Investigating Bart Ehrman’s Top Ten Troublesome Bible Verses

On the final page of the paperback edition of Misquoting Jesus, Bart Ehrman famously listed the “Top Ten Verses That Were Not Originally in the New Testament.” In an effort to discredit the reliability of the New Testament text, Ehrman offered this list to demonstrate the existence of many late insertions in the text. He found this reality troubling as a young man, and eventually walked away from his Christian faith as a result:

“The Bible began to appear to me as a very human book. Just as human scribes had copied, and changed, the texts of scripture, so too had human authors originally written the texts of scripture. This was a human book from beginning to end.”  (from Misquoting Jesus)

Bart JWW Top 10

Let’s take a look at Ehrman’s list of troublesome verses and examine how they impact the reliability of the New Testament text:

1 John 5:7
There are three that bear witness in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit, and these three are one.

John 8:7
Let the one who is without sin among you be the first to cast a stone at her.

John 8:11
Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.

Luke 22:44
In his anguish Jesus began to pray more earnestly, and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling to the ground.

Luke 22:20
And in the same way after supper Jesus took the cup and said, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.“

Mark 16:17
These signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will cast out demons and they will speak with new tongues.

Mark 16:18
And they will take up snakes in their hands, and if they drink poison it will not harm them, and they will lay their hands on the sick and they will become well.

John 5:4
For an angel of the Lord went down at certain times into the pool and disturbed the waters; and whoever was the first to step in when the water was disturbed was healed of whatever disease he had.

Luke 24:12
But Peter rose up and ran to the tomb, and stooping down to look in, he saw the linen clothes by themselves. And he went away to his own home, marveling at what had happened.

Luke 24:51
And when Jesus blessed them he departed from them and he was taken up into heaven

While this list may seem large (and even surprising for those of us who haven’t examined the presence of textual variants in the New Testament), I think this list does little to impact the reliability of the text. In fact, I think Ehrman is profiting from the unfamiliarity that most Christians have with the presence of textual variants. The list does seem shocking and daunting if you’ve never taken the time to examine matters such as these. But if you stop and think about it and examine each verse listed here, the impact is actually very minimal. I recognize four truths about these verses:

The Verses are Designated Earlier
Seven of these passages (John 8:7, John 8:11, Luke 22:44, Luke 22:20, Mark 16:17, Mark 16:18 and John 5:4) are already clearly designated in my Bible (I’m using the ESV for this blog post). It’s not as though these specious verses are hidden; most modern translations do an excellent job of including everything, then identifying those verses that are variants. Check it out for yourself. You’ll see that these verses, like many others in the text, have been clearly marked.

The Verses are Described Elsewhere
Three of these passages (Luke 22:20, Luke 24:12 and Luke 24:51) are simply reiterations of information that is given to us in other gospels. So, although these verses could be removed from Luke, their claims are found elsewhere in passages that are uncontested (see Matthew 26:28, Mark 14:24, John 20:3-7, Acts 1:9-11).

The Verses are Decidedly Extraneous
That leaves only one verse on Ehrman’s list (1 John 5:7) that begs for explanation. But even if this verse can’t be reconciled, it’s clearly extraneous. The doctrine of the Trinity it addresses is found elsewhere in the scripture. Like other scribal variants, it may have been included by a scribe to make the doctrine clearer, but with all the other Biblical evidence for the triune nature of God, this verse has no impact on our understanding of the Trinity. The superfluous nature of this verse is similar to the vast majority of all Biblical textual variants; they have no impact on the theological or historical claims of the text.

The Verses are Detected Easily
Perhaps most importantly, these late entries were easy to detect, given the large number of ancient Biblical manuscripts we possess. By comparing these texts, we are able to determine which verses should not be in our Bible today, and the same discipline that allows us to determine what is specious, allows us to determine what is special. The skill set that allows us to identify what doesn’t belong is the very same skill set that allows us to identify what does belong.

I’ve written a lot more about this issue in a chapter in my book entitled, “Separating Artifacts from Evidence.” It turns out that Ehrman has the ability to complain about the existence of these passages only because we happen to possess the accurate methodology to remove them from consideration in the first place. As a result, we ought to have even more confidence that we possess documents today that are a reliable reflection of what was originally written thousands of years ago.

J. Warner Wallace is a Cold-Case Detective, a Christian Case Maker, and the author of Cold-Case Christianity and God’s Crime Scene.

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27 replies
  1. james archbold says:

    For me the passage within in the scriptures that illustrate its man made origins and lack of ‘the divine’ is Deuteronomy 22. Verse’s 23-24 plainly states that if a woman is raped and does not scream loud enough she is to be put to death with her attacker ,the inference being that she was somehow complicit. It is telling that few evangelical fundamentalists are prepared to condemn what they perceive to be deity endorsed OT laws and precepts. The brutality, ignorance and misogyny endemic within biblical text and the fundamentalists failure to decry or question the morality of which, may go some way to explaining why that scriptual misogyny and chauvinism still persists today.

    Reply
    • Beck says:

      It’s important when you deal with legal punishments and procedures in the old testament you recognize Moses was writing laws for a different culture. Just because it was part of law doesn’t mean God necessarily gave it his “stamp of approval”. See Matthew 19 1-11.

      Reply
      • toby says:

        And your side claims to have objective morality that comes from a god who apparently didn’t put his stamp of approval on portions of a book that some on your side claim to be inerrant and all of you claim gives you knowledge of which god is the really, real one. “Well, that’s fine, it was their culture.” So people that followed this law (that was supposedly divinely inspired and written down by moses) went to hell for following it? Or was the law right?

        Reply
        • Beck says:

          Your comment is kinda all over the place and not very logical. You make statements that just show your ignorance of the purpose of some of the old testament books. I will also add there’s no reason the believe these people “went to hell for following it” just like no one went to hell for divorce.

          Reply
        • Ed Vaessen says:

          toby says:
          “And your side claims to have objective morality that comes from a god”

          Indeed the claim about the objective morality of God is unfounded. It simply becomes a matter of cherry picking from the Bible, followed by stating that this cherry picking is not cherry picking at all but ‘understanding the Bible the right way’.

          Reply
    • Beck says:

      Also, i think you misrepresented the verse it doesn’t say she “didn’t scream loud enough” it states she didnt scream at all and didn’t call it rape as it clearly states in the next verse.

      Reply
      • James Archbold says:

        One verse implies rape in the city and the next rape in the country.In the first the onus is on the woman to prove she wasn’t complicit. If she couldn’t then she shared the fate of her assailant . Percieved devine logic at the time seems to be that a woman being raped will naturally cry out.This is the thinking of ignorant bullies and thugs. There is no divine insight or wisdom here.

        Reply
    • Brian says:

      It doesn’t say what you indicate in your post. It does not say that she must scream loud enough – that it is the volume of screaming that is important. What the verse does say is that if she does not call for help (i.e. if it is consensual sex), then both deserve punishment. Read the verse as it is written and interpret the verse within the greater context of verses before and after. There is a consistent theme from 13 – 30, that sex outside of marriage (one man and one woman for one life time) is not consistent with God’s character (i.e. immoral). The verses look at several different scenarios in which this could occur, but the message is consistent.

      Reply
      • james archbold says:

        I’m not disputing the “culture’ of the times or that they didn’t attempt to employ logic when it came to deciding if a woman was complicit in her own rape. But its the false reasoning and morally devoid logic, based on Ignorance and their eagerness to attribute it to their god that to me demonstrates that the scriptures are a man made construct .No devine intervention required…and yes, full marks for ruthless consistency.

        Reply
      • Ed Vaessen says:

        Brian:
        “Read the verse as it is written and interpret the verse within the greater context of verses before and after. There is a consistent theme from 13 – 30, that sex outside of marriage (one man and one woman for one life time) is not consistent with God’s character (i.e. immoral). ”

        How strange. Someone else here said that God did not necessarily give his stamp op approval.
        So sex outside marriage is immoral but killing the man and woman who committed that act is not?

        Reply
      • TGM says:

        There are reasons why someone being raped would not scream out. 1) Fear of greater consequences by screaming, 2) Paralysis (brain freeze), which is overwhelmingly common among people who are victimized, 3) Non-violent rape (aka date rape) where the victim is drugged or unconscious.

        This whole ‘call out for help’ line of reasoning misunderstands human nature. Any real god would know this and not write silly bible verses.

        Reply
    • Craig says:

      “For me the passage within in the scriptures that illustrate its man made origins and lack of ‘the divine’ is Deuteronomy 22. Verse’s 23-24 plainly states that if a woman is raped and does not scream loud enough she is to be put to death with her attacker”

      James, thats why you read the next verse. it clarifies the whole thing. vv 22-23 are talking about a betrothed woman who is cheating on her to-be- spouse. there is complicity here because the text says so “If a man happens to meet in a town a virgin pledged to be married and he sleeps with her, 24 you shall take both of them to the gate of that town and stone them to death—the young woman because she was in a town and did not scream for help, and the man because he violated another man’s wife.

      If this is coercion, then why the word “sleep with”? there is no coercion

      v 25-27
      “25 But if out in the country a man happens to meet a young woman pledged to be married and rapes her, only the man who has done this shall die. 26 Do nothing to the woman; she has committed no sin deserving death. This case is like that of someone who attacks and murders a neighbor, 27 for the man found the young woman out in the country, and though the betrothed woman screamed, there was no one to rescue her.

      This verse clearly uses “rape” an act of coercion devoid of two complicit, consenting parties.

      Reply
  2. James Archbold says:

    One verse implies rape in the city and the next rape in the country.In the first the onus is on the woman to prove she wasn’t complicit. If she couldn’t then she shared the fate of her assailant . Percieved devine logic at the time seems to be that a woman being raped will naturally cry out.This is the thinking of ignorant bullies and thugs. There is no divine insight or wisdom here.

    Reply
    • Beck says:

      There is no “imply” one basically states that it is the law to cry out and one talks about rape (it even uses the word).

      Reply
      • James Archbold says:

        Why would she cry out if she wasn’t raped?..Why would she necessarily cry out if she was?Again the onus is on her to prove it wasn’t rape by ‘crying out’. This is not the reasoning a divine being.

        Reply
        • Beck says:

          You have been talking about things being implied and the implication you haven’t seen is these people being caught in the act. It would be fairly simple to tell when being caught if the woman was a willing party. It’s like it is not registering that this is a law and with any law it will be interpreted by people using their best judgement and mercy.

          Reply
        • Samuel says:

          Do you know how a divine being reasons? If a human know how a divine being reasons, then the human is divine or that divinity is human.

          Reply
  3. Louie says:

    As I read through some of these comments, I can’t help but shake my head. Step back, and ask yourself the following question…
    – Does the fact that I take offense to anything written in the bible make the bible untrue?
    What about a history book? A math book? A cook book?

    Reply
  4. james says:

    The truth or untruth of any literature is not dependent on the context in which we approach it.What would make a book that claimed absolute inerrant truth untrue is if there were untrue things in it.

    Reply
  5. t-bone says:

    james,

    seems your first sentence is simply an assertion and itself can be proven false.

    “Truth in any literature is dependent on context”. accordingly, my statement is true which i took from your statement because context does not matter.

    i agree truth matters. at least you agree there is such a thing as truth. right?

    Reply
  6. Jeff says:

    Well now, to all you who claim such piety without religion. Who makes you the one to determine objective truth? How do you even know the things are wrong that you claim are wrong? I think the idea of law and grace has been learned in your heart. It’s quite beautiful.

    Reply
    • Kyle says:

      For starters verifiable and repeatable science determines truth to a large extent. How do you as a religious person know t he things are wrong that you claim are wrong? I’m a firm believer that society dictates our moral compass. This was why things like Hitler’s Germany could happen. Convince a large enough group of people that Jews were not worthy of being in their society. Suddenly it was ok to commit those atrocities. No one would dare do those things to someone they consider a member of their own society.

      Reply

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