December 2, 2020

iMonk Classic: Who’s Afraid of Bart Ehrman?

Classic iMonk Post
by Michael Spencer
From May 24, 2006

Note from Chaplain Mike:
With the release of Bart Ehrman’s latest book, Forged: Writing in the Name of God–Why the Bible’s Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are, the critical scholar from the University of North Carolina has discharged his latest salvo at the conservative view of the Bible’s reliability. He has been making the rounds of the talk shows lately, and I have been listening to some of these, as well as some older debates with conservative scholars. Michael Spencer, a fine apologist, took on the Ehrman phenomenon back in 2006 with this piece.

Bart Ehrman is rapidly rising up the list of names appearing frequently in the watchblogosphere. As Ehrman gets more attention on the secular media, more apologists and defenders of the faith invoke Ehrman’s name and contend with his work in New Testament studies. A recent post at a well known watchblog took off from the Washington Post’s coverage of Ehrman.

Ehrman’s rise in public visibility is due to several factors. He’s an ex-evangelical, which the MSM finds irresistably appealing, having attended MBI and Wheaton, but losing his faith in later graduate school at Princeton. Today he describes himself as an agnostic, though I detect no antagonism or resentment toward religion or zealous need to convert others to unbelief.

Ehrman is a prolific author, rivialing NT Wright in production, with a whole basket of best-selling titles generated in the last few years, many riding the wave of interest in radical Jesus studies, Gospel revisionism, gnostic Gospels, The DaVinci Code and other “hot” media topics. Publishers know that Ehrman is gold with a segment of the reading public, and he has been obliging with works on The DVC, Mary Magdalene and The Gospel of Judas.

Ehrman has also been building a reputation as a teacher accessible to the average educated layperson. He has a number of popular teaching series available through “The Teaching Company” dealing with historical Jesus studies and New Testament studies. As head of the religion department at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Ehrman has the credentials and the communication skill to be a “media-friendly” communicator.

Ehrman’s writing is very readable and understandable. He writes good prose that is simple and largely free of jargon. He takes his time to illustrate and explain difficult concepts. It is easy to see why Ehrman’s books are popular and actually read, rather than just purchased and shelved. Many scholars simply aren’t good writers. Ehrman breaks that stereotype.

Of course, Bart Ehrman isn’t a Christian, and his overall project is certainly not friendly to orthodox, confessional Christianity. He is much more a part of the radical revisionist movement in American New Testament studies, though he would never be mistaken for J.D. Crossan. When one reads Dr. Ehrman, one doesn’t read a carping, attacking, angry or demeaning tone. Ehrman is respectful to traditional Christian beliefs which he believes are wrong, and is a contrast in temperament and style to critics like Spong. Part of Ehrman’s appeal is surely his measured, intelligent, NPR-friendly presentation. Reading Ehrman, you don’t feel “preached at” or called upon to walk the aisle as a “true unbeliever.”

Perhaps the best thing Bart Ehrman has going for him is that he is supplying answers and information in areas the church has long neglected to address on a popular level with any real consistency or competence. Take his seminal book “Lost Christianities: The Battles for Scripture and the Faiths We Never Knew” and its companion volume of primary texts, “Lost Scriptures: Books that Did Not Make It into the New Testament. Both books are interesting, accessible and informative, no matter what one thinks of Ehrman’s conclusions.

I have been involved in church my entire life. I attended a Christian college with required Bible, and I did three years plus of seminary. I have been around Christian education my entire life. I’ve heard of the gnostic Gospels. I understand the basic concepts involved in the development of the New Testament. I could probably do a good job of explaining why the Gospel of Thomas wasn’t in the canon. But I still found Ehrman’s books fascinating, and I learned an enormous amount of basic, very relevant material about the development of the New Testament. Of course I disagree with many of Ehrman’s claims, but I am a specialist compared to the average educated church attender.

A college student or educated layperson, however, will probably NEVER hear ANY of this material in church or Christian education, and is unlikely to hear more than a few dismissive references to these subjects in the typical conservative Christian school at any level. The fact is, writers like Ehrman are able to find a huge audience who have been left ignorant and under-informed by Christian education and teaching that simply finds this era and these topics useless, intimidating or dangerously controversial. In the last ten years, that same audience has been softened up by the Jesus Seminar, constant cable television/MSM attention to fringe scholars and, of course, the endless media buzz over stories like daVinci Code and the Gospel of Judas.

Ehrman has an audience because Christians are oddly reluctant to talk about the birth and early development of our faith. When the faith is on ground that can be addressed by non-Christian historians and scholars, we do not do well. Now that this breech is obvious, books are pouring off of evangelical and Catholic presses, but I think the damage has been done, and the damage is substantial. Instead of acting like our sources and understanding of these basic questions of the early years of the faith are strong, we’ve acted like Mormons who prefer to tell you about the Bowling league and not discuss the sources of Joseph Smith’s writings. We have a lot of ground to make up, and few of us are prepared to do so.

The answer to this is not to vilify a scholar like Ehrman as weak-minded and stupid. It’s unfortunate that some bloggers have caricatured Ehrman’s loss of faith. Reading vilifications of an unbeliever for rejecting the Gospel reveals a pathetically uncompassionate mind and heart.

Personal faith is, according to the reformed theology I was taught, a GIFT of God. If Ehrman is an apostate, then he is no more or less to blame than your lost neighbor who can’t spell textual criticism. I join the critics in finding Ehrman’s tale of his faith being destroyed by coming to believe there was one mistake in Mark to be somewhat dramatic. It makes for good reading in the opening chapter of “Misquoting Jesus.” But I’m going to suggest that if Dr. Ehrman is like the rest of us who have struggled with these issues, then his loss of faith was a complex, multi-layered experience. The “mistake in Mark” may have been a crossroads, but I’ll wager there was much more of the foundations of faith already shaken and ruined. Reading of his assimilation into an evangelicalism that evangelized from a manipulative position of selling peace of mind to teenagers and then putting the faith’s existence on the foundation of the theory of textual inerrancy, I’m not surprised he dropped out. As one who has rejected both of these premises myself, but retained my faith in Jesus, it is my hope that Dr. Ehrman will remain open to a conversation about Jesus that does not rest upon the theories and mythologies that he effectively deconstructs.

What is Ehrman’s agenda? Ehrman wants to recover a view of the early years of Christianity that is full of diversity, social/political dynamism, depraved agendas and not-so-subtle warfare between rival groups. He believes that Christianity is the ultimate case of history being written by the winners, and the non-canonical writings are the key to recognizing the truth of this view of Christian origins. To his credit, he rejects the bizarre version of Christian origins sold in The DaVinci Code, but his views on the development of “orthodoxy” are not a story of divine preservation of the Gospel, but of evolution, distortion, adaptation and political competition.

Ehrman wants us to realize that Paul’s Judaizers believed they were true Christians. He wants us to know that the communities that produced Gnostic texts like Thomas and Judas were “believers” in Jesus with a sincere faith similar in many ways to the faith of all Christians. He suggests that our picture of Jesus is incomplete if we start at the conclusions left us in the creeds, because there is much about Jesus that has been abandoned on the way to a very artificial and vulnerable consensus. He believes the study of the textual history of the New Testament tells a story we have been reluctant to hear.

Could the early years of the church have been as “messy” and chaotic as Ehrman describes? Is his version of a proto-orthodox group willing to change texts, forge, vilify and slander opponents and eventually excommunicate all rivals anywhere near the truth?

I will let the reader decide for him/herself. I abhor those who say real Christians have no business reading someone like Ehrman. I believe that Bart Ehrman’s vision of early Christian history and development is often truthful, and can be helpful to the careful and cautious student. It should stimulate us to more study, and especially to a more careful and committed reading of the documents left us by our ancestors in the first four centuries of the church’s life. We should be less accepting of white-washed versions of church history meant to put us to sleep with the assurance that everyone has always agreed with what we believe, and anyone who doesn’t agree with us is, of course, a heretic. One of the marks of an educated person is not being afraid of hearing a more complex, realistic, less flattering view of his/her own history.

I don’t like what Howard Zinn has to say sometimes, but I need to read his “People’s History,” listen and learn. It won’t destroy my belief in America, and it can make me a better American. So with Ehrman’s version of Christian origins. He provides a workout, and some of us need to get up off the couch.

I also believe Ehrman is often seriously and genuinely wrong. Some of his conclusions are premised upon evidence that has been easily explained for decades. He sometimes finds alarming evidence where simpler explanations are far more likely. (I’m sure he won’t be resigning his positions as a result of my disagreement with him.)

I find that true faith in Jesus is not vaporized by new versions of history written by former evangelicals. The New Testament records conflicts, disagreements, flaws and shameful human depravity among Christians. I do not have any problem believing that the path to our New Testament and to the orthodox confessions of faith contained episodes of every kind of human failure and shameful tactic. I believe I understand what was happening with the various groups who also held faith in a very different interpretation of Jesus and the Gospel to be the truth. None of these things, however, convinces me that the New Testament’s presentation of Jesus is fundamentally false to the belief that God came among us in Jesus, lived, died, rose and transcended the world for us and for our salvation.

Would I recommend Ehrman to young, curious Christians? Perhaps…if they are properly prepared to understand the questions and the evidence, and not to simply accept Ehrman’s answers as always unbiased or reasonable. I would recommend that older, more knowledgeable Christians begin to take the early years of the church, the process of doctrinal development and the quest for the historical Jesus more seriously. If we do that, and our scholars write as well and perform as winsomely as Ehrman, we will have no reason not to read and consider his ideas.

Comments

  1. Regarding his “Misquoting Jesus”, I only read the small excerpt on the Amazon link you provided, but what struck me was his introductory passage about the King James Version.

    He seemed (to me) to be inviting his reader to conclude, from what he had said, that the modern Bible trnalsation as we know it was on shaky grounds because they were ultimately derived from the King James Version, and that – as he presented its history – was based on a one single bad 12th century manuscript. He didn’t mention the Latin (rather than Greek) versions of the texts, previous English translations, or the like. And that does seem like he has an agenda – or at the very least, is interested in putting it up to only one particular segment: American Evangelicals and Fundamentalists who are, I submit, only a small part of global and historical Christianity.

    What I would like to know is this: how does he relate to those who would say “KJV means nothing to me. We never used it.”? Catholics and the Orthodox, for one, but surely not the only ones. The Oriental Churches – does he deal with them at all?

    I’d love to see what Ehrman (and scholars like him) would do in a debate with, say, Pope Benedict (who in his first volume of “Jesus of Nazareth” deals with the whole historical-critical method and Continental scholarship) – with an orthodox figure who has a different view of inerrancy to that which Ehrman seems to be answering.

    • Isaac (the poster formerly known as Obed) says

      Besides, the differences between the manuscripts the KJV used and ones that have come to light since then are not that huge. For scholars, it makes for good discussion and writing, but for the folks in the pews, the differences are almost negligible. It’s little detail stuff, not big-picture doctrine stuff.

      • Ehrman loves to throw out numbers about the thousands of “discrepancies” and “contradictions” in the NT manuscripts. I have not heard him say that the vast majority of those are unimportant details, or differences that may be easily attributed to different literary standards of the day and authorial freedom to shape their stories as they told them. However, that is the case, and it weakens his rhetoric dramatically.

        • I have hear him admit this in a debate. It wasn’t volunteered but teased out.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            Because harping on Discrepancies & Contradictions in the Bible has a lot more Impact (and garners a lot more media attention and Controversy) than admitting most of them are minor. It’s like that “Banned from the Bible” series on one of the documentary channels about Gnostic Gospels (with the conspiracist undertone of “Why don’t THEY want you to read this?”)

    • Ehrman is looking at the same evidence all Biblical scholars see. He is convinced that the critical interpretation of that evidence is correct and that only “conservative evangelicals and fundamentalists” dispute what everyone else agrees with regarding the unreliability of the NT manuscripts. He then popularizes those critical interpretations and puts them into bestselling books, using provocative language to get people’s attention. I have heard interviews with him, which I assume would most resemble his teaching style, and he comes across as winsome and thoughtful. I have also heard him in debates when he speaks in highly animated fashion against opposing viewpoints. From what I’ve heard and read, he tends to state the case as black and white—either you agree with the critical majority or you are a fundamentalist who holds to an untenable view of inerrancy. I don’t think he fares as well against those who take positions in between the extremes. In other words, I think he fails to see (or at least publicly acknowledge) that there can be thoughtful people who come up with alternate, legitimate interpretations of the evidence and consider the NT manuscripts basically reliable, yet who are not fundamentalists with a narrow concept of inerrancy. His own mentor, Bruce Metzger, was one of those, and the fact that Ehrman has taken a view far from his teacher makes me wonder if there isn’t more to it than a simple interpretation of the evidence.

      • I see a strange irony here. Although he has left his fundamentalist roots, he still comes across as a fundamentalist except his content is different. So has his basic way of approahing reality changed at all?

        I don’t know and can’t say. I just know that for myself and maybe some others who are here it should hold a lesson for us. I need to hold the truth in humility and be open to change.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          So has his basic way of approahing reality changed at all?

          It didn’t for Ayn Rand. She ended up as a funhouse mirror reflection of Comrades Lenin & Stalin, with the exact opposite ideology but exact same attitudes.

  2. Alright! Ehrman vs. Benedict! Where can I buy tickets for the cage match? It should be pretty quick. Go Benny!

  3. I read Misquoting Jesus a few years back. Every part of the text that he brought into question had a footnote in the modern translations mentioning that portions of that text were not in all early manuscripts. Very few of them made any difference to the meaning of the overall text.
    He is easy to read, and his questions aren’t unreasonable. But he typically lands on the “worst case scenario”

  4. Ben Witherington does a nice job descontructing Ehrman’s claims.

    • I was just about to say this same thing. I believe BWIII has actually done a number of face to face debates with Ehrman as well.

    • Crfields says

      As a recent Asbury Alumni (class of 2011!), I am proud to see Professor Witherington’s efforts to examine Ehrman’s and other claims point by point on his blog. I consider him very fair, and he clearly has professional respect for Ehrman, even when he strongly disagrees with him. He did a chapter by chapter breakdown of Forged in April (part 1 here):

      http://www.patheos.com/community/bibleandculture/2011/04/04/forged-chapter-one-a-world-of-deception-and-forgeries/

      He has also done breakdowns of the Pope’s book and Bell’s Love Wins. He is a compelling read on all of these subjects. His blog is my 1a to iMonk’s #1

  5. Hi all,

    Bart Erhman makes me think of of Raymond E. Brown, although Brown did not lose his faith in his studies of applying histrico-critical methods to biblical studies. In fact, Brown was the first Cathlolic to do so. He upset a number of conservative Catholics because he questioned their tradition and dogmas. The interesting thing about Brown is that he will admit that much of Catholic dogma cannot be proved through historical criticism, but one may hold such beliefs as part of their faith. So in a nutshell, Brown simply says there is only so much we can show historically, and the rest of it is faith. Anyone interested in the gospel of John ought to pick up Raymond Brown’s work which I think is outstanding. The difference between Ehrman and Brown is that the idea of faith caused the former to doubt the whole thing while the latter recognized it as a limitation of humanity. My favorite quote of Raymond Brown is: “What was truly normative was not a group of writings but the Spirit acting within the living church. It was church usage that led [the Council of] Trent to determine which books should be accepted as canonical; so it also is church usage that determines the degree of normative authority (canonicity) to be attributed to a NT practice or doctrine.”

    The Spirit acting within the church is what I feel has been largely neglected by many Christians. We’ve, especially evangelicals, have gotten so hung up on proving inerrancy and basing our faith on analytical studies of scripture that we miss the point of the texts in the first place. I think the irony is that Ehrman is pointing out the weakness of making your faith “textual,” but the faith of the communities of early believers were profoundly affected by a person, namely Jesus, rather than their interpretation of OT texts.

    Yuri

  6. “In the begining was the Bible, and the Bible was with God, and the Bible was God.”

    Isn’t that how it goes?

    If you listen to all these textual inerrantists, you’d think it did go like that.

    My pastor has a great little class on mp3 just on this topic. Here’s a link in case anyone is interested:

    http://theoldadam.wordpress.com/2011/05/15/even-the-devil-can-quote-scripture/

    Enjoy.

    • MelissaTheRagamuffin says

      Being a Quaker – we believe that Jesus is the Word of God and the Bible is true. It’s a very subtle but significant difference. Our theologian, Robert Barclay would say that of course there are errors in the Bible, but they are neither numerous enough nor significant enough to justify disregarding the Bible.

  7. Charles Fines says

    What a very nice and well balanced original piece followed by Chaplain’s remarks in the same spirit. I consider Ehrman’s earlier work to be a crucial part of my education but I have come to view his later books as repetitive and milking the cash cow. Might read one just to check in if I found it used or on the clearance table.

    I find it difficult to believe that anyone as intelligent as Ehrman could “lose his faith” over points that only fundamentalists consider crucial, but I guess it points out the power of that spirit that holds so many in thrall. Talk about throwing the baby out with the bathwater!

    • Yep, that pretty much sums it up for me.

    • In either Forged or Misquoting Jesus (I can’t remember which, I’ve read both) he lays out that he lost his faith mostly over the questions of Theodicy. A subject which the church has been struggling with for a long time.

      • It’s in Misquoting Jesus, if I remember correctly.

      • MelissaTheRagamuffin says

        I like the word theodicy because 1) it’s fun to say, 2) it sounds like it could mean theological idiocy which is what I usually think of when I hear human beings trying to defend the goodness of God in the face of either great evil or great catastrophes.

    • Richard Hershberger says

      I appear to be in the minority here, but I think this one of Michael’s weaker posts.

      “Today he describes himself as an agnostic, though I detect no antagonism or resentment toward religion or zealous need to convert others to unbelief.”

      Umm… What did he think “agnostic” means? Self-described agnostics do not have a zealous need to convert others to unbelief. Those people call themselves “atheists”. This hints at an overly narrow worldview, unable to distinguish between agnostics and atheists.

      “He’s an ex-evangelical, which the MSM finds irresistably appealing…”

      It does? He goes on to give a long list of perfectly reasonable reasons why the media would take an interest in Ehrman: he discusses a topic of wide interest in a clear and interesting way. There is no need to take a cheap shot at the MSM to explain the phenomenon.

      “…books are pouring off of evangelical and Catholic presses…”

      This gives the unfortunate impression that there are no other sorts of Christians, with presses, out there. Etc.

      My personal take on Lost Christianities is that Ehrman made only half his case. He makes the case that early Christianity was far, far more diverse than is typically imagined. He fails to make the case that proto-orthodox Christianity was merely the one strand among many that happened to prevail, as opposed to its being the majority mainstream all along. He didn’t even seem to seriously make this argument, relying instead on some hand-waving misdirection.

  8. David Cornwell says

    Attempting to “prove” everything regarding our Christian faith will in the end prove little. Or it will prove exactly what we need it to prove. Likewise attempting to “disprove” it will end up yielding evidence only of interest to those doing the disproving. I think there will always be the element of mystery to our faith that will escape human reason. In the end we will believe that Christ is risen through faith, without the benefit of touch, sight, or other recoverable evidence.

  9. I always feel very badly for Bart Ehrman. The evangelical circus that teaches the kind of inerrancy he believed in made it an all or nothing proposition. It always seemed to me that his faith may have been broken because he was betrayed by the evangelicalism that he so fervently believed in.

    • Good point, Nadine.

      You may be on to something there.

      We don’t have to have an inerrant book as the Moslems do. We have an inerrant God.

      Just as our Lord Himself was fully a product of man, and of God…so is the Bible.

      It’s a lot more liberating to not to have to look at the book (the text) as being inerrant.

    • Nadine, and Steve, and David above,

      You’re right, trying to “prove” everything to the jot and tittle sets us up for failure. It’s as if Ehrman is a literalist fundamentalist, but instead of building a fence around the scriptures and explaining everything in neat little packages to keep the Bible from falling in a crash to the earth, he has allowed it, by his view of inerrancy, to crash. Kind of a fundamentalist in reverse.

      • Ted, interesting that you should say that. I was considering doing a post of my own on Ehrman. The title was to have been, “Bart Ehrman is a Fundamentalist.”

        • I had never heard of Ehrman. But I was just in a discussion with a friend about inerrancy, and the woman in Luke 7 who anointed Jesus’ feet with perfume and then dried them with her hair. The story is the same as—and also very different from—the accounts in Matthew, Mark and John. Maybe it’s the same story, even though Jesus’ message is different and some of the characters are different.

          But in my Harper Study Bible by Harold Lindsell (NOT to be confused with Hal Lindsey) he insists quite adamantly that these are NOT accounts of the same story. But it sounds like a “methinks thou doth protest too much” argument. I got to wondering if Lindsell wasn’t “building a fence around the Torah” to solve the problem of inerrancy. But would the discrepancies, if they are accounts of the same event, make the bible crash and burn? I don’t think so. But Lindsell doesn’t give this any slack.

          Interestingly, in my Harmony of the Gospels (parallels of the gospels in columns on the same page) the editor didn’t put the Luke account on the same page as the others, and made no cross-reference or mention otherwise. Matthew, Mark and John are all together however.

          • Richard Hershberger says

            All sorts of problems arise in literal readings of the various accounts of events. Consider the two accounts of the death of Judas Iscariot. To reconcile them you have to conclude that Judas was a remarkable aerial acrobat. You can without too much effort make a very long list of other examples. The usual response, among those who imagine that they read the Bible literally, is to ignore them. You story about Lindsell surprises me only because he acknowledged that there was a problem to be solved.

          • It’s also important not to be too dismissive of Scripture. The usual harmonization is that he hung himself, and after his death, the rope broke and his body burst open.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        Kind of a fundamentalist in reverse.

        Communism begets Objectivism.

    • “The evangelical circus that teaches the kind of inerrancy he believed in made it an all or nothing proposition.”

      I agree that the evangelical’s churches on inerrancy can be tremendously damaging to the faith of those who study the Bible critically and discover inerrancy is not a tenable position.

      In Bart Ehrman’s case, though, although it’s clear the untenability of inerrancy opened his eyes to Christianity in new ways, it wasn’t the issue that led him to lose his faith. He says explicitly that it was the problem of pain that destroyed his faith, and he’s written an entire book on it.

  10. dkmonroe says

    It may well be that Ehrman is the product of a misbegotten Evangelical emphasis on the doctrine of biblical inerrancy, or it may be that he has simply carved out a lucrative media career by cleverly choosing an axe to grind. I think it is quite perceptive of Martha and others to note that Ehrman really isn’t dealing with the Christian religion as a whole, but really quite narrowly focused on popular American Evangelical Christianity and its doctrine of inerrancy. Either way he seems to be an interesting mirror image of some popular Evangelical media figures.

    • Operating on a misunderstanding of a doctrine or a deliberate misrepresentation of it is destructive regardless of which side you’re on. I agree with the sentiment that his gripe is likely more with the misrepresentation of inerrancy as being synonymous with YEC or the “rapture.” To me, it’s as if someone left Christianity because they thought that the Trinity meant Christians worshipped 3 gods. I think we should never fear good scholarship, liberal or conservative. Unfortunately, both sides have plenty of poor scholarship.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      I think it is quite perceptive of Martha and others to note that Ehrman really isn’t dealing with the Christian religion as a whole, but really quite narrowly focused on popular American Evangelical Christianity and its doctrine of inerrancy.

      Unfortunately, Popular American Evangelical Christianity has hijacked the word “Christian” without any modifiers to mean themselves and themselves alone. Including all the baggage of their own unique Christian Bizarro World.

      • dkmonroe says

        That’s as may be, but that’s only as much as many Christian groups, either sound or heretical, have done. The Orthodox claimed to be the real Christians against Arians and other Gnostics, the Cathars did so against the Catholics, the Reformers did so against the Catholics, and so on and so on. This doesn’t do anything to excuse Ehrman’s pretense that he is discrediting Christianity as a whole by discrediting the perspective on inerrancy that was drilled into him as an Evangelical. Poor scholarship is poor scholarship no matter what you perceive the failings of the general culture to be.

  11. “Personal faith is, according to the reformed theology I was taught, a GIFT of God. If Ehrman is an apostate, then he is no more or less to blame than your lost neighbor who can’t spell textual criticism.”

    This is not the Reformed faith that I have come to know through the writings of Calvin, other Reformers, the Reformed confessions and catechisms, and great Reformed theologians down through the centuries such as Turretin, Bavinck, and Berkhof. While it’s true that faith is a gift from God (but only because the whole package of salvation, from beginning to end, is a gift from God), it does not follow either biblically or logically that someone who refuses to believe is not to blame. People who profess faith in Christ and then fall away are actually in deeper trouble, according to Hebrews 6, than those who never professed such faith in the first place.

    • Romans 1, verses 19 and 20?

      “since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.”

      I think Michael Spencer was saying that Ehrman is “no more or less” different than the rest of us—and we all sin and fall short too, and also are without excuse. But you’re right, Ehrman seems to have hand-picked an excuse not to believe, and then to use his scholarly knowledge to lead others astray. There will be a verse in the gospels about that, too.

  12. Nate Barrow says

    “A college student or educated layperson, however, will probably NEVER hear ANY of this material in church or Christian education, and is unlikely to hear more than a few dismissive references to these subjects in the typical conservative Christian school at any level.”

    I studied “Lost Scriptures” and “Lost Christianities” at a Christian college in the Midwest and found them fascinating, though I don’t share many of Ehrman’s conclusions. I thank God for my great professor who had the courage to help me think critically while not compromising my faith journey!

  13. As the resident inerrancy whipping boy, let me shock everyone by recommending Ehrman’s (or, as I like to call him “Bart the Error Man Ehrman”) “Misquoting Jesus”.

    It is really a good layman’s introduction to textual criticism (as long as you can stand his poor theologizing). Textual criticism is the process by which we can determine what the original manuscripts most likely said (by analyzing the differences, similar to genetic analysis).

    Also, in the introduction, you can read Ehrman’s “conversion story” – which is really quite tranwreck-ful. The man needs our prayers, that God might grant him repentance.

  14. This is my favorite, a post in which Michael Spencer lays praise upon Ehrman for his high level criticisms of the Bible and calling for better education among Christians. While he notes disagreement with Ehrman, he makes it clear he has respect for his work.

    And then the comments roll in talking about how he gets everything wrong, and all these things have been debunked, and he’s really a fundamentalist, and oh did you hear about his flimsy conversion story, what a dummy.

    Y’all sound like you completely ignored this poignant paragraph:
    “The answer to this is not to vilify a scholar like Ehrman as weak-minded and stupid. It’s unfortunate that some bloggers have caricatured Ehrman’s loss of faith. Reading vilifications of an unbeliever for rejecting the Gospel reveals a pathetically uncompassionate mind and heart.”

    • Andy, I did not “vilify” him for rejecting the Gospel, I said he takes an all or nothing, black and white view of how one interprets the data. That is the mindset of a fundamentalist. He most definitely is not stupid or weak-minded. It is on the level of interpretation that he lacks credibility, in my opinion.