Book Review: Misquoting Truth

Misquoting Truth: A Guide To The Fallacies Of Bart Ehrman’s Misquoting Jesus, by Timothy P. Jones

This short book, about 150 pages of main material and some rich endnotes and indices, gives a thoughtful but pointed rebuttal of the bestselling but largely superficial book Misquoting Jesus [1] by Bart Ehrman. As a work of rebuttal, this book hits most of the right notes, combing a sense of humor about the author’s own experiences as a preacher and as a teacher of the New Testament texts, as someone who views Ehrman’s lack of faith as a matter of regret rather than a matter of celebration, and someone who is both sufficiently Orthodox and also sufficiently knowledgeable in textual criticism to provide the sort of debunking that Ehrman’s work richly deserves. That said, while this is a book that is skillful in the way it examines the flaws of reasoning present in two of Ehrman’s works, including also his book Lost Christianities, it is not a book that is likely to please every reader because of its candor in admitting the nature of texts, and the fact that its defense of inerrancy leads the author to make some claims that are not particularly well supported by the Bible itself and are worthy of criticism, albeit to a lesser extent than the work that he criticizes so ably.

In terms of its contents, this book consists of an introduction that humorously debunks Ehrman’s claims to be a new kind of biblical scholar, showing that the issues that Ehrman addresses have been known and dealt with for centuries, and then provides eight chapters addressing Ehrman’s claims about “The Originals That Matter,” the copyists of the New Testament, the nonexistent “significant changes” in the New Testament made by errant copyists, whether any of the books of the Bible as we have them misquote Jesus, the high place and accuracy of oral history in early Christianity, the truth about the authors of the Gospels and the prevalence of eyewitness testimony, and the truth about how the works of the canon were chosen based on a consistent and firm criterion of genuine and attested apostolic authorship, followed by concluding reflections that show how the texts inspire confidence by a fair-minded reader and an appendix defending the authority of the ante-Nicene father Papias in conveying traditions about the Apostles from an early second-century AD perspective. The book does not waste its time and is clear and easy to understand, fairly quoting those passages it refutes and also providing worthwhile sources and a generally sound analysis.

That said, a few aspects of this work are worthy of criticism or at least comment. For one, the author has an incorrect perspective, one shared by Ehrman in fact, that Paul himself spoke and acted against the law, and that the Jerusalem Conference was antinomian in nature, both of which are incorrect assumptions, albeit common ones [2]. Additionally, both Ehrman and Jones share a mistaken degree of confidence in the Alexandrian text as promoted by Hort and Westcott. What this means on a practical level is that the author is far closer to Ehrman than at least some of his reading audience who will have a higher view of God’s law that more closely matches the biblical record. That makes Jones’ rebuttal of Ehrman all the more decisive, in that it rests on many of the same mistaken premises about which texts are best and antinominan theology. Given the distance between Jones and Ehrman and actual biblical truth, it makes Ehrman’s mistakes and fallacies all the more serious, and his misquoting of truth all the more blatant. Even so, Jones has some worthwhile comments to make in that it is important for more conservative or evangelical believers to engage with the questions brought up by liberals like Ehrman, not least because there are some people who may be confused about the actual status of the truths they hold dear if they never hear the answers to questions that are brought up by those who oppose God’s scriptures. It behooves us therefore to speak and write, and not be silent.

[1] https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2015/12/25/book-review-misquoting-jesus/

[2] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2015/11/15/a-compendium-of-sabbath-observance-in-the-book-of-acts/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2015/11/18/the-pattern-of-sabbath-observance-in-the-journeys-of-paul/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2015/11/11/the-sabbatarian-implications-of-the-jerusalem-conference/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2015/11/13/colossians-211-23-the-substance-and-the-shadow/

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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