Bart Ehrman’s Misquoting Jesus is an introduction to textual analysis for the lay person, an an introduction to the idea that the Bible doesn’t just contain divinely inspired words of God, but also a large number of errors and changes that have been introduced over centuries. Critics of his book either believe the Bible is literally true and he is misled, or more often that he is correct about the errors, but that the meaning they take from today’s Bible is still divine, that “internal parity correction” exists, to quote one Amazon review.
Many of his points, though, such as the changes made over time around the roles of women do reveal serious changes of meaning, removing the status given to them by the original authors.
Ehrman comes out with a final affirmation of the power of story, reminding us that the meaning of stories changes with every new reader. He encourages us to work to understand what the author meant by what they wrote, rather than just assuming he meant what we expected him to mean. There is not just one view of Christ contained in the Bible, there are different views, each colored by the needs and concerns of different authors who lived in different times and places..
To me, of course, this human mark of stories is dead on. Literalists don’t know the root meaning, they know the meaning they assign, and out of context, well, lost. I remember one Unitarian book club where people discussed the meaning of a Sumerian text not in the context of being Sumerian, but rather in the context of being a suburban 21st century commuter. “Yeah, that’s what it means,” summarized one person. I may have discussed what the text meant to me, or what it triggered in my thoughts, but then deciding that my meaning is what the text means, well, that seems too creepy.
The Bible may well have lots of texts that raise questions, that can lead us to insights & faith, but how many simple answers it has, well, that is another question. People who are looking for answers, though, they look through the contradictions and find what they expect, and that can easily leave people to fight to the death over the different conclusions they find in their Bible.
The nature of story means that there is no “our story,” there is only “my story” which may hold shared parts with others. Even those who experience the same story will experience it differently, as Mark read the story Luke told, understood the meaning differently and took to rewrite the story based on his understanding. Erhman notes that if you think the gospels hold the same meaning, then you have missed the meaning altogether, bringing only your meaning to your reading.
Every story is the story of some human, even when it tells of events, emotions, feelings, ideas and understandings we share, and as Ehrman notes, if you don’t try to understand what the author means by what they wrote, you don’t try to understand the story.
Being human is the gift we share, and to value humans, we have to value them not as groups but as individuals, made from the same fundament but with a unique essence. This is the message of transgender in my mind, beyond divisions to valuing humans, by valuing their stories.
It’s a pretty common message, one of valuing the indvidual & the shard of creation they hold inside; maybe, at root, the message of all scripture.