Apologetics Index

Former fundamentalist Bart Ehrman ‘debunks’ Bible

CNN reports:

Just so you know, Bart Ehrman says he’s not the anti-Christ.

Bart Ehrman says most of the New Testament is a forgery but it’s still an important body of work.

He says he’s not trying to destroy your faith. He’s not trying to bash the Bible. And, though his mother no longer talks to him about religion, Ehrman says some of his best friends are Christian.

Ehrman, a best-selling author and a professor of religious studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, is a biblical sleuth whose investigations make some people very angry. Like the fictional Robert Langdon character played by actor Tom Hanks in the movie “Angels & Demons,” he delves into the past to challenge some of Christianity’s central claims.

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In Ehrman’s latest book, “Jesus, Interrupted,” he concludes:

Doctrines such as the divinity of Jesus and heaven and hell are not based on anything Jesus or his earlier followers said.

At least 19 of the 27 books in the New Testament are forgeries.

Believing the Bible is infallible is not a condition for being a Christian.

Some scholarly critics say Ehrman is saying nothing new.

Bishop William H. Willimon, an author and United Methodist Church bishop based in Alabama, says he doesn’t like the “breathless tone” of Ehrman’s work.

“He keeps presenting this stuff as if this is wonderful new knowledge that has been kept from you backward lay people and this is the stuff your preachers don’t have the guts to tell, and I have,” Willimon says. “There’s a touch of arrogance in it.”

Yet even many of Ehrman’s critics say he has a knack for making arcane New Testament scholarship accessible to the public.

“He has a gift for clear thinking and an ability to present some complicated things in simple, direct ways,” Willimon says.

Some pastors also say that Ehrman forces them to confront tough questions about the Bible in front of their congregations.

“His take on the scriptures is a gift to the church because of his ability to articulate questions and challenges,” says Rev. Guy Williams, a blogger who also happens to be a Methodist minister in Houston, Texas. “It gives us an opportunity to wrestle with the [Bible’s] claims and questions.”
– Source: Former fundamentalist ‘debunks’ Bible John Blake, CNN, May 15, 2009

Ben Witherington, an evangelical Biblical scholar, and lecturer on New Testament Studies, critiques Ehrman’s book in a five-part analysis: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5:

… One of the problems however with some of Bart’s popular work, including this book, is that it does not follow the age old adage— “before you boil down, you need to have first boiled it up”. By this I mean Bart Ehrman, so far as I can see, and I would be glad to be proved wrong about this fact, has never done the necessary laboring in the scholarly vineyard to be in a position to write a book like Jesus, Interrupted from a position of long study and knowledge of New Testament Studies. He has never written a scholarly monograph on NT theology or exegesis. He has never written a scholarly commentary on any New Testament book whatsoever!

His area of expertise is in textual criticism, and he has certainly written works like The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture, which have been variously reviewed, not to mention severely critiqued by other textual critics such as Gordon D. Fee, and his own mentor Bruce Metzger (whom I also did some study with). He is thus, in the guild of the Society of Biblical Literature a specialist in text criticism, but even in this realm he does not represent what might be called a majority view on such matters.

It is understandable how a textual critic might write a book like Misquoting Jesus, on the basis of long study of the underpinnings of textual criticism and its history and praxis. It is mystifying however why he would attempt to write a book like Jesus, Interrupted which frankly reflect no in-depth interaction at all with exegetes, theologians, and even most historians of the NT period of whatever faith or no faith at all.

A quick perusal of the footnotes to this book, reveal mostly cross-references to Ehrman’s earlier popular works, with a few exceptions sprinkled in–for example Raymond Brown and E.P Sanders, the former long dead, the latter long retired. What is especially telling and odd about this is Bart does not much reflect a knowledge of the exegetical or historical study of the text in the last thirty years. It’s as if he is basing his judgments on things he read whilst in Princeton Seminary. And that was a long time ago frankly.

It is not sufficient to reply that Bart is writing for a popular audience and thus we would not expect much scholarly discussion even in the footnotes. Even in a work of this sort, we would expect some good up to date bibliography for those disposed to do further study, not merely copious cross-references to one’s other popular level books. Contrast for example, my last Harper book What Have They Done with Jesus? The impression is left, even if untrue, that Ehrman’s actual knowledge of and interaction with NT historians, exegetes, and theologians has been and is superficial and this has led to overly tendentious and superficial analysis. Again, I would be glad to be proved wrong about this, but it would certainly appear I am not.

This book could have been written by an intelligent skeptical person who had no more than a seminary level acquaintance and expertise in the field of NT studies itself. And I do not say this lightly, for this book manifests problems in all areas, if one critiques it on the basis of NT scholarship of the last thirty or so years. There are methodological problems, historical problems, exegetical problems, theological problems, and epistemological problems with this book, to mention but a few areas.
– Source: Bart Interrupted — A Detailed Analysis of ‘Jesus, Interrupted’ Part One Ben Witherington, April 7, 2009

See Also:
• The Textual Reliability of the New Testament [article] J.P. Holding
• Are the Biblical documents reliable? [article] Jimmy Williams
• Manuscript evidence for superior New Testament reliability [article] Matt Slick
• The Historical Reliability of Scripture [article] by Dr. John Ankerberg, Dr. John Weldon
• Putting Jesus in His Place: The Case for the Deity of Christ [book] Robert Bowman and J. Ed Komoszewski
• The Lord Of Glory: A Study Of The Designations Of Our Lord In The New Testament With Especial Reference To His Deity [book] Benjamin B. Warfield
• Dethroning Jesus: Exposing Popular Culture’s Quest to Unseat the Biblical Christ [book] Darrell L. Block and Daniel B. Wallace
• Fabricating Jesus: How Modern Scholars Distort the Gospels [book] Craig A. Evans

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First published (or major update) on Saturday, May 16, 2009

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