This is a beginner’s guide to comprehend Ehrman, and the scholarly response from Christian apologists to debunk his attacks against Historic Christianity.
Who Is Bart Ehrman?
“Dr. Bart D. Ehrman is the James A. Gray Distinguished Professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill…An expert on the New Testament and the history of Early Christianity, has written or edited thirty books, numerous scholarly articles, and dozens of book reviews…Five of his books have been on the New York Times Bestseller list: Misquoting Jesus; God’s Problem; Jesus Interrupted; Forged; and How Jesus Became God,” says Ehrman’s website.1
Why Did Ehrman Renounce Christianity?
Dr. William Lane Craig, a Research Professor of Philosophy at Talbot School of Theology and Professor of Philosophy at Houston Baptist University, is a contemporary to Dr. Ehrman. Craig and Ehrman attended the same college and studied Greek under the same professor. Craig briefly narrates Ehrman’s apostasy from Christianity, “Sadly, Dr. Ehrman came to radically different conclusions as a result of his studies at Princeton University. He pointedly describes how he came to doubt the doctrine of biblical inerrancy as a result of his studies and how this finally led him to abandon faith in Christ. Eventually, he became an agnostic, finally an atheist, and today he is an apostate Christian to all appearances and writes books against the Christian faith which are enormously destructive and which have proved very troubling to many Christians who read them and as a result are filled with doubts about their own Christian faith and experience.”2
Why Did Ehrman Become Famous?
Ehrman’s book “Misquoting Jesus” was published in November 2005. Within one week, it was among the top fifty sellers at Amazon. Within three months, more than 100,000 copies were sold. Ehrman was much sought after by media outlets.3
“Why all the hoopla? …Jesus sells. But not the Jesus of the Bible. The Jesus that sells is the one that is palatable to postmodern man. And with a book entitled Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why, a ready audience was created via the hope that there would be fresh evidence that the biblical Jesus is a figment…More importantly, this book sells because it appeals to the skeptic who wants reasons not to believe, who considers the Bible a book of myths…”4 says Dr. Daniel B. Wallace, the Senior Professor of New Testament Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary and Executive Director of the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts.
What Are Ehrman’s Accusations Against Historic Christianity?
Dr. Craig A. Evans, the John Bisagno Distinguished Professor of Christian Origins and Dean of the School of Christian Thought at Houston Baptist University, offers a terse yet highly meaningful synopsis of Bart Ehrman’s attack against Historic Christianity, “In Misquoting Jesus, Ehrman argues that today’s text of the Bible (and he mostly speaks in reference to the Greek New Testament) does not exactly match that of the original writings and that some of the changes in the text were deliberate, at times motivated by theological dogmas. Therefore, we really don’t know what the evangelists originally wrote. In Jesus, Interrupted, Ehrman shows why the Gospel narratives cannot be harmonized, nor their histories trusted. In Forged: Writing in the Name of God, he argues that several books of the Bible were not written by their ascribed authors. Most recently, in How Jesus Became God, Ehrman argues that the early church’s belief that Jesus was divine was not what Jesus claimed, nor what his original disciples believed.”5
Where Do I Begin To Debunk Ehrman?
Ehrman is a textual critic, not an expert in the research of Historical Jesus, says William Lane Craig, “Bart Ehrman’s area of expertise is the text – the original Greek text – of the New Testament. He is a textual critic. Although he likes to posture himself in his books as a historian – an expert or scholar in life of Jesus research – in fact that is not his area of specialization or training. He is a textual critic who is someone who works with manuscripts to establish the original text of the autographs – or the original writings – of the New Testament…Unfortunately, Bart Ehrman has used his prestige as a text critic to give the impression to lay people that the text of the New Testament is terribly corrupted and uncertain.”6
Ehrman is a double-faced accuser; he knows that the New Testament is 99% established yet he attacks the veracity of the New Testament, “…there are really two Bart Ehrmans that are on display…the scholarly Bart Ehrman and the popular Bart Ehrman. The scholarly Bart Ehrman knows that the text of the New Testament has been established to 99% accuracy. That is to say, the original wording of the New Testament is now established to about 99%. So the degree of uncertainty of the text of the New Testament is only about 1%. There are about 138,000 Greek words in the New Testament. Of these, only about 1,400 are uncertain today. 99% are established with real certainty. Of that 1% that still remains uncertain, virtually uncertain, bad Bart deliberately misrepresents the situation to lay audiences to make them think that the New Testament is incredibly corrupted and uncertain. It is very interesting that when the bad Bart is pressed on this issue by someone he will come clean and admit this. For example, I heard Bart Ehrman interviewed on a radio show some time ago about Misquoting Jesus and the interviewer was talking to him about how uncertain the text of the New Testament is, all the thousands and thousands of variants that there are…and finally the interviewer said to him, “Dr. Ehrman, what do you think the text of the New Testament originally really said?” And Ehrman replied, “I don’t understand what you mean. What are you talking about?” And the interviewer said, “The text of the New Testament – it has been so corrupted as it has been copied. What do you think the original text actually said?” And Ehrman said, “Well, it says pretty much what we have today – what it says now.” And the interviewer was utterly confused. He said, “I thought it was all corrupted” and Ehrman said “We’ve been able to reestablish the text of the New Testament as textual scholars.” So he knows and when pressed admits that the text of the New Testament is 99% established.”7
Ehrman argues like a fundamentalist and is frequently guilty of the fallacy of the excluded middle, says Dr. Craig Evans, “The problem is that, in his popular books, Ehrman is frequently guilty of the logical fallacy of the excluded middle, the idea that there are only two options — either we have every word of the original text or we do not; either we have harmonious accounts of the teaching and activities of Jesus or we don’t. Bart Ehrman is arguing like a fundamentalist. It is an all-or-nothing approach. If the Bible is truly inspired (and therefore trustworthy), it must be free from discrepancies. But this is not how most seasoned scholars think, including evangelicals. Nor was it the way early Christians thought.”8
Ehrman will not engage the best critics in the field, claims Nick Peters while reviewing Ehrman’s latest book, “Jesus Before the Gospels,” “…he will very rarely interact with those who are his best critics in the field. In Forged, he spends no serious time on the work of Randy Richards on the usage of secretaries, for instance. In How Jesus Became God he barely interacts with Hurtado and Hengel and does not even once mention Bauckham. So it is that in this book, he doesn’t deal with many of the best critics out there, such as the work of Walton and Sandy in The Lost World of Scripture or with the work of Robert McIver in Memory, Jesus, and the Synoptic Gospels.”9
To conclude, Ehrman has been more than adequately debunked. This article merely provides a basic understanding of Bart Ehrman and offers a starting point to debunk his accusations. The reader can gain deeper insight into Ehrman’s fallacies upon studying the materials cited in the endnotes and the scholarly work by the Christian apologists that are in the public domain.
Websites cited were last accessed on 18th August, 2016.