i stand with bart ehrman: a review of the ‘ehrman project’

Ehrman Project

The "Ehrman Project" provides dissenting, Christian responses to the biblical scholarship of Dr. Bart Ehrman.

If fundamentalist criticism of a biblical scholar is the truest sign of credible scholarship, then Dr. Bart Ehrman of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has quickly found himself at the top.

A collective of concerned Christians have launched the Ehrman Project, a website that provides dissenting, “Christian” responses to the biblical scholarship that Dr. Bart Ehrman has presented in his recent books, including Misquoting Jesus, God’s Problem, and Jesus, Interrupted.

It’s kind of like Josh McDowell’s books on Christian apologetics, except… well… actually it’s exactly like Josh McDowell’s apologetics, only online.

The website states it was launched by a campus minister and an undergraduate religion major to provide counter-arguments to the research of Bart Ehrman. But, since most of Ehrman’s textual arguments are essentially the well-established and long-accepted consensus views of just about every worthwhile critical biblical scholar not teaching at a Christian university, seminary, or school with the word “Evangelical” in the title (Ehrman admits as much beginning at the 7:50 mark in the video here), the site is essentially little more than an online video version of Lee Strobel’s The Case for Christ, where conservative scholars attempt to refute the biblical scholarship that is taught in every major university save the aforementioned conservative Christian schools.

The video rebuttals offer little more than setting up and knocking down straw men, red herring explanations, the reframing and redefinition of certain critical questions in a strained effort to avoid answering them, and the recitation of facts leading to non sequitur conclusions that only non-critical scholars would accept as satisfactory answers.

The video rebuttals posted on the EhrmanProject.com website include interviews from other, “equally qualified scholars who deal with the same issues and come to very different conclusions than Dr. Ehrman.” This diverse range of notable scholars includes:

  • Dr. Darrell Bock, Dallas Theological Seminary
  • Dr. D. A. Carson, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School
  • Dr. Ed Gravely, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary
  • Dr. Michael J. Kruger, Reformed Theological Seminary
  • Dr. Alvin Plantinga, University of Notre Dame
  • Dr. Daniel B. Wallace, Dallas Theological Seminary
  • Dr. Ben Witherington, Asbury Theological Seminary

Notice anything in common?

Let me be clear: please don’t mistake my questioning of the EhrmanProject website as a questioning of all Christian scholarship or Christian universities and seminaries. There are plenty of excellent schools and seminaries that hire credible scholars who adhere to solid, critical methods of biblical scholarship, and who would never appear on a website calling into question the scholarly methods employed by most biblical scholars in the country. I simply wish to point out that the criticism of Dr. Ehrman (and the larger academy by proxy) is largely being done by a small number of vocal scholars at very conservative seminaries at the behest of a campus minister and a religion major who didn’t like their faith challenged by critical scholarship.

I encourage you to view the videos and judge for yourself whether or not those interviewed answered the questions and dealt critically with the evidence, or skirted the issues. Then, if you have any stomach left, you can visit other diverse and “equally qualified” scholarly apologetic sites like Josh McDowell’s site and Lee Strobel’s site and Kirk Cameron’s The Way of the Master site.

Fundamentalists certainly have their problems with Erhman. But to be fair, scholars have some issues of their own with Ehrman. The criticisms of Bart Ehrman from the scholarly community are essentially twofold: 1) must a scholar renounce his/her faith just because the Bible is not inerrant or infallible? and 2) Ehrman is only repeating the critical scholarship of other scholars in a popular format.

While I agree with the first criticism of Ehrman (one need not necessarily renounce one’s faith in order to be a critical scholar of the Bible, especially if one does not accept fundamentalist notions of inerrancy, soteriology, and/or systematic theology) – I actually applaud what Ehrman has done with regard to bringing critical biblical scholarship to a public audience. This is the truest form of education, and one must ask why earlier scholars haven’t made more deliberate attempts to bring what all good critical scholars know (that the Bible is not inerrant and not completely reliable as history) to the public. (It may have something to do with critical scholars not wanting to lose their jobs at Christian universities, or scholars at public universities not wanting to incur the wrath of (and lose book sales to) Christian audiences, but I digress…)

We should applaud Ehrman as a representative figure of what good critical scholarship does – use verifiable facts and sound logic to seek truth, and disseminate that truth to the public even if the public (often acquiescing to the threats pressure authority of organized religious groups) does not want to hear it.

Therefore, I stand with Bart Ehrman as a biblical scholar who feels we should pursue the truth no matter where it may lead. It can only make scholarship (and the faith for that matter) stronger. For if one’s Christian faith can’t stand up to a few simple questions, then it is not a faith worth following. And if apologists must duck questions, offer red herrings, and flat out lie to others in order to convince them of the brand of Christianity they are selling, then the product is not worth buying.

Christian scholars may not like that Erhman renounced his faith, and may not like his often confrontational delivery, but we must stand behind scholarship’s critical method, facts, and conclusions, and we must not pander to the fundamentalist Christian organizations who seek to defend faith by less than scholarly means. The EhrmanProject website claims it is “not meant to be an attack on Dr. Ehrman,” and I would agree; it is not only an attack on Ehrman, it’s an attack on critical scholarship in general by conservative apologists behind the veil of a campus minister’s website.

HT: Toto

58 Responses

  1. “Therefore, I stand with Bart Ehrman as a biblical scholar who feels we should pursue the truth no matter where it may lead.”

    “This site claims it is “not meant to be an attack on Dr. Ehrman,” and I would agree; it is not only an attack on Ehrman, it’s an attack on critical scholarship in general by conservative apologists behind the veil of a campus minister’s website.”

    Dr. Cargill,

    If you are justified in disagreeing with “the Erhman Project” on your blog, then why is “the Ehrman Project” not justified in in disagreeing with Ehrman on their blog?

    You say that you and Dr. Ehrman are pursuing the truth wherever it may lead – and I commend you both for that. What I cannot commend you for is your impugning of the motives of those you criticize as if they couldn’t possibly be motivated by a pursuit of the truth also.

    Jesus said, “I am the truth.” We may all take different paths to get to Him, but for you to categorically denigrate those who regard the Scriptures as more reliable than you do is not the behavior of a gentleman or a scholar.

  2. Wow! Thanks for clearing that up…

    Now I know you don’t get two things…1.) poetry and its variation on form (transitive and intransitive) 2.) the problem people have with Ehrman. The problem isn’t the scholarship its with what he says it means. Its kinda the same as your problem with Driscoll and the Targums.

    Making this into a fundamentals vs. Ehrman battle isn’t quite fair even if on the surface it may seem true.

  3. Great post!

    Although I disagree with Ehrman on a number of issues I don’t think his views warrant an anti-Ehrman site. Participating in this kind venture cheapens, in my opinion, the type of interaction we are supposed to have as colleagues. On the other hand, Ehrman can take this as a badge of honor. He is certainly getting everyone’s attention.

  4. mike,

    thank you for your comments. i’ll have to check out your blog, ‘current events in light of the kingdom of god‘ @ blogforthelordjesuscurrentevents.wordpress.com.

    the ehrmanproject is welcome to post and disagree with dr. ehrman as they please. likewise, i am welcome to review their blog and make a few observations as i have done. this is the scholarly process.

    i fully accept that conservative apologists believe they are pursuing truth. but is their motive to analyze the data or defend the faith (often at the expense or the dismissal of the evidence) and ‘spread the word’?

    we may all take different paths to get to jesus, but scholars follow an agreed upon critical methodology. those who ignore facts to arrive at a more convenient conclusion don’t fully follow this critical methodology, and that’s ok. but, they should be prepared to have their methodology questioned, as all scholars do.

    as for your final comment, i do not think it ‘ungentlemanly’ or ‘unscholarly’ to question the academic conclusions of another scholar. in fact, that is precisely the purpose of scholarship: to debate facts and findings in a scholarly context in an attempt to arrive at a peer-reviewed consensus. i cringe at the notion that scholars criticizing the academic findings of other scholars (not their personal lives, but their scholarly findings) in their own name (not with an anonymous army of aliases), is somehow not professional. anyone who has attended a professional conference knows that’s all they are! the idea that it is somehow ‘unprofessional’ or worse yet, ‘unchristian‘ to debate and question the scholarly conclusions of another scholar is absurd, and is one of the problems of a non-scholarly, ‘let’s all just agree to disagree and go our own ways’ approach to higher education. the fact is, many conservative apologists state up front that they are ‘evangelical’, that is, they understand their purpose in life as to convince others of their point of view and manner of interpreting the bible.

    why is it so wrong for actual biblical scholars to stand up and say, ‘i disagree,’ like ehrman has done, and give reasons for doing so? and if projectehrman can offer rebuttals to ehrman, why can’t i offer a rebuttal of projectehrman? or is projectehrman not exhibiting ‘the behavior of a gentleman or a scholar’ as well?

  5. john, agreed. and he certainly takes it as a badge of honor.

  6. s. daniel, my point is that not all scholarship is created equal (just like not all praise songs are created equal, or even created with basic grammatical principles in mind ;-)

    just like fox news, some people gravitate toward what they want to hear, and understand it to be equal (or superior to) the scholarship/journalism of those with whom they disagree. but that doesn’t mean that two methods of journalism, scholarship, etc. are equal. one may be more credible, but may not be popular. some truth is simply unpopular or unwanted.

  7. I’ve read Ehrman’s “Misquoting Jesus…” and loved it. I often use it in arguments with zealots who think every word in the Bible is perfection and could not have been manipulated or easily misinterpreted. I plan on reading Ehrman’s other books and learn as much as possible. I think it’s time Christians stopped worshiping the Bible and really learn what the word GOD means and how the Bible does little to explain anything other than the views of certain people and their definitions of God. Thank you Dr. Bob for this article and your level head and logical mind.

  8. Mike Gantt, what if Jesus didn’t say, “I am the truth”? What if those words were credited to Jesus but came from another source a source that might not have had the best intentions? I believe Ehrman and his research is showing us just how faulty the Bible is and how manipulation of it occurred religiously. (LOL, get it?)

    The worst mistake, IMHO, a Christian can make is not questioning and taking everything the Bible says literally.

  9. Dr. Cargill,

    Thanks for your thoughtful response to my comment.

    With regard to the question you asked me at the close, I agree with you that you are well within your rights, if not your responsibilities as well, to disagree with the positions of “the Ehrman Project” just as they have disagreed with Dr. Ehrman. What I took exception to was that you appeared to suggest that you and Dr. Ehrman (and those who agreed with you) were pursuing truth while the folks at “the Ehrman Project” had what could only be inferred as a less worthy agenda. As a practical matter, I found the material on their site quite respectful of Dr. Ehrman as a person and as a scholar. Almost deferential, in fact. They were disputing his conclusions, not his motives or scholarship. I was appealing to you that you do the same with regard to your criticism of them.

  10. mike, understood. thanx for your clarification.

    i shall be watching to see how many videos they post from professors teaching at ivy league, major state, and u.s. news and world report top schools in the nation. (so far, i see one scholar from a top-50 school, a philosophy professor from notre dame.)

    bart ehrman made this very point in his debate with craig evans. what dr. ehrman is teaching is what all of the critical scholars (including dr. evans!) are teaching (note the 7:50 mark in the video here.) even most top seminaries in the country adhere to a critical method.

    the only place you’re going to find apologists arguing against the critical method employed by biblical scholars across the nation is at conservative seminaries and christian colleges, who make their tuition money teaching doctrinal stances their donors already believe and want propagated.

  11. Thanks Dr. Cargill, I largely agree. It is wrong when some bloggers treat Ehrman as a fringe scholar when he seems to me to largely represent mainline conclusions. And there is certainly a difference between critical scholarship and apologetics (of the Christian or the secular variety) in that the former at least tries not to presume the conclusions (e.g. about, say, an issue like if a work is authentic or pseudonymous) but go wherever he/she honestly thinks the evidence may leads. I do wonder, though, whether Ehrman sometime overstates his case or is intentionally provocative in order to reach the popular market and to get on the Daily Show or the Colbert Report. In that case, I think it is important to provide a useful counterpoint when his rhetoric about the state of textual criticism or lost christianities/scriptures or pseudonymity as intentional deception is not a completely balanced picture.

  12. mike,
    i very much agree. ehrman is attempting to sell books. the other half of the scholarly argument against ehrman is that he takes other scholars’ research, and boils it down to a popular level so that the public/non-specialists can understand it. in doing so, he plays to what sells books: controversy. often, the polarized hyperbole (think richard dawkins) is what riles people up and gets them either to buy or attack the book – either way, it’s publicity (and great for selling books!). of course, many scholars frown upon this, because overstating and oversimplifying scholarly arguments often sacrifices of many of the nuances of a particular scholarly argument, leaving the reader with a false, polarized, either/or ‘scholarly’ choice, rather than knee-deep in the scholarship (where scholars like to be). when that happens, the scholarly option often becomes just as unappetizing as the apologist’s option.

    but, ehrman is at least attempting to bring the scholarly discussion to the popular realm.

    great comments!! thanx – bc

  13. Dr. Cargill, just one more thing:

    I watched the video link you gave me and I copied down these two statements from Bart Ehrman: “The Bible does not provide a reliable account of the historical Jesus,” and a few minutes later, “The Bible does not provide a reliable account of the things Jesus said and did.”

    Do these statements (really one statement and a paraphrase) represent the critical scholarly consensus you have been describing in this post and your follow-up comments?

  14. for the most part, yes.
    there is no archaeological evidence for the existence of jesus.
    there is no external literary evidence for the words of jesus until centuries later.
    all we have is the biblical text (and, of course, the texts of a few pseudepigraphal documents claiming to contain the words of jesus that the church itself said were not reliable historically), and the biblical text shows very heavy evidence of redaction (and that’s evidence of the mss we do have. who knows how much redaction took place in the first 70 years post-jesus in paul’s letters and the gospels. if the oldest frag we have is p52, and it dates to ~100 ce, and the gospels were supposedly written beginning ~70 ce, then there’s another 30 years of changes we don’t even know about. of course, we must add that to the next century of changes and copies and redactions leading to the canonization of the text, and then there’s still evidence of changes after canonization (albeit far fewer).

    this does not mean that the entire text is unreliable (contra ehrman), but it does mean that parts of it are highly suspect. the question is: which ones? (this is what the apologists mean when they say, ‘yeah, but there aren’t any significant changes to the core message of the gospel.) add that to the historical inaccuracies and errors, as well as deliberate changes to certain words and texts that produced significant theological changes, and you get the question most scholars ask: how reliable can the bible be to reflect the history and theology of the earliest christians? we all ask that question in the classroom. they just don’t like it when we ask it at church ;-)

  15. The folks at WorldNetDaily have tried to imply that Ehrman’s work forms part of the “Muslim Brotherhood’s domination strategy”

  16. unbelievable! actually, i have seen some youtube videos where muslims are using the words of the ‘christian, american’ ehrman to show that ‘even americans are beginning to question jesus’, etc.
    watch here and here.
    you’re exactly right: erhman isn’t writing for muslims, but when dealing with xn fundamentalists, often ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend.’
    and the opposite is also true: xn fundies will say ehrman is a muslim to get xns to reject ehrman.
    that’s like creationists citing alien enthusiasts because they think the earth was created in six days by aliens.
    there is some crazy stuff out there.
    thanx! – bc

  17. I was glad Ehrman’s books were out there when I decided to get out of reading purely devotional Bible literature. Not being in the world of academia I don’t always have access to (and maybe not the IQ for) the scholarly discussions about the Bible.

    It’s interesting that, from your comment about their inclusion of professors from top schools, their only top school professor is in philosophy and he addressed Ehrman’s philosophical claims. It’s a weird match-up. It’s like playing your JV against their varsity and your varsity against their JV. Even then I’m not sure they’re actually addressing something Ehrman asserts since it seems like he merely says that the Bible does not consistently address the problem.

  18. Matt, I agree and am in the same non-academia boat that I’m all to often bailing water out of. I’m glad Dr. Cargill has this blog and that I found Bart Ehrman years ago.

    From the time I started reading the Bible (not allowed to read it until I was 12 and could at least understand some of it) I had a “feeling” about it and how it just did not make sense. Knowing the foibles of man, even at the age of 14 and 15 I knew there was manipulation of epic proportions going on. Finding Ehrman and Cargill and others, my suspicions were reinforced and my own self-education about the Bible and it’s misuse continue to this day. The more I learn the more I’m convinced my first inclinations about that Book were absolutely spot on.

    I honestly don’t need the Bible to believe in God. It seems to get in the way more than it offers any kind of true education.

  19. Mike’s last comment struck a cord with me, as it opens the creaky door to the unsettling possibility that long held tenets of our Christian faith may, in fact, not be true. Was Jesus divine? Did he perform miracles? Was he resurrected? If not, then what does it mean to be “Christian”? What am I doing when I take communion? How do I pray? Can I sing songs to worship to Jesus? How do I understand God? I think these questions are especially troubling for us older Christians, who have based our lives on a particular set of faith traditions, which we now find may be faulty. My faith is part and parcel of who I am, but I want that faith to be based on truth. I welcome the burst of historical Jesus scholarship we’ve experienced over the past twenty years, but I’m not quite sure how to integrate it into who I’m supposed to be as a person of God. Having been auditing your Jerusalem class on You Tube, I would liken it to the “cognitive dissonance” you describe the Jews experiencing in exile. As you asked, “what happens to faith when experience (evidence) contradicts it?” And the really difficult thing is that there are few people with whom one can discuss this. In most conservative Christian church communities, such questions are nothing less than heretical. So this learning process can be not only disturbing but very isolating.

  20. judy,

    thanx for your comments. and i’m glad the jerusalem class can at least offer some facts and questions to ponder.

    one of the first things i had to get used to as i became a scholar was getting accustomed to having conservative or fundamentalist or literalist xns call me a heretic. i even had a theology professor do so in jest at first, just because i didn’t accept the way he interpreted scripture. it wasn’t until i learned that he rejected any form of critical scholarship that extended beyond accepting what the ‘church fathers’ said two millennia ago that i realized he was serious. he felt that i was a threat to anyone who heard me spout forth my heresy, when all i was doing was teaching the standard, freshman level textual criticism that other religious studies instructors (including most on the theologian’s faculty) taught. he couldn’t reconcile the fact that the bible is not inerrant and the ahistorical claims in the bible with his faith. he even went so far to write in a book that the church (or the faith as he understood it) is answerable only to the church, and that no higher criticism or scholarship can correct what has been handed down for centuries. it is a simplistic, and if i may say so, intentionally opaque form of christianity. unfortunately, this form of über-conservative christian “scholarship” is still around, and being used not only to lead churches, but is taught in the bible classes of many conservative christian schools. the faculty often have to sign a confession of faith or attend a particular religious denomination (and have a letter of good standing from a leader of a local church) in order to teach at some of these places. and, when a scholar’s research rubs up against or contradicts the preconceived beliefs of that particular school’s confessional statement, the faculty member is asked to not teach that out loud, or to leave the school.

    unfortunately, this is an even more difficult situation in churches, where the leaders are often not biblical scholars (or at least good ones), and therefore insist upon an even greater from of doctrinal conformity. those who have questions or hold opinions about the bible, the faith, the church, the nature of god, etc., that deviate from a church leader’s narrow understanding of scripture is often blackballed, ostracized, not invited to participate, and slowly leaned upon (or avoided) until that particular congregation is no longer palatable for either party. rarely does the congregant remain at the church and continue to challenge the church’s leadership to demonstrate why their narrow understanding of a particular doctrine is preferable than other diverse understandings of scripture.

    it is difficult to find a church that is tolerant of diversity of thought. and when that lack of diversity appears at a church that meets on a college campus, it is doubly troubling, for in these cases, students are encouraged to ask the tough questions, explore new ideas, and offer critical analysis of the status quo in every discipline except religion.

    all of this is to say, i understand your frustration. i’ve felt what you are feeling. all you can do is continue your study, and root all of your findings in solid methodology. you’d be surprised at how fragile many church leadership’s understanding of theology actually is, and how there is often little substance behind the green curtain beyond ‘that’s the way we’ve always done/interpreted it” or “because i said so.” if the church does not come to accept modern scholarship and conform traditionally held doctrinal beliefs to modern methods of understanding, it risks becoming little more than the christian version of islamic fundamentalism – a sharia law for christians. we’re beginning to see it in the u.s.: god, country, and the suppression of any who think differently.

    it is never good to insist upon a single approach to the interpretation of the bible – not in the classroom, and not in the church.

  21. I find this post disappointing. Not because of your position on it, but because you use bad logic in an attempt to impune bad logic.

    Here’s what you say: “… what all good critical scholars know (that the Bible is not inerrant and not completely reliable as history).”
    And yet that seems to be precisely the issue at hand. Or to put it another way, if people don’t agree with you they are, by your definition – not “a good critical scholar,” since “all” of them are in accord.

    You may be right, and these others may be morons, but your methods and poor logic force me to question you before I even watch the video or check out the links you provide.

    It’s hard for me to imagine these people are one bit more dogmatic and self-assured than you are. wow.

  22. rick,

    thank you for your comments. i understand what you are saying, and i’d have to respond this way:

    they’re not my arguments. and i’m not asking conservative scholars to agree with me. i’m weighing the evidence just like i ask others to do. the evidence that ehrman puts forth is largely the work of other scholars, who have demonstrated over the past 150 years that the bible contains a fairly large number of fairly significant errors, ranging from typos, to omissions, additions, inentional theological justifications, contradictions, and historically untenable assertions. that’s not what i believe, it’s what the evidence is. and most scholars acknowledge the evidence and work from there. however, some scholars simply deny the evidence or attempt to explain it away as insignificant, because it shoots a hole in their preconceived notion of inerrancy.

    i’m not asking them to agree with me, i’m asking them to be honest about the evidence.

    i do encourage you to watch the videos. perhaps watch ehrman’s 9-part debate with craig evans on youtube (see link above). see if evans addresses the questions, or skirts the issue and preaches. then watch the ehrmanproject videos and see if those scholars do any better, or if they attempt to skirt the evidence.

    if i’m dogmatic about anything, it’s evidence and method, not a particular belief or outcome.

    thanx again for your comment. -bc

  23. I think the real problem is that Bible scholars think that their discussions of the Bible in the scholarly literature is all that there is to Bible scholarship. The study of their opinions becomes the key to finding the “truth” about the Bible, and any opinions that are not part of their “peer reviewed” literature is not legitimate Bible scholarship. Opinions of some “scholars” (apologists) will be rejected because they are trying to prove something. I think their proof should matter and not their goal. Cancer scientists try to find a cure for cancer, but no one says they are biased against cancer. Should they study cancer in an unbiased way to make their research acceptable or should their evidence be all that matters?

    They also complain about the apologists not being critical scholars, but the Bible was written by ancient apologists. If the writings of ancient apologists can be studied by modern scholars, why can’t the writings of modern apologists have value too? In 2000 years people might be getting PhD’s in the writings of Josh McDowell. Real scholars in 2000 years will be arguing with their contemporary apologists that they aren’t really acting like good scholars in how they analyze Josh McDowell’s work.

    Any subject can become “scholarship” and then anyone who does not follow the rules of scholarship can be considered an apologist. It is the best way to pretend only unbiased research counts, but there is no unbiased research in a non-scientific subject like the Bible. You can get a PhD studying “Gilligan’s Island”, but I don’t see how it matters if you think “Gilligan’s Island” was a reality show or a fictional comedy, as long as you present evidence.

  24. Dr. Cargil, I will watch the videos and do the reading later, as you suggest – thanks. I studied biblical languages in college & grad school, and it’s been a long, long time since I paid attention to these disputes, and it’d be good for me to catch up.

    But also a word of caution to you, if I may be so bold: I grew up in the same tradition as you did, and I also discovered many of the “scholars” to be morons. But I didn’t quit once I’d discovered it, and then write them off. I completely understand your motivation to do so, you probably take quite a beating from these jerks.

    But here’s the thing I’d encourage you to remember: just because they’re morons doesn’t mean they’re wrong. Even a blind squirrel finds a nut sometimes. And they’re being jerks is a temptation to you to look down on them insultingly, but it isn’t license to do so. Most of them simply don’t have the exposure you’ve had, and they are threatened by you and so they lash out. Be bigger than them – you’re already stronger.

  25. […] There’s a lot of kerfuffle around Bart Ehrman’s polemical characterisations of manuscript variations. See this slightly odd site dedicated to a conservative critique of Ehrman and Bob Cargill’s riposte. […]

  26. I love what Neil deGrasse Tyson said on Real Time With Bill Maher a couple of weeks ago, “The good thing about science is, it’s true whether or not you believe in it”. I thought this went along with Dr. Cargill’s statement to Rick.

  27. and that’s the point. facts are facts.

    the ironic thing is that many people of faith make the same argument: ‘jesus is lord and you’re going to hell whether you believe it or not.’ the difference, of course, is that scientific claims are rooted in fact, and theological claims are rooted in interpretations of traditions, often recorded in literature. but, when literary scholars look at scripture, and point out some of the problems, or ask simple questions, many fundamentalist christians reject the science as ‘heretical,’ a theological way of saying that another who disagrees is wrong, but i have nothing to base it upon other than that’s not what ‘we’ believe.

    evolution is like gravity. it happens, whether one believes in it or not. we may not have been able to explain gravity, or a round earth, or ‘sunrises’ and ‘sunsets’ thousands of years ago, but over time, we’ve come to accept the facts despite the role the church played in attempting to thwart it. the same is now happening for christian hermeneutics (how we read the bible), and certain camps are resisting what scholars are continuing to show us: the bible is not an inerrant document, and systematic christian theology is not as neatly packaged as we’ve been told.

  28. kenneth,

    a few things:

    1) you’re way off base. scholars don’t care where the data (or the arguments for that matter) come from, it’s all about the fair treatment of the data. whether one has a degree or not means little to most scholars. some of the smartest people i know don’t have advanced degrees. however, to use your own analogy above, if i have cancer, i’d much rather have a m.d. trained in oncology treat me than someone who doesn’t have a medical degree, and says that the best medicine for my cancer is prayer (and then preaches me a sermon on faith, asking and knocking, and mountains throwing themselves into the ocean.)

    2) your statement: “Cancer scientists try to find a cure for cancer, but no one says they are biased against cancer. Should they study cancer in an unbiased way to make their research acceptable or should their evidence be all that matters? ” makes no sense. hopefully, scholars root their results and conclusions in the facts gathered from the research they’ve done. if the data state that t-cells don’t respond well to aromatherapy, then an aromatherapy apologist – no matter how vocal and influential – is not going to convince me otherwise. scholarship must be rooted in data, not attempting to prove a previously held belief true.

    3) the bible was indeed written by apologists. it may explain why the text has so many problems with it.

    4) in 2000 years, no one – i mean absolutely no one – will be getting ph.d.’s in the writings of josh mcdowell!

    5) you make a good point here (methinks inadvertently). some people could study the physics of gilligan’s island, star trek, star wars, and other fictional creations. others will get degrees in the literature, that is, how and why the texts were written, lessons and morals they were trying to communicate, etc. but just because star trek inspired us or star wars gave us hope or gilligan’s island made us laugh does not make them historical or real. they’re still fiction! they are still scripts written to inspire or entertain, but they’re not real. this is the poser of literature. great literature can inspire us to become better people, to help others, to fight evil, and to reach for a common good, and it doesn’t have to be historical or inerrant to do that. the bible can communicate ‘truth’, that is, how we ought to act as humans, without us having to insist upon its 100% historicity. can you imagine if someone actually argued that you can only be a ‘true’ star trek fan if you believed that it all actually happened? or you could only truly love star wars if you believed that the script was inerrant? (a parsec is a measurement of distance, not time btw.) or what if someone argued you could only be ‘saved’ if you agreed with a particular doctrinal interpretation of gilligan’s island?

    that’s the point: a text doesn’t have to be 100% historical to inspire, communicate truth, or to communicate the power of god. but insisting that it be inerrant and fully accepted as historical in order to be valid is not only untenable, but it will hurt the faith in the long run.

    thanx for your comments. – bc

  29. Bobby, for some reason your comment of Feb 18 directed to me is just now coming to my attention.

    Your comment demonstrates the harm that can come to those who seek truth when someone like Dr. Cargill seeks solidarity with someone like Dr. Ehrman. You are faced with two academics, whom you rightly respect. They are telling you, best case, that some of the Bible is reliable but not all of it. Thus, when you read, unless you too are a professional academic, you have no way to discern which parts are reliable and which aren’t. Thus you are no better off than had they said none of it was reliable. (That is, if I tell you that only some of the chocolate cake was poisoned, which part will you eat?) Biblical truth claims are rooted in historicity: If the resurrection of Christ did not actually occur, we who have believed in that event “are of all men most to be pitied.”

    I take the Bible literally when it seems to speak literally. But whether I take it figuratively or literally, I always take it seriously.

  30. I’m loving the exchange between Kenneth and BC, and I’d like to jump in and say, “Your both wrong.” Yeah, I know that’s pretty stupid and/or bold, but please hear me out:

    You guys seem to use terms that are very imprecise to make points that cannot, therefore, be considered valid. For example, I love BC’s trashing of Fox News misuse of scripture and stuff, but then he turns around and uses the worst representitives of his opposing views to support the claim that they’re all morons.

    And this: “Cancer Scientists.” Do you guys know what a cancer scientist is? It’s lots of things. Some are people who work for drug companies. Some work for hospitals and/or universities. No way “all” of them care about the data, or the truth. They care about their job, getting promoted, and/or producing data to support a claim that will get them the answers they need.

    BC knows this, I know … because he started this by bashing one side because his opponents have no legitimate scholarship, and the only ones (in his view of scholarship) that can even remotely qualify are to be ignored because they all work for bad schools or churches.

    Then you throw in a medical doctor. That’s dangerous territory, because medicine is an applied science, unlike most of archeology or theology or psychology, etc. In your areas, one needs only come up with an idea … and then test it in the acadamy. It doesn’t really have to work – it only has to be convincing. that’s why, for example, many “great” physicists cannot make it as engineers. They’re pretty good at fooling other physicists, but can’t make something that actually works.

    And this is the real test of religion and faith, too. Does it really work? Most don’t – so the next question would be: can it be fixed, or is it a basic design flaw? You guys are arguing about the basic design – without addressing the first issue … can it be fixed?

    You are both clearly too intelligent and skilled to resort to such tactics. step it up a bit.

  31. Mike,

    As Dr. Cargill wrote, which advice is better to follow, someone who has studied and knows what they are talking about or someone who believes because they’re too afraid NOT to believe? Faith will not cure cancer. What if Cargill and Ehrman are the real tools God is using to help educate us and people like you are ignoring them?

    I am infinitely intelligent because my education never ceases. I learn something new every day and my curiosity is never satiated.

    I don’t believe a thinking man needs the Bible to believe in God. I know for a fact a snake never talked, a man never lived in a fish and no man has lived to be 900 years old, or even much past one hundred years old. I know all of those stories are legends. They are simply fish stories that have gotten larger and more fictional as time has moved forward. Knowing all that, I still have a belief in God.

    I cannot define God just as Dr. Cargill and Bart Ehrman cannot define God. To me the biggest mistake made by zealots, demagogues, fundamentalists and extremists is trying to tell me or anyone else what “God” is, how “God” feels and the punishment “God” will render to those who don’t behave within a defined set of rules, rules which seem to change with each denomination.

    Dr. Cargill and Ehrman are both on a journey of discovery and they don’t seem to be trying to define God. They are presenting evidence to us, to help us learn and grow and to realize that man is man and has been man since we started walking upright. The same instincts have been present since then. Man is greedy, man is manipulative, man is an animal and no matter how expensive their suits are or what kind of robes they wear or how big their crown might be, they still have agendas. While some of the Bible was mistranslated or accidentally omitted by uneducated scribes, it is still the work of men, men with agendas, not Gods or a God.

    If human beings could actually grasp the concept of what a GOD is and could get beyond what God has been represented as or what we’ve been told God is, this conversation would be moot. Christians don’t really believe in a “God”, they believe in the Biblical stories of God because if they truly believed and understood what a GOD is, they’d know that God is capable of anything and the limits they place on themselves are not the limits of God. Man has made God is his image and not the other way around.

    That’s the travesty of religion in this present day and I fear for those who really peacefully love and accept others as a condition of “Christian love” because the extremists are going to ruin that religion and that religion will simply be nothing but a bunch of statues, hieroglyphs and legends when the digging starts a thousand years from now.

  32. Dr. Cargill, I finally watched the videos and want to thank you for this post and your recommendations. I now remember why I quit following this kind of thing. It’s like watching two school children bicker. I thought there was going to be some scholarship in here, but I didn’t see much honest scholarship by either Ehrman or Evans.

    Ehrman (in the debate) rattled off a list of “contraditictions” that were … not. He doesn’t account for the literary style, the variants in purpose of the different gospel writers at all. And he misuses information about their sources in such a way that can only be described as dishonest. But he can pull it off when the audience also has no technical training in the subject.

    Evans wasn’t much better. I didn’t get the same impression you did (that he dodged questions), but he had prepared answers for the questions, and he stuck to them … but Ehrman had stuck questions in at the end of his prepared comments, so it appeared pretty bad. Evans should have taken at least a moment to respond directly.

    You seem here to have decided that whatever the majority of scholars (as YOU define them) are automatically correct, since scholars are truth seekers and everyone else has an agenda. I wonder how your logic would play out at different times in history, when scholars could be polled, consensus revealed, and later that consensus is discovered to be false.

    Anyway, thanks for the post, and for allowing me to participate, even though I’m sure you find it annoying – you’re very gracious, if a bit closed minded.

  33. So much of this aversion to higher criticism seems to mirror the YEC aversion to modern dating methods, the argument generally being “I accept your science, just not any results that don’t confirm what I institutionally believe”.

    The whole reason we have and need science is because our instincts are quite easily fooled. Magicians and fiction writers would be out of work if that weren’t so. Following a strict methodology helps us overcome our biases.

    Anyway, great posts and insightful comments, everyone.

  34. I would have to say that Erhman has been the most effective person in my lifetime in helping people get a basic understanding of how the Bible was put together, as well as a basic understanding of a number of the early Christian groups.

    Cheers! RichGriese@gmail.com

  35. Dr. Ehrman is one of my favourite lecturers, despite our perspectives on some things being different, and despite his topical focus being on christianity (I’m Jewish). I have 5 of his lectures (about 90+ hours of audio) that I revisit from time to time, each of which still holds on to my interest.

    While the “Ehrman Project” is free to voice their opinions, their counter arguments, and have a reasonable debate, it seems to me that the scholarly evidence is against much of their counter arguments, and any real debate — unless some new verifiable evidence comes to light — is more-or-less concluded. This seems to be a silly effort on their part.

  36. When Mike G says:

    “I take the Bible literally when it seems to speak literally. But whether I take it figuratively or literally, I always take it seriously.”

    Which “Bible”? Forgetting all of the translations available in the world, there are more than 5,700 Greek manuscripts currently extant and there are more textual differences, both minor and major, between them (as Ehrman factually points out) than there are words in any single bible.

    Dr. Cargill,

    Christians are blind to the degree that Christianity is privileged in our society. Why do we call it provocative, intolerant, controversial, when someone like Ehrman admits to no longer believing in God. Should he hide what he believes to spare our feelings?

    Christian rhetoric in our world has far, far more “polarized hyperbole” than you’ll ever find in a book by Richard Dawkins.

  37. @Beau Quilter,

    There is, of course, only one Bible. Ehrman inadvertently affirms the reliability of its message by demonstrating that the only significant textual variants are actually insignificant.

    Similarly, his newest book “Forged,” counter to his will, strengthens the case for believing that no forgeries made it into the canon by insisting that the ancients hated forgeries as much as moderns.

    Ehrman’s work is quite helpful. It’s his judgment that’s poor.

  38. Mike G

    Did you read the same book I read? Ehrman concedes that the majority of documented variants are insignificant; but only someone like yourself, who presupposes a supernatural protection of scripture, would see forged additions such as John 7:53-8:12 and Mark 16:9-20 as “insignificant”. On a personal note, my mother was shocked and dismayed that the woman caught in adultery was a forgery. She couldn’t understand why no pastor had ever told her that her favorite verses were false.

    Unfortunately, I can’t argue with you about Ehrman’s “Forged”, because today is March 8, 2011 and the official publication date is March 22, 2011. I don’t have a copy.

    Which means that you are either an official reviewer with one of the advance copies (if so, say so!), or you are being disingenuous, and pretending to knowledge of a book you haven’t read.

  39. Beau, the advantage of having a mind like yours is that you don’t actually need to interact with people in order to disagree with them because you can make assumptions about what they think and know and then argue with the assumptions. Moreover, you never have to lose an argument this way!

    You can keep Bart of Chapel Hill, I’ll trust Jesus of Nazareth.

  40. OK, Mike

    Dr. Cargill

    I’ve visited the Ehrman Project site, and watched several of the videos. I agree with you that their arguments are primarily against “straw men”, they never really address Ehrman’s major points.

    I was pleasantly surprised, though, at the tone of the site. I’ve seen so many harsh, intolerant fundamentalist websites, I was pleased to see that this site maintains an air of civil discourse – something often lacking in these debates.

    Though all of the respondents come from evangelical seminaries, as you note, Dr. Daniel Wallace has actually co-published a book with Dr. Ehrman, in which they voice the points of their debate side by side. Very civil.

  41. Beau,

    I applaud your spirit of fairness in your assessment of the Ehrman Project site.

  42. In my first New Testament class (Whittier College, 1954), I was struggling to reconcile the Matthean and Lukan birth narratives. A fellow student, farther along in his studies than I, said something like, “You really don’t have to read them literally.” I thought to myself, “Whew, that’s a relief,” because the reconciliation had not been coming along well, not at all. I got an “A” in the class, became the prof’s teaching ass’t the next semester, and went on to the USC Graduate School of Religion (later Claremont School of Theology) in 1955. There, in my first OT class, perhaps the second meeting, I was introduced to the Documentary Hypothesis, then in its heyday(!).

    My parents were both academics, who were always interested in factual backup — and I had just finished four years of college, writing papers for almost every class. Thus it made sense to me when I was told that, in order to study ancient documents (Gilgamesh, Iliad, or Bible), any special status had to be shelved for the course of the investigation.

    Today, Miller and Hayes, Jean-Louis Ska, John J. Collins, Ziony Zevit, and William Dever make sense to me and I see no reason to return special status to I & II Kings while the Mesha Stele is around — or to the Lukan birth narrative with its garbled dating.

  43. […] Posted in Reviews by Paul Williams on April 1, 2011 Posted on February 18, 2011 by bobcargill The “Ehrman Project” provides dissenting, Christian responses to the biblical […]

  44. When one takes aim and fires at a particular target again and again and does no damage to this target, one cannot be surprised when said target finally begins to shoot back.

    Bart Ehrman has tenure and some connections, but very little scholarly legitimacy left. Have you read “God’s Problem”? I would suggest you do so before claiming that you “stand with” Ehrman on anything. For example, I’m sure you would agree that you support the concept of freedom of expression, but would not state that you “stand with” someone like Simcha Jacobovici and his idiotic re-imaginings of history.

  45. i stand with dr. ehrman on issues of methodology used to examine the text of the bible. it is not inerrant, nor is it fully reliable as an historical document. it contains some facts and what i would call some eternal truths, but if i have to choose between a dogmatic defense and apology of the reliability of the nt as history, and critical methodology, i’ll take critical methodology (represented by dr. ehrman in this example) every time.

  46. Thank you for the reply, Dr. Cargill, and also thank you for the clarification of your position.

  47. “i stand with dr. ehrman on issues of methodology used to examine the text of the bible. it is not inerrant, nor is it fully reliable as an historical document. it contains some facts and what i would call some eternal truths, but if i have to choose between a dogmatic defense and apology of the reliability of the nt as history, and critical methodology, i’ll take critical methodology (represented by dr. ehrman in this example) every time.”

    Bob, these are truly some of the saddest words I have ever read. You have chosen to stand in the wrong place, but I am hopeful you wil see this for yourself soon. I myself have taken wrong stands and lived to see better. Bottom line: the apostles can be trusted.

  48. apostles like judas?

    (btw – i disagree. i actually like where i’m standing. but you’re obviously entitled to our position, and i’ll even let you dissent on my blog. the point is to have the discussion, so i appreciate your comments.)

    and as a scholar, i’m standing in the correct place. we can start with the simple stuff: tell me how many animals were on the ark, or what was created first (plants and animals (gen 1), man (gen 2), or wisdom (prov 8:22) – we’ll discuss evolution later) and you’ll see why, while the bible contains many truths and historical facts, it is not inerrant nor completely reliable as factual history. the list is long. rather than trying to deny it, biblical scholars seek to find why the bible says what it says, why these errors and/or changes were made, and why those changes are significant. why isn’t mark 16:9-20 in any of the earliest manuscripts? why is the story of the woman caught in adultery (john 8) not in any of the earliest manuscripts? why does luke (intentionally) change his chronology of ‘historical’ events (did jesus really ‘cleanse the temple’ more than once)? why does matt 27:9 attribute to jeremiah what is actually a prophecy from zechariah 11:12-13? how did judas die (matt 27:5 vs. acts 1:18)? did those who were with saul/paul on the road to damascus hear a voice (acts 9:7) or not (acts 22:9)? what was jesus’ second temptation, throwing himself off a high point (matt 4) or worshiping satan (luke 4)?

    but the questions are much greater than factual errors? why does the bible incorporate earlier creation myths when all evidence points to evolution? why didn’t paul give an ‘i have a dream’ speech when onesimus ran away from philemon? (does an apostle endorse slavery?) why does the bible suppress the authority of women? and instruct us not to get married (1 cor. 7).

    i recognize there are discrepancies in the bible. luke flat out blew the chronology in the reference to quirinius in luke 2:2. but this shouldn’t mean we should throw out the message of the bible altogether. however, it also shouldn’t mean we should ignore the obvious and defend the so-called ‘inerrancy’ of a text that has many, many historical problems.

    again, thanx for your comments.

  49. Bob,

    Thanks for honoring my dissent with a thoughtful rebuttal. In view of your hospitality, it would be rude of me to extend the argument. Therefore, I’ll only respond by saying that indeed you have raised questions which don’t always have neat and simple answers. However, such questions don’t bother me because I take my attitude about the Scriptures from Jesus. In Him I find reason to value some issues more than others. I have not found Him bothered by many of the things that bother scholars. And, on the other hand, the things that did bother Him are the things that I want to bother me.

  50. In the recently published, “The Reliability of the New Testament: Bart D. Ehrman & Daniel B. Wallace in Dialogue”, Daniel Wallace says that he and Ehrman agree on the following:
    “1. The handwritten copies of the New Testament contain a lot of differences … somewhere between 300,000 and 400,000 variants …. more variants in the manuscripts than there are words in the New Testament.
    “2. The vast bulk of these differences affect virtually nothing.
    “3. We agree on what we think the wording of the original was almost all the time.
    “4. Our agreement is even over several well-known or controversial passages (Mark 16:9-20, Jn 7:53-8:11, 1 John 5:7, and Mark 1:41).
    “5. We both agree that the orthodox scribes occasionally changed the New Testament text to bring it more into conformity with their views.”

    Wallace then says, “The *text* is not the basic area of our disagreement; the *interpretation* of the text is.” p.28f.

    With the above in mind, I have to conclude that dismissal of Ehrman’s scholarship is an exercise in apologetics, and is inappropriate in an academic discussion.

  51. “since most of Ehrman’s textual arguments are essentially the well-established and long-accepted consensus views of just about every worthwhile critical biblical scholar” Actually not consensus in large circles of biblical scholarship. I listen to a Th D every Sunday and he does not accept Dr Bart and neither do 100’s of Th D’s if not thousands around the world. Dr Bart takes standing truth and twists it for his purposes. The words on the pages of his books are not long accepted consensus. He distorts most all truth accepted by biblical scholarship.

  52. i believe you have just made my point…

  53. […] Cargill on The Ehrman Project […]

  54. Dr. Ehrman’s position has changed quite a bit over the years. By taking more extreme positions, he is able to stir up more publicity and sell more books.

    Ehrman’s views are significantly different from Dr. Metzger’s views, whom Ehrman studied under. Dr. Ehrman’s modus operandi appears to be to seek out the most controversial position on every topic and then uncritically embrace that position.

    While Dr. Ehrman comes off as very charming and well-informed in debates, his views are really very extreme. He consistently ignores data that conflicts with his views.

  55. First, Ehrman does not say that people should lose their faith together with rejecting biblical inerrancy. He says in God’s Problem that he has not lost his faith for this reason and he thinks that others should not lose their Christian faith for this reason. His wife is unimpressed by his arguments, saying that she does not belong to his audience, because she does not interpret the Bible literally, so what he has to say about the Bible is of no impact to her faith. So that is the response to the first argument of scholarly critique to Ehrman.

    Upon the second argument, we do agree: Ehrman’s views are widely agreed among critical biblical scholars.

  56. Thank you Dr. Cargill…for having the courage to be one of the few legitimate scholars to state publicly that Dr. Ehrman’s scholarship is sound. I am so incredibly thankful for the information that Dr. Ehrman’s work has made available to me. After 39 years of trying desperately to believe in so many unquestionable supposed truths and failing to find them to be consistent, I was finally free to ask the questions that had always been lurking in the back of my mind.

    Since I had been raised to place my faith in the inerrancy of scripture, my faith fell away along with the belief that scripture was a perfect communication from god. But I fully recognize…as does Dr. Ehrman, that a belief in the inerrancy of scripture is NOT required for some to retain their faith. The truth really CAN set you free…and sometimes that freedom does not resemble what we imagine that it will. Since I now consider myself to be everything that all of my fellow human beings also are (Christian, Muslim, Jew, Buddhist, Hindu, atheist, agnostic, etc.) May god (whomever or whatever you believe that to mean…if anything) bless and keep you all.

  57. @Dr. Cargill

    think the Ehrman project ia/was far more fair than this review was.

    First of all it is true that Ehrman brings up certain issues from “mainstream scholarship”.

    At the same time Ehrman in his books manipulates these findings giving his own personal twist.

    Although one might not agree with everything said by the scholars who partecipated to the E.P. they ALSO rise sevetral GOOD critiques of Ehrman’s methods, reasoning and often unwarrented conclusions that appear in his books.

    Mind you, Ehrman’s work is usually good work, but his scholarship is not always as sound as it should be.

    Also there is a dichotomy between “scholar Ehrman” and “pop-book Ehrman”. While the former is cautios and even rigorous, the latter is careless and ready to make wild unwarrented assumptions and assertion, probably to provoke the audiens (and make a quick buck in the process).

    Moreoever your arguments are deeply biased. Anyone who disagrees with Ehrman, or you, it seems, needs to be labelled as a “fundamentalist” (surely to be takes in the most pejorative of meanings as well).

    So Dr. Cargill if I want to be kind I would say I understand why you support Ehrman, and that I agree he has interesting things to say.

    if I want to be more blunt I would say Ehrman somewhat deceitful attitude (in the way he interpretes the scientific findings) in his pop-books has rubbed off on you.

    Can you honestly say that Ehrman portrays an unbiased, scientific view in his books?!

    Let’s be fair:
    If Ben Witherington & Co. are fundamentalists, then so are you, on the other side of the spectrum

  58. I find it puzzling Dr. Cargill would impugn scholars because they teach at evangelical or catholic colleges. Some of those mentioned are world renowned, respected scholars. Dr. Plantinga is well known as an extraordinary philosopher and has done groundbreaking work in the area of religious epistemology. Dr. Carson is well regarded as a top notch New Testament scholar. I have read some of Dr. Erhman’s material and as a layman I understand why fellow scholars disagree with his conclusions. I do not believe he comes at this as an objective observer of truth. Dr. Cargill is being disingenuous when he compares top scholorship to Josh McDowell’s book on apologetics. Is Dr. Cargill advocating that we believe critical scholarship because they know the truth better than conservative scholarship? On what basis?

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