Bart Ehrman’s Misquoting Jesus – A Critical Review

Bart Ehrman’s Misquoting Jesus – A Critical Review

Bart D. Ehrman, Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2005. $24.95, 242 pp. ISBN 0-06-073817-0

Contrary to what the title might suggest, Bart Ehrman’s book Misquoting Jesus is not primarily about sayings of Jesus that have been “misquoted.” Ehrman’s preferred title was “Lost in Transmission,” reflecting his personal opinion that much of the original wording of the New Testament has been “lost” through the inaccuracies of the early scribes who hand-copied the text. For marketing reasons (one would presume) the publisher preferred the existing title. The subtitle of the book doesn’t add any clarity either. “The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why” gives the impression that the reader will learn of a sinister historical plot to distort Scripture. Nothing could be further from the truth, or from the actual content of Ehrman’s book.

Bart Ehrman is a university professor as well as a widely acknowledged expert in the field of biblical textual criticism—the study of the available manuscript evidence from which the various translations of the Bible have been produced. He is not the expert (as some would say), but his credentials are well established. He is also an excellent writer. I found his book easy to read and informative. Unfortunately, the main thrust of the book is not as commendable. While Ehrman presents a lot of interesting factual and technical information, his presentation is so one-sided that the reader is given a distorted view of reality and deprived of a great deal of pertinent information that would clear things up.

Bart Ehrman’s Primary Purpose for Writing Misquoting Jesus

In the introduction, Bart Ehrman correctly identifies the difficulty in dealing with New Testament manuscripts as well as the role of the textual critic. On page 5 he writes,

As we learned at Moody [Bible Institute] in one of the first courses in the curriculum, we don’t actually have the original writings of the New Testament. What we have are copies of these writings, made years later—in most cases, many years later. Moreover, none of these copies is completely accurate, since the scribes who produced them inadvertently and/or intentionally changed them in places.

It appears that Ehrman’s intent, at least in part, was to shock Christians with the information in the above quote. I will say more about that below. For now, I want the reader to understand that even though his intent was not wholly noble in my opinion, what he says above is basically true. No one does possess the original writings, and there are errors, omissions, additions, and even some well-documented intentional changes in the ancient manuscripts. Textual critics call these points of difference in ancient manuscripts “textual variants”—places where one ancient copy differs from others because of a copying abnormality. As uncomfortable as this might make you feel, it would be foolish to pretend that no difficulty exists in extracting the text of Scripture from these ancient documents.

After having correctly identified the difficulty, however, Ehrman reveals a hint of the personal agenda that characterizes the rest of his book. Continuing in the same paragraph, he confidently concludes that “All scribes did this [i.e., made mistakes and/or intentionally changed the text of Scripture when copying]. So rather than actually having the inspired words of the autographs (i.e., the originals) of the Bible, what we have are error-ridden copies of the autographs.”

While Bart Ehrman is correct in saying that early copyists sometimes made errors, he has absolutely no historical, factual, or even logical foundation for saying “All scribes did this.” The presence of some errors committed by some people who perform a particular task does not lead logically to the conclusion that every person who performs that particular task makes errors in every case. For example, if one hundred people were given the task of carefully hand-copying the Declaration of Independence, some of them would likely make mistakes. But no one could logically conclude that all of them would make mistakes. Even if every existing manuscript of the New Testament contained documented errors, still no basis is provided for assuming that none of the manuscripts that have been destroyed and/or lost were error-free.

Ehrman’s unfounded overstatement of the problem of copyist errors assures us even further of what he wants the reader to believe—that the text of the New Testament is utterly unreliable. His use of the derogatory term “error-ridden” adds credence to this. Something that is “error-ridden” cannot be accurate. Something that is “error-ridden” cannot be trusted. And something that is “error-ridden” is not likely to be restored to reliability, no matter how hard we try. Then, after initially hinting about his personal bias in these ways, Ehrman makes his position plain:

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 cannot be sure that we have constructed the original text accurately. . . . The fact that we don’t have the words surely must show, I reasoned, that [God] 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. (p. 11)

For Bart Ehrman, the Bible is not the infallible Word of God, but the very fallible words of mere men. He calls the Bible “a human book from beginning to end” (p. 11). And Ehrman’s low view of the Bible has resulted in his low view of God and Christianity. We know (from other sources) that Bart Ehrman, once a professing Christian, now refers to himself as “a happy agnostic.” And although he professes to have respect for those who still choose to view the Bible as the Word of God, his writing is obviously geared toward persuading the reader to adopt his own skeptical, agnostic position. On page 13 he writes,

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 fully committed. (emphasis mine)

One can be “fully committed” to something without writing a book about it. When one does write a book about something to which he or she is “fully committed,” it becomes obvious that the goal is to persuade others to become just as “fully committed” to that same point of view. The fact is, Bart Ehrman wants the reader to join him in his skepticism. He goes so far as to say that it is “not appropriate to think that any one of [the biblical authors] meant the same thing as some other author meant” (p. 212). By saying this, Ehrman has effectively consigned those who believe that Paul is consistent with Peter, and James is consistent with Paul, and Mark is consistent with Luke, to the status of, well, fools.

Bart Ehrman’s “Shocking” News

As I said earlier, Bart Ehrman seems to think he has caught the Christian world by surprise when he informs us that we do not possess the original writings of the biblical authors, and that there are variances between ancient Greek manuscripts. But most informed Christians were well aware of such things before Ehrman came along. Moving from general information to specific texts, Ehrman spends essentially the rest of the book “shocking” Chistians with one piece of news after another. For example, he “informs” the reader that John 7:53-8:11 (the woman caught in adultery) was not originally a part of John’s gospel. Thanks, but most of us were already aware of the problems related to that text, as were the translators of the NASB, ESV, NKJV, and NET Bibles (among others). In my Bible (NASB) the passage is bracketed in the text and a marginal note informs the reader that these verses were added in later manuscripts but are not contained in the earliest and best manuscripts. The NET Bible actually prints this passage in brackets and in a smaller font, separate from the rest of the text of John. The same is true of the last twelve verses in Mark’s gospel, as Ehrman kindly “reveals” to the reader.

Ehrman then “informs” us that a single sentence in 1 John 5:7-8 was added by scribes who wished to more solidly affirm the doctrine of the Trinity. Again, thanks Mr. Ehrman, but we already knew those were not original. Most modern translations don’t even contain the disputed words in that passage, but rather mention them in the margin along with a note that only a few late manuscripts contain them. Yet another example is 1 Timothy 3:16. Did Paul write, “God who was revealed in the flesh,” or “He who was revealed in the flesh”? Ehrman insists on the latter as though his view were totally radical and overlooked by Christians everywhere. He wants the reader to believe that Christians have grounded a critical doctrine (i.e., the deity of Christ) on a questionable text. But again, the NASB says, “He who was revealed in the flesh,” precisely as Ehrman says is correct. The same is true of the ESV and NET, among others.

Contrary to what Bart Ehrman seems to think, most Christians are not completely ignorant of the problems related to the New Testament manuscripts. Also contrary to what he would have you believe, essential Christian doctrines are not grounded on questionable texts like the ones mentioned above. The doctrines of the deity of Christ and the Trinity, for example, stand firm, based on dozens, if not hundreds of textually uncontested passages in the Bible. Yet Ehrman portrays these two passages (i.e., John 1:18 and 1 Timothy 3:16), neither of which are even an issue in modern translations, as if the doctrines in question would collapse without them.

Playing with the Numbers

Bart Ehrman does explain a few difficult textual issues in his book. For example, in Romans 5:1, did Paul mean to say, “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God . . .” or “Therefore, having been justified by faith, let us have peace with God . . .”? Both versions have significant textual support in the existing manuscripts. And Bart Ehrman is right when he says, “This is a passage for which textual scholars have difficulty deciding which reading is the correct one” (p. 93). But if you will notice, every modern translation contains the former reading—”we have peace with God.” Though this text has presented a difficulty for textual critics and Bible translators in the past, scholars today are nearly unanimous in deciding in favor of the one over the other. Sadly, Ehrman does not mention the near consensus of scholarly opinion in this case, choosing instead to emphasize only the problem and giving the reader the impression that the matter remains unresolved.

I could multiply examples, but not to the extent Bart Ehrman wants you to believe. Truly difficult textual variants are not the norm, but rather the extreme minority. This is true despite the fact that Ehrman throws out some very large numbers to bolster his argument. Just to be clear, the numbers themselves are basically accurate. What you should notice, however, is the way Bart Ehrman crafts his presentation of the numbers in order to slant the information in his favor.

Ehrman tells of a man named John Mill who, in 1707, published “a book that had a cataclysmic effect on the study of the Greek New Testament” (p. 83). Mill had examined “some one hundred manuscripts of the Greek New Testament” for the purpose of cataloging the number of textual variants. Mill’s final figure was somewhere in the neighborhood of “thirty-thousand places of variation among the surviving manuscripts” (p. 84). A few pages later, Ehrman informs the reader that while Mill knew of only one hundred manuscripts, “today we know of far, far more. At last count, more than fifty-seven hundred Greek manuscripts have been discovered and catalogued” (p. 88). “In addition to Greek manuscripts,” Ehrman continues, “we know of about ten thousand manuscripts of the Latin Vulgate, not to mention the manuscripts of other versions, such as the Syriac, Coptic, Armenian, Old Georgian, Church Slavonic, and the like” (p. 89). Ehrman then proceeds to ask this question:

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 to leave the matter in comparative terms. There are more variations among our manuscripts than there are words in the New Testament (pp. 89-90).

Ehrman clearly wants the reader to believe that the increase in available manuscript evidence has increased the scope of the problem. But before accepting that this is true based on Ehrman’s clever presentation, take a few moments to do some math with me. I think you will find, as I did, that what Bart Ehrman has created for the reader is a verbal and numerical illusion.

John Mill examined 100 manuscripts and found 30,000 variants. That’s 300 variants per manuscript, on average. We now have somewhere around 16,000 manuscripts. Using Ehrman’s highest estimate, there could be as many as 400,000 textual variants in all the manuscripts combined. In other words, his highest estimate of the variants would average only 25 variants per manuscript (as compared to 300 per manuscript in John Mill’s study). So while Bart Ehrman would have you believe that the increase in manuscript evidence has increased the problem, just the opposite is true. The increase in manuscript evidence has greatly reduced the problem. Far more difficulties have been resolved by the discovery of more manuscripts than have been created by it.

Ehrman relates the numbers accurately, but chooses not to explain their true relationship to the matter at hand. His lack of clarity, in fact, seems more like intentional muddying of the water. As a result, undiscerning readers will likely go away with the impression that there are as many as 400,000 problems in the New Testament itself! As Ehrman over-dramatizes the problem, “There are more variations among our manuscripts than there are words in the New Testament.” What a terrible problem! (as Ehrman would have you believe). Even modern computer technology can’t comprehend the scope of the difficulty!

If shock value is what you’re after, this sort of writing certainly produces it. But if truth is what you’re after, you would want the reader to know that the number of variants in all of the manuscripts combined has no pertinent relationship whatsoever to the number of words in the New Testament. The fact is, Ehrman included this arbitrary and irrelevant comparison in order to stun the reader with an ultimately useless bit of information. If he had wanted to make a useful and relevant comparison, he might have compared the number of textual variants with the number of words in all the manuscripts combined. If all the manuscripts were complete, that would be somewhere in excess of 2.2 billion words. Since many of the manuscripts are partial, however, the number is probably closer to one billion. But Bart Ehrman wanted the reader to be shocked, and 400,000 variants does not sound nearly as ominous when compared to a billion words. According to this meaningful comparison, only 4% of the words in ancient manuscripts are at variance at all, which in turn means that only 4% of the words in the New Testament are at variance.

Most importantly (as Ehrman finally admits in the last chapter), “of all the hundreds of thousands 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 focused any better than the rest of us” (p. 207). The fact is, scholars equally as qualified as Bart Ehrman generally agree that no more than about 1% of the New Testament is affected by significant textual variants, and the vast majority of even these represent no serious difficulty.

Now we have gone from Ehrman’s initial shocking statement that there are “more variations among our manuscripts than there are words in the New Testament,” to the fact that only about 4% of the New Testament is affected by textual variants at all, to the fact that the vast majority of these textual variants are “completely insignificant, immaterial, of no real importance for anything . . . .” After taking the time and effort to put all of this together (as most readers probably will not do), I was left wondering what all the fuss was about in the first place.

After reading Ehrman’s book and noticing the way he plays with the numbers, I began to wonder how many questionable texts he actually presents in his book as being problematic. I realize that he did not present every single significant textual variant that exists, but one would think that the texts Ehrman mentions represent the best evidence available in proving his point. After all, if he had better examples, certainly he would have used them. If you were writing a book like this, wouldn’t you?

Bart Ehrman presents somewhere around 42 texts which he says contain variants involving anywhere from one to a few hundred words. So how many actual words does he call into question? The total number of words Ehrman describes as having been altered in some form is approximately 1,200. The largest single example is Luke’s genealogy of Jesus (Luke 3:23-38). This passage contains 340 words, although Ehrman does not tell us which individual words in that section were recorded in error. And he admits that it is a copying mistake found in only one very late (14th century) manuscript. Some scribe got mixed up when copying the genealogy and placed a number of sons with the wrong fathers. But since I did not know which specific names were involved, and in order to be consistent, I counted all of the words in the whole passage. When I compared the total number of words in all the passages Ehrman presents (approximately 1,200 words) to the approximate number of words in the Greek New Testament (138,000), I found that he actually mentions as problematic less than one percent (.01) of the overall text of the New Testament.

The next thing I decided to do was subtract, from the 1,200 words Ehrman mentions, ones that no longer represent (or never did represent) unresolved textual difficulties:

  • First I subtracted words that are widely recognized as having been added by a copyist at some point—passages like John 7:53-8:11, 1 John 5:7-8, and the last twelve verses of Mark. In modern translations, these passages are either noted in the margin as having been added, or are not part of the main text at all. In other words, they do not present any unresolved difficulty. That eliminated 580 words, leaving only 620, or one-half of one percent of the New Testament (.005).
  • Next I eliminated the words of textual variants that either never presented a problem in the first place (because the errors were so obvious), or at one time presented a problem that has since been recognized and resolved with complete agreement. Interestingly (but not surprisingly), Ehrman presents most of these passages without informing the reader that they are completely irrelevant in current discussions. And just to reiterate, most of these are found in only a few manuscripts and never affected any Bible translation. That eliminated another 240 words, leaving only 380—less than three-tenths of one percent of the New Testament (.003).
  • Finally, I subtracted the words of Luke’s genealogy (Luke 3:23-38). After all, this “bizarre” variant is so obvious that it has never played a role in Bible translation at all. It is more like a museum piece, occurring only once, and in a 14th century manuscript. Bart Ehrman only included it to show what types of errors can occur, despite the fact that errors of this type do nothing to support his conclusion. This left only 40 remaining words—about three one-hundredths of one percent of the New Testament (.0003).

In the final analysis, Bart Ehrman presents the reader with 40 words that in his view still represent unresolved textual difficulties for scholars today. After all the fuss about the huge numbers, almost none of the information he dumps unceremoniously in the reader’s lap still represents an unresolved difficulty for textual scholars. And think about the numbers this way: According to the best evidence Bart Ehrman was able to present, over 99.9% of the words in the New Testament do not present significant problems for translators. Again, Ehrman does not claim to have put forth the available evidence exhaustively. But it would seem unarguable that the problems he does mention represent the strongest argument he was able to make. So Bart Ehrman’s strongest argument against the reliability of the New Testament affects only about three-one-hundredths of one percent of the New Testament!

At the end of the day Ehrman presents only four passages that survive in the best modern translations, that are worded in ways which he says are “probably not the original text” (p. 209). In Mark 1:41 the debate is over a single Greek word. In Hebrews 2:9 the issue involves two words. And in Luke’s gospel Ehrman questions the legitimate presence of two verses (22:43-44, a total of 33 words). I also included the wording of John 1:18 in this category because, according to Ehrman, the proper translation of two words in that verse are still “hotly disputed.” These are the 40 words—the three one-hundredths of one percent of the New Testament—upon which Bart Ehrman rests his case for being “a happy agnostic.”

Everyone understands that Christians must take textual matters into consideration. We may not simply ignore them or claim they do not exist. Most often, however, the practice of comparing the few disputed texts with the many non-disputed texts enables translators to conclusively establish the original wording of the disputed text. And not a single still-disputed textual variant has “a significant bearing on how one understands the message of some of the New Testament authors,” as Ehrman insists on page 132. That statement was part of his attempt to show that certain textual variants drastically affect the overall message of some New Testament letters and/or gospel accounts. Without going into great detail here, it is enough to say that although Bart Ehrman tries, he fails to give any convincing support for such a statement. His admitted bias against the reliability and consistency of the New Testament forces him to “find” theological significance where none exists.

Finally, amidst all of Ehrman’s aggressive overemphasis of the textual problems and their theological significance, he quietly admits that the remaining differences of opinion regarding passages in the best modern translations are not the norm, but rather the exception. It almost seems as though Bart Ehrman surprises himself when he writes, “In a remarkable number of instances—most of them, actually—scholars by and large agree” (p. 94).

Ehrman’s Strongest Point Weakens His Overall Case

In Chapter 3, Ehrman provides historical documentation to show that the manuscript evidence used for the King James Version of the Bible was compromised during the Middle Ages. This occurred, according to Ehrman, from the time of Jerome (late 4th century), who compiled the Latin Vulgate, through the time of Erasmus (16th century) who provided a complete Greek New Testament that was largely the basis for the Textus Receptus (Received Text), which in turn was the main basis for the King James Version. This information is not new to those who have studied the issue, and it is well stated by Ehrman, although in a way that leaves no doubt about his personal disdain for the King James tradition.

The King James Version is filled with places in which the translators 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 prefer to pretend there’s never been a problem, since God inspired the King James Bible instead of the original Greek! (p. 209)

Notice first of all that in the process of venting his frustrations with the KJV, Bart Ehrman actually affirms the reliability of modern translations. One of his main points is that “modern translations often differ from the King James.” In other words, he holds the newer translations to be the standard against which the KJV can be judged. In fact, the main force of Ehrman’s argument in the entire book is directed against the KJV branch of manuscript evidence, not against the better manuscript evidence that has resulted in the more updated translations.

Even so, before you throw out your favorite old KJV Bible, please understand that Bart Ehrman’s evidence against the KJV is not overwhelming. His primary point of contention against this excellent and historically critical translation is that it still contains John 7:53-8:11, the last twelve verses of Mark, and the words added to 1 John 5:7-8 (see pp. 80-82). But these few factors hardly represent a stunning condemnation of the translation as a whole, even though Ehrman’s rhetoric presses the reader toward such an overall condemnation. In the process of verbally flushing the KJV down the toilet, however, Ehrman seems to have forgotten that even the KJV, which is based on what he calls “the worst of the manuscripts we now have available to us,” is so consistently in agreement with modern translations that the remaining differences are not only easily resolved, but relatively inconsequential. So apparently, even the “worst” manuscript is amazingly accurate! And as any competent theologian will tell you, the Bible has always contained precisely the same essential theology whether one reads about it in the King James Version or any other respectable translation.

Bart Ehrman’s Arbitrary and Illogical Conclusion

Bart Ehrman admits throughout the book that there exists an “original text,” even though no one possesses it and it very well may no longer exist anywhere in physical form. What he means is that somewhere within the multitude of copies of Scripture exist the original words of Scripture, though partially obscured by the effects of time and scribal inaccuracies. And to his credit, it is this conviction that leads him to believe that fully recovering the exact original wording is still at least a theoretical possibility. His continued efforts as a textual critic, one who seeks to gain more and more certainty as to the original wording of Scripture, point in this direction also.

I find it tragically ironic, however, that in seeking to recover the original wording of the New Testament, Bart Ehrman is seeking to recover something that will ultimately disprove his own point. Remember, if you will, his conclusion that God did not inspire the original text of Scripture. More importantly, remember how he arrived at that conclusion:

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 cannot be sure that we have constructed the original text accurately. . . . The fact that we don’t have the words surely must show, I reasoned, that [God] 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. (p. 11)

Because God providentially permitted scribes to make errors when copying Scripture, and therefore permitted a few tiny portions of the biblical text to remain uncertain today, Bart Ehrman “reasoned” that God did not inspire the original writings. First of all, the presence of scribal errors in the copies does not logically demand a non-inspired original. One must make an extraordinary mental leap to reach the one position from the other. In order to arrive where he did, in fact, Bart Ehrman had to first assume what he desired to conclude. The irony lies in the fact that after basing his denial of the doctrine of inspiration on the presence of a few unresolved textual variants, Ehrman seeks to resolve those same variants. In other words, while stubbornly maintaining his own denial of the doctrine of inspiration, he seeks to do away with the very points of evidence which (in his view) justify his denial of the doctrine.

In some ways Bart Ehrman is like a man attempting to climb to a mountain peak that is partially shrouded in mist. Because he cannot see the peak clearly, he insists that it has never existed, yet he keeps on climbing. According to Ehrman’s reasoning, this man might say, “If God wanted me to believe that the peak was actually there, He would not have permitted it to be obscured by clouds.” To say the least, such reasoning is fallacious. And the man’s continued efforts to reach the top make no sense when compared with his stated beliefs. After all, what would you think of a mountain climber who says, “I’m convinced that the top of this mountain does not exist, and I’m going to prove I’m right by climbing to the top myself”? As long as he continues his climb, one would wonder what he is hoping to discover. And when he reaches the top, proving that it was there all the time, one would be surprised if he were not somewhat ashamed to have discovered it.

Even more ironic in Bart Ehrman’s case is the fact that in some places, he seems to have every confidence that textual scholars are quite capable of recovering what they seek to recover:

[Misquoting Jesus] is written for people who know nothing about textual criticism 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 for anyone who might be interested in seeing how we got our New Testament, 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, reconstruct what those original words actually were. (p. 15, emphasis mine)

Here Bart Ehrman speaks out of the self-affirming side of his mouth, exalting the abilities of textual critics like himself. Such experts, he claims, can not only recognize where changes have been made to the original words, they can also “reconstruct what those original words actually were.” This self-affirming slant is also self-serving, of course, because it puts Ehrman in the position of being the expert to which everyone should look for answers. But in other places, when speaking out of the skeptical side of his mouth, he seems to have abandoned all confidence in his own field of study, effectively relegating the science of textual criticism to an ultimately useless intellectual hobby. So which are you, Mr. Ehrman? An expert who is capable of reconstructing the original text of Scripture, or a befuddled scholar looking at a hopeless problem in despair?


If anything is certain about Misquoting Jesus, it is that Bart Ehrman’s skepticism, not his objective or responsible handling of the facts, led him to the position he now advocates. An objective and unbiased investigation, on the other hand, will lead you to understand that the Bibles we now possess are not based on “error-ridden” manuscripts, as Ehrman would have you believe. They are based on the oldest surviving forms of the original biblical texts—manuscripts which (as Bart Ehrman himself admits), are “no doubt closely (very closely) related to what the author originally wrote” (p. 62, emphasis Ehrman’s).

My confidence and yours in the God who is saving and sanctifying His people through His inspired, inerrant, and infallible Word should remain undaunted in the face of Mr. Ehrman’s attack. Misquoting Jesus may seem at first like a powerful and destructive weapon against such confidence, but in the final analysis, the book just makes a lot of noise and creates a lot of confusion—like a cannon that fires confetti. There are still a few textual matters that continue to puzzle scholars. No one should deny that. But the fact is, they involve miniscule portions of the Bible. And the presence of these few remaining unresolved textual matters should not lead anyone to doubt the perfection of the originals from which our translations have been painstakingly produced. Even Bart Ehrman provides no foundation for arriving at that “reasoned” conclusion (p. 11). The fact is, he has taken an unnecessary and illogical leap into spiritual quicksand by trusting his own fallible reason over what we are expressly told in the infallible Word of God: Holy Scripture is ultimately divine, not human, in its origin.

All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17)

But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God. (2 Peter 1:20-21)

If you are a skeptic who has read Bart Ehrman’s book, it is likely that you found it to be a comfortable and scholarly affirmation of your skepticism. Being satisfied in this way, you will likely look no further. Misquoting Jesus has become your blissful Nirvana, isolating you from the difficulties related to facing the facts which would challenge your position. If you have already made the decision to become “a happy agnostic,” based on Bart Ehrman’s book, I urge you to reconsider. Remember that “it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment” (Hebrews 9:27). If a passage in the Bible was ever simple to understand and textually uncontested, it is this one. And as Mark Twain once said, “It ain’t those parts of the Bible that I can’t understand that bother me, it is the parts that I do understand.” Given the uncertainty and brevity of life, this is a matter you need to take seriously now, because one day soon—likely sooner than you think—your agnostic “happiness,” like Bart Ehrman’s, will come to a sudden and terrifying end.

On the other hand, if you are a true Christian or a genuine seeker of truth who wants to know how to understand difficult textual matters in the Bible, you will be happy to know that a number of other scholarly works exist—ones that deal honestly and openly with what Ehrman “shocks” you with in his book. The scholars who have prepared these resources are not willing to indulge tradition or emotion at the expense of textual accuracy. But they are also unwilling to plunge, with Bart Ehrman and others, into the mire of illogical and completely unnecessary despair. And just to be clear, I am not advocating a “just accept what the experts say” mindset. That, as a matter of fact, is what Bart Ehrman seems to hope you will do with his book.

First, I would recommend the New English Translation of the Bible (NET Bible). This resource is a fantastic window into the world of textual criticism. It is a completely new translation of the Bible, not based on any previous translation, but solely upon the best available manuscript evidence. Alongside the text of Scripture are over 60,000 translators’ notes explaining the relatively few remaining textual difficulties as well as reasons for the translators’ conclusions in each case. Almost all of the questionable texts addressed by Bart Ehrman—that is, the small percentage that represent remaining difficulties for translators—are addressed in this work. The entire text of the NET Bible, along with all translators’ notes, is available at

Secondly, I would recommend two other critical reviews of Bart Ehrman’s book:

1. “The Gospel According to Bart” by Daniel B. Wallace, Th.M., Ph.D., found at Dr. Wallace is Professor of New Testament Studies at Dallas Theogical Seminary, as well as one of the translators and editors of the New Testament for the NET Bible project.

2. A Review by Craig L. Blomberg, Distinguished Professor of New Testament at Denver Theological Seminary. His review may be found at