Critics of the Bible will often claim that the majority of biblical scholars are on their side when it comes to doubting Christian beliefs about Scripture. I recently heard atheist activist John Loftus claim, in a debate with apologist David Marshall, that most biblical scholars don’t believe any prophecies in the Old Testament refer to Jesus. New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman often claims the backing of the majority of scholars as well, but such claims overlook or diminish the large number of evangelical thinkers who argue for different conclusions. In their recent book Truth in a Culture of Doubt: Engaging Skeptical Challenges to the Bible, authors Andreas Köstenberger, Darrell Bock, and Josh Chatraw illuminate the problems with this assertion.
Throughout Ehrman’s writings, he regularly cites the “modern scholarly consensus” in support of his claims. According to Ehrman, his views are “standard fare,” held by “all my closest friends,” are “widely accepted among New Testament scholars,” and are “widely taught in seminaries and divinity schools.”* However, it is only by defining scholarship on his own terms and by excluding scholars who disagree with him that Ehrman is able to imply that he is supported by all other scholarship. As one recent reviewer of Ehrman has noted,
He fails to mention that of all the ATS [Association of Theological Schools]-accredited seminaries in the United States, the top ten largest seminaries are all evangelical. These seminaries represent thousands and thousands of students, and hundreds and hundreds of professors. If virtually all seminary professors agree with Ehrman, then who are these professors teaching at the ten largest US seminaries? Apparently the only schools that count in Ehrman’s analysis of modern seminaries are the ones that already agree with him. It is not so difficult to prove your views are mainstream when you get to decide what is mainstream.**
It appears that Ehrman’s rhetoric is designed to intimidate a lay audience. Often his comments force readers into accepting his assertion by the mere weight of the unanimity in his circle of scholarship, which he makes out to be the only real type of scholarship. While this argument might give Ehrman a psychological edge with some readers, it proves unhelpful in dealing with the actual evidence.
. . . The fact is that hundreds of reputable biblical scholars disagree with Ehrman on his key points. For example, consider Ben Witherington’s remarks:
What is interesting is that the more I studied the Bible the less I was prone to accuse the Bible of obvious historical errors and stupid mistakes, including theological errors about a matter as profound as human suffering and evil. To the contrary, I found the Bible rich, complex, varied, and helpful and truthful in dealing with precisely such life and death matters. It would be appropriate then to ask–why exactly did studying the Bible in the same way at seminary and during doctoral work lead Bart Ehrman and myself to such different conclusions? In my case, my faith in the Bible was strengthened, but the opposite seems to have been the case with Bart. “This is a mystery and it calls for profound reflection.” Some of this clearly has to do with presuppositions.***
(Truth in a Culture of Doubt [B&H Academic, 2014], 34, 35).
* Bart D. Ehrman, Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (And Why We Don’t Know About Them)(San Francisco: HarperOne, 2009), 17-18, 271.
** Michael J. Kruger, “Review of Jesus, Interrupted,” accessed April 25, 2012. ATS (the Association of Theological Schools) is the agency that accredits many seminaries in the United States.
*** Ben Witherington III, “Bart Interrupted,” accessed March 25, 2010.
The Tolle Lege (“Take up and read”) series will focus on excerpts from notable books in philosophy, theology, apologetics, and related areas.