Dr. Bart Ehrman and the Agnostic Argument against Christianity

Part 1: What Ehrman gets right

By Robin Schumacher

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A June 3rd article that appeared on Christianpost contained an interview with Dr. Bart Ehrman who is a noted author and professor of religion. Ehrman is most famous for his criticisms of the New Testament's reliability, with various books he's produced on the topic reaching the top of certain best seller lists.

The Christianpost interview focused on his skepticism of the New Testament, with very predictable results occurring in the reader comments that followed. Atheists and skeptics high-fived each other, reveling in the fact that they had a credible champion who fuels their hope that the Bible cannot be trusted, while some believers cast disparaging remarks at Ehrman saying he's not worth listening to.

Both sides need to step back from their rhetoric.

Atheists who believe Bart fully sides with them may be surprised to learn what he does support on the topic of Jesus (and what that foundation points to). And Christians who call into question Ehrman's intelligence or skill should understand that he is indeed a very smart and well-trained scholar who deserves respect.

While I have a Ph.D. in New Testament like Ehrman (albeit not from Princeton), I certainly don't pretend to be on the same scholastic playing field as him. However, my educational background has provided me with exposure to the same evidence and arguments on the Bible's trustworthiness as Ehrman's. The fact is the vast majority of his objections to Scripture are not novel and are known to those who pursue advanced theological degrees.

My training leads me to thank Bart for some of the work he's done, while at the same time cross swords with him over the strong skepticism he has on the New Testament's reliability.

Things for Which We Should Thank Bart

It may sound odd for a Christian to thank Ehrman for some of the things he says, but in fact, Ehrman does deserve credit in a number of places.

First, Bart's advice on examining evidence regarding truth claims is a good one. Even though he is somewhat selective with which cats he decides to let out of the truth bag for readers to consider in his books[1], his admonition to put belief systems to the test is spot on.

Next, I appreciate his defense of the historicity of Jesus. In his recent book, Did Jesus Exist?: The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth, Ehrman takes to task the extreme fringe skeptics (the "mythicists") who say Jesus never existed. While mythicist talk may grace the forums of various internet atheist haunts, you won't find a credible historian or university who backs such assertions something Bart demonstrates quite well. Of Jesus, Ehrman says, "One of the most certain facts of history is that Jesus was crucified on orders of the Roman prefect of Judea, Pontius Pilate."[2]

Moreover, Bart also validates the historical lives of the disciples, Paul, and their claims about seeing Jesus alive. Of course, he denies Christ actually rose from the dead, and offers a variety of explanations for what Paul and the other apostles experienced, but he doesn't deny that something happened to change each of them into defenders of Christianity.

We also need to thank Bart for openly calling out and educating the Church on passages in the Bible that the vast majority of theologians recognize as not being part of the original canon. The longer ending of Mark (16:9-19), the section of the woman caught in adultery in John (7:73-8:11), and the 1 John 5:7-8 Trinitarian formula still found in a few Bible translations are all considered inauthentic by most Biblical scholars. Ehrman is right to remind believers of this fact.

Of course, nearly all Bibles clearly omit or mark these passages as suspect in some way, and skeptics should understand that it is through the science of Biblical criticism that such verses are classified as not being known by the early Church nor inspired by God. Bart is certainly not the first to bring these passages to light.

Lastly, I appreciate Bart's honesty in the interview where he admits that it is the logical problem of evil that has turned him from belief in God not any supposed errors in the Bible. Many unbelievers cover the true source of their disbelief with various smokescreens, but I am impressed that Ehrman does not do this.

Continue to Page Two

Dr. Bart Ehrman: The Series

Part 1: What Ehrman gets Right
Part 2: Ehrman's Old Arguments
Part 3: Ehrman's Wrong Conclusions

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Published 6-10-13