Notice how, in his "illustration," Dr. Ehrman piles one implausibility atop another: how likely is it, in treating of any one error in the text, that it originated in the first generation of copies? Very unlikely indeed; the reader will notice the diagram portrays a geometric progression, like a Ponzi scheme. The first generation comprises six copies, the second thirty-six, the third 216, the fourth 1,296, the fifth 7,776. Some lines flourish, some die out. Once the market demand begins to be slaked, this rate of increase will level off. But for any one variant to which we turn our attention, is it likelier to have originated as one of the 7,776, or one of the first six? Dr. Ehrman allows only two copies in his first generation, unlikely in and of itself. Then he must have many more copies made of the errant version than of the sound, though there is no compelling reason why more copies should have been made of one than of the other. All of these unlikelihoods piled atop one another add up to a set of circumstances which is not impossible in any one given case, though not at all likely.
Dr. Ehrman will not leave it there, of course. This set of unlikelihoods
must recur time and time again; it must, in fact, be the norm. For Error
1 we surmised a first generation error copied a disproportionately large
number of times; for Error 2 we also must surmise a first generation error
copied a disproportionately large number of times, for Error 3 the same.
And this in a first generation limited to two copies! But if one of the
copies is copied disproportionately many times, then the others cannot
be also; they cannot all be copied disproportionately often!
When you suppose the same unlikely set of circumstances to recur again
and again, you are supposing what is a practical impossibility. For instance,
it is possible for the coin toss to yield 'heads' ten times in a row, though
it is unlikely. To conclude from the fact that it is possible to throw
'heads' ten times in a row, that it is ever more possible to throw 'head's'
all the time, every time, is to propose what is realistically not possible. It is like the little town all of whose pupils were above average.
While there may be such a little town, there cannot be a nation all of
whose pupils are above average, and there cannot be a first generation
of manuscripts all of whose erroneous variants were copied a disproportionately
large number of times.
In fact, the principle that the majority text preserves the original wording must be true most of the time. Yet the textual critics do not construct their Bible text on the principle that the majority text is right most of the time. They are creating something new in the world; Bibles that never were. They have persuaded themselves that, because it is possible for the minority text to preserve the original if an unlikely set of circumstances
obtains, one may proceed under the assumption that the minority text generally
or very often preserves the original reading. But a string of unlikely
possibilities do not a probability make. It is statistically impossible
for the minority Bibles they create to be replicas of the original text;
we can rule that out.
Leaving alone the wording found in 100% of the manuscripts is a special
case of the majority rule; one wonders when that is going to fall. Bart
Ehrman has persuaded himself that he can see into the motives of the Bible
authors. Like the sculptor who sees his statue imprisoned within the rough
stone, he chips away until he 'liberates' his vision of Mark, who wants
to portray Jesus abandoned on the cross. But he is creating something new,
not restoring something old.
Some years ago the 'KJV-only' movement attracted attention by accusing
the modern Bibles' inventors of bad faith. They pointed out that, where
the King James version is rich in direct and unambiguous statements of
the deity of Jesus Christ, the modern Bibles are lacking. In response,
the defenders of the modern Bibles pointed out that most textual variants
have no theological bearing: a non-sequitur. They also pointed out that
it is still possible to demonstrate the deity of Jesus Christ from the
modern versions, which again is true but beside the point: there are indirect
arguments now available as opposed to the many direct statements in the
KJV. Who that has debated these points with a Jehovah's Witness has not
heard, 'If the Bible means to say that Jesus is God, why doesn't it just
say so?' The KJV does say so, over and over again; the modern Bibles do
Addressing this situation, the KJV-only advocates accused the inventors of the modern Bibles of theological doctoring. They alleged that these individuals themselves held heterodox views, and substituted minority readings more favorable to their own heretical views in place of the majority, thus likely original, readings of the received text. The response was an astonished and indignant gasp. Surely you can't mean to imply anyone would actually do such a thing!
People disposed to credit this response really ought to read Bart Ehrman's
'Misquoting Jesus,' which does frankly admit that, in the following situation,
heterodoxy receives a positive weight:
If Reading A, a poorly-attested minority variant, seems to be consistent with heresy, while Reading B, the well-attested received text, seems to be consistent with orthodoxy, Reading A is to be preferred.
This is Ehrman's Anti-Orthodoxy Rule. This is how they do it; this is where
our modern Bibles come from. Docetism was an early church heresy that doubted
Jesus' real, fleshly human nature. This view emphasized Jesus' divine nature
at the expense of His real humanity, whereas orthodoxy embraces both. In
"one of our oldest Greek manuscripts, as well as in several Latin
witnesses," Dr. Ehrman reports ('Misquoting Jesus,' p. 165), [on this
evidence, make room for the Johannine Comma], Luke 22:19 reads like so:
"This is my body. But behold, the hand of the one who betrays me is
with me at the table." This variant omits the customary language found
in almost all of the manuscripts, “This is My body which is given for you;
do this in remembrance of Me” and, “This cup is the new covenant in My
blood, which is shed for you.”
The transition is abrupt indeed from "This is my body" in the
shorter version, but Dr. Ehrman insists this is correct, and the language
of institution must be a later addition. Why? Because, according to Dr.
Ehrman, the shorter language is consistent with docetism (though it clearly
references Jesus' body), while the longer form is not. Therefore, the more
expansive language must have been added later, because it is consistent
with orthodoxy, which denies docetism.
At this the reader may demand fair play: what's sauce for the goose is
sauce for the gander. If an anti-docetist scribe is accused of having added
words to the text on theological motives, a docetist scribe may as easily
be accused of having removed words which caused him difficulty. Yet, according
to Dr. Ehrman, this never happens. Only the orthodox doctor scripture;
the heterodox never do so. One must wonder what it is about heresy that
has such a wonderful effect on human nature, that the heterodox are never
tempted to do bad things, only the orthodox.
This claim is no different from 'Black people are shiftless,' or 'Jews
are greedy.' This is a family of assertions which says little about the
world, and much about the hatred in one human heart, the heart of the speaker.
It is nothing but bias to ascribe a willingness to doctor the text only
to the orthodox; nor is it anything but arbitrary to limit doctoring strategies
always to addition, never to subtraction. Theological doctoring, then as
now, and in both or should one say 'all' directions, is a danger to which
the careful reader should be alert. At one time the Arian heresy received
imperial patronage; if any Bibles prepared under these auspices survive,
care must be taken to correct for the natural human tendency to assume
any inconvenient wording must be an 'interpolation.' But in most of the
cases Dr. Ehrman discusses, there is no reason to go in this direction
It should excite suspicion that in many of the cases Dr. Ehrman advances, the variant is a word that looks or sounds very much like the original. If the scribes felt free to introduce new material based on their theological preferences, why would it have to look and sound like the original? Are the scribes trying to pull a fast one and slip something by without anyone noticing? If so, this is evidence that theological doctoring was not acceptable to the scribes nor to their audience, not that it was. As the police realized when they questioned Lizzie Borden, an effort to deceive shows a guilty conscience.
And how easy is it to think of a word which looks or sounds like another
word, but carries a unique theological weight? This is a parlor game at
which few people would excel. Subsequent to the invention of the thesaurus,
it is at least possible to make the demand: give me a synonym for 'delicious'
which looks and sounds like 'toasty:' 'tasty.' But prior to the invention
of the thesaurus, this is asking a lot, especially of a scribe who must
have wanted to rest from his labors at some foreseeable point in the future.
Why not ask him to stand on one foot while he thinks up a word that looks
and sounds like the original, but bears a different theological import?
Realizing that the scribe may have been copying an original which was abraded,
gnawed by mice, discolored by water dripping from the roof, or otherwise
rendered illegible in spots, one need only surmise a good-faith effort
to read the original. No logical defense can be mounted for the thesis,
'no accidental change can ever have any theological import.'
The reader will recall that the founding myth of the discipline of textual
criticism is that the New Testament is a 'growing text,' and that therefore
the shorter variant is likelier to be original. There is no evidence in
favor of this assertion, though there is some evidence that works from
other times and places, like the Hindu holy books, are 'growing texts,'
and if the New Testament were not a 'growing text,' it would be different
from these works, not the same. The reader cannot avoiding noticing that
this is not much of an argument! Nevertheless Dr. Ehrman reverts to the
insistence that, in the absence of homoeoteleuton (a 'typo' where similar
endings confuse the scribe and cause him to lose his place), there can
be no material omitted, only added:
"...it is hard to explain why a scribe would have omitted the verses if they were original to Luke (there is no homoeoteleuton,
for example, that would explain an omission)..." (Bart Ehrman, 'Misquoting
Jesus,' p. 166)
Even this much defies common sense. No one who has ever typed material
from a book onto a blog or a web page has failed to notice, in proof-reading,
a word, or several words, or even a whole sentence, has been omitted, even
in the absence of homoeoteleuton. To err is human, and it is just as easy
to omit material...much easier in fact,-- as to add it.
A naive reader may imagine that these people verified their principles
empirically before applying them to the New Testament text. That is, they
sat down a roomful of test subjects and instructed them to hand copy a
text, and this is how they discovered that no words can be omitted through
inattention, except in the case of homoeoteleuton. Nothing could be further
from the truth. In fact, if they had ever done this, they would have discovered
the contrary. But if we discard the principle that the shorter version
is to be preferred, we also discard the modern Bibles as useless junk.
A scribe economizing effort will be tempted to omit rather than to add,
because human nature remains the same and it is always sweet to do nothing: