Agnostic Scholar Bart Ehrman on 'Who Wrote the Bible and Why It Matters'

Controversial Author Answers Questions About His View on Biblical Authorship

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By Nicola Menzie , Christian Post Reporter
June 3, 2013|6:40 pm

Leading New Testament scholar and bestselling author Dr. Bart D. Ehrman's dated article, titled "Who Wrote The Bible and Why It Matters," has been eliciting fresh responses from online readers due to his assertion that most scholars, "apart from the most rabid fundamentalists," admit that the Bible is "full of lies."

  • New Testament scholar Bart D. Ehrman is seen in this public Facebook profile photo.
    (Photo: Facebook/Bart D. Ehrman/UNC-CH)
    New Testament scholar Bart D. Ehrman is seen in this public Facebook profile photo.

Ehrman shared with The Christian Post on Monday that he has been also receiving new emails about the controversial 2011 Huffington Post article, which deals with pseudepigraphal authorship of some of the letters in the New Testament.

Ehrman, 57, is the James A. Gray Distinguished Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he has served as the director of graduate studies and chair of the Department of Religious Studies. He has authored and edited more than two dozen books and is no stranger to criticism of his work, which focuses extensively on textual criticism of the New Testament and the historical Jesus.

The Princeton Theological Seminary alumni has sparred with fellow New Testament textual critic Daniel B. Wallace over authorship and reliability of the Bible, and was mentioned by name in a comment from evangelical Christian minister John Piper in a video clip titled "unbiblical biblical scholarship."

"Who Wrote The Bible and Why It Matters," in circulation again over the weekend, attracted thousands of comments and raised many questions when it was first published, and one Christian theologian reading the article for the first time suggested over the weekend that Ehrman "is progressively trading in his respect for some sort of crusade against Christianity" … and "is a far cry from his mentor Bruce Metzger," under whom Ehrman studied while at seminary.

In his discussion with CP, Ehrman answered a few questions raised by his article, the subject of which is also covered in his most recent book, Forged: Writing in the Name of God — Why the Bible's Authors Are Not Who We Think They. He also comments on comparisons made of him and Metzger, a greatly admired and influential New Testament textual critic, as well as what contributed to his personal rejection of Christianity (after growing up as an evangelical and previously serving in ministry).

Below is a transcript of Ehrman's discussion with CP. It has been edited for clarity.

CP: In The Huffington Post article you write that the Bible "actually contains lies" as opposed to using the "antiseptic term" pseudepigrapha. Why is it important to you to use "lies" as opposed to the term we most commonly hear in critical discussions, that is "pseudepigrapha?" What's your point in drawing a distinction between the two terms?

Ehrman: The thing is, pseudepigrapha is not a common term. Probably in the grocery line you don't hear the word pseudepigrapha, so in fact it's not a word we ever use. I don't prefer the word "lies." What I prefer is the word "forgeries." A forgery is when somebody writes a book claiming to be somebody else. I've written two books about this. What I write in my books is that that's exactly what happens with some of the books of the New Testament. Some of the letters of Paul, for example, are written by somebody who was claiming to be Paul, even though he wasn't Paul. In the ancient world they would have called that a forgery. Actually, in the ancient world they would have called it a lie. The ancient Greek word they used for that is "pseudÄ“s," which means a lie. The other Greek word they use for it actually is the word "nothos," which means bastard. So ancient people talking about that phenomenon that we call forgery, called them lies and bastards. So I just think it's truer to the ancient sources to call them what they are. If we want to use the word "pseudepigrapha," which is okay with me, then we should tell people what it means, which is that it means a writing that is inscribed with a lie.

CP: Can you briefly share some examples of evidence you can point readers to that would help them evaluate your claims?

Ehrman: In a short little article in The Huffington Post, I don't really have space to mount an argument for this. I'm just saying what scholars have long said. In my books is where I mount the arguments. For example, on the Letter to the Ephesians, which I say Paul probably did not write, this is a common view among scholars, this is what I was taught when I was training to be a minister. This is just what scholars say. The reason they say it is because there is overwhelming evidence for it. In my book, I spend page after page after page showing what the evidence is. So, the first thing I would say is, if people genuinely want to know the evidence, they should just read the book.

With a letter like Ephesians or Colossians, there are a number of arguments. One is that the writing style of these books is very different from the writing style of the books that virtually everybody agrees that Paul wrote. So it's somewhat like reading the difference between George Elliott and Mark Twain. If you read enough George Elliot, you're pretty sure you're not reading Mark Twain. The difference between Ephesians and the other Pauline letters is that kind of difference. A second piece of evidence is that the theology that's embraced in books like Ephesians and Colossians is not only different from Paul's theology; in some places it contradicts Paul's theology. In my book I show this at length. I show where the exact contradictions are. Those are two kinds of arguments that scholars have adduced for a long time.

CP: You write that the Bible is "full of lies." Are you implying then that since some letters in the Bible are forgeries, then the entire canon is suspect?

Ehrman: Suspect in what way?

CP: That the other purported authors may not necessarily be who they are, or what they're writing shouldn't be accepted or taken at face value.

Ehrman: I would consider those to be two different questions. With respect to the first question, I think every author from the ancient world has to be questioned – is this really the person who is claiming to be writing it, or is it somebody else? One of the things I do in my books is that I show that this isn't unique to the New Testament. The New Testament is just part of a whole range of ancient literature, a lot of which actually is forged, as scholars have long known. This happens in pagan circles, in Greek and Roman sources, in Jewish sources, there are a lot of forgeries from the ancient world that have been detected.

The second issue that you raised about whether you should throw them out of the canon or not, is not an issue that I really deal with because I think that's a theological judgment rather than an historical judgment. I'm trying to do the historical work of knowing who these authors really were. If somebody decides that you cannot have forgeries in the New Testament, then they should probably rethink what should be in the New Testament, but that isn't my view.

Related to that, my view is that even if an author lies about his identity, that doesn't mean that what he has to say otherwise is untrue. In other words, somebody could write a book claiming to be Barack Obama – someone other than Barack Obama could write a book claiming to be Barack Obama and spell out views that are exactly what Barack Obama actually thought. So the fact that he's lying about his identity doesn't mean that the content of what he says is wrong. That's true with Plato. Somebody could write a book claiming to be Plato, even though he wasn't Plato, and still be true to Plato. Or, somebody could claim to be Paul, write the Book of Ephesians and even though the book is different from what Paul would say, you could still argue that what it says is true – what it says about God, or about the church or about Christ or about anything else. I'm not talking about whether the books themselves are false. I'm talking about whether the author is lying about his identify.

 

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