Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Ehrman Project

Is the Bible historically reliable?
Did scribes doctor the MSS?
How do we explain the Bible’s 400.000 errors?
Why did certain texts make it into the canon
Why does a “loving God” permit evil in our world?
What answer does the Bible give for the problem of evil?
Who wrote the gospels?
Couldn’t it all have been a conspiracy?
What is inerrancy?

These questions are not new, but in his scholarship Bart Ehrman has raised them again in an engaging way. A new website has recently been launched which seek to provide responses to Ehrman’s provocative conclusions from a conservative and apologetic standpoint

The website features several videoclips by Alvin Plantinga, D. A. Carson, Ed Gravely, Michael Kruger, Darell Bock, Ben Witherington and Daniel Wallace. I haven’t looked at them yet.

HT: Dustin Smith


  1. IMHO there's a strategic mistake in use of media here. Ehrman has technical works underlying popular books underlying media appearances. The site should be built with the written text taking centre stage and the writing illustrated by good videos. If the videos are centre stage then you need to outperform Ehrman (like Colbert does).

  2. I'm glad someone is setting up this new site. Readers of Ehrman's books deserve an alternative scholarly view of these things. I am concerned about the doubt he sows. (And how is it that an agnostic can be so certain about his uncertainties?)

    I wrote Ehrman this open letter:

  3. In one of the YouTube videos of the Ehrman Project, Dr. Wallace does not share a very balanced description of the evidence about Mark 16:9-20.

    At about 1:35, he says, "Not only do our earliest Greek manuscripts lack it, but both Eusebius and Jerome, church fathers from the fourth and fifth centuries, said, The manuscripts we've looked at, the vast majority of the Greek ones don't have it. Even though today, the vast majority of the Greek manuscripts do have it. So what was the majority reading in the fourth century and the fifth century is different than it is today. And then you have the earliest versions - the Latin, the Coptic, and the Syriac - didn't have it originally, in their earliest versions."

    Does anyone think that is an accurate description of the testimony of Eusebius and Jerome? Or that it should be a given that the ratio of MSS seen by one person for/against a reading is a safe measure of the contents of the majority of MSS throughout the Roman Empire at the time? Or that one anomalous Latin MS (k) merits being referred to as the earliest Latin version?

    The organizers of the Ehrman Project seem to have sensed a need to correct misrepresentations. But is there any way to similarly encourage textual critics to speedily correct miscitations and misrepresentations, and to present the evidence more thoroughly and fairly, instead of placing blinders upon listeners and readers via selecting what they do and don't learn about?

    Or, failing that, should there be a website similar to the Ehrman Project where miscitations and one-sided evidence-descriptions can be exposed as such? Such a thing does not sound like it would be all sunshine. But what other options are there, when certain writers seem determined to present evidence selectively, or when they seem incapable of repairing simple citation-errors?

    Yours in Christ,

    James Snapp, Jr.

  4. The (second) Colbert interview was truly amazing. Colbert managed to keep his audience with humor and yet still fiercely engage Ehrman. Since the first interview was genial, I wonder if Ehrman was expecting the rather fierce pounding he took.

    Anyway, P.J. Williams makes a good point. I was rather disappointed that the videos were so brief and edited. They are short, clear, and to the point, but they need the backing of longer videos and/or transcripts.

  5. The site does provide links to some good reviews of Ehrman's publications.

    I have a question for you Evangelical Textual Critics. Do you think that Evangelical Scholars have responded to Ehrman's issues in a manner that would help the regular guy in the pew?

  6. Paul,
    I can't say that much success has been achieved in the mind of the regular guy in the pew. After all, look at this post above. I don't know who it is (Dustin Smith?) who originated the wording 'How do we explain the Bible's 400.000 errors?' However, this illustrates that the effect of what Ehrman actually says is actually to suggest a situation in people's minds worse even than he actually says. After all Ehrman began talking about 200,000-400,000 variants, most of which are known to be late secondary corruptions and have never been printed in any Bible at all. Somehow these variants become 'errors' in THE Bible. Where do we start when the gap between perception and reality is so big?

  7. Dr Williams,

    Thanks for your response.

    Most of the discussions I have seen have focused on whether the variations are theologically important or not. I think that is an essential discussion and is probably the most important issue in the academic world. But for those in the pews who read Ehrman they struggle with the fact that there are any variations. How important a variation is doesn't even come in to it.

    I think that the big weakness in Ehrman's armour is his presupposition that if God inspired the originals He must of necessity inspire the scribes who copied the manuscripts down through the ages. From what I can see (and I do not have access to Orthodox Corruption) Ehrman does not discuss this anywhere. Nor does he discuss any suggestions why God may have allowed variations and offer arguments for those positions being unreasonable. If a doctoral student based his thesis on such a broad presupposition wouldn't you expect some defence of it?


  8. It seems one of my own fears about this 'project' is somewhat confirmed, in that Campus Crusade is using it as a means to promote it heavily on campus at UNC. See the comment on Mike Bird's post from a UNC alum.

    I think O'Neil should make it very clear that he is a campus minister for CCC and not a colleague of Ehrman's, as the site leads one to believe.

  9. Paul asks "Do you think that Evangelical Scholars have responded to Ehrman's issues in a manner that would help the regular guy in the pew?"

    It is a great question, but who do we mean by "evangelical scholars"?

    I am biased, of course, about the work of the textual critics, so I won't comment on them. I think, however, that I can see some room for improvement on the part of evangelical theologians.

    And I think that much is demonstrated very well by another of your comments:

    "But for those in the pews who read Ehrman they struggle with the fact that there are any variations. How important a variation is doesn't even come in to it."

    I think that's exactly right. (or, at least, it jives with my experience).

    Evangelical theology in theory has a doctrine of scripture's inspiration that includes both divine inspiration and human authorship. In practice, however, I think they have trouble balancing the two, and usually end up erring on the side of the divine. This results in an overly divine, overly exalted view of the scriptures, and a sublimation of their humanity. Then they often don't see the problem with that, because it all seems very pious, eh?

    The problem is though that after inspiration and composition came transmission, and as the study of textual criticism reveals, transmission was a very, very human process.

    Ehrman has an agenda (as we all do), but for the most part I think he is really just presenting the facts of that human transmission process.

    It is when the reality of that human process meets the overly divine perception of the scriptures that the evangelical in the pew has problems. That's when they sit there and, as you wrote, don't care so much about the importance of the variants so much as wonder in shock and horror how God could have allowed any variants at all. Their understatement of the scripture's humanity makes for a rude wake-up when they encounter the humanity of the transmission process.

    In my opinion, the problem there is that the many evangelicals in the pew have been ill-equipped with a house-of-cards doctrine of inspiration. Any time your doctrine is troubled by an encounter with the facts, I think that's a sign that your doctrine was ill constructed.

    So I think the onus is on evangelical theologians to build a better doctrine of inspiration. A more robust doctrine, one that embraces the messy human history of the text.

    I'll never forget a few years ago at SBL when Ehrman was launching his misquoting Jesus book, and so they had a debate between him and a few others. Ehrman summarised the introduction, his argument about how the variants show that there is uncertainty about the wordS of God, and if there is uncertainty about the wordS of God, then there is uncertainty about the Word of God, and if there is uncertainty, how can we believe that it was inspired in the first place, etc. But there at the debate, Marcus Borg of all people hauled off and said to him "no way!" and proceeded to explain how in the history of Christianity the "Word of God" as a theological concept had always, always been bigger than just the scriptures themselves, and had never been confined to just the words of the page. The Word of God is eternal. That, I think, is what evangelicals in the pew should be able to say.

  10. Thanks for your comments Ryan. I am not sure I would go all the way along with you as to the doctrine of inspiration being a "house-of-cards" or really being that troubled with the facts. Certainly I would agree that we probably haven't really understood the process of inspiration yet.

    I suspect that a case could be made that the variations as they are actually strengthen the case for inspiration. If all manuscripts were identical could you evaluate the reliability of the manuscripts? Could you tell if the manuscripts were preserved reliably, or if someone had gotten control of a text propagated his version and destroyed all variants? Did God use a human, flawed transmission process to demonstrate that what has been preserved is largely accurate?

  11. Just curious. What happened to the It looks like the site is empty except for the skeleton of where videos and text used to be posted. I don't know who else to ask what happened and don't want to speculate unknowingly.