Criticism of Bart Ehrman on New Testament Reliability and Credibility
This is an analysis of some of the core themes of “Misquoting Jesus” and “How Jesus Became God” by Bart Ehrman from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Ehrman is an agnostic.
At the outset, its incredibly important to highlight two caveats on Bart Ehrman’s stance that are worth noting at the outset:
- Dr. Ehrman conceeds to the historicity of Jesus Christ
- Dr. Ehrman conceeds that his theories don’t impact core Christian doctrine (quote below)
Here is one of those quotes:
Bart Ehrman was mentored by Bruce Metzger of Princeton University who was the greatest manuscript scholar of the last century. In 2005, Ehrman helped Metzger update and revise the classic work on the topic– Metzger’s The Text of the New Testament.
What do Metzger and Ehrman conclude together in that revised work? Melinda Penner of Stand to Reason writes,
Ehrman and Metzger state in that book that we can have a high degree of confidence that we can reconstruct the original text of the New Testament, the text that is in the Bibles we use, because of the abundance of textual evidence we have to compare. The variations are largely minor and don’t obscure our ability to construct an accurate text. The 4th edition of this work was published in 2005 – the same year Ehrman published Misquoting Jesus, which relies on the same body of information and offers no new or different evidence to state the opposite conclusion.
Here’s what Ehrman says in an interview found in the appendix of Misquoting Jesus (p. 252):
Bruce Metzger is one of the great scholars of modern times, and I dedicated the book to him because he was both my inspiration for going into textual criticism and the person who trained me in the field. I have nothing but respect and admiration for him. And even though we may disagree on important religious questions – he is a firmly committed Christian and I am not – we are in complete agreement on a number of very important historical and textual questions. If he and I were put in a room and asked to hammer out a consensus statement on what we think the original text of the New Testament probably looked like, there would be very few points of disagreement – maybe one or two dozen places out of many thousands. The position I argue for in ‘Misquoting Jesus’ does not actually stand at odds with Prof. Metzger’s position that the essential Christian beliefs are not affected by textual variants in the manuscript tradition of the New Testament.
What can we draw from these two conclusions?
It would seem that both of these admissions puts a rather sizable hole or even shatters the foundations of the theories he is articulating.
Its important to go a bit deeper however, to understand the argument. The Ehrman Project, which maintains a YouTube channel and a Facebook page can be helpful with that.
My Suggestions about Learning More:
To me, the Daniel Wallace interviews along with the quoted directly from Ehrman as well as the Ehrman Project & Ehrman debate are all quite helpful. In addition, most any credible book on the Reliability of the New Testament, particularly post 2007 I believe should address this issue. Specifically the Craig L. Blomberg text linked to below should be helpful in understanding the larger issue of the Historical reliability of the New Testament. Both Wallace and Blomberg are experts in their respective fields. (“Blog for the Lord Jesus Reference Shelf” also has a number of quotes which are worth checking out, for instance this on general reliability of the New Testament)
Free Resources with Critique and Answer Bart Ehrmans Theories about the New Testament
- Professor Daniel Wallace on the Reliability of the New Testament Manuscripts (Interview)
- Professor Daniel Wallace versus Bart Ehrman Debate on the Reliability of the New Testament–“Is the Original New Testament Lost?”
- Wallace’s critque of Ehrman entitled “The Gospel According to Bart”
- Bart Ehrman Project YouTube
- Bart Ehrman Project on Facebook
- How do you explain the high number of variants in the New Testament part I by Dr. Daniel Wallace
- How do you explain the high number of variants in the New Testament part II by Dr. Daniel Wallace
- Always Be Ready’s–Resources Refuting Bart Ehrman
- William Lane Craig has a series of videos in which he refuted the theories of Bart Ehrman which are available on YouTube
- Michael Krueger on Optimism in Textual Criticism
- Michael Krueger Anonymous Gospel Theory Debunked (also a review of Ehrman and Brant Pitre work that critiques Ehrman)
- Everything Michael Kruger has written on his blog Canon Fodder about Bart Ehrman’s books and theories.
- Interview with Michael Bird on Jesus’ divinity (link)
- Peter J Williams Critique of Ehrman’s “Misquoting Jesus” (audio & handout)
- Two arguments from Normal Geisler on reliability (95 to 99%) and the nature of interpreting copyist mistakes (link)
- Mike Licona also has some available resources answering Erhman
It might be worth looking at Wallace’s wrap ups/summmaries of the debate. Wallace concedes the issue of copyist errors, but points out that those errors aren’t ultimately important. The errors are a natural part of God working through humans. When we look at the big picture and the context, the core message of Jesus and the overall New Testament is ultimately preserved. Ehrman, by contrast relies on hyperbole and in some sense contradicts what he says elsewhere about the implications of his research. Ehrman relies on a reductive approach which misses the point on how we can check human caused mistakes along the way. Not to mention, he believes in the Historical Jesus (although I don’t think that claim is brought out in the debate), which again undercuts his thesis significantly.
Here is the other stuff I’ve written which answers or critiques Bart Ehrman’s work.
Books that Critique Bart Ehrman & His Theories Available on Amazon
- The Case for Jesus: The Biblical and Historical Evidence for Christ by Brant Pitre & Robert Barron
- The Reliability of the New Testament: Bart Ehrman and Daniel Wallace in Dialog
- Reinventing Jesus by Kosomoszewski, M. James Sawyer, and Daniel Wallace
- The Historical Reliability of the Gospels by Craig L. Blomberg
- Putting Jesus in his Place: The Case for the Deity of Christ by Kosomoszewski, Darrel L Bock, and Robert M. Bowman Jr.
- How God Became Jesus: The Real Origins of Belief in Jesus’ Divine Nature, Michael Bird, Dr. Craig Evans, and Simon Gathercole
- Revisiting the Corruption of the New Testament by Dr. Daniel Wallace
Dr. Bart Ehrman’s bio:
Bart D. Ehrman is the James A. Gray Distinguished Professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He began his teaching career at Rutgers University, and joined the faculty in the Department of Religious Studies at UNC in 1988, where he has served as both the Director of Graduate Studies and the Chair of the Department. Professor Ehrman completed his M.Div. and Ph.D. degrees at Princeton Seminary
Dr. David Wallace’s Bio:
Dan is Senior Professor of New Testament Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary (has taught there for more than 28 years) and Executive Director of the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts. He earned a B.A. at Biola University (1975) with a major in biblical studies and minor in Greek; graduated magna cum laude from Dallas Seminary with a ThM degree (1979), with the equivalent of a major in Old Testament studies and a double major in New Testament Studies; graduated summa cum laude from Dallas Seminary with a PhD in New Testament studies (1995). He has done postdoctoral study at Tyndale House, Christ’s College, Clare College, and Westminster College, Cambridge; the Institut für neutestamentliche Textforschung (Institute for New Testament Textual Research), Münster, Germany, Tübingen University; Glasgow University; Bayerische Staatsbibliothek (Bavarian State Library), Munich; as well as various libraries and monasteries in Europe, Australia, America, and Africa.
Dr. Michael Birds Bio:
Dr. Michael Bird (Ph.D University of Queensland) is Lecturer in Theology at Ridley College in Melbourne, Australia and also Visiting Research Professor at Houston Baptist University.
Dr. Peter J Williams Bio:
Peter is the Warden (CEO) of Tyndale House and a member of the Faculty of Divinity in the University of Cambridge. He received his MA, MPhil and PhD, in the study of ancient languages related to the Bible from Cambridge University. After his PhD, he was on staff in the Faculty of Divinity, Cambridge University (1997–1998), and thereafter taught Hebrew and Old Testament there as Affiliated Lecturer in Hebrew and Aramaic and as Research Fellow in Old Testament at Tyndale House, Cambridge (1998–2003). From 2003 to 2007 he was on the faculty of the University of Aberdeen, Scotland, where he became a Senior Lecturer in New Testament and Deputy Head of the School of Divinity, History and Philosophy. In July 2007 he became the youngest Warden in the history of Tyndale House. He also retains his position as an honorary Senior Lecturer in Biblical Studies at the University of Aberdeen.
Williams started the Evangelical Textual Criticism Blog in October, 2005
Mike Licona’s Bio:
Mike has a Ph.D. in New Testament (University of Pretoria). He completed all requirements “with distinction” and the highest marks. He is a frequent speaker on university campuses, churches, Christian groups, retreats, frequently debates, and has appeared as a guest on dozens of radio and television programs. He is a member of the Evangelical Philosophical Society, the Institute for Biblical Research, and the Society of Biblical Literature. Mike is associate professor in theology at Houston Baptist University and the president of Risen Jesus, Inc.