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Misquoting Truth: A Guide to the Fallacies of Bart Ehrman's "Misquoting Jesus" [Paperback]

Timothy Paul Jones
2.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
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Book Description

July 6 2007
So contends Bart D. Ehrman in his bestselling If altogether true, we have little reason to put our confidence in Scripture. Add to this Ehrman's contention that what we read in the New Testament represents the winners' version of events, twisted to suit their own purposes and not at all a faithful recounting of what really happened, and the case for skepticism and unbelief gives every appearance of being on solid footing.

But are things really so bad off? Were the New Testament documents widely distorted by copyists? Can we in fact have no idea what was in the originals? Do we have no hope of knowing what eyewitnesses said and thought? Are other documents left out of the New Testament better sources for understanding early Christianity? While readily conceding that Ehrman has many of his facts straight, pastor and researcher Timothy Paul Jones argues that Ehrman is far too quick to jump to false and unnecessary conclusions.

In clear, straightforward prose, Jones explores and explains the ins and outs of copying the New Testament, why lost Christianities were lost, and why the Christian message still rings true today.

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14 of 17 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I'm a Christian young man who's been doubting the principles of my religious culture for years. So naturally when I first heard the opinions of Bart Ehrman in an online video I was very intrigued. I purchased his book right away, but to avoid being blindsided by one man's view, I also decided to pick up Dr. Jones' book as well. Now I'm not sure how possible it is to not review both books at the same time because as a direct response, Misquoting Truth and Misquoting Jesus were simply meant to go with each other. Both books are easy to read while highly informative and regardless which side of the discussion you stand, I'm sure both books can be found enlightening. Even down to the faults, both books are nearly identical. Both authors have a bad habit of pushing their own views over the given evidence. Ehrman repeatedly promotes how insecure our renditions of the New Testament are while at the same time stating how possible it is to recreate something similar to its original text. Jones on the other hand expects us to conclude that the fallacies of the New Testament don't affect our Christian lives, despite agreeing that the New Testament originally lacked prime or solitary examples of Christian forgiveness, admittance of the Trinity, and statements of Christ being one with God.

So all in all, I can't recommend one book over the other. Any fears of having your faith ripped to shreds, being annoyed by religious ignorance which ignores evidence, or wasting money on two books when one or the other might do, can be put aside. Both authors are firm in their convictions yet compassionate towards where the reader might be standing (Ehrman, surprisingly may be a smidgen less outspoken) and both give you plenty of clear, easy to understand information to consider.
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7 of 13 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars De beaux efforts Dec 3 2009
Format:Paperback
L'auteur reproche à Ehrman d'utiliser des citations hors contexte, mais ne se prive pas de faire pareil.
Le problème majeur que présente cet auteur, et tous les auteurs qui tentent de défendre les fondements historiques du christianisme, c'est qu'il pose la mort et la résurrection pas tout à fait charnelle de Jésus comme vraies pour ensuite s'efforcer de fonder cette vérité. Poser ces « événements » comme hypothèse leur permettrait d'éviter de sérieuses erreurs, comme celle de compter les générations du temps de Jésus comme si ce dernier avait vécu au 20e siècle. Les auteurs des évangiles, qui n'ont pas connu Jésus personnellement, ont écrit à partir de ouï-dires. Là s'arrête leur crédibilité. Bref, l'auteur comme tant d'autres est une victime consentante de ce que j'appellerais le christianocentrisme.
Roland Berger
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Amazon.com: 3.3 out of 5 stars  78 reviews
1,031 of 1,180 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Show me the Scholarship Sept. 8 2007
By Hrafnkell Haraldsson - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
I suppose it had to be done. It seems that Professor Ehrman has reached those rarified literary heights previously attained by Celsus, Porphyry and Julian in that apologists feel the need to refute him. For this, kudos are due Professor Ehrman. However, no such congratulations are due Timothy Paul Jones, the senior pastor of the First Baptist Church of Rolling Hills, Tulsa, Oklahoma. While Professor Ehrman writes in a very scholarly fashion, exposing for the public what scholars have known for years about the myths that surround early Christianity's beginnings, Pastor Jones's book is merely an effort to minimalize the damage. As with any apologetic work, its aim is to assure the flock that there is really nothing to worry about.

Written in a very readable, conversational style, Jones still fails in his main effort, which is to prove Bart Ehrman wrong. In that sense, it is a typical apologetic. Yes, there are differences in the various New Testament manuscripts, we are told, but they don't really matter. The conflicting accounts in the four Gospels are not competing, Jones assures us, but somehow complimentary. The differences, he says, are trivial, without ever really explaining how this can be.

Efforts to prove that the Gospels were really written by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are unconvincing. Jones cites Colossians as saying that Luke is Paul's "beloved physician" but Colossians is one of those Pauline letters not really written by Paul. So the testimony of a forger is made to assure us of the veracity of Luke's account. And that is entirely leaving aside the problem that if Luke was Paul's traveling companion, why is it that Luke is so at odds with Paul's own account of his mission? Shouldn't Acts of the Apostles agree with the Pauline epistles, and not contradict them?

He excuses one of the most blatant bits of editing ever done to a manscript, and that is the longer ending of Mark, which originally ended at 16:8. Jones assures us that nothing has been changed by the addition, which even he admits is not original to Mark. Yet here we see proof of the charges made by Celsus in the late second century that Christians changed their texts to suit their changing needs, a charge earlier denied by Jones. And I think Jones misses the greater point here, and that is, if Christian copyists felt free to change even the words of books they felt to be sacred, how secure should people feel with the rest of the books that have passed through their hands. What other changes might have been made, what other passages invented? And if they would change even the Bible, why should we believe that the much vaunted "evidence" for Christianity provided by Pliny, Tacitus and Josephus is not also the product of wishful and inventive Christian editing?

For centuries the faithful were assured, "the Bible is the inerrant word of God" and that there were no mistakes and contradictions in the New Testament. It was perfect, people were told. Now scholars have proven that it is not perfect and the response seems to be, "Well, OK, it isn't perfect but none of those mistakes and contradictions really mean anything." And inerrancy, Jones assures us, "can include approximations, free quotations, language of appearances, and different accounts of the same event as long as those do not contradict." Of course, the New Testament is full of contradictions, but Jones refuses to see these as such.

Against the actual evidence provided by Ehrman, Jones falls back on what early Christians told the Pagan critic Celsus: "Do not ask questions; just believe." He provides no real compelling evidence that fellows named Matthew, Mark, Luke and John wrote the books that bear their names. Instead of arguments anchored in scholarship, he provides us with the following: "Historical evidence (which he fails to provide) also compels me to think that Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were the sources of the books that bear their names. So, whenever I open my New Testament to the Gospels, I read these documents with a clear conscience as the words of these four witnesses."

That's nice, Pastor Jones, but we need more than your assurances that these books were written by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Completely neglected here is the fact that none of these books bore these names when they were written. The names were assigned later. None of these books were cited by early Christian authors until a good century after they were supposedly written. Despite all the evidence we have that these books were NOT written by the men whose names they bear, Professor Jones wants us to take it on faith that they were. Why? Because he believes it.

In the end, Jones has done nothing in this book to refute Bart Ehrman except to say that none of what Bart Ehrman tells us is true because, in the end, he doesn't want it to be true. Against scholarship, Jones offers faith, and in the final analysis, each reader will have to decide what is more important to him, because they are often mutually incompatible.

I think that this remark of Jones really says it all: "I know nothing about warp drives except what I've learned from Star Wars." But warp drives aren't from Star Wars, Pastor Jones. They are from Star Trek.
173 of 201 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars An annoyingly folksy, deeply flawed pseudo-defense of the New Testament April 26 2010
By C. Robinson - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
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 [1966], 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.
277 of 327 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars What an embarrassment June 9 2009
By John J. Hubanks - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
After having read Jones and his effort to debunk Ehrman's work, it has become clear to me that he really has no idea what a fallacy is. Formally, a fallacy is an error in reasoning, and Jones does not manage to show any such thing on Ehrman's part. Ehrman is engaged in a scholarly discussion of evidence that is commonly known and accepted among biblical scholars, and when Jones finally paints himself into a corner (which happens a number of times) he forces himself to admit that Ehrman's evidence is sound. As a result, Jones attempts to sidestep the fact that his case is weak by changing the subject.

In the opening pages of his book, Jones essentially stipulates that Ehrman's scholarship is unassailable from a technical standpoint, but, says Jones, Ehrman misses the point. While the actual text of the bible may have changed over the centuries, the "inspired" truth that God meant to communicate has been miraculously preserved. Jones offers no evidence of this fact beyond his own assurance. In taking the route of saying that the truth of the bible (if not the text) is what is inspired, Jones leaves open the question that Ehrman asks in the opening pages of his book--if we know that we do not have the original words of the bible then how can we know the truth those words are meant to communicate? In essence, Jones' decision to leave this question unaddressed sabotages his case in its entirety. You cannot refute an argument (and certainly not the evidence for that argument) without answering its central question. Jones tries to do so and, as any undergraduate logic student would predict, fails miserably.

I'm sure neither Jones nor his editor are in the least embarrassed by this book, but they should be. It's full of sloppy argumentation and, yes, fallacies. Irony thy name is Jones.
180 of 223 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Misquoting Bart Ehrman Jan. 1 2009
By Jose Castella Arguelles - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Along his book, Timothy Paul Jones must recognize many times that the multiple alterations of the original texts of the NT, quoted by Bart Ehrman in his book "Misquoting Jesus", are true. Not a single time can Jones contradict Ehrman's facts. The differences among them are only in the ground of the interpretation they make of those alterations, or the conclusions at which they arrive. Jones says that those alterations do exist but can stay there and don't do any harm, because they don't contradict the general spirit of the NT text. In the other side, Ehrman tells that those altered texts don't belong to the NT originals and should not be included in it. Just opinions.

But Jones, qualifying Ehrman's opinions as fallacies, or as "Misquoting Truth", as the cover of his book reads, seems to me that it is going too far. Really, it is Jones himself who misquotes the truth when he qualifys Ehrman's work in such a way.
176 of 225 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Getting out of a paradigm July 5 2007
By Plato Camus - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I appreicate this book's attempt to argue a case against the Ehrman's books. However, I think Jones is confined to a paradigm of thought that does not allow him to look at scholarship and depth of understanding on Bible literature. Ehrman's scholarship has great depth of learning and acquintance with the original documents. His is an understanding of the language and culture, and I find this lacking in the Jones book. Jones has a facile understanding of the issues involved in the works of Ehrman.
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