"Forever, O LORD,
Your word is settled in heaven." (Psalm 119:89).
This speaks in the first place of the person of the Word of God, but also
of God's revelation. The earthly things are made after the pattern of the
heavenly: “...who serve the copy and shadow of the heavenly things, as
Moses was divinely instructed when he was about to make the tabernacle.
For He said, 'See that you make all things according to the pattern shown
you on the mountain.'” (Hebrews 8:5). The original of the Bible text is
not what is noted down by human scribes, but the prototype, the heavenly
exemplar, the thought in the mind of the Author. God uses human authors
as a composer uses instruments.
This version is in no danger of dissolution:
"Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass
away." (Matthew 24:35).
This may seem academic since the heavenly version is not accessible to
man, but bearing this Bible truth in mind is a good corrective to the confusion
Dr. Ehrman seeks to sow.
"It was this theological agenda that lay behind much of the effort...to
devise competent and reliable methods of reconstructing the original words
of the New Testament from the numerous, error-ridden copies of it that
happened to survive." (Bart Ehrman, 'Misquoting Jesus,' p. 105).
To the Bible-believer, there is no such thing as happenstance: "Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father." (Matthew 10:29). Not the sparrow's fall, and certainly not the providential preservation of scripture, fall outside of God's sphere of competence. There are two possibilities: a.) either God preserved the received text because He likes that form of the text, in which case we should conform our likes and dislikes to His, or b.) in His wrath He allowed the text to become corrupt as a testimony against wicked men.
Bart Ehrman's model of inspiration resembles Mohammed ibn Abdallah's, who
thought of God as inspiring a very limited number of morally exemplary
people. Because morally exemplary people are so rare, there can only be
small, finite set of prophets who have lived on the earth. This is not
the Bible model, which is far more expansive:
"And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my spirit
upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old
men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions: And also upon
the servants and upon the handmaids in those days will I pour out my spirit."
In 'Misquoting Jesus,' Bart Ehrman places the constraint of unitary authorship
upon any work which aspires to acceptance as inspired by God. This comes
as a great disappointment to Christians, who must watch as beloved books
of the Bible like Psalms and Proverbs are tossed into the dumpster, because
these works must have several authors at least if their own attributions
are to be taken seriously. It is very, very difficult to justify this constraint.
It seems to be back-engineered from the 'Higher Critics' habit of shivering
scripture into little atomistic bits authored by thousands of anonymous
scribes over millennia. It is odd but true that the 'Higher Critics' posit
that the Bible was written in a way that no one has ever seen a book written.
No book advertised as holy writ produced under the glare of historical
scrutiny was ever produced in anything like this fashion: not the Book
of Mormon, not Mary Baker Eddy's 'Science and Health,' not the Koran. Bart
Ehrman offers as proof of multiple authorship his 'Bible contradictions,'
which are mostly verbal quibbles. Even if they were real contradictions,
however, it is not self-evident they prove atomistic authorship. Mohammed
contradicts himself, for example on the question whether compulsion is
ever acceptable in religion, yet not because his book was compiled by thousands
of anonymous persons over a period of millennia; the book was written over
several decades by one guy. Experience shows this is usually how books
Leaving aside for the moment the question of inspiration, when presented with a book, and faced with the query, 'why is this book here?,' the most probable answer is 'because a guy wrote it.' Most books, other than anthologies, are in fact written by one guy, or gal, even lengthy ones like 'Gone With the Wind.' The authorial process the 'Higher Critics' posit has never been seen to operate. As is often remarked, the race is not always to the swift, but that's the way to bet. The observer who surmises that, there being a book, there was probably an author, has the odds very strongly on his side. The observer who surmises, there being a book, there were probably thousands of anonymous scribes who labored in obscurity for millennia, suffers from a shortage of examples. Like what else, for instance? The Iliad? But the Greeks said there was a guy named Homer; have you proven there wasn't?
While the Higher Critics' paradigm is certainly wrong, corresponding to
no process of authorship anyone has ever seen, reverse engineering its
inverse is not right either. Christians may be broadly sympathetic to Bart
Ehrman's concept of inspiration...up to a point. His paradigm may be summarized
as, 'God can inspire one author one time; everything that happens thereafter
is a scar, a blight, and a corruption upon the text.' One may wonder how
this can be proved. He mingles together two questions: human authorship
and divine authorship,-- which are not really the same question. The Holy
Spirit in believing readers recognizes the Holy Spirit in the authors of
scripture. The question of human authorship, while interesting and important,
is not the same question. For example, the Protestant reformers in general
did not think Paul had written the letter to Hebrews. But they did not
question its inspiration. Is it not apparent that these are two different
Even beyond those Bible books self-advertised as compendia, like Psalms
and Proverbs, it is not self-evident why Bart Ehrman's demand of unitary
authorship must always be met. If God can inspire an author, then why not
an editor? Does God love editors less than authors? Maybe there is a even
a warm spot in His heart for translators. There are some comments in scripture
that seem to have been added by a later hand, such as,
"So Moses the servant of the LORD died there in the land of Moab, according to the word of the LORD. And He buried him in a valley in the land of Moab, opposite Beth Peor; but no one knows his grave to this day." (Deuteronomy 34:5-6).
Jesus confirms Moses' authorship of Deuteronomic law in the gospels:
"They said, 'Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce, and to dismiss her.' And Jesus answered and said to them, 'Because of the hardness of your heart he wrote you this precept.'" (Mark 10:4-5).
"...then let him write her a bill of divorcement, and give it in her
hand, and send her out of his house." (Deuteronomy 24:1).
But who could think that Moses wrote, "no one knows his [Moses'] grave to this day"? Moses was buried there; if God specially raised him from the dead and inspired him to write this verse, wouldn't he at least know where the grave was? So it is not true that "no one knows." And "to this day:" to what day? Moses' day? No, the writer's day, who added this postscript. Suppose God considered such a postscript helpful; does He not enjoy the liberty to append it to the text?
The people called Christian 'liberals' accept Dr. Ehrman's view of how scripture was formed, but differ from him on its inspiration. While it's far from my intention to serve as Devil's Advocate for these people, I would imagine they must be frustrated by 'Misquoting Jesus.' Throughout it is assumed that, if the traditional ascriptions of authorship are not correct, then God cannot have inspired scripture. Nowhere is proof even attempted. The ball is in his court to show that what the 'liberals' believe to have occurred is not possible; the burden of proof is his, yet he makes no effort to meet it.
Dr. Ehrman believes it is the very letters of scripture which must be inspired,
not the content thus communicated. How else to evaluate his enumeration
of textual variants? When it is pointed out that most of the astronomical
number of textual variants he cites are no more than different spellings,
he freely concedes this. Though he concedes his premise is defective, he
does not withdraw the conclusion that rests upon that premise. He still
circles back and reverts to the idea that this astronomical number of variants,
including spelling differences, proves that God cannot have inspired the
Bible, indeed that God does not exist.
Prior to the invention of the dictionary, spelling was like life in the
Israel of the judges: "In those days there was no king in Israel:
every man did that which was right in his own eyes." (Judges 21:25).
No one complains when an editor modernizes the spelling of the KJV; after
all people in the seventeenth century spelled things differently than we
do, and insisting upon the original spelling makes it difficult to understand.
And yet this editor's helpful service, which most people would acknowledge
with a 'Thank you, sir,' this author must condemn as a falsification, a corruption.
Words are not an end in themselves, they are a means to an end. God inspires
words because He wants to send a message, not to hear Himself speak. It
was not at Moody Bible Institute that Dr. Ehrman learned to value form
over content, the medium over the message, the husk over the kernel, because
that is not what is taught there.
Dr. Ehrman starts with an idea that is broadly accepted, that God inspired
the words of scripture, but heightens and intensifies it to dizzying heights
where few could follow. Exaggeration is a common strategy in constructing
a straw-man. From early church times, some translators have been thought
to have done their work so well, to have squared the circle and succeeded
in the all-but-impossible task of conserving the meaning from one language
to another, that God must have had a hand in it. The early church thought
this way about the Septuagint. The Council of Trent thought highly of the
Latin Vulgate. Some people today think the KJV is God-breathed. This persistent
idea, of an inspired translation, is incoherent and meaningless under Bart
Ehrman's paradigm, where any transformation is destruction.
But how can anyone know that God views it that way? What if He sees the
various forms and iterations of scripture as theme and variation, rather
than as the original and bungled messes? Let us hope Dr. Ehrman does not
get hold of one of Bach's 'Theme with Variations' and 'correct' it to one
simple tune, iterated once. If Dr. Ehrman's paradigm of inspiration makes
the idea of an inspired translation meaningless, then why do people keep
coming up with it? Is he wrong, or are they wrong? One can argue the merits
of any given translation, but the concept of an inspired translation is meaningful...only not under Dr. Ehrman's
view of inspiration.
Riches over Poverty
Dr. Ehrman starts with an idea broadly accepted in fundamentalist circles,
but he hops the track at some point. He ends up locking God inside a strait-jacket,
so that He must act in just the way that Dr. Ehrman lays down, and will
as He might or mourn His lost omnipotence as He might, He cannot successfully
produce a single line of scripture. This is not the right way of looking
at things. This author does not make his case that the New Testament was
authored by persons unconnected to the apostles, but if he had done so,
the conclusion he draws:-- that therefore God did not inspire the work,
would not follow. These are ultimately two separate questions. Scripture
is inspired by the Holy Spirit speaking "at various times and in various
ways" (Hebrews 1:1) and recognized by the Holy Spirit in believing
readers. The limitations he places on how God can act are arbitrary and
Where does he jump the track? In supposing penury instead of wealth, shortage
instead of abundance, as if attendees at the feast in the Kingdom of Heaven
had better line up early while there is still food left. One thing that
impresses the Bible reader is the sheer volume of the material. God could
have given us a pamphlet, instead He left us a library. The themes therein
communicated are not iterated once, but restated again and again, under
various forms and figures, openly and plainly, over and over again, the
way the sun is reflected, not once, but in each little rain-drop on all
the leaves of all the trees in the forest. The fear that it will all come
to nought if one little letter drops out is unfounded.
Like a fractal image, the pattern seen in a corner repeats in the whole.
Like a bomb with multiple, redundant firing devices, the Bible will need
quite a lot of disarming if it is to cease to preach the gospel. Readers
whose information on textual variants comes only from Dr. Ehrman's writings
are left with a grossly distorted impression that there are a vast number
of theologically significant variants, each of them as statistically likely
as the next, so that no one knows what the Bible says. In fact, the gospel
would not be lost if the reader took a black magic marker and crossed out
the disputed texts in the New Testament; not just the words in dispute,
but the sentences which contain words about which questions can be raised.
The Bible would still teach the Christian faith. What would be lost would
be gems of great value, but not any doctrine of the faith. Ehrman's reader
does not know this unless he or she has other sources of information.
When conservative Christians express qualms about Dr. Ehrman's concept
of inspiration, which they inevitably do, centering around his elevation
of form over substance, he explains that his writings on this topic fall
into the category of personal confessional literature and thus he need
not correct his concept of inspiration to conform to theirs. But he plainly
intends his conclusion that God did not inspire any Bible to apply to all,
not just to himself. He must therefore correct his argument so that he
is arguing either against the idea of inspiration as actually held by other
evangelicals, not just himself, or else what follows by valid rules of
inference from the idea of inspiration as held by other evangelicals. He
must, in short, bridge the chasms in his argument. He sees no need to do
this, nor do his many admirers see it as a problem that he is arguing against
a heightened and exaggerated form of the doctrine of inspiration that no
one actually holds.
This author's contribution to the flood tide of atheist and agnostic literature
revolves around 'Bible contradictions.' Sometimes these Bible contradictions
take a bit of squinting and craning one's neck to see. For instance,
"Moreover, in his name of the apostles Matthew has slightly altered
the wording of Mark's account. Instead of saying that 'He gave to Simon
the name Peter,' Matthew simply says that the first of the disciples was
'Simon who was called Peter' (Matt. 10:2). In other words, in this later
account, 'Peter' appears simply to be Simon's well-known nickname, not
the epithet that Jesus himself gave him." (Bart Ehrman, 'Peter, Paul
& Mary Magdalene,' p. 15)
Notice, please, the "not:" "not the epithet that Jesus himself
gave him." Dr. Ehrman is alleging that, because Matthew says that
Simon "was called" Peter, Matthew means to say that this nickname
was NOT given him by Jesus. But to say that someone is called Peter is,
precisely, not to say who called him that. Dr. Ehrman is finding what is
not there. This is very characteristic of 'Bible contradictions,' which
take a verbal difference between two accounts and promote it into a contradiction.
Are these 'Bible contractions,' as their advocates argue, a very powerful
testimony against the divine inspiration of scripture, or indeed against
the very existence of God Himself? Or is there distinctly less here than
meets the eye?: