Bart Ehrman Answered by Scholars

Dr. Bart Ehrman is raising significant questions about the reliability of the Bible. In an engaging way, he is questioning the credibility of Christianity. His arguments are not new, which he readily admits. Numerous Biblical scholars profoundly disagree with his findings. This site provides responses to Dr. Ehrman’s provocative conclusions.

Ehrman Project: Question. Engage. Respond

Comments on Peter Williams vs Bart Ehrman Debate on the Historical Reliability of the Gospels

Two comments from readers:
1) I watched the debate between Peter Williams and Bart Erhman as well as Erhman’s other presentations over Youtube. Williams arguments are persuasive but he was uncomfortably defensive in contending with a combative and skilled debater like Erhman. Erhman position is that one can accept the gospels and the New Testament writings from the theological point of view and I suppose he meant by faith but not from the rigorous analysis of historians. Would appreciate your thoughts on this.

My Response:
Bart Ehrman attributes his loss of faith to his study of early manuscripts of the gospels. He shared that he grew up as a fundamentalist (note his journey from Moody Bible Institute to Wheaton College and then to Princeton seminary) who upheld a rigid understand of inerrancy. Following his rigid understanding of inerrancy, Ehrman insists that if God inspired the writers he wouldn’t have allowed scribal errors or textual variants. As such,  Ehrman abandoned his faith when he was exposed to manuscript variants during his seminary studies. The basis of Ehrman’s faith couldn’t have been more flimsy or misplaced. It is certainly indefensible. Ehrman’s view of inerrancy is uncommon as it would be hard to find a conservative scholar working with biblical manuscripts and Christian origins who actually who shares Ehrman’s rigid view of inerrancy. However, unlike Ehrman, conservative scholars do not seem to be troubled by the existence of manuscript variants. Perhaps, Ehrman has other hidden reasons that led him to abandon his faith. Indeed, Ehrman continues to rely on his distorted view of inerrancy as a fig leaf to camouflage the real reason for his loss of faith which is probably a deeper problem of the heart. That he continues to stigmatize conservatives with his earlier distorted view of inerrancy suggests that it serves as a convenient strawman for him in his writings. Continue reading “Comments on Peter Williams vs Bart Ehrman Debate on the Historical Reliability of the Gospels”

Peter Williams Shows the Right Way to Debate Bart Ehrman

Lydia McGrew reviews a recent debate with Bart Ehrman, and argues that Bible scholar Peter J Williams offers a model for dispensing common sense – The Right Way to Debate Bart Ehrman

The hallmark of Williams’ responses to Ehrman was his use of common sense, both in presenting his own case and in responding to Ehrman’s objections. Williams’ case for the reliability of the Gospels in this debate is based in part upon a compendium of fascinating external confirmations, such as name statistics, measurements, and topography. Pace Ehrman, these small details do constitute evidence that, as Williams says in his book Can We Trust the Gospels?, the authors knew their stuff. The small, difficult things that the evangelists get right are all the more impressive given the major upheavals in social customs and culture in Palestine, and the dispersal of the inhabitants, after the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70…

This emphasis on details is highly relevant to Ehrman’s attempts to characterize the Gospels as unreliable because they were, he says, written at multiple removes from the events they describe and hence corrupted over time by a “telephone game” process of transmission. In making this argument Ehrman repeatedly tries to emphasize the fact that the Gospels were written down several decades after their events. Williams rightly counters by pointing out that the Gospels do not have specific dates on them and that we should look at the evidences within them of their coming from those close to the events. Even though Luke, for example, was not an eyewitness of Jesus’ ministry, it does not follow that Luke recorded stories that had been repeated many times as in the telephone game–a point Ehrman repeatedly ignores. Continue reading “Peter Williams Shows the Right Way to Debate Bart Ehrman”

Why Affirm Biblical Inerrancy and Ignore Missing Original Manuscripts and Other Errors? Part 2: Debating with Bart Ehrman

Ehrman’s Equivocation and the Inerrancy of the Original Text

Peter Williams did well in his recent debate with Bart Ehrman [Unbelievable? Peter J Williams and Bart Ehrman – Are the Gospels historically reliable?] although I wish he were more aggressive and forcefully challenged Ehrman’s presuppositions of secular historiography. Yes, Ehrman is a world-class expert in textual criticism, but he is a biased secular historian pretending to write objective history of Christianity. His competency in theology certainly lags behind his expertise as a textual critic.

Evangelical theologians have not done as well in their debates with Ehrman because they allow Ehrman to dictate the terms of the debates. Ehrman always insists that he will only answer questions on history and not theology whenever his opponent raises an issue which would require value judgment (theological judgment). But in truth, Ehrman is constantly making value judgments in his interpretation of the historical data based on his secular presuppositions. His opponents should remind him of the hermeneutical principle framed by the great scholar Rudolph Bultmann that “no exegesis is without presuppositions, inasmuch as the exegete is not a tabula rasa but on the contrary, approaches the text with specific questions or with a specific way of asking questions and thus has a certain idea of the subject matter with which the text is concerned.” In reality, Ehrman is doing history with unacknowledged theological presuppositions all the time as he accepts as relevant historical data only what fits his presumed epistemological framework. Proceeding with this restrictive and skeptical mindset, it is not surprising that Ehrman excels in his role as a spoiler rather than as a scholar offering constructive history of Christian origins. Ehrman’s opponents should call his bluff to be an objective historian when they debate with him. Continue reading “Why Affirm Biblical Inerrancy and Ignore Missing Original Manuscripts and Other Errors? Part 2: Debating with Bart Ehrman”

Why Affirm Biblical Inerrancy and Ignore Missing Original Manuscripts and Other Errors?

Sadly, it is no longer a surprise for Malaysians to come across pastors and seminarians who reject the historic doctrine of biblical inerrancy. The two common reasons given for rejecting inerrancy are (1) we cannot ignore the historical errors or discrepancies found in the Bible. Examples of discrepancies include the confused sequence of events describing Jesus’ healing of blind Bartimaeus, the death of Judas, Jesus’ cleansing of the Temple and Luke’s ‘erroneous’ dating of the Roman census at the time when Quirinius was the governor of Syria etc. and (2) we do not have the original manuscripts of the Bible. All that we have today are flawed copies.

(1) Alleged historical errors
These alleged discrepancies are straw men. We may conclude that the biblical text is in error only if we can demonstrate that it is in conflict with clear and unambiguous evidence given in other reliable historical sources.  However, the evidence from the extra-biblical sources remains inconclusive and its interpretation is disputed among scholars.  There is no necessity to presume that the biblical sources must be in error just because we are presently unable to integrate seamlessly the biblical accounts with other historical accounts. In instances where there is controversy among scholars (e.g. the conquest of Canaan by Joshua), there is room to maintain an agnostic position in the details, pending further information gleaned from more archaeological research and historical investigation. Continue reading “Why Affirm Biblical Inerrancy and Ignore Missing Original Manuscripts and Other Errors?”

In Defence of Prophetic Authorship and Unity of the Book of Isaiah. Part 2/2

I. Summary of Defence of the Isaianic authorship by Gleason Archer
[Gleason Archer, the legendary professor of Old Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Chicago (he modestly told me in 1984 that he only knew 28 languages although rumours were that he knew many more), wrote the following discussion as a supplement to his rebuttal of the critical arguments for source division of Isaiah 1-39 and Isaiah 40-66 based on “Alleged Differences in Theme and Subject Matter,” and “Alleged Differences in Language and Style.”]

Additional Proofs of the Genuineness of Isaiah 40–66

1. First of all it should be noted that Jesus ben Sirach (48:22–25) clearly assumes that Isaiah wrote chapters 40–66 of the book of Isaiah. E. J. Young notes, “The tradition of Isaianic authorship appears as early as Ecclesiasticus.

2. The New Testament writers clearly regard the author of Isaiah I and Isaiah II to be one and the same. Many of the New Testament quotations could be interpreted as referring to the book merely according to its traditional title, but there are other references which clearly imply the personality of the historic Isaiah himself. Continue reading “In Defence of Prophetic Authorship and Unity of the Book of Isaiah. Part 2/2”

In Defence of Prophetic Authorship and Unity of the Book of Isaiah Part 1/2

The Authorship of Isaiah: A Straight-Forward Biblical Defence
by Dr. Leong Tien Fock, (PhD in Semitic Languages and Literatures)

Assessment of current scholarship, both critical and conservative

According to An Introduction to the Old Testament, an “evangelical” book that is slightly “liberal,” by Tremper Longman III and Raymond B. Dillard (2006: 309-10):

In many respects, contemporary critical opinion about Isaiah has recovered from the excesses that characterized scholarship in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. The consensus among critical scholars has moved in the direction of acknowledging much of what was dear to conservatives: that Isaiah is not the result of a haphazard accident and internally contradictory, but rather the book as a whole shows a unity of themes and motifs. The tenor of much of the debate has shifted from focus on dissecting the text to recover sources and settings to efforts to expound the coherence and unity of the text as it exists. Arguments from conservatives for unity of authorship based on common themes and vocabulary have now in large part been taken over and pressed into service as arguments for a redactional unity in the book [italics added].

To be sure, critical and conservative opinion remain divided on the issue of authorship. Although there is a growing consensus about the overall unity of Isaiah, for critical scholarship it is a unity forged through a history of redaction rather than a unity that derives from a single individual author. Continue reading “In Defence of Prophetic Authorship and Unity of the Book of Isaiah Part 1/2”

Inerrancy of the Bible: Defined and Defended. Part 1

I. Clarification of Terms E.J. Young provides a precise definition for each of the terms “inerrancy” and “infallibility” of the Bible: Infallible: “By the term infallible as applied to the Bible, we mean simply that the Scripture possesses an indefectible authority. As our Lord himself said “it cannot be broken” (John 10:35). It can never … Continue reading “Inerrancy of the Bible: Defined and Defended. Part 1”

I. Clarification of Terms

E.J. Young provides a precise definition for each of the terms “inerrancy” and “infallibility” of the Bible:

Infallible: “By the term infallible as applied to the Bible, we mean simply that the Scripture possesses an indefectible authority. As our Lord himself said “it cannot be broken” (John 10:35). It can never fail in its judgments and statements. All that it teaches is of unimpeachable, absolute authority, and cannot be contravened, contradicted, or gainsaid. Scripture is unfailing, incapable of proving false, erroneous, or mistaken.”
Inerrant: “By this word [Inerrant] we mean that the Scriptures possess the quality of freedom from error. They are exempt from the liability to mistake, incapable of error. In all their teachings they are in perfect accord with the truth.” [E.J. Young, Thy Word Is Truth (Eerdmans, 1957), p. 113]

For our purpose, we shall use Paul Feinberg’s celebrated definition of ‘inerrancy’:  “Inerrancy means that when all facts are known, the Scriptures in their original autographs and properly interpreted will be shown to be wholly true in everything that they affirm, whether that has to do with doctrine or morality or with the social, physical, or life sciences.” Paul Feinberg, “The Meaning of Inerrancy” in Inerrancy, ed. Norman Geisler (Grand Rapids: Zondervan 1979), 294.

However,  some Western theologians who no longer believe that the Bible is inerrant  prefer to describe the Bible as “infallible”. In the process, they use the word “infallibility” as a short-hand for “limited inerrancy”, that is, the view that the Bible contains historical and scientific errors while remaining infallible in matters of faith and salvation. Unfortunately, this redefinition is a departure from classical theological discourse when the word ‘inerrancy’ meant the Bible does not err, and “infallibility” meant the Bible cannot err.

In contrast, Article XI of the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy (CSBI) emphasizes: “We affirm that Scripture, having been given by divine inspiration, is infallible, so that, far from misleading us, it is true and reliable in all the matters it addresses. We deny that it is possible for the Bible to be at the same time infallible and errant in its assertions. Infallibility and inerrancy may be distinguished, but not separated.” The two terms ‘infallible’ and ‘inerrant’ are, in context, inextricable. In short, inerrancy and infallibility affirm that the whole of Scripture is true and not only parts of it. Finally, the focus of inerrancy is not limited to issues of factual accuracy in Scripture. It is primarily concerned about the authority of Scripture. Thus, CSBI begins in Article 1, “We affirm that the Holy Scriptures are to be received as the authoritative Word of God.” Continue reading “Inerrancy of the Bible: Defined and Defended. Part 1”

Historical Criticism and Textual Interpretation – Part 3/3.

Part 3: Biblical History & Textual Interpretation Related Posts: Part 1/3: Contested Foundations of Archaeology Part 2/3: Archaeological Evidence – A Reality Check God’s verbal revelation to Israel is inscribed in written texts. The inspired authors of scripture crafted the revealed words into whole texts and into differing literary forms, such as narrative, wisdom literature, … Continue reading “Historical Criticism and Textual Interpretation – Part 3/3.”

Part 3: Biblical History & Textual Interpretation

Related Posts:

Part 1/3: Contested Foundations of Archaeology

Part 2/3: Archaeological Evidence – A Reality Check

God’s verbal revelation to Israel is inscribed in written texts. The inspired authors of scripture crafted the revealed words into whole texts and into differing literary forms, such as narrative, wisdom literature, poetry and prophetic proclamation. Narratives comprise a significant portion of the inspired texts. These narratives depict a literary constructed world (textual world) which is meaningfully related to the real world. That is to say, the literary constructed world necessarily conforms to the requirements of the real world in order to present a world that bears semblance to empirical reality or life as we experience. This may be represented diagrammatically in figure 1

Sailhamer Interpretation Fig1

 

As a reader reads a historical narrative he is ‘drawn’ into the world of the text, but the text also makes an “ostensive reference” to the real world behind the text which may also be accessed by the reader by other means, e.g. archaeology, relevant historical texts etc. But the two worlds (the world of the text and the background real world) must not be confused or identified. Continue reading “Historical Criticism and Textual Interpretation – Part 3/3.”

Historical Criticism and Textual Interpretation – Part 2/3

Part 2: Archaeological Evidence – A Reality Check Related Post Part 1: Contested Foundations of Archaeology Part 3: Biblical History and Textual Interpretation Why do controversies rage among archaeologists whose expertise is of the highest order? Perhaps a reality check on the nature of archaeological evidence is in order. Edwin Yamauchi points out in his … Continue reading “Historical Criticism and Textual Interpretation – Part 2/3”

Part 2: Archaeological Evidence – A Reality Check

Related Post

Part 1: Contested Foundations of Archaeology

Part 3: Biblical History and Textual Interpretation

Why do controversies rage among archaeologists whose expertise is of the highest order? Perhaps a reality check on the nature of archaeological evidence is in order. Edwin Yamauchi points out in his book The Stones and the Scriptures that archaeological evidence is inherently fragmentary because of the following contingencies of history:

1) The fraction that has survived (this is self-evident).
2) The fraction that has been surveyed. All told, close to 2,000 sites were examined by the Israeli teams, of which about 800 were previously unknown.
3) The fraction that has been excavated. Way back in 1963, only 150 of 5000 sites were excavated and only 26 were major excavations. More than 1000 new sites have been identified since then.
4) The fraction that has been examined. With limited sampling from excavation, negative conclusions can be premature and dangerous. Continue reading “Historical Criticism and Textual Interpretation – Part 2/3”