Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Why Christians should be thankful for Bart Ehrman.

Bart Ehrman is a favorite target of conservative scholars. And it's not like he hasn't earned some of their scorn. As a graduate of Moody Bible Institute and Wheaton College, Erhman is the epitome of scholarship gone wrong (at least for some). He has abandoned his conservative background and openly admits that he is now agnostic. His books have become a source of irritation for some, and his television appearances, as he seeks to reveal what he believes is the real story behind the Bible. Conservatives fear him to such a degree that they have established the Erhman Project, a web site dedicated to responding to his claims. I think if I was Ehrman I would consider that a badge of honor.

I admit that I am not always fond of his work. While I tend to agree with much of what he says as regards the data we have, I am often at odds with him in regards to interpretation. I wish that he was a bit more balanced in his approach to the various topics. At the same time, however, I also have a lot of respect for him. He is clearly well informed and at a minimum he is getting people in the church to talk about the topics he raises. If you want an example of his knowledge and intellectual abilities watch the debate he participated in with Dan Wallace regarding the manuscript evidence for the New Testament. While Ehrman may be the person we love to hate, I think he won the debate handily. 

In spite of his "pariah" status with some, there is reason Christians should be thankful for Ehrman. Over at the Christian Post Robin Schumacher has outlined why Christians need to take a step back and realize that not everything Erhman has to say is negative. In fact, some of his points help bring an important corrective. 

Things for Which We Should Thank Bart
It may sound odd for a Christian to thank Ehrman for some of the things he says, but in fact, Ehrman does deserve credit in a number of places.
First, Bart’s advice on examining evidence regarding truth claims is a good one. Even though he is somewhat selective on what cats he decides to let out of the truth bag for readers to consider in his books, his admonition to put belief systems to the test is spot on.

Next, I appreciate his defense regarding the historicity of Jesus. In his recent book, Did Jesus Exist?: The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth, Ehrman takes to task the extreme fringe skeptics (the ‘mythicists’) who say Jesus never existed. While mythicist talk may grace the forums of various internet atheist haunts, you won’t find a credible historian or university who backs such assertions – something Bart demonstrates quite well. Of Jesus, Ehrman says, “One of the most certain facts of history is that Jesus was crucified on orders of the Roman prefect of Judea, Pontius Pilate.”

Moreover, Bart also validates the historical lives of the disciples, Paul, and their claims about seeing Jesus alive. Of course, he denies Christ actually rose from the dead and offers a variety of explanations for what Paul and the other apostles experienced, but he doesn’t deny that something happened to change each of them into defenders of Christianity.
We also need to thank Bart for openly calling out and educating the Church on passages in the Bible that the vast majority of theologians recognize as not being part of the original canon. The longer ending of Mark (16:9-19), the section of the woman caught in adultery in John (7:73-8:11), and the 1 John 5:7-8 Trinitarian formula still found in a few Bible translations are all considered inauthentic by most Biblical scholars. Ehrman is right to remind believers of this fact.
Of course, nearly all Bibles clearly omit or mark these passages as suspect in some way, and skeptics should understand that it is through the science of Biblical criticism that such verses are classified as not being known by the early Church nor inspired by God. Bart is certainly not the first to bring these passages to light.
Lastly, I appreciate Bart’s honesty in the interview where he admits that it is the logical problem of evil that has turned him from belief in God vs. any supposed errors in the Bible. Many unbelievers cover the true source of their disbelief with various smokescreens, but I am impressed that Ehrman does not do this.

You can read the whole post here. Schumacher goes on to discuss points where Ehrman and Christians part ways, but overall it is a thoughtful post that is worth considering. 


  1. I think Schumacher is a little confused in the discussion of passages "not being part of the original canon." Authenticity is one thing; canonicity another.

  2. Jim, Yes, I think he misspoke.

  3. Here's what bothers me about Bart. A friend of mine reads his works and shares his agnosticism.

    He tells me there are ~130K discrepancies between the various manuscripts of the NT based on Bart's documentation.

    What Bart leaves out is more than 90% of "discrepancies" are different spellings of the same word, which isn't a discrepancy.

    On the other hand, I feel terrible for Bart because I came from the exact same background he did and had to wrestle like he did with textual stuff.

    For a while I feared I might lose my own faith and it scared me to death because I don't care for a universe w/o Christ.

    Bart lost his faith in Christ, I retained my faith and left fundamentalism, but, not Christ. My prayer is Bart gets it back because I think there is great reward for it.

  4. Patrick,

    I agree. Bart is very good at presenting facts without explaining them (like the 130k). In many ways he seems to still operate from him old fundamentalist hermeneutic of all or nothing.

  5. very good piece John. I enjoy that you give Bart the respect he deserves. He is very educated in what he teaches, even though what he teaches catches Christians where it hurts. I see most Christians would rather not have a Bart around, because he exposes the Bible for what it is. Now it is up to us to really dig into our faith and hold on to the basic teaching of G-d. Which is to only worship Him..period.

  6. Yeah Bart is partly responsible for me losing faith. I grew up Catholic and never did anyone tell me the Bible was written over the course of 500 or more years by authors that didn't sign their names!! Or that the epic of Gilgamesh and other flood myths predated the Bible. That is all I need. Nothing else. I would not expect God to need more that one writer (or humans at all), or that much time, or other stories from other cultures/belief systems as inspiration.

  7. ^That's because you're thinking like a human.