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Getting the Facts of My Life Straight

I have to admit, I sometimes get a bit tired of being the whipping boy for fundamentalist and conservative evangelical  Christian apologists.   If they would deal with my views head on and actually get the facts of my life right, it would be one thing.  But when they publicly accuse me of holding, or having held, positions that I never did – when they are flat our wrong in what they say about me — it gets under my skin.

The first time I noticed this in a big way was when Craig Evans – a long time colleague and friend – indicated, in writing!, that the reason I had become an agnostic was that I came to realize that there were differences in our manuscripts of the New Testament.   Good grief.   I had known about differences in our manuscripts from the time I was sixteen years old!!  I had studied them and known all about them in all the years I was a fundamentalist.   These differences had nothing – Zero, Nada, Not a Thing – to do with my becoming an agnostic.   Why didn’t he just ask me about it before saying something so outrageous?  He has my email address.

Today a member of the blog sent me the following little bit from William Lane Craig.  ) (I don’t know why I get dragged into these things by evangelical scholars; I never talk about *their* personal lives or faith….).  He too could find my email address and could simply ask me if what he says about me is true.  It’s not.  Here’s what he says (with a link to the rest of his post which, thankfully, is not about me):

“We should have to re-think our doctrine of inspiration in that case, but we needn’t give up belief in God or in Jesus, as Bart Ehrman did.  Ehrman had, it seems to me, a flawed theological system of beliefs as a Christian.  It seems that at the center of his web of theological beliefs was biblical inerrancy, and everything else, like the beliefs in the deity of Christ and in his resurrection, depended on that. Once the center was gone, the whole web soon collapsed.  But when you think about it, such a structure is deeply flawed.  At the center of our web of beliefs ought to be some core belief like the belief that God exists, with the deity and resurrection of Christ somewhere near the center.  The doctrine of inspiration of Scripture will be somewhere further out and inerrancy even farther toward the periphery as a corollary of inspiration.  If inerrancy goes, the web will feel the reverberations of that loss, as we adjust our doctrine of inspiration accordingly, but the web will not collapse because belief in God and Christ and his resurrection and so on don’t depend upon the doctrine of biblical inerrancy.”  Read more: http://www.reasonablefaith.org/what-price-biblical-errancy#ixzz3FN3RdTDC

So let me say to start with that I completely agree with Craig theologically.  The beliefs in the deity and resurrection of Christ should not be based on a view of inerrancy of Scripture.  But what does *my* faith journey have to do with that?  Precisely nothing.   Maybe I said something once that led him to think otherwise?  I thought I’d always been careful in what I said about my journey from fundamentalist to agnostic, but maybe I slipped up somewhere?  If so, I’m sure he’ll let me know.

But the reality is that he is FLAT OUT WRONG that my former belief in the deity of Christ and the resurrection “depended on” my belief in the inerrancy of the Bible.  I have two incontrovertible proofs for that.   The first is that I believed in the deity of Christ and in the physical resurrection BEFORE I held to a view of Biblical inerrancy.  The second is that I believed in the deity of Christ and in the physical resurrection AFTER I gave up my view of Biblical inerrancy.

I was raised to believe in Christ’s deity and resurrection.  I believed it from my very earliest days, as soon as I had any thoughts about God, and Christ, and faith.   When I came to subscribe to the doctrine of biblical inerrancy, as a teenager, this supported beliefs that I had already had.  It did not lead me to adopt those faiths.

And when I gave up my views of inerrancy as a twenty-something, upon realizing that the Bible in fact contains historical errors, discrepancies between various accounts (for example, in the Gospels), mistakes of various kinds, and different views of important things (such as how Christ was understood in different books of the NT, how salvation was to be attained, and so on), I did not then, that day, or the next, or the next week, or the next year, or for a good while give up my beliefs in Christ’s deity and resurrection.

Craig could have known that had he bothered to ask me.   As a philosopher, Craig is intimately familiar with the logical fallacy “post hoc ergo propter hoc” – which means something like “if something happens after this thing it therefore happened because of this thing.”   It’s true that I gave up my beliefs in the deity and resurrection of Jesus.  But it was not *because* I had given up on inerrancy.   It was simply *after* I had given up on inerrancy.

The way it actually happened is this.   I had held to the traditional teachings of Christianity (including Christ’s deity and resurrection) since the time I could think.  Those views were reinforced as I attained a more thinking age.  And reinforced even stronger when I came to hold to the inerrancy of the Bible.   But – just to take the view of the resurrection – I believed it not just because the Bible said so, but because I thought it could be historically demonstrated to have happened.  And because I knew, personally, based on my spiritual experience, that Jesus was still alive.  Therefore he had been raised.  And therefore he was divine.

When I gave up my view of inerrancy, it did not “cause” me to abandon my beliefs about Christ.  Instead,  it opened up to me the possibility of establishing *other* grounds for what to believe – not simply what I had been raised on and not simply what the Bible taught.  I came to think that any belief had to be subject to critical scrutiny.  In other words, one had to use one’s intelligence to figure out if a belief made sense.   God had given me a mind, and he expected me to use it.   The more I thought about it, the more I studied the ancient records of the NT, the more I saw how the doctrine of Christ’s divinity had developed historically and come into being because of a clear set of historical and cultural circumstances, the more I realized that it was a human-made idea.  And I came to realize that it was not the view that Jesus had of himself or or that his earliest followers had of him.   That made me begin to doubt it.

My doubts in the resurrection came later, and for other reasons.   These doubts again were not *because* I no longer held inerrancy.   The came *after* I held to inerrancy.  But since the reasons for belief in the resurrection (as with the deity of Christ) were not *due to* inerrancy, I did not abandon the belief when I gave up inerrancy, but only later.   It was decidedly not the case of post hoc ergo propter hoc.

I don’t mind others talking about me and my life in public.  But when they do so, I wish they would get their facts straight.

My Training as a Textual Critic
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  1. Avatar
    kendalynx  October 6, 2014

    I feel for you. It’s as difficult to defend nonbelief as it is belief. Everything is not black and white as evangelicals wish it to be. People look for that one moment when things change, the instant of being born-again to a moment of nonbelief. Belief is a process, as is nonbelief. Speaking only for myself, my process began with the claims of “the inerrancy of scripture” by evangelicals. Reason soon followed by examining the facts of science, history (though my least arguable defense for my lack of faith), and finally logic. Logic being the clencher.
    Recognizing my nonbelief is a long process of careful consideration of what makes sense in the multiple areas of God’s character and attributes….. An individual’s logic is one of the hardest things to understand by those who can’t accept your views. However you came to your current position may be yours and yours alone, which others may never truly understand. All I can think of is, don’t give up, endure, your patience, knowledge and openness are valued by those who walk the same path. Thank you, Dr. Ehrman.

  2. Avatar
    Jana  October 6, 2014

    I’m sorry that you’ve been subjected to such unfair understanding as well as sometimes vicious personal criticism. (I’ve glanced at a couple of YouTube videos as well that get foisted upon my site by google …) Both personally and professionally you are courageous. I wish you well in my meditations. btw: “to get the facts straight”, it would seem that they would have to have a better mind. They don’t.

  3. Josephsluna
    Josephsluna  October 6, 2014

    Genesis 6:4 Nephilim giants ?
    Historical evidence or religious teachings if giants by analogy of knowledge ?
    And after it says sons ( plural? Offsprings of Jupiter ) and then goes right into speaking of the sAvior of the earth at that time
    And also is letters of Paul the earliest we have like around 30 40 ad ?
    Is 1 Corinthians 15:51 from Paul ?

    • Bart
      Bart  October 6, 2014

      1 Thess. is probably earliest, around 49-50 CE. yes, 1 Cor. 15:51 is by Paul.

  4. Josephsluna
    Josephsluna  October 6, 2014

    Pslams 2:7-12
    Who was that according to ?
    And psalms 90
    Mathew 17:13
    Moses and Elijah met jesus
    ( Moses and John the Baptist meeting jesus?)
    And going back to the nostic gospel where
    Jesus stating from Adam to Moses etc will know not the truth untill they come to meet him
    So that nostic gospel was before NT Mathew 17:13 ?
    Just blogging is all

  5. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  October 6, 2014

    A very clear response. I bet you do get tired of the apologists, especially when they attack you personally rather than responding to the historical evidence. Hang in there!

  6. Josephsluna
    Josephsluna  October 6, 2014

    So jesus disciples say right after they saw Elijah in the sky with Moses
    Mathew 17:3

    That teachers of law say that Elijah is supposed to come first
    Which Elijah was in heaven and jesus says it not he who goes from earth to heavens is son of man
    But it is the one that comes from heaven to earth
    And he states
    Mathew 17:11
    That John the Baptist which was specifically referred to in
    That John the Baptist would come back to restore all things ?
    Was this after he imprisonment ?
    He would be in heaven then
    And jesus says he is already here
    Rev 22:16 is associated with Mathew 17:12 ?

    Jesus father Mathew 17:5
    Interrupted whole he was speaking showing that he does not
    Know future decisions and his fathers decisions are unpredictable
    Just like Jupiter which decisions are unpredictable

    But what does god say right after
    That he’s is gods son
    And they now face down right away just as in resurrection in tomb
    Where two man stood as if lighting bolts stood besides them

    • Bart
      Bart  October 6, 2014

      Yes, Matthew understands that John the Baptist was a kind of reincarnation of Elijah — who had to come first before the Messiah (and since Jesus was the messiah, then Elijah obviously had to come before him)

      • Josephsluna
        Josephsluna  October 12, 2014

        Hey bart can you explain
        1 Corinthians 15:5
        I know of apollos now that he was the follower of john bar
        And help jesus follower
        They came together

        But can you tell who is cephas ?

        • Bart
          Bart  October 12, 2014

          I don’t know who John Bar was; where are you getting this name? Cephas was (probably) Peter.

          • Josephsluna
            Josephsluna  October 12, 2014

            So ” some fell alseep was it night ? Lol
            Yet dark ?
            John bar Zachariah son of Zachariah
            Adopted to the name John the Baptist right ?
            Jesus appeared to 500 people secret society right off the bat
            But appeared to Peter the. The 12 so 13
            Can you touch on this bart

            The Pharisees wrote chapters
            What does
            Pharisees ch 14:8 say ?

          • Bart
            Bart  October 13, 2014

            Yes, the word “bar” in Aramaic means “son of.” So John “son of Zechariah.” His *name* is John. The rest (“son of Zechariah”) is not his name but simply a way of identifying which John he was. His name was never “the Baptist.” That also is simply a way of identifying him to distinguish him from other people with the same name.

          • Josephsluna
            Josephsluna  October 12, 2014

            Mathew 3:7 lol

            But did the Pharisees speak of John the Baptist
            Did the to write a book with chapters
            I seen ch 14:8 before or was that something else ?
            Did they write
            With a apacoliptic nature ?
            If so can you suggestion where I could find there writings in English can’t seem to find again
            If they never wrote anything never mind 🙂

          • Bart
            Bart  October 13, 2014

            I’m afraid we don’t have any writings of any of the Pharisees. We have to reconstruct their beliefs and practices from later documents and from what others said about them.

      • Avatar
        willow  October 19, 2014

        “Yes, Matthew understands that John the Baptist was a kind of reincarnation of Elijah”

        Obviously, the author of Mathew had yet to read the Gospel of John. 😉
        John 1:19-23.

  7. Avatar
    sashko123  October 6, 2014

    Professor Ehrman, Looks like you get to be the real face of this particular straw man. I hope you will consider it a privilege to have the facts of your life distorted to make WLC’s point. On their deathbeds, Carl Sagan became a Christian and Darwin renounced evolution.

    • Bart
      Bart  October 6, 2014

      Really? Wow….

      • Avatar
        Jana  October 7, 2014

        I’m going to break the bubble on this one .. both are urban myths. No “death bed conversions” occurred according to wives and son. Darwin softened his stance towards Christians later in life and even allowed a close friend to use his property for church meetings but he did not convert.

        • Avatar
          Jana  October 7, 2014

          Both urban myths were fundamentalist contrived.

          • Avatar
            doug  October 7, 2014

            Sadly, it may only take a few moments to create a lie. But it can take a lot of time and research to disprove the lie. Authoritarian viewpoints tend to rely, in part, on such lies.

        • Bart
          Bart  October 7, 2014

          Oh, I thought that. When I said “really?” I meant — “Does anyone really believe that???”

          • Avatar
            qaelith2112  October 8, 2014

            Never heard the Sagan one, but I’ve heard the “Darwin renounced evolution” one repeated by more than a few of the rank-and-file fundamentalists. I’ve never figured out where they pick this up — pastors? Word of mouth from other Christians? Creationist websites or books that I haven’t seen? Most of the higher profile ones such as Answers in Genesis even distance themselves from these kinds of claims. Maybe next time I run into it I’ll ask where the other party heard this. I’d love to know.

          • Avatar
            Jana  October 8, 2014

            Is there an emoticon for witty sarcasm ? 🙂

      • Avatar
        Jason  October 7, 2014

        No, not really in the Sagan case anyway. That’s a lie perpetuated in certain circles. His wife says he faced his death with “courage and honesty.” But never converted.

    • Gary
      Gary  October 7, 2014

      Carl’s wife Ann Druyan wrote the Epilog to his last book “Billions and billions : Thoughts on life and death at the brink of the millennium” which was published after his death. She states: “Contrary to the fantasies of the fundamentalists, there was no deathbed conversion, no last minute refuge taken in a comforting vision of a heaven or an afterlife.”

  8. Avatar
    Judith  October 6, 2014

    It’s distressing when we learn you are perturbed over something but by sharing maybe our support can somehow be felt and lift you a little.

  9. Avatar
    bblundell  October 6, 2014

    Well said Dr. Ehrman.

  10. Avatar
    Tom  October 6, 2014

    I’m so sorry you have to deal with this!
    (in a round about way, being agnostic myself, I go through the same thing .. week after week)

    ” גם זה יעבור ”


  11. Avatar
    HowardPepper  October 6, 2014

    Thanks for this, Bart! I may come back to it or point people to it when they (as I’ve seen myself) make statements about how/why you left Christian faith. Of course (tho it’s small comfort) you probably know you have plenty of company, in terms of distortions re. those who’ve one way or another “liberalized”, “apostasized”, etc. It seems to say more about THEIR pattern of thinking — how THEY realize their structure of beliefs is fragile — than about yours. (BTW, my movement from conservative evangelical to very progressive happened somewhat like yours, though at a later age.)

  12. Avatar
    prairieian  October 6, 2014

    The problem with study into matters religious is you immediately run into the conflict between belief and faith with that of evidence. These are two different worlds and it is quite difficult to have a debate about such things with such dissimilar premises.

    Faith is belief in the unseen and unproveable by material or physical means. One might be utterly convinced of the “fact” of the resurrection, based on the “evidence” of the gospels combined with one’s inner conviction that that evidence is so. Equally, one might view the whole story as a fairy tale equivalent to those jotted down by the Brothers Grimm in the 19th Century, and equally proveable one way or another by material means – i.e. not at all. It is extraordinarily difficult to conduct debate with persons holding such profoundly different world views.

    You have to be true to yourself, and to go where the evidence takes you. Religious belief, it seems to me, requires its adherents to suspend that activity and adopt as true, as fact, what you are told by the authority figures involved (priests, pastors, shamans, etc).

    I am rather impressed that you are prepared to debate religious matters with the fundamentalist community given this reality. It is like the struggle Bill Nye (the Science Guy) had with Hamm of the Creationist Museum (I am not sure this is the title of his theme park). You can lose on points because you are not quick enough, but you can never lose given time to marshal the facts and articulate them appropriately. Why? In my view it is because the Fundamentalist argument speedily descends into assertions of “…it is so…” without reference to fact. It becomes a dialogue of the deaf.

    Humanity needs to keep investigating these questions for the health of us all. The Islamic lunatics in the Middle East are but the latest manifestation of religious extremism that seems to be the inherentance of the “People of the Book”. Christianity has chapters as appalling as those we witness today. May we move beyond this ASAP.

    • Avatar
      Steve  October 12, 2014

      Well stated! Bravo.

    • Avatar
      willow  October 19, 2014

      “Humanity needs to keep investigating these questions for the health of us all.”

      And in that respect, I believe, and strongly, that Bart is ever so courageously (daring to so stand in the face of such blatant adversity) doing all of humanity a very great service, in providing answers, to the myriad of questions most Christians don’t dare to ask.

    • Avatar
      willow  October 19, 2014

      Humanity needs to keep investigating these questions for the health of us all. The Islamic lunatics in the Middle East are but the latest manifestation of religious extremism that seems to be the inherentance of the “People of the Book”. Christianity has chapters as appalling as those we witness today. May we move beyond this ASAP.

      I wholeheartedly agree, and would dare to even ask, as it’s been troubling me for quite sometime now, how is it that Christianity is so different than Islam? What makes Christianity acceptable and Islam not, or vise versa, when both were, more or less, born of a mere man’s unwitnessed and unprovable visionary experience – say – Paul’s and Mohammed’s that so inspired religions that are both guilty of slaughtering millions?

  13. Avatar
    gabilaranjeira  October 7, 2014

    Hi Bart,

    I’m upset too!

  14. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  October 7, 2014

    Could you devote a blog to what caused you to doubt the Resurrection?

  15. Avatar
    yes_hua  October 7, 2014

    On the Unbelievable podcast, on which you’ve appeared five (?) times, I’ve heard you referred to as both a far out liberal and far out conservative scholar. You’ve even had a show devoted entirely to WHY you lost your faith. Guess your gonna just have to keep telling people what you think and having them ignore it. Don’t give up though. Some of us are listening and you inspire us.

  16. Avatar
    rbrtbaumgardner  October 7, 2014

    Ouch. Painful. I think religious conservatives *need* explanations for why people leave the faith, even if they have to invent them. I was a Mormon years ago. I left, according to some, because I “was offended,” I “wanted to sin,” or I never really had a testimony.” People make up reasons for other people’s behavior in order to make themselves comfortable, even when they could have asked directly instead. I think they don’t really want to hear and *talk* about it. That could be uncomfortable. I’m glad you set the record straight. Thank you for your constant work. It is valuable.

  17. Avatar
    BobHicksHP  October 7, 2014

    Like you, I “developed” in an evangelical fundamentalist environment, and like you, by my late teens I realized that I was being misled to a certain degree. For numerous reasons, understandable to someone who has taken the same road, I have remained part of that tradition while embracing the “truth” of history. I consider myself a “missionary” to it.
    From my perspective, that “truth,” i.e., the things that led you to give up on inerrancy, are mostly a measure of a person’s intellectual (and “spiritual,” to use the religious terminology) honesty. As I continue to deal with Christian conservatism on a daily basis, I can unfortunately attest to a tendency to purposefully distort the facts in order to improve a position while “earnestly contending for the faith.” I feel it is, to some extent, Machiavellian thinking. If the result bolsters the “kingdom,” a little fudge is okay. Obviously, most of the expounders don’t even know they are misleading, as they simply repeat what they’ve heard. But I’ve encountered authors and “preachers” who clearly had the wherewithal to know better, but chose the lazy route. To them, it is standing by the “old-time” ways; ironic given that the “oldest” way is the one they are amending.

    And to your larger point, the issue of suffering still is by far the more difficult reconciliation. I appreciate its effects on your belief.

  18. Avatar
    kat127  October 7, 2014

    How I became agnostic – a progression:
    1. by reading Dr. Ehrman and learning that the Bible is a man-made compilation of completely man-made writings, full of errors and contradictions
    2. by discovering the awful monster-god of the OT
    3. by exploring evolutionary science
    and the clincher….
    Not human suffering, but….
    Joseph Smith had visions and started writing “God’s” prophecies, wisdom, etc. so he could have multiple wives with God’s blessing. The religion exploded world-wide. Really – how is this different than Christianity?
    Bottom line: all religion is man-made. Humankind’s greatest fears are loneliness, suffering and death, so we concocted an invisible friend who will forgive all of our shortcomings and give us a life after death. I appreciate all your work, Dr. Ehrman. I feel like I’m enlightened, yet those I’m closest to would tell me I’ve gone to the dark side. Life is weird.

  19. Avatar
    nacord  October 7, 2014

    Could we hear more of your story, Doctor Ehrman? It must have been so hard to finally decide to affirm beliefs that were so contrary to what you had always believed–or when you concluded that your new way of thinking was indeed truth was it easy to transition into teaching your new beliefs? Did you ever struggle with feeling mislead by God or humans? Was it hard to say goodbye to Jesus as you knew him?

    Thanks for your writings–they’ve been an important part of my spirituality since I’ve discovered them.

    • Bart
      Bart  October 7, 2014

      I give a good bit of my story in three of my books: Misquoting Jesus; Jesus Interrupted; and God’s Problem. And I do occasionally talk about it here on the blog, though I’m reluctant to keep telling it over and over again, since it can get, well, kinda boring!

      • Avatar
        nacord  October 7, 2014

        Thanks–I just ordered God’s Problem and I was able to read your introduction online. I’m a high school Bible Teacher, and the problem of evil is definitely the most challenging subject that my students (and myself!) wrestle with. I look forward to reading your perspective on it all!

  20. Rick
    Rick  October 8, 2014

    I find two things interesting in Dr. Craig’s blog litany. First is his finding that you (Dr. Ehrmann) were a flawed Christian because you (in his eyes) relied on the inerrant Bible as the basis for belief rather than …. just belief. On one hand its sounds like sour grapes rationalization: The lamb that left the fold wasn’t a good one anyway… On the other hand it also looks like a tactical withdrawal of a head spin meister to keep all argument on “faith ground” rather than risking evidence based argument. His further discussion in his article relied on an a priori example starting from a premise of faith to prove the Bible is inerrant – any evidence to the contrary aside. So it appears the answer to keeping faith in not just faith itself, but faith based solely on faith protected from not just evidence but also…. thinking.

    On another bent, this post made me think about where my loss of faith started which, from a very liberal Methodist upbringing certainly wasn’t as drastic as some… It may have been reading Judas my Brother by Frank Yerby/

    • Avatar
      willow  October 19, 2014

      “The lamb that left the fold wasn’t a good one anyway…” Ha! It is said, among those I served alongside, and for many years, that l couldn’t have EVER been a REAL Christian, lest I would still be one.”

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