Bart Ehrman has become the new media darling of the 21st century. He’s been on Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show, the Colbert Report, and virtually all the major news media (e.g., NPR, ABC, BBC, New York Times, Washington Post, and countless others). Publisher’s Weekly, which reviews newly released books for a general readership and is the bible for the main secular bookstores in America, ran an article not too long ago called “The Ehrman Effect,” showing that books by Ehrman as well as those stimulated by his writings (both pro and con) have captured a large market. Beginning with Misquoting Jesus (2005), followed by God’s Problem (2008), and most recently, Jesus, Interrupted (2009), Ehrman’s books have sold by the tens of thousands and even hundreds of thousands.

What makes him so popular? Essentially, he’s a former evangelical who is becoming increasingly outspoken about leaving the faith. He’s now a ‘happy agnostic.’ And he’s not just someone who abandoned the faith, but someone who is a bona fide biblical scholar. The media are fascinated by him. Most recently, CNN ran a story on him (May 15, 2009) entitled, “Former fundamentalist ‘debunks’ Bible.”

To those who live in the world of biblical studies, CNN’s headline is a yawn. We’ve heard it before. Some years ago, I was on a committee that was working on a revision of the standard Greek grammar of the New Testament. The grammar, A Greek Grammar of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, by Blass and Debrunner and translated by Robert W. Funk in 1961, has been known by students of the New Testament simply as Blass-Debrunner-Funk or BDF. Yes, that Funk, the former head of the Jesus Seminar. This small committee met annually for about ten years; Bob Funk occasionally showed up to urge us along in his own inimical style. Since he died and the chairman of the committee, Daryl Schmidt, died, the revision of this important work has come to a standstill.

In one of our annual two-day meetings about ten years ago, we got to discussing theological liberalism during lunch. Now before you think that this was a time for bashing liberals, you need to realize that most of the scholars on this committee were theologically liberal. And one of them casually mentioned that, as far as he was aware, 100% of all theological liberals came from an evangelical or fundamentalist background. I thought his numbers were a tad high since I had once met a liberal scholar who did not come from such a background. I’d give it 99%.

Whether it’s 99%, 100%, or only 75%, the fact is that overwhelmingly, theological liberals do not start their academic study of the scriptures as theological liberals. They become liberal somewhere along the road. I won’t discuss why that is here; that’s for another blog post. My point is simply this: Bart Ehrman is hardly unique.

But he’s adored by the media because here, finally, is someone who has seen the inside of the evangelical movement (or fundamentalist fortress) and can speak intelligently both about it and about the Bible—but from a viewpoint that no longer embraces either. Or so the media think. This is old news to biblical scholars. But what makes Ehrman different is that here’s a liberal scholar who not only writes for the public square; he also speaks about his own spiritual journey in those books.

I guess, in the end, I do get Bart Ehrman. He’s capitalized on a trend that finds its greatest impetus in Bob Funk’s Jesus Seminar: liberal scholars speaking in the language of the people, and being brutally honest about their beliefs (or lack thereof). But for anyone to think that the ideas presented in such trade books are new, earth-shaking, never-before-heard-of or dealt-with trouncings of the historic Christian faith knows very little about the state of biblical scholarship today.

C Michael Patton
C Michael Patton

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. Find him on Patreon Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I'm a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. Join his Patreon and support his ministry

    64 replies to "I Don't Get Bart Ehrman"

    • Jason C

      Curses… foiled again.

    • Joe

      “As an historical document the Bible is well-preserved”; but that is a long way from saying that it, or any historical document, is infallible, inerrant, or the firm word of God.

    • prjct

      hmmmmm…..for starters I listened to a debate offered here somewhere which literally stopped me in my tracks after absorbing at least two of Ehrman’s books……it was a podcast I think…..

      anyways….after reading at least two of his books I was struck that despite others questioning his motivation, has anyone questioned, for example, his presentation as to how early religious documents, letters, etc., were written, copied, scribed, etc., in the first few centuries, and if not, isn’t it reasonable to expect that some of the things Ehrman presents are presented accurately?

      just wondering….

    • Daniel B. Wallace

      prjct, there are two issues here: First, many of Ehrman’s details are indisputable. And several scholars have noted this. But second, his interpretation of so much of this material is quite disputable. And several scholars have written extensively pointing this out. You need to read both sides of the issue before you make up your mind.

    • prjct


      I’m not in the process of making up my mind….thanks for your advice though! 🙂

      I have discussed many of Ehrman’s details, perhaps even some that have been scholorized as indisputable, and continue to be fascinated by the implications of so many not knowing, or not knowing to know, these details as they themselves are fascinating in deed….

    • #John1453

      Craig Blomberg, in a 2008 interview by Justin Taylor ( discusses Ehrman’s autobiographical comments about his (Ehrman’s) loss of faith after writing a paper about the Abiathar passage in the NT:

      “I have no problem with accepting as Christian the approach that allows for minor historical mistakes in the Bible but still acknowledges the main story line. That’s not the approach that I take, but I know far too many solid believers who do opt for such an approach to dismiss it as not an option for a genuine Christian.”

      The following question and answer by Taylor and Blomberg is quite perceptive:

      “Are there certain mistaken hermeneutical presuppositions made by conservative evangelicals that play into the hands of liberal critics?

      “Absolutely. And one of them follows directly from the last part of my answer to your last question. The approach, famously supported back in 1976 by Harold Lindsell in his Battle for the Bible (Zondervan), that it is an all-or-nothing approach to Scripture that we must hold, is both profoundly mistaken and deeply dangerous. No historian worth his or her salt functions that way. I personally believe that if inerrancy means “without error according to what most people in a given culture would have called an error” then the biblical books are inerrant in view of the standards of the cultures in which they were written. But, despite inerrancy being the touchstone of the largely American organization called the Evangelical Theological Society, there are countless evangelicals in the States and especially in other parts of the world who hold that the Scriptures are inspired and authoritative, even if not inerrant, and they are not sliding down any slippery slope of any kind. I can’t help but wonder if inerrantist evangelicals making inerrancy the watershed for so much has not, unintentionally, contributed to pilgrimages like Ehrman’s. Once someone finds one apparent mistake or contradiction that they cannot resolve, then they believe the Lindsells of the world and figure they have to chuck it all. What a tragedy! ”

      B. Witherington III, in his book “The Living Word of God”, notes ironically that Bruce Metzger was a mentor of Ehrman (BWII also studied under Metzger), and the Abiathar issue never caused Metzger to lose his faith. Indeed, BWII notes that Metzger was wont to state, “Have you never considered the possibility of inspired errors?”.

      While BWIII does not believe it is necessary to go so far as Metzger vis a vis “inspired errors”, he does note the further insightful comment by Metzger that God intentionally designed the Bible in such a way that humankind would not easily fall prey to the sin of bibliolatry–“the turning of the Bible into a golden calf, mistaking the means for the end, eand even exalting the word written over the Word Incarnate.” (p. 89).


    • jk

      I just found several distortions in Bart Erhman’s book Lost Christianities which severely need correction! In his chapter At Polar Opposites, several things he says about the Ebionites cannot be described as anything but purposeful distortions. Bart Erhman must have read the relevant section in Epiphanius’ Panarion, so I can’t believe he is ignorant of these facts. He clearly must be being dishonest. Ehrman says (page 101) “Clearly they retained the Hebrew Bible (the Old Testament) as the Scripture par excellance.” What??? Epiphanius reports that the Ebionites used the Old Testament selectively, mocking the later prophets (with especial derision for David and Solomon) and that they selectively used the Torah, censuring those passages which teach animal sacrifice and meat-eating as corruptions. Yet, not only does Ehrman say they clearly accept the OT as perfect, but he even imputes to them the modern Christian interpretation that animal sacrifices are no longer valid because Jesus is the perfect sacrifice. That is not their interpretation! Their interpretation was that animal sacrifices were NEVER valid because God did not establish them and that God only allowed it to go on until the True Prophet or Prophet Like Moses (i.e. Jesus) would come to straighten it out. Their gospel, according to Epiphanius represents Jesus as saying “I am come to abolish sacrifices and if you do not cease from sacrifice, [my] wrath will not cease from you.” Also, in the Pseudo-Clementine literature, which is Ebionite in origin, we find James the Brother of the Lord preaching that the sacrifices were not instituted by God but that God allowed it to go on until finally the True Prophet would come and preach the destruction of the temple! Epiphanius also indicates that the Ebionites accepted a book called the Ascents of James and another called the Circuits of Peter which represent James as preaching against the temple, and (in Ephiphanius’ opinion) “other such foolishness.” Modern scholars understand the Circuits of Peter to be one of the source texts for the Pseudo-Clementine literature, so the very picture which I have just referred to in that literature is linked to by Epiphanius in his description of the Ebionites, yet he calls their doctrine foolishness. But again, to them the notion that the OT is corrupt in certain places is very important, so much so that the PSeudo-Clementine literature at least 3 times represents Peter as teaching that Jesus taught this!

      Clearly Ehrman misrepresents them when he represents them as some sort of Rabinic Jews who believed in an inerrant Tanak and yet accepted Jesus on the side. Probably his motivation is that he wants to present the Ebionites and Marcionites as polar opposites (as his chapter title indicates). Yet, in reality, this cannot be done without lying. The Marcionites (according to Tertullian) rejected the notion that Jesus was the Messiah promised in the OT (making him the Chrest not Christ…

    • jk

      (cont.) …Chrest not Christ of an alien God) and rejected the whole Old Testament as the revelation of an evil god and YET nonetheless accepted that the whole thing was true and that the Jewish Messiah would indeed come and take the Jews back to their land someday. The Ebionites, really, although the most Jewish sect of early Christianity, are not too far off from this. They actively preach the OT to be corrupt and clearly accept Jesus less as Christ than as the prophet like unto Moses. The Marcionites can be identified, therefore, not as the polar opposites of the Ebionites, but as an offshoot that went a little overboard in their identification of corruptions in the OT and made the whole thing the production of an evil god (while yet maintaining its truth).

    • […] then I found this comment by noted textual critic Daniel B. Wallace, over at Parchment & Pen: Here’s how I define a theological liberal: someone who does not believe in the bodily […]

    • Usor

      “But he’s (Ehrman) adored by the media because here, finally, is someone who has seen the inside of the evangelical movement (or fundamentalist fortress) and can speak intelligently both about it and about the Bible”…………………….. he does not speak intelligently about The New Testament at all. He claims there are more errors (400,000) in the NT than there are words. If he sold 100,000 copies of his book (one which contained 16 errors) then by his math his book contained 1.6 million errors and his “book” contains nowhere near that number of words – what a joke. No, I think Ehrman is a maker of straw men on the Bible issue. All his arguments against it are easily refuted. Youtube is full of knockdowns of his anti NT diatribes. TBH he sounds like he has a problem with the NT or God rather than the facts. He says that he cannot come to terms with the problem of evil, that there isn’t anyone who wouldn’t want all those starving children around the world to die (one dies every 5 seconds) so why wont God do something about it he says. Well, it is man who is allowing those children to die. man who would rather have war and greed rather than extend the hand of friendship and material help to all those poor countries at the government level – basically it is the governments and the rich who are the evil ones. He needs to reassess his position, ask God for guidance and get right with God.

    • the God quad

      I’ve seen the question “why” several times in this thread of discussion. In other words what was Barts motivation for 1). His slide from a supposed believer to his supposedly “happy agnostic” transformation. 2). Why is he so adamant about spreading his argument against inerrancy and/or indoctrinating others.

      Before I share my hypothesis, in the spirit of transparency, I’m married to his sister and have known him personally for 15 years. Bart is a fine person, giving, loving and quite congenial. A better brother-in-law one could not ask for.

      I’ve had many conversations with his sister regarding his childhood, his supposed conversion, time at Moody with his sister and his supposed transformation towards agnosticism.

      His attack on the inerrancy of Scripture is a façade to mask his anger at God for having allowed the death of his father which has continued to be deeply emotionally upsetting and destabilizing, understandably so I might add. The timeline for his rebellion adds legitimacy to my hypothesis.

      As for his claim to have been a believer, I would have to challenge the claim in spite of what he has written and claimed publicly. I’m not certain he was ever born again to begin with. It’s my contention that if one truly experiences a personal and transformational Christ that you’re incapable of ever fully denying him.

      As for the psychology of his incessant need to indoctrinate, well let’s just say Bart suffers from the need to be recognized, legitimized and approved of just as many of us do before finding a truthful identity in a loving and approving Christ.

      In conclusion, being not completely certain, either Bart never experienced a personal Christ or, he’s in the midst of a 25 year rebellion and there’s plenty of hope either way. We continue to pray for him daily and ask that you join with us.

    • juan

      After your debate with Erhman in 2011, you mention about a book to be published in one year about partial scriptures being found, including one from the first century. I would like to buy that book. What is it called? Was that discovery verified to be of the first century?

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