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A Funny Story about the Rapture

In my forthcoming book on Revelation (Title:  Armaggedon: What the Bible Really Says About the End; to be published on March 21), I discuss how evangelical Christians in the 19th century came up with the idea of a "rapture" -- that Jesus was soon to return to heaven to take true believers out of it before the horrible seven-year "tribulation" began.  Here is  a funny story about belief in the rapture from my younger days. At the time I was still a churchgoing Christian.  The church I was attending was evangelical, but I was moving away from a conservative theology and its strict, literal interpretation of the Bible.  I was becoming socially quite liberal, and was starting to take a more liberal view of the Bible.  I still thought that in *some* sense it was the Word of God, but I did not think that it was infallible or true in every way.  I had already come to see that parts of it contradicted one another, that there were historical implausibilities, and mistakes of various kinds. [...]

2022-09-16T15:05:29-04:00September 13th, 2022|Bart’s Biography, Reflections and Ruminations|

Controversial Me….

I am having a ten-week long celebration of our ten-year anniversary, from this past April 18, by reposting all the previous April 18 posts, one a week.  Many of them I'd forgotten about.  This one is about how weird it is to me that people think I'm controversial....  (As usual, I'm a bit tetchy about it!) ****************************** In this post I am going to take a bit of time out to do some self-reflection.  An issue I’ve been puzzling over for some time is the fact that people keep referring to my work as “controversial.”  I hear this all the time.  And truth be told, I’ve always found it bit odd and a disconcerting.  This past week I’ve had two people tell me that they know that I “like to be controversial.”   That’s actually not the case at all.   One person told me that she had seen a TV show where someone had said that they didn’t believe that Jesus existed, and she thought that was right up my alley.  I didn’t bother to tell [...]

2022-05-30T03:29:02-04:00June 9th, 2022|Bart’s Biography|

When I First Read the Book of Revelation….

I recently gave a plenary talk at a regional meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature.  The president of the group asked me to give a talk on Revelation, since that is what I’ve been working on recently, and I cobbled something together based on my book and a few other things.  It was about a 45 minute speech, and I thought it would be useful to reproduce it here in chunks over the course of a few posts. My audience was scholars of religion, most of them professors of biblical studies from the Northeast.  Since there were a wide range of interests and expertise represented there, I decided not to go too heavy with the scholarship.  It’s always hard to gauge an audience you’ve never seen before. Anyway, here is how I started the lecture. ****************************** When I first read the book of Revelation, in August 1973, I did so out of fear, not hope.  Not fear for the fate of the world in light of the coming apocalypse, but fear of my own [...]

2022-03-14T10:13:29-04:00March 22nd, 2022|Bart’s Biography, Revelation of John|

Faith and Inerrancy, In My Case — Did the “Young Ehrman” Get it Wrong?

Here I pick up from my previous post about evangelicals misunderstanding my journey of faith, first by repeating its final paragraph: ****************************** My sense is that there is a simple reason that a lot of evangelical apologists think I “threw the baby out with the bathwater” (the baby of faith with the bathwater of fundamentalism).  I might be wrong about this, but my sense is that taking this view allows them to explain why I left the faith without compelling them to address the ACTUAL reasons I did for themselves.   It is easier to caricature me and what happened and to point out my “mistake.”  I do not think that’s true of Kurt Jaros (see my previous post).  I think he has simply misread what I said.  And I can see how that misunderstanding is understandable, so to say.  Here’s why: In Misquoting Jesus, I say the following: This kind of realization coincided with the problems I was encountering the more closely I studied the surviving Greek manuscripts of the New Testament.  It is one [...]

Did I Have an Errant View of Inerrancy? (!) Guest Video Post by Kurt Jaros (#5)

This fifth installment of a six-part video thread by Kurt Jaros, an evangelical Christian apologist, considers my views of Scripture back in my hard-core conservative evangelical days and their (possible?) impact on my later decision to leave the faith altogether.  My ears are tingling! ****************************** In this video, I look at the young Bart Ehrman’s theological reflection on the doctrines of inerrancy and the preservation & inspiration of the Biblical text. Did the young Ehrman have a misconception, misunderstanding, or invalid inference pertaining to these doctrines? Image a world in which those doctrinal beliefs were formulated even slightly differently. It may have taken the young Ehrman down a different path.  

2022-02-13T12:01:38-05:00February 23rd, 2022|Bart’s Biography|

Do I Hold a Grudge against Bruce Metzger?

I'll end this set of reflections on my relationship with Bruce Metzger with a surprising question about my relationship with him, and my response.  (My sense is that those who have been reading this thread will not be surprised by what I say) ****************************** QUESTION: A more personal question:  did you have a grudge against Dr. Bruce Metzger? I have always seen conservative textual critics and scholars pit you against Dr. Metzger's views.   RESPONSE: When I first read this question I was very surprised indeed.  A grudge against Bruce Metzger??? Metzger, as many readers of this blog know, was my teacher and mentor, and I never had anything but the most profound and utmost respect for him, from the moment I first had the privilege of meeting him until the time of his death – and still today. I don’t think there’s anyone in the known universe who would disagree that Bruce Metzger was the greatest NT textual scholar ever to come out of North America.  I first heard about him when I was [...]

2021-10-20T11:16:24-04:00October 31st, 2021|Bart’s Biography, New Testament Manuscripts|

Starting My New Trade Book on Revelation

I started writing my book on the Apocalypse of John a couple of weeks ago and have been using the occasion to reflect on my how my approach to writing has changed over the past few years.  My first trade book – that is, a book for a general audience -- was Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium.   That came out in 1999 so I suppose I started working on it in 1997. Up to that point I had published three scholarly books – (Didymus the Blind and the Text of the Gospels; The Text of the Fourth Gospel in the Writings of Origen; and The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture) and most recently my New Testament textbook (The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings).    The first two of these written for were for a very small group of ancient New Testament manuscript nerds (like me) in the world; the third for a wider range of scholars; and fourth for 18- to 20-year-olds who knew nothing about the New Testament. The [...]

Bruce Metzger and My Loss of Faith

In my reflections on my relationship with Bruce Metzger, my mentor through both my Masters and PhD degrees, I come now to a question I sometimes get asked.  Metzger himself was a devout and pious Christian, an ordained Presbyterian minister, and unusually committed to his faith.  When I first met him I was an evangelical; I changed over the years; I eventually left the faith.  How did Metzger respond? 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. Metzger and I never talked about either my faith or his.  He was my teacher and I was his student, and we talked almost exclusively about scholarship:  New Testament studies, the history of earliest Christianity, the textual tradition of the New Testament.  We did not have a pastoral relationship but an academic one.  I don’t know if Metzger ever had a pastoral relationship with any of his students, but I somewhat doubt it.  He was their teacher, not their pastor [...]

2021-10-05T14:00:38-04:00October 17th, 2021|Bart’s Biography|

My Relationship with Bruce Metzger: More on the Personal Side

After all the tangents and side-tracks, I can return now to my reminiscences of my relationship with Bruce Metzger. Perhaps I should say a few things about his personality, as I perceived and experienced it. I think everyone who knew him would say that he was a true Christian gentleman.  He was respectful of all people, polite to a fault, and cordial.  But he was not someone that anyone became intimate with.  I am sure that I came to be closer to him than any PhD student he supervised in his 40 plus years teaching at Princeton Theological Seminary.  He as much as told me so.  I knew his wife and his two sons (a bit); he invited my family to Christmas dinner; for several weeks I lived with him and his wife in their home.  But there was always a kind of distance to him as well.  He never let down his hair.  The best I can put it is that he was cordial rather than warm and intimate. He was a shy man.  [...]

2021-09-25T11:47:16-04:00October 7th, 2021|Bart’s Biography|

What Do I Think of the New Revised Standard Version?

I recently discussed how I became a secretary for the New Revised Standard Version translation committee as a grad student.  Several people have asked me what I think of the translation, and if I have any problems with it.  My answer is pretty straightforward and comes in two parts: I think it is the best Bible translation out there and I have lots of problems with it.  (!)  The reality is that *every* Bible scholar has *lots* of problems with virtually every Bible translation.  Even the best. Generally speaking, I have two kinds of problems with the NRSV: some have to do with the translation itself, others have to do with the Greek reading that the translators decided to translate.  I’ll deal with the first set of problems in two posts, and second in the next two posts. Every biblical scholar will have problems with the way translators have rendered this, that, or the other passage.  Scholars disagree on everything!  (Well, almost everything.)  There are a few passages that have always irritated me from the [...]

2021-10-08T12:08:58-04:00October 2nd, 2021|Bart’s Biography, Canonical Gospels|

How Becoming an Agnostic Affected My Personal Life

I was just now looking through some old posts on the blog (there are lots of them!  If you join, you have full access!), and came upon this one from almost exactly four years ago.  It involves a question I get asked a lot by people who have left the faith or find themselves moving in that direction.  It involves how my relationships with others changed as I went from being a very conservative evangelical Christian to becoming an agnostic/atheist. My answer today would be the same....   QUESTION Would you be willing to elaborate on how your changing views affected your relationships with friends and family and how people reacted to your changing perspective? Thanks so much!   RESPONSE As it turns out, in my case, the biggest “problem” for my relationships with family and friends was not so much when I became an agnostic, over twenty years ago now, but when I left the evangelical beliefs I had held as a young adult to become a “liberal” Christian with critical views of the [...]

2021-09-06T20:19:06-04:00September 22nd, 2021|Bart’s Biography|

Working as a Secretary for the New Revised Standard Version

Here I continue with some reminiscences of my work with my mentor Bruce Metzger. ****************************** When I was still a graduate student in the PhD program at Princeton Theological Seminary, Metzger invited me to serve as a secretary for the committee that was producing the new revision of the Revised Standard Version translation of the Bible. The RSV (on which the new translation was to be based) had come out in 1952, and it had caused a huge furor at the time. It was an “official” revision of the King James Bible, that was supposed to update the language (English has changed a lot since 1611), to take into consideration new manuscript discoveries (especially important for the New Testament, since the KJV was based on only a few medieval manuscripts that were not of very high quality; hundreds of better ones had since been discovered, and to incorporate the findings of modern Biblical scholarship). The RSV of 1952 was an “official” translation because it was authorized by the National Council of Churches in the U.S. [...]

2021-09-16T10:22:40-04:00September 16th, 2021|Bart’s Biography, History of Biblical Scholarship|

More On Bruce Metzger and Me: How I Got Interested in my Dissertation Topic

THIS POST RESUMES MY RECOLLECTIONS OF MY INTERACTIONS WITH BRUCE METZGER, MY MENTOR.  Remember: when I say "textual criticism" in this post, I am NOT referring simply to the "study of texts."  Textual criticism is the technical term used by scholars (in all fields) to refer to how we establish what an author wrote if we don't have his/her original writing itself.  For the New Testament that involves studying ancient Greek manuscripts and other sources; since all the surviving sources word the NT in different ways -- usually completely insignificant ways, but sometimes important -- we need to figure out what the "originals" said and how scribes changed them.  That's "textual criticism." ****************************** When I entered my PhD program at Princeton Theological Seminary, I knew already that I wanted to specialize in the study of the Greek manuscript tradition of the New Testament. As I indicated in my earlier posts, that’s why I went there, because Metzger was the country’s leading expert in this field, and one could argue the leading expert in the world [...]

Bruce Metzger and the “Favor” He Did Me On My PhD Exams

I have been posting some reminiscences of my relationship with my mentor, Bruce Metzger, one of the great New Testament textual scholars of the twentieth century.  Here I talk about one of my direct involvements with him as his student. Metzger directed my PhD exams, and was responsible for writing the questions for one of them.  To explain that situation requires a good bit of background. In a typical PhD program, at the end of two years of taking seminars (usually three a semester, for four semesters), a student takes the PhD exams.  These go by different names: “Comprehensive exams” (that’s what we called them at Princeton Seminary); “Preliminary Exams” (i.e. preliminary to writing a dissertation); “Qualifying exams” (i.e. that qualify you to move on to the dissertation stage) – all of these refer to the same battery of exams.  In most respects the way it was set up at Princeton was fairly typical – it is the way we also have it set up in the PhD program that I teach in at UNC.  [...]

2021-07-13T05:20:42-04:00July 28th, 2021|Bart’s Biography, Reflections and Ruminations|

Metzger, the Squirrel, and Me (…and Jesus).

In my previous post I talked about the locally famous story about (my teacher) Bruce Metzger and the dead (dying?) squirrel.  Here I continue the story to show why in fact is has some relevance to the New Testament! As I indicated, for years friends of mine were eager for me to find out whether the story about Metzger and the squirrel really happened.  They wanted me just to ask Metzger.  But there were problems with that.  Among other things, if it had happened, he almost certainly wouldn’t remember, since it would have simply been something that happened with no significance to him – only to the one who thought it was very odd that Metzger would happen to know the Greek word for squirrel and that he would volunteer it at that rather inauspicious moment. Moreover, there were aspects of the story that did not “ring true.”  Metzger was not heartless toward other living beings and he was not one to boast about his knowledge about Greek -- or about anything else.  Years later [...]

Memories of Bruce Metzger: When I First Realized I Couldn’t Write

In my last post I started to resume my recollections of my mentor, the great textual scholar Bruce Metzger.   In this post I recall when he first showed me I was a lousy writer. In graduate school different professors have different approaches to evaluating and grading term papers. Some professors are completely anal about it and insist on correcting every mistake, rewriting every sentence, and reformulating every idea.  Not many are that way, thankfully, since doing all this takes an enormous chunk of time (and a very large ego).  I never had a professor like that, but I have known some over the years.  Others make extremely judicious and helpful comments, sometimes at great length.  My teacher Paul Meyer was like that at Princeton Seminary.  The comments he made on our papers were in depth, always on target, and superior in quality to any of the scholarship we read all semester in the class.  Meyer never published much himself – he threw himself into his students instead; we used to threaten to extract his comments [...]

2021-06-21T17:30:31-04:00July 4th, 2021|Bart’s Biography, Reflections and Ruminations|

My Mentor Bruce Metzger

Many years ago on the blog I was asked about my relationship with my mentor Bruce Metzger, an internationally famous scholar of the New Testament who is generally acknowledged as the greatest expert on biblical manuscripts in America, ever.  He was also a devout Christian, an ordained Presbyterian minister.  I, obviously, am not.  (Though I was very much a committed Christian when I first met him.)  Here is the question and my initial response.   QUESTION: Hey Bart, I know you studied under Bruce Metzger and my question is how did he feel about your skepticism toward the trustworthiness of the N.T?   RESPONSE: Bruce Metzger and I had a long and very close relationship.  I was his student for seven years and his research assistant for the New Revised Standard Version (he was the chair of the translation committee) for a couple of years.  He directed my masters and PhD theses; he helped me break into publishing; he worked to get me into editorial positions for journals and monograph series; he guided my research [...]

2021-06-21T17:25:55-04:00July 3rd, 2021|Bart’s Biography, Reflections and Ruminations|

Why I Wrote my book Did Jesus Exist? Interview with Evangelical Scholar Ben Witherington

Ever since I started publishing books for non-scholars,  I've been attacked by evangelical Christians for my views of the Bible.  Then, somewhat ironically, about nine years ago I came under attack by the nemeses of evangelical Christians, the "mythicists," who claim that Jesus never existed.  And why did they attack me?  For my views of the Bible.  Isn't life marvelous? In 2012 published a book arguing that whatever else you say about him, Jesus certainly existed.  It drove some of the mythicists to distraction.  What was I thinking?   I didn't agree with them!  Traitor! Oh boy I didn't agree with them.  And on this point, at least, some evangelicals came to love me.  One of the leading New Testament scholars in the evangelical community is Ben Witherington, with whom I've been on friendly terms for a very long time.  Ben also has a blog, quite different from mine.  Soon after the book was published, Ben asked if he could do a multi-part series with me on the book that both of us could post on [...]

2021-06-10T20:04:39-04:00June 16th, 2021|Bart’s Biography, Book Discussions, Historical Jesus|

A Probing Interview on “When Belief Dies Podcast”

One of the readers for the audio versions of my daily blog posts is Sam Devis, who also runs a podcast called "When Belief Dies," dealing with lots of intriguing issues connected with "faith, religion, and life."  Check out the podcast site (https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/when-belief-dies/id1516058806) ; he's had some terrific guests on, and is an extremely thoughtful interviewer. Sam asked me to do an interview, and I thought that the questions and issues were particularly penetrating.  See what you think.  Here it is.

2021-04-01T11:35:22-04:00April 1st, 2021|Bart’s Biography, Public Forum|
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