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The Life Story I Tell My Students

As I’ve indicated, my last class of the semester in my Introduction to the New Testament course is optional.  In it I explain to anyone who wants to come what I really believe and why I believe it.  The way I do it is by telling my life story, from childhood till today.  That takes about twenty or twenty-five minutes, and then I answer any questions for the rest of the time.  The questions could go on for hours – students have a lot of them – and some of the questions are very personal.  But I try to answer them as directly and honestly as I can.

The story I tell starts with me as a church-going Episcopalian as a child, committed to the church, saying the Creed, confessing my sins, believing in God and Christ, serving as an altar boy.  And then in high school, I had a religious transformation.  I started attending a Campus Life Youth for Christ meeting that involved a social event every week and ended with a spiritual lesson of some sort, always geared toward having kids turn to Christ as their Lord and Savior and “ask Jesus into their heart.”

I already had a religious streak, but this seemed to me to be Christianity on steroids, and I was drawn to it.  In part that was because the events seemed very wholesome (unlike some of the other stuff I was up to on weekends….), there were lots of interesting and popular kids there, and I liked the combination of social fun and spiritual truth.  But it put me in a rather funny situation.  I was a church-going, deeply believing Episcopalian, but I was being told that I had to “become a Christian.”  And I unreflectively assumed that the leader of the group, a twenty-something named Bruce, was right.  There was a step I had to take in order “really” to be a Christian.  Not sure what I thought I was *before* that.

After some months I …

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What Happened Next: My Life After Moody Bible Institute
Spilling the Beans on my Beliefs on the Last Day of Class



  1. Avatar
    Adam0685  May 3, 2017

    I graduated from Moody almost 10 years ago, it is still very much a Christian bootcamp (e.g., multiple chapel attendance requirements every week, required ministry volunteer work every week (5-10 hours/week), etc. in addition to classes–and most students also have to work part-time to help pay for fees). They have added liberal arts course requirements to the BA, which was particularly the case with my major (education), but their Biblical Studies major is very Bible heavy (https://www.moody.edu/siteassets/website_assets/files/academics/program-plans/ba-in-biblical-studies—chicago.pdf).


  2. Avatar
    Rick  May 3, 2017

    I had the same experience with Youth for Christ.

  3. talmoore
    talmoore  May 3, 2017

    Dr. Ehrman, were you ever one of those guys who hands out Chick Tracts? (If you were, I wouldn’t hold it against you.)

    • Bart
      Bart  May 4, 2017

      Most definitely, that was me! I probably gave you (or your parents) one of them!

      • Avatar
        Oikonomos  May 9, 2017

        If by Chick tracts you mean the actual tracts by Jack T. Chick and not gospel tracts in general, then did you buy into Chick’s conspiratorial view of modern (i.e non-KJV) bible versions and his understanding of the Alexandrian manuscript tradition and Critical Text (essentially anything not TR or Byzantine is an early corruption by false Christians) at the time? Were you a King James only guy?

        • Bart
          Bart  May 11, 2017

          Ha! I didn’t hand out *those* tracks, only the ones about people ending up in hell and regretting their life decisions about faith and morality.

  4. Avatar
    Bitburnett  May 3, 2017

    Hello, Professor Ehrman. I enjoy your writing and, although I am not a Christian, I find myself fascinated with your journey and biblical subjects. I recently saw that there will be a Museum of the Bible here in DC and was wondering if you’d heard of it; and, if so, what your thoughts would be about it. (museumofthebible.org)

    • Bart
      Bart  May 4, 2017

      Ah, long story. One of my oldest friends in the profession is in an official post with the museum, and a couple of other friends have written a book to be published in the fall that rather devastatingly attacks it.

  5. Avatar
    hasankhan  May 3, 2017

    I wonder, when someone studies Bible full time as you did at Moody, don’t the problematic points in the theology of Christianity come out, that would already send a person on a quest to find answers? I would imagine the more a person studies Bible and its history deeply, the more problems would stand out leading the person to leave the faith eventually. Why do you think it didn’t happen to you and doesn’t happen to others?

    • Bart
      Bart  May 4, 2017

      Oh, yes, a bit part of the education was explaining away all the problems!

  6. Avatar
    rburos  May 3, 2017

    Definitely not trying to be cheeky, but I assume Moody Bible Institute doesn’t brag about you being an alumnus?

    • Bart
      Bart  May 4, 2017

      There apparently was a movement to deprive me of my diploma. (!)

      • Avatar
        rburos  May 5, 2017

        Let me think on that one–because of your outstanding work and success in the field, somebody thought it would look better if they took away the diploma they had already awarded you. It’s not a fair comparison, but there is something strangely Bonhoeffer-esque in that.

  7. Avatar
    HawksJ  May 3, 2017

    Your experience of ‘working’ yourself into an intellectual/ scholar by essentially ‘exercising’ your brain is fascinating to me.

    Do you believe that such an approach ‘could’ work for anybody (to some extent, at least) or do you think you were really a closet intellectual all along, but you just hadn’t tapped into it yet?

    If it’s the former, how does that impact your interactions with students and young people? Because if it really is possible to transform oneself from ‘middling’ to ‘world renown scholar’, then that is a heck of a story to share.

    • Bart
      Bart  May 4, 2017

      I think I was blessed with serious academic gifts, and without those it never would have worked. But without that multi-year discipline (which continued all the way through my 12 years of post-high-school education, and into my ealry years of teaching) the gifts would never have blossomed. I’m not the most innately intelligent person around, but lots and lots of people who are more intelligent have simply never exercised their brains as much and simply have never become scholars (or good scholars)

  8. Avatar
    Pattycake1974  May 4, 2017

    I take a different stance on teenagers deciding what to do with their lives even at the age of 17. There is a massive amount of effort involved when it comes to a school district preparing high school students for college. There’s college and career readiness standards beginning in kindergarten, motivation/interest tracking, exposure to multiple career paths, service learning opportunities, and dozens of other things offered by schools and communities just so a 17 year-old won’t go into college aimlessly taking class after class and running the risk of becoming a college dropout. The chances for success are much higher when teenagers have a plan and/or goal set than when they don’t. Of course, teenagers will be teenagers, but unless they come from a wealthy background where mom and dad don’t mind a leisurely tour through college, they can’t afford to not have a plan.

    • Avatar
      Pattycake1974  May 4, 2017

      Something else that recently came down the pike to me, which I find a bit scary, is that kids might not have traditional English/Language Arts classes in the future. There’s such a push for reading and writing for informational text, that literature is falling by the wayside. Reading and writing is incorporated into science, math, and social studies with science and math being the main focus. When it’s all said and done, they won’t need or want to hire English teachers anymore. That will extend out to the college level.

  9. Avatar
    davitako  May 4, 2017

    It must be unusually good to be in your class 🙁 Some are so lucky!

  10. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  May 4, 2017

    A terrific post. I, of course, knew most of this, but it is really helpful having it all summarized again in a concise and your usual clear way. Thanks for sharing this and keep going. By the way, I have always thought that this type of summary could be expanded into a very good book.

  11. Avatar
    FadyRiad  May 4, 2017

    Speaking about how media attention can increase book sales…
    Yesterday my interview with Miguel Conner of Aeon Byte went live on youtube and The Gospel of Lie’s amazon ranking jumped from around 90,000 to 22,000. and I’m talking about a youtube video that only 400 people watched. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UtHgtjJFkcI

    So my question to you is: as a man who achieved wide success with Misquoting Jesus, is it very difficult to be hosted again on the TV programs (or any other media) that you have been on for Misquoting Jesus so they can discuss your next projects as well?
    Can the spotlight be retained for later use?

    • Bart
      Bart  May 4, 2017

      It’s always HUGELY difficult to get serious media attention. When 600 books are published a day in English, there’s a lot of competition out there, even for authors with good track records.

      • Avatar
        Pattycake1974  May 4, 2017

        I hope to publish a book one day. Considering the need for media coverage combined with my aversion to that kind of attention, I’m thinking my chances for success are practically nil. Go on television? Ugghhh

    • Avatar
      Pattycake1974  May 4, 2017

      Congrats on your new book!

  12. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  May 4, 2017

    The working title could be “The Making of a Historical Bible Scholar.”

  13. Avatar
    James Cotter  May 4, 2017

    quote :
    and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

    From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.

    in another place jesus thinks that he and his deciples will be enthroned :

    “Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.

    are you of the opinion that historical jesus did not think that he would get caught and terminated by roman authorities? do you think that jesus thought that god will intervene and bring his kingdom back in jerusalem?

    • Bart
      Bart  May 4, 2017

      Yes, that’s my view.

    • Avatar
      Hormiga  May 5, 2017

      > judging the twelve tribes of Israel

      A linguistic question: Does the Greek corresponding to “judging” here have a meaning like that in modern English, or is it more like “ruling”? As I understand it, the Judges in the OT were more like tribal chieftans whose responsibilities included but went much beyond the judicial.

      • talmoore
        talmoore  May 6, 2017

        The Hebrew word in the OT that’s translated as “Judge” — Shophet — is probably better translated into English as “magistrate”.

        The problem is the modern English word “judge” carries the connotation of a legal arbiter only. We understand judges to have a limited role in comparison to a legislative and executive power. But the role the “Judges” play, as portrayed in the Book of Judges, for example, is closer to a clan chieftain. A chieftain is more like a magistrate, with both judicial and executive authority. So, for instance, if you were to be brought before an Israelite “Judge” on a criminal charge, the Judge would not only judge whether you were guilty or innocent, but would also execute any subsequent sentence. Likewise, if you were an Israelite who brought a civil complaint before the Judge, he would make a ruling between plaintiff and defendent, and would also personally enforce his ruling. For example, if the Judge found you responsible for killing your neighbor’s sheep and ruled that you must compensate your neighbor, he would have the authority to enforce his ruling.

        On top of his judicial powers, the Judge would also have the usual executive powers, such as mustering and leading a military force against an enemy and being the figurehead for the tribe or clan as a whole, all of which we see them exhibit in the Biblical accounts.

        • Avatar
          Hormiga  May 8, 2017

          Yes, that’s my understanding of how Shophet should be interpreted. But does the Jesus quote upthread have the same connotation in Greek? (Realizing that Jesus, if he actually said it, was probably speaking Aramaic which, I’d suppose had a better chance of carrying the Hebrew meaning.)

          Doing a bit of googling on κρίνοντες finds http://biblehub.com/greek/2919.htm , which sounds kind of, well, judgmental.

          • talmoore
            talmoore  May 8, 2017

            Shophet in Aramaic has the same meaning as it does in Hebrew.

  14. Avatar
    James Chalmers  May 4, 2017

    We have three versions of Jesus’ last words–Matthew/Mark, Luke, John. It seems that Luke and John had theological reasons for their versions. Mark and Matthew agree. And both Mark and Matthew were, maybe, a little embarrassed to report that on the cross their Lord complained that his and their God had let him down. Further, though we have good reason to believe the male disciples fled and hid, it’s possible and even plausible to imagine that one of Jesus’ female followers was permitted to witness Jesus’ crucifixion within hearing range. And it’s plausible that Jesus would have known the psalms.
    Hence the historicity of “why hast thous forsaken me?” rises to the level of “far from certain, but possible, maybe even more probable than not.”
    Does this jibe with your view?

    • Bart
      Bart  May 6, 2017

      My own view: I don’t think there is any way that any of Jesus’ followers were standing near his cross to hear his last words. I think the later story-tellers came up with appropriate words for the occasion, but that we really have no idea what he said at the last.

  15. Avatar
    silvertime  May 11, 2017

    Dr Ehrman: Two questions
    1. Did Moody and/or Wheaton colleges use the KJV of the bible
    2. Given your current opinions and your openness in sharing them, and the current political leanings of the North Carolina legislature; has there been any efforts to silence you or to remove you?

    • Bart
      Bart  May 12, 2017

      1. No, not at all. We used the NASB at Moody. 2. No, not at UNC. I have an endowed chair here and am firmly ensconced. (And large classes!)

  16. Avatar
    Flagman  May 28, 2017

    I am a Moody grad. I was there in 79-82, Bible Theo/GK Dipl. DId not pursue further studies except that I finally received the BS in Bib Studies in 2010. Most of, if not all of my MBI friends who know anything about me now are either certain or suspicious I have gone over to the dark side. I was wondering who some of your favorite Profs were for your classes as I am sure there were some who would have overlapped our respective stints in Chicago?

    • Bart
      Bart  May 29, 2017

      I liked virtually all my Bible professors, but my real inspiration was Marvin Mayer. The only professor I had a falling out with was Dr. Foos (Apologetics). He thought I was arrogant, and the feeling was mutual….

      • Avatar
        Flagman  June 4, 2017

        👍 I had Dr. Mayer for Corinthians; never had Foos. My favorite was Dr. William Baker. A friend of mine and classmate (7th Culby) was also quite inspired by MM, and is totally exasperated by my “falling away” and I haven’t even shown him any of your stuff yet. Ehrman is all he can take.

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