Bart Ehrman

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Bart Ehrman
Bart Ehrman

Bart D. Ehrman is an American New Testament scholar and textual critic of early Christianity. He is the James A. Gray Distinguished Professor and Chair of the Department of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Being indoctrinated against the primacy of the Textus Receptus he has written about how the original New Testament texts were frequently altered by scribes for a variety of reasons, and argued that these alterations affect the interpretation of the texts. Because of his conclusions he has become an Agnostic.

Ehrman writes about the early Christians, using the term "proto-orthodox" to describe the Christian traditions that would later be defined as orthodox. He describes first- and second-century Christians as not yet having a unified, orthodox tradition.

As a biased textual critic against the Textus Receptus, Ehrman's articles and books claim to examine various versions of a text in order to determine what the text originally said, but already have a predetermined answer against the orthodox reading. For instance, a few manuscripts have different endings for the gospel of Mark (see Mark 16). Ehrman concludes (having been well read with heretical scholars and biased textual critics) that the text originally ended at verse 16:9 and that none of the endings were original. This is a position of most textual critics who favor corrupt texts such as Sinaiticus and Vaticanus. One method Ehrman uses place doubt upon the text is to totally reinterpret the agenda of the scribes who copied the texts, as if this can ever be established. If a critic has claimed that one version of a New Testament text makes the gospels seem more similar, or it can be read into the text that it downplays the role of women, softens statements that are hard to take, or opposes beliefs outside the proto-orthodox sphere, Ehrman says that such versions are more likely to represent deliberate changes on the part of scribes and not to be original.

Contents

Career

Ehrman's predicable unbelief is a result of his education. Having began studying the Bible and its original languages at the Moody Bible Institute and is a 1978 graduate of Wheaton College in Illinois. He received his Ph.D and M.Div. from Princeton Theological Seminary, where he studied under textual critic Bruce Metzger. He currently serves as the chairman of the Department of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He was the President of the Southeast Region of the Society of Biblical Literature, and worked closely as an editor on a number of the Society's publications. Currently, he co-edits the series New Testament Tools and Studies.

Much of Ehrman's writing has concentrated on various aspects of Walter Bauer's thesis that Christianity was always diversified or at odds with itself. Ehrman is often considered a pioneer in connecting the history of the early church to textual variants within biblical manuscripts and in coining such terms as "Proto-orthodox Christianity. People have claimed that by his writings, Ehrman has turned around textual criticism, but the reality is that he is mearly taking it taking the denial of an infallible bible and preservation of it to its logical conclusion, agnosticism. From the time of the Church Fathers, it was those denounced as heretics (Marcion, for example) who were charged with tampering with the biblical manuscripts. Ehrman theorizes that it was more often the Orthodox that "corrupted" the manuscripts, altering the text to promote particular viewpoints.

Ehrman claims he became an Evangelical Christian as a teen. His desire to understand the original words of the Bible led him to the study of ancient languages and to textual criticism under certain textual critics and heretics, to which he attributes the inspiration for an ongoing critical exploration of the basis of his own religious beliefs, which in turn gradually led to its logical conclusion, the questioning of his faith in the Bible as the inerrant, unchanging word of God. He now considers himself an agnostic. Nevertheless, Ehrman has kept ongoing dialogue with pseudo evangelicals. In March 2006, he joined theologian William Lane Craig in public debate on the question "Is There Historical Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus?" on the campus of the College of the Holy Cross. In April 2008, Ehrman and evangelical New Testament scholar Daniel B. Wallace participated in a public dialogue on the textual reliability of the New Testament. In January 2009, Dr. Ehrman debated Dr. James White, Director of Alpha and Omega Ministries, an Evangelical Reformed Baptist scholar on "Did the Bible Mis-Quote Jesus?. However these men all denounce the Textus Receptus and favor corrupt manuscripts and versions and oftentimes are in agreement with Ehrman over which verses to add, delete and change, having also been trained under the same heretical textual critics.

He has authored or contributed to more than twenty books. In 2006 and 2009 he appeared on The Colbert Report, as well as The Daily Show, to promote his books Misquoting Jesus, and Jesus, Interrupted (respectively). In 2007, he gave a speech at Stanford University in which he discussed the textual inconsistencies of the New Testament, and also took questions from the audience. He has also made several guest appearances on National Public Radio (NPR) including the show Fresh Air in February 2008 to discuss his book God's Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question—Why We Suffer and in March 2009 to discuss his book Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (and Why We Don't Know About Them).

Professional awards received include the Students' Undergraduate Teaching Award, The Ruth and Philip Hettleman Prize for Artistic and Scholarly Achievement, and The Bowman and Gordon Gray Award for Excellence in Teaching.

Works

Ehrman makes his living from being the still rebellious "prodigal son" of arena of textual critics. He simply puts every book, chapter, verse, sentence, clause, and word into doubt by creating the worst possible scenario for each. If Jesus healed Peter's mother in law, he did so only so she would serve them, as the text says that she rose up and served them. This type of negative bias sells books, especially in a generation in which people are eager to accept any reason to reject the bible and its teachings with other flawed concepts like evolution, and atheism. He shows dishonest bias and never ventures out of his fundamentally flawed training in corrupt manuscripts to a majority position.

Ehrman is the author of more than twenty books with two New York Times bestsellers including Misquoting Jesus and God's Problem. Much of his work is on textual criticism and the New Testament. His first book was Didymus the Blind and the Text of the Gospels (1987) followed by several books published by the Oxford University Press, including The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture, and a new edition and translation of the The Apostolic Fathers in the Loeb Classical Library series published by Harvard University Press. His most recent book Jesus, Interrupted was published in March 2009 and discusses contradictions in the Bible.

His 2005 best-selling book Misquoting Jesus is about textual discrepancies in the Bible.[1] Alex Beam, of the Boston Globe, wrote the book is "a series of dramatic revelations for the ignorant (the very definition of a hardcover best-seller, I'd say), Ehrman notes that there have been a lot of changes to the Bible in the past 2,000 years. I don't want to come between Mr. Ehrman and his payday, but this point has been made much more eloquently by ... others." The Columbus Dispatch wrote the book gives readers a good introduction to textual criticism. Tim Callahan of Skeptic wrote the book "throws into high relief the problems faced by those trying to establish just what Jesus actually said." American Library Association writes "To assess how ignorant or theologically manipulative scribes may have changed the biblical text, modern scholars have developed procedures for comparing diverging texts. And in language accessible to nonspecialists, Ehrman explains these procedures and their results. He further explains why textual criticism has frequently sparked intense controversy, especially among scripture-alone Protestants." Charles Seymour of the Wayland Baptist University in Plainview, TX wrote "Ehrman convincingly argues that even some generally received passages are late additions, which is particularly interesting in the case of those verses with import for doctrinal issues such as women's ordination or the Atonement." Neely Tucker of The Washington Post wrote the book is "an exploration into how the 27 books of the New Testament came to be cobbled together, a history rich with ecclesiastical politics, incompetent scribes and the difficulties of rendering oral traditions into a written text."

Scholars who believe in Bible inerrancy have been critical of the book's thesis. But unfortunately pseudo evangelicals such as Daniel B. Wallace and James White have been the most prominent critics, but have similar issues. For example, White advocates for at least 200 complete verses to be removed from the traditional Textus Receptus. James White seems particularly proud of debating Ehrman and often raises the debate as a level of his scholarship, in denouncing people who could not debate Ehrman because they lack the scholarship to do so. Amazingly, because Ehrman is trained against the Textus Receptus, some pseudo evangelicals even claim his works to be accurate, readable, and reliable for the most part, revealing how much apostasy has entrenched itself into the professing Church and how heresy is the default position of those who reject the primacy of Scripture.

Daniel B. Wallace Executive Director of the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts, wrote, "Unfortunately, as careful a scholar as Ehrman is, his treatment of major theological changes in the text of the New Testament tends to fall under one of two criticisms: Either his textual decisions are wrong, or his interpretation is wrong." Wallace also wrote, "One almost gets the impression that he is encouraging the Chicken Littles in the Christian community to panic at data that they are simply not prepared to wrestle with." Wallace also wrote that "Most of the book (chs. 1–4) is basically a popular introduction to the field, and a very good one at that." Craig Blomberg, an evangelical at Denver Seminary in Colorado, wrote that "Most of Misquoting Jesus is actually a very readable, accurate distillation of many of the most important facts about the nature and history of textual criticism, presented in a lively and interesting narrative that will keep scholarly and lay interest alike. "On his blog, Ben Witherington III criticized the book's research writing "It is not sufficient to reply that Bart is writing for a popular audience and thus we would not expect much scholarly discussion even in the footnotes. Even in a work of this sort, we would expect some good up to date bibliography for those disposed to do further study, not merely copious cross-references to one’s other popular level books.

In 2009 Ehrman published Jesus, Interrupted. According to Rich Barlow, of the Boston Globe, the book is a critical approach to the Bible to understand its early origins.

Major themes of his works and useful terminology

Two major themes run throughout nearly all of his books and lectures. First is the desire to analyze the historicity of claims made by ancient texts used in the creation of the New Testament, as well as many books left out of the Christian canon, and subject them to a series of criteria. Second is the desire to reveal the thousands of differences and changes in the texts some people take to be the inerrant and literal "Word of God," who it was that changed the originals (none of which have survived), and what motivations or theological benefit could lie behind such changes being made.

Historicity of New Testament tradition

The first major theme in his books and lectures is to analyze the historical accuracy of ancient religious texts used in the creation of the New Testament. Ehrman subjects them to a series of specific criteria. The criteria are as follows:

  1. Criterion of independent attestation - the more sources that mention an event, the more likely it is to be historically accurate. Multiple witnesses are better than one witness. This is akin to corroborating evidence in modern trials. It is worth noting here that since Matthew and Luke took many stories from Mark, those instances cannot be considered independently attested. It is also worth noting that just because an event or saying is found only in one source, that alone is not evidence that it is historically inaccurate. This criterion will, however, assist in determining where the information is on a spectrum of more or less likely to be authentic.

Note: Biased modern textual criticism always claim that Matthew and Luke took many stories from Mark. Ehrman uses this concept to claim that those instances cannot be considered independently attested.

  1. Criterion of dissimilarity - the more a witness or source makes claims counter to their vested interests, the more that testimony is likely to be true. This criterion is the most controversial of the three, and does not always properly apply to ancient sources, but is valuable nonetheless as one of the tools to evaluate historical reliability. In short, if a supposed saying or deed of Jesus seems to go against or does not support the supposed agenda of its record's author, then it is considered more likely to be historically accurate.
  1. Criterion of contextual credibility - states that "the sayings, deeds, and experiences of Jesus must be plausibly situated in the historical context of first-century Palestine to be trusted as reliable." Whereas the first two criteria serve to place a tradition on a spectrum of more or less historically reliable, this criterion is used exclusively to argue against the historicity of a tradition.

What changes were made, by whom, and why?

A second major theme that runs through his more recent works is the analysis of why such biblical variations are there. The vast majority of the hundreds of thousands of differences are due to the mistakes of scribes; these have little or no effect on the meaning of the passages or core tenets of Christian dogma. Ehrman argues however that some changes could not have been mistakes, but were purposeful alterations by early church writers to support their interpretation of Christianity.

Two key examples illustrate the critical nature of the variations. According to Ehrman, two of the most striking additions occur in the last 12 verses of the Gospel of Mark, and in 1 John 5:7-8, known as the Comma Johanneum.

Ehrman points out that the last 12 verses of the Gospel of Mark are not found in the earliest manuscripts, an omission which is noted in the New International Version, and argues that these verses were added on to the original text many years later. But the reality is that Sinaiticus is most probably a modern forgery.

In the King James Version 1 John 5:7-8 there is a passage often taken as an explicit reference to the doctrine of the Trinity. Ehrman points out that this section does not appear in any Greek manuscript before the 9th century. He fails to acknowledge the anti trinitarian bias of groups such as the arians, Muslims, nontrinitarian's, Unitarians, and others and that many versions and church fathers use the verse.

Views on Biblical inerrancy

In an interview with the BBC, Ehrman said:

I think that there is no doubt that the Bible is filled with human error. Both the copies that we have which are changed by scribes, there is nobody who can doubt this. All you need to do is take two manuscripts and compare them with one another and they’re different: hundreds, maybe thousands of places.

When asked if the Bible is the Word of God, his usual answer is by asking: "Which bible? Is it the Bible that you buy in your local bookstore? Is it the Bible found in manuscripts? If in manuscripts, which manuscripts?"

The bible contains no error. The Hebrew Masoretic Text, and Greek Textus Receptus are attested to by mountains of evidence. Which bible? The King James Version is akin to the originals in English. It is elementary to true scholars.

Personal life

Dr. Ehrman grew up in Lawrence, Kansas and attended Lawrence High School, where he was on the state champion debate team in 1973. He is married to Sarah Beckwith, Marcello Lotti Professor of English at Duke University, and has two children, a daughter, Kelly, and a son, Derek. He lives in Durham, North Carolina.

Bibliography

  • Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (And Why We Don't Know About Them)]. HarperCollins, USA. 2009. ISBN 0-06-117393-2.
  • God's Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question – Why We Suffer. HarperCollins, USA. 2008. ISBN 0-06-117397-5.
  • The Lost Gospel of Judas Iscariot: A New Look at Betrayer and Betrayed. Oxford University Press, USA. 2006. ISBN 0-19-531460-3.
  • Peter, Paul, and Mary Magdalene: The Followers of Jesus in History and Legend. Oxford University Press, USA. 2006. ISBN 0-19-530013-0.
  • Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why. HarperSanFrancisco. 2005. ISBN 0-06-073817-0.
  • Metzger, Bruce M.; Ehrman, Bart (2005). The Text of the New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration. Oxford University Press, USA. ISBN 0-19-516667-1.
  • Truth and Fiction in The Da Vinci Code: A Historian Reveals What We Really Know about Jesus,

Mary Magdalene, and Constantine. Oxford University Press, USA. 2004. ISBN 0-19-518140-9.

  • A Brief Introduction to the New Testament. Oxford University Press, USA. 2004. ISBN 0-19-516123-8.
  • Lost Christianities: The Battles for Scripture and the Faiths We Never Knew. Oxford University Press, USA. 2003. ISBN 0-19-514183-0.
  • The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings. Oxford University Press, USA. 2003. ISBN 0-19-515462-2.
  • Ehrman, Bart; Jacobs, Andrew S. (2003). Christianity in Late Antiquity, 300-450 C.E.: A Reader. Oxford University Press, USA. ISBN 0-19-515461-4.
  • The Apostolic Fathers: Volume II. Epistle of Barnabas. Papias and Quadratus. Epistle to Diognetus. The Shepherd of Hermas. Harvard University Press. 2003. ISBN 0-674-99608-9.
  • The Apostolic Fathers: Volume I. I Clement. II Clement. Ignatius. Polycarp. Didache. Harvard University Press. 2003. ISBN 0-674-99607-0.
  • The New Testament and Other Early Christian Writings: A Reader. Oxford University Press, USA. 2003. ISBN 0-19-515464-9.
  • Lost Scriptures: Books that Did Not Make It into the New Testament. Oxford University Press, USA. 2003. ISBN 0-19-514182-2.
  • Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium. Oxford University Press, USA. 1999. ISBN 0-19-512474-X.
  • After the New Testament: A Reader in Early Christianity. Oxford University Press, USA. 1998. ISBN 0-19-511445-0.
  • The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture: The Effect of Early Christological Controversies on the Text of the New Testament. Oxford University Press, USA. 1996. ISBN 0-19-510279-7.
  • The Text of the New Testament in Contemporary Research: Essays on the Status Quaestionis. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company. 1995. ISBN 0-80284-824-9.
  • Didymus the Blind and the Text of the Gospels (The New Testament in the Greek Fathers; No. 1). Society of Biblical Literature. 1987. ISBN 1-55540-084-1.

References

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