Celsus (Origen), 22 Inn. 10, 16, 
227n. 1 1; 2.27, 52, 199; 2.74, 199; 3- 
44,40; 3.50, 4041; 3-56, 41; 4-22, 

193; 6.34,202; 6.36,203; 10:37-38, 

160 Against the Christians 

2.12-15,199, 227n. 16 Against 
Heresies (Irenaeus), 35; 1.27.2, 

53; 3.11.7, 35, 226n. 12 Against 
Marcion(Tertullian), 163; 3.8, 

169; 4.40, 167 Alcala, Spain, 76, 77 
Alexander n, Czar of Russia, 119, 120 
Alexandria, Egypt, 72 Alexandrian 
texts, 124, 125,131, 

13940, 162, 173 
Ambrose, Saint, 145 
Amos, 20 

Ancient Literacy (Harris), 220n. 13 
antiadoptionist changes to scripture, 

antidocetic changes to scripture, 164-70 
"Anti-Feminist Tendencies of the 

'Western Texts' of Acts, The" 

(Witherington), 226n. 6 

230 INDEX 

antiseparationist changes to scripture, 

Antitheses, 30 

apocalypse: Christians who believe in 
imminent, 13, 110; fig tree parable 
and timing of, 12-13; Hal Lindsay 
and, 12-13, 110; Johann Bengel 
and, 110-11; literature of, 25; timing 
of, 12-13,21 

Apocalypse of John (in New Testa- 
ment, as Revelations), 25 

Apocalypse of Peter, 25,220n. 8 

Apologetic Discourse on Scribal Tradition 
(Kannaday), 227nn. 15,17 

1 Apologia 6y (Justin Martyr), 32,42 

apologies (defenses), 26-27,200-205, 

Apostolic Fathers, The (Ehrman), 220n. 
ll,227n. 8 

Aristides, 200 

Athanasius, 36, 89 

Athenagoras, 200 

Augustine, Saint, 89 

Bammel, Ernst, 227n. 12 

Barnabas of Alexandria, 14 

Basel, Switzerland, 78,1 14 

Basore, John W., 221n. 2 

Bengel, Johann Albrecht, 109-12,115, 
131,224nn. 14,15 

Bentley, Richard, 86,105-9, 111, 115, 
117,222n. 10, 223nn. 7,8,9,10,11, 
12, 224n. 13; refutation of Collins 
[using pseudonym Phileleutherus 
Lipsiensis], 86-87, 105,222n. 12 

Beza, Theodore, 79, 82 

Bible: commentaries, early, 28-29; 
Christian interpretations of, 216; 
Complutensian Polygot, 76-77, 78, 
81; composed of copies of writings, 
4-5, 10, 71-74; Constantine and ad- 
vances in copying, 73; Greek texts of 
New Testament, 6, 10,1 1 (see also 

specific editions); as human 
book, 11— 12,14,211— 12; as 
inerrantwordof God, 4-5, 
6,11,12,13-14,110; Jewish Bible, 
6,11,19-20,24,28, 189, 21 9n. 2; 
King James Bible, 76, 79, 82, 83, 
209, 227n. 1; Latin Vulgate Bible, 
74-75, 76,79, 89,106-7, 116, 174, 
222nn. 5, 6; Middle Ages, treatment 
of, 101,223n. 1; New Revised 
Standard Version, 203, 209; notes 
documenting differences among 
sources (Stephanus's editions), 80, 
83; originals unavailable, 4-5, 10, 59; 
polygot editions, 76-77, 222n. 6; text 
divided into verses (Stephanus's 
edition), 80; Textus Re-ceptus (T.R.) 
and Erasmus translation, 78-83; 
translations and current editions, 
209. See also Jewish Bible; New 

books in the ancient world, 22 In. 1 ; 
copies, professional, 73-74; copies, 
variations in, 46; copyist errors, 46, 
47,90-94, 223n. 16; copyists' inten- 
tional changes, 46, 51-55; copyright 
protection absent, 53-54; distribu- 
tion, 46; early vs. later Christian 
texts, variations in, 71-72; printing 
press, invention of, 73, 75-76; pro- 
duction of, 46; publication, 46 

Booths and Readers in the Ancient 
World (Gamble), 22 Inn. 1,12 

Burk, John C. R, 224nn. 14-15 

Byzantine manuscripts, 73, 75,124,131, 

"Cambridge Pericope, The" (Bammel), 

Campus Life Youth for Christ club, 3 
"Canon, Hebrew Bible" (Sanders), 

219n. 2 Canon of the New Testament, 
The (Metzger), 220n. 10 

INDEX 231 

Celsus, 40-41, 52,101,179,199 

Chad wick, Henry, 22 m. 16, 225n. 1, 

chiasmus, 140 — 41 

Christianity: acts of the apostles, early 
accounts, 24-25; adoptionists, 155- 
57, 158, 226n. 4; alteration in 
scripture, involving Jews, 190 — 95, 
227n. 7; alteration in scripture, in- 
volving women, 183-86, 226nn. 4-6; 
antiheretical treatises, 27; apoca- 
lypse, 12-13, 25; apologetic alter- 
ations to scripture, 200-205, 227n. 
15; apologies (defenses) of, 26-27, 
200-205, 227n. 15; bookish charac- 
ter of, 17, 20-29,36-37,41-43, 69; 
canon, disputes over, 153; church 
orders, 25-26; Constantine and, 72- 
73,152; copyists, amateur, 34, 47- 
56, 71-72, 124, 221n. 4, 221n. 7; 
copyists, professional, 72-74, 221n. 
8, 221n. 13, 222n. 1; docetists, 162- 
64, 170, 226n. 5; early Christian 
letters, 21-23,31-32; early commen- 
taries, 28-29; early communities, 22- 
23, 179-81; early lesser-known 
writings, 14; effects of Christ's 
death, issues involving, 153, 154; 
evangelical, contemporary, Bible as 
inerrant word of God, 4-5, 6,1 1,12, 
13-14; formation of Christian 
canon, 29-36; founded by Jews who 
located sacred authority in books, 
20; God, identity of, issues, 152,153, 
154; intellectual converts, 26; Jewish 
Bible used by, 24, 28,189; Jewish 
conflicts with, 187-90, 227n. 8; Jew- 
ish converts, 35; Jewish Law and, 
35; Jewish scriptures, status of, 154; 
leaders of early church, 51; literacy 
of early Christians, 21,3841,51, 
72-73, 220n. 13; liturgy, 32; marty- 
rologies, 27; meeting in homes, 51; 

nature of Christ (fully human, fully 
divine, both) issues, 153, 154, 155- 
75, 227n. 19; orthodoxy and proto- 
orthodoxy, 28, 154, 164, 165, 

168, 169, 170, 171, 173, 174; pagan 
converts, 21; pagan opponents, 
4041, 52, 179, 196-200; persecu 
tions of Christians, 26, 196—98, 227n. 
13; problems with copying early 
Christian texts, 51 — 55; public read 
ing of texts, 22, 23,32,4143, 49, 51; 
readers of Christian writings, 
3641 ; sacred rites of, 26; salvation, 
doctrine of, 166—67, 171, 189; Scrip 
ture as authority for faith and, 
85-88, 102-5, 112, 114; separa- 
tionists, 170-71; theological diver 
sity in first centuries of, 152-55, 
225n. 1, 225n. 2; Trinity, doctrine of 
and Johannine Comma, 81-82,102, 
113; women, role of in early church, 
178-82, 226n.l 

Christians as the Romans Saw Them, The 

(Wilken), 227n. 13 
Clement of Alexandria, Saint, 89, 174 
Clement of Rome, 14,49-50 2 Clement 
19: 1,42 Codex Alexandrinus, 106, 113 
Codex Bezae, 134,194-95, 227n. 12 
Codex Ephraemi Rescriptus, 118 
Codex Sinaiticus, 47, 88,119-20,124, 

169, 191, 224nn. 23,24 
Codex Vaticanus, 56, 92, 124 
Colbatch, John, 108 
Collins, Anthony, 86, 87 
Colossians, 23; 4: 16, 23,42 
common era (CE.), 19,22,219nn. 1,4 
Complutensian Polygot, 76-77, 78, 81 
Constantine the Great, 72-73,152 
copyists: addition to Gospel of John, 

story of woman taken in adultery, 
62-65, 80, 82, 97-98, 102; addition to 
Gospel of Mark, last twelve verses, 

232 INDEX 

copyists (continued) 

65-68, 80, 82, 97-98, 102; alteration 
in texts, involving Jews, 190-95, 
227n. 7; alteration in texts, involving 
women, 183-86, 226nn. 4, 5, 6; an- 
cient authors, complaints by, 46^17, 
22 In. 4; antiadoptionist changes to 
the text, 157-62; antidocetic changes 
to the text, 164-70; antiseparationist 
changes to the text, 171-75; apolo- 
getic changes to scripture, 200-205, 
227n. 15; authors' threats against, 
54-55; changed texts, accidental, 46, 
55,59,71, 90-94, 177, 223n. 16; 
changed texts, intentional, 
34,46, 52-56, 59, 94-98,133- 
49,151-75, 183-86,190-95,200- 
205,226nn. 4, 5, 6, 227nn. 7, 15; 
Christian, early amateur and local, 
34, 47-56, 71-72, 124, 131, 22 In. 7; 
Christian, professional, 72-74, 221nn. 
8, 13, 222n. 1; conserving textual 
tradition and, 177; corrections and 
erroneous corrections, 56, 57-58, 
177-78; dictations and mistakes, 58- 
59, 92-93; Egyptian scribes, 38-39, 
131; errors in scripture, 4-5, 10-11, 
52; in Greco-Roman world, 45-47; 
Hebrews, "by the grace of God" or 
"apart from God," 144-48, 225n. 12; 
Hebrews, intentional change, 56; 
heretics and alteration of texts, 52- 
53; Hennas as, 48-5 1 ; human-ness 
of, 21 1-12; literate slaves as, 46, 50; 
liturgical changes by, 97; local textual 
traditions, 72, 130; Luke and copyist 
changes in scripture, 139^14, 157 — 
71 ; Marcion and, 34, 52-53; Mark, 
Gospel of, and copyist changes in 
scripture, 133-39, 173; monks, as, 
55, 221nn. 8, 13; Origen's complaint, 
52; orthodox scribes, changes by, 
53; periblepsis occa- 

sioned by homoeoteleuton (kind of 
mistake), 91-92; professional 
scribes, 46, 50, 51, 72-74, 131; prob- 
lems copying early Christian texts, 
51-55; problems interpreting an- 
cient Greek texts, 48, 90, 221n. 5; 
scholars, notable, uncovering vari- 
ants, 101-25; scribal class, 71-72; 
scriptoria established, 73, 222n. 2; 
shortcomings of, 39; skills of, varia- 
tions in, 55, 220n. 15; textual varia- 
tions, early vs. later copies, 71-74; 
theologically motivated alterations 
of the text, 151-75, 178; Timothy 
and copyist error, 1 13-15,157-58 

Corinthians, First Letter of Paul to: al- 
terations to text involving women, 
183-86, 226n. 4; church orders in, 
26; copyist mistakes in, 90, 91; illit- 
eracy of converts at, 40; women's 
role in Christian community, 180; 
1:27,40; 5:8, 90; 5:9,22-23; 7: 1,23; 
11,26, 181; 11:2-16, 184; 11:3-16, 
181; 11: 17-24, 181; 11:23-25, 166; 
1 1 : 25, 1 96; 12: 1 3, 9 1 ; 14: 33-36, 1 83- 
84,226n.4; 15:3-4,21; 15:27, 146 

Corinthians, Second Letter of Paul to, 

Critical History of the Text of the New 
Testament, A(Simon), 102, 223nn. 

Cyprian, 116 

Damasus, Pope, 74, 101 

D'Angelo, Mary Rose, 226n. 1 

Daniel, 25 

Daube, David, 227n. 10 

deism, 86 

Denkendorf, Germany, 109 

Deuteronomy, 19; 24: 1, 30-31; 35:4, 31 

Dialogue with Trypho (Justin Martyr), 

226n. 8, 227n. 21 

INDEX 233 

Didache of the Twelve Apostles, The, 26 
Dionysius, 53 

Discourse on Free Thinking (Locke), 86 
Divine Man or Magician (Gallagher), 

227a 19 
docetists, 162-64,170, 226n. 5 
doctrine of inspiration, 7, 11, 110 

Early Church, The (Chadwick), 225n. 1 

Eastern Christianity, 74, 76 Ebionites, 

155-57, 164 Egypt: Alexandrian texts, 

124, 125,131, 

13940,162,173; Athanasius, 36; 
Coptic language, 74; scribes in, 

Ehrman, Bart D. : books and articles, 
cited, 219n. 3, 220nn. 7,10, 11, 12, 
221nn. 5,6,11,14, 222nn, 4,6,9,17, 
223nn. 16,18, 224nn. l,20,225nn. 1, 
2,4, 5,6, 8,10-12, 226nn. 1,2,3,4,5, 
9,10, 11, 12,227nn. 8,9; "born- 
again" experience, 2,3, 11,211; 
Campus Life Youth for Christ club 
and, 3; career aspirations following 
Moody, 5-6; childhood in Episcopal 
church, Lawrence, KS, 1-2; Cullen 
Story and, 8-9; Gerald Hawthorne 
and, 6, 7; Greek, Hebrew, Latin, 
and other language studies, 5, 6; in- 
terest in textual criticism, 5, 14-15, 
207, 210-12; at Moody Bible Insti- 
tute, 4, 5, 11,12; at Princeton Theo- 
logical Seminary, 7-9; questioning 
assumption that the Bible is the in- 
errant word of God, 7, 8, 9—10, 11; 
radical rethinking of what the Bible 
is, 1 1,14; study of Gospel of Mark at 
Princeton, 8-9; at Wheaton College, 

Ellerton, John, 122 

Elzevir, Abraham and Bonaventure, 

1 Enoch, 25 

Ephesians, Letter of Paul to the, 32 

Epp, Eldon Jay, 226n. 5 

Erasmus, Desiderius, 78-82; Johannine 

Comma and, 81-82, 102 Eusebius, 
73, 222n. 3 Exodus, 19; 23:20, 94 
"Explicit References in the Works of 

Origen to Variant Readings in New 

Testament Manuscripts" (Metzger), 

22 In. 9 

Fee, Gordon D.,226n. 4 

Fell, John, 83 

First Epistle to the Corinthians, The 

(Fee), 226n. 4 "For They Know Not 
What They Do" 

(Daube), 227n. 10 Fox, 
Adam,222nn. 10,11 
Frend, W.H.C., 227n. 13 
Froben, Johann, 78 

Galatians, Letter of Paul to the: account 
of Paul after conversion, 10; 
earliest copy, papyrus P 46 , 60; "false 
teachers" warning, 27; number of 
copies, 58; original text, 58-60; 
Paul's postscript in his 
handwriting, 58-59; right stand- 
ing with God comes from faith, 
33; source, 62; women equality in, 
180; 1: 16-17, 10; 2: 15-16, 189; 3:37- 
28, 180; 6: 11, 58 

Gallagher, Eugene, 227n. 19 

Gamble, Harry, 220n. 10, 221nn. 1,12 

Genesis, 19 

Gibson, Mel, 63 

Gnostics, 28,35,152,170-71,172-73, 
174,220n. 8-9,226n. 12 

God: identity of, issues, 152,153,154; of 
Jews, 18, 21, 33-34,153; as lawgiver, 
19-20; one true, 26; pagan, 18,19, 

God's Secretaries (Nicolson), 227n. 1 

234 INDEX 

Good News Bible, 209 

Gospel of Peter, 172 

Gospel of Philip, 172 

grace (charis); doctrine of, 145, 147 

Graham, Billy, 6 

Grant, Robert M., 227n. 18 

Grapte, 49 

Greek Apologists of the Second Century 
(Grant), 227n. 18 

Greek language: abbreviations, nomina 
sacra, 91,113; apologia, 26; Bart 
Ehrman's language studies, 5, 6; 
Bengel's New Testament, 1 12; 
Christian texts in, 6, 10, 11; Eastern 
Christianity and, 74, 76; Jewish 
Bible in (Septuagint), 24, 119; Jo- 
hannine Comma absent from most 
texts, 81; Lachmann's New Testa- 
ment, 116-17; lectionaries, 89; man- 
uscripts of Scripture, 6, 10, 11, 73, 
83, 219 n l,222n 13,223n 14; man- 
uscripts of Scripture, variations in, 
John Mill and, 83-88; manuscripts 
of Scripture, variations in, known 
today, 88,115, 222n 13; majuscule 
manuscripts, 89, 223n. 15; Mark, 
Gospel of, 135; miniuscule manu- 
scripts, 89, 223n 15; monks copying 
Greek scriptures, Byzantine manu- 
scripts, 73, 75, 124, 131, 157, 224n 2; 
New Testament, Complutensian 
Polygot, 76-77, 78, 81; New Testa- 
ment, T.R., 78 — 83; papyrus manu- 
scripts, 89,191, 223n. 15; problems 
interpreting ancient Greek texts and 
scriptuo continua, 48, 90, 22m. 5; 
T.R. Bible (Erasmus's), 78-83; texts 
available, 77; Tischendorf s 
discoveries of manuscripts, 117-21, 
224n. 22; Westcott and Hort's New 
Testament and textual principles, 

Gregory, Caspar Rene, 121, 224n. 25 

Griesbach, J. J., 116 

Guardians of Letters (Haines-Eitzen), 

220n. 15,221nn.4,7,222n.2 
Gutenberg, Johannes, 75, 76 

Haines-Eitzen, Kim, 55, 220n. 15, 
22 Inn. 4,7,222n 2 

Harris, William V., 37, 220n. 13 

Hawthorne, Gerald, 6, 7 

Hebrews, Epistle to the: intentional 
change to single word in, 56; textual 
problem of "by the grace of God" or 
"apart from God," 144-48, 225n. 12; 
1 : 3,56; 2: 8-9,14448,149, 209, 225n. 
12; 4: 16,147; 5:7,148; 10:29, 147; 
12:15,147; 13:25,147 

Heracleon, 28-29 

heresies: alteration of sacred texts and, 
52-53; antiheretical treatises, 27-28, 
34-35; copyist changes in texts to 
prevent use by, 95-96; Gnostics, 28, 
35, 152, 170-71,172-73,174, 220nn. 
8, 9, 226n. 12; Marcion's, 33-34, 35, 
52-53, 152; orthodoxy and, 28; 
Socinianism, 115 

Hermas, 25,47-51 

Her Share of the Blessings (Kraemer), 
226n 1 

Hezser, Catherine, 220n. 14 

Hippolytus of Rome, 165 

Holmes, Mchael, 222n. 13 

Hort, Arthur Fenton, 224nn. 26, 27, 

Hort, Fenton John Anthony, 121-25, 
130—31, 224nn. 26, 27, 28, 29,30 

Hulbert-Powell, C. L., 224nn. 17,18 

Ignatius of Antioch, 14 
Inventing Superstition (Martin), 

227n.20 Irenaeus of Gaul, 35, 52- 

165,174,226n 12 
Isaiah, 20 

INDEX 235 

Ischyrion of Ptolemais Hormou, 

Egypt, 38-39 
Israel, contemporary, 12-13 

Jenkins, Philip, 13 

Jeremiah, 20 

Jerome, Saint, 74-75, 76, 89,101,103, 
106— 7,145,222n5 

Jerusalem Bible, 209 

Jesus (Ehrman), 219n. 3, 226n. 2 

Jesus Christ: adoptionist view, 155-57, 
158,164, 226n. 4; apostles, 24-25, 39- 
40, 68; ascension, 169-70; as car- 
penter, 202, 227nn. 21, 22; copyist 
changes, intentional, 95-98; cruci- 
fixion, differences in Gospels of 
Mark and John, 10; death of as 
human, 147-48; depiction in John, 
60-61; divinity of, Johannine 
Comma, 81-82, 102, 113; divinity of, 
passage in Timothy, 113-15, 157-58; 
docetistview, 162-64, 170,226n. 5; 
effects of His death, 53,154; events 
following birth, differences in 
Gospels of Luke and Matthew, 10; 
Hebrews, problem of forsaken 
Jesus, 14449, 225n. 12; heretical be- 
lief, as not the Christ, 35; interpreta- 
tion of Jewish scripture by, 30-31; as 
Jewish rabbi, 20,30,187, 219n. 3; 
Law of Moses and, 63, 64,137; 
Luke's imperturbable Jesus, 
changes to scripture and, 139-44, 
164-65, 213, 225nn. 10-11; Luke's 
depiction of the Passion, 142-44, 
214; Mark's depiction of an angry 
Jesus, changes to scripture and, 133- 
39, 225Nn. 5, 7-9; Mark's depiction 
of the crucifixion, burial, and 
resurrection, 65-68, 142-43, 148, 
172-73,213— 14; as messiah, 187—88, 
189; nature of Christ (fully human, 
fully divine, both) issues, 153, 154, 

155-75, 227n. 19; oral tradition, 65; 
return of, 21, 25; scriptural author- 
ity for life of, 21, 24; separationist 
view of, 170-71; as Son, 21; story of 
woman taken in adultery, 63-65, 80, 
82, 97-98, 102; teachings as Scrip- 
ture, 30-31; women and, 178-82, 
226n. 1 

Jewish Apocrypha, 25 

Jewish Bible (Old Testament): books of 
the prophets, 20, 24; Christian use, 
24, 28, 189; contents, 19-20; history 
books in, 20; original languages, 6, 
11; Paul's use of, 21; Pentateuch, 19- 
20, 24,30,31; Psalms, 20, 24; 
scriptural authority of, 21, 29-30; 
Septuagint, 24, 119 

Jewish Literacy in Roman Palestine 
(Hezser), 220n. 14 

Johannine Comma, 81-82, 102, 113 

John, the Apostle, 39 

John, First Epistle of, 4:2-3, 173-75 

John, Gospel of, 24; additions to origi- 
nal text, 61-62; alteration in text in- 
volving Jews, 194, 227n. 7; 
commentaries on, 28-29; copyist in- 
tentional changes in, 98, 223n. 21; 
copyist mistakes, 92, 93; crucifixion, 
timing, 10; divinity of Jesus in, 
161 — 62; Jesus's conversations with 
Nicodemus, 60; Jesus's portrayal, 
60 — 61; Johannine Comma, 81-82, 
102, 113; Lazarus, 60; manuscript 
fragment, 88; miracles in, 60; 
Samaritan woman, 60; sources, 
222n. 17; textual criticism of woman 
taken in adultery, 63-65, 80, 82, 102; 
"unique," use of work, 161-62; 
Valentinian use of, 35; "Word" of 
God becomes flesh, 61,161 — 62; 1: 1- 
18 (Prologue), 61, 161-62, 209; 3, 60; 
3: 16, 162; 3: 18, 162; 4, 60; 4: 142, 179; 
4:22, 194; 5, 98, 223n. 21; 

236 INDEX 

John, Gospel of, (continued) 

5:7- 8, 81-82; 5:39,93; 7:53-8: 12, 
63-65; 8:58,161; 10,60; 10:30,161; 
17: 15, 92; 19: 14,10; 20: 1-2,179; 
20:3-10, 168; 20:28,161; 20: 30-31, 
61; 21:22-23, 61; 21:25, 65 

John James Wettstein (Hulbert-Powell), 
224nn. 17, 18 

John Mil and Richard Bentley (Fox), 
222nn. 10,11 

Josephus, 14 

Judaism: adoptionistic view of Jesus, 
155-57, 164,226n 4; alteration in 
scripture, involving Jews, 186-95, 
227n. 7; apocalyptic literature, 25; 
beliefs, 17-18; conflicts with Chris- 
tianity, 187-90, 227n. 8; divorce 
laws, 30-31; Law, 19-20,30,35, 63, 
64, 137; literacy and, 220n 14; patri- 
archs and matriarchs, 18, 19; Penta- 
teuch, 1 9; as religion of the book, 
17 — 20; sacred books, 19 — 20; syna- 
gogues, 18; Temple in Jerusalem, 
18,227n 14; Torah, 19,30,31 

Judas Thomas, Gospel of, 24 

Junia,180, 185,226n 5 

Justin Martyr, 32,33,42, 165, 190,200, 
226n. 8, 227n. 21 

Kannaday, Wayne, 227nn. 15,17 

Ker, Walter C. A., 22m. 3 

King James Bible, 76, 227n 1; problems 

with, 209; source for, 79, 82, 83 
Kraemer, Ross, 226n 1 Kiimmel, 
Georg Werner, 223n. 6 

Lachmann, Karl, 116-17, 224n 19 
Laodicea, 23, 42, 220n 6 
Late Great Planet Earth, The (Lindsay), 
12, 1 10 Latin Vulgate Bible, 74-75, 
222nn. 5, 6; 

Bentley's proposed collation, 106 — 7; 

editions of, 76; Erasmus's use of for 

his Greek Bible, 79; Lachmann's 
Greek New Testament and, 116; 
number of manuscripts known, 89; 
textual variation, First Epistle of 
John, 174 

Left Behind (LaHaye and Jenkins), 14, 

LaHaye, Tim, 13, 110 

Leo X, Pope, 77 

Letter to Barnabas, 189 

Letter to Diognetus, 200, 227n 18 

letters: authorship, 23; early Christian, 
21-23; lost, 22-23; Paul's, 21-23, 31- 
32,34, 21 9-20n. 5,220n 6; as 
Scripture, 22 

Leviticus, 19; 13-14, 133; 20: 10, 64 

Life and Letters of Fenton John Anthony 
Hort (Hort, ed), 224nn. 26, 27, 

Life of Richard Bentley, The (Monk), 
223nn. 7, 8, 9,ll,12,224n 13 

Lindsey, Hal, 12,110 

Lipsiensis, Phileleutherus. See Bentley, 

literacy: in Athens, 37-38, 220n. 13; 
contemporary, 37; copyists and, 38- 
39,46-51, 55, 220n 15; early 
Christians, 21,3841, 220n. 13; Jews 
and, 220n. 14; public reading of 
texts, 22, 23,32,41-43, 51; readers 
and writers, ancient world, 38; sta- 
tus in ancient world and, 50; study 
of, in ancient times, 37 

liturgy, 32; textual changes and, 97 

Living Text of the Gospels (Parker), 219 
n. 2, 223n 20 

Locke, John, 86 

Lost Christianities (Ehrman), 220nn. 10, 
12,221n.6,225n.2,226n 12 

Lucian of Samosata, 14 

Luke, Gospel of, 24; alteration in, in- 
volving Jew?, 190—93,194-95, 
227nn. 10,12; angels in, 140; antido- 

INDEX 237 

cetic changes in, 164-70, 226n. 9; 
apologetic changes to, 203; chiastic 
structure in, 14041; copyist 
changes, intentional, 96, 97, 13944, 
158-61, 164-70; copyist mistakes, 
92, 93—94, 96, 223n. 18; depiction of 
Jesus as imperturbable and copyist 
change in manuscript, 139-44, 164- 
65, 213-14, 225nn. 10, 11; depictions 
of Jesus as not angry, 136, 225nn. 7, 
8; divinity of Christ and 
antiadoptionist changes, 158 — 61; di- 
vinity of Christ and antidocetic 
changes, 164-70; Jesus as Messiah, 
160; Lord's Prayer, 97, 223n. 20; 
Marcion's canon and, 34,35; Mark 
as source for, 135, 212-15, 222n. 17; 
prayer as theme in, 141-42; prede- 
cessors of, 24; return to Nazareth 
afterbirth of Jesus, 10; salvation, 
view of, 166-67; 1:1,24; 1:1-4,212, 
222n. 17; 1:35, 159-60; 2:11,160; 
2:33,158; 3, 94,223n. 18; 3:22,160; 
3:23, 159; 5: 38-39, 96; 6: 14,194-95, 
227n. 12; 8: 1-3,179; 10:1,160; 10:7, 
31; 11:2-4, 97; 12:8-9, 92; 18: 16,136; 
21:38, 65; 22: 17-19, 166;22:39-46, 
13944; 22:41, m 2 ; 22:42,142; 
226n. 9; 23:27-31,143; 23:32,203; 

23 : 33-34, 191-93, 227n. 10; 23 ; 34, 
143; 23-43, 143; 23:55- 
24:10,179; 24:12,168-70; 24:36, 
143; 24:51-52, 
169-70, 226n. 9 
Lyons, in Gaul, 35 


Manuscript 1739, 145, 174 

Marcion, 33-34, 35, 52-53, 152, 163, 167, 
220nn. 6, 12, 226nn. 6, 7 

Mark, Gospel of, 24; Abiathar-Ahim- 
elech mistake in, 9; apologetic alter- 
ations in text, 200-3, 204-5, 227n. 

15; baptism of Christ, 158-59; 
Christ's passion in, 65-68, 14243, 
148, 172-73, 213; copyists' inten- 
tional changes in, 94-95, 97; cruci- 
fixion, timing of, 10; dating as 
earliest Gospel, 135, 212; earliest 
and best manuscripts, 67, 203, 227n. 
22; Ehrman's study of Mark 2, at 
Princeton, 8-9; ending of, difficulty 
in interpreting, 67 — 68; Greek man- 
uscripts of, 135; heretical use of, 35; 
missing page, theory of, 68; mustard 
seed error, 9-10; salvation from 
death of Jesus, 166-67; as source for 
Gospels of Matthew and Luke, 135, 
212; textual criticism of an angry 
Jesus, 133-39,149, 225nn. 5, 7, 8, 9; 
textual criticism of last twelve 
verses, 65-68, 80, 82, 97—98, 102; 1:2, 
209,224n. 16; 1:11, 159, 161; 1:41, 

133-39, 149, 209, 225nn. 5, 7, 9; 

1:43-45, 68; 35, 135; 6:3, 201- 

2,203, 227n. 22; 6:34, 225n. 7; 

6:51-52, 68; 7:24-30, 179; 8:21, 68; 

8:31-33, 68; 9, 138; 9:29, 97; 9: 30—32, 

68; 10: 14, 136; 10:33-40,68; 

10:45,167; 13: 55, 203; 14: 12,10; 

14:33,142; 14:34,142; 14:35, 142; 

14:36,39,41,142; 14:62, 

204-5; 12:25, 10; 15:34, 172-73; 

15:39, 167; 15:4041,179; 15:40-51, 

179; 15:4247, 65; 16: 1-8, 179; 16:4- 

8,66; 16:8,67,68; 16:9-20, 

Martial, 47, 22 In. 3 Martial: Epigrams 
(Ker, ed. and trans.), 

221n. 3 
Martin, Dale B., 227n. 20 Martyrdom of 
Poly carp, 27 martyrologies, 27 Mary 
Magdalene, 65-66, 67, 179 Mary 
Magdalene, Gospel of, 24 Matthew, 
Gospel of, 24; alteration of 

the text involving Jews, 1 93-94, 

238 INDEX 

Matthew, Gospel of, (continued) 
227n. 7; Antitheses, 30; apocalypse, 
timing of, 13; apologetic alterations 
to text, 204; church orders in, 26; 
copyist changes, intentional, 95, 96- 
97, 223n. 19; events following birth 
of Jesus, 10; Jesus depicted as not 
angry, 136, 225nn. 7, 8; Jewish 
Christians and, 35; Jewish Law and, 
189; Lord's Prayer, 97, 223n. 20; 
Mark as source for, 135, 212; 
Scheide Codex, 88; 1:16, 96-97; 1:21, 
194; 2: 19-22, 10; 5, 30; 5: 17-20, 189; 

6:9-13, 97; 930, 225n. 7; 14:14, 

225n. 7; 15:32, 225n. 7; 16, 26; 17: 12- 

13, 95; 18, 26; 19:14,136; 24:32-34, 


24: 36, 1 10, 204, 209, 223n. 19, 224n. 

16; 26:29, 204; 27:24-25, 193-94; 

27: 34, 204; 27:55,179; 28: 1-10,179 
Martyrdom and Persecution in the Early 

Church (Frend), 227n. 13 
Melito of Sardis, 190, 227n. 9 
Memoir of the Life and Writings of John 

Albert Bengel (Burk), 224nn. 14, 15 
Metzger, Bruce M., 220n. 10, 221nn. 5, 

9, 14, 222nn. 4, 6, 9, 223nn. 16, 17, 

18,224nn. 1,20 
Mddleton, Conyers, 108 
Mill, John, 83-88, 89, 101-2, 105, 222nn. 

10, 11; controversy and, 85-88; 

death of, 85; number of variations in 

witnesses found by, 84, 101, 115 
Monk, James Henry, 223nn. 7, 8, 9, 1 1, 

12,224n. 13 
Moody Bible Institute, 4, 5, 12 
Moses, 18,19; Law of, 20,30, 63, 64,137 
Muratorian Canon, 22 In. 6 

Nag Hammadi Library in English, The 
(Robinson), 220n. 8 Neutral text, 
124,125, 131 New American Standard 
Version, 209 

New International Version, 209 New 
Revised Standard Version, 203, 

New Testament: alteration in scripture, 
involving Jews, 186 — 95, 227n. 7; al- 
teration in scripture, involving 
women, 183 — 86, 226nn. 4 — 6; anti- 
adoptionist changes to scripture, 
1 57 — 62; antidocetic changes to scrip- 
ture, 164-70; antiseparationist 
changes to scripture, 171-75; Apoc- 
alypse of John, 25; apologetic 
changes to scripture, 200-205, 227n. 
15; apologies (defenses) in, 26-27; 
Beatitudes, 24; Bengel's Greek New 
Testament, 1 12; books chosen for, 
first list, 35-36; books included in 
some versions, 47; Byzantine manu- 
scripts of, 73, 75, 124, 131, 157; com- 
monly accepted textual variants 
(that are wrong), 13349, 225n. 4; 
competing canons, 153; copyists' er- 
rors, 52, 90-94; copyists' intentional 
changes, 34,46, 52-56, 59, 94-98, 
133-49, 151-75, 183-86, 190-95, 
200-205, 226nn. 4, 5, 6, 227nn. 7, 15; 
dating of, 36; doctrine of Christ's di- 
vinity and, 81-82, 102, 113-15, 157- 
58; establishing oldest possible text, 
88; formation of Christian canon, 
29-36, 153, 220n. 10,221n. 6; 
Galatians, earliest extant copy, 60; 
Gospels, 24,35; Greek manuscripts, 
6, 10, 11, 73, 83, 219 n. 1; Greek 
New Testament, Complutensian 
Polygot, 76-77, 78, 81; Greek New 
Testament, Lachmann's, 116-17; 
Greek New Testament, T.R., 78-83; 
importance of, 69, 208; Latin trans- 
lations, 74; letters in, 22-23,31-32; 
liturgy in formation of, 32; Lord's 
Prayer, 24, 97, 223n. 20; Marcion, 
role in formation of, 33 — 34; New 

INDEX 239 

Revised Standard Version, 203, 209; 
"original" texts, inaccessibility of, 
60, 69; original texts, importance of 
textual criticism and, 208-18; or- 
thodox canon, after Marcion, 34-35; 
Q (source), 24, 220n. 7; scholars, 
notable, searching for origins, 
101 — 25; teachings as Scripture, 31; 
theologically motivated alterations 
of the text, 151-75; translations into 
indigenous languages, 74; varia- 
tions in (Greek) witnesses found, 
83-88, 89-90, 101-25; Vulgate 
Bible, 74-75, 76, 79, 89, 106-7, 116, 
222nn. 5 — 6; Westcott and Hort's 
edition, 121-23 

New Testament, The (Ehrman), 220n. 7, 
222n. 17,225n.6,226n. 3 

New Testament, The (Kummel), 223n. 6 

New Testament Apocyrpha, 220n. 6 

New Testament Canon, The (Gamble), 

New Testament in the Original Greek, 
The (Westcott and Hort), 12 1 -23 

Nicholson, Adam, 227n. 1 

Numbers, Book of, 19 

oral tradition, 65, 97-98 

Origen, 4041, 52, 89, 101, 106, 107, 

116, 117, 145, 174, 179, 190, 193,200, 

202-3, 22 Inn. 9,12,16, 227n. 11; 

Rufinus's translation of, 54, 221n. 12 
Origens "Contra Celsum" (Chadwick), 

22 In. 16, 227n. 11 Orthodox 
Corruption of Scripture, The 

(Ehrman), 22m. ll,225nn. 10, 11, 

12,226nn. 3,4,5,9, 10, 11,12 
orthodoxy and proto-orthodoxy, 28, 

154, 164, 165, 168, 169, 170, 171, 173, 

174; canon, after Marcion, 34-35; 

heresies and, 28; scribes, changes by, 

53; as true teaching, 28 

pagans, 195 — 96,227n. 20; alterations to 
scripture to counter, 200-205; converts 
to Christianity, 21; opponents to 
Christianity, 4041, 52, 179,196-200, 
227n. 13 Parker, David C, 219n. 2, 
223n. 20 Paschal Homily, 94-96 
(Melito), 190, 

227n. 9 
Passion of the Christ, The (film), 63 Paul 
of Tarsus: alterations to Pauline letters 
involving women, 183-86, 226nn. 4, 5; 
antiheretical writings, 27-28; churches 
founded by, 26; conflicts with Jews and, 
188-89, 227n. 7; dictation of letters by, 
59-60, 210, 221nn. 15, 16; differing 
accounts of events following con- 
version on road to Damascus, 10; 
education of, 21; on grace (charis), 147; 
letters, 21-23, 31-32, 34, 219-20n. 5, 
220n. 6; Marcion's heresies and, 33-34; 
pagan persecution of, 196, 227n. 13; 
pseudonymous letters, 23; on public 
reading of letters, 42; right standing 
with God comes from faith, 33, 163, 
188-89; slavery and, 181; women in 
Christianity and role in early church, 
178-82, 226n. 1. See also specific letters 
Pentacostal Christians, 66 Petaus of 
Karanis, Egypt, 38,39 Peter the 
Apostle, 39, 168 
1 Peter, 3: 15, 27 

2 Peter: authorship of, 31; 3: 16, 31 
Philip, Gospel of, 24 
Philippi, Polycarp's letter to church, 

31-32 Pius, 50 Plutarch, 14 
Polycarp, bishop of Symrna, 27, 31-32, 

220n. 11 
Porphry, 199,227n. 16 
presbyters, 50 

240 INDEX 

Princeton Theological Seminary, 7-9 
printing press, invention of, 73, 75-76 
Prisca (Priscilla), 180, 185-86 Proposals 
for Printing (Bentiey), 107-8, 

223n. 10 Protestant Reformation: 
sola scriptura 

doctrine and attacks on, 85, 87, 
102-5, 112, 114 Psalms, 20, 24; 22, 
172, 173; 69:22, 204 

Q (source of Gospels), 24, 220n. 7 

readers of Christian writings, 36-41 

Remarks upon a Late Discourse of Free 

Thinking (Lipsiensis [Bentiey]), 

Reply to a Treatise of Free-Thinking, A 
(Collins), 105 

Reuchlin, Johannes, 78, 80 

Revelation: Bengel and, 110; copyist 
mistakes in, 93; Erasmus, missing 
page of source, 78-79; interpreta- 
tions of, 216; warning to copyists 
against changing text of, 54; 1 : 3,42, 
93; 1:5, 93; 22: 18-19, 54 

Revised Standard Version, 209 

Richards, E. Randolph, 22 In. 16 

Robinson, James M., 220n. 8 

Roman Catholic Church: as Antichrist, 
110; apostolic tradition, 104; 
Richard Simon and refutation of 
sola scriptura, 102-5; scripture not 
sufficient authority for faith and 
Mill's apparatus, 85 

Romans, Letter of Paul to the: alter- 
ation in text involving women, 185, 
226n. 5; copyist errors in, 91, 93; 
right standing with God comes 
from faith not works, 33; scribe 
identified, 22m. 15; women men- 
tioned in, 180; 3:21-22, 189; 5: 1, 93; 
10:34, 189; 12:11,91; 16:7, 185, 
226n. 5; 16:22, 221n. 15 

Rome and Roman Empire: Christian 
church in, 50; literacy in, 37; pagan 
religion in, 297; persecutions of 
Christians, 26, 196-98, 227n. 13 

Rufinus, 54 

salvation, doctrine of, 166 — 67, 171, 189 

Sanders, James, 219n. 2 

Scheide Codex, 88 

scribes. See copyists 

scriptoria, 73, 222n. 2 

scriptuo continua, 48, 90, 221n. 5 

Scripture: as authority for faith (Protes- 
tant Reformation and sola scriptura), 
85, 87, 102-5; beginnings of Christ- 
ian canon, 29-32; formation of 
Christian canon, 29-36; Gospels as 
authoritative, 32; Jesus's teachings 
as, 3 1 ; John Mill's apparatus and 
doubts on authority of, 85-88; as 
Old Testament, 30,32; Richard 
Simon and attack on sola scriptura, 
102-5. See also New Testament; spe- 
cific books 

Second Treatise of the Great Seth, 220n. 8 

Secretary in the Letters of Paul, The 
(Richards), 221n. 16 

SemlerJ., 116 

Seneca, 4647, 22 In. 2 

Seneca: Moral Essays (Basore, ed), 
221n. 2 

separationists, 170-73. See also Gnostics 

Septuagint, 24, 119 

Sermon on the Mount, 30 

Shepherd, The (Hernias), 25, 47-5 1 ; 1 : 1 , 
50; 5:4,48; 8:3,49 

Siker, Jeff, 219 n. 1 

Simon, Richard, 102-5, 111, 223nn. 2-6 

"Sinner in the Hands of an Angry 
Jesus, A" (Ehrman), 225nn. 5, 8 

Smalley, Beryl, 223n. 1 

Socinianism, 115 

Stephen, martyrdom of, 27, 191 

INDEX 241 

Stephanus (Robert Estienne), 79, 80, 82, 

83,84,85,107 Story, Cullen, 8-9 
Study of the Bible in the Middle Ages, 

The (Smalley), 223 Stunica (Diego 
Lopez de Zuniga), 76, 

Syria: Syriac language, 74; Syrian 

text, 124 

Tertullian, 89, 163, 164,167,168, 

"Text-critical, Exegetical, and Socio- 
cultural Factors" (Epp), 226n. 5 

Text of the New Testament, The: Its 
Transmission, Corruption, and 
Restoration (Metzger and Ehrman), 
221nn. 5, 14, 222nn. 4, 6, 9, 223nn. 
16, 18,224nn. 1,20 

"Text and Tradition" (Ehrman), 
225n 4 

Textual Commentary (Metzger), 

textual criticism, 5, 14-15; accidental 
changes in manuscripts, kinds of, 
90-94, 223n. 16; alteration in texts, 
involving Jews, 186-95; alterations 
to text involving women, 1 83-86, 
226nn. 4-6; antiadoptionistic alter- 
ations to the text, 157-62; antido- 
cetic changes to the text, 164-70; 
antiseparationist changes to the text, 
171-75; apologetic alterations to 
scripture, 200-205, 227n. 15; Ben- 
gel's criteria of Proclivi scriptioni 
praestat ardua (the most difficult 
reading is preferable to the easier 
one), 111, 115,131-32, 224n. 16, 
225n. 3; Bengel's grouping of wit- 
nesses, 111-12,115, 123; divinity of 
Christ, determining original texts 
and, 157-75; earliest form of text, 
establishing, 127 — 32; example of 

Gospel of Luke and an imper- 
turbable Jesus, 13944, 225nn. 10, 
11; example of Gospel of Mark and 
an angry Jesus, 133-39, 225nn. 7, 8, 
9; example Gospel of Mark, last 
twelve verses as not original, 65-68, 
80, 82, 97-98, 102; example of origi- 
nal text of Galatians, 58-60; exam- 
ple of original text of Gospel of 
John, 60-62; example of textual con- 
flict in Hebrews, "by the grace of 
God" or "apart from God," 144-49, 
171-72, 225n. 12; example of 
"woman taken in adultery" story, 
63-65, 80, 82, 97-98, 102; external 
evidence considered, 128-31; fami- 
lies of witnesses, grouping, 124-25, 
130-31; Greek manuscripts, four 
types of, 89; Greek manuscripts, 
variations in, John Mill and, 83-88; 
importance of knowing original 
text, 69,208-18; intentional changes 
in manuscripts, kinds of, 94-98, 
157-75; internal evidence consid- 
ered (intrinsic principles and tran- 
sciptional probability), 131-32, 140, 
147; methodology, development of, 
105-25; new discoveries of manu- 
scripts, 117-21, 125,224nn. 24,31; 
principles for interpreting types of 
alterations in text, 63, 128-32, 224n. 
1 ; problems in knowing the "origi- 
nal text," 57-58, 61-62; as rational 
eclecticists, 129; scholars, notable, 
searching for origins, 101-25; search 
for oldest New Testament, 62-63; 
task of textual critic, 62-63, 69; the 
ologically motivated alterations of 
the text, 151-75; variations in Greek 
manuscripts, known today, 88, 89 — 90; 
Westcott and Hort, critical princi- 
ples of, 121-25, 130-31, 224n 30; 
Wettstein's system of reference, 115 

242 INDEX 

Textus Receptus (T.R.), 107, 222n. 8; as 
editio princeps, 79; Erasmus and, 78; 
flaws of, 79, 80, 1 17; Johann Ben- 
gel's edition, 1 12; Johann Wettstein's 
edition, 115; John Mill's apparatus 
and, 84; as source for King James 
version, 79, 82, 83; sources, 78-79, 
116; naming, 82-83 

Thessalonians, First Letter of Paul to 
the: 1:9-10, 21; 2: 14,196; 2: 14-15, 
188; 5:26-27, 22; 5:27, 42 

Timothy, First Letter of Paul to, 34; au- 
thor of, 31, 181-82, 219-20n. 5; doc- 
trine of divinity of Christ passage 
and copyist error, 113-15, 157-58; 
public reading of, 32, 51; women's 
role in, 182, 183; 2: 11-15, 182; 3: 16, 

Timothy, Second Letter of Paul to, 34 
Tischendorf, Lobegott Friedrich Con- 

stantine von, 117-21, 224nn. 21, 22, 

"Tischendorf (Gregory), 224n. 25 
Titus, Letter of Paul to, 34, 219-20n. 5 
To the Laodiceans, 220n. 6 Torjesen, 
Karen J., 226n. 1 Tregelles, Samuel P., 
222n. 7 Trinity, doctrine of, 81-82,102, 
1 1 3 True Word, The (Celsus), 40 

Valentinians, 35 

Vatican, Greek manuscripts in, 


Walton, Brian, 83, 84 

Westcott, Brooke Foss, 121—25,130-31, 
224n. 30 

Western text, 124-25, 131,226n. 6 

Wettstein, J.(ohann) J, 1 12—16, 224nn. 
17-18; passage in Timothy and doc- 
trine of divinity of Christ, 113-15, 

Wheaton College, 6-7 

When Were Our Gospels Witten? (Tis- 
chendorf), 224n.21 

When Women Were Priests (Torjesen), 

Whitby, Daniel, 85-86, 87, 222nn. 10, 

Wilken, Robert, 227n. 13 

Witherington, Ben, 226n. 6 

women: alterations in text involving, 
183-86, 226nn. 4, 5, 6; Paul's recog- 
nition of specific (Phoebe, Prisca, 
Mary, Julia, Junia), 180, 185-86; role 
in early church, 178-82, 226n. 1 

Women and Christian Origins (Kraemer 
and D'Angelo), 226n. 1 

Ximenes de Cisneros, 76, 77, 222n. 7 


continued from the front flap 

origins of the Bible itself stem from both 
intentional and accidental alterations by 
scribes — alterations that dramatically affected 
all subsequent versions of the Bible. 

BART D. EHRMAN chairs the Department 

of Religious Studies at the University of 
North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He is an 
authority on the history of the New Testament, 
the early church, and the life of Jesus. He 
has taped several highly popular lecture series 
for the Teaching Company and is the author 
of Lost Christianities: The Battles for Scripture and 
the Faiths We Never Knew and Lost Scriptures: 
Books that Did Not Make It into the New Testament. 
He lives in Durham, North Carolina. 

Visit www. for exclusive 
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A Division of HavperCoLYmsPti blisters 

■■'■... ., ■■■■ I 


How Mistakes and Changes 
Shaped the Bible We Read Today 


"Engaging and fascinating. . . . [Ehrman's] absorbing story, 

fresh and lively prose, and seasoned insights into the challenges 

of recreating the texts of the New Testament ensure that readers 

might never read the Gospels or Paul's letters the same way again." 

—Publishers Weekly (starred review) 

"Misquoting Jesus is a fascinating report on the scribes who 

wrote the Greek manuscripts of the New Testament, the scholars 

who used these thousands of manuscripts to establish the best 

text, and Bible translators who use their results to produce the 

modern translations we use today. I recommend it enthusiastically 

to everyone interested in the wording of the New Testament. 

—James M. Robinson, author of The Gospel of Jesus 

In Misquoting Jesus Ehrman reveals that: 

• The King James Bible was based on corrupted and inferior 
manuscripts that in many cases do not accurately represent the 
meaning of the original text. 

• The favorite Bible story of Jesus's forgiving the woman caught in 
adultery (John 8:3-11) doesn't belong in the Bible. 

• Scribal errors were so common in antiquity that the author of 
the Book of Revelation threatened damnation to anyone who 
"adds to" or "takes away" words from the text. 


ISBN-13: 978-0-06-073817-4 
ISBN-10: 0-06-073817-0