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Who Is The Enemy?

This will be a very personal post, about being an enemy of the Christian faith.

I’ve long been amazed, surprised, and perplexed about how, when it comes to religion, comments made in one context are completely non-problematic but when the (exact) same comments are made in another context, they are heinous and threatening.   Some of it almost certainly has to do with tone and general attitude.  But I wonder if it isn’t actually much broader than that.

One of the ways I’ve seen this over the years is in the use of humor.  When I was a conservative evangelical Christian at Moody Bible Institute there were all sorts of jokes we would tell about the faith or about our commitments or communities:  just about Moody, we would call it Moody Instant Bibletute; or say we went to Moody, where Bible is our middle name.  Or someone would say (with respect to the view that the “rapture” would occur prior to, not after, the millennium – something we were very big on indeed!) that he was so pre-millennial that he wouldn’t eat Post Toasties.

We all thought that kind of corny humor was funny.  But when later in life I would say the exact same things, evangelicals found them highly offensive.

OK, maybe I’m not so amazed, surprised, and perplexed about it.  Context changes everything.   What is self-deprecating humor on the lips of one person can be a malicious attack on the lips of another.  Same words, different speaker.

The issue keeps coming to mind these days, in a variety of ways.  Recently, as you know, I’ve been posting on the issue of whether the book of James could be a forgery.   “Forgery” is a word that most New Testament scholars really don’t like.  They think it is crass and in your face and hopelessly negative, and so, typically, they completely avoid it, either preferring a term they consider to be more neutral (e.g., “pseudepigraphon.”  Who would take offense at *that*, when no one knows that it means?) or claiming that in fact in the ancient world people didn’t think the phenomenon (an author falsely claiming to be a famous person) was deceitful – or in fact that no one in the ancient world was in fact deceived.

I think that’s completely wrong.  Ancient authors talked about the phenomenon and they consistently disapproved of it, and often said nasty things about it.   For me, if someone today were to publish a novel claiming to be Stephen King, when in fact he was Herman Schmidt, we would call it a forgery.   Why not when someone named Samuel from Antioch claimed to be James of Jerusalem?   It’s true, writing conventions were different then, and there was no such thing as copyright or legal proscriptions etc etc.  I go into all that in my books.  But the phenomenon was seen in a very similar light in antiquity.  It was wrong to call yourself by someone else’s name in order to promote your writing for one reason or another.

The other interesting thing is that when modern people hear about such ancient forgeries, they have different reactions to it.   My sense is that most readers of the blog would say that if a book is forged then Christians are flippin *crazy* to think it could be inspired by God.

This will strike many of you as weird, but I myself don’t agree.  As you know, I don’t believe in God, so it’s not that I think such a book actually *is* or *could be* inspired by God (God can’t inspire a book if he doesn’t exist…).  But I used to believe in God, and as a scholar I certainly believed, even back then, that a number of the books in the New Testament were not actually written by their alleged authors, that the person who wrote 1 Timothy claiming to be Paul was not really Paul, or the author claiming to be Peter in 2 Peter was not really Peter, e.g.  But I still thought that they were the inspired word of God.

How could that be?   I remember what my great teacher, one of the great biblical scholars of the twentieth century, Bruce Metzger used to say.  He was himself very conservative in many ways, and a highly committed and pious believer.   But he was also a learned scholar.  He didn’t accept all the findings of “liberal” biblical scholars, at all.  But there were times where he too had to admit that there were problems with the Bible.  He agreed that there was almost no way Peter actually wrote 2 Peter.  And he thought that the creation stories of Genesis 1-3 were “myths.”  He would use the word.  But he still thought they were Scripture, revelations from God.

And when his conservative students would object to him calling the creation story a “myth,” since it was in the Bible, Metzger’s reply was always: “Who says God can’t inspire a myth”?

I still rather like that.  Why *can’t* God inspire a forgery?  I certainly don’t think he does, since I don’t think he exists; but when I did think he existed I thought he had inspired forgeries.  So it’s certainly possible to believe he did.  (I mean empirically, it’s *proven* that it’s possible to believe it, because some people do!)

And so I’m back to why a view is acceptable in one context and not in another:  the view that there are pseudepigrapha in the New Testament was completely acceptable to those of us being trained as biblical theologians and ministers at Princeton Theological Seminary, but completely Verbotten at Moody Bible Institute.

And so the personal question that I struggle with a good deal.  OK, this is really highly personal, it’s just me.   But I often feel sad about being seen as an “enemy” of the Christian faith.   People tell me I am all the time – both people who despise me and people who are rooting me on.   Yet the views I put out there for public scrutiny are almost NEVER things that I’ve come up with myself, that I’ve dreamt up, that I’m trying to push on others with no evidence or argument – just crazy liberal ideas I’ve come up with to lead people away from the faith.

So why am I an enemy?

Of course I know why, and my views were given additional support last week, at the international meeting of New Testament scholars I attended in Marburg.  I was talking with a German scholar about advanced training in biblical studies in Germany these days, and he told me that in German theological schools (in his experience), students simply are not as a rule very interested in the historical study of the New Testament per.  The kinds of historical issues we deal with on the blog are simply not pressing matters for them.  These are not why they are in theological training, either to teach or to minister in churches.

Instead, he indicated, the ONE question / issue that most of these students have is:  “How can I be Christian in this increasingly secular world?”

Of course they are interested in historical knowledge – but it’s not what’s driving them.  Instead it is an existential question about faith.  That makes so much sense.  It is what was driving me at that stage too.   But when this fellow scholar told me that, I realized even more clearly why I get so much opposition, even in some learned circles.

Most of the people who are in the business of studying the Bible are committed to faith.  That’s what generates their interest.  And these days it is very hard.  Christians are under attack.   From science, from philosophy, from the neo-atheists, from a society/culture that increasingly doesn’t care.   And the problem with someone like me is that I’m not helping the cause.  On the contrary, I’m not just someone from the outside taking potshots at this faith.  I’m someone who came from within it, and left it, with good reasons, and who argues views that are taken by people in the wider culture to be “evidence” that the faith has no good rational basis.  Even though I disagree with that assessment (since I know full well that people can be devout believers but still agree with everything I say) (not that anyone agrees with everything I say) (sometimes *I* don’t agree with everything I say…) – even though I disagree with that assessment, I get it.

Christians – even Christian scholars – want to cling on to their faith, to cherish it, and promote it, and what they see as negative assaults on the basis of their faith is threatening, especially – this is the key point – if it comes from someone who is *outside* the community of faith but who used to be inside it and understands the views of those who are still inside it extremely well, but who now rejects these views.  And says things that can lead others to reject them as well.

So no wonder I’m the enemy.  As we all say these days: duh.


Learning New Things
My Current Research Projects, 7/2019

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Comments

  1. Avatar
    Zak1010  August 10, 2019

    Its all about the $$$. The truth will jeopardize their seats and institutions.

    Dr Ehrman,
    Do you believe in Sins ? Or what is your position on sin in general?

    • Bart
      Bart  August 11, 2019

      I think people behave in ways that hurt others and themselves, and that it is wrong to do so, often very, very wrong. I don’t think of “sin” as an offense against God (since I don’t believe in God) but an offense against others (including other kinds of life forms)

  2. Avatar
    Thespologian  August 10, 2019

    I think your “enemies” can be categorized into a few groups rather than one lump of “faithful” people with theological perspectives. It may be that those you supposedly offend the most should inspect the mundane (earthly) composition of their needs as much as their ethereal aspirations. Generally speaking, it appears to me, your judiciousness is evident enough to indicate little intentions of making enemies. I don’t think it’s your desire nor interest to challenge faith however. But if you’re sharing a personal note about garnering enemies, you’re opening up a discussion of faith in general. It’s the power center of your core opposition but faith isn’t necessarily teneble on all counts. It’s a touchy subject; a question of how thin you’re willing to make your ice.

  3. Avatar
    rivercrowman  August 10, 2019

    Hello Bart, my question may fit for this more personal post of yours. I’m currently reading the book “Faith vs. Fact — Why Science and Religion are Incompatible” by Jerry A. Coyne (2015). He’s a semi-retired evolutionary biologist with a striking knowledge of Christianity. He speaks of you on page 62 when he writes “How many Christians would remain Christian were they to know for sure that Christ was neither divine nor resurrected but, as some biblical scholars like Bart Ehrman believe, simply an apocalyptic preacher of the ancient Middle East?” Have you read the book? If you have, you’ll just have to take some other light reading with you on your next trip to the North Carolina beach (in April).

  4. Avatar
    Pattycake1974  August 10, 2019

    Your work is a double-edged sword.

  5. Avatar
    ggiombetti  August 10, 2019

    Be of good cheer – you write honestly and authentically as a scholar. What more can any seeker after fact and truth want.

  6. Avatar
    johnsotdj  August 10, 2019

    The Presbyterian minister of my youth had a sign on his desk: “Love your enemies. It will drive them crazy.” Later on, in the Navigators, the Enemy, of course, was Satan, who seemed to be more omnipresent than God, lurking behind every shadow of a doubt of the inerrancy of Scripture.

  7. Avatar
    fred  August 10, 2019

    The information you convey in your publications are an obstacle to apologists. You make it easy to see what the problems are in some of their arguments (William Lane Craig and Gary Habermas come to mind).

    I’ve been in a number of informal, amateur discussions with amateur apologists, and I learned to avoid asserting “Ehrman says…” to them. That results in an immediate rejection: “you can’t trust that guy, he’s an enemy of Christianity.” So I stopped doing that, and instead just present the information or reasoning that I’ve learned from you. But in a way, they’re right – you do make it easy for people like me to reject those apologetic arguments, so you are an obstacle to their mission.

    • Bart
      Bart  August 11, 2019

      Much better to use the arguments than the name of a person who makes them.

  8. Avatar
    mannix  August 10, 2019

    Sometimes I think the Bill of Rights should also include the “Right Not to be Offended”. Anyway, having slogged throu…, I mean read, Forgery and Counterforgery I can attest you have addressed this issue. You defined “forgery” and demonstrated how certain NT books fit that definition and your primary purpose in doing so was not polemical. However, you must admit the term “forgery” has pejorative flavor…many would envision the crime associated with false check writing… one who commits forgery nefariously does so for personal gain. Although you have taken pains to dissuade the reader from this concept, the word “Forgery” is what sticks and you are labeled as bashing Sacred Scripture authors. Can’t do much about that….just keep on going.

    • Bart
      Bart  August 11, 2019

      Yup, just as the ancient words had negative connotations. People today prefer “pseudepigraphon” to “forgery” since it seems so neutral. And it is indeed the ancient word. But they don’t tell their reades what the word means: “Inscribed with a Lie”!

  9. Avatar
    mikezamjara  August 11, 2019

    Dr Ehrman, very good post. I think the main enemy of religion is their leaders. They refuse to educate their people in the things you say in your books. For me, it was the main cause to stop believing. There was too much important information that they never talked in thirty years of listening to them. That for me made me distrust almost anything they say and search for myself and what I found is that they were wrong in almost everything. However I refuse to attack religion because I think the evidence for the good it does is simply overwhelming, but I see the urgent need to educate the believers in order to avoid them doing stupid things following the inerrant word of god (usually manipulated by the leaders) and keep the good things religion provides.

    My question is: How much do you relate or know or talk or identify with other very popular skeptics like Richard Dawkins or Harris?

    • Bart
      Bart  August 11, 2019

      I know them both. I’ve had dinner with Dawkins and have interviewed with Harris, and communicated a bit with them both as well. I’d say we’re doing very different things, though, since they’re scientists and I’m a biblical scholar/historian, and they are dead set against Christianity and I’m sympathetic with it and most religions), even if I don’t subscribe to it or think that it is necessarily the best thing the world has on offer.

  10. Avatar
    crt112@gmail.com  August 12, 2019

    As you say Bart you make Christians particularly uncomfortable becasue you were fully on board like them, you studied the evidence (not like them) and you came to a new conclusion (also not like them).
    So you are scary because you encourage that little doubt in the fundamentalists head that says ‘What if my belief system doesnt hold water ?’.
    And to top it off you make all the years of biblical scholarsahip available to everyone. Any drongo (look it up) can buy your book and understand the complexities that were previoulsy denied to them by their pastor.

  11. Avatar
    hoshor  August 12, 2019

    You have stated many times on your blog that the information that you provide and the books you write essentially do not provide any revolutionarily new information as it relates to knowledge among the majority of critical scholars (except Fundies!). Why do you think many leaders in Christian circles consider you the enemy?

    Do you think that it is your delivery, which I think many would agree is succinct, accurate, and honest? Is it because you now reach such a broad audience? Is it because you are an open unbeliever? Because you are a Tar Heels fan (ha)?

  12. Avatar
    GeoffClifton  August 12, 2019

    Yes, this blog certainly resonated with me. My wife, a devout Catholic, will often respond to my pointing out problems in the Bible by saying that I’m just trying to be clever or I am trying to undermine her faith. I suppose one can at least say that we have moved on from the time when many of the views expressed on this Blog would have seen us imprisoned or worse. I took part recently in a free online course that looked at Jewish and Christian influences on the text of the Koran. The scholars running the course (most of whom were Muslims) were very sensitive and circumspect in what they said but still managed to attract some very strong (and I must say scary) outbursts from some of the students. It was certainly far more of a minefield (in every sense) than New Testament studies.

  13. Avatar
    bensonian  August 12, 2019

    Dr. Ehrman, Thank you for remaining sympathetic towards Christianity even though your journey for truth has led you away. Personally, you have helped me in my journey for truth in a way that has not eroded my faith. If anything, you are a motivation for me to continue to ask questions, think out of the box, and approach apologia with as much critical skepticism and rational thinking as possible. I do not see you as an enemy to the faith, rather, a catalyst for truth. In this pursuit, we are brothers.

  14. Avatar
    roy  August 13, 2019

    bart, I only recently became interested in ancient history and religion(past year or so) and your writings and videos have been extremely helpful, so appreciate your knowledge very much. have never been a believer and my studies have only reinforced that, but learning from the other point of view is always interesting. do not consider myself to be an enemy of Christianity in any way, but I do believe it will eventually go the way of the other mythical gods as people are more and more educated(it does amaze me that they can believe practically anything at this point) thank you again for what you do and please keep doing what you are doing

  15. Avatar
    Foxtank  August 13, 2019

    In politics and religion, the really important information is what you are NOT being told.

  16. Avatar
    mkgraham60  August 14, 2019

    I really enjoyed this post.

    Your words “Even though I disagree with that assessment (since I know full well that people can be devout believers but still agree with everything I say) (not that anyone agrees with everything I say) (sometimes *I* don’t agree with everything I say…) – even though I disagree with that assessment, I get it” I am one of the believers who agrees with a lot, sometimes, most times, etc I certainly don’t agree with everything I say either. I divide it into 2 groups: What I think, & what I believe. Anyway, I enjoy learning & growing in my faith, & your blog helps with that. How’s that for throwing a good knuckle ball? 🙂
    Thanks again, I do enjoy the blog!!

  17. Avatar
    photosmike  August 25, 2019

    You are misquoted in two newspaper articlse.

    Jesus Christ bombshell: ‘No record of him!’ Historian delivers shock Bible bombshell
    http://tinyurl.com/y2pr2rd5

    Bible shock: Was the apostle Thomas actually Jesus Christ’s twin brother?
    http://tinyurl.com/y4sy7f4a

    • Bart
      Bart  August 26, 2019

      Sigh…. (And all this in light of the oft-made claim that eyewitnesses and contemporaries can be trusted!)

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