Bart Ehrman in the Washington Post

I have blogged about Bart Ehrman's book , Misquoting Jesus. I found it interesting and based on my reading of the book, I was of the opinion that Ehrman still believed in God although not in the literal words of the Bible. Apparently that is not true. An article in the Washington Post today contains quotes from Ehrman that clearly show he is an agnostic .

"I just began to lose it," Ehrman says now, in a conversation that stretches from late afternoon into the evening. "It wasn't for lack of trying. But I just couldn't believe there was a God in charge of this mess . . . It was so emotionally charged. This whole business of 'the Bible is your life, and anyone who doesn't believe it is going to roast in hell.' "

It is interesting that he is still a biblical scholar. His motivations for going into biblical studies are gone.

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7 Responses to “Bart Ehrman in the Washington Post”

  1. Zachary Setzer Says:

    I’m a student of Dr. Ehrman’s at the University of North Carolina. He’s one of the most interesting characters you’ll ever meet. I remember someone asking our TA in small group discussion for Ehrman’s New Testament course why he was still so interested in the Bible if he didn’t believe in God. She said that when he lost his faith (at Princeton Theological Seminary if I remember correctly), instead of being killed, his love for the Bible was merely transformed. He has dedicated his entire life to that book, and even as a non-believer he loves and appreciates it more than many believers do.

    As a believer faced with the information that faced Ehrman at PTS and which faces everyone he teaches, there are really only three options. 1) Dismiss it outright (The “It’s obviously not true if it goes against what I learned in Sunday School” approach) 2) Let your foundations be shaken to the ground and lose your faith (The Bart Ehrman approach) and 3) Allow yourself to be flexible with your interpretation of the Bible and its meaning. That doesn’t mean you have to dismiss anything the Bible teaches, but you can remain intellectually rigorous and continue to hold the Bible sacred and holy.

  2. I was under the impression that he took the third approach from the way that Misquoting Jesus is written. That you could weigh the evidence overall and try to extract some knowledge and be aware of what you do not know. That is why I was so surprised by the Washington Post article.

  3. My husband’s roommate for four years of college was someone who did not grow up with any dogma, and I don’t know if he was looking to subscribe to any dogma, but he took a number of religion and philosophy courses to try to understand the notion of faith, which was foreign to him. He’s a cosmologist, but he was intrigued by others’ ability to make that leap of faith that he could not.

    So I could understand being a non-believing biblical scholar under those circumstances.

  4. Zachary Setzer Says:

    From what he told us, Ehrman’s loss of faith came from the destruction of his concept of Biblical Inerrancy. He was in Seminary and he had to write a paper explaining some apparent discrepancy in one of the Gospels (I don’t remember exactly, but it had something to do with the story of Jesus and his disciples walking through a field on the Sabbath, picking and eating grain as they went). He said he wrote a paper using all kinds of nuanced meanings of the Greek text, etc, and turned it in. His professor said something like, “Well that’s pretty impressive, but don’t you think maybe the writer just made a mistake?”

    Since his faith was built on the 100% divine, inerrant Word of God model for the Bible, the moment he accepted that it had problems was the moment he lost his faith. The problem of evil in the world seems to be the bigger cause of his continuing agnosticism/atheism, but the initial cause was his foundation being knocked out.

    As for the 1, 2, and 3 thing – he does indeed have an alternate view and interpretation of the Bible, but I was talking about doing so while maintaining your faith. You can accept the level of human error found in the Bible and still maintain a belief in divine inspiration of scripture (All scripture is God-breathed). You really almost have to. If you start allowing yourself to dismiss parts because you reckon some of the Bible is scripture but some is not, you inevitably favor the parts that you like and cut the parts that challenge you, at which point you really may as well forget about the whole thing.

  5. Very intersting, Zachary.

    I was wondering how his teaching went over with the students there and the Christians react to it. In my reading of the article it seemed that the crumbling of his very stiff fundamentalist inerrancy beliefs started his apostasy, but it was the standard atheist issues (i.e., problem of evil) that did him, in so to speak.

    BTW, I found an informative blog regarding NT textual criticism that reviewed Misquoting…

  6. I read the review that r10b linked and it makes good points, but I think it goes to the opposite extreme that Ehrman. At some level Ehrman thinks the divinely inspired words have been lost, while the reviewer seems to argue that they are still available among the variants. My question is which variant is correct and how does one choose it?

  7. P.J. Williams Says:

    Mike Procario makes the correct point that the review which I wrote did not specify how we know which the right words are. That was not my purpose. What I think can be definitely argued is that the suggestion that any words at all have been lost from the NT transmission process is unproven. Moreover, I think that it can be shown to be genealogically unlikely that we have lost any words. The Greek manuscripts that survive have sufficient diversity amongst themselves to suggest that they are not all copies of each other. Rather they suggest that many copies were made of the text early on and that we have a number of witnesses to these early copies. That being the case, if someone wants to argue that any words have been lost they need to argue that they were lost at the very earliest stages of textual transmission.

    The best way to establish the original wording is by using a genealogy of all manuscripts. Ehrman notably avoids genealogical reasoning because it is fatal to his case.

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