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Beginning My Study of the Bible

This thread is becoming a tapestry.  Its ultimate goal is to explain why, unlike most scholars, I ended up being able to write trade books and not only scholarly books.  I’m taking a rather circuitous route to getting there (to change the metaphor).   In my last post I discussed how and why I first became interested in the Bible, back as a fifteen year-old born again Christian.

At that point I became convinced that only Bible-believing Christians (who were, of course, also born again) were the real Christians and any other people who claimed to be Christian (for example, most of the people who went to my own Episcopal church) were not *really* Christian, except in name only.   Again, the reason I thought so is because the born-agains I hung around with all said so, and they seemed to know what they were talking about.  Especially the fellow who “led me to Christ,” a mid-20s something fellow named Bruce.

Bruce had a winsome personality and strong charisma, and he ran the Campus Life Youth for Christ organization that I got involved with, an organization (like Young Life) that tries to convert high school kids to its form of Christianity and then to sustain their faith through prayer meetings, Bible studies, and so on, but *mainly* through weekly social events that were a lot of fun and that included, at the end, a spiritual message.  I thrived on these things.

And accepted everything Bruce ever said.   The next year …

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Am I A Better Person as an Agnostic? A Blast from the Past
My Original Passion for the Bible



  1. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  August 25, 2016

    I love the gist of this “tapestry.”. Keep going! It reminds me of my going to the University of Texas; a decision which was opposed with vigor by all of my high school teachers. It was one of the best decisions I ever made including taking freshman philosophy there. I am somewhat surprised that you were so powerfully influenced by Bruce.

  2. Avatar
    TheCaseGuy  August 25, 2016

    This is an expansion on the personal memories, explained in the introduction to Misquoting Jesus a dozen years ago, and that element is likely what caused that book to resonate with so many people. When you explain what you were going through, on a personal level, it clicks with those who have been faced with similar challenges in dealing with their faith. Most Christian do not have the time, the patience, or even any interest in combing over their sacred books, in a way which you would deem as a scholarly critical approach. It is so much easier to just go through the usual busyness of daily life, and to merely revert to a concordance approach to studying bits and pieces of scripture, when needing to reaffirm one’s religious faith, which results in reading many things out of context. I applaud you in keeping this personal element alive, as it is what connects with so many of us.

  3. Avatar
    Boltonian  August 25, 2016

    I have a couple of questions:

    1) Who was paying for your education? and,

    2) If it was your parents, did they not have a say in where you studied?

    • Bart
      Bart  August 26, 2016

      I put myself through, all the way. It was hard — working a lot of hours to get by!

      • Avatar
        Wilusa  August 28, 2016

        Did your parents at least *try* to talk you out of it? Or guidance counselors at your high school?

        (Of course, no one tried to talk *me* out of going to a horrible Catholic women’s college – where I spent two of the worst years of my life! I just went there because my friends were going there. And I suffered through two years of it because Mom wanted me to stay in school till I was 18.)

        • Bart
          Bart  August 28, 2016

          Nope, they were supportive the whole way!

        • Avatar
          Pattycake1974  August 28, 2016

          I think out of all the mistakes I’ve made, it was college that I most regret. I was so caught up in my religion that I allowed my pastor to guilt-trip me right out of an education. It was all over what he thought was this huge homosexual agenda at the college. A woman in the church also told me that her daughter backslid after attending this college; it was a sinful place sending Christians to hell! Well, I attended for a while because I had already went through the trouble of applying, being accepted, etc.. but the whole time I felt terrible because before I left for school, the pastor brought me into his office to “warn” me about it. He followed that up with a sermon directed at me about not being in God’s will. Needless to say, it was a huge mess for me.

          I did complete my education later on down the road, but I wasted so much time by being involved with that church.

          • Avatar
            Wilusa  August 30, 2016

            The Catholic college I attended was so bad that I remember seeing a nun, who was supposed to be teaching us “History of Diplomacy,” actually crying. Her “teaching” consisted of her just reading stuff aloud, so slowly that I could copy it all down, in very good handwriting! And as far as the “religion” was concerned, I was a rebel from the beginning, dissing books of the Old Testament and so forth. But when I left, I was still a believing Catholic.

            Also, they had some kind of “sodality” you were supposedly required to “join.” But I flunked its entrance exam, because I wouldn’t memorize its committee names!

            I finished college too, in the Evening Division of a very secular college. (By then, in my early twenties, I I was an agnostic.) I eventually quit a job I hated and went in debt to do graduate work full-time, but didn’t get beyond a Master’s degree, *or* use it professionally.

            It amazes me that so many people seem to find professions that (a) interest them, and (b) they’re really good at!

  4. ronaldus67
    ronaldus67  August 25, 2016

    Dear Bart,

    Your ‘testimony’ has always been very inspiring to me. It is one of the reasons I started to follow you in the first place.

  5. Avatar
    rburos  August 25, 2016

    Did Moody require you to study the Bible in Greek? I guess my real question is to nail down at what point it is important to read the NT in Koine. I speak German, and although it takes a few months to get the grammar and a bit more time to add vocabulary, it takes YEARS to learn the subtleties of the language. I just received my introductory Greek materials, and it’s going to take quite a while. I’m just not sure at what point it will be better than a trusted translation and become important to exegesis.

    • Bart
      Bart  August 26, 2016

      No, I didn’t know Greek at the time, though it was offered. Ironically, I didn’t want to take time away from my Bible courses to learn Greek. Go figure.

  6. Avatar
    Tnewby4444  August 25, 2016

    This thread is tremendous. Keep it up.

  7. talmoore
    talmoore  August 25, 2016

    “the tribe of Benjamin were thought to be left handed [!]” Rather ironic, considering that Ben-Jamin can be translated as “son of the right hand” in Hebrew.

    Dr. Ehrman, I find it fascinating that we took completely opposite turns around the same time in our respective lives. While you were a lukewarm mainline Christian as a child, who turned hardcore born-again Christian at 15, I was a lukewarm conservative Jew as a child, who turned hardcore atheist Jew at 15. I love reading about your personal history, because it affords me a glimpse of a totally alien life experience. I actually had roommates for a time from Lawrence, Kansas and they were very liberal. They told me that Lawrence, being a university town, was a liberal oasis in the middle of red Kansas. Would you agree with that? Also, when you became born-again, did you adopt any socially conservative beliefs that you would be embarrassed to hold today?

    • Bart
      Bart  August 26, 2016

      Yeah, that is ironic. I’m not sure how to explain it. But I gave it to my son as his middle name because I like the literal meaning.

      Yes, Lawrence was a bastion of liberalism in the conservative swamp of Kansas. I was socially conservative until my fourth year in college. It’s embarassing the views I had growing up!!

  8. Avatar
    rivercrowman  August 25, 2016

    Bruce, in my opinion, was a godsend. … Bart may have ended up as an obscure agronomist or livestock specialist. … Or would that be KSU?

    • Bart
      Bart  August 26, 2016

      Ha! That would definitely have been Kansas State, not KU!

  9. Avatar
    Adam0685  August 25, 2016

    I graduated from MBI in 2008. I went there because like you I shared similar beliefs/commitments at the time. I now look back and I am surprised by how everything in my life at that time was devoted to evangelicalism/conservative Christianity. Ugh.

  10. Avatar
    Pattycake1974  August 25, 2016

    Oh, right, the debate team. That had to influence you as a writer as well.

  11. Avatar
    Ronhenn  August 25, 2016

    I knew the answer! Being raised a Jehovah’s Witness will do that 🙂

  12. Avatar
    Pegill7  August 25, 2016


    Just a small matter: It’s Judges 3:12-30. I’m sure you know that.

  13. talmoore
    talmoore  August 25, 2016

    Dr. Ehrman, I came across a passage in Plato’s “Pheadrus” that you, as a textual critic, may appreciate — especially in relation to your recent blog series.

    Socrates said: “I cannot help feeling, Pheadrus, that writing is unfortunately like painting; for the creations of the painter have the attitude of life, and yet if you ask them a question they preserve a solemn silence. And the same may be said of [transcribed] speeches. You would imagine that they had intelligence, but if you want to know anything and put a question to one of them, the speaker always gives one unvarying answer. And when they have been once written down they are tumbled about anywhere among those who may or may not understand them, and know not to whom they should reply, to whom not: and, if they are maltreated or abused, they have no parent to protect them; and they cannot protect or defend themselves.”

    • Bart
      Bart  August 26, 2016

      Yup, fantastic. I’d forgotten that. It’s one of my favorite Dialogues.

  14. Avatar
    Mhamed Errifi  August 26, 2016

    Hello Bart

    can you tell us why jesus never claimed to create heaven and earth or humans , if you think that the gospels protrayed him as god


    • Bart
      Bart  August 26, 2016

      I’m not saying Jesus thought he was God — he did not. I’m saying the biblical authors considered him God. Maybe you should read my book, How Jesus Became God.

      • Avatar
        iameyes137  August 27, 2016

        Definitely read that book! As with any of Bart’s books, they are enlightening and engaging. My favorite scholar/author to follow through the years.

  15. Avatar
    DaveAyres  August 26, 2016

    Dr. Erhman: Your ocassional mention of the charismatic figure of your high school years highlights the importantance of charismatic individuals. I think it goes without saying (so I’ll write it) that Jesus was an unusually charismatic individual. Further that he found and surrounded himself with charismatic individuals. Beyond Jesus and his immediate circle Paul allows us to see the growing circles of charisma in early Christianity.

    Your assessment of Bruce’s intellectual orientation helps to highlight that formal education is not necessary for effective charisma, althought charisma itself is not necessarly effective outside context and moment.

    Where do I see another moment where great charisma combined with other social factors to effect great change and social invention: the creation of the American secular religion. Not that George Washington is an Enlightenment Jesus or that John Adams was and Enlightenment Peter, but that there are parallels. Just as Jesus et al. caused the growth of a new and long lasting religion, that Washington, Adams et al. also brought their own charisma and other qualities to also create a newer religion, albeit one not based as much on miracles.

    So thank you for helping to help us understand just how marvelous the non-fiction version of early Christianity is.

  16. Avatar
    Hickman777  August 26, 2016

    Dr. Ehrman,
    Having read almost all your books and having watched/listened to all your great courses to date, I really have gained much from you. Your personal blogs coupled with the personal bits in books have always meant something to me since I followed the same path along with you. My first three years of college were also at MBI (in the decade prior to yours). The only reason I do not regret it is by crediting what I did gain during those 3 years:
    – A good foundation in Greek which worked well in future college, seminary, and graduate studies.
    – A good start at knowing basic Bible content.
    – A much better appreciation of some higher calibre music. I must have listened to my taped concert recording of Handel’s Messiah about 50 times. AND most of all
    – I found the woman who was the best decision of my life. We just celebrated our 50th!
    So, those years at Moody were not wasted, and also gave me a chance to grow up a little.

  17. Avatar
    wrengles  August 26, 2016

    Hi Bart – Not related to religion, but to something you mentioned – were the guys who won the NDT Frank Cross and Robin Rowland? They won the 1976 NDT, and Frank was later my debate coach at Harvard. Great guy (from my recollection).

    • Bart
      Bart  August 28, 2016

      Ha!! Yes indeed! Frank was a friend of mine from fifth grade onward; and Robin was my colleague in high school.

  18. Avatar
    HawksJ  August 26, 2016

    Fascinating stuff.

    If you had gone to Kansas, aside from cheering for Roy Williams when he had darker hair, how do you imagine your life would have gone? What do think you would have gone into as a career?

    • Bart
      Bart  August 28, 2016

      I was at a loss otherwise, frankly, thinking about selling insurance or real estate.

  19. Avatar
    SidDhartha1953  August 27, 2016

    Do you think the Bible pretest they gave you at Moody influenced you to give an opening pop quiz to your students at Chapel Hill? It’s a great pedagogical tool, both for the teacher and the student.
    Also, since you mention Ehud being a Benjamite — Paul claims in one of his letters to be a Benjamite. I’ve read that, by the beginning of the Common Era, only Levites knew their tribal identity. Are my sources mistaken or did Paul make that up? If so, why wouild he do that?

    • Bart
      Bart  August 28, 2016

      Actually, what inspired me was hearing a colleage in the philosophy department at UNC talk about a quiz he gave his students on religion generally, which showed just how dreadfully little they knew about basic factual information.

  20. Avatar
    jonatwms  August 27, 2016

    Ehud the lefty…so who was the shortest man in the Bible?
    This is an old sunday school joke.
    give up? see the book of Job, ch. 2, ch.18 etc.

    • Bart
      Bart  August 28, 2016

      Ah, well some people have thought it was Knee-high-miah. You’re suggesting it was Bildad the Shoe-height. But my sense is that it was actually Peter, who “slept on his watch.”

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