Forged: Writing in the Name of God—Why the Bible’s Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are

forged.pngEhrman, Bart D.

Forged: Writing in the Name of God—Why the Bible’s Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are

Uncorrected Proof1

New York: HarperOne, 2011. Pp. viii + 291. Paper. $25.99.

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With thanks to HarperOne for this review copy!

If one wanted to forge a document in order to make people think it was written by Bart Ehrman what might he or she do? Well, first of all, the forger would claim to be Bart D. Ehrman. This goes without saying. Secondly, if the forger wanted to mimic one of Ehrman’s popular volumes he or she would certainly give it a provocative/sensational title. Ehrman’s past popular works have been called things like, Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why; God’s Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question—Why We Suffer; Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (and Why We Don’t Know About Them). More than likely the forger would begin with a personal testimony about their teenage conversion to Evangelicalism and their subsequent studies at Moody Bible Institute, Wheaton College, and Princeton Theological Seminary where they would begin their retreat from Evangelicalism (see Misquoting Jesus, 1-15; Jesus Interrupted, v-viii; God’s Problem, 1-3).

Perhaps they’d even choose a topic that Ehrman has written about and simply beef it up a little bit and jazz up the rhetoric while maintaining a strong stylistic resemblance to Ehrman’s earlier works. They might even choose a topic like forgery and discuss ways that forgers try to throw people off the trail in order to throw the unsuspecting reader off their trail! And they’d naturally publish their fabrication with one of HarperCollins’ many divisions. But what would motivate such deception? Money? Definitely. Ehrman has made a killing with three New York Times best-selling books aimed at general audiences. Forging a book and attributing it to Ehrman could definitely generate some cash. How about influence? Yup. Ehrman is a legitimate scholar, and when he speaks, people listen. Can’t get your own ideas a fair hearing? Pass them off as Ehrman’s.

So let’s see how this might work out in practice. Someone claiming to be Bart D. Ehrman ✓ publishes a book with HarperOne ✓ sensationally titled Forged: Writing in the Name of God—Why the Bible’s Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are ✓, which begins with a personal testimony about Ehrman’s Evangelical conversion in high school and his subsequent studies at Moody, Wheaton, and Princeton (1-5) ✓ and proceeds to elaborate on the topic of forgery, which Ehrman has written about previously in a number of books (Lost Christianities, chapters 1-4, 11; Lost Scriptures, 1-4; and Jesus Interrupted, chapter 4) ✓. Said book is getting plenty of press and is almost guaranteed to make a lot of money for the author. It seems that all of the items on our checklist have been checked off; what we have here is the perfect recipe for a good forgery!

But all levity aside, Ehrman has popped out another book on a well-worn scholarly issue at a “layperson’s level” with promises of a future “detailed scholarly monograph that deals with the matter at length.” (10) For now we’ll have to content ourselves with Ehrman’s distillation of modern (i.e., 19th century to present) historical-critical scholarship. The opening chapter introduces us to Ehrman’s major claims, i.e., pseudepigrapha is forgery; forgery is lying; forgery/lying was frowned upon in the ancient world; the Bible (especially the NT) is full of forgeries. We’re also equipped with some definitions (orthonymous = rightly named; homonymous = same named; anonymous = having no name; pseudonymous = falsely named), the most important being Ehrman’s definition of forgery, which is “a writing that claims to be written by someone (a known figure) who did not in fact write it.” (24)

Chapters two and three take up the standard arguments2 for the Petrine letters and the so-called deutero-Pauline letters as forgeries while also informing the reader about works both written about them and works written in their names that have been traditionally considered forgeries (e.g., The Gospel of Peter or 3 Corinthians). The fourth chapter challenges the idea that writing in someone else’s name was an acceptable practice in antiquity by noting a dearth of evidence supporting such proposals, which take their shape in three major arguments: “Pseudepigraphy in the Spirit” (writing in another’s name under supposed divine inspiration); “Reactualizing the Tradition” (representing a school of thought under the name of its founder); “Philosophical Schools” (signing one’s teacher’s name to their writing). Ehrman also dispenses with the notion that secretaries could be responsible for the variations in style, language, and theology.

Chapters five and six take up the use of (both canonical and non-canonical3) forgeries, which Ehrman labels “weapons of deceit” (145), in conflict with various groups (Jews & Pagans and false teachers respectively). Christians and their Jewish, Pagan, Gnostic, and even fellow Christian opponents employed forgeries (i.e., they lied) in order to prove themselves right and their opposition wrong. Chapter seven discusses various other forms of literary misinformation such as false attributions, which are technically pseudepigrapha, but not forgeries since there is no intention to deceive; fabrications, which are made up stories about important figures (e.g., the Acts of Peter; the Proto-Gospel of James; or the Infancy Gospel of Thomas) disseminated by anonymous authors; falsifications, which involves adding or omitting material to something that was already written; and finally, plagiarism, which, as we all know, is passing off someone else’s work as one’s own. The final chapter turns to modern forgeries about Jesus before pondering if and when it might be acceptable to lie. Twenty-four pages of endnotes complete this volume.4

As already noted, Ehrman hasn’t said anything that hasn’t been said before, in fact, he’s said plenty of it himself (!); he’s just popularized it for the New York Times best-seller audience this time around. Admittedly, the people most likely to pick up this book haven’t spent much time in NT studies, and probably even less time in studying non-canonical literature, so they’re likely to be very impressed with the subject matter. But anyone who has read a decent NT introduction (e.g., Ehrman’s own The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings) or standard commentaries should be somewhat familiar with the issues of authorship for the NT writings. And if you’ve spent any time studying the formation of the Biblical canon then you’ve more than likely encountered some material on non-canonical literature.

Where Ehrman separates himself from the pack is in his certitude. To rework a line from Alexander Pope’s famous poem “An Essay on Criticism,” only Ehrman rushes in where most scholars fear to tread. Ehrman isn’t nearly as cautious as he should be when making claims about forgeries and intentional deceit. Ehrman repeatedly states things as certain when the vast majority of scholars, conservative and liberal alike, remain agnostic.5 There may be some very good reasons to believe that Peter did not write 1 Peter or 2 Peter (although in truth, if 2 Peter is pseudonymous it actually argues in favor for 1 Peter’s authenticity) but they’re not conclusive. Even the best guess is still guesswork, and sans some major new discovery, readers of the Bible will just have to content themselves with not knowing for sure who wrote all of the books they revere. I’d also note that Ehrman is inconsistently certain. At times he uses terms such as “probably,” “think,” “possible,” and other words of the like. I have much more respect for this kind of language.

I have no interest in debunking Ehrman—a thousand apologists have written books on this subject in attempts to disprove these exact types of arguments—but I do want to warn potential readers that there isn’t much that’s special or unique about this book. In fact, if you’ve read Ehrman’s other popular books, you’ve read this one under different covers. Forged is little more than a rehash of things he’s said elsewhere, only this time he decided to bloviate a bit more wax a little more eloquent. I do have some questions about the overall purpose of this book though, e.g., what’s the point? If Ehrman makes an airtight case for forgery in the NT and non-canonical literature then what are we supposed to actually do with that information? Should those of us who hold the NT as an authoritative text suddenly reject its authority?

I’m also curious about how/why a self-professed agnostic would write so much about honesty and deception as if those concepts actually have concrete meaning to a non-theist. In other words, Ehrman can talk about truth and lies all he wants, but I’m left wondering why he cares or how he grounds any kind of belief in such concepts without grounding them in God. It seems that he has to borrow from a worldview that is not his own in order for the issues he raises to even begin to be considered problematic. Ironic? Perhaps. Inconsistent? Definitely. Worth a read? Only if you’ve never read anything like this before, but even then, make sure you get the opposing viewpoint, which Ehrman doesn’t really present in its fullness.

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1 Page numbers refer to the uncorrected proof of this book and may vary from the published hardcover edition.

2 So we’re told that Peter was illiterate and that even if he could read and write the letters attributed to him were written after his death because they contain ideas that rely on the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 and also that 2 Peter borrows from Jude, so he couldn’t have possibly written them. Paul, on the other hand, never used certain terms and phrases that appear in the Pastoral letters and some of the ideas and concepts in the Pastorals are at odds with the genuine letters, so he couldn’t have authored those. His audience is also different. In the genuine letters he writes to entire congregations of gifted believers while in the Pastorals he writes to leaders. 2 Thessalonians has a different eschatology than 1 Thessalonians and tries a little too hard to convince its audience that it was written by Paul while Ephesians and Colossians both have different writing styles and differ theologically from the authentic letters.

3 The forgeries of focus in chapter five are all non-canonical: The Gospel of Peter; The Gospel of Nicodemus; and the “Pilate Gospels” in opposition to the Jews, as well as Sibylline Oracles, which unknown Christian writers had taken over from earlier Jewish authors and inserted their own prophecies into them, in opposition to Pagans. The forgeries under discussion in chapter six include canonical forgeries (Colossians; Jude) in opposition to unknown opponents, as well as a mixture of non-canonical (Epistle of Peter; Pseudo-Clementine Writings) and canonical (James) forgeries in opposition to Paul. In addition to this, Ehrman once again discusses 1 Peter and 2 Peter as forgeries written in support of Paul. Gnostic forgeries (Coptic Apocalypse of Peter; Book of Thomas the Contender) and anti-Gnostic forgeries (3 Corinthians; Epistula Apostolorum).

4 The copy in my possession contains no indices. These will undoubtedly be included in the published hardcover version.

5 For example: “…I’m interested in books that claim to be written by Peter but in fact were forged in his name…” (49) “Whoever wrote 2 Peter, it was not Simon Peter.” (68) “Was Peter in Josephus’s or Justus’s class? No, not even close.” (73) “Peter was an illiterate peasant. […] I should point out that the book of 1 Peter is written by a highly literate, highly educated, Greek-speaking Christian who is intimately familiar with the Jewish Scriptures in their Greek translation, the Septuagint. This is not Peter.” (75) “Peter could not have dictated this letter in Greek to a secretary any more than he could have written it in Greek.” (76, cf. 139) “It’s just that those terms were not terms used by Paul.” (98) “He did all this by pretending to be Paul.” (103) “For one thing, the writing style is not Paul’s.” (110) “The Book of Daniel claims to be written, in part, by the prophet Daniel during the Babylonian captivity in the sixth century B.C.E. But there’s no way it was written then.” (117) “We’re not sure who wrote Isaiah 40-55, other than to say that, first, it was not Isaiah of Jerusalem…” (127) “These letters were not produced by secretaries. They were produced by later Christian authors claiming to be Paul.” (139) “Whoever wrote 1 Timothy knew full well that he wasn’t really the apostle Paul. He made that part up.” (232) “There never was a census under Caesar Augustus that compelled Joseph and Mary to go to Bethlehem just before Jesus was born; there never was a star in the that mysteriously guided wise men from the East to Jesus; Herod the Great never did slaughter all the baby boys in Bethlehem; Jesus and his family never did spend several years in Egypt.” (239) “The authors who called themselves Peter, Paul, John, James, Philip, Thomas, or—pick your name!—knew full well they were not these people. They lied about it in order to deceive their readers into thinking they were authority figures.” (262) (All emphasis mine)

72 thoughts on “Forged: Writing in the Name of God—Why the Bible’s Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are

  1. i’m certain that your review has proved Ehrman never wrote that book, therefore I’m certainly not going to read it or consider any arguments to the contrary – it is just so obvious. thanks.

  2. I decided after Jesus, Interrupted that I was done reading his popular books unless he did something really impressive. The other four popular ones that I read said so much of the same thing over and over that it just became a waste of time. I felt that I had to read it in order to “respond” to the criticisms against Christianity that it would spawn in the general public, but one day I realized that it nothing new and nothing I hadn’t responded to a million times before with friends and internet conversations. He just says it with a Ph.D. behind his name and people listen more.

    The other day I read Christopher Hays’ latest article at Christianity Today on this very topic. How should we respond to regurgitated critiques? Should we rush into responding as loudly as the critiques were written/said, or should we shrug our shoulders and say, ‘So what? Haven’t people been (falsely) saying that for years? Do you want me to point you to some scholarly type responses to the previous times that these arguments were brought up?’ Anyways, it’s a real good article: The Folly of Answering Fools.

  3. One of my favorite reviews you’ve done. Great reading. I wonder what Ehrman’s next book is going to be called? How ’bout “Why Did I Dedicate My Life Studying a Book I Hated”.

  4. Kyle: I’m at the same place. His popular stuff is all the same; I’m done with it. I really do enjoy his style of writing but it gets boring after he says the same thing over and over. Thanks for the link. I saw that article mentioned the other day but I haven’t read it.

    Bryan: Best title ever!

  5. James: Why thank you! I noticed that you posted a lengthy review of your own. I was surprised that you felt it would be as helpful to scholars as you did.

  6. I am surprised that someone still regurgitates this “spam” as if it is cutting edge research. Great review. I had to do some research on this topic a number of years ago when I studied the books of Peter.

    Personally, I am convinced he authored both books; even if not directly written by him. The only true way one can question the authorship is in the same way authors can be critiqued if someone else edits and retypes their manuscript.

  7. Craig: I’m willing to accept Petrine authorship for the letters that bear his name but I can’t be sure. I think there are some good reasons to doubt it for 2 Peter. Not so much for 1 Peter. I’m convinced that Paul authored all of the canonical letters attributed to him. I think the arguments for different vocabulary, style, and theology are weak and only beg the question.

  8. Nick, like you, I was surprised by McGrath’s glowing review of the book, praising it from both a popular and scholarly perspective.

    As for Ehrman himself (I say this based on both reviews), he seems to have unintentionally strengthened the case for their being no forgeries in the NT. I say this because everyone already knew that apostolic authenticity was a key criterion for inclusion in the canon. Add to that Ehrman’s point of emphasis – that pseudepigrapy is merely a euphemism for forgeries, and that the ancients despised them as much as moderns – and you have an even more rigorous standard of canonization than was supposed. Thus Ehrman has inadvertently encouraged us to believe even more strongly that there are no forgeries among the 27 NT books.

  9. I had to stop reading your review when you made such an emphatic statement that an agnostic can’t possibly have any grounded beliefs about honesty versus deception without God. Sorry, but I’m slowly losing touch with the God in whom my church says I must ground my truth. As a practical example, the church is promoting yet another speaker coming this week to the university campus in my town to warn students their salvation depends on believing in a literal six-day creation and denying evolution. Many of the young members are grad students in the hard sciences. This creates cognitive dissonance. It’s fine to tell me I can accept evolution and still be a Christian, but I can’t honestly tell anyone in my faith community that I have done so. If God is God, why are there so many versions of God’s truth? Why must I suffer for not believing the version my church so vehemently defends?

    I’m in search of the God who doesn’t require cognitive dissonance. Maybe Ehrman is, too.

  10. Mike: You make a very good point!

    Education Reporter: I’m sorry to hear you didn’t complete the final paragraph. At least you got to read the meat of the review. Let me clarify one thing for you: It’s not that agnostics or atheists cannot have beliefs about honesty and deception; it’s that they cannot have them in a way that is consistent with the rest of their worldview. Agnostics and atheists are inconsistent though so they complain about ethical issues such as lying even though their worldview doesn’t provide the necessary preconditions for ethics. They have to borrow that part from the Christian worldview. As for the rest of your comment, I don’t know what to tell you, I just pray you don’t lose your faith.

  11. education reporter,
    From your comment it sounds like you are in a tough situation and I empathize with you in this regard. People are fallen and make plenty of mistakes in regards to knowledge, claims of knowledge and the way that they treat others in response.

    Though I would point out a seemingly simple thing, it is not God who is requiring any cognitive dissonance of you. The dissonance comes as a result of your coming to different intellectual beliefs than some of the people in your church. This is a people issue, and not a God issue. If God is God (and He is), then there are not versions of His Truth. There is only His truth and fallen people trying to interpret it correctly. Fallen people trying to either accept it or flee from it. Once again, the problem does not seem to be God, but people who are misunderstanding Him due to rebellion, pride and all sorts of issues.

    You say that you are losing touch with the God whom your church tells you to ground truth. This may or may not be a good thing, because I’m not sure what your church teaches about God. What matters is whether or not what they teach lines up with the God who has revealed Himself in the person of Jesus Christ.

    If their focus on peripheral issues (such as creation/evolution) has caused them to diminish or misrepresent the Triune God revealed in Scripture, then maybe it’s a good thing that you lose touch with this false god that they are asking you to worship. It’s easy for churches involved in culture wars to create false idols without even realizing it because they only focus on one aspect of God’s revelation.

    Maybe your struggles are in fact your rejection of this idol in order for the true God to reveal Himself to you through His Word. Read the Bible and pray for God to teach you concerning Himself. If your church is teaching things contrary to how God has revealed Himself, then find a church where that’s not the case and start worshipping there. This is hard, but necessary for you to grow into a deeper faith in the true and living God. Be aware though, that the problem could just as easily be you and constantly be willing to humbly admit that you could be wrong and confess your sins before God.

    Thanks for sharing your heart with us. I hope our responses help you in your struggle to draw closer to the God who surpasses anything we could even imagine.

  12. @education reporter:

    By his own repeated declarations, Ehrman is not in search of God at all. Therefore, don’t hitch your wagon to his. Similarly, it doesn’t sound like in good conscience you can any longer hitch your wagon to your current church. But when you leave I wouldn’t encourage you to find another church because that will only perpetuate your problem – which is hitching your wagon to any other people. Hitch your wagon to Jesus alone. He is always present. He sees your heart right now just like He sees mine. He will show you the way to walk, and you won’t have to depend on people. The faith which you have, have as your own conviction before God. That faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today, and forever. Always do what is right and keep a pure conscience before Him. Way too many people are trusting in Christians instead of Christ. Go where you have to go to hear about Him, but keep your faith in Him alone. He will give you peace to replace the cognitive dissonance that the world (including the church) gives.

  13. Education Reporter: I’d like to approach your dilemma from a different angle than Kyle or Mike has. Perhaps you should stay at your current church and pray for the changes you think are necessary to come about. I know what it’s like to be a member of a congregation where things aren’t as you think they should be. There was a time when all I did was complain and criticize the problems I saw. I was eventually led to prayer and God responded in great and undeniable ways. Many of the problems ended up working themselves out. It would also be advisable for you to speak to the leadership at your church. Could it be possible that they believe as they do because they don’t know any better? Maybe you can be the one to help them see the validity of an opposing viewpoint. It’s worth a shot.

    One thing I would definitely suggest is that if you do end up leaving your current church, do not take Mike’s advice to branch out on your own. Seek God and ask him to lead you to the place where he would have you serve. While we don’t find our salvation through anyone other than Christ, we’re still members of his body, and if that metaphor suggests anything, it’s that when members get cut off from the body they whiter up and die.

  14. I should clarify that I agree with Nick. I only would support you leaving your current church if they are teaching something contrary to the Gospel or worshipping a false god. Leaving a church is not something to take lightly, but only after much prayer and consideration of what God has revealed in the Bible.

    As Nick said, it’s very possible that they need you to help them learn some new truth that they are currently missing out on, and it’s very possible that there are things you are unaware of or in error concerning. You should seek to learn from them and let them learn from you.

  15. Re: your point about Ehrman’s certainty. It’s strange how some scholars feel they have to adopt a tone of certainty when writing popular books, a tone that would never be acceptable in an academic context. It’s a little patronising, isn’t it? “Oh, here you go, poor little weak-minded citizen: Unambiguous claims and complete absence of nuance!” I don’t think people are that stupid. I guess it sells books.

  16. I’m also curious about how/why a self-professed agnostic would write so much about honesty and deception as if those concepts actually have concrete meaning to a non-theist.

    The fact that you are confused by this says a great deal about your worldview. The agnostic cares about honesty and deception because he makes sense of the world by evaluating the available evidence. His ability to do so depends on the accuracy of the information that is available. He doesn’t have a magic book to tell him what is real and what is not.

  17. A point of clarification on Ehrman’s professed agnosticism:

    While he indeed describes himself as an agnostic, he also declares unequivocally that he rejects the Christian conception of God. That is, while he believes that there was a Jesus of Nazareth and there are some things that the New Testament says about Him that are true, Ehrman does not believe that Jesus rose from the dead and does not believe He was divine. Ehrman says that it was theodicy that drove him to reject the Christian God. Therefore, by being “atheistic” about the Christian God while being “agnostic” about any other conception of God, he has confused his position.

    Thus you can watch him hammer away incessantly at the reliability of the New Testament while defending himself with the notion that he’s only an agnostic historian publicizing “what all respected critical scholars think about these things.” It’s been an effective dodge for him and allowed him to attack faith widely without having to accept responsibility for doing so.

  18. Vinny: I’m not confused about it; I’m curious. Two completely different things. Non-theists, such as yourself, have no basis consistent with their worldview for concepts such as honesty or deception. They borrow from the Christian worldview in order to say anything about them in the first place. So it’s not confusing that non-theists are inconsistent with their own worldviews; but it is curious.

    Mike: That seems a fair assessment.

  19. On the contrary Nick, it is your worldview that denies objectively knowable reality in favor of revelation and subjective religious experience. Without objective reality, honesty and deception are meaningless concepts.

  20. Nick –

    Great review. I am awaiting my hopeful copy from HarperOne to read and review. I’ll link back to you.

    Just as a side comment – possibly break some of your longer paragraphs into two. For me, it helps me ‘take a breath’ as I read. :)

  21. Bart himself is a forgery. More of his usual tragic, groundless, infantile, bigoted narcissism enslaved to the father of lies, mammon and illegitimate fame of adoration by stupid fools (typical “liberal” fascism); a willful subtle prevaricator poisoning the ignorant; how tragically ironic that Metzger’s star pupil could be such a disgusting, arrogant hack. God have mercy on his benighted soul and save us all (Rom 2).

  22. Scott: Thanks. Concerning the paragraphs, I’m generally not a fan of large paragraphs for aesthetic reasons, but I tried to break these up and couldn’t do it. Having an individual paragraph for each chapter would make for paragraphs that were too short in my opinion. And they would look proportionately dissimilar from the rest of the paragraphs. I tried to break the summary up into two paragraphs but anywhere I divided it seemed arbitrary and I just couldn’t bring myself to do it.

    T. C.: Definitely!

    Russedav: Tell us what you really think! ;-)

  23. Vinny: Two things:

    1. Nick said he doesn’t see how an agnostic can ground those pursuits apart from presuppositions about universals, reliability, etc. that seem to be borrowing from a theistic worldview. He’s offering you the opportunity to explain how it works. You only respond with “I know you are, but what am I?” without actually defending your agnosticism. Explain your position better and maybe Nick and I can better understand it.

    2. You sort of attempted this, but you actually begged the question in the process. You said, “The agnostic cares about honesty and deception because he makes sense of the world by evaluating the available evidence. His ability to do so depends on the accuracy of the information that is available.” The question is what basis he has for discerning between available evidence and making value judgments. You can’t say that the the ability to discern whether or not information is accurate depends on its accuracy, because the assumption that you can discern whether it is reliable or not is the very thing you are trying to show that you are able to do.

    You have been doing this a long time and are very familiar with our position, why don’t you give an accounting for yours so that you can demonstrate to the rest of us that your agnosticism can ground universal value judgments?

  24. Kyle,

    My position is that I would like to understand how the world works. I think my chances of figuring that out are increased by having accurate information about what events have taken place in the past. Therefore, I care about whether my sources of information are honestly reporting things that have happened and I find deception problematic. I’m not sure why my interest in knowing what happened has to be grounded in universal value judgments.

    If I believed that I could not understand how the world worked except by supernatural revelation, I think I would be much less concerned about whether my sources intended to report events accurately. I would judge each source solely on the extent to which it comported with whatever it was I had already determined to be supernatural revelation.

  25. It seems like such a position has a number of presuppositions underlying it:
    1. That the world can be understood
    2. That there is a standard by which you can judge accurate vs. inaccurate information
    3. That there is a standard concerning what is honest versus what is dishonest
    4. That there is good reason to value honesty and discourage deception
    5. That reliable knowledge can be attained

    It seems to me on these presuppositions that a theistic worldview makes much more sense of the data:

    1. Does it make more sense that the world would be setup in a way that finite people on an infinitely small planet would be able to understand it in light of theism or atheism?
    2. Does it make more sense that there is a non-pragmatic or subjective reason for deeming certain information as accurate and certain other information as inaccurate given that God did or didn’t create the world?
    3. Does it make more sense that there is a moral code by which we can judge others honesty if there is a moral Lawgiver or if at the root of reality there is nothing universally “good” or “bad?”
    4. Does it make more sense that we should value morals if there is a moral Lawgiver or not?
    5. Does it make more sense that there is “reliable” knowledge that can be attained on the theistic or atheistic account?

    I think on each of these presuppositions that underlie your comment (and there are more) that they make much more sense on a theistic account and would require quite an elaborate explanation on a non-theistic one, if such an explanation is even possible. Hopefully that helps you see what we are getting at, and why we don’t understand the atheistic account.

    Now, you may truly be agnostic about things (as may Ehrman), but both of you have too much knowledge about the situation to claim ignorance and only one of the options (theism or non-theism) can be true. You may very well reject theism, but Nick and I are simply wondering what grounding you have to even make this rejection. Thanks for explaining your position.

  26. Agree with virtually everything Mike Gantt said about Ehrman and his work. I have no personal vendetta against Ehrman. He told me a decade ago up front what his agenda was with his books and teaching. We were talking on the TC forum with an unusually erudite critic of Hort and defender of the Majority Text. I suggested to Ehrman that this scholar was attacking modernism (Hort) while assuming modernism as a framework for launching his attack. Somehow the discussion wander off into how Ehrman handled his classroom discussions, how he used his knowledge of evangelical framework to undermine the same, a standard move in deconstruction.

  27. Kyle,

    Once upon a time, the ancients explained the bright light that appears in the sky during the day by positing a supernatural being who drove a chariot with fiery wheels across the sky. I personally don’t think that such an explanation actually makes sense of the data.

    It is quite true that consciousness, epistemology, and morality require complex explanations and these explanations often seem to raise as many questions as they answer. “Must be God” is much simpler, but I don’t see how positing an infinite and eternal supernatural being who is by definition beyond human comprehension makes sense of anything. It seems to me that attributing something to an inexplicable God is just another way of saying “I don’t know the reason for this.”

  28. C. Stirling: That’s not surprising. If his agenda is supposed to be hidden then he’s done a terrible job of hiding it. I should also mention that the two times I’ve corresponded with Ehrman via email he has always been pleasant and willing to answer questions.

  29. Vinny,
    That’s a good answer, but it doesn’t deal with my comment. I have nothing wrong with saying that such and such event in the universe can’t currently be explained, so we should wait until we can understand it. New data very well may come that explains it.

    I’m asking about much bigger issues, where further information about events in the universe have no bearing. The issues that I mentioned that you assume are the intelligibility and the moral nature of reality. Furthermore, pertinent to this discussion is the fact that the reliability of reason seems askew on a non theistic worldview. These are not events in the universe that need a natural explanation, but metaphysical questions that are at the very core of reality.

    I’ll let you have the last comment. Thanks for discussing.

  30. Thanks for the review Nick. It settled for me that I likely won’t read the book. I don’t know if I will ever read Ehrman again. If he continues to merely popularize old theories then it would make sense to go back to those scholars. And you are right, he has way too much confidence in his views, but how else would his books sell without such dogmatism?

  31. Brian: I think I’m pretty much done with his popular stuff. He’s got a fresh translation of the apocryphal gospels that I’ll try to pick up eventually.

  32. Kyle,

    You asked about “making sense” of various phenomena. I think it was reasonable for me to address the general question of how we go about “making sense” of things. You seem to think that positing a supernatural being who is both incomprehensible and unfathomable somehow makes sense of what you describe as “the metaphysical questions that are at the very core of reality.” I don’t see the benefit in invoking the inexplicable as an explanation. That seems askew to me.

  33. Vinny: “…but I don’t see how positing an infinite and eternal supernatural being who is by definition beyond human comprehension makes sense of anything. It seems to me that attributing something to an inexplicable God is just another way of saying “I don’t know the reason for this.”

    Man cannot know the reason for anything without the revelation of God. Every time one states the reason for X is Y, why Y is introduced and the mobius thinking is not hindered. That which makes our world/life as we see it is too complex and vast to grasp with our puny minds, but faith and trust are as real as any form of objective reality and when allowed to guide, one will find more revealed than before.

    In Taoism the greatness of nature and all that is, is summed up in the simple notion that the reason for X is not Y but it is X itself. X could not be if it were not X. The full stop applied in this way of thinking is falls short of the true conclusion that forms progress – Then why all that is not X?
    I trust in God to show that X is, because of all that is not X. Now X is revealed. You still pay your bills, regardless of all that is not X (or, because of all that is not X).

    You might as well start asking why mankind knows so little. It will always be not how much we know but what we know. Faith allows us to know beyond ourselves.

  34. Tom,

    When I was a child and I demanded to know the reason for some decision my parents had made, they would sometimes fall back on the venerable “Because we said so.” I think that this answer more than warranted my acceptance of their decision. Nevertheless, I don’t think that it really constituted an explanation that “made sense” of their decision.

    I think that divine revelation is similar to my parents “Because we said so.” It might arguably be a perfectly valid basis for true knowledge of reality, but it is knowledge based on the authority of the teacher rather than the extent to which it makes sense of the world that we perceive.

  35. Vinny, I understand the “because I said so…” analogy. I think one should step back and distinguish between human and divine authority and revelation. The desire to understand is commendable but there are circumstances where it is a prelude to a form of darkness within. A void.
    God never says “because I said so.” He says, does, gives and we respond based on how our trust and faith in him, and his promises, direct. Still any misplaced trust (charlatans, heretics) or shoddy faith will make the journey of life come to a cul-de-sac exactly where we don’t care to be. Time to stop staring at the map (do we do this in the age of GPS?) trying to figure out how you got this dead end, turn around and get back on the road to somewhere.
    There is much in our lives that cannot be explained or understood down to its origin. Yet many folk insist that without understanding, there is a lack of completeness. This is faith of another kind.
    Much of the arguments I have heard denying or dismissing God and His truth (understood or not) are based on faith and trust in the mind of man. This truly falls short of full load of gas to get to the destination. If there is no destination then all is vanity. If you want to make sense of the whole of life, what will you do with glorious mysteries and wonders?
    I am relatively new to Christian faith. Formerly a life based on faith in my own competencies. At some point (after nearly 50 years of living the life of “Whatever”) I realized that my trust in and seeking understanding of that beyond understanding were conditions of choice (to use human arguments) and no more. When I choose to be unshackled from the secular dogma of “nothing beyond ourselves” I left myself open to God work in me, and work he did work a faith for me. I did not decide for God, he decided for me when I was wasn’t looking or as usual passively resisting. Go figure.

    I am becoming mezmeized by the knockout clips below… Lord have mercy!

  36. Tom: They are pretty mesmerizing!

    While I’ve enjoyed the conversation had by all on this topic I’m going to have to steer it back towards Ehrman’s book. Thanks.

  37. Mike Gantt makes the argument that since “apostolic authenticity was a key criterion for inclusion in the canon”, we should be able to trust the early church’s canon selection as valid. This assumes that because “apostolic authenticity” was important, 3rd and 4th century Christians would have been good at detecting it. On the contrary, only a tiny minority of these early Christians were even literate, and those who were would have had access to very few (if more than one) copies of any given Christian text.
    One can make a good argument that a common orthodoxy was the real driving force in the selection of the canon (texts were frequently dismissed for “heresy”), and the importance of “apostolic authenticity” is precisely the motivation for falsely claiming that a text was written by an apostle.
    “I’m also curious about how/why a self-professed agnostic would write so much about honesty and deception as if those concepts actually have concrete meaning to a non-theist.”
    I’m confused. Are you really saying that all non-theists are immoral, untrustworthy, lying humans? Really?! A lie or falsehood has no concrete meaning to an atheist?
    So if belief in God is required for honesty to be valued, does it have to be the Christian God? Are Hindus, Jains, and Buddhists liars as well?
    Do Christians behave truthfully, morally out of a fear of hell? Or is it because God helps them internally to behave well?
    If the former is true, then I suppose the fear of any particular god’s hell would do. If the latter, then only the true God would do, leaving all other believers as immoral liars.
    I would suggest that if you really believe the bible is the only ancient source for understanding the value of truth and falsehood, you haven’t read much. I don’t really believe this about you – I just think your premise is insanely flawed.

  38. Still Listening: I don’t think that anyone would deny that orthodoxy was a major criterion for canonization. Every book I’ve read on the subject cites it so your point probably isn’t as forceful as you think it is. I also fail to see what real relevance literacy and the number of copies of any given text that a Christian community would have access to has in this discussion.

    As to your second point, yes, you are confused, clearly. I have questioned a non-theist’s interest in concepts that they can’t consistently ground in their worldview. If you read through the comments you will see that I said, “It’s not that agnostics or atheists cannot have beliefs about honesty and deception; it’s that they cannot have them in a way that is consistent with the rest of their worldview,” and “I’m not confused about it; I’m curious. Two completely different things. Non-theists, such as yourself, have no basis consistent with their worldview for concepts such as honesty or deception. They borrow from the Christian worldview in order to say anything about them in the first place. So it’s not confusing that non-theists are inconsistent with their own worldviews; but it is curious. ”

    I understand that non-theists of all stripes have morals; they’re just not consistent with non-theistic worldviews. Also, I would absolutely say without equivocation that non-theists (all of them) are immoral (having a sense of morality is not the same as actually abiding by it), untrustworthy, lying humans. Why? Because I know humans and I know that without the triune God they can’t help but be those things (so yes, that includes all non-Christian theists as well). All Christians were all of those things once upon a time, but thank God for his redeeming grace and mercy!

  39. Thank you for answering my questions. It’s probably a question for another post, but I’d be interested to hear your description of the non-theistic worldviews. I also find it interesting that you believe concepts such as honesty and deception are only found in the Christian worldview.

    I understand you better now, and I’m still listening.

  40. Still Listening: My pleasure. One of these days I plan to get around to addressing the very kinds of questions you have. Until then you might be interested in a series of posts by a guy named C. L. Bolt. titled “An Introduction to Covenantal Apologetics.” The entire series is good but I think the posts that are most pertinent for your questions here are:

    Part 1: There are Two Worldviews
    Part 2: Everyone has Presuppositions
    Part 3: There is No Neutrality
    Part 7: Moral and Intellectual Objections of the Unbeliever
    Part 10: Unbeliever’s Knowledge of God
    Part 11: Unbeliever’s Suppression of the Truth
    Part 19: Religions that Share Our Authority

    I don’t know that I’d agree with every single point that Bolt makes in his posts, but there is a general agreement between us.

  41. Still Listening: I just re-read my first comment to you and it sounded way worse than I intended it (at least it sounded bad to me on a second reading), so I’d like to apologize if you were offended by the ‘tone.’

  42. Thanks I’m already pouring over these posts. Again, this is probably fodder for a different post (so feel free to put me off until later), but when Bolt says, “. It is only through presupposing the Christian worldview or through offering such proofs and evidences within the context of the Christian worldview already rejected by the unbeliever that the proofs and evidences make sense and work,” I agree with him, and I think the unbeliever would as well.

    Is Bolt a Calvinist? Is he speaking from a perspective that Christians are the predestined elect? I only ask because he doesn’t seem to be interested in convincing unbelievers; only in dismissing them.

  43. Still Listening: I’d take that sentence as being directed more toward Christians with competing apologetic methods than unbelievers in particular (I’ll check later and see if I’m right). Classical apologists employ various philosophical arguments for the existence of God and Evidential apologists appeal to evidence that supports the Christin faith and the Christian God, but there seems to be an underlying presupposition of neutrality, that is, we’re all (believer & unbeliever) on a level playing field so if we can just come up with really good arguments then the unbeliever will see it our way. The Covenantal (a.k.a. presuppositional) apologist doesn’t believe in neutrality. These arguments all have their place, but that place is within the Christian worldview, being argued with Christian presuppositions; it’s only here that they work. The unbeliever doesn’t interpret the evidence in the same way that the believer does and they don’t have the same presuppositions so the classical arguments don’t yield the same results. I think that’s probably Bolt’s point.

    Bolt is a Calvinist. I am not. But I suspect that we’d both agree that apart from the Holy Spirit no one can truly be convinced. My outlook on apologetics is that it’s really for the Christian. In other words, we’re called to give a reason for why we believe what we believe. It’s not so much to make others believe what we believe since we can’t do that on our own anyway; it’s just to say why we believe what we do. But apologetics can also function in order to show why competing ideas and systems fall short. In other words, we’d say something like, “Here’s why I believe what I believe and here’s why what others believe doesn’t work, which is why I don’t believe it.” Bolt should have a post on the “impossibility of the contrary” in that series. Check that out if you get the chance.

    And with that said, we are straying a bit from the topic of this post, so I don’t want to say much more on the topic in this comment thread. I would encourage you to ask Bolt some questions in the comments to his posts. I’ve not commented over there that I can remember but I do believe that he interacts with those who do.

  44. The approach toward the bible must be by faith. There is clearly substance to it’s content and prideful to make such resolve based on our pathetic intellect. Jesus is either the Son Of God define or the biggest liar and fraud that ever lived on planet earth which we know He existed. His advise, miracles, instruction, love, and compassion as well as warnings from concern for the soul of man are like no other. The sin of man has created his suffering my friends but God is eternal and see’s things from a eternal perspective and if you cannot see past the temporal it will never make sense. If we simply followed the 10 commandments what would this world be like. Much prettier. We have our own will and that appears to be a dilemma as the Lord did not make robots therefore he has to work with our wills. Some of ours may eventually come around and some won’t, I really care for those who are positioning themselves to somehow save themselves. Its only the sacrifice of Christ in Gods eyes that will pardon our sin, pride and stupidity. Stop rejecting Him he loves you and has made every provision for you in spite of fallen man He has made a way to lift us all up in spite of our inability to do so ourselves. God Bless

  45. Actually I’m thankful for someone like Bart Ehrman who at least will be intellectually honest and say that the Bible is not inerrant and not Gods word. The pastor at my church has stood up at the podium and said the following “this book is trustworthy…is without error… doesn’t contradict science or anything else”. And everyone sitting out there is supposed to say “OK”. I agree that it has Christian truths in it. I agree that it’s writers were Godly men that were inspired to write Godly things but I don’t believe that the whole book has no errors in it and doesn’t contradict itself… My gosh …can’t folks see this for themselves when they read it. I’m sorry….I’m just very frustrated with this.

  46. Rick,
    Your comment describes a lot of the problem in the churches today. On the one hand, pastors dogmatically want to defend positions that they don’t need to be dogmatic about. I hold to inerrancy, but many of my brothers in Christ (such as the author of this blog), do not. Not all theories of inspiration require it. Personally, I hold to a pretty traditional understanding of inerrancy (ala Calvin, Warfield, etc.) but also am no Young Earth Creationist. Many pastors try to fit their interpretations of passages of Scripture into their doctrine of inerrancy and that’s part of the problem.

    At the same time, there is a general unawareness on the part of the people in the pew as to what evangelicals mean by “inerrancy.” I would throw part of the blame in this regard on pastors, and part on congregants. Pastors are not teaching what the doctrine means, and why we hold it. They cannot simply say “the Bible is without error” and think that says enough. Our hermeneutic is vitally important to our interpretations and thus to how we understand inerrancy. In our day and age of accessible free information though, congregants can be informed better about the doctrine. If you’ve never read it, a good primer on the topic can be found at, here.

  47. Rick: I don’t know that Ehrman is being any more intellectually honest than some people who hold to inerrancy. You gotta understand that there are varying views of the doctrine and that many erudite scholars hold to it because they’ve spent a lot of time studying the issues involved. I’d also note that inerrancy, as I understand it, is a claim made for the autographs (= original manuscripts) and not the copies and translations. Can you find some problems in the text as we have it? Sure. Does this mean that those problems were always there? Not necessarily.

    Having said that, I wouldn’t say that Scripture doesn’t contradict science, but I would say that one is going to have to get their epistemological ducks in a row and figure out which one (Scripture or science) is a more sure foundation. When they do contradict one another, which one do we side with? Which one has more inherent authority?

    I’m curious about your claim that the Bible has “Christian truths” in it. Are you saying that Christian truth is different from truth in general? I’d be interested in hearing a bit about your view(s) on truth. Also, you’ll do well to listen to Kyle, he knows his stuff. I value his opinion on everything he’s kind enough to comment on over here.

    Kyle: I’ve actually been drifting back towards affirming inerrancy over the past year or so. My major issue had always been with superficial arguments made to reconcile alleged contradictions or errors. I was also disenchanted with the ways that debates over inerrancy were conducted by inerrantists and I didn’t want to be associated with them. I’ll also admit to being a bit awestruck by the “academy” and it seemed to me that in order to be “academic” I had to give up inerrancy. Well, I’m over that. I’m concerned with truth regardless of whether or not anyone considers it academic or scholarly or whatever.

  48. Nick, “I’ll also admit to being a bit awestruck by the “academy” and it seemed to me that in order to be “academic” I had to give up inerrancy. Well, I’m over that. I’m concerned with truth regardless of whether or not anyone considers it academic or scholarly or whatever.”

    Exactly! I was too. And I’m totally over that as well. Everyone wants to be accepted by the “guild,” but to even get into the guild you have to take on presuppositions that I reject, and have no reason to reject. I’d much rather pursue the Truth as well.

  49. I’m sorry that I came off with such an angry tone to my comment and I
    appreciate the replies you gave. About 10 years ago I really began
    studying more on this inerrancy issue and problem areas in the bible.
    Also for the last year I’ve been reading all I can on Biologos and
    regarding what scientists who are christians are saying about the creation
    account, the flood, evolution and genetics. I’ve been struggling with how to put
    all of this together into some sort of belief system that would work for me.
    And you know what else …..there isn’t really anyone you can talk to about this.
    I don’t want to be someone that destroys someone else’s faith by bringing up
    these questions. My son just this last year after his second year in college
    studying anthropology and archeology decided that he’s an atheist. He was
    questioning everything and his college Profs didn’t help any. Also considering
    all of his spiritual mentors at Church were evangelical fundamentals ( like we
    were ) no one knew or had good answers to his questions. The problem
    was that I had the same questions but no real good answers so I kept my mouth
    shut. My wife was devistated and I am I guess a little embarrassed that I was
    so helpless. But these things are not brought up in church and our church does
    not want to discuss them so we don’t create any divisiveness.
    But to answer your question Nick….for me Christian truths means that we can
    read the Bible and understand what God is like, how he interacts with his people,
    what he expects from us his children. How to live a good Christian life and how to
    treat others. Things like that. I hope that makes sense.
    Kyle…..thanks for the link to I like it !!


  50. Actually I want to clarify something. When I said that I kept my mouth shut what I mean is that I stuck with our Churches literalist approach and not with what I was really starting to believe at the time. Of course with my wife right there trying to talk with him like I was I’m not sure if it would have been good to say anything different then what I did. She would have killed me.

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