It’s rare that I have the opportunity (or motivation) to read an entire book in one day, but yesterday I sped through all 215+ pages of Bart Ehrman’s book Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why and I now regard it as one of the most enlightening books I’ve yet read. While I wish Ehrman used some more detail in the book (sometimes he doesn’t tell us which texts that are being used for criticism came from where and from what time period), overall it raises some big, important questions about the Bible. As Ehrman suggests early on in a personal narrative, if we know the Bible has numerous mistakes, some even intentional, how can anyone call it the inerrant Word of God? If we know that the King James Bible, the text many creationists say is the Bible, was based on inaccurate and hastily put-together Greek translations done by Erasmus, how can we call such a book the preserved and accurate history of Christianity? I was most astonished to learn that the famous story of Jesus letting an adulteress off the hook likely doesn’t even belong in the Bible at all, but rather is a later addition (a verse that also adds to the confusion about the identity of Mary Magdalene and her image as a reformed prostitute).
While many Christians may find Ehrman’s findings contentious or counter to their doctrine (such motivations spurring changes to the Bible in the past, to defend it against pagans and non-orthodox early Christian sects), the facts are clear; no matter what Bible you may call your own, it is fraught with errors, both intentional and non-intentional. The fact is that the Bible has not been divinely preserved or dictated, but rather altered (and even written) to convey different human wants, needs, desires, ideas, etc. Indeed, the only way the text is truly “inspired” is in the sense that people of fervent faith wrote the stories to please God or tell the stories of Jesus; God did not dictate the entire thing or send it by fax.
What I perhaps appreciate most is that Ehrman largely presents the facts without telling the reader something disproves Christianity; being a former fundamentalist himself, Ehrman seems to appreciate that his book will be interpreted in different ways by different people, and the best way to have an impact is to simply let the facts stand. I distinctly get the impression that Ehrman is now at most a deist or agnostic, but this is never mentioned explicitly in the text and I’m sure many Christian readers would seize upon it if he included it (“See! He lost his faith so he can’t understand what he’s talking about.”). In any case, while it is not a perfect book, it is certainly an intriguing one, and the main message of reading the Bible for what it is (rather than what we wish it to be) is exceedingly important in our time.