Bart Ehrman’s new book Forged is getting lots of attention. I have not read the book, and don’t see the need after reading the detailed analysis by Ben Witherington of the Asbury Seminary faculty. [Use the links at Witherington’s blog to start at the beginning.]
Bart Ehrman is a professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina. He has a doctorate from Princeton and worked for years with Bruce Metzger, a world-famous expert on New Testament manuscripts who died in early 2007. Ehrman has written many books, but none is a commentary on any book of the Bible.
Witherington is a well-known New Testament scholar, and he shows in detail why many of Ehrman’s conclusions are either seriously flawed or flatly wrong. So far, Witherington has posted six long blog entries. I advise you that these articles are both long and difficult for those who may not have a strong background in New Testament studies. Even then, sifting for nuggets is fun.
Witherington describes the likely effect of Forged by saying, “This book is likely to addle scholars and lay people all across the spectrum of belief.” He says that Ehrman seeks to prove that there is deliberate fraud going on in the Bible in that those who are alleged to have written the books in the Bible did not do so. In other words, Ehrman claims Paul did not write the Pauline letters, Peter did not write the letters that bear his name, and so on.
You will quickly get the idea of Ehrman’s book Forged from the subtitle: “Why the Bible’s Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are.” This book is the latest effort by Ehrman, who claims to have once been an evangelical Christian, to discredit the Bible in every way he can think of. He has also written Misquoting Jesus (February, 2007) to attack confidence in what we know about the New Testament manuscripts used to translate our English Bibles.
Ehrman is well educated and even more articulate. He has the right résumé to gain a hearing in many venues — all the more so since he now vigorously attacks the Christian faith he once held. But Bruce Metzger died in 2007, so he is not around to rebut the claims his former associate now makes about the unreliability of the New Testament manuscripts.
Ehrman’s arguments are convincing and his conclusions are sensational when he speaks to people who are not his scholarly peers. But he does not fare so well when he deals with those who know their fields. Ehrman ran into a buzz saw at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary in 2008 when Daniel Wallace of Dallas Theological Seminary, a highly regarded expert in the textual criticism of the New Testament manuscripts, demonstrated that Ehrman spoke very differently around New Testament experts and then made extreme claims about the same subjects in public settings. It was a devastating demonstration of Ehrman’s two-faced approach!
Ben Witherington, the author of many New Testament commentaries, has the background to demonstrate how Ehrman ignores information contrary to his claims and makes many claims that are simply false. The question is: why does Ehrman do it? I admit that I do not know why. But it appears to me that Ehrman has figured out the shortest path to a big payday, and that lies in attacking Christianity by undermining confidence in the Bible. He scores a lot of appearances on TV, radio and at speaking engagements.
As I said, Ehrman seems convincing until someone like Wallace or Witherington systematically dismantles his arguments. At the end of the day, it is obvious that Ehrman has to know he is making poorly supported claims, but his goal is more important to him than the truth. He is doing a lot of damage to the faith of some Christians, and that is very sad. Just as bad, he is causing some who might investigate the claims of Christ to turn away.
My advice is to avoid all Ehrman’s books. Use the time you save to read the Bible that Ehrman constantly attacks. You will be glad for making that decision, but he will not be able to say the same when the bill for his actions comes due.
Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide.