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Ben Witherington Critique

Probably more than any of my other books, Misquoting Jesus provoked a loud and extensive critique from scholars – almost exclusively among evangelical Christians, who appear to have thought that if readers were “led astray” by my claims in the book (in many instances, these critics pointed to claims that in fact I never claimed!) they might be in danger of losing their faith – or worse – changing what they believed so that they would no longer be evangelical.

I’m not so sure there is really much danger in presenting widely held scholarship to a lay-readership, and so I was a bit surprised at the vitriol I received at the hands of some of my evangelical critics. There were four entire books written to refute my discussion: (1) Dillon Burroughs, Misquotes in Misquoting Jesus: Why You Can Still Believe; (2) Timothy Paul Jones, Misquoting Truth: A Guide to the Fallacies of Bart Ehrman’s “Misquoting Jesus”; (3) Nicholas Perrin, Lost In Transmission?: What We Can Know About the Words of Jesus; and (4) Gregory Koukl, Misquoting Jesus? Answering Bart Ehrman.

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First-Century Copy of Mark? – Part 1

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Comments

  1. Avatar
    jimmo  April 19, 2012

    I have read Dr. Witherington’s critique, as well as others, and what struck me most were comments like the one you mentioned ‘NONE of these differences affect “any cardinal doctrine”‘. The word “affect” has a pretty clear meaning and even if a given passage is not the only basis for a particular doctrine, removing it does “affect” it, even if the effect is slight.

    For me, the classic example is the Comma Johanneum. Remove that and the doctrinal support for the trinity is based on a specific interpretation of various other passages. It seems to me that, the other versus simply support the Comma Johanneum and by themselves (or even together) do not serve to directly support the doctrine of the trinity. Then there is what you pointed out that “Changes in the Bible can be significant without affecting any cherished doctrines of the evangelicals”.

    I also find it humorous that Witherington, Daniel Wallace, Dillon Burroughs, etc, ad nauseam maintain your goal is to cast doubt on the entire New Testament. As you point out here, (as well as in an email to me once) “But that is not my claim and never has been my claim. ” It seems that evangelicals fear books like “Misquoting Jesus” as they think they are a “wedge”. That is, once doubt has been cast in the inerrancy of the bible, all of it is suspect. It’s ironic because that is the approach many evangelicals are taking with teaching intelligent design.

    In his critique, Daniel Wallace said, “A good teacher does not create Chicken Littles.” True enough. However, a good teacher also does not create ostriches who hide their head in the sand. Thank you for not allowing people to be ostriches!

  2. Avatar
    Don M. Burrows  April 20, 2012

    This is great. I’ve been wishing I could hear responses to some of these attacks on your work for some time (for most of them, just about any able-minded, educated person could respond to them). One recurring critique that you may or may not consider worth your time can be found (apparently) in the Jones book cited above. At this website (http://www.christianbook.com/Christian/Books/product?isbn=0830834478&event=AFF&p=1022507) the author/publisher makes the offhand comment: “Published by a popular secular publishing house, Ehrman gets no true peer review for his writings.” I’ve seen this regurgitated in other places as well. This of course goes along with the inconsistent charge that you are at once saying “nothing new” but then saying all sorts of horribly wrong stuff. But at any rate, they seem to be unaware of your scholarly publications (or feigning unawareness).

  3. Avatar
    Adam  April 27, 2012

    Thanks for addressing these issues. I’ve been wondering what your thoughts are on this question for sometime.

  4. Avatar
    joshua  September 13, 2012

    In his eulogy here of Dr. Metzger, he discuss their relationship:
    http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2007/februaryweb-only/107-43.0.html

    This quote is especially interesting:

    Several years later, in 1977, after doing summer study with him, I asked Professor Metzger’s advice about where I should pursue my doctoral work. He told me I could work with him and do a thesis on Didymus the Blind (!). I had no idea who that was, but I assumed he was important.

    • Avatar
      Cephas_Phileleutherus  November 13, 2012

      Joshua, that’s actually an interesting point. If Ben (I can use his first name, because he and I were on the same continent at one time) didn’t then know who Didymus the Blind was, while attempting to pursue a doctoral thesis with Bruce Metzger, then I can be pretty confident that someone like me – an avid reader and not much more – has more knowledge at his disposal than some of Bart’s critics!

      That gives me just a wee bit of confidence that I’m not just talking through my hat when I participate in discussions on this subject.

      Heck, that admission of Ben’s is about as curious as a potential chemistry doctoral student not knowing the decay rate of radioactive caesium. “Cesium’s radioactive?”. ^_^

  5. Avatar
    MattYoung  November 6, 2015

    Dr. Ehrman,

    I’ve followed the blog for about a year now even though I haven’t read every post in this year. We have connected via email in that time (which I have greatly appreciated); but instead of emailing I wanted to comment, here, on your first post. I’ve decided to start from the beginning and work all the way through; the goal being to read every post that is on the blog. I intend to read at least one post per day until the end, ha-ha. Has anyone else done this that you know of?

    Best,
    M

  6. Avatar
    ksgm34  November 30, 2018

    I know you have stated many times in your books and other writing that the discrepancies/ contradictions/ forgeries/ historical inaccuracies etc. etc. in the bible need not cause someone to lose their faith. Do you think, though, that a belief in an orthodox version of Christianity (i.e. the beliefs laid out in the Nicene Creed) can be maintained in the face of all of these or really would it be a much more liberal flavour, as you describe your own beliefs ultimately evolving towards? Do believing academics in your field generally subscribe more to the latter than the former?

    • Bart
      Bart  December 2, 2018

      Yes indeed. I have scholar friends who completely affirm the creed and agree with everything I think about the Bible. If you want to pursue the matter, you should look at Dale Martin, Biblical Truths.

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