My wife and I are planning on having dinner in a couple of weeks with one of her co-workers who is apparently quite taken with the darling of the liberal media, Dr. Bart Ehrman of the University of North Carolina. For that reason, I’ve been looking back through the “Ehrman section” of my library.
Dr. Ehrman was a textual critic who studied under the late Dr. Bruce Metzger of Princeton. I say “was” because Dr. Ehrman has been writing popular works that are seriously outside his field for going on a decade now.
Dr. Ehrman’s best book dealing with text-critical questions is The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture: The Effect of Early Christological Controversies on the Text of the New Testament, published by Oxford University Press in 1993. His best known work, however, is probably Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why, published by HarperOne in 2005.
It should be clear to anyone that has read more than one post on this blog that Dr. Ehrman and I are going to disagree sharply on several fronts; there is one thing, however, regarding Dr. Ehrman’s work that drives me absolutely insane.
I have never seen a man who is so good at saying two different things to two different audiences. Let me illustrate: when speaking before an audience of fellow textual critics at a meeting of the Society for Biblical Literature in San Francisco in 1997, Ehrman commented,
If the primary purpose of [textual criticism] is to get back to the original text, we may as well admit either defeat or victory, depending on how one chooses to look at it, because we’re not going to get much closer to the original text than we already are…at this stage, our work on the original amounts to little more than tinkering.
In his college textbook The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings, published by Oxford University Press in 2003, Ehrman says,
In spite of these remarkable [textual] differences, scholars are convinced that we can reconstruct the original words of the New Testament with reasonable (though probably not 100 percent) accuracy. (481)
Based on those quotes, it sounds like Ehrman would align himself with those individuals who, like myself, are fairly certain about what the wording of the autographic text is.
But then there is what he has written in his wildly popular book, Lost Christianites:
The fact that we have thousands of New Testament manuscripts does not in itself mean that we can rest assured that we know what the original text said. If we have very few early copies — in fact, scarcely any — how can we know that the text was not changed significantly before the New Testament came to be reproduced in such large quantities? (219.)
Based on the latter quote (and others like it in Misquoting Jesus), it was seem that Ehrman thinks that we have no certainty whatsoever about the wording of the original text!
Do you see why I’m so frustrated with Bart Ehrman?
I am frustrated on two fronts: first, there is the inherently self-contradictory nature of these quotes. Dr. Ehrman doesn’t get to have it both ways! Either our text-critical work on the New Testament is so nearly complete that all that’s left is “tinkering”, or we can’t be certain in any way, shape, or fashion about the wording of the original.
But far more serious is the second front: it seems that Ehrman tailors his message to the audience he’s writing or speaking to. In front of a group of fellow textual critics, he doesn’t dare make the kind of outlandish claims that he makes in his works aimed at the individual browsing the “Religion and Spirituality” section of Barnes and Noble. The reason is clear: if he made those kind of claims in front of the Textual Criticism Section of the Society of Biblical Literature, he would get eaten alive because that audience knows he can’t support those claims.
In short, I’d be very careful about taking any of the claims in Ehrman’s pop works seriously — it seems that he likes to deliberately mislead an uneducated public.
- Bart Ehrman Is Wrong (str.typepad.com)
- Top Scholar of the Bible “Born again” Rejects Bible – Professor Bart. D. Ehrman (muslimfaith.wordpress.com)
- Jesus Interrupted…the thought provoking Bart Ehrman (thewearypilgrim.typepad.com)
- On Bart Ehrman on the Pastoral Epistles (houstonproblem.wordpress.com)
- Ehrman’s “Forged” (str.typepad.com)