Bart Ehrman Debate: Bart Ehrman, Jesus, & The Ehrman Project
Bart Ehrman Debate & The Ehrman Project
This page will discuss some of Professor Bart Ehrman's beliefs about Jesus and the Bible. Also, I provide full-length videos showing Bart Ehrman debate several important experts. Finally, I will discuss and keep up with the website called "The Ehrman Project", which exists to challenge people to consider scholarly views contrary to Ehrman's. I will update this page regularly, as The Ehrman Project continues to develop its website, and as I continue to dig deeper into the many complex claims of both Ehrman and his detractors.
For my readers who aren't familiar with Bart Ehrman at all: Bart D. Ehrman is a renowned Bible scholar who has written some New York Times bestselling books that debate ideas like Biblical infallibility or inerrancy. These books claim that we have many misconceptions about the historical Jesus, they challenge our views about the early development of Christianity, and they address difficult questions like the question of God and suffering. Ehrman's views are often shocking to the general public, and hated by many evangelicals or fundamentalist Christians who debate his ideas. To such Christians, Ehrman seems to be fighting against some of the most important Christian doctrines. Ehrman himself, however, does not see himself as fighting against Christianity. In a recent lecture of his that I attended, he said that what drives him is the desire to fight against dangerous forms of ignorance.
Debate #1: God and Suffering
Bart Ehrman, Jesus, and The New Testament
I've been avidly reading Bart Ehrman's textbook, The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings, so when the opportunity arose for me to hear Ehrman speak in person, I was thrilled. When I arrived at his lecture, which took place at the University of Tennessee, the auditorium was already full, so I had to sit in an over-flow room and watch the lecture on a projection screen. Bart Ehrman, it seems, is a popular speaker. Needless to say, I was disappointed. As Ehrman got into his lecture, however, I no longer even cared that he was in a different room, and I was watching him on a screen. His presentation was so informative, engaging, and fun to watch, it didn't matter if it was on a screen. I was also pleased to discover that Bart Ehrman has a great sense of humor. For example, he defined a "fundamentalist" as someone with "too little fun, too much damn, and too little mental." (It should be noted that most of his humor is quite a bit more refined than that).
The lecture was entitled Does the New Testament Contain Forgeries? Bart Ehrman's thesis was that many of the books in the New Testament are, in fact, pseudepigraphal. That is, they claim to be written by authors whom they are not actually written by. I found the subject utterly fascinating. A couple of the things that really stuck with me are the following:
- 1st Peter and 2nd Peter, based on stylistic differences in the Greek, could not have been written by the same person. However, both of these books claim to have been written by none other than the apostle Peter. If both claim to be written by the same man, and yet they are clearly written by two different people, then one of them must have been written by someone who was not the apostle Peter claiming to be the apostle Peter.
- The book of Hebrews was finally admitted into the New Testament canon because it was thought to have been written by Paul. The current consensus, however, is that Hebrews was not written by Paul. If that is the case, the book of Hebrews was admitted into the canon upon false premises.
- Many modern scholars think that, of the 13 letters that claim to have been written by Paul, as few as 7 of them actually were. These are Romans, 1st Corinthians, 2nd Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians, and Philemon. Most scholars agree that Ephesians and Colossians were written by someone pretending to be Paul, and many think that 2 Thessalonians and several other "Pauline" letters were probably also forgeries in Paul's name.
The reason these things struck me is this: if it is true that either 1st Peter or 2nd Peter must have been forged by someone merely claiming to be Peter, then the New Testament contains forgeries. If the New Testament canon contains forgeries, it can not be the inerrant, infallible word of God, but must rather be a collection of texts written in a human way, by fallible authors, and then compiled into an authoritative canon in a similarly human manner. Also, if only certain books in the New Testament are authentic, it would be of considerable importance to me to know which ones are and which ones are not, so that, as concerns New Testament teachings, I can "hold to the good" and regard with all due skepticism that which is probably not genuine.
This new knowledge would not, however, cause me to devalue the Bible, or to doubt the Christian message, or to stop being a Christian. Personally, I don't think that being a Christian is about believing in the perfection of the Bible, but in the perfect goodness of God revealed through Jesus Christ.
A few years ago, I read Bart Ehrman's book, Misquoting Jesus, and it certainly changed my life in certain ways. I think this was the first real exposure I'd had to textual criticism, and the experience was jarring. Although I was by no means convinced of Biblical inerrancy before reading Misquoting Jesus, the Bible was (and still is) a major, major part of my life, and I viewed it more or less as the word of God. Misquoting Jesus challenged that perspective. It was a welcome challenge, as I had been slowly leaning towards some of Ehrman's conclusions for some time, and his book sent me conclusively in a new direction. Although I've since lost Misquoting Jesus, I have not lost the impression it left me with: the New Testament as we have it is open to critical investigation, and can, and should be studied in a rational way.
The Ehrman Project
There is now a website called The Ehrman Project, which offers bits of debate against Ehrman's views. This website describes its purpose as follows:
"...Bart Ehrman has undeniable influence over students and much of the American public. Yet there are equally qualified scholars who deal with the same issues and come to very different conclusions than Dr. Ehrman. The Ehrman Project is . . . dedicated to engaging the ideas that Dr. Ehrman is famously expounding . . . It is not intended to answer all of Dr. Ehrman's claims nor answer the ones it does completely. Rather it is intended to give small snapshots that will potentially motivate viewers to [do] research..."
The emphasis added above is my own, as it illustrates an important truth about this website. One will be well-advised to take the web-site's own advice by proceeding to research further the topics debated on the site. For example, here is a video posted on the site, which attempts to explain why the Gospel of John seems to give a different day for Christ's crucifixion than the other three gospels do.
The above video presents an extremely simple (and disputable) answer to an incredibly complex debate. It also fails to address other difficulties. For example, if John, like the other gospels, intends to portray Jesus as being crucified after the Sabbath meal had already been eaten, then why did Jesus' Jewish accusers refuse to enter Pilot's judgement hall? The text of John 18:28 says that these Jews didn't want to enter the judgement hall of an "unclean" Gentile at that time, lest they become ritually impure, and thus be rendered unfit to partake of the Sabbath. But if the Sabbath meal had already passed, as the other three gospels indicate, then why would they be worried about this? This makes it seem like John is portraying Jesus to have been crucified before the Sabbath meal, while the other three gospels show Jesus being crucified after the Sabbath meal.
This is of great importance, not only because it would show a contradiction within the Bible, but because if John is right, and Jesus was crucified before the Passover meal was eaten, then he did not himself institute the ritual of communion/Eucharist at the Sabbath meal, as the other gospels indicate. In fact, John altogether leaves out the narrative of Christ establishing the Eucharist.
The video above does not mention a number of good arguments in favor of there being a contradiction between John and the other gospels. If one is to get a better picture of the debate, they must go look for the information elsewhere.
I will be looking at The Ehrman Project often, as it is a relatively new website, to examine more of their videos and see what they add to the website. If I find anything interesting or noteworthy, I'll add it to this page.
In conclusion, the issues that Bart Ehrman debates on are extremely complex and involved, and open to much debate. There are fascinating points to be made on both sides of the issues. I think, however, that Christianity stands to benefit more than it has to lose by embracing many of Ehrman's ideas. To take away the "inerrancy" of the scripture would not be to take away God, or the foundations of a Christian faith. Ultimately, our faith is in Jesus himself, and in God, not in a collection of texts. This faith should be capable of standing regardless of whether the authors of those texts made errors or not.
- Professor Bart D. Ehrman - James A. Gray Distinguished Professor
Professor Bart D. Ehrman Official Website