Thursday, November 1, 2012

Bart Ehrman – FORGED! (Part 1)

Bart Ehrman claims that much of the New Testament (NT) is forged.  How would Ehrman feel if someone claimed that his dozens of books were written by someone else (cowabunga dude!)?  Paul warned of forgeries, “Don’t let anyone shake you up or get you excited over some breathless report or rumored letter from me that the day of the Master’s arrival has come and gone” (2 Thes. 2:2 Msg).  Paul proved his authenticity, “I, Paul, bid you good-bye in my own handwriting.  I do this in all my letters, so examine my signature as proof that the letter is genuine” (2 Thes. 3:17 Msg).  See also 1 Cor. 16:21, Gal. 6:11 and Col. 4:18.  Tychicus would have verified that the letters to Ephesus and Colosse were really from Paul (Eph. 6:21,22, Col. 4:7).  The Early Church Fathers (ECF) provide strong support that the traditional authors of the gospels really did write them.

Ehrman went to Moody Bible Institute and graduated from Wheaton College in 1978 (cf. 1 Jn 2:19).  In light of his skepticism, it makes one wonder what kind of apologetics Ehrman was exposed to.  Ehrman now denies the God of the Bible, “I don’t ‘know’ if there is a God; but I think that if there is one, he certainly isn’t the one proclaimed by the Judeo-Christian tradition, the one who is actively and powerfully involved in this world.” [1]  Given Ehrman’s opinion, can he give the NT a fair hearing?

Darrell Bock has a clever way of explaining that orthodoxy already existed at the time the NT was written:  Schooling (creeds), Singing (hymns) and Sacraments.  Creeds and hymns in the NT include 1 Cor. 8:4-6, 1 Cor. 15:3-8, Phil. 2:6-11; Col.1:15-20; Eph. 4:4-6 and 1 Tim. 3:16.  The sacraments also proclaim a message (1 Cor. 11:23-26).  Any supposed forgeries would have been exposed since they did not comport with Apostolic tradition.
On another front, Ehrman has troubles with all the variants in NT manuscripts, “Given these problems, how can we hope to get back to anything like the original text …?” [2]  Ehrman’s views are not new – Henry Smith, writing in 1893, claimed that original NT message could not be recovered. [3]  In 1989 Shirley MacLaine was on the Larry King show and claimed that the Bible has been changed and translated so many times that is cannot really be accurate.  Ehrman makes a big deal about a variant that has Jesus as being angry in Mk. 1:41. [4]  Christ is clearly angry in Mk. 3:5 and Mk. 10:14 – anger is not a sin (Eph. 4:26).
Ehrman dedicated Misquoting Jesus to Bruce Metzger (d. 2007) and said that he was “the world’s leading expert in the field [of textual criticism].” [5]  What was Metzger’s opinion of NT variants?  Lee Strobel, former award-winning legal editor of the Chicago Tribune and skeptic until 1981, spent 18 pages on his interview with Metzger.  According to Metzger, early NT translations or citations in the Early Church Fathers (ECF) are sufficient to reproduce the entire text. [6]  Metzger said, “The more significant variations do not overthrow any doctrine of the church. … [The NT is] 99.5 percent pure.” [7]  I think I’ll go with “the world’s leading expert.” 

In the days of Nehemiah the copies of copies of the scriptures at hand were sufficient (Neh. 8:8).  Nothing was “lost in transmission” (Ehrman’s suggested title).  To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, it is because there is no light in them” (Is. 8:20).  If the Law is not preserved, how can we use it as a guide?  “Now go, write it before them on a tablet, and note it on a scroll, that it may be for time to come, forever and ever” (Is. 30:8).  God’s Word will remain forever (Is. 40:8, Mt. 5:18) so by the Lord’s sovereign plan it will be preserved.  “It is written” appears 61 times in the NT, so Jesus and the Apostles held that the Old Testament (OT) copies they used had sufficient purity to represent the original words that God inspired.  Jesus said that the people in his day have Moses and the Prophets (Lk 16:29) – not that there are so many variants that we don’t know what we have!  The Lord Jesus Christ prophesied that the account of His anointing at Bethany would be preserved (Mk 14:9). 

Is it possible for an ancient text to be transcribed properly?  Look at the notes at the bottom of your Bible in the book of Isaiah – you’ll find that the variants from the Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS) version are minor.  This represents a basically pure transmission of one thousand years (100 BC to 900 AD).  The fact that the gates of Hell cannot withstand the growth of the Body of Christ ensures that the Bible (OT/NT) will be preserved pure to the end (Mt. 16:18).

Ehrman claims that, “I am intimately familiar with what evangelical scholars have said about the Bible.  I simply do not find their views convincing.” [8]
Greg Bahnsen asked a question in 1980 from a skeptic’s perspective and sounds much like Bart Ehrman, “If God took the trouble and deemed it crucial to secure the entire accuracy of the original text of Scripture, why did He not take greater care to preserve the copies errorless?” [9]  Bahnsen takes 43 pages to answer this question and does a superb job.  Bahnsen points out that, “There is no scriptural warrant for holding that God will perform the perpetual miracle of preserving His written Word from all errors in its being transcribed from on copy to another.” [10]  However, all is not lost.  Can you discern the original Mark Twain quote from these three less-than-perfect versions?
Likewise, we can compare manuscript with manuscript of the NT to restore the original wording.  The good copies correct the bad.  God used imperfect people and copies to preserve his Word, “A crushed reed He will not utterly break, nor will He quench the still smoldering wick, until He has led on Justice to victory” (Mt. 12:20 Wey).
Paul planned to visit Spain (Rom. 15:24,28) and the Apostle Thomas visited India, so the early copies of the NT were widely distributed geographically.  No one person could have corrupted all the texts – there were just too many of them in too many places!  God has providentially protected the message of the NT.  Virtually all the errors are insignificant and the others do not affect any major doctrine.  We should not add or subtract from God’s Word (Deut. 4:2, 12:32; Pr 30:6).  Did not those who copied the NT take reverential care in their task?

Paleographer Sir Frederic Kenyon (d. 1952) held a number of positions with the British Museum.  He was also president of the British School of Archaeology in Jerusalem and concluded that,

The number of manuscripts of the New Testament, of early translations from it, and of quotations from it in the oldest writers of the Church, is so large that it is practically certain that the true reading of every doubtful passage is preserved in some one or other of these ancient authorities. [11]

Philologist Richard Bentley (d. 1742) remarked, "The real text of the sacred writers [of the NT is] … competently exact indeed in the worst [manuscript] now extant; nor is one article of faith or moral precept either perverted or lost in them.” [12]

There are a number of errors in Misquoting Jesus – should we then question the accuracy of the entire volume?

The Hebrew on the dust jacket is upside down
Desiderius is misspelled, p. 70
scriptio is misspelled, pp. 48, 90
πνα is misspelled, p. 91
parablepsis is misspelled, p. 91
Acts 17:30 is confused for Acts 17:27, p. 192
Acts 2:36 is confused for Acts 2:38, p. 160
LaHaye, who helped start icr, is misspelled, pp. 13, 110

The gospel is from God it is not an invention (Gal. 1:11,12, 2 Pet. 1:16).  Does Paul refer to NT scriptures already written in 1 Cor. 15:3?  Paul’s instruction must be obeyed since they have divine authority (2 Thes. 3:14).  Paul’s words in his letters are also God’s Word (1 Cor 14:37).  Peter confirmed that Paul wrote multiple letters and that they are scripture (2 Pet. 3:15,16).  Luke, the doctor with the scientific mind, carefully researched his information and spoke with eyewitnesses when writing his gospel (Lk. 1:1-4). 
Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit would make sure that the Apostles had total recall of Christ’s words (Jn 14:26).  Many eyewitnesses were around in the time that Paul wrote (1 Cor 15:6).  Richard Bauckham, New Testament Professor at the University of St. Andrews, has written Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, where he analyzes the frequency of Jewish names and how they were used and other lines of evidence to defend the NT.  Peter Williams has given a riveting presentation based on similar data.  John A.T. Robinson (d. 1983), who was part of the “Death of God” movement, has dated all NT books to before 70 AD.  His reasoning is largely based on the fact that no NT author mentions the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple.  This, of course, favors the view that the NT is based on eyewitness accounts.

We suggest these works defending the Bible and Christianity aimed at a general audience:

  Skeptics Answered by D. James Kennedy
  How Do We Know the Bible is True? (Vol. 1) ed. by Ham & Hodge.

Timothy Paul Jones of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary has written a response to Misquoting Jesus.  The Ehrman Project provides a number of helpful resources, including a dialog between Ehrman and Dan Wallace.  Ehrman’s wife is a committed Christian and part of the Episcopal church. 
Pinchas Lapide (d. 1997), former New Testament Professor at Gottingen University, wrote TheResurrection of Jesus: A Jewish Perspective which defends the historicity of the physical resurrection of Christ.  Lapide was not a Christian and did not accept Jesus as the Messiah.  Time magazine (May 7, 1979) covered Lapide’s conclusions.  Christ’s resurrection verifies his deity, “his unique identity as Son of God was shown by the Spirit when Jesus was raised from the dead, setting him apart as the Messiah, our Master” (Rom. 1:4 Msg).  Christ’s deity confirms the message of the Apostles (Eph. 2:20) we now have written in the NT.
Has a mainstream NT scholar converted to a conservative view of the Bible?  Yes!  Eta Linnemann (d. 2009) studied under Rudolf Bultmann, but was saved by grace and became a born again Bible-believing Christian.  She apparently took a strong stand on creation. [13]  Linnemann wrote Biblical Criticism on Trial defending the Scripture.  In contrast, Bultmann said, “It is impossible to use electric light and the wireless [radio] …and at the same time to believe in the New Testament world of spirits and miracles.” [14]

Let us heed the wise words of John Gresham Machen (d. 1937) who was Professor of New Testament at Princeton Seminary until 1929,

We know that the gospel story is true partly because of the early date of the documents in which it appears, the evidence as to their authorship, the internal evidence of their truth, the impossibility of explaining them as being based upon deception or upon myth.  This evidence is gloriously confirmed by present experience, which adds to the documentary evidence that wonderful directness and immediacy of conviction which delivers us from fear [cf. Rom. 5:1-5]. [15]

… of all the hundreds of thousands of textual changes found among our manuscripts, most of them are completely insignificant, immaterial, of no real importance …
  -- Bart Ehrman [16]

Part 2 of this series deals with Ehrman’s claim that Luke overlooks the atonement.

1) God’s Problem by Bart Ehrman (HarperOne, NYC, 2008), p. 4.
2) Misquoting Jesus by Bart Ehrman (HarperCollins, NYC, 2005), p. 58.
3) “The Inerrancy of the Autographa” by Greg Bahnsen in Inerrancy ed. by Norman Geisler (Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI, 1980), pp. 157, 158 & 460. 
4) Misquoting Jesus by Bart Ehrman (HarperCollins, NYC, 2005), pp. 133-139.
5) Ibid., pp. v, 7.
6) The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel (Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI, 1998), p. 59.
7) Ibid., p. 65.
8) personal email, 1-1-2006.
9) Bahnsen, p. 182.
10) Ibid., p. 176.
11) quoted in Surprised by Faith by Don Bierle (Emerald Books, Lynnwood, WA, 1992), p. 36.
12) Bahnsen, pp. 187, 188.
13) Historical Criticism of the Bible by Eta Linnemann (Kregel, Grand Rapids, MI, 1990), pp. 55, 70.
14) quoted in Harper’s Concise Book of Christian Faith by Tony Lane (Harper & Row, San Francisco, 1984), p. 199.
15) Christianity and Liberalism by J. Gresham Machen (Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, MI, 1923), p. 72.
16) Misquoting Jesus by Bart Ehrman (HarperCollins, NYC, 2005), p. 207.

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