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Pursuing My Passion for Textual Criticism

Yesterday I started answering the question of how I moved on from doing research principally on New Testament textual criticism to do other things, mainly involving different aspects of the literature and history of Christianity in the first three centuries CE.   I pointed out there that my training/education was actually not in textual criticism, but mainly in the exegesis (and theology) of the New Testament, and on various aspects of the history of earliest Christianity (from the historical Jesus to the formation of the canon to early heresy and orthodoxy etc.).

But even though that was my *training*, my principal interest all along had been textual criticism, figuring out what the original wording of the New Testament in Greek was (verse by verse by verse), and seeing both how and why the text had been changed by scribes over the years.  This was an interest that was generated very early on in my academic career.  In fact, before I had an academic career.  Before I or anyone else could have imagined I’d have an academic career.  It was an interest I developed in my very first year out of high school, as a first-year student at Moody Bible Institute.

As you might imagine, at Moody we had a heavy dose of Bible courses.  As we used to say, “Moody Bible Institute, where Bible is our middle name.”  And so already at the outset …

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Why Textual Criticism Seemed to Be on Death’s Door
On Being Just a Textual Critic



  1. NulliusInVerba
    NulliusInVerba  February 11, 2019

    Thank You.

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    kqn  February 11, 2019

    Dr. Ehrman, Thanks for a summary of your academic credentials, focus of study and the curiosity that drove it all. But sorry you feel the need to defend yourself against a “label”. That people feel the need to question your expertise means you’re having an impact on the discussion. Anyway, I joined your blog because, of all the people I’ve listened to out there in web-land, you came across as very knowledgeable, insightful and perhaps the most unbiased, of the many voices discussing the NT and early Christian history. So, I think your education and personal journey make you uniquely and superbly qualified to take on the topics at hand. Hey, but don’t get me wrong, we’re not about to declare you Pope or anything, … although, hmm, … Pope Ehrman the First does have a nice ring to it. How’s your Latin?

    • Bart
      Bart  February 12, 2019

      Ha! Well, I’m not planning on converting any time soon….

  3. Avatar
    Omar Osama  February 11, 2019

    Great Professor Bart
    If Jesus is not God what do you think he was according to the historical Jesus

    • Bart
      Bart  February 12, 2019

      An apocalyptic prophet. See my book Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium. I explain it all there.

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    RonaldTaska  February 11, 2019

    Good post. “Misquoting Jesus” was a very important and readable book for me and I encourage all to read it.

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    ksgm34  February 11, 2019

    You may have answered this before but I’m curious to know, in your experience how common is it for initially non-believing biblical scholars (assuming they exist) to convert to Christianity as a result of their academic study? And conversely, how common is it for scholars to go from conservative to liberal Christianity or even agnosticism/ atheism as a result of their study?

    • Bart
      Bart  February 12, 2019

      It almost *never* happens that a non-believing biblical scholar converts after doing the research. That happens sometimes to atheists who are not involved in biblical research, and Christians always make a very big deal of it when it happens. But I’ve never heard of a case of a biblical scholar. Maybe someone else has? The converse situation happens with fair regularity: once people see the actual scholarship, they radically change their views of the bible or, like me, become an agnostic/atheist.

      • Avatar
        ksgm34  February 12, 2019

        Really interesting, thank you for sharing (though I note it wasn’t your academic study that led to your agnosticism).

  6. Avatar
    Eric  February 11, 2019

    A world-renowned scholar recently informed your readership of the fact that “passion” (as in this post’s title) comes from the Greek for “suffering!”

  7. Avatar
    Hngerhman  February 11, 2019

    Dr Ehrman – which works by Metzger would you recommend as must reads for your blog membership? Thanks much!

    • Bart
      Bart  February 12, 2019

      On textual criticism, The Text of the New Testament. He didn’t write too many books for non-scholars, but probably the most popular was his explanatin of the book of Revelation, Breaking the Code.

  8. Rick
    Rick  February 11, 2019

    Professor, if you can comment off hand. So if the mideaval copies are very close to each other but different from earlier copies – I was wondering how close to each other the two (I assume) most significant old copies are. That is Vaticanis vs Sinaiticus?


    • Bart
      Bart  February 12, 2019

      The Byzantine copies tend to agree with one another over 90% of the time whenever there are significant differences in the manuscript traditoin. Vaticanus and Sinaiticus agree over 70% of the time, which is still considered quite significant.

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    fedcarroll77  February 12, 2019

    Wow that Moody Bible Institute reminds me of Hyles Anderson College in Hammond Indiana. Family encouraged me to go there for “True Christian Study” of the Bible. And if you know that college it is yurts fundamentalist independent fundamental baptist school.

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    mannix  February 12, 2019

    What kind of grade did you get in that term paper?

    • Bart
      Bart  February 12, 2019

      Ha! Got a solid A. Most of the professors did not agree with Martin on the issue, but the papers were graded on the quality of the research and writing rather than on whether they were deemed “right” or not.

  11. Avatar
    Bewilderbeast  February 12, 2019

    May the spirit do its work and MOVE ya then (“as the spirit leads….)”

  12. Avatar
    asadzaman19  February 14, 2019

    Peace and blessings of Almighty Allah upon you. (Shalom/As Salamu Alaikum)

    I just joined today. I am an IT professional. I am not a scholar of any religion. Wanted to thank you for your contributions to the society.

    You mentioned in a lecture more or less like this – you don’t know where you will be ending but you are listening to your heart and searching truth and let the truth guide you. You couldn’t believe how much i was impressed hearing that. So i will request you only one thing (you may accept it or not) – “Don’t meet with any muslim in person, organization or travel to any muslim country”. If you do so everyone will conspired the things and will say – see Bart Ehrman had hidden agenda. So far i know you don’t have any connection with Muslims or any agenda. You are just guided by yourself with your strong desire to search truth. Even if you accept Islam in some point in your life don’t accept it publicly (all muslims believe guidance come from Allah. when Allah decides guidance no one can stop it (not even you) and when Allah decides not to give no one can give). Allah always likes “guidance should be without compulsion”. Whenever we observe somebody converted to Islam with force that is not Islam. “No compulsion in religion” (period). No but or if.

    • Bart
      Bart  February 15, 2019

      Thanks. I have no interest or intention to converting to Islam — or Judaism or Buddhism or … pick your religion! But I appreciate your concern.

  13. Avatar
    asadzaman19  February 14, 2019

    May Allah give you guidance. Without guidance our hearts doesn’t get real peace at the core of heart (may be some fake and not deeply rooted peace). I have three sons. All of them memorized entire Quran. If all of the Quran copies are destroyed. Three of my son will sit together and will reproduce the entire Quran within a day without any mistakes in original Arabic language and me and my son even can’t speak or understand Arabic language. I can invite you and your friends in my house if you don’t believe it. My little one is just 7 years (he is the best among my all children. he can recite without any single mistake) and he can challenge whole world to produce Quran without a single mistake. If my child can do it now how about dedicated companions of the prophets and their sons as they were more sharp and dedicated. It’s not only my son we have at least more than 1m children around the worlds. In my poor village back in home we have more than 500 children age 7 to 15. How long someone should wait like you to start thinking about this seriously (if you really serious). All textual criticism doesn’t work for Quran and we have a tradition of memorizing Quran. As you mentioned in many debates if God inspired some word why not he ensured it’s preservation. My answer is he didn’t want Bible to preserve as final message is coming and he will preserve it (as no more prophet after that). Allah challenged it in Quran. May 2019 fasting month will start. You will see all mosques in USA and around the world arranges to listen entire quran from memory during prayer. I bet sincere people will recognize that beauty and integrity.

    Thanks for reading my comments. As i told you i am not scholar of anything. I just did my part whatever knowledge and opportunity Allah gave me. If getting guidance was not important i never told you about islam. In my religion it’s very important to like something for others what i liked for myself. For me i liked Islam most and so i wanted somebody also like it for their life. Our prophet said if you can’t like something for others which is good for you then you are not muslims.

    Allah knows best.

    • Bart
      Bart  February 15, 2019

      Thanks for this. I appreciate it. But do let me say that this blog is not about propagating one religious view over another (Muslim, Jewish, Christian, whatever). It’s about the historical study of the New Testament and Early Christianity. I need to make sure that all the comments are directed to that focus, rather than trying to promote a certain religion.

  14. Avatar
    Brand3000  March 13, 2019

    Dr. Ehrman,

    I was reading over “Forged” again and is it true that you consider 1 Cor. to be Paul’s most authentic letter?

    • Bart
      Bart  March 16, 2019

      No, I consider all seven of the undisputeds to be authentic.

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