Answering Bart Ehrman

Jack Sprat Who Is
Ancient Literacy Pagan Readers
Quick Learners Corruption
Thy Word is Settled Happenstance
Handmaids Spelling Bee
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).

Admittedly it is difficult to fathom how the Jesus Seminar's non-apocalyptic 'Jesus' could find himself sandwiched between the apocalyptically-minded John the Baptist and His own apocalyptist first followers. John Dominic Crossan tries to square the circle, giving us a 'Jesus' who is both apocalyptist and non-apocalyptist: "Even Jesus had not always seen things that way. Earlier he had received John's baptism and accepted his message of God as the imminent apocalyptic judge." (John Dominic Crossan, Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography, p. 195). No doubt a later generation will rediscover the non-apocalyptic 'Jesus,' because that is the magic of secular 'Jesus' scholarship: all their thrashing and churning ensures full employment for everybody, while it also rules out any possibility of progress.

Is it not apparent by now that whatever it is this undisciplined discipline does, it does not lead back to the historical Jesus? Their approach is to take a hammer and break the Biblical Jesus into shards, then taking up one shard with tweezers, to proclaim it as the authentic one, and its rivals as late and inauthentic concretions. As should be apparent from the start, this approach cannot lead to consensus: "What one Jesus reconstruction leaves aside, the next one takes up and makes its cornerstone. . .The historical Jesus (if there was one) might well have been a messianic king, or a progressive Pharisee, or a Galilean shaman, or a magus, or a Hellenistic sage. But he cannot very well have been all of them at the same time." (Price, Robert M. (2000). Deconstructing Jesus, pp. 15–16, quoted in Wikipedia article). Most of these people in the 'Jesus Seminar' crowd resemble cult-leaders, each peddling a new-and-improved 'Jesus' who will make your life better, if only you knew him. They deal with rival producers by discrediting them. Thus, one with a larger following, like Bart Ehrman, will set himself up as pope and excommunicate those with a smaller, or less credible, following, like Robert Price, whose youthful internet atheist following is, indeed, not very respectable. Instead of discarding the 'historical Jesus,' on grounds He cannot be known,— and He certainly cannot, using a methodology which has amply demonstrated its worthlessness,— a better approach is simply to discard this disreputable pseudo-scholarly endeavor.

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 'newly-minted 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. Latterly Donald Trump achieved success by squaring the circle, promoting old-line AFL-CIO policies like 'fair trade versus free trade,' combined with the social issues that caused this constituency to jump ship to the GOP.

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 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
Ignore the Testimony
Lord of All
Resurrection in the Flesh
Four Gospels
Pagan Anti-Semitism
Bad Greek
Police State
It's Plato

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 accelerates at the end toward the subterranean regions. Liberal Christianity is a religion that cannot make converts and cannot retain its own second generation members. It can do nothing but decline. 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).

God did write the Bible, using people as His instrument. Our author's vision of the world is one-dimensional: if God wrote the Bible, then man did not; if man, then not God. This simplistic way of thinking will appear again and again in his presentation. Complexity and nuance are not what he does. It is a mystery why liberals in the main-line churches still take this tack, because a God who cannot speak to people, never mind walking on water, a God whose feeble whisper must be amplified by high-tech equipment before anyone can detect the signal, is a pretty dysfunctional God. If He can't even write a book, a feat accomplished by numerous modest and unassuming human beings; they even used to have a Book-of-the-Month Club,— then what can He do? Why do they even claim to be theists? Bart, at least, has put all that behind him.

Ancient Literacy

Lowballing ancient literacy is not a new strategy for the destructive critics. Rudolf Bultmann based his work on the belief that the inhabitants of the first century lived in an oral culture rather than a written one. The savants of the 'Jesus Seminar' estimated ancient literacy, whether at Athens, Jerusalem, or Rome, at 2-3%. Ehrman, who has at times provided literacy figures as ridiculously low as 1%, wants it understood this was an "oral culture:"

"...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 razzmatazz about an 'oral culture' instead to look at 'Against Verres,' in which Cicero accuses Verres, the Roman governor of Sicily, of stealing stuff. Can you verify Ehrman's claims? 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? We are talking after all about somebody who writes like this: "People today— both believers and nonbelievers— remember him in very different ways. And people always have. Even the first people to remember him. Even his disciples. Even the authors of our Gospels." (Ehrman, Bart D. Jesus Before the Gospels: How the Earliest Christians Remembered, Changed, and Invented Their Stories of the Savior (p. 10).) 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? Why does Cicero present well-reasoned prose, while Dr. Ehrman offers oracular baby-talk? 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; thus, we moderns boast that we are unlike those benighted people over there and back then, who made stuff up. Truth to tell, some of them did make stuff up, but so do we. The plain reality is, there is no one who makes stuff up like the 'Jesus' Publishing Industry makes stuff up.

Lining up the rogues' gallery, 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 anything we find in the 'Jesus' Publishing Industry. Witnesses in court were expected to testify truthfully: "I will set down his very words, as if I were to bring the very man himself into a court for a witness: 'There was a king of ours whose name was Timaus.'" (preparing to quote Manetho, Flavius Josephus, Against Apion, Book I, Section 14, p. 1824). The consequences for failing to do so could be most unpleasant. The concept of accurate statement was rock solid; whether that standard was always met in those days, or in these days, is another story.

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
False Musaeus Jerome's Vulgate
Publishing Contract

His 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. Was this indeed an "oral culture" that lacked the ability to write things down, thus ensuring their stability?: "Do oral cultures tend to preserve their traditions accurately, since they cannot write them down to ensure that they remain the same every time?" (Ehrman, Bart D. (2016-03-01). Jesus Before the Gospels: How the Earliest Christians Remembered, Changed, and Invented Their Stories of the Savior (p. 14).) Let's do something unprecedented for this crowd and look at the facts:

A Priori Desiderata
Reality It Takes a Village
School-houses Quintilian
Public Library Grants to Education
Normalcy Hellenic Civilization
Voting Child of Destiny
Liberal Education Old Deluder
A Father Set Free Caius and Caia
Down on the Farm Learned Slaves
Women's Literacy Enlightened Audience
Invisible Ink Banquet Menu
Fame and Fortune The Public
Sign-board Fair Warning
Inscriptions Spare No Pains
Those Left Out Shorthand
Caesar's Army Small Print
Writing on the Wall Ordinary
Alexander of Abonoteichus Believe it or Not
Barbarians Balance

Or wait! Maybe the literacy rate's ten percent: ". . .at this time only about 10 percent of the population could read and write, so most communication was oral." (Bart D. Ehrman, How Jesus Became God, p. 91). Wheee! What fun it is when you get to make numbers up! One cannot over-emphasize how essential these painfully low literacy rates are to these people. How do we know that the gospels are not early and authentic? After all, testimony from antiquity, by people who asked the question, where did these documents come from?,— at a time when evidence still remained at hand, answers the question by ascribing the documents to eye-witnesses and associates of eye-witnesses: the gospels are the memoirs of the apostles. How do we know they are not? Because of the child's game called 'Telephone,' or 'Chinese Whispers' for the culturally insensitive. In a circle of children who pass information mouth-to-ear, significant degradation of the message is bound to occur. And so that's the way it was:

  • "One obvious point to stress, which has not occurred to everybody, is this: stories about Jesus were circulating even during his lifetime. Moreover, even then they were not being told only by eyewitnesses. When someone who saw Jesus do or say something then and told someone else who wasn’t there, it is impossible to believe that this other person was forbidden from sharing the news with someone else. Life just doesn’t work that way. Think about any public person you know: the president of the United States, a movie star, a famous author, or even just a popular university professor. People tell stories about them. And other people repeat the stories. Then other people repeat the stories. And the stories obviously are told in different words every time. Thus the stories change. Moreover, stories get made up. You don’t have to take my word for it. Ask any public figure. It is true that the people about whom the stories are told might hear a wild version and correct it. But there is no guarantee that everyone will hear the correction so that from then on they tell the story correctly. On the contrary, non-eyewitnesses continue to tell the story. And yet other stories.

  • "This happens even when people are alive and there are plenty of eyewitnesses who can correct things. If the president has a meeting with his cabinet and word leaks out about what was said there, and it gets reported in the news, and someone in Kansas tells his next-door neighbor about it, then that person tells her husband. Is there an eyewitness in her living room (someone from the president’s cabinet) to make sure that she tells the story correctly?"

  • (Ehrman, Bart D., Jesus Before the Gospels: How the Earliest Christians Remembered, Changed, and Invented Their Stories of the Savior (p. 78-79). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.)

You know, if 10% of the population was literate, then odds are at least one of the disciples was literate, under random sorting. Whoops, the whole case flies out the window! Yet it has not been abandoned. One constant you will note with Bart Ehrman: when the premises which supported a conclusion are withdrawn, the conclusion does not fall; it remains solid and stable, hanging there in mid-air. Why does anyone take these people seriously? The most amazing thing is that, though he sometimes increases his estimate of ancient literacy by a factor of ten, none of the conclusions which followed from the original, absurdly low, estimate of 1% have changed one iota. If the literacy rate was 10% (which is still a bit on the low side), then every little church had at least one literate member. Yet none of them wrote down anything, for the first several decades:

"As it turns out, it is extremely difficult to know what these people believed as soon as they accepted the idea that Jesus had been raised from the dead, in no small measure because we have no writings from them or writings of any kind, in fact, from the first two decades of the Christian movement." (Bart D. Ehrman, How Jesus Became God, p. 213).

Perhaps he only means, they wrote up a storm, but none of it survived. Why, then, does he talk about "preliterary traditions"? If one person in ten among them could write, and they believed they had a message which would change the world, then they wrote for all they were worth. Did he change his estimate of ancient literacy because he grew tired of being laughed at by the Christians he encounters in debates? Or has he changed it? The way this enterprise works, the facts are trimmed to fit the thesis; thus we will probably find ourselves sliding back toward 1% soon enough. They desperately need low literacy lest any think the gospels early and authentic. This is the crux of the matter. If the ancient world was not an overwhelmingly 'oral culture,' and it was not, then their game of 'telephone' never happened. The memoirs of the apostles always exercised a measure of control over story-telling by people in Kansas. The real out-of-control story-telling is by participants in the 'Jesus' Publishing Industry.

They can get away with a scam like this for maybe 30 years or so, and their time with this 'oral culture' nonsense is just about up. They'll have to come up with something else, and they will; they always do. From the time this agenda of discrediting the gospel got started during the misnamed 'Enlightenment,' this dance has gone on, where a new set of implausible ideas is shifted-in for the old set, which even the atheists no longer believe. Who takes Reimarus seriously now, though he still must be lionized as a giant on whose shoulders subsequent generations of 'scholars' stand? What rationalized the absurdly low numbers was the 'cross-disciplinary approach,' which allowed soft Marxist sociologists to define the ancient world, against all evidence from that world. 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 fact it can be readily disproven. In nineteenth century Scandinavia most people worked at small-scale agriculture, fishing and forestry. And they could read and write. Their thesis is that industrialism equates to literacy. They cannot peruse the documentary remains of classical civilization and conclude that the literacy rate was 1%. They cannot examine archaeological sites and determine anything in the ball-park. They can, and do, insist, against all the evidence, that a pre-industrial society cannot have had a literacy rate above 1 or 2%. When you ask them to prove it, they start telling you about medieval Japan.


Pagan Readers

Part of the reason Bart Ehrman low-balls ancient literacy is because he prefers to imagine the pagans weren't readers, at least not of religious literature. The spiritual uplift section of the pagan bookstore was, he imagines, empty:

  • “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, like the little boy noticing the emperor has no clothes 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. But he doesn't withdraw the conclusion, for which Metzger ventured this leap. With these people, the conclusion comes first, the evidence after, if at all. One might like to think their canons for textual criticism were established on the basis of induction, and have a regimen of vigorous empirical testing behind them, to back them up. One could imagine this, but no such thing ever happened.

By the way, is it true that "These religions were almost exclusively concerned with honoring the gods through ritual acts of sacrifice"? No more so than usual. Philostratus, in his Life of Apollonius of Tyana, starts by explaining that Pythagoras was a vegetarian:

"The votaries of Pythagoras of Samos have this story to tell of him, that he was not an Ionian at all, but that, once on a time in Troy, he had been Euphorbus, and that he had come to life after death, but had died as the songs of Homer relate. And they say that he declined to wear apparel made from dead animal products and, to guard his purity, abstained from all flesh diet, and from the offering of animals in sacrifice. For that he would not stain the altars with blood; nay, rather the honey-cake and frankincense and the hymn of praise, these they say were the offerings made to the Gods by this man, who realized that they welcome such tribute more than they do the hecatombs and the knife laid upon the sacrificial basket." (Philostratus, Life of Apollonius of Tyana, Book 1, Chapter 1).

That is because, whether or not it is true that Pythagoras, a revered but shadowy figure hoary with age, was a vegetarian,— the sources are uncertain, though the Pythagoreans did have a distinctive dietary regimen: if anything is certain about the 'historical' Pythagoras, it is that he had an issue with beans,— the man of a more modern era whom Philostratus wished to present to his readers was, as a matter of fact, a vegetarian: "And having said this he [Apollonius] declined to live upon a flesh diet, on the ground that it was unclean, and also that it made the mind gross; so he partook only of dried fruits and vegetables, for he said that all the fruits of the earth are clean." (Philostratus, Life of Apollonius of Tyana, Book 1, Chapter 8). Come again? So he was not a pagan? After all, pagans are people whose religion revolves around sacrificing animals; didn't the man just say: "These religions were almost exclusively concerned with honoring the gods through ritual acts of sacrifice." Back in real life, Apollonius was far from being the only Graeco-Roman pagan holy man who, like the Brahmins, was a vegetarian. Ehrman even quotes one of this tribe, Porphyry. He has not only continued in, but expanded upon, this error. He doubles down in his latest production, 'The Triumph of Christianity,' a romp through church history:

The 'Iliad' as a religious text presents its own set of problems. It strikes 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. 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. Euripides' 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.

For a dose of reality on the topic of literacy, compare what Cicero says: "Consider, in the first place, the national education of the people — a matter on which the Greeks have expended much labor in vain, and which is the only point on which Polybius, who settled among us, accuses the negligence of our institutions. For our countrymen have thought that education ought not to be fixed, nor regulated by laws, nor be given publicly and uniformly to all classes of society." (Cicero, Marcus Tullius. On the Republic, Book IV, Chapter III, Fragments, Delphi Complete Works of Cicero (Kindle Locations 40969-40972)). Notice that Cicero is conceding that, among the pagan Greeks, education was "given publicly and uniformly to all classes of society." You wouldn't know that from listening to these people.

His number for Jewish literacy (sometimes) is 3%, and rather bizarrely he denies that reading rates track with writing: ". . .something like 97 percent of the people in Palestine in Jesus' day could not read or write. And more could do the former than the latter." (Bart Ehrman, Jesus Before the Gospels, pp. 79-80). As should be apparent to the reader, his claim that the gospel stories circulated for forty years by word of mouth without being written down only becomes conceivable under such a very low number. We do not know of any Jewish religious sect that went for 40 years without writing anything; the Essenes did not, the Pharisees did not. Is it really possible Christians wrote nothing for 40 years? Yet Ehrman assures us that the disciples "were all illiterate peasants from rural Galilee" (Bart Ehrman, Jesus Before the Gospels, p. 197):


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 second-tier adherents 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 might have been too busy to put much effort into the project. So there must have been more than a few literate persons in each church, who had both ability and opportunity.

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.


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, and that the text gives its own spiritual attestation:

"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. Certainly quoting the Bible can have no impact on an atheist like Bart Ehrman; no none would expect that. But if God exists, there is a problem with Him writing a book? Never mind calling the worlds into being from nothingness. He keeps running in a tight little tail-chasing circle, where God's purported failure to preserve His word is taken as proof of His non-existence. But is there a Bible? Yes. Then perhaps He has succeeded, at least according to His own lights. You can prove the Bible we have isn't the Bible He wanted?


"It was this theological agenda that lay behind much of the 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. A particular form of the text "happened to survive" because God happened to want that text-form to survive.


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. While there may be intellectual products that grow by slow, gradual accretion, like English Common Law and Wikipedia, that is not really an appealing model for book authorship, given that when the process occurs under the glare of publicity, it does not look anything like that. 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. Bart contradicts himself, for example on whether polytheistic gnosticism or monotheism was the original and authentic form of the Christian revelation, but he is one person. 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; all evidence suggests the book was written over several decades by one author. This has been disputed, but 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 somebody wrote it.' Most books, other than anthologies, are in fact written by one author, 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 in the shrinking main-line churches, 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. Still, while he may frustrate them, he clearly shows by his personal example where they are headed; they should take note. Atheism, and points south, is the end destination. People will worship a God who can part the sea; they will worship a God who can heal the sick and raise the dead. They remain unconvinced as to why they should worship a God who can't even write a book, something feeble mortals can do, even given numerous opportunities to get it right, as the 'liberals' do afford Him.

Spelling Bee

Dr. Ehrman believes that, if there were such a thing as inspiration, then 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 admits 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, most of which are 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 King James Version; after all people in the seventeenth century spelled things differently than we do, and insisting upon the original spelling makes it difficult to understand. Not a word has been changed when spelling is updated. And yet this editor's helpful service, which most people would acknowledge with a 'Thank you, sir,' this author must condemn as a corruption, indeed a falsification.

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. If some fanatic succeeded in excising from our copies of the Bible all disputed verses, and who knows whether some of these people would willingly commit such an act of vandalism, the gospel message would be the same as it now is. The Bible is a very long book, and there is enough redundancy in it that its message is not imperiled by scribal error. The message streams recursively through a variety of passages. If the Book of Exodus were lost, we would still know the story of the exodus, because it is recounted in the psalms. What appears as the main story-line in one book will turn up encapsulated in the subordinate clauses of another. The Bible has a very long memory; Old Testament prophecies begin a new life in the New. There is such a dense web of inter-connections in this book that hacking away at it will dull the axe before it cuts. To throw up our hands and declare this book, or any other, as lost because words are spelled differently is hasty and hysterical. Of course, everyone knows the way to eliminate material from the Bible is to convince the right-thinking folk that their favorite passage is an interpolation; once so convinced, they will push it away with their own hands.

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 King James Version is God-breathed. Without endorsing any of these claims, because each one of these versions has, not only its own beauties, but also its own conundrums, I would still be far from seeing the claim as words conveying no meaning. Yet this persistent idea, of an inspired translation, is incoherent and meaningless under Bart Ehrman's paradigm, where any transformation is destruction. If that's the case, you simply cannot translate. The Muslims think this way about the Koran, and as a result, people pray in a language they only vaguely and imperfectly understand.

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? Personally I have never found the case entirely convincing, at least for the three which I've encountered: the Septuagint, the Vulgate, and the King James Version. But I would never say, I don't understand what these people are saying; it's perfectly clear and cogent. 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. Without wanting to endorse the available candidates as inspired translations, the fact that such an obviously meaningful concept cannot even be articulated under his way of thinking should serve as an adequate reductio ad absurdum for his system.

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 hardly anyone 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 The Twelve
With You

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? In his latest project, 'The Triumph of Christianity,' Ehrman has made the startling discovery, which he breathlessly and eagerly shares with us, his readers, that the secret to Christianity's success was monotheism. Do tell:

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?

The interested inquirer should study this test case, of gnosticism, very carefully, to see whether Ehrman and colleagues are producing a critique with merit. An efficient classification system, realizing that Christianity and gnosticism do not really even belong in the same family or genus of religions,— Christianity is monotheistic, gnosticism explicitly polytheistic,— would assign them to different categories. But, putting our brains in neutral, we must accept that it is bigoted to segregate the two. . .and simultaneously we must be willing to perceive that Christianity, incorporating as it does such completely unlike theologies, is not really worth taking seriously!:

"These internal Christian debates were often filled with vitriol and hatred. Christians called one another nasty names, said ugly things about one another, and pulled out all stops to make their Christian opponents look reprehensible and stupid, denying in many instances, that the opponents even had the right to call themselves Christian." (Bart D. Ehrman, Forged, p. 180).

Horrors, could human beings be so. . .reprehensible, one might almost say, as to deny to other human beings the right to call themselves Christians? Notice, we are not to question that these debates with "one another" were indeed "internal"; so we are told, and so we must believe. The early Christian apologists said the reprehensible thing, denying that the gnostics were Christians. The gnostics were polytheists, as even these people concede:

"Just in the second and third centuries, for example, we know of powerful and influential Christian teaches like Marcion who maintained that there is not just one God, but two Gods. Some Gnostics said there were 30 divine beings, or 365. These Christians claimed that they were right, and that everyone else was wrong." (Bart D. Ehrman, Forged, p. 182).

Who can take seriously a movement so intellectually incoherent that it cannot make up its mind whether there is only one God or 365 of 'em? "Early Christian were nothing if not radically diverse." (Bart D. Ehrman, Forged, p. 182). Except it is not really helpful to classify gnostics and Christians together, since one group believes in many gods, the other in only One, just as it is not helpful to classify Hindus and Christians together, even though some Hindus are willing to accept 'Jesus' into their pantheon, as they are not ultimately fellow travellers. Oh, but, how hateful to say these people are not Christians! Spin, rinse, repeat cycle, roll along this endless loop forever.

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

While there is an immense variability between the various gnostic systems, they all have one feature in common. It is a necessary and inherent feature, because if a bad god made the world, and a good god sent Jesus to save us from the bad god, then there are at least two gods: count 'em up on your fingers or your toes, and see. All gnostic theologies are polytheistic; two is the bottom limit, there is no top limit; it isn't 360, it isn't 30,000. Ehrman actually realizes that gnosticism is polytheistic: "Jesus was the one who provided that knowledge. He came from a divine realm inhabited by an entire range of divinities who had all come into existence in eternity past." (Bart Ehrman, Jesus Before the Gospels, p. 283). Wow, an "entire range of divinities," isn't that awesome! But, um, is that legal under Mosaic law? You know what some people say, "Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One." (Mark 12:29).

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).

It hardly needs stressing that Bart's paradigm, that people in antiquity thought women and slaves are not quite fully human, is not what you'd call progressive. What this author does is like Ripley's Believe it or Not: would you believe, people in antiquity did not even know that men and women belonged to the same species? If you do, I have some land to sell you in Florida; come at low tide, so that you can see it. 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) is precisely through having sex and bearing children that a woman can be saved.”
  • (Bart Ehrman, 'Peter, Paul & Mary Magdalene,' p. 237).

Is this yet another 'Bible Contradiction'? Is there one salvation plan available for men, namely salvation by faith, and a completely diffrent one, unavailable to men, salvation by child-bearing, reserved for women? If such a strange circumstance did obtain, why is there no other mention of it than in this passage, if indeed this passage is so to be taken? Or is the problem here deliberate obtuseness?

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 Fathers, 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. The issues here are not quite as our author states them. 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 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 Mosaic law could not be implemented in its fullness. The question had nothing to do with love and mercy, it had to do with governing authority. Would the Messiah reinstitute the law?: "They were placing Jesus in a dilemma. They reasoned that he could not set aside the law of Moses and clear the woman without so losing the confidence and favor of the people as to frustrate his claim to be Messiah. They thought he would therefore be compelled to condemn the woman. But if he ordered her to be put to death, he would be assuming authority which belonged only to the Roman rulers, and could therefore be accused and condemned as a usurper." (J. W. McGarvey, The FourFold Gospel, Kindle location 7112). His answer surprised them, because love and mercy was not what they expected.

Worse, 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. Our author does not even understand the question, so he cannot share their surprise when the answer does not fit the mold.


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.'


"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 would prefer 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).

So much for the pagans; what would Christians make of an angry god? Some would bow down to worship; Jonathan Edwards, a New England divine, wrote a famous sermon entitled, 'Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.' To Bible-readers, 'anger' and 'God' are not two concepts which self-evidently do not belong together. While the thought of lowly Jesus, meek and mild, accords with some artistic sentiment, there is another side:

"Instead of looking at books and pictures about the New Testament I looked at the New Testament. There I found an account, not in the least of a person with his hair parted in the middle or his hands clasped in appeal, but of an extraordinary being with lips of thunder and acts of lurid decision, flinging down tables, casting out devils, passing with the wild secrecy of the wind from mountain isolation to a sort of dreadful demagogy; a being who often acted like an angry god — and always like a god." (G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy, Kindle location 2233).

There is no pleasing everybody; what shocks the pagans awes some Christians. The fact that the New Testament was not written, in the end, to meet pagan standards, tilts the scales against his novel interpretative demand, that the New Testatment must have been edited to meet pagan theological scruples.

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'? Those impressionable young people under the impression Bart Ehrman is an original thinker should realize that this business about Mark's 'angry' Jesus is atheist boiler-plate:

"In Mark Jesus is essentially human; He yields to emotions; He wonders and asks questions; He is fallible. In Matthew and Luke He passes into a godlike calm and becomes omniscient. Mark, describing the healing of the man with the withered arm, makes Jesus fly into a rage against the Pharisees who objected to miracles on the Sabbath; Matthew and Luke discreetly pass over His anger." (H. L. Mencken, A Treatise on the Gods, Kindle location 2317).

This is already packing an immense interpretive weight onto a miniscule amount of data, but Bart Ehrman's novel spin on the old theme asks even more of the reader. If one reference to Jesus' 'anger' was purportedly edited out, then why weren't the others? To be consistent, 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. No doubt, we are all desperately wicked; that is a Bible truth as well; but we are not so held for purposes of God's providential governance. God is a God of justice, not of the avoidance of suffering. Gautama Buddha discovered, or imagined, that the cessation of conscious existence would mean the end of suffering; one can always hope. The Bible does not wonder why humanity suffers, but why the righteous should do so, when it is the wicked who deserve this outcome. 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. The fact that this is the only question Bart Ehrman knows how to, or cares to, ask, is his problem, not God's problem. 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 Hired Razor
Not to Worry Beauty for Ashes

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).

What actually were the expectations based upon Isaiah 53? According to Ehrman, it is only "Christians today" who interpret the verse in its obvious meaning, "Christians today are, of course, accustomed to thinking that the Jewish messiah was predicted to be one who would suffer and die for the sake of others. In the Jewish world of Jesus's day, however, that's  a view that precisely no one had. Or had ever had." (Bart Ehrman, Jesus Before the Gospels, p. 243). Could that possibly be true?:

Blood Sacrifice Nation Israel
The Messiah Targum of Jonathan
Philo Judaeus Apostolic Preaching

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).

Born at Bethlehem Pierced
O God His Bones
Cast Lots Born of a Virgin
Mother's Children Lifted Up
Stretched Out My Hands On a Donkey
Weeks The Grave
Thirty Pieces of Silver Light to the Gentiles
Out of Egypt House of David
House of My Friends With the Transgressors
Eyes of the Blind With the Rich
I thirst Darkness over the Land
Gall and Vinegar Shame and Spitting
Familiar Friend Son of Man
Den of Thieves Afar Off
E'er the Sun

The way Ehrman tells it, the story of the discipline of Bible criticism is a triumphal march leading from victory onto victory, up to the glorious present. But a passing shadow falls: he realizes the actual findings of prior generations of Bible critics seem mistaken, even risible, today. Thus, Reimarus must needs be a hero, a giant. . .but:

"In the modern day, over 230 years after Reimarus's frontal assault on the Gospels and their portrayal of Jesus was published, virtually no one accepts his specific reconstruction of the life of Jesus, although some aspects of it continue to resurface, sometimes in popular books that do not acknowledge their intellectual lineage when rehashing older views." (Bart Ehrman, Jesus Before the Gospels, p. 57).

Every now and again some dumbkopf will revive one of the old-time Bible critic's researches, not realizing how little value this material has, to the immense embarrassment of people like Ehrman. Reimarus must be dumped, but his conclusion retained: "But on a more general level, throughout the history of scholarship, especially since the nineteenth century, scholars have widely realized that Christians in the early years after Jesus's death were not only altering traditions about Jesus's life and teaching that they inherited, they were also inventing them." (Bart Ehrman, Jesus Before the Gospels, p. 57). Since Reimarus' way of 'proving' his conclusion has become an embarrassment, well, we'll just invent new proofs. There's a problem here? He can't see any reason at all why the beautiful conclusions which followed upon the demonstrably false assertions about the world should be corrected.

Therefore a frantic search must ensue to find new bases for the prior conclusions. The naive observer might expect the conclusions to be dropped, now that the premises upon which they rest are clearly seen as untenable. But this would be naive. Do you think this is dentistry, or civil engineering? This field is very, very important to a lot of people, namely those who 'inherited' Christianity but want to be rid of it. Therefore the conclusions, not the premises, are the stable feature, which will not be abandoned because they are now an unmovable feature of the scholarly consensus. This accounts for the protean character of the field, where they always agree that the Christian's Jesus is nothing at all like the historical Jesus, but each of their own historical 'Jesuses' differs from the others as night differs from day. Like a man running very hard to stay in the same place, while going the wrong way on a people-moving escalator, this fast-moving field must ever rush to keep in the same position. Meanwhile the church keeps rolling on, like old man river, from strength to strength:


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