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The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture: The Effect of Early Christological Controversies on the Text of the New Testament (review)
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This book might just as well have been sub-titled "The Case of the Intelligent Scribe." What the author, assistant professor of religious studies at the University of North Carolina, has done is to pursue the thesis that proto-orthodox Christian scribes altered the sacred texts in order to make them "say" what they were already known to "mean." If "orthodoxy" describes the form of Christianity that became dominant as of the fourth century C.E., "proto-orthodoxy" may be used to characterize the views of those second and third century Christians which were embraced in the victorious Christology of Nicea and Chalcedon. Proto-orthodox views appear in the writings of Ignatius of Antioch, Polycarp, Justin, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Hippolytus, Clement of Alexandria, and Origen, but they also appear, albeit in much more subtle fashion, in the textual tradition of the New Testament. Textual variants must be construed as a secondary form of polemic. Variant readings clarify the meaning of the text so that it truly means what it is thought to say.

At one and the same time proto-orthodox Christians had to defend Christ's divinity against adoptionists, his humanity against docetists, and his unity against Gnostic separationists. Each of these apologetic efforts is reflected in the textual tradition. Since they were carried out simultaneously there is a certain paradox evident in the transmission of the text, some alternate readings emphasizing, for instance, the humanity of Jesus, while others underscored his divinity. For the most part these orthodox readings "corrected" the text so as to preclude its exploitation by "heretics" or by accentuating the Christology espoused by the scribe, rather than by blatantly introducing into a passage a notion that was extraneous to it.

Ehrman's work is, in sum, a work of textual criticism in the light of and with respect to the Christological controversies of the second and third centuries. It is to be commended for clearly demonstrating that the sacred texts were transcribed neither in a vacuum nor in an antiseptic laboratory, but by committed Christians who were engaged in Christological controversy. Rightly does the author emphasize that it was their perception of opposing Christologies that led proto-orthodox scribes to modify the sacred texts as they did.

Ehrman's method is akin to that which is sometimes called the eclectic method of textual criticism. He repeatedly demonstrates the importance of taking the various arguments in consort. His finely tuned appreciation of these arguments leads him to disagree at times with the editors who have produced the Nestle-Aland Greek New Testament text. For example, Ehrman considers both Luke 22.43-44 and 24.12 to be proto-orthodox interpolations into the Lukan text (pp. 187-94; 212-17). Strikingly he rejects the reading "son of God" in Mark 1:1, attributing this phrase to anti-adoptionist scribes.

Careful nuance and the judicious weighing of the entire body of evidence is characteristic of Ehrman's work. In this regard his apologia pro Westcott-Hort (pp. 223-27) is particularly enlightening. He makes the important point that the case for or against the so-called Western non-interpolations cannot be decided simply on the basis of the quantity of evidence. In this respect Ehrman's voice deserves to be heard in the ongoing discussion about the Western non-interpolations.

Ehrman divides his book into six chapters, but it is clearly chapters two through five that form the core of the work. These are respectively devoted to the anti-adoptionistic (pp. 47-118), the anti-separationist (pp. 119-80), and anti-docetic (pp. 181-261) corruptions of the New Testament. A short sixth chapter (pp. 262-73) is devoted to an assessment of the way in which various proto-orthodox scribes took issue with Patripassianism and/or modalism in their transcription of the text. As one might expect in such a study, it is primarily passages in the four gospels which come under scrutiny in the present work, but it also contains a significant discussion of some passages in Acts, the Pauline corpus, and, especially, 1 John (see the index, pp. 303-5). With regard to the latter Ehrman proposes that a reading of 1 John 4.3...