If you haven’t heard of him, then you will have after reading this. New Testament Critic Professor Bart Ehrman has become an iconic figure in his field of work making a name for himself as one of the foremost critics of the New Testament (NT). Ehrman you could say he is the Richard Dawkins of Biblical Scholarship.
Ehrman was not always an atheist, however since becoming one, has devoted much of his time to writing intensively on the supposed issues (known as textual variants) within the NT. This is probably made most obvious in his popular best-selling book Misquoting Jesus in which he essentially argues that the NT cannot be accurately reconstructed, and therefore cannot be trusted as a historical document of truth, especially when it comes to the information about Jesus Christ.
Whilst I hugely respect Ehrman as a person and professor who clearly knows his stuff very well, I do not respect the deceitful work he has at play when we further investigate his true convictions about the accuracy of the NT.
Firstly let me point out the fact that the accuracy of the NT is almost completely undeniable. The bottom line is that we have at least 5000 Greek manuscripts, and a further 20,000 (at minimum) quotations from the early Church fathers. All of this combined together gives us a huge degree of certainty in what the NT document really does say. Most liberal and conservative scholars also would agree with these figures.
If you were to buy and read through Misquoting Jesus, the ‘evidence’ provided might very well convince you that Ehrman has successfully punched some huge holes in the accuracy of NT effectively disproving the whole thing. This façade however totally disappears once you read up on his academic works and also the appendix of the paperback edition of Misquoting Jesus.
In 2005, Ehreman helped Bruce Metzger update and revise the classic work on the topic – Metzger’s The Text of the New Testament.
Here is what Bruce Metzger and Ehrman agree on according to Melinda Penner of Stand to Reason. She says,
Ehrman and Metzger state in that book that we can have a high degree of confidence that we can reconstruct the original text of the New Testament, the text that is in the Bibles we use, because of the abundance of textual evidence we have to compare. The variations are largely minor and don’t obscure our ability to construct an accurate text. The 4th edition of this work was published in 2005 – the same year Ehrman published Misquoting Jesus, which relies on the same body of information and offers no new or different evidence to state the opposite conclusion.
Now here is what Ehrman himself says during an interview found in the appendix of Misquoting Jesus (p252):
Bruce Metzger is one of the great scholars of modern times, and I dedicated the book to him because he was both my inspiration for going into textual criticism and the person who trained me in the field. I have nothing but respect and admiration for him. And even though we may disagree on important religious questions – he is a firmly committed Christian and I am not – we are in complete agreement on a number of very important historical and textual questions. If he and I were put in a room and asked to hammer out a consensus statement on what we think the original text of the New Testament probably looked like, there would be very few points of disagreement – maybe one or two dozen places out of many thousands. The position I argue for in ‘Misquoting Jesus’ does not actually stand at odds with Prof. Metzger’s position that the essential Christian beliefs are not affected by textual variants in the manuscript tradition of the New Testament.
The only question we are left with now is why did he do this? One could speculate a few ideas. Maybe he did it in order to sell more books, the more controversial the book, the more sales, can always be a motivator; perhaps, he knew that he could fool the average layman who bought his book, however not any real NT scholar, and definitely not Metzger. In this regard he is forced to tell the truth when in presence of other NT scholars, but free to manipulate the truth in the presence of the average layman. Whatever the case is, it is interesting discover that even a prominent atheistic scholar cannot present satisfactory evidence that undermines the NT but rather we find that he himself believes in it’s accuracy!