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Video: Bart Ehrman vs. James White Debate

I wasn’t sure whether I should post this debate or not. Frankly, it was not a good experience. I normally do not have an aversion to the people I debate. But James White is that kind of fundamentalist who gets under my skin. To be fair, he would probably not call himself a fundamentalist. Then again, in my experience, very few fundamentalists *do* call themselves fundamentalists. Usually a “fundamentalist” is that guy who is far to the right of *you* — wherever you are! Someone on the blog can correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe White does hold to the absolute inerrancy of the Bible. If so, given what else I know about him, I’d call him a fundamentalist.

In any event, he’s a smart fellow and came to the debate loaded for bear. But it’s good to see me at not my best as well as at my best.

So why not? Here’s the debate! The topic was, as you will see, over whether or not we have access to the “original” New Testament.

Part 1 of Debate. Please adjust gear icon for 720p HD (Uprezed from DVD):

Part 2 of Debate. Please adjust gear icon for 720p HD (Uprezed from DVD):


Response to the Response: How God Became Jesus
My Interview on Fresh Air

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Comments

  1. Joshua Gordon  April 28, 2014

    James was hard to watch, he just can’t handle facts. Your patience is admirable.

  2. reedm60  April 28, 2014

    Dr Ehrman,

    I bought this DVD from the Alpha Omega website a few years ago. While it was on sale, your name was displayed prominently on their store’s website. I hope you received a percentage.

    Who is TC Skeets? I looked him up online but couldn’t find anything about him.

    reedm60

  3. hardindr  April 28, 2014

    I think you could call him a fundamentalist since he subscribes to the Chicago statement on inerrancy: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chicago_Statement_on_Biblical_Inerrancy

    The muslim stuff is obnoxious, as is his claim of hypocrisy regarding the reliability of other ancient text.

    Also, do you ever wear the tie he gave you?

  4. toejam  April 28, 2014

    People like White make me angry. He’s not there to exchange ideas. He’s there to WIN at any cost. I think you handled yourself very well.

  5. Mikail78  April 28, 2014

    Bart, why are you so hard on yourself about this debate? Even many evangelical Christians thought you wiped the floor with “Dr.” James White. You performed very well.

    Yes, White believes that there is not one error in the Bible. Sorry to be blunt, but he’s a real jerk. He blocked me on twitter simply for stating my disagreement with him and asking him questions. I made no ad hominem attacks nor did I make derogatory remarks towards him. White likes to promote himself as some super duper intellectual Christian apologist. In reality, he’s just a pseudo-intellectual, like the rest of his Christian apologist comrades.

  6. DMiller5842  April 28, 2014

    Thank you for posting this debate. I think it shows a true strength of character when someone can put on full display the arguments of the other side and let the audience make their own decisions about what is the better argument. I do feel that you don’t play with a full deck sometimes because you limit yourself to “scholarship” and do not go to the full spectrum of reason such as Thomas Paine would have done. On this constant point about inspiration and preservation of the word of God, Paine says : “…something that has been revealed to a certain person, and not revealed to any other person, is a revelation to that person only. When he tells it to a second, to a third, a fourth and so on , it ceases to be a revelation to all of those persons. It is a revelation to the first person only, and hearsay to every other….” Anyone who believes that God revealed his word to one person or several must surely believe that he is capable of revealing it to all – if he wanted us all to have his inerrant word (never mind preserving it in writing) why didn’t (doesn’t) he just telepathically communicate it to us all? I think all of the evidence points to the truth that God never did reveal his word to anyone, all of the holy books are the words of men. Instantaneous, telepathic transmission is my standard of perfection in godly communication. So Mr. White has a problem with your standard of perfection in manuscripts HMMM – I just wonder what his reaction would be to mine.

    • VaulDogWarrior
      VaulDogWarrior  October 17, 2016

      Where is this quote from? I googled it and your quote was the only thing Google brought back!

  7. tslawson1  April 28, 2014

    Ευχαριστω σοι περι του διαλογισμου!

    Thanks for posting the debate!

  8. tawfiq  April 28, 2014

    By chance I cane across this YouTube channel and wondered if have you see it, it is called the Ehrman Project :

    http://www.youtube.com/channel/UCWWeT-LcpA85I2edobmf41w

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  April 28, 2014

      Yes, it was started by a former student of mine!! 🙂

      • SHameed01  April 30, 2014

        have you addressed any of their attempted rebuttals to you? i am referring the scholars in the youtube videos of the ehrmanproject

        • Bart Ehrman
          Bart Ehrman  April 30, 2014

          Nope. I told my students: read what I say; hear what they say; weight the evidence; and make up your own mind! Much of what they said was just silly, in my opinion. (I didn’t, and couldn’t, watch it all) (OK, or even a lot)

      • tawfiq  April 30, 2014

        You are inspirational…

        A second question, if I may. On one of the videos on this channel “Is The Original New Testament Lost? :: A Dialogue with Dr. Bart Ehrman & Dr. Daniel Wallace”

        A question was asked about discoveries of earlier manuscripts. Dan Wallace had previously mentioned a first century manuscript, and that he cannot reveal any more information about it at that point. You questioned him and he did not provide any more information(from approx. 1:48:00) . Can you please elaborate about this discovery?

        • Bart Ehrman
          Bart Ehrman  April 30, 2014

          The manuscript was to be published in January 2013. So far, we haven’t seen it.

          • VaulDogWarrior
            VaulDogWarrior  October 17, 2016

            Has it been published as of October 2016?

          • Bart
            Bart  October 18, 2016

            Nope.

  9. AmenRa  April 28, 2014

    And the winner in this debate is Dr. Bart Ehrman. And here’s why.

    1. Historic evangelical theologians like Charles Ryrie have stated that inerrancy is limited to the original manuscripts. We do not have them as confessed by all. Dr. Ehrman’s logic was not overcomed by James White regarding appealed to preservation. This appeal is a knee jerk reaction to protect their minor doctrinal position.

    2. If both debaters agree that the story of Jesus and the woman caught in adultery was a later addition to the life of Jesus then it shows that scribes did put words in biblical characters mouths to support the view of Jesus. This gives probability that Dr. Ehrman argument that we do not know what the original Jesus and christianity was like with high certainty..

    3. Dr. Ehrman scholarship overwhelmed the debate

    • VaulDogWarrior
      VaulDogWarrior  October 17, 2016

      But I think White’s point was that we can know to a high degree of certainty what the original NT said, exactly because we have so many manuscripts. Not all the mistakes are in the same place. So when we see two manuscript traditions with mistakes in different places, but with words in the same places over and over again, we can be fairly certain where the original lies to within 95% of the time. That was White’s argument. And I think it’s a good one.

      What I find unbelievable is that while he admits that the transmission of the Bible is utterly uninspired, he holds tenaciously to the idea that the original writers themselves were inspired. And this is nothing more than an unverifiable faith assertion. Believers were forced to change their views on inspiration in face of the overwhelming evidence that critical scholarship presented them. All they did was move the goalposts so to speak, so that they can still claim the Bible is inspired, and claim it in such a way that it is impossible to verify the claim.

      Creationists do the same things. God is always at the point where humans are unable to reach. History shows us that as soon as we figure out a way to reach that point God disappears! And believers are left reeling until they figure out a way to move God further back…

  10. Wilusa  April 28, 2014

    Haven’t time to look at it right now. But, re fundamentalists…raised Catholic, I was always given the impression that “fundamentalists” were people who considered the Adam and Eve story literally true, in all its details. I don’t remember how the Catholics said their teaching on that point differed. But as I understood it, everything in the New Testament was literally true, and believing that did *not* make one a fundamentalist.

    People like me never learned about all the contradictions in the New Testament, because we never read it. To this day, I can’t understand why someone would consider reading such stuff, *unless* they’d been told about the contradictions and were checking it out!

  11. nichael  April 28, 2014

    Dr Ehrman

    Thank you for posting this.

    Regardless of the published title of the debate, or the purported emphasis on scholarly discussion as laid out in its stated topic, I think it it is safe to suggest that what was actually going on here was made clear by the phrase that Dr White used in his final summation: “…weapons used against the faith”.

    • nichael  April 28, 2014

      It’s always fun to imagine what one might have said after the fact, but had I had the opportunity to approach the mike after the debate, here are two questions I would have loved to have asked Dr White:

      First, given that the agreed upon topic of the debate concerned a historical, scholarly discussion of the “retreivability” of the original text, what relevance does his repeatedly-made point that Dr Ehrman’s texts are often cited (and as Dr White acknowledged, often cited incorrectly) by the likes of Christopher Hitchens, (or Richard Dawkins, “the Infidel guy”, Muslim Apologists, etc, etc) *possibly* have?

      My second question would have focused on his bewildering claim that his point of view is virtually never presented to the population at large (as opposed to those of Dr Ehrman who presumably spends all his time proselytizing on “Fresh Air” and “The Daily Show”…)

      If Dr White really believes this, I’ll be glad to invite him along for the next trip I take home to the Midwest where we can visit my relatives and join them as they switch among the couple dozen or so cable channels (including Fox?) -and the even more numerous radio stations- whose entire reason for being is to stress the unquestioned, infallible inneracy of the text of the Bible.

      Or, to bring the question a bit closer to home -and more to the point- I’d be interested in asking how many of the members of that audience, who, after years and decades of church services, sermons, and Weds night Bible Study had ever even *heard* of the notion of a textual variant.

  12. Arlyn  April 28, 2014

    His inerrancy position if I recall from his words in the debate was akin to the Chicago Evangelical Statement.

    Recently someone requested I read and reply to a treatise by William Lane Craig. My reply was, why would I give it weight, given his academic environment has compromised his scholarship legitimacy. When the evangelical movement purged moderate and liberal professors from its schools of higher learning, it risked losing the authority that is gained from independent reasoned scholarly thought.

    If scholars words, have to reflect traditional belief dogma… I view them not to be scholars, but rather church apologist..

    I applaud UNC for not going there.

  13. DarylIverson  April 28, 2014

    If God controlled people to write the words that He wanted written so that everybody could have an accurate understanding of the words He wants understood to have come directly from Him (being all powerful) God certainly could have done so – by the very meaning of “all powerful.”

    James White said it’s unreasonable and unscholarly to think that God would control the hand of the scribe. Isn’t that what fundamentalist Christians believe happened? Don’t they also believe that the canon of the Bible was created by the hand of God so that only the manuscripts that God wanted to be included (because they are perfect) are in there – making too can be perfect?

    The evidence is that we don’t have a perfect “Bible” because there are so many variations of it. We have no assurances that we have all original copies of each manuscript that makes up the Bible.

    Furthermore – where and when did God sanctify ANY Bible as representative of Himself? Even if we had original copies of every manuscript included in the Bible there is NO evidence that God commissioned it or ratified it. Is there even Biblical prophesy, in the Bible, that mentions that it would be created.

    There is much reason for reasonable doubt and I think both of you proved it in your performances.

  14. cjcruz  April 28, 2014

    To me, the most perplexing of all White’s assertions is the notion that the original text MUST be among the known variations. If one text says Jesus responded in anger and another that he responded kindly, we somehow know that the original text said one of these two things. It is – again, somehow – impossible that the original words were lost or have been altered beyond recognition, or that the passage in question was not in the original text at all! I would have been less angry if White had revealed the source of this knowledge: his faith. That, at least, I could respectfully disagree with.

    White’s tactics were also less than gentlemanly, in spite of his ending every sentence with “sir.” He spent quite a lot of time attempting to discredit Ehrman for being an extremist (for taking such *extreme* positions as “We don’t have sufficient evidence to assert that Jesus probably said X”), an agnostic, and even an authority leveraged by *atheists* like Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins. I regret that I feel the need to editorialize a bit here, but White seems downright resentful of Ehrman’s personal success and even complains that no one on “his side” is invited on Colbert, etc., and that Ehrman’s book was not the first of its kind for laymen since his, White’s, own book was out long before Misquoting Jesus.

    To top everything off, he explicitly states that those of us who are unconvinced by his arguments have a personal agenda. We all must have unrelated personal reasons for not wanting to believe. To him, this is the only rational explanation.

    In the end, this is a frustrating but worthwhile listen.

  15. ben.holman  April 28, 2014

    Dr. Ehrman,

    I’ve seen a couple of places where you’ve pointed out James White is not a scholar, and/or are otherwise disappointed with him for various reasons that go unspecified. Would you mind elaborating? Why do you have an aversion to him? If you’d rather not get into specifics, I understand.

    Best,
    Ben

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  April 28, 2014

      He’s not a scholar because he does not have scholarly training, does not have scholarly credentials, and never publishes any works of scholarship. My aversion to him is simply rooted in the fact that he does not seem to be a nice guy. I have no problem with him being a committed Christian believer; but when someone is that offensive, I tend to take offense!

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      • Curtis7777  April 29, 2014

        Dr. Ehrman I was wondering why Dan Wallace gets a pass? His PhD is not in textual criticism nor was he trained by a genuine textual critic. I realize that he is an academic with legitimate credentials, which is more than we can say of James White but these two men promote each other’s work. Their views are very similar.

        • Bart Ehrman
          Bart Ehrman  April 29, 2014

          He was trained by Zane Hodges, who was indeed a textual critic, although a rather idiosyncratic one. Dan is a genuine scholar. He is trained as a scholar, he publishes scholarly work, and is widely recognized within the scholarly community of having all the necessary bona fides. I disagree with him on lots of important things, but it’s not because he lacks the credentials.

  16. RonaldTaska  April 28, 2014

    I look forward to watching the debate. I have no clue how you do so many things nor how anyone can debate for such long periods of time. I hope your debate opponent is not one of those “Christian” critics who accuse you of “sloppy scholarship.” If any criticism applies to you, it’s not that one. That criticism of you particularly gets under “my” skin.

    Did you read the recent column where the writer lists some examples, such as Jesus forgiving sins, which she contends show that Jesus was thought to be divine in the synoptic Gospels? If so, I would be interested in your response. She seems to be one who is trying to address the substance of your book rather than just personally attacking you. I will follow-up with the author’s name, etc.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  April 28, 2014

      Yes, I don’t understand why people point to Jesus forgiving sins in the Synoptics as an argument *against* me. In my book I’m completely explicit: I think the Synoptic Gospel writers *did* think that Jesus was divine!!!

  17. RonaldTaska  April 28, 2014

    The article to which I previously referred is entitled “Bart Ehrman and the Divinity of Jesus” by Robin Schumacher. It appeared on the “Confident Christian” website on 4/27/14.

  18. Eric Rodvan  April 28, 2014

    Bart, what did you think of William Lane Craig when you met him? Was he a nice guy?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  April 29, 2014

      I didn’t talk with him much, but I was really offended by his attempts to mock me publicly during the debate.

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      • HaiKarate  May 10, 2014

        I noticed that James White also tried to frame the debate around a personal attack on you in his opening statement. He sought to discredit your positions by discrediting you, despite the fact that you are often echoing what the majority scholarship has to say about the Bible.

  19. mary  April 29, 2014

    Thanks for posting the video of your debate.
    James White was not interested in the content or truth of what you had written. He attempted to beat you up with his technical terms and appear superior which was not successful. The arrogance of it was revealed when you questioned him. He thinks he should be listened to and followed, because he “said so”.

    You called him on his source of information, and the accuracy of the numbers he spoke of, which was wonderful. I am not familiar with all the people that are scholars and writers that you discussed. But, James did not have a reasoned, logical presentation at all. He did not make sense to me and the “my tie is bigger than your tie” didn’t work for him either.

  20. JacovZ  April 29, 2014

    I got to watch this before actually commenting (which I will), but I can relate to you and your experience. White has a kind of invasive hubris that has the potential to let you want to walk over and leave an imprint of your boot on his… (you choose where).

    But I have seen the guy rattled and I have seen his responses as pure ignorant arrogance. I initially wondered why you would debate someone like this. White is NOT a scholar. He is merely an apologist. He is by far not the best Evangelical apologist, but merely the cricket chirping the loudest.

    Having said that, I am going to watch your debate. And I shall respond…

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