Answering Bart Ehrman



Jack Sprat Who Is
Literacy Pagan Readers
Quick Learners Corruption
Thy Word is Settled Happenstance
Handmaids Spelling
Inspired Translations Riches over Poverty
Bible Contradictions Among the Phibionites
Jesus the Jew Slugs and Chimpanzees
Salvation by Child-bearing The Adulterous Woman
Dormitive Faculty Inerrancy
Savage Temper Problem of Evil
Suffering Servant


Jack Sprat could eat no fat
His wife could eat no lean
And so betwixt the two of them
They licked the platter clean.
       - Nursery rhyme


Jack Sprat

The Jesus Seminar explained that those passages of the New Testament which speak of judgment to come cannot be traced back to Jesus, who took no interest in end-times prophecy:

"The Jesus Seminar was in general agreement that Jesus did not make chronological predictions about the end of history at all." (Mark 13, p. 114, 'The Five Gospels: What Did Jesus Really Say? - The Search for the Authentic Words of Jesus,' Robert W. Funk, Roy W. Hoover, et al).

As the 'Jesus' industry marches on from victory onto victory, Bart Ehrman has lately discovered that Jesus was "a Jewish apocalyptic prophet" (Bart Ehrman, 'Peter, Paul & Mary Magdalene,' p. 28):

"For over a century now, since the landmark publication of Albert Schweitzer's masterpiece, The Quest of the Historical Jesus, the majority of scholars in Europe and North America have understood Jesus as a Jewish apocalyptic prophet." (Bart Ehrman, 'Jesus, Interrupted,' p. 156).

Just as Jack Sprat and his wife exhausted the alternatives between them, so do the practitioners of this art...or is it a science? Or does the pattern of 'progress' found in secular Jesus scholarship look more what we see in the world of fashion and pop culture? The total disjunction between the findings of Bart Ehrman and The Jesus Seminar, two mutually negating enterprises which both present themselves as the speaking voice of 'scholarship,' is most economically understood by surmising that both enterprises are substantially fraudulent. They do not deliver what they promise.

This is no new problem: "Reading the accounts of Jesus that have been written by earnest and dedicated scholars during this 200-year period reveals that conclusions have been remarkably diverse. . ." (E. P. Sanders, The Historical Figure of Jesus, p. 5). '[R]emarkably diverse,' no kidding.

The great scandal of the 'Jesus' industry is that no two of these 'scholars' agree...about much of anything:

"The last twenty years have seen an explosion of research into the historical Jesus. As a result, there is now an enormous range of opinion about how Jesus is best understood -- as a rabbi, a social revolutionary, a political insurgent, a cynic philosopher, an apocalyptic prophet: the options go on and on." (Bart Ehrman, 'Misquoting Jesus,' p. 187).

Is it not apparent by now that whatever it is this undisciplined discipline does, it does not lead back to the historical Jesus?

Who Is Bart Ehrman?

Bart Ehrman is the latest star in the firmament of the 'Jesus' publishing industry. This author's interpretations are not as 'wild' as those of other luminaries in this field. Why does the audience for this literature favor such a pedestrian author, who does not throw them 'red meat' like John Shelby Spong and John Dominic Crossan? Because of his personal narrative. This author's chief claim to fame is that he used to be a Christian. Religions must have converts, even the 'Jesus' religion, and Bart Ehrman was at one time a born-again Christian.

By his account, it was a quest for popularity which led him into the evangelical fold:

"There was a kind of loneliness associated with being a young teenager...That's when I started attending meetings of a Campus Life Youth for Christ club; they took place at kids' houses--the first I went to was a yard party at the home of a kid who was pretty popular, and that made me think the group must be okay." (Bart Ehrman, 'Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why,' pp.2-3).

Bearing in mind that the Lord warned His followers, "And you will be hated by all for My name’s sake" (Luke 21:17), how long was it likely a youth in search of social approval would remain within the fold? Longer than you might think -- but only so long as he sheltered within the evangelical ghetto. Once out in the secular academic world, where his Christian commitment was no longer the path to popular acceptance, things took a different turn. Crowd reaction is hugely important to this man; it determines his life: "Answer from Dr. Ehrman: 'I am sorry. I have trouble believing that we're having a serious conversation about the statistical probability of the resurrection or the statistical probability of the existence of God. I think in any university setting in the country, if we were in front of a group of academics we would be howled off the stage. . .'" (William Lane Craig and Bart D. Ehrman Debate the Question, "Is There Historical Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus?" held at College of the Holy Cross, Worcester, Massachusetts on March 28, 2006.) If we should ever hear that this man has reverted to Christianity, then we would know that the vagaries of fashion have shifted and atheism has fallen out of vogue in the self-enclosed hot-house world of academia, because he is nothing but a weather-vane.

What specific Christian tenets caused him distress he does not say, though perhaps there is a hint in his enumeration of issues of concern to him: "What if the Bible doesn't give a foolproof answer to the questions of the modern age -- abortion, women's rights, gay rights, religious supremacy, Western-style democracy, and the like?" (Bart Ehrman, 'Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why,' p. 14). American politics was undergoing a fundamental realignment at that time. Jimmy Carter was the last Democratic candidate for President who attracted very many evangelical votes, and to this day Barack Obama, in spite of extending an olive branch, did not receive a much higher percentage of the evangelical vote than did John Kerry in 2004; 24% of white evangelicals voted for Obama, compared with 21% who voted for John Kerry.

Prior to the 1970's, the American electorate was not split along sectarian lines; the fault lines ran elsewhere. The two competing national parties had dug in across class-warfare trench lines, with the Democratic party championing the cause of the working man, and the Republican party identifying the interests of business with those of the nation. Voters arrayed themselves according as their sense of fairness and justice, or prudence, dictated. Once the Democratic party became the party of 'acid, amnesty and abortion,' a seismic shift was underway in this political landscape, with evangelical voters deserting the Democratic party even against economic self-interest.

This realignment of the electorate was going on while Bart Ehrman was pursuing his quest for popularity in the secular academic world. The counter-culture had triumphed in academia and Hollywood, yet when they moved to consolidate their gains, they were stymied...by the American people. They had not won the hearts and minds of the people, and this was still a democracy. Those who held conservative views on abortion and gay marriage, which are indeed the Biblical positions, were as popular in academia as a skunk at a garden party.

Thereupon Bart Ehrman embarked upon what was at first a quiet and graceful exit from the faith which had become an embarrassment, but later became a Samson strategy: he would pull down the Christian edifice about his ears. Like a high-schooler who, embarrassed at facing the final exam, sets the school auditorium on fire, he commenced work as an anti-Christian polemicist. He now wants it understood that the God of the Bible, who lifts up to heaven and casts down to Hell, is a "never-dying eternal divine Nazi:"

"There is not literally a place of eternal torment where God, or the demons doing his will, will torture poor souls for 30 trillion years...What kind of never-dying eternal divine Nazi would a God like that be?" (Bart Ehrman, 'Jesus, Interrupted,' p. 276).


Been Here, Done That
Modern Discoveries
Petitio Principii
Do the Synoptic Gospels teach that Jesus is God?
Katagelogical Method
No Charisma
Moses
Ignore the Testimony
Lord of All
Resurrection in the Flesh
Four Gospels
Pagan Anti-Semitism
Bad Greek
Police State


This trajectory is familiar and bears study by those who would like to believe that liberal Christianity is a defensible stronghold. The decline begins gradually, then becomes precipitous, and arrives at the end in the subterranean regions. John Shelby Spong is another who began to attract notice as a liberal Christian, then ended by shrieking blasphemies at the heavens:




Our author now wants it understood that:

"God did not write the Bible, people did. Many of these people were inspired in the sense that they wrote works that can inspire others to think great and important thoughts...But they were not inspired in the sense that God somehow guided them to write what they wrote." (Bart Ehrman, 'Jesus, Interrupted,' p. 279).

Needless to say, God and His people take a different tack:

"All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness..." (2 Timothy 3:16).

Literacy

At times Bart Ehrman echoes Rudolf Bultmann in his belief that the inhabitants of the first century lived in an oral culture rather than a written one:

"...people living in the ancient world did not understand or see the need to preserve traditions unchanged from one retelling to another. This is true of people who live in oral cultures generally, as opposed to written or electronic cultures...In our written cultures, we might think that the really important historical events of antiquity -- the life of Socrates, the conquests of Rome, the death of Jesus -- would have been remembered with pinpoint accuracy precisely because they were so important. Not so for ancient people. Stories were changed with what would strike us today as reckless abandon, precisely because they did matter so much to those telling them. They were modified, amplified, and embellished. And sometimes they were made up." (Bart Ehrman, 'Peter, Paul & Mary Magdalene,' pp. 258-259).

I would encourage readers who may be disposed to believe this instead to look at 'Against Verres,' in which Cicero accuses Verres, the Roman governor of Sicily, of stealing stuff. Ask yourself: if Dr. Ehrman is living in a written culture and Cicero is living in an oral culture, why does Cicero write better than Dr. Ehrman? Ask yourself: if Cicero is living when people changed the facts to suit their fancies with "reckless abandon," and Dr. Ehrman is living when a reformed humanity confine themselves to the facts, why does Cicero carefully marshal his facts and present the reader with well-constructed arguments, when Dr. Ehrman does none of these things? What is Dr. Ehrman's account other than parochialism? Every human group wants to think well of itself, that its offspring are all above average...unlike those benighted people over there, who make stuff up.

To be sure, in antiquity, the gnostics made up stories. In modern times, Bernie Madoff makes up stories, as does the 'Jesus' publishing industry. Others seek the truth. People in the first century were quite litigious, as the New Testament reader may discover for himself. Paul's converts dragged each other into law courts (1 Corinthians 6:6), and Paul himself demanded his day in court, though the matter might have been settled quietly (Acts 26:32). Once there, the standard of proof they met was the same as that to which Cicero held himself, which is higher than we find in the 'Jesus' publishing industry. If the ancients felt free to make things up as Dr. Ehrman alleges, then how could antiquity ever have known successful prosecutions for perjury, as it surely did? Why is Dr. Ehrman so sure that they are the ones making things up, when the reader strongly suspects it's him?


Moses Twelve Tables
Untangling the Threads Fact-Checking
Seth Speaks Quintilian
Self-Incrimination Pythagoras
Who's Zooming Who? Historiography



The argument against ancient literacy is an a priori economic one:

"Studies of literacy have shown that what we might think of as mass literacy is a modern phenomenon, one that appeared only with the advent of the Industrial Revolution. It was only when nations could see an economic benefit in having virtually everyone able to read that they were willing to devote the massive resources -- especially time, money, and human resources -- needed to ensure that everyone had a basic education in literacy. In nonindustrial societies, the resources were desperately needed for other things, and literacy would not have helped either the economy or the well-being of society as a whole." (Bart Ehrman, 'Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why,' p. 37)

This methodology is inverted. We use observation of the world to ascertain what is possible, not a priori calculation of what is possible to erase observed fact. And is this the way economics works: societies evaluate whether they have the time and resources left over, after meeting everyone's basic needs, for frills like literacy? Truth to tell, ancient society was not so ordered as to waste no "resources." The ancient Roman empire was a slave society. Very many able-bodied persons did very little work of any kind, preferring to order their slaves about. When did 'society' ever decide it could afford to have the labor of so many potentially productive workers withdrawn? Was not their labor "desperately needed" for other things? These unproductive leeches sat around on their fat behinds in the Colosseum and watched equally unproductive drones hack away at each other. Rome maintained a huge standing army of persons involved in no sort of agricultural or industrial production, unless covering battlegrounds with corpses is imagined to be 'fertilization.' Rome maintained sizeable bodies of augurs, Vestal Virgins and priests, who produced no goods yet required a salary, not to mention their flashy wardrobe requirements. Murals depict jugglers and acrobats, who never grew an onion nor mended a pair of shoes. Something in this argument, that ancient society cannot possibly have employed school-teachers, though they said they did, because "resources were desperately needed for other things," overlooks the way societies actually allocate resources. There is something of the Stalinist 'five-year plan' in this paradigm, and that never worked.

Part of what is wrong with this thinking is that it posits an economy as a zero-sum game. Some say, if people are to be employed in carbon sequestration, which had never previously been perceived as needed or wanted, this will deplete resources "desperately needed" elsewhere and leave the nation poorer. But as President Obama correctly points out, establishing a new industry adds to the GDP, it does not subtract from it. The nay-sayers are correct only to the extent that the rural population in antiquity, the 'pagans' who were late to adopt Christianity, were largely illiterate. So far as we solicit evidence from contemporary observers rather than impose our a priori theories, it would seem that free-born town-dwellers were more likely to be literate than not:




The assumption that the way in which economic production is organized is the independent variable in social life, and that culture is a by-product of this fundamental social datum, is the foundation stone of Marxist thought. By this thinking, if you examine the means of production, you will discover whether the society is literate or otherwise. But this assumption cannot be verified empirically. In nineteenth century Scandinavia and rural America most people worked at small-scale agriculture, fishing and forestry. And they could read and write.

Pagan Readers

Part of the reason Bart Ehrman low-balls ancient literacy is because he is convinced pagans weren't readers:



  • “For modern people intimately familiar with any of the major contemporary Western religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam), it may be hard to imagine, but books played virtually no role in the polytheistic religions of the ancient Western world. These religions were almost exclusively concerned with honoring the gods through ritual acts of sacrifice. There were no doctrines to be learned, as explained in books, and almost no ethical principles to be followed, as laid out in books.”
  • (Bart Ehrman, 'Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why,' p. 19).



"[H]ard to imagine" to be sure, not mention contrary to fact. When Greeks followed Alexander of Macedon into Egypt, they 'went native' to the extent of adopting the native custom of burying deceased persons clutching a scroll in their hands. But they had no interest in the Egyptian texts, or cheat-sheets, laying out the passwords and procedures for making it into a pleasant corner of the afterworld. They wanted to be buried holding Homer's 'Iliad.' Why, when books "played virtually no role in the[ir] polytheistic religion?" Very much of what the Greeks knew, or thought they knew, about their gods, they had learned from the poets.

It is true enough that the pagans were not 'People of the Book' in the sense that Jews and Christians are, in Mohammed ibn Abdallah's memorable phrase. Jews and Christians believe in one God, and have one book comprised of various treatises all bound together. The polytheists believe in many gods, and never saw any reason to bind all of their various treatises together, especially given that some of their gods hate others and are trying to kill them. Who would expect such material to harmonize? But the volume of pagan religious literature is immense. Books like Ovid's 'Metamorphoses' and Virgil's 'Aeneid' sought, like Rick Warren's 'Purpose-Driven Life,' to make real and relevant to these readers their inherited religion.

Bart Dr. Ehrman follows his mentor Bruce Metzger up the ladder into the tree house, but then pulls up the ladder. Metzger realized he must make some effort to rest the rules of textual criticism upon an empirical foundation, and came up with this:

"One of the axioms of classical textual criticism is brevior lectio potior, that is, the shorter of two readings is probably original...The only comment which needs to be made here is that a comparison of the trends in the textual criticism of the Iliad and the Mahabharata, two great national epics the transmission of which reveals certain parallels to the transmission of the Gospels, is instructive for the New Testament scholar. Textual critics of both these corpora of quasi-religious literature are convinced that they are growing texts, and that no scribe deliberately excised any considerable portion of either poem." (The Text of the New Testament, Bruce M. Metzger, pp. 161-163).

There's no evidence the New Testament is a growing text, but see, the Iliad is, and that's kind of like the New Testament, right? Dr. Ehrman pipes up and says, 'Not at all.' Truth to tell, it is a bit of a stretch, because the New Testament is not really very much like the Iliad. Both, however, are religious texts, albeit otherwise dissimilar. Dr. Ehrman is correct in failing to see any merit in Metzger's argument.

It may strike the modern reader, and not a few ancient ones, that Homer is a mocker of the gods rather than their worshipper, because the gods come across as petulant children in his narrative. But that is the pagan solution to the problem of evil. Bad things happen in this world, the pagans thought, because the powers that own mankind are cracked, fickle, unbalanced, and equally prone to deal their devotees dirty tricks as fondness and fair play. But the gnostics adopted this solution to the problem of evil from the pagans, and these writers cannot stop singing the praises of the gnostics; surely they are comfortable with this way of thinking. People who want to see how very ugly the pagan gods can get should read Euripides' Bacchae, in the Thriceholy library. One cannot shake the suspicion that either Euripides or someone close to him was an alcoholic. The blameless Agave wants nothing more than to serve her god Dionysos, and look at how he repays her for her loyalty and love. The frozen smiles with which the Greeks hymned such gods were smiles of fear, not love. And this isn't even the worst that bad religion can get; think of the crocodile gods of Egypt, who occasionally gobbled down those infatuated devotees who, singing their praises, danced too close. This text too is a religious text, though one would like to see the 'Jesus' industry try to bowdlerize it, the way they do the gnostics.

Quick Learners

Jesus commanded His disciples to go and preach to all the nations. This they did, ending up in strange, far-flung places. John served at Ephesus, which must not have seemed just like home to him, and there is reason to think Peter and Paul died in Rome. But in all their travels, they never once came across a literate person who could note down their memoirs. The traditional account is that two of the four gospels, Matthew and John, were written by apostles, the other two, Mark and Luke, by disciples within the circle of Peter and Paul respectively. But modern research has ascertained that these text were written by persons living in the Land of Nod who never had contact with any apostle. The reason for this is because this was an 'oral culture;' no one could read and write.

Once these texts were produced, by unknown persons who, even though we don't have any idea who they were, we do know of a certainty never shook hands with an apostle, the literacy situation in the church turns on a dime. All of a sudden there are plenty of people who can, not only read and write, but copy manuscripts, a much harder task.

This is because, if the church took her treasures to an ancient 'Kinko's,' she would likely find herself instructing a pagan scribe, because most people were pagans. Our pagan scribe is little likely to take notice of 'docetic' passages or replace them with 'anti-docetic' passages, because he does not have any dog in that fight. Nor is it likely the church hiring him could instruct him how to perform this task.

Here is a problem. Bart Ehrman's schtick is searching out poorly attested minority readings, by comparison with which the Comma Johanneum is richly attested, and alleging that they represent the original text, which was suppressed for theological reasons. This is the 'orthodox corruption of scripture.' However, at a bare minimum the earliest scribes have to be Christians, or those copying the manuscripts have neither motivation nor competence to make these kinds of changes.

Every scribe will make errors in his copy, because to err is human. But most verses he will complete without error. That statistical fact is our lifeline in recovering the original text. Even as some lines of transmission die out, the original reading will swamp the later error. The only way an error can become established is if a sequence of unlikely events occurs very, very early in the chain of transmission. Thus the earliest scribes to handle the text must be Christian, or Bart Ehrman's stock in trade becomes an evident waste of time.

It does indeed seem likely that, for the same reason church pot-luck suppers do not feature catered food, the church performed this task 'in-house.' This has long been surmised: "In the earlier ages of the Church, Biblical manuscripts were produced by individual Christians who wished to provide for themselves or for local congregations copies of one or more books of the New Testament." (Bruce M. Metzger, The Text of the New Testament, p. 14) Where there is a ready source of free volunteer labor, why pay? The cost of laborious workmanship in the ancient world was cheap owing to the availability of slave labor. Even this taxing job was done at times by slaves: "He [Domitian] put to death a pupil of the pantomimic actor Paris...also Hermogenes of Tarsus because of some allusions in his History, besides crucifying even the slaves who had written it out." (Suetonius, The Lives of the Twelve Caesars, Domitian). Still, free is even better than cheap. Not everyone who can read and write has good penmanship, and not everyone who has good penmanship has time to devote to a very labor-intensive task. Mothers caring for small children or shop-keepers living over the shop were out. So there must have been more than a few literate persons in each church.

Hmmm...where were they when the apostles were looking for someone to write down their memoirs? How come people in the church all of a sudden learned how to read and write only after the decease of the apostles?

What percentage of Christians could read and write? Writing in the fourth century, Cyril of Jerusalem encourages the people to read the Bible. However, he notes that not "all" can do this, and that those who cannot may want to memorize the creed, because "some" people cannot read the scriptures:



  • “For since all cannot read the Scriptures, some being hindered as to the knowledge of them by want of learning, and others by a want of leisure, in order that the soul may not perish from ignorance, we comprise the whole doctrine of the Faith in a few lines.”
  • (Cyril of Jerusalem, The Catechetical Lectures, Lecture 5.12.).



Unfortunately Cyril does not give percentages, but the "some" who are hindered by illiteracy, taken literally, are a minority.

Corruption

According to this author, the received text of scripture is a bloated mass of willful interpolations introduced by orthodox authors. This state of affairs proves, not that there is work to be done, but that there is no Bible:



  • “...I came to realize that it would have been no more difficult for God to preserve the words of scripture than it would have been for him to inspire them in the first place. If he wanted his people to have his words, surely he would have given them to them (and possibly even given them the words in a language they could understand, rather than Greek and Hebrew). The fact that we don't have the words surely must show, I reasoned, that he did not preserve them for us. And if he didn't perform that miracle, there seemed to be no reason to think that he performed the earlier miracle of inspiring those words.”
  • (Bart Ehrman, 'Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why,' p. 11).



Indeed, this argument against the Bible will ultimately be promoted into an argument against the existence of God; Bart Ehrman is a "happy agnostic" (Washington Post) , not a liberal Christian. Is its premise true: did God fail to preserve His revelation? Very many Christians agree that God, if He were God, could and would keep His word "pure," i.e., uncorrupted and unadulterated. Not only that, they aver that He did:

"The Old Testament in Hebrew (which was the native language of the people of God of old), and the New Testament in Greek (which at the time of the writing of it was most generally known to the nations), being immediately inspired by God, and by His singular care and providence kept pure in all ages, are therefore authentic; so as in all controversies of religion, the church is finally to appeal to them." (London Baptist Confession of Faith, Chapter 1.8).

If God did providentially preserve His word, then it must be the text which was preserved, which is the majority text, that is His chosen vehicle of revelation:




Bart Ehrman




For Ever

"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.

Happenstance

"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.

Handmaids

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." (Joel 2:28-29).

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 are written.

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 questions?

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.

Spelling

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.

Inspired Translations

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 baseless.

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.

Bible Contradictions

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?:



I Thirst Timothy the Gentile
Faith vs. Works Love Your Enemies
Paul the Maverick Seeing God
Realized Eschatology He Hanged Himself
Uncorroborated False Witness
Atonement Head Covering
Men and Angels From Everlasting
Preach the Faith Bishops and Deacons
Cock Crow Wrong Day
Two Genealogies Editor's Choice
Sermon on the Mount. . .or Plain


Among the Phibionites

Just as the older movies used to help perplexed audiences by dressing the villains in back hats and the good guys in white hats, we do not enter the world of the 'Jesus' industry wondering who will turn out to be the good guys and who the bad. It is the orthodox who wear the black hats and the heretics, especially the much-loved gnostics, who wear the white hats. There is no pretense of objectivity. Dr. Ehrman's dislike of orthodox writers like Epiphanius extends even to contumely. But he assures us that it is Epiphanius who is "mean-spirited" and "vitriolic" (Bart Ehrman, 'Peter, Paul & Mary Magdalene,' p. 234), even while he pours refuse over the luckless man's head. Dr. Ehrman repeatedly suggests Epiphanius' account of the Phibionites is "made up," though he offers no conflicting testimony from antiquity, just animadversion.

The Phibionites were a gnostic group whose worship services incorporated sex acts. As such they present a problem for the 'Jesus' industry, which thinks the church should have flung open its doors to the gnostic polytheists. Isn't that asking a lot? If the Phibionites showed up at our church, we would likely call the cops. Perhaps they could get them on indecent exposure charges. Since the Phibionites are patently a problem for 'big tent' Christianity, 'poof' they're gone, they never were.

Is this sound scholarship: to rebut testimony, not with counter-testimony, but with insult and denial? Is it really so easy to get rid of evidence you dislike? When the church gave the gnostics the left foot of fellowship, was this a crime against humanity, as these people think? Or was a severance not inevitable between those who worship the God of Israel, and those who think the God of Israel a fallen and risible imp?:




Offensive as the idea of a religion whose central sacrament is a sex act may be, it's not unheard of. Readers of Dan Brown will recall this as the religion of that author's heart. Since Dan Brown patently exists at the present day, it cannot be discounted there could have been Dan Browns of old. Reports of 'overturning the lamp' persist through Christian literature beginning with Justin Martyr. Though their pagan persecutors erred in thinking Christians did any such thing, a gnostic sect, the Carpocratians, did this and worse, according to numerous witnesses. As to the Nicolaitans, one can hope their "fornication" was of the religious variety, of those who "go a whoring after their gods," (Exodus 34:15). One can always hope. Though the 'Jesus' industry has determined that the way to do history is to discount all that the actual witnesses say, no jury that seeks the truth is entitled to ignore all witness testimony, just because they prefer to believe otherwise.

In the modern-day Caribbean, some people blend the old African animism with Catholicism to produce a new hybrid, 'Santeria.' No doubt, from the first proclamation of the gospel, some Gentile converts tried to smuggle a few pieces of their pagan baggage with them into the Christian fold. To go back to the origin, gnosticism itself is what happens when a pagan polytheist hears the God of Israel proclaim, "I am the LORD, and there is no other; there is no God besides Me." (Isaiah 45:5), and can't help but wonder what all the other gods would make of that. They would laugh, of course, and do in gnostic literature. But Christians and Jews do not laugh.

Sacred prostitution is attested in goddess worship by ancient authors:

"To its glory I shall append the dishonor of Punic women that it may show uglier by comparison. At Sicca there is a temple of Venus where married women used to gather and issuing thence for gain to collect dowries by outraging their bodies, intending forsooth to link respectable wedlock by so disgraceful a bond." (Valerius Maximus, Memorable Doings and Sayings, Book II.6).

These reports are not incredible; after all what were these pagan women doing, in having sex with the first stranger who came along, but behaving like the undergraduates who hang on Dr. Ehrman's every word? If the Mesopotamian women got paid, what does that say about them but that they were prudent and thrifty besides? If people who thought this way about sacred things heard the gospel proclamation, what would prevent them from producing a hybrid, even this monstrous and ill-formed one? There is nothing incredible in Epiphanius' report.

Not so very long ago there was a cult called the 'Children of God,' led by David 'Mo' Berg. This visionary combined Christianity with the sexual revolution to produce a pedophile's dream playground. Those who survived childhood with this group have quite a story to tell. But according to Bart Ehrman's way of doing 'history,' it never happened, because people sometimes make such accusations without basis. What kind of way is that of doing history?

Jesus the Jew

The reader of Bart Ehrman's tomes learns that, when Christianity started out, it already had a well-defined set of beliefs and a holy book, the Old Testament:



  • “When Christianity started out -- with the historical Jesus himself -- it already has a set of sacred written authorities. Jesus was a Jew living in Palestine, and like all Palestinian Jews, he accepted the authority of the Jewish Scriptures, especially the first five books of what Christians have called the Old Testament...sometimes known as the Law of Moses.”
  • (Bart Ehrman, 'The Gospel of Judas,' p. 116).



Oddly enough, however, the question of monotheism, which the reader will recall is addressed in the Hebrew Old Testament, was not decided until the fourth century of the Christian era:




  • “We have long known about these debates, and the Gospel of Judas allows us to see one side of them even more clearly -- one of the sides that ended up losing. Every side laid claim to sacred books supporting its point of view; all insisted that these views came straight from Jesus, and through him from God. But only one side won. This was the side that decided which books should be considered Scripture, and that wrote the Christian creeds that have come down to us today. Embodied in these creeds are theological statements that trumpet the success of the 'orthodox' party. Consider the opening of one of the most famous of these creeds:
  • “We believe in one God, the Father, the almighty,
    maker of heaven and earth,
    of all things visible and invisible.
  • “This affirmation stands in stark contrast with the views set forth in the Gospel of Judas, where there is not just one God but many gods and where the creator of this world is not the true God but an inferior deity, who is not the Father of all and is certainly not almighty.”
  • (Bart Ehrman, 'The Gospel of Judas,' p. 103).



The reader may experience some difficulty in reconciling these views. Always eager to help, I've set up a web page explaining how Jesus can simultaneously be an undoubted teacher of monotheism and also, for all anyone knows. a teacher of pagan polytheism:



The Astonishment of Creeds Jesus' Bible
Acculturation People Nowadays
Majority Rule Politically Correct
From Victory Unto Victory First Century
Constantine Sunshine
The God of the Jews Were the Gnostics Monotheists?
Tell it Like it Is Socrates


Slugs and Chimpanzees

The 'Jesus' publishing industry markets the gnostics as progressives on gender issues. But the gnostics never received this memo, instead commanding their adherents to "destroy the works of the female." (Dialogue of the Savior, quoted p. 232, Bart Ehrman, 'Peter, Paul & Mary Magdalene'). Realizing that modern readers may find the gnostics' misogyny offensive, Dr. Ehrman seeks to salve the sting by inventing a physiological theory which "people in antiquity" are supposed to have held,-- not some of 'em, mind you, but all "people in antiquity." Unlike the moderns, who understand men and women to belong to the same species, "people in antiquity" placed them rather in different locales along the chain of being:




  • “People today usually think about male and female as two kinds of the same thing. There's one thing, the human being, and it comes in two types: male and female...basically this is how we see it. It is not, however, how people in antiquity saw it...The way to make sense of the ancient understanding is to imagine all living creatures on a kind of continuum. At the far left of the spectrum are plants, to the right of them are animals, and to the right of (other) animals are humans. There are different degrees of intelligence and perfection among animals: slugs might be on the left of the continuum and chimpanzees might be further along. So it is among humans as well. Children and slaves are not perfect as humans, so they would be to the left of the scale. Women too are not perfect...”
  • (Bart Ehrman, 'Peter, Paul & Mary Magdalene,' p. 212).



Do the ancient writers actually say what this author is representing? Do the ancient physiologists indeed fail to understand that men and women are of the same species? Is it indeed a modern discovery that men and woman are "two kinds of the same thing"? Needless to say it is not:

"In all animals which can move about, the sexes are separated, one individual being male and one female, though both are the same in species, as with man and horse." (Aristotle, The Generation of Animals, Book 1, Chapter 23).

The myth that the gnostics were progressive on gender issues persists despite passages like, "Flee from the madness and the bondage of femaleness and choose for yourselves the salvation of maleness." (Zostrianos, 131, p. 430, The Nag Hammadi Library, James M. Robinson).


Hypatia's Bookshelf


Salvation by Child-Bearing

We learn so much we did not know about the Bible from reading Bart Ehrman. For instance, did you know that the Bible teaches women can only be saved by child-bearing? The man says so:



  • “The only way they [women] can be saved is by bearing children -- this is, by bearing the curse that God called won upon woman ('pain in childbearing') as a result of the sin in the Garden (see Genesis 3:16)...it is precisely through having sex and bearing children that a woman can be saved.”
  • (Bart Ehrman, 'Peter, Paul & Mary Magdalene,' p. 237).



The Bible reader will recall that Paul is the great apostle of salvation by faith:

"For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast." (Ephesians 2:8-9).

How strange that he should turn out of to believe in salvation by works for one half the human race, and that moreover by means of an activity that had never been understood by either Jews or Christians to be a meritorious act: enduring childbirth.

This is the same Paul who says, "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus." (Galatians 3:28). How, if there is neither male nor female in Christ, can the salvation plan for women turn out to be not faith, but suffering a biological process no man can perform? How easy can this be! Can salvation really come from a life experience most women, wicked or well-intentioned, undergo anyway? Jezebel was a mom (2 Kings 10:13). Will welfare moms lead the charge into the kingdom? How foolish are those who condemn that eager woman who hung around the fertility clinic until she got octuplets, demanding to know who was expected to pay for it! If Dr. Ehrman is right, these women have found the pearl of great price.

And how can Paul recommend that women remain single, as he is, if so doing ensures their damnation?: "But I say to the unmarried and to the widows: It is good for them if they remain even as I am..." (1 Corinthians 7:8). No doubt this new information will be a disappointment for those religious organizations which keep nuns on the payroll.

So have we discovered another 'Bible contradiction'? Is this author right in thinking 1 Timothy 2:15 was written by a forger, which says,

"Nevertheless she will be saved in childbearing if they continue in faith, love, and holiness, with self-control." (1 Timothy 2:15).

You can be saved by the fire-fighter from the fire downstairs or saved by Jesus from the fire to come. When Paul promises his pagan ship-mates they can be "saved" if they obey his instructions, he does not mean to eternal life, but 'saved' only in the sense they will walk away from a boat smashed upon the rocks:

"Paul said to the centurion and the soldiers, 'Unless these men stay in the ship, you cannot be saved [sothenai].'” (Acts 27:31).

We hope to be saved to eternal life, preserved and held out of the fire lit by God's wrath. On a more modest note, people also hope, amidst the vicissitudes of life, to be kept safe, preserved in health. It turns out Dr. Ehrman is well aware of this sense of 'saved:'

"The Greek word for 'save,' in this and other contexts, refers to restoring a person to health and wholeness." (Bart Ehrman, 'God's Problem,' p 233).

He just sees no need to cue the unwary reader. Christian women who cling to their Savior will be kept safe through [dia] the painful and dangerous experience of child-bearing.

But why do pain and danger still accompany childbirth? After Eve fell, she was cursed: "In pain you shall bring forth children..." (Genesis 3:16). When Christ came and reconciled God with man, was not the curse lifted? No doubt many optimistic ideas have found encouragement in this thought, from nudism to socialism. But these ideas are premature. Thorns and thistles still rise from the ground. Has the son of the woman already trod on the serpent's head (Genesis 3:15)...or "shortly" (Romans 16:20)?

Men's dominance over women was a consequence of the fall: "And he shall rule over you" (Genesis 3:16). Some people probably thought this dominance was over, since Christ had come. But not Paul. The conflict revolves around where we are on God's timeline, not who is worth what.

To be sure, children are understood in the Bible to be an unmixed blessing:

"Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD,
The fruit of the womb is a reward." (Psalm 127:3).

But the process by which they come into the world is not salvific. If Dr. Ehrman were to pay attention to his fellow agnostic Robert Ingersoll, he would hear that:

"It [the Bible] makes maternity an offense for which a sin offering had to be made. It was wicked to give birth to a boy, and twice as wicked to give birth to a girl." (Robert Ingersoll, 'About the Holy Bible,' II).

Aren't agnostics prone to tendentious overstatement! The purity code of the Mosaic law does not assign moral turpitude to a discharge of blood, but does require cleansing. In Judaism childbirth is an occurrence for which the mother must be purified, on account of the blood:

"When the days of her purification are fulfilled, whether for a son or a daughter, she shall bring to the priest a lamb of the first year as a burnt offering, and a young pigeon or a turtledove as a sin offering, to the door of the tabernacle of meeting. Then he shall offer it before the LORD, and make atonement for her. And she shall be clean from the flow of her blood. This is the law for her who has borne a male or a female. (Leviticus 12:6-7).

Some believers were so alarmed at the thought of God incarnate wallowing in blood and bodily fluids that they affirmed instead that He had passed through Mary 'like water through a pipe.' When did this paradigm get turned on its head, and childbirth became, not defiling, but salvific?

Dr. Ehrman does not tell us, because, in his way of reading the Bible, every utterance is a bolt from the blue, unconnected to anything that has gone before or since, the better to find 'Bible contradictions.' Christians read the Bible by fitting everything together, because they understand these works to be of common authorship. But even unbelievers must realize there are not really in life so many bolts from the blue. When asked, 'what do you think,' most people's response is to replay a tape of something they heard in childhood. Those who believe in inspiration may expect innovation, because the Holy Spirit can drag even a stubborn man like Peter, kicking and screaming, to the house of Cornelius the Gentile. Those who rule out inspiration must expect true originality to be rare; it takes much careful thought to disentangle and question the conventional wisdom. To read the Bible as Dr. Ehrman does, disconnected, every utterance a new world of discourse, is not even plausible from a secular standpoint. If it were not the way to harvest 'Bible contradictions,' no one would read this way.

The Adulterous Woman

The modern reader will have noticed Bible have been shrinking in recent years. Bibles like the NRSV and the NASB are light-weights compared with the venerable and hefty KJV. Not only is there a difference in quantity but of quality: many clear statements of the deity of Jesus Christ found in the KJV are among the detritus pruned away by the newer versions.

The reason why modern Bibles are thinner than the old-fashioned ones is a procedural rule adopted at the outset of the endeavor of modern textual criticism: that the shorter reader is to be preferred to the longer one. This rule can be extracted at the end of the process by the alert reader with a set of postal scales; but it only can be extracted at the end because it was put in at the beginning. Sometimes this sequence is misstated, as if modern textual critics had 'discovered' that the text ought to be shorter; this has not been 'discovered,' it is hard-wired into the methodology used by this discipline. Should the rules of textual criticism be lost, they could be reverse engineered out of what they've done with the text; what they've done with the text is not an independent datum or fact about the world which they have 'discovered.'

It was widely assumed by the founders of this discipline that sacred texts grew by accretion: we start with a few lonely sentences, they cohere with others, soon a whole structure precipitates into view, growing like a stalactite. This process was imagined to be under the superintendence of the 'zeitgeist' or some other supernatural agency. But no one has ever actually seen a text come into existence in quite this manner, and skeptics said, 'Show me when this has ever happened.' Our collection of early manuscripts is so meager that no statistically meaningful results can be stated to confirm that the New Testament was a 'growing' text.

Bart Ehrman would like to promote this rule, that the shorter reading is to be preferred, from a methodological first principle into an empirical fact. The woman taken in adultery is a very important test case for him. The story is familiar to readers of the majority text of the Bible:

"Now early in the morning He came again into the temple, and all the people came to Him; and He sat down and taught them. hen the scribes and Pharisees brought to Him a woman caught in adultery. And when they had set her in the midst, they said to Him, 'Teacher, this woman was caught in adultery, in the very act. Now Moses, in the law, commanded us that such should be stoned. But what do You say?' This they said, testing Him, that they might have something of which to accuse Him. But Jesus stooped down and wrote on the ground with His finger, as though He did not hear. So when they continued asking Him, He raised Himself up and said to them, 'He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first.' And again He stooped down and wrote on the ground. Then those who heard it, being convicted by their conscience, went out one by one, beginning with the oldest even to the last. And Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst. When Jesus had raised Himself up and saw no one but the woman, He said to her, “Woman, where are those accusers of yours? Has no one condemned you?' She said, 'No one, Lord.' And Jesus said to her, 'Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.'" (John 8:2-11).



  • “Should they stone her or show her mercy? It is a trap, of course. If Jesus tells them to let the woman go, he will be accused of violating the Law of God; if he tells them to stone her, he will be accused of dismissing his own teachings of love, mercy and forgiveness...Here I can simply point out a few basic facts that have proved convincing to nearly all scholars of every persuasion: the story is not found in our oldest and best manuscripts of the Gospel of John; its writing style is very different form what we find in the rest of John (including the stories immediately before and after); and it includes a large number of words and phrases that are otherwise alien to the Gospel. The conclusion is unavoidable: this passage was not originally part of the Gospel.”
  • (Bart Ehrman, 'Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why,' p. 63-65).



Thriceholy Radio


But this is the $64 question. Was this passage part of the original text, which dropped out and was restored, or is it an addition, the long-sought proof the New Testament is a 'growing' text? He and his colleagues conclude that it is an addition, because of the rule that the shorter reading is to be preferred. You cannot then use this conclusion to prove the rule which prodded the conclusion; this is to argue in a circle. If, as Dr. Ehrman claims, the scribes felt free to insert into the text a story circulating in the oral tradition, then why are there not thousands of these moveable stories, rather than one?

It is not self-evident that this text was not originally part of the gospel of John. The people who thought that it was won the argument in that day, and they had statistically meaningful evidence at their disposal. We do not. One hopes they were not relying on Papias, a slender reed:

"In one of these treatises, which he wrote concerning the Gospel of John, he [Papias] relates that in the book of John the Evangelist there is a report about a woman who was an adulteress. When the people led her before Christ our Lord, he spoke to the Jews who had brought her to him: 'Whoever among you is himself certain that he is innocent of that of which she is accused, let him now bear witness against her.' After he had said this, they gave him no answer and went away. (Agapius of Hierapolis, Fragment 23, Fragments of Papias, The Apostolic Father, Second Edition, J. B. Lightfoot and J. R. Harmer).

But even if they were not sure where the text belonged or its exact wording, they knew it belonged in the gospel of John. In Dr. Ehrman's analysis, the crowd presented Jesus with two alternatives, and He goes with the second: love and mercy. But the question was a trap, which He avoided, not by choosing one of the two alternatives with which they presented Him, but by a third way they had not thought of. The Jews had lost the power of capital punishment:

"Then Pilate said to them, 'You take Him and judge Him according to your law.' Therefore the Jews said to him, 'It is not lawful for us to put anyone to death...'" (John 18:31).

Because the Sanhedrin could not in this period execute the law of Moses as written, they found it safer to desert the temple precincts:

"He told them: forty years before the destruction of the House, the Sanhedrin was exiled and sat in a shop...it means that they ceased to try capital cases." (B Avodah Zarah 8b; B Shabbat 15a; B Sanhedrin 41b, quoted p. 346, 'The Trial and Death of Jesus,' Haim Cohn).

The crowd wants the execution first, then the trial, though the law of Moses requires a trial:

"Whoever is deserving of death shall be put to death on the testimony of two or three witnesses; he shall not be put to death on the testimony of one witness." (Deuteronomy 17:6).

But a trial is a public proceeding which would come to the attention of the Romans, and Roman law did not punish adultery with death. A lynch mob proceeding would likely escape the attention of the Romans, but a legal trial could not. This question is a trap of the same type as the question about paying taxes: if Jesus is the Messiah, as He claims, will He cave in to the Romans, or will He uphold the law, whatever the consequences might be? The way out He finds is not what they expect, nor one of the alternatives they place before Him.

Dormitive Faculty

The scholastic science of the high middle ages was an impressive thing. It boasted a sonorous and complex vocabulary that took years of study to master. But skeptics wondered, once you had mastered this pompous and showy scholarly field, what did you actually know? Moliere summarized the problem. His doctor helpfully answers the question, why does opium put people to sleep?-- with the accurate scholastic answer, 'Because of its dormitive faculty.' But wait a minute,-- what does 'dormitive faculty' say, other than that it puts people to sleep? This science, that boasted so loudly of its own accomplishments, was in substance a set of verbal transformations that added no information to what was already known.

The problem with modern textual criticism is not that practitioners in this field are unimpressed with their own accomplishments. Bart Ehrman's debate responses may often be summarized as, 'They look like ants from up here.' Rather, the problem is with the assumptions built into its methodology. Are these assumptions well founded and justified, or not?

Dr. Ehrman is very prone to resort to arguments from authority of the form, 'Most scholars agree, etc.' This will not do; when an expert witness it called to court to testify, he cannot say, 'I'm an expert and believe thus-and-so,' rather he must explain the evidence upon which his conclusion rests. When the question in dispute is, 'Is this field of endeavor of value or of no value,' the response, 'I'm an expert in the field' does not address the question, much less resolve it.

Though appeals to authority are not always purely fallacious, Dr. Ehrman's presentation to the public does amount to a fallacious argumentum ad verecundiam. His overriding argument, his main point in writing, involves a switcheroo. It may be summarized as follows:

  1. I, Bart Ehrman, am an expert in evaluating manuscripts;
  2. I do not believe in God;
  3. Because I am an expert, therefore God does not exist.

The defects in the argument include the fact that, though he is an expert, he is not an expert in the field that asks 'Does God exist.'

Inerrancy

"This presupposition about Scripture as without error is a modern invention of fundamentalist theologians; it is not the traditional Christian view of the Bible." (Bart Ehrman, 'Insights,' 'Misquoting Jesus,' p. 249).

Is this true? No more so than usual:

"But it [sacred doctrine] properly uses the authority of the canonical Scriptures as a necessary argument, and the authority of the doctors of the Church as one that may properly be used, though merely as probable. For our faith rests upon the revelation made to the apostles and prophets, who wrote the canonical books, and not on the revelations (if any such there are) made to other doctors. Hence Augustine says (Epist. ad Hieron.): 'Only those books of Scripture which are called canonical have I learnt to hold in such honour as to believe their authors have not erred in any way in writing them. But other authors I so read as not to deem anything in their works to be true merely on account of their having so thought and written, whatever may have been their holiness and learning.'" (Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, First Part Question 1, Article 8).

"I answer that, The author of Holy Writ is God, in whose power it is to signify His meaning not by words only (as man also can do), but also by things themselves....Hence it is plain that nothing false can ever underlie the literal sense of Holy Writ." (Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, First Part Question 1, Article 10).

Yet again, the man behind the curtain produces just what his audience wants to hear, and he is a great scholar. This is typical of this author's work product.

In fact, what is wrong with 'inerrancy' is that it's a Latin word and a Latin concept. People who want to say about the Bible what the Bible says about itself should say rather, "The words of the LORD are pure words..." (Psalm 12:6).

Savage Temper

Writing about Mark 1:41, Bart Ehrman says,



  • “I should emphasize that this was not a dispute over whether it was conceivable that a human being could also, in some sense, be divine. That was a point on which pagans and Christians were in complete agreement, as pagans too knew of stories in which a divine being had become human and interacted with others here on earth. The question was whether Jesus behaved in such a way as to justify thinking of him as someone of that sort, or whether, instead, his attitudes and behavior eliminated the possibility that he was actually a son of God. By this period it was widely believed among pagans that the gods were not subject to the petty emotions and whims of mere mortals, that they were, in fact, above such things.”
  • (Bart Ehrman, 'Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why,' pp. 200-201).



This is typical Bart Ehrman: a glib, facile half-truth. As per usual he wants to shoe-horn into the Bible a very poorly attested textual variant, offering his customary convoluted and unconvincing argument, though no statistician could give the green-light to construct a Bible out of long-lost minority readings. In this case he wants Mark to say that Jesus was 'angry,' though the overwhelming majority of the manuscripts do not say that. We're supposed to believe the original wording, 'angry,' was removed out of deference to pagan sentiment, that gods and sons of gods "were, in fact, above such things."

Now some pagans did think this way: the philosopher Epicurus, for example, who said, "A blessed and eternal being has no trouble himself and brings no trouble upon any other being; hence he is exempt from movements of anger and partiality, for every such movement implies weakness." (Diogenes Laertius, 'Lives of Eminent Philosophers,' Volume II, Epicurus, Book X, 139). But the traditional stories the pagans told about their gods reported otherwise. Hercules, the son of Jove, had a "savage temper:" "He stood there glaring at me, controlling his savage temper very badly, and finally growled: 'I am a better talker with fists than tongue.'" (Ovid, Metamorphoses, 'The Story of Achelous' Duel for Deianira,' Book Nine, lines 22-55). The mad emperor Caligula used to prance around his palace wearing a Hercules costume. Hercules was so far lost to anger management that he murdered his own children by Megara.

Like modern-day Hinduism, ancient paganism operated on several levels. On the popular level it was a profuse and proliferating idolatry, while at the higher level the philosophers sought to trace a thread of reason through the popular stories, or impose one. Compared with what went before, 'theos apathes,' the god who cannot suffer or feel passion, was an improvement over Zeus the serial rapist and the other criminally insane deities to whom the Greeks offered unwilling worship. But 'theos apathes' is not the God of the Bible. The editor who must transform the God of Israel into 'theos apathes,' as Dr. Ehrman claims has been done with the text of Mark, faces the dilemma of the mosquito at a nudist colony: so much to be done and so little time. Where to begin? A passionless god can no more love than he can hate; there goes "For God so loved the world." (John 3:16). With God's wrath exits also God's loving-kindness. The song says "Nothing but love led Him to Calvary," but we can no more have Calvary than the love that led to it under this new regime. Nor will we hear more of Abraham God's friend (James 2:23), because 'theos apathes' does not have any friends:

"Friendship occurs where love is offered in return.  But in friendship with God there is no room for love to be offered in return, indeed there is not even room for love.  For it would be absurd if anyone were to assert that he loved Zeus." (Aristotle, Magna Moralia II, 1208b, quoted in Jurgen Moltmann, The Crucified God, p. 268).



What would Bart Ehrman, who is given to carpet-chewing rages against the Christian God who allows little African children to die of starvation, make of the impassive god of the pagan philosophers, who cannot suffer and whose response to human suffering is 'I don't care'?

We also must drop on the cutting room floor the other scripture verses which ascribe anger to the Lord, which our Epicurean scribal corrector strangely left untouched. One such is John 11:33, "Therefore, when Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her weeping, He groaned [ev + brimaomai] in the spirit and was troubled." Richmond Lattimore has for this verse, "he raged at his own spirit." In this latter case, we can scarcely accuse Jesus of resentment against Lazarus for dissing Him, because Lazarus was dead! Dead people must be excused for their lack of respect, attention, and indeed even animation; there is such a thing as a circumstance beyond one's control. More likely He was angry at the condition brought in by fallen human nature, whereby friends must part unwilling and fellowship be broken. His enemy is death: "The last enemy that is annulled is death." (1 Corinthians 15:26), not the dead man, Lazarus, over whom His enemy gained the upper hand. One does not look down at a fallen comrade with anger, but at his slayer.

But in truth, any believer in this passionless god must commence his editorial deletions, not with an obscure textual variant in Mark found so infrequently it has little or no statistical chance of being authentic, but with the passion narratives. Christians believe that God the Son suffered a tortured death upon the cross, becoming man in order to suffer such a death. This 'theos apathes' cannot and would not do.

Reconciling the 'theos apathes' of the philosophers with the Suffering Servant is a lost cause, requiring not a single deletion but a total conceptual rewrite. Are the far from passionless gods of popular pagan piety a better 'fit' for the Lord? One thing the gods cannot do, says Ovid, is weep: "She spoke, and like a tear (for gods can never weep) a crystal drop fell on her bosom warm." (Ovid, Fasti). But Jesus wept: "Jesus wept." (John 11:35). The Lord hid not from shame and spitting: "I gave my back to the smiters, and my cheeks to them that plucked off the hair: I hid not my face from shame and spitting." (Isaiah 50:6). How the pagan gods reacted to human mistreatment is displayed by Dionysus in the Homeric Hymn: they not only get mad, they get even, turning their human tormentors into various gruesome and unwelcome things. Much as Bart Ehrman wants to squeeze Jesus into the mold of a pagan god, He does not naturally fit.

Problem of Evil

Bart Ehrman wrote a book entitled 'God's Problem,' which purports to address the 'problem of evil.' This book follows a rather peculiar methodology. Announcing that the Bible offers differing answers to the question, 'Why is there suffering?,' Dr. Ehrman proceeds to isolate and address each successive 'answer.' He then evaluates each atomized answer for its comprehensiveness in explaining all suffering. There is a problem right away. Suppose it were true the Bible adduces a variety of causes for the phenomenon 'suffering.' Compare this situation with an airplane crash, for which the authorities advanced 'icing' and 'pilot error' as causes.

They say that nowadays there is rarely a plane crash for which there is one cause, or for that matter a nuclear power plant which could melt down for one reason, because these systems are so well designed that the operators can work around any one problem. But if there are two, three, or four failures, the system becomes unstable, its behavior unpredictable, and the operators make errors because they do not understand what is happening. The appropriate response by the flying public to the airplane crash caused by 'icing' and 'pilot error' is not to isolate the two causes advanced and evaluate them for their suitability in explaining all plane crashes. To say, '"Icing" cannot explain all plane crashes because some planes fall out of the sky in mid-summer,' is certainly true, but what consequences follow therefrom?

This author's method of isolating the 'different explanations' is atomistic in the extreme. The following statement unpacks to, not one, but two 'different' explanations for 'suffering:'

"Thus saith the LORD; For three transgressions of Israel, and for four, I will not turn away the punishment thereof; because they sold the righteous for silver, and the poor for a pair of shoes..." (Amos 2:6).

There are two, not one 'explanations' for 'suffering' here: a.) God punishes Israel for, among other things, selling the poor for a pair of shoes, and b.) the poor suffer because the wealthy have sold them for a pair of shoes. So one statement, that certain behavior invokes certain consequences, becomes two rival theories of suffering. What is even stranger is that, in the discussion of the 'first explanation,' we will weep for the wicked who are punished, while turning our attention to the second, we will grind our teeth that the wicked have not been punished immediately. Whose side are we on?

In reality, not only does the Bible not offer multiple answers to the question, 'Why is there suffering?,' the Bible never asks the question. That's Gautama Buddha's question, and there is already a levelling present in so formulating the issue. The Bible authors never for one moment thought there should be an equality of outcomes between the wicked and the righteous. If the wicked suffer, then they darn well ought to, not so the righteous. If difficulties arise, it is within that framework. When Israel bound itself to the Law Covenant of Deuteronomy 28, they were binding themselves, not only to God, but to each other. Anyone who has ever gone surety on a loan for another person can already sense a potential problem. A righteous remnant cannot save the nation from the operation of the curses of Deuteronomy 28. Why did Israel fall to Assyria and Judah to Babylon? Because God lives up to His promises.

But then when we look at a private individual, Job, who is not even under the law, our perspective is already different. Part of the reason the Bible gives 'different answers' is because these are different questions, not the same, never asked, one. There is a tendency, even in this life, for God to lift up the righteous and cast down the wicked, but such is not seen in every case, for reasons beyond our perception. Not until Job, his body consumed by worms, stands by his Redeemer, will he be vindicated. But given the gulf between God's grandeur and man's smallness, demanding justice is out of place, as he comes to realize. To continually interject the same question: a question the Bible never asks once, let alone multiple times,-- is to grab the text by the neck and throttle it, not to let the text speak.

Given the inexplicable methodology here employed, the reader is further perplexed to learn the author was driven "kicking and screaming" out of the Christian fold, purportedly by just these inept and inconsequential arguments:


Atheist Answer Ingratitude
Nemesis Christian Answer
Entitlement Brevity of Life
Potter and the Clay Flat Earth
River in Egypt Siddhartha Gautama
The Donkey and the Straw Catch-22
Bible Contradictions Ethiopian Famine
Pass Through the Fire Not to Worry



Suffering Servant

Christians understand the suffering servant of Isaiah 53 to be Jesus Christ:

"He is despised and rejected by men,
A Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.
And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him;
He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.
Surely He has borne our griefs
And carried our sorrows;
Yet we esteemed Him stricken,
Smitten by God, and afflicted.
But He was wounded for our transgressions,
He was bruised for our iniquities;
The chastisement for our peace was upon Him,
And by His stripes we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
We have turned, every one, to his own way;
And the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.
He was oppressed and He was afflicted,
Yet He opened not His mouth;
He was led as a lamb to the slaughter,
And as a sheep before its shearers is silent,
So He opened not His mouth.
He was taken from prison and from judgment,
And who will declare His generation?
For He was cut off from the land of the living;
For the transgressions of My people He was stricken.
And they made His grave with the wicked—
But with the rich at His death,
Because He had done no violence,
Nor was any deceit in His mouth.
Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise Him;
He has put Him to grief.
When You make His soul an offering for sin,
He shall see His seed, He shall prolong His days,
And the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in His hand.
He shall see the labor of His soul, and be satisfied.
By His knowledge My righteous Servant shall justify many,
For He shall bear their iniquities." (Isaiah 53:3-11).

The people protested to Jesus that the Messiah must remain forever: "The people answered Him, “We have heard from the law that the Christ remains forever..." (John 12:34). So where does the Old Testament actually say that the Messiah must die?: One place is Isaiah 53: "And they made His grave with the wicked—But with the rich at His death..." (Isaiah 53:9).

Arguing in a circle as he is wont to do, Bart Ehrman insists the Suffering Servant cannot be the Messiah, because the Messiah must rule in glory:




  • “Doesn't the Hebrew Bible talk about the suffering messiah? Doesn't it describe the crucifixion in such passages as Psalm 22 and Isaiah 53, looking forward to the fulfillment brought by Jesus?...
  • “This is a source of genuine confusion among many Christians, but it doesn't really need to be. The fact is that if you simply read Psalm 22 and Isaiah 53, as I pointed out in my earlier discussions of these passages, you see that the word messiah never occurs. Jewish readers of these passages in antiquity did not think that they referred to the messiah. They may have been referring to someone who was dear to God who suffered horribly, but this person was not the messiah. And why not? Because the messiah was not supposed to be someone who suffered and died, but someone who ruled in glory.”
  • (Bart Ehrman, 'God's Problem,' p. 149).




The Nation of Israel cannot be the suffering servant as Dr. Ehrman claims, because of the covenant. God's deal with Israel is laid out in Deuteronomy 28, and there is no provision for the nation to suffer for the sins of others; thus to treat the nation would be in violation of God's solemn covenant. Some Jewish readers have indeed noticed that the Suffering Servant has to be the Messiah (a word which occurs very rarely in the Old Testament):

"The ancient Jews understood this of the Messiah; in one place they say,

'chastisements are divided into three parts, one to David and the fathers, one to our generation, and one to the King Messiah; as it is written, "he was wounded for our transgressions; and bruised for our iniquities...'" (Mechilta apud Yalkut, par. 2. fol 90. 1.) (John Gill, Exposition of the Bible, Isaiah 53).

It is true that an individual person, as the Suffering Servant plainly is, can represent a people. It is also true that a people can represent an individual. Israel is the "son" of God in Hosea 11:1:

"When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son." (Hosea 11:1).

Matthew understands this of the Messiah (Matthew 2:15):




Dr. Ehrman would have it understood that the Suffering Servant, who bears another's transgressions, is actually suffering on his own behalf, punished for his own crimes:

"As I tried to show earlier, the prophet himself identifies this 'suffering servant' as the nation of Israel (e.g., Isa. 49:3: 'You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will be glorified.'). In its original context, Isaiah 53 was insisting that the suffering of the exiles in Babylon had 'paid' for the sins of the nation and that, as a result, salvation could now come. The people would be forgiven and returned to their land..." (Bart Ehrman, 'God's Problem,' p. 139).

This interpretation is altogether impossible, because Isaiah's Servant is innocent not guilty: "Because He had done no violence, nor was any deceit in His mouth..." This passage cannot refer to the Babylonian exile, characterized in the Bible as God's just punishment of the nation of Israel for its disregard of the law. The innocent Servant suffers for the sins of another, not His own. The Servant is "righteous" (verse 11), which is not how we describe a criminal sent to prison as punishment for his crimes.

The idea that Isaiah's 'Servant' is the Messiah is found also in the Targum of Jonathan:

"For example, where Yahweh says 'Behold my servant' in Isaiah 42:1 and 52:13, the Targum of Jonathan adds the interpretative word 'Messiah.'" (F. F. Bruce, 'New Testament History,' p. 315).



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