Public Ehrman Number One

Yesterday afternoon, in the midst of a million things to get done, Vicky and I napped for a couple of hours. It’s been a very busy few weeks, and it finally caught up with us, so we crashed. It was great while it lasted, getting some sweet hours of sleep. But it too catches up with you. In particular, at two in the morning and you’re still wide awake. That’s what happened to me, but it was alright. I spent the time reading — somehow Vicky managed to sleep!
I have a number of reviews of Bart Ehrman’s recent book Misquoting Jesus – The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why, so I spent the night reading them. It was a very profitable excursion into the world of textual criticism. I definitely came away having learned something.
My understanding of text criticism is limited. I’ve only read D.A. Carson’s The King James Version Debate – A Plea For Realism and G.E. Ladd’s New Testament and Criticism. I’ve also been perusing the Evangelical Textual Criticism blog. Reading the scholarly reviews of Ehrman last night was extremely helpful in seeing text criticism put into practice.
The review I found most helpful was Daniel B. Wallace’s The Gospel According to Bart. It was very well-written and scholarly. Even more importantly, Wallace is very pastorally concerned. Wallace wants to “close the gap” between the academy and the church, and issues like Ehrman’s work prove the importance of such a desire. Wallace and a couple of others have just written a book called Reinventing Jesus: What the Da Vinci Code and Other Novel Speculations Don’t Tell You, and from what I gather it serves as an antidote to Ehrman’s work. I do admit to one problem with Wallace’s review however, and that is his understanding that biblical inerrancy is more of a secondary doctrine. If he means that a person can be a believer without subscribing to inerrancy, I could maybe be pushed into a wall agreeing with him. But I am strongly inclined to think that inerrancy is not merely secondary. And if a Christian doesn’t believe in inerrancy, he/she is likely on the slippery slope to liberalism. It seems that Wallace wants to make it a lesser issue on more of a practical basis because he’s seen too many like Ehrman deny inerrancy and then ultimately deny the faith. This “domino effect” could easily be thwarted, so says Wallace, if we don’t have such a high view of inerrancy. That to me is scary. But other than that, I believe that he quite capably deals with Misquoting Jesus and does so in a manner that displays his care for Ehrman as a person. (A helpful article on inerrancy is John Frame’s Is The Bible Inerrant? As well, Greg Bahnsen’s Inductivism, Inerrancy and Presuppositionalism, gives an apologetic spin)
The second review I that I read was by Michael Kruger who teaches at Reformed Theological Seminary (Charlotte). It can be accessed at Reformation 21. His review was much shorter than Wallace’s and covered some of the same ground, but I found Kruger’s final insights to be particularly helpful. I think that it is here that we get to the crux of the matter with Ehrman, and with all unbelief:

It seems clear that Ehrman has investigated the New Testament documents with an a priori conviction that inspiration requires zero scribal variations—a standard that could never be met in the real historical world of the first century. Ironically, as much as Ehrman claims to be about real history, his private view of inspiration, by definition, prevents there from ever being a New Testament from God that that would have anything to do with real history. Not surprisingly, therefore, Ehrman’s book “concludes” that the New Testament could not be inspired. One wonders whether any other conclusion was even possible.


Ehrman has an a priori commitment against the Scriptures and that commitment shaped his research to conclude that the issue of textual variants destroys our ability to have a true reading of Scripture. It is a theological presupposition that he has tried to justify, but, as the reviews point out, his scholarship does not bear out his claims. I think that Kruger hit the nail on the head with that one.
The final review that I read was by P.J. Williams who teaches at the University of Aberdeen. He is one of the primary contributors to the Evangelical Textual Criticism blog and the
review can be found there. Williams is likely one of the leading text critics in evangelicalism, so I was a bit surprised that he didn’t really deal with Ehrman on a textual criticism level. The review was very good, mind you, but I was half expecting something more technical. Maybe even more interaction with some of Ehrman’s other, more scholarly works. Williams does provide a good synopsis of the book, section by section. He also efficiently dispels the myths that Ehrman conjures about the significance of the number of variants, the nature of variants and the fact that the overwhelming majority of the variants have no effect on key doctrine.
All in all, these reviews were very helpful to me. Although I have yet to read Ehrman’s book (due to lack of funds), I do feel that I have a good grasp of what he said and how to answer his claims. Even a novice like me.
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Filed under apologetics, bart ehrman, books, dan wallace, don carson, john frame, new testament, textual criticism

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