There are at least three separate issues that get lumped together when one is considering Biblical criticism: textual reliability, logical consistency, and inerrancy. Though these are separate (e.g., the text could be reliable without being factually correct), many people group these claims together. Dr. Jones' Misquoting Truth is one such book. In this review, I want to discuss the evidence for each of these claims and then argue that even if each one were correct (which they aren't), the argument is not correct. I am writing this review because I see Jones' book as dangerous. It's dangerous because after reading what they believe to be both sides in a debate, people actually become more polarized in their initial opinions. Thus, far from advancing dialog between different perspectives on the New Testament, Jones' book, having the appearance of answering many criticisms but not actually doing so, will actually polarize people hungry to know the truth about one of the most influential books on the planet. The clear truth is that there are many errors and contradictions in the Bible and for a biblical scholar to attempt to deny them openly reveals that their concern is not for the truth. An author concerned with truth would acknowledge these errors, as one would with any other work (e.g., Herodotus' Histories), and then evaluate the book as a whole.
First a note on style. Dr. Jones writes in a folksy persona. This persona seems to be an attempt to lure the reader into a false sense of security. "Surely," we think, "a normal guy like Jones wouldn't mislead us. This is an honest guy who just wants to set the record straight about the mistakes in Ehrman's Misquoting Jesus." This persona is annoying and infuriating (e.g., his two page discussion about his inability to work a copier, and his overuse of the exclamation point [e.g., "Let's wrestle with the truths we encounter, and let's see where these truths take us!"]). The truth is that Jones has an agenda and it is to argue, using rather fallacious reasoning, that we can reconstruct a reliable text, that the Bible is logically consistent, and that it is inerrant. Let us deal with each of these arguments using Jones' text and comparing it to the objective evidence.
First, Jones is correct that though there are thousands of different texts, each differing from each other, we can re-construct a text that is at least as pure as Ivory soap. The methods of textual criticism developed by scholars such as Westcott and Hort, and Bruce Metzger have allowed us to identify and remove many of the errors made throughout the centuries.
Our ability to reconstruct an accurate text means that the contradictions and errors that we see in the NT are real, not artifacts of copying. In order to make the rest of this review somewhat manageable, I am going to concentrate on his errors in dealing with the book of Mark, with small digressions where they are appropriate. I have chosen this because Jones deals so much with the book of Mark (a book I have translated from Greek and thus am very familiar with), and I want to take him to task for his manifest illogical treatment of obvious contradictions arising from that book. The explicit implication will be that "if there are this many mistakes with just one book, there will be many more when dealing with others."
The first issue deals with Mark 1:2-3. Although Mark 1:2-3 begins, "Just as it is written in Isaiah the prophet," this quote is actually a combination of three verses, only one from Isaiah. The first part matches the Greek of Exodus 23:20a; the second part of verse 2 matches the Hebrew of Malachi 3:1; verse 3 matches the Greek of Isaiah 40:3 almost perfectly. If this were any other historian, we would just say that Mark made a mistake and move on. However, Jones tries some common and flawed ways to get around this problem.
Jones acknowledges that this comes from three verses, but argues that "it was a common practice to cite combined quotations by the most prominent source" (p. 61). This sentence is doubly false. First, that was not common practice. Second, even if it were common practice, who would argue that Isaiah was more prominent than Moses?
The second issue deals with Mark 2: 23-26. In this passage, Jesus and his disciples are plucking wheat on the Sabbath. The Pharisees pointed out that this is forbidden, and Jesus said, "Have you never read what David did when he was in need and hungry, he and those with him: how he entered the house of God, when Abiathar was high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence." The basic problem is that Abiathar was not the high priest at that time, his father Ahimelech was.
If this were any other historian, we would say that Mark made a mistake and move on. But, this insistence that the Bible is inerrant has led to some (dis)-ingenious solutions to this problem. Jones' solution is to say "Mark's reference to `high priest' indicates the position that Abiathar eventually obtained" (p. 24). This, naturally, is absurd. Mark does not say, "Remember what David did when the future high priest Abiathar was in the temple." Not only does Mark not say this, that would be a very bizarre way of talking and contrary to nearly any dating system in use. Mark says, and the Greek clearly says (contrary to some other claims), "when Abiathar was high priest." The fact is, Mark (or, if he is reporting accurately Peter or Jesus) made a mistake. This is not a big mistake, but it is a mistake. It is only the false attempt to claim there are no errors in the Bible that prevents Jones and others from acknowledging this.
Third, Jones places a great deal of emphasis on Papias of Hierapolis. In this context, it is worth noting the tradition that Papias records about Mark: "Mark, having become the interpreter of Peter, wrote down accurately all that he remembered of the things said and done by the Lord, but not however in order" (quoted in Taylor , but see Jones, p. 102-103). The key point for us is that by Jones and Papias' own admission the order of an untold number of events in Mark is incorrect. This need not be a major issue for any other historian, we would say "they made a mistake." However, it is for Jones, so let us point out another problem with Jones and the book of Mark.
Mark uses the word "immediately" (euthus) over three dozen times in his book. Mark intends to convey that Jesus did one thing and then quickly did something else. This creates a great sense of action and vitality in Mark. However, if the order of events is wrong, then to that extent Mark is factually wrong. If I am describing my day and I say "I read Jones' book, then immediately went for a walk, then immediately went to lunch, then immediately rode my bike," I would be wrong to the degree that this does not describe the order of events as I actually did them. Again, this need not be a major mistake, but it is a mistake.
Fourth, though Jones does not deal with Jesus' teachings on divorce, this issue directly touches on his assertion that there are no contradictions in the Bible and his false reliance on eyewitness memory (for what it is worth, memory research is what earned me my PhD). Again, we need go no further than a discussion of the book of Mark. Mark (10: 1-12) tends to agree with Paul (I Cor. 7:10-11) and Luke (Luke 16: 18) that divorce is not permitted, however all disagree with Matthew (Matthew 19: 1-9) who argues that divorce is permitted. Any reader of the passages must come away with the conclusion that Jesus said something about divorce but that we cannot reconstruct what it was using the eyewitness accounts in the New Testament (though the evidence suggests that he said it was forbidden).
As I pointed out, this touches directly on Jones' reliance on eyewitness testimony. Scores of studies have indicated that eyewitness memory is subject to a whole sweep of biases that cause individuals to alter their memory for events. Jones' seems to believe that individuals in illiterate cultures possess some sort of super memory that is immune from these processes (chapter 5). This is simply not the case. In fact, a common characteristic of oral memories are multiple, variant forms of the same story (e.g., the Epic of Gilgamesh).
Finally, Jones deals with the multiple endings of Mark. It is well known that the best textual evidence suggests that Mark 16:8 is the last verse we have from Mark, although it seems that Mark wrote more. Any of the handful of other endings do not come from Mark. This does not seem to bother Jones for he argues that there is nothing in the other readings that is not present elsewhere in the NT or that alters Christian faith or practice in any significant way (pp. 64-66). I think this claim is wrong (e.g., where else in the Bible does it say you can drink poison as it says in the "longer ending" of Mark?), but more disturbing is that Jones basically argues that since it is in the Bible it must be correct. This reminds me of a quote from Bruce Metzger about how the books of the New Testament were chosen, "A writing is not canonical because the author was inspired, but rather an author is considered inspired because what he has written is recognized as canonical" (p. 257).
There are many other problems with Jones' book (e.g., his fallacious reasoning about Paul's comments on women [basically that Paul only tells women to be quiet as a reminder that everyone should be quiet in church (p. 71)]; in his list of the Muratori canon (p. 135), he leaves off that the books of Hebrews and James were two of the rejected books (presumably to downplay the real controversy in selecting books of the New Testament); his irrelevant quotes from Ehrman's friend and wife who wish he would come to Mass with them (pp. 145-146); his incredibly flawed reasoning about the inability to prove that one was born (it's actually simple to prove we were born: we know how humans come into the world now and this creates the framework for judging any alleged exceptions to this); his arguments about the intelligence of the disciples (Jones seems to ignore that they consistently misunderstand Jesus, and Paul's peers directly call him a spermologos [Acts 17: 18, this word refers to one who, without a real understanding, picks up scraps of information and tries, with pretense and show, to pass them off as his own and essentially refers to a "pseudo-intellectual who insists on spouting off" (Louw & Nida, 1989, p. 328)]); and, we cannot ignore that Jesus said that some of those who were alive would also be alive when the kingdom of God came with power (Mark 9:1) when Jesus has clearly not returned and those people have died. Finally, we have his deeply flawed assertion that though other religions tell of resurrected gods that "means that there is, in every system of faith and every human heart, a yearning for one true god who enters into death and triumphs over it" (pp. 20-21). So, Euripides' Bacchae and myriad other examples of this story are myth and the Bible is true because . . . well, because Jones believes one and not the other.
With all the flaws and contradictions present in even one book (e.g., Mark), it is clear that research reconstructing a nearly pure text of the Bible has shown that it is neither logically consistent nor inerrant. This does not mean that the Bible is worthless (e.g., we don't toss Homer or Herodotus out simply because they contain errors), but it does mean that we judge the validity of the more fantastical stories (e.g., raising people from the dead, making the moon and sun jump around as needed) as we would judge them in any other historian. It also means that a belief that the Bible is logically consistent and inerrant cannot be maintained except by a prior commitment that it must be true. If you are going to base your faith on claims that are demonstrably false, you implicitly assert that the truth does not really matter and you remove yourself from the realm of serious intellectual discourse. That, in the end, is what is most intellectually dishonest about Jones: he feigns that the facts matter, but he doesn't attempt to discover the truth: he only attempts to validate what he already believes. Nearly anyone of any faith can do the same, and many have done that better.