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Autobiographical. Metzger and My Loss of Faith

I have come now, by an unusually circuitous route, to answer the question that got me started in talking about my relationship with Bruce Metzger, my work for the NRSV Bible translation committee, my view of the NRSV as a translation, the textual problems of Luke 22:19-20 and 22:43-44 and, well sundry other things. The reader’s question was how Metzger responded to my loss of faith. When I first got to know him, I was a strong evangelical Christian. In the years before he died, I had become an agnostic. How did he respond to that.

After all that I’ve written in these posts, I’m afraid the direct answer will be a bit of a disappointment.  The answer is: I don’t know.

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How My Loss of Faith Affected My Scholarship
Autobiographical: Back to Metzger and Me

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Comments

  1. Avatar
    donmax  September 14, 2012

    Most interesting. I think many of us have a great capacity for compartmentalizing life. How do you rate “faith issues” as distinct from “academic issues”?
    DCS

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  September 14, 2012

      Yes, I’m an expert at compartmentalizing myself. Drives my wife crazy. But what do you mean by “rate”? (I’m not sure what you’re asking)

      • Avatar
        donmax  September 14, 2012

        What I’m getting at is how they compare with respect to their importance in your own life, and what are they? It seems unrealistic to think that they can be segregated so completely, especially if he or she is “a faithful Christian” or married to one.

        • Bart Ehrman
          Bart Ehrman  September 16, 2012

          Well, I’m not a believer, so “faith issues” are not really an issue for me. Those who are believers obviously have to figure out how to correlate their historical (and scientific) views with their faith views, and not be afraid — in my opinion — to change what they believe when it is seen, eventually, to contradict what they otherwise take to be true (about history, about texts, about the universe we live in, etc.).

          • Avatar
            donmax  September 17, 2012

            I didn’t mean to limit faith issues to you alone in isolation. What I wonder about is relationships with loved ones, your family, your spouse and children. I admire your intellect, but I sense you have more of it than most folks and non-academics frequently have trouble with doubters and disbelievers (no matter how smart they are). Too often, the more deep-seated a person’s the faith, the less tolerant he or she feels toward the faithless, not to mention those of other faiths. After all, to them it’s a matter of life, death and eternal consequence.

            Sometimes the emotional strain between family members becomes too much to bare, so avoidance and compartmentalizing help keep the peace, at least until the kids arrive. Was there ever a problem in that regard for you?

            With that in mind, I also wonder about your earlier connection/relationship to God and Jesus as a former believer. Did your faith have an emotional component? Did you pray? Was there ever an awareness of God’s saving presence? And to what extent?

            In my case, I talked to God as a very young boy out of desperation. It helped me not to feel so alone and became a habit even unto the point of near death experiences later in life. Like you I became an academic type and a serious-minded skeptic about religion, especially fanatical Islam and fundamentalist Christianity. But I still appreciate the upside of faith and the comfort it often provides to those of us who have nowhere else to turn.

            DCS

          • Bart Ehrman
            Bart Ehrman  September 20, 2012

            Interesting questions! But probably too long to reply to hear in this format. I’ll add them to the list of questions from readers to address on the blog itself. Thanks.

  2. Avatar
    songster  September 14, 2012

    Bart, you’ve not lost your faith – you have yet to redefine it.

  3. Avatar
    Dennis Steenbergen  September 14, 2012

    Finally the other shoe has dropped…whatever the answer. The most important lesson I have drawn at the end of this long walk with Dr. Metzger is your point “faith commitments are irrelevant to scholarship”. That’s what I desired all those years of theological bible study but couldn’t put my finger on it. At the end of every meeting I felt like saying “Yeah, but what do we know really happened historically”? Turns out, scholarship is what I was seeking. I remember such a separation between political affiliations and my political science Professors at Colorado State University. You just never knew if your prof’s were democrat or republican. In hindsight, it didn’t matter, I was there to learn.

  4. Avatar
    hwl  September 14, 2012

    Interesting though not surprising.
    Perhaps you can also write something about your other former associates, who did react significantly to your loss of faith.

  5. Avatar
    hwl  September 14, 2012

    Does Princeton Theological Seminary still require all its academic staff to sign a confessional statement before taking on employment?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  September 14, 2012

      I’m not sure that it ever did!

      • John4
        John4  July 3, 2015

        Not, I think, since Machen’s departure in ’29.

        “The two sides also had different attitudes towards their seminary professors: Princeton Theological Seminary, the leading institution of the Old School, *demanded credal subscription* [emphasis added] and dedicated a large part of its academic efforts to the defense of Calvinist Orthodoxy (see Princeton theologians); while the New School’s Union Theological Seminary was more willing to allow non-Presbyterians to teach at the school and was more broadminded in its academic output.”

        https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fundamentalist–Modernist_Controversy

  6. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  September 14, 2012

    Absolutely fascinating conclusion. Having been in academics, I certainly understand the boundaries you describe, but I would think that a few of your closest colleagues and friends would want to discuss with you where all the scholarship leads you and them.

  7. Avatar
    Adam  September 14, 2012

    You mention that the interpretation of the biblical texts is an academic issue, not a faith issue.

    While I think this should be the case, in the end doesn’t the faith/bias of both the believing or non-believing scholar significantly influence how they interpret many key verses of the NT, for example?

    You have noted that in some places the way the NIV translation team translate certain verses from the Bible is directly impacted by their own faith/bias. I think we have also seen how the bias of some mythists sometimes affect how they interpret the New Testament. But on the other side of the coin, we see the views of scholars (like yourself) who have changed their views in part due to their their study–rather than have their faith and personal views dictate how they interpret a text.

    Is pure objectivitypossible?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  September 14, 2012

      No, I don’t think there is any such thing as pure objetivity, since we’re human at the end of the day. But there are some historical issues where faith really should not have to play a role. Whether Matthew used Mark as one of his sources, or whether Paul had more people disagree with him than agree with him, or whether Didymus the Blind is a good witness to the Alexandrian text of the Gospels are all questions that should, in theory, be able to be answered independently of what one happens to believe about God. I *should* say that it is much easier for me to see the biases of others in my field (especially conservative evangelicals) than to see my own (or others who are like-minded).

  8. Avatar
    maxhirez  September 14, 2012

    ” …he was more invested in his relationship with God than with his doctrines. And he had no problems acknowledging the mysteries of the universe that could not be solved and were best left in God’s hands. He may have thought that the faith of his students and colleagues were best left that way as well. ”

    I think that’s the most eloquent and beautiful thing you could have said there. An honest and personal tribute to the man and his identity.

  9. Avatar
    lbehrendt  September 14, 2012

    Bart, this IS a surprising answer! Though as you explain it, this makes sense.

    It would be interesting to learn more about how your loss of faith has changed your professional life. To be certain, your loss of faith is topic no. 1 in much of what I read ABOUT you!

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  September 14, 2012

      I’m not sure it’s changed my professional life much at all, except that the popular, trade books (the kinds sold in Barnes & Noble) are different from what they would be otherwise. But in terms of my scholarship and teaching, I’m not sure it’s made a difference. But I’ll think about it!

  10. Avatar
    Jacobus  September 14, 2012

    I find this quite interesting. To an extent it is quite different from my experience at the University of Pretoria, South Africa. When I studied, I remember that we as students felt that the Faculty of Theology (All universities are State universities in the RSA, but the Dutch Reformed and other Churches are allowed to partner with Theological faculties) were often concerned that the faculty didn’t make enough of faith. Ironically, it was my professors in Greek and Hebrew (Semitic Languages) at the Faculty of Humanities, that were more open about their beliefs. In the RSA it is difficult to separate faith and academic study when it comes to religion. Even when I studied the Qur’an and the Mishna, faith played a role in the discussions surrounding these texts. I am aware that professors do share their own stances on faith with one another. Sometimes, this has been to the detriment of the lecturers themselves. It is difficult to grasp the complete separation of the two.

  11. Avatar
    Yentyl  September 14, 2012

    Did you write any other book with Gordon Fee than “The Text of the Fourth Gospel
    in the Writings of Origen?” And when is the second edition of that coming out? This was also written with Holmes, as, of course, you know. I checked on amazon and the only one listed there is this one with Gordon Fee. Thank you.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  September 15, 2012

      Yes, that’s the one. No second edition planned (or needed!).

  12. Avatar
    BradJaeger  September 15, 2012

    A fascinating read. I hold a great deal of respect for Mr. Metzger, having read everything of his I can get my grubby little hands on.

    A fine scholar is able to make a distinction between their academic studies and their private beliefs. It does not surprise me that an academic of his caliber never wavered in this regard, and that ideology never directed his work, or how he treated his friends and colleagues.

  13. Avatar
    Jdavis4813  September 15, 2012

    Dr. Ehrman,

    I believe the world would become a better place if we all would have a relationship with each other as you and Mr. Metzer, when it comes to our beliefs.

    I have just recently came across your blog, and books you have written. I am now reading The New Testament The Historical Introduction To The Early Christian Writings, and I find it fascinating.

    I am going to begin college in the winter, and have decided to pursue a career in religious studies and find your work very helpful. Thanks very much

  14. Avatar
    alion99  September 23, 2012

    Is it possible for a person to have some faith on religion or it is like either you have Faith or not.

    Do you like to share your exprirence

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  September 23, 2012

      Yes, *some* faith is absolutely possible. And common!

  15. Avatar
    toddfrederick  September 27, 2012

    Bart, you are writing to help your readers understand the immensely complex ways in which Judeo-Christian scripture was formed, and in the many contradictions and widely different points of view found therein. The fundamentalists have it easy….just believe that everything in scripture is absolutely true, without error, written by the flaming finger of God, and there is no room for debate, period. What they believe is what is written. The Bible becomes God. On the other side of the coin, are the critical scholars and those who, like me, consider the Bible to be a human book written by many different groups to understand their place in nature (and natures god) and how to conduct their affairs in society. What can we believe in that? I have come to this point: I blindly believe that there is a deity,,,a source of all there is…since I would rather live my life with that belief than live my life without a belief in a deity….I simply view the Earth and the Universe and conclude that there must be more than what I see or that my mind can understand. Having been raised in the Christian faith and culture, I naturally fall into the study of the Bible and Church teachings, though I spent about 10 years in Buddhist study and still do much mindful meditation…so peaceful. So, with an uncountable mass of Christian religions in today’s, I am truly daunted to decide what to believe…if anything at all. Therefore my dilemma continues….I choose to believe in a deity because life seems to make more sense if I do, but without firm anchor, as the fundamentalists seem to have in their worship of scripture, what kind of deity do I believe in…what is the basis of faith for one who looks at faith honestly and realistically?

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