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Dr. Bart D. Ehrman has issues in several areas that drug him down from being a conservative evangelical Christian to an Agnostic and now an atheist. What can we learn from his missteps that led to his abandoning the faith? Before we look at the issues, let’s take a three-paragraph brief look at how Ehrmn got there.
His early life was filled with a conservative Christian influence. Christian youth camp and a camp leader that he calls “Bruce” influenced his middle teens. It was here that Ehrman was moved by his ‘born-again’ experience to take the Bible more seriously. Therefore, the next stage was all too natural; he signed on at Moody Bible Institute in 1973, a conservative religious institution that takes Bible education seriously in the extreme. The school name itself carries a reputation of knowing that it educates nothing but the most skilled Christians, who accept the Bible as nothing short of fully inerrant, with every word being inspired of God. In his telling of his early life, Ehrman reveals that he was not such a student, as Bart was overly concerned as he got to know that there were no autograph manuscripts still extant (available today).
Even more disturbing to him was that textual scholars do not also have the first published copies of the autographs or the second and third generation of copies. This issue alone seemed to push Ehrman into the field of textual studies. This weighed heavy on his young mind as he entered yet another evangelical university of extraordinary reputation in producing some of the best scholars the world has to offer: Wheaton College. Wheaton, being conservative, seemed though to pale in comparison to his former days at Moody. It was now time to peak outside of the box of just accepting things and not raising any issues about discrepancies that had been plaguing his mind. It was here that he met scholars, who were not afraid of asking the tough questions concerning their faith. While this is certainly reasonable, it was one more step toward the slippery slope that was going to consume young Ehrman. It was here that we see the mindset of Ehrman starting to develop, as our initial quote at the outset of this piece, in the above.
As he settled into the field of textual criticism, Ehrman would head on to yet another big named school, but one that was now moving away from his founding conservative principles, to a more liberal progressive stance: Princeton Theological Seminary. It is here that Bart D. Ehrman would study under the renowned textual scholar, Bruce M. Metzger. When writing an initial paper, for a Princeton professor by the name of Cullen Story at the beginning of his stay, Bart tried to give a long, complicated answer to overturn a discrepancy found in the Gospel of Mark. (Mark 2:26; 1 Sam 21:1-6) It was the response of this professor, on Bart’s paper, which sent Ehrman onto the road of Agnosticism: “Maybe Mark just made a mistake.” Now, we move onto the issues that stumbled Bart D. Ehrman.
- TEXTUAL ISSUES: He could not cope with the number of textual errors and the fact that we do not have the originals
- BIBLE DIFFICULTIES: e.g., Mark 2:26 is a Bible difficulty that stumbled him until his Princeton Professor wrote on his paper, “Maybe Mark just got it wrong.” Well, that opened Pandora’s Box to, ‘what else did Mark get wrong’ and ‘what else did the other Bible authors get wrong?’
- EHRMAN’S UNANSWERABLE QUESTIONS: If God is all-powerful, all-knowing, righteous/just, and the epitome of love, why would he allow thousands of years of suffering?
- EHRMAN’S UNANSWERABLE QUESTIONS: How can a God be Holy, Right, of Love, all-powerful, be justified in the destruction of cities, and the killing of men, women, and young children?
All of these by themselves are hard enough to deal with but when you combine them all, it becomes a mountain that is quite difficult to overcome for the churchgoer. I am going to give you rational, reasonable, logical answers below for each of these. But first, we might understand how the churchgoer might be stumbled by these, but how can a Bible scholar who has such deep knowledge fall away from the faith.
Chinese Water Torture
Chinese water torture is a painful process in which cold water is slowly dripped onto the scalp, forehead, or face for a prolonged period of time, allegedly making the restrained victim insane. When you have one slowly dripping textual issue after another, one slowly dripping Bible difficulty after another, and one slowly dripping unanswerable question after another that go without being properly dealt with, this too can be torture and make you insane. There are two things a Christian should never do:
- Never let Bible issues go and add up without dealing with them
- Never feed your mind on skepticism without also feeding your mind on faith
James 1:14-15 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
14 But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own desire. 15 Then the desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.
This principle can be applied to doubt as well. If we are constantly feeding our mind on difficulties of any sort, it is not long and we will give way to uncalled for, unwarranted, unnecessary, needless doubts. This will eventually lead to spiritual doubts.
Answers to Ehrman’s Stumbling Blocks
TEXTUAL ISSUES: He could not cope with the number of textual errors and the fact that we do not have the originals.
BIBLE DIFFICULTIES: e.g., Mark 2:26 is a Bible difficulty that stumbled him until his Princeton Professor wrote on his paper, “Maybe Mark just got it wrong.” Well, that opened Pandora’s Box to, ‘what else did Mark get wrong’ and ‘what else did the other Bible authors get wrong?’
EHRMAN’S UNANSWERABLE QUESTIONS: If God is all-powerful, all-knowing, righteous/just, and the epitome of love, why would he allow thousands of years of suffering?
EHRMAN’S UNANSWERABLE QUESTIONS: How can a God be Holy, Right, of Love, all-powerful, be justified in the destruction of cities, and the killing of men, women, and young children?
Joshua 6:21; Deuteronomy 2:34; 3:6 OTBDC: How can God, holy, righteous, of love, all-powerful be justified in the destruction of cities and the killing of men, women, and young children?
After decades of research, studying through thousands of books, authoring 140+ books (6 on textual studies, 4 on Bible Difficulties, 20 on apologetics and evangelism, 4 on Bible translation, and others), hundreds of blog articles, translating the New Testament and the Old Testament, working on an OT and NT textual commentary and the critical text interlinear, and working through many dozens of OT and NT Bible Difficulties, I can say the following about God and the Bible.
- Deeper balanced Bible study is no guarantee that spiritual maturity and spiritual strength will result, but the lack thereof is a guarantee that spiritual immaturity and spiritual weakness will result. Feed your faith, not just your skepticism.
- There is much evidence for the existence of God for the reasonable, rational, logical person with common sense.
- There are hundreds of Bible difficulties and 99% of them are answered for the reasonable, rational, logical person with common sense. It would be strange if there were not Bible difficulties when you consider there were 66 books written over a 1,600 year period in three different ancient languages in dozens of cultures by a wide range of authors from a general, to kings, to shepherds, to a tax collector, a physician, to fishermen, and so on, that is 2,000 – 3,500 years removed from us.
- There are 400,000+ NT textual variants in our 5,898 manuscripts and almost all of them are insignificant and have been resolved and those that are significant, almost all of them have been resolved. Out of 138,000 words in the Greek NT, we have about 100 textual variants that textual scholars differ on but that is irrelevant because one reading will be in the translation and the other reading will be in a footnote, so the reader has access. Between the 1881 Westcott and Hort Greek NT of 1881 and the 28th edition of the 2012 Nestle-Aland Greek NT, we have a restored original 99.99 percent.
- Ehrman’s unanswerable issues are difficult and here are a few others as well but when we have answers to hundreds and reasonable, rational, logical answers to these, we can patiently wait on God to get the exact details as to why.