5 votes, average: 5.00 out of 55 votes, average: 5.00 out of 55 votes, average: 5.00 out of 55 votes, average: 5.00 out of 55 votes, average: 5.00 out of 5 (5 votes, average: 5.00 out of 5)
You need to be a registered member to rate this post.

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



  1. Avatar
    pbrockschmidt  April 29, 2014

    I’m reading Michael Satlow’s “How the Bible Became Holy” and he quotes Justin Martyr’s description of Sunday services: readings from the apostles and prophets, sermon, prayer , Eucharist, collection for the poor. “It is those latter activities more than the reading that formed the core of Christian service. That is, the fact of Christ and his salvation…mattered far more than his words or words about him. There is no testimony from this time that Christians educated their children in scripture, and there is no Christian art from the time that would have (secondarily) exposed Christians to the stores of scripture.

    He also suggests that Christians used the cheaper codex rather than the scroll because the message was what mattered, not the precise words with which it was written or the medium.

    Would you agree?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  April 29, 2014

      I agree with his final sentence. but I don’t know of any evidence to support the second to last sentence.

      There are lots of reasons why Christians may have preferred the codex. If it *was* because of expense (it’s hotly debated) it may be because, well, Christians on the whole were from the poorer classes.

  2. Avatar
    Matt7  April 29, 2014

    Funny that James thinks an omniscient God would have to wait until 1949 for human ingenuity to develop the copy machine. He designed the human reproductive system, but He can’t figure out how to reproduce documents.

  3. Avatar
    stephena  April 30, 2014

    Odd that someone can believe a text is “inerrant” when it’s blazingly obvious that MANY “errors” exist in the Biblical text over its nearly 2000 year history, even if one claims that the “originals” were perfect, which is hard to sustain given that they cannot be found and likely no longer exist (as you so expertly demonstrated in your introduction!)

  4. Avatar
    Dennis  April 30, 2014

    Well done Dr. Ehrman. During your first rebuttal I imagined you walking over to the wall and banging your head against it. During your cross-examination to Mr. White there was blood all over the floor. Excellent closing statement highlighting your opponents cognitive bias as perhaps skewing his conclusion. Thank you for sharing.

  5. Avatar
    richard gills  May 1, 2014

    Dr Ehrman

    does the bible you have contain all the different variants for a particular verse at the footnote section? i remember when carrier debated jp holding ,he said in his response that bibles which the scholars have contain all the different variants in the foot note section. if such a bible exists, where can one purchase it?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  May 1, 2014

      There is no Bible that contains *ALL* of the variants in the manuscripts. But the Greek New Testament that is widely used by scholars contains virtually all of the really important variants. There is nothing like it in English, in part because a lot of the variants do not translate very readily into English.

  6. Avatar
    SHameed01  May 1, 2014

    Dan Wallace and James White argue since there was not a central authority over the copying of manuscripts and that they were done independently from any authority above over them that decreases the likelihood of textual corruption, how would you respond to that?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  May 1, 2014

      They surely don’t argue that. There is no doubt that there is textual corruption. Anyone who has ever studied manuscripts will know that. It’s not an opinion but a fact!

      • Avatar
        SHameed01  May 2, 2014

        Whether they argue that or not, even though I do recall James White using that argument in his debate with you. However, I could be wrong, but I am just asking how would you respond to that specific argument that absence of central authority over scribes equaling less likelihood of textual corruption by scribes. Anyways maybe I have misunderstood your response, for which I do apologize.

        • Bart Ehrman
          Bart Ehrman  May 2, 2014

          I’d respond by saying its ridiculous. We don’t need to speculate *whether* scribes would have changed their texts, when we have thousands of manuscripts that we can examine, and when we do it is patently obvious that scribes *did* change their texts.

          • Avatar
            SHameed01  May 2, 2014

            Can you give at least a couple of examples from right off the top of your head where we can say for sure that scribes DELIBERATELY changed the text? Also what is the criteria to know which change is deliberate as compare to which is not?

          • Bart Ehrman
            Bart Ehrman  May 5, 2014

            I can give dozens! (For starters, whoever added the last twelve verses of Mark or the story of the woman taken in adultery in John did not do so by a slip of the pen!) But if you’re really interested, I’d suggest you read my book Orthodox Corruption of Scripture as a way into the problem.

  7. Avatar
    KevinBradshaw  May 1, 2014

    Dr. Bart Ehrman: closet Muslim apologist!!?? Really??

    There has to be a name for this kind of fallacious argument, you know something like the fallacy of argument by false association or whatever.

  8. cheito
    cheito  May 1, 2014

    DR Ehrman:

    Would you agree that the letter written to the Philippians was an original writing of Paul? Do you agree that the first copy of the letter written by Paul to the Philippians was also an original? Assuming there were errors made by the person(s) who copied the original letter of Paul to the Philippians, would you agree that the first copy even with some errors still had the original context of the first letter. If you do agree, then is it totally accurate to say that we don’t have the original letter of Paul written to the Philippians? Don’t you think that it’s more accurate to state that we do have the original but it has been altered to some degree?
    Has the letter to the Philippians written by Paul been altered so much that we can’t really know what the original proclaimed? How many Greek manuscripts do we have of the Letter written by Paul to the Phillipians?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  May 1, 2014

      Yes, if we had the copy of the original that had been changed, we would have a changed copy of the original. But, of course, we don’t have that. We don’t have an extensive copy of Paul’s letters until P46, which does have portions of Phillipians. It dates to around 200 CE, and so is about 140-150 years after Paul wrote the letter. Technically speaking there is no way of knowing if what we have is what was in the original. We wouldn’t know unless we had the original to compare it with! But my guess is that what we have is not too far off. It can’t be more than a reasoned guess though.

      • cheito
        cheito  May 2, 2014

        DR Ehrman:

        Thank you for your answer. I believe you’re ‘guess’ is probably accurate.

        Jeremiah’s stated that the words of the ‘living God’ in his generation had been perverted by the priests and prophets and scribes. This revelation was literally spoken to him By The Lord himself. I think, what we need today is another prophet truly inspired by God Himself to set the record straight about the scriptures we possess. If the Lord does not appear personally, or send one of his angels to someone in the manner that he showed himself to Jeremiah then we’ll just have to continue debating about what has the Lord really said. Each one of us will have to walk by faith and cling to our own convictions of whether the words attributed to God and Jesus are truly from their mouths.

        JEREMIAH 23:36“For you will no longer remember the oracle of the LORD, because every man’s own word will become the oracle, and you have perverted the words of the living God, the LORD of hosts, our God.

  9. Avatar
    JacovZ  May 4, 2014

    Ok, now I can respond,

    Dr Ehrman, I enjoyed your presentation tremendously. I appreciate the point you made re. the % issue of correspondence/agreement among mss. Of course a 1% difference in a text (say one with and another without the Greek “ouk”) would still make a 100% difference to the meaning of the text. It’s a no-brainer. And I hope you enjoyed the ceremonial/boastful display of White’s tie right in the beginning of the debate. It was certainly meant to intimidate/irritate.

    Anyway, after listening to your debate as well as being busy with your latest book, do you still think that the monogenes theos reading in Jn 1:18 is inferior to the monogenes huios reading? What do you think about Margaret Davies’ proposal that ‘monogenes’ is probably original?


  10. Avatar
    KenUmbach  May 4, 2014

    My own sense of it, after one full viewing, is that neither debater “won” or “lost,” but that both presented their views and that at the end of the day, they differ at a basic level. Folks will have to decide which one they accept.

    It seems to me that, more important than the accuracy with which the first draft (so to speak) of each book in the New Testament was transmitted over the centuries and millennia is the truth (the historical factuality) of what was written. If the birth narratives, for example, were mere inventions (and of course they were), it is not important whether or not the precise original wording of each was accurately copied and copied and copied, Even if accurately copied, the narratives are still fabrications. And THAT was not touched on in that debate, and correctly so, as it was not the topic.

  11. Avatar
    willow  May 5, 2014

    Huh. Just a thought. How does one discern an original document from a copy? Can we ever be certain of the originality of such ancient documents? Through what means is an ancient document verified as being original?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  May 5, 2014

      Right — if we found an “original” we’d be very hard pressed ot show that it *was* the original!

  12. Avatar
    SHameed01  May 6, 2014

    According to James White, since I was watching an old Christian program of his, where he was talking about how you talked about the New Testament being the most attested ancient document from all ancient documents and therefore if you are going to be consistent and question the reliability of the text of the New Testament then you would also have to question the reliability of all ancient texts.

    Any comments?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  May 6, 2014

      He’s absolutely right. Most ancient documents are even more problematic. The Hebrew Bible, for example, is very, very difficult, textually, far more than the NT. But so too are Homer, Euripides, Cicero, etc. etc.

      • Avatar
        HaiKarate  May 10, 2014

        What angers me, every time I hear that argument, is that no one is telling you to sacrifice your life for the sake of Beowulf or The Iliad. Whether those texts are 100% accurate or not matters little to most people. It’s inconsequential to 99.999% of the population. Debates about the accuracy of those texts live and die almost entirely within the realm of academia.

        Christianity, on the other hand, is the largest religion on the planet, with 2.1 billion adherents. Worldwide, Christianity is directly responsible for a cash flow that is in the hundreds of billions of dollars annually. In the US government, our leaders, who are writing laws and passing budgets, are overwhelmingly Christian. On planet Earth in 2014, Christianity is hugely important. And the Bible is the foundation of Christian belief.

        Comparing the Bible to The Odyssey, with regards to attestation, is completely a red herring argument.

  13. Avatar
    ajbarnhart  May 13, 2014

    It was amusing to see White speak about John 8 not being in the earliest copies in one segment and in the very next segment he spoke about how he believes in the inerrancy of the bible! His comments were just a few minutes apart!

  14. Avatar
    jeremiahsvoice  July 23, 2014

    Dr. Erhman I am about to watch the debate on youtube about you and James White but would first like to comment on my experience with James White when he was here in South Africa, debating a Muslim if “Jesus’ original disciples thought Jesus was god”.
    Afterward in Q&A I asked the question to James what his view is on the ideas that God becoming man was as pagan as the Greek gods. He immediately burst out loudly, expressing his disdain and utter disrespect for people that entertain such thoughts. He said straight to my face “I have no respect for you and your question is invalid, I will not answer it”
    Needless to say, I was so shocked at his reaction, I was totally unprepared for it, so I did not react to it. After the proceedings I went up to his table to address the same question and ask him about his overreaction. He just said “I don’t want to talk to you” and turned away.

    I could only say one word (and that I don’t want repeat here)

    I am enjoying your book ‘How Jesus became God’ where many of my suspicions are confirmed. I believe you have already done what I set out doing from 2010.

    Great work!

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  July 23, 2014

      Wow. Unbelievable! But oh so believable!!

      • Avatar
        richard gills  August 29, 2014

        Dr Ehrman,

        i don’t understand the double standards when it comes to seeing parallels between jc and other gods.
        christians see parallels between a human jesus and 4 legged animal.
        christians see parallels between jesus’ and the RITUAL slaughter of 4 legged animal.
        christians call jesus “lamb of god”

        christians think that animal flesh sacrifices were pointing to a human males crucifixion.

        but when it comes to the resurrection of pagan gods, they are unable to see parallels .

        some christians say that jesus’ weekend crucifixion abrogated the need for sacrificing bulls, goats, and birds.
        one can argue that jesus died for animals/livestock.

        what is your thought on this? do you see double standards?

        • Bart Ehrman
          Bart Ehrman  August 30, 2014

          I’m sure a lot of people do have double standards! But I’m not sure there were other religions that talked about a human who died and then was raised again (even a divine human).

  15. Josephsluna
    Josephsluna  September 30, 2014

    Your really nice to non scholars
    But when it comes to scholars stating not the best and smart questions lol
    So if I would to choose sides in this one
    Funny how powerful knowledge is
    So he admits Bart
    That a top name lol
    This video also motivates me to learn another lanuage

  16. Avatar
    countybaseball  November 27, 2014

    This debate should have been called ” Debating Bart’s books” because that all White did was debate on your book.

  17. Avatar
    Adam Beaven  August 13, 2015

    Doctor Ehrman

    when james white debated robert m price somebody did a summary of price’s arguments against white

    i quote:

    “Second, the claim that Jesus and the disciples would have prevented error from accruing, which is a common evangelical argument, is disproved by the contents of the gospels themselves and contrary to what our expectations would be. In the gospels we’re told that Jesus himself couldn’t prevent listeners from telling tales he didn’t want told. The gospels tell us that false reports concerning Jesus circulated widely and in fact Jesus directed the disciples to not bother correcting them. Making up things was considered pious and acceptable in this culture. Gnostic teaching was accepted widely. Gospel reports indicate erroneous resurrection belief. John the Baptist was thought to be raised but this is a case of mistaken identity. This is proof that this error is easy to make. In the Gospel of John we’re told that Jesus did say he’d destroy the temple in 3 days, but John allegorizes the story. Mark and Matthew tell us that Jesus said no such thing and only false witnesses say he did. Luke says that Steven is reported to have said it. Look at every day experience. What preacher hasn’t been chagrined to learn what others have thought him to have said? Look at the fact that rabbis can’t keep straight who it is that supposedly uttered a statement, attributing the same wise saying to various sages. Why does Mt 10 tell us that Jesus wanted the gospel to go only to the Jews, Mt 28 says he wanted it spread far and wide, and yet at Acts 15 they’re debating whether the gospel should go to Gentiles as if they’ve never heard of the great commission?”

    this part was interesting

    “The gospels tell us that false reports concerning Jesus circulated widely and in fact Jesus directed the disciples to not bother correcting them. ”

    the only false reports i am aware of

    1. claim of ressurection vs claim of stolen body

    2. Some stood up and gave false testimony against him, saying, “We heard him say, ‘I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and in three days I will build another, not made with hands

    Dr Ehrman, do you know of any other “false reports” “widely circulated” with in the gospels?

    • Bart
      Bart  August 14, 2015

      Our only evidence for such things is in the Gospels themselves.

  18. Avatar
    mrbrain  November 25, 2015

    One comment I had was that he seemed to sidestep your argument that we don’t have the original texts. No matter how well preserved the copies are, what we have aren’t copies of the original or anywhere near. He didn’t address that.

    I have a question about the argument comparing Biblical texts vs any other ancient texts of the same period. One might say (as I believe James White did) that we shouldn’t demand a higher level when analyzing Biblical texts than we would of other ancient writings, but as you may have pointed out: other ancient texts aren’t claiming to be from the mouth of God. Other texts aren’t asking humans who read them to drop all they’re doing and follow, and change their whole lives. So there obviously should be a higher standard for Biblical texts. Anyway, how do you answer the ancient (non-Bible) texts comparison argument?

    • Bart
      Bart  November 25, 2015

      I think it’s right. We can’t be sure of the exact wording of *most* books from antiquity. That doesn’t mean that we *can* be sure of the wording of the NT!!

  19. Avatar
    mrbrain  November 25, 2015

    I think you hit on the right formula when you noticed that all those in disagreement on a point you were making were evangelicals. I think it’s possible that people like James White enter into research knowing already what the answer is (they think), and then study to try and prove that they’re right. As opposed to searching for truth. Politics has entered into research. Smells like an agenda.

  20. Avatar
    BibleResearcher  December 11, 2015

    He does now dear Professor Ehrman …!
    “There is a historical use of the term fundamentalism that would describe ME .. to be honest with you!”, James R. White.
    minute 14:35

You must be logged in to post a comment.