I have been studying the Bible with the Jehova’s Witnesses for some years now, and I grew interested in learning about the historical development of the book; particularly I wanted to know whether it was a reliable manuscript or not. In search of these answers, I stumbled upon this book, Misquoting Jesus.
What did I learn from this book: No, you can’t trust the Bible as a book that was written by God and preserved in its original form.
Not to say there is not wisdom in the Bible, but it is clear that the book and the manuscripts from which it originated passed from hand to hand, from scribe to editor, to copier, to translator. And while most of them probably tried to preserve the message as accurately as possible, some of them were more interested in making sure that the message was not in collusion with what they or their congregation believed.
Bart D. Ehrman goes over the historical development of some of the different versions of the Bible, from the early Christians of the 2nd and 3rd centuries CE, to the late scholars of the 17th and 18th centuries. He discusses the nature of the variations between different editions, and speculates on how some of them might have come to be introduced in the process of copying. He doesn’t barrage the reader with his own judgement, he simply presents the evidence and pretty much leaves you to draw your own conclusions.
Personally, after reading this book I find less ground to accept the Bible as the word of god. I knew many hands had touched and manipulated the documents, and it is clear that most scholars agree that this was the case, and this book helped me give my arguments some solid foundation. How could we really expect to understand the Bible as the word of god, when we don’t even know what the original “word of god” looked like?
You could of course claim that the wisdom of the book pervades every single translation and every variation, but Ehrman I believe presents a very solid position against Christian fundamentalism. Especially when dealing with people like the Jehova’s Witnesses, who so insistingly claim to be the only ones who are not misinterpreting scripture (although they clearly are), it is good to have a good counterargument against not just the additional doctrine that the group has overlaid on top of the scripture (which they will use to confuse you) but actually to dig deep into the origin of the book they claim to follow so strictly.
It is a fascinating book, that is not religious but not secular at the same time. It’s a neutral exposition of the facts. I enjoyed reading it quite a bit.