Ehrman, Bart. (2005) Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why. (Harper One)
Ehrman, Bart. (2005) Lost Christianities: The Battles for Scripture and the Faiths We Never Knew (Oxford University Press)
Martin, Dale. (2012) New Testament History and Literature. (Yale University Press)
Tabor, James. (2012) Paul and Jesus: How the Apostle Transformed Christianity (Simon and Schuster)
I recommend them all whole-heartedly. I also realise that the authors certainly might not entirely ‘like’ what I’ve created with the help of their work, but I trust that they would be satisfied that I have not stretched the facts. If anything, I’ve barely scratched the surface of their incredible knowledge on this wonderful topic.
Other sources are given throughout what follows.
- Mark as a source for Luke.
This is under no dispute, but I feel a need to include a footnote just in case. Google it. Many believe that since Matthew appears first in the New Testament, it was written first. It wasn’t. For a while, Mark was “the” gospel. The people who accepted it likely didn’t think that any other versions ever needed to be written.
Obviously, the authors of Luke and Matthew are widely considered to have drawn from the “Q” source, also. Google that, too. In fact, if you do so far enough you’ll discover that some scholars dispute (based on evidence) that Q ever existed. Welcome to the rabbit hole of ancient textual analysis. Dig deep, sniff around a bit, and then marvel that some people are content with accepting what our modern bibles include as historically unquestionable.
Oh, and if you want to dig even deeper: Google the very interesting long and short versions of Mark, and scholars’ attempts to ascertain whether the short version was original but was added to, or the long version was original and shortened.
- Copying errors
Copying errors, the different kinds thereof, and how they are understood to have happened, are absolutely fascinating. I’d never given the subject much thought before reading about the history of the new testament documents. Check it out, it will forever change your view of the medium of written text. The idea of two copies of the same text NOT containing errors and discrepancies is an extremely modern one.
Ehrman deals with it in chapter 2 of Misquoting Jesus, and,… err… he isn’t the only scholar of ancient texts to address copying errors. It’s a kind of forensic science. I wish I could do a degree in it, it’s so interesting. Nameless people changed the gospels as they made copy after copy of copy after copy. For centuries. (Not to mention translations. How good were the translations? Were they even complete? Were Jesus’ own words, spoken in Aramaic, translated skilfully into the original Greek? How could we know? Most believers have likely never thought very much about the incredible amount of trust they place in nameless ancient copyists and translators.)
- Appealing to a Roman audience
As well as the four books I’ve cited above, there are many books and articles that deal with the gospel of Luke being particularly “pro-Roman” in a way that the others aren’t. That is, deliberate changes made to the facts presented in the gospel to suit a particular, somewhat political, agenda. One such article is Santandreu, Paul (2018) “Pro-Secular? Luke's Relationship with Roman Imperial System and Culture”, in Verbum: Vol.15:Iss.1, Article 7. Available at:
Another, older example is Walaskay, Paul (1983) ‘And So We Came to Rome’: The Political Perspective of Saint Luke (Cambridge University Press), which is available on Google Books.
You got it: I’m telling you to argue with those scholars, not me. I’m just a guy who’s read what the actual historians have to say, with great interest.
- Pilate (Rome) presented as reasonable and just
James Tabor has this to say:
“The author of Luke-Acts was also pro-Roman. Paul, according to Acts, was a Roman citizen. Luke wants his Gentile Roman readers to know and value that about Paul…
Luke goes far beyond Mark, his primary source, to emphasise that Pontius Pilate was a reasonable and just ruler who went to extraordinary lengths to get Jesus released. He removes the reference to Pilate having Jesus scourged and even omits the horrible mocking and abuse that Jesus suffered at the hands of Pilate’s Roman Praetorium guard.” (p.31)
- Different versions floating around
James Tabor makes a wonderful point about what we can know about how the gospel story developed over time at the end of this passage:
“Mark gives no account of Jesus’ birth at all, miraculous or otherwise, and most strikingly, in his original version, … there are no post-resurrection appearances of Jesus to the disciples! This fact alone provides us with an important key to unraveling the mystery surrounding the empty tomb. The author of Mark preserves for us a stage of history when the Jesus story is being told with an entirely different ending.” (p.72)
How utterly ridiculous to think that the author of Mark knew of post-resurrection encounters with the only person in human history to have risen from the dead, but didn’t think they were interesting or important enough to include in his account.
The fact of the added verses in Mark, those dealing with the risen Jesus, is simply accepted by scholars. Surprised? Yeah, I didn’t know about that until only a few years ago, too, even though my bible had some kind of footnote about that. Scholars only disagree on when, why, and by whom the additional verses were added. Again- the salient point is that Mark, the original gospel, ends without its author telling his readers that people presumably still alive at the time of his writing had actually encountered the living breathing Jesus after his death. If that author had believed that such meetings had occurred, why on Earth would he not have included a single mention of it?
- Different portrayals of Jesus’ approach to his own death
Bart Ehrman, in a section called “Luke and an imperturbable Jesus” goes into detail about not only how we can see that the authors of Mark and Luke differed significantly, but how scholars have leveraged those clear differences to understand ways in which we can detect how minor details, especially in Luke, are most likely later scribal changes or additions. (This is particularly in reference to Jesus sweating blood in the garden- a later addition that egregiously interrupts a traditional literary form.) Absolutely fascinating stuff. Everybody needs to check out what scholars of ancient texts do all day. It’s like forensic science.
On the main topic, though, Ehrman says: “And so, while Luke’s source, the Gospel of Mark, portrays Jesus in anguish as he prays in the garden, Luke has completely remodelled the scene to show Jesus at peace in the face of death…. It is clear that Luke does not share Mark’s understanding that Jesus was in anguish, bordering on despair…. At no point in Luke’s Passion narrative does Jesus lose control; never is he in deep and debilitating anguish over his fate. He is in charge of his own destiny, knowing what he must do and what will happen to him once he does it. This is a man who is at peace with himself and tranquil in the face of death.” (p. 143-144)
- Christianity before Paul was a great deal more Jewish than it became after his ideological victory
James Tabor has this (and an enormous deal more) to say:
“… the form of Christianity that subsequently developed as a thriving religion in the late Roman Empire was heavily based upon the ecstatic and visionary experiences of Paul. Christianity, as we came to know it, is Paul and Paul is Christianity. The bulk of the New Testament is dominated by his theological vision…. The original apostles and followers of Jesus, led by James and assisted by Peter and John, continued to live as Jews, observing the Torah and worshipping in the Temple at Jerusalem, or in their local synagogues, while remembering and honouring Jesus as their martyred Teacher and Messiah. They neither worshipped nor divinized Jesus as the Son of God, or as a Dying-and-Rising Savior, who died for the sins of humankind…. Their message was wholly focused around their expectations that the kingdom of God had drawn near, as proclaimed by John the Baptizer and Jesus, and that very soon God would intervene in human history to bring about his righteous rule of peace and justice among all nations.” (p.25)
It’s absolutely fascinating. They don’t teach this shit in Sunday school. Read more about how scholars have come to figure that Jesus own disciples, the guys that followed him around for three years, did NOT share Paul’s crazy supernatural ideas about him. Paul’s theology is an anomaly, based on supernatural visions and delusions of grandeur. It just happened to beat theirs, textually and ideologically speaking.
- James, the brother of Jesus
From James Tabor, again- and only the tip of the iceberg. A fascinating perspective:
“As we have noted, it is Paul who gives us our earliest reference to James and his leadership over the Jerusalem-based movement following the death of Jesus… Paul’s evidence here is invaluable since the author of the book of Acts only begrudgingly and obliquely acknowledges the leadership of James over the entire Jesus movement. Acts is our only early account of the history of early Christianity, and its prominent place in the New Testament, following the four gospels, ensured its dominance. It is the book of Acts that is largely responsible for the standard portrait of early Christianity in which Peter and Paul assume such a dominant role and James is largely marginalised or left out entirely. The presentation of Acts has become the story, even though its version of events is woefully one-sided and historically questionable. The author of Acts surely knew, but was not willing to state, that James took over the leadership of the movement after Jesus’ death…. His major agenda in the book as a whole is to promote the centrality of the mission and message of the apostle Paul…. This suppression of James is systematic and deliberate, as we shall see.” (p. 29)
- Altering the chronology of Mark
Chapter 10 of Dale Martin’s book is called “The Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles, Part 2; Editing the Beginnings of Christianity”. Yes. Scholars recognise that the written accounts we have about the start of Christianity are simply not historically accurate, but were concocted with an agenda. Martin says: “by analysing how the author of Luke and Acts edits his sources to alter the chronological flow of events in Acts, as he also did in his gospel, we can see that his theological interests trump the historical order of events.” (p.137).
Regarding chronological changes in Luke, that is, different to the chronology of his source Mark, Martin says: “Luke does something completely different with the story. In the first place, he transfers the event from its occurrence in the middle of Jesus’ Galilean ministry, as it occurs in Mark, to the very beginning of his ministry. In Luke, Jesus goes straight to Nazareth on his return to Galilee from the baptism and temptation (Luke 4:16). Luke knows from his sources that Jesus was supposed to have performed many miracles in Capernaum, as he lets slip in 4:23: “Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.” But we readers haven’t seen those events yet. Jesus moves to Capernaum, in Luke, only after this scene in Nazareth (4:31). So Luke has consciously moved the Nazareth incident to make it the inaugural event of Jesus’ ministry… And Luke has beefed up the story considerably, using it to foreshadow several themes he will elsewhere elaborate more fully in Luke and Acts.” (p.133)
- A one-way journey out of Galilee
This source (from 1970) goes into great depth and analysis of the ways in which Luke shifts events and chronologies so as to produce a journey motif that does not resemble either of the other synoptic gospels. This is from Floyd V. Filson, in a chapter called “The Journey Motif in Luke-Acts”, published in a book called “Apostolic History and the Gospel. Biblical and Historical Essays Presented to F.F. Bruce.” It is available at
https://biblicalstudies.org.uk/pdf/ahg/journey_filson.pdf . To quote it at some length:
“The great travel section of the Gospel of Luke (9:51-19:44) tells of the decisive journey of Jesus from Galilee to Jerusalem, a section which takes up nearly 40 per cent of this Gospel. It fills ten of the twenty-four chapters of the Gospel of Luke. For comparison, note that in Matthew this journey occupies only two chapters (19 and 20) and in Mark but one (ch. 10). The place where this section begins in Luke is clear; it is plainly marked by the explicit statement of 9:51: “When the days drew near for him to be received up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.” The Galilean ministry is ended; Jesus sets out for Jerusalem. … The effect of making this middle section of the Gospel of Luke into a long travel narrative is, first of all, to eliminate one journey found in Matthew and Mark, the journey into the district of Tyre and Sidon (Matt. 15:21-28; Mk. 7:24-30; for Luke the gospel is to go from Galilee to Jerusalem and from Jerusalem out into the world). The effect in the second place is to reduce the role which Galilee plays in this gospel. Whereas in Matthew the Galilean ministry occupies the space from 4:12 to 18:35 (fourteen and one-half chapters), and in Mark from 1:14 to 9:50 (eight and two-thirds chapters), in Luke it is compressed into the much shorter section beginning at 4:14 and ending at 9:50 (about five and one-half chapters). This is only partly explained by Luke’s lack of any parallel to Mark 6:45-8:26. In his concern to make the significance of Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem stand out, Luke deliberately shortens the Galilean ministry and builds up the travel section, in part with material which in Matthew and Mark is located during the Galilean ministry. Luke knows that it was at Jerusalem that the final decision concerning Jesus’ ministry and appeal had to be made. He therefore so structures his gospel as to build attention and suspense directed towards that final crisis and decision at Jerusalem.” (Section III of the article).