Book Plunge: Ehrman’s Introduction To The New Testament

Are our students ready for Seminary? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

Yesterday, I went on a search through local churches in our area to see how many of them were interested in having a speaker come talk about apologetics-related topics. I would consistently find that there were youth programs and college programs, but on only two churches can I recall finding anything remotely related to apologetics.

Oh you can find about concerts and pizza parties and “Jumping into God’s Word!” everywhere. What you cannot find is serious content. It is more important to keep our youth entertained. Still, there will be some who will want to go off for higher learning and that includes in the Christian faith and when we send them off to Seminary or Divinity School or something of that kind, we can be sure that they’ll be safe. Places that teach the NT will teach them the beliefs that they grew up with.

If you really believe that, you are part of the problem.

I have been making it an effort to study Bart Ehrman’s material more. In wanting to get the most of his thought, I ordered his “Introduction to the New Testament.” Now Ehrman does say that he’s just trying to go with what historians can say about the Bible. If you want to believe the Bible is the Word of God, he’s not going to tell you to not do that.

However, he sure won’t give you any reason to think that.

Now of course, Ehrman does have some good material in there. There are some interesting ways to look at the text and a good student of the NT should be prepared for that. Yet despite his saying that he doesn’t want to persuade you of X, the end result is that his book will persuade you of X if you are not prepared.

Sorry parents and ministers, but pizza parties are not preparing us.

“But we are teaching our youth what the Word of God says!”

Until they meet an Ehrman who tells them through his book in a Seminary that the gospels are by anonymous authors and we can’t really study miracles and the accounts are written late and that there were other holy men walking around doing miracles and that most critical scholars think that a number of books in the NT are pseudonymous and that there are numerous contradictions in the Bible.

It will be hard for the youth to think the Bible is the Word of God while accepting all of that.

And what are they to counter Ehrman with? Faith? No. Faith is not meant to be a counter. It is not meant to be a leap in the dark. It is meant to be trust on reliable evidence and unfortunately, going to that big youth concert is not giving the youth the tools they need to be able to have that reliable evidence. There is only one way for them to get it. They must be taught it. Either parents and churches will teach them what they are to believe about the reliability of Scripture, or rest assured people like Bart Ehrman will.

It is quite disappointing to find that Ehrman never really gives counters to his positions. For instance, when discussing who wrote the Gospels, he never lays out the case for why some scholars think Matthew wrote Matthew. Any mention of the church fathers saying X wrote a Gospel are seen as “hearsay” because they are too late. (Although apparently 20th century interpreters are not too late.) It doesn’t matter that the tradition is quite constant about the authorship of the gospels and these are the people who would have been in the position to know. Ehrman will give no reason why you should think Matthew wrote Matthew, but he will give you reason to think that he didn’t.

The same goes with dating. Ehrman will tell you that these accounts were written after the events and use time descriptions that sound like a long time, without bothering to mention how long after the fact it was that other ancient biographies were written and that the time is like a blip in comparison.

When discussing a passage like 1 Cor. 15, Ehrman will say some people use it to defend the resurrection, but absent is any mention of the arguments that are used by those people. In fact, Ehrman says very little about the resurrection. He certainly gives no other explanation for the data. This is increasingly a concern of mine. Ehrman will give the impression that there is no one in scholarship who disagrees with the position of critical scholars and if they are, they are certainly in the minority.

His usage of Acts is quite odd. When Acts suits his purpose, such as when saying that Peter and John were uneducated, then Acts is reliable. When Acts disagrees with what he says, as it does numerous times, then Acts needs to be taken with a grain of salt. Why should I accept Acts 4 as reliable when I should question the “We” passages? This would be particularly so since Acts 4 would be early and the writer would not likely have been an eyewitness.

To be fair, a few times Ehrman will list evangelicals in the recommended books, but the overall tone of the book is clearly one that is meant to show that we should not trust the accounts.

Interestingly, when it comes to the text of the NT, his main area, Ehrman says the following on page 481:

“In spite of these remarkable differences, scholars are convinced that we can reconstruct the original words of the New Testament with reasonable (although probably not 100 percent) accuracy.”

This isn’t the impression you’d get from books like “Misquoting Jesus” or “Jesus Interrupted.”

So now let’s return to the college youth groups in churches. Our youth are not prepared. What are we to do with this? If we don’t do anything, then when the student goes off to college and starts reading Ehrman’s book, there will be one of three possible responses.

1) The person will apostasize or at least severely water down their faith effectively nullifying any good they could do for the kingdom.

2) The person will hold on to their faith but purely as a “faith” position and will isolate themselves from the world and not bother interacting with disagreeing thought, again effectively nullifying any good they could do for the kingdom.

3) The person will actually study Ehrman’s arguments and read the other side and make a defense for the Scripture.

Sadly, #3 will be the rarity if it ever happens.

We must be doing better. There’s nothing wrong with having some pizza parties and concerts and such, but if this is all we are doing for our youth, we are sending them off to have their faith destroyed, and no amount of pizza will restore it.

The choice is ours. We can determine who will teach our youth how to think about the Bible. It will be us, or it will be our opponents.

Choose wisely. Their eternity and the eternity of people they reach could hang in the balance.

In Christ,

Nick Peters

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6 Responses to “Book Plunge: Ehrman’s Introduction To The New Testament”

  1. J.W. Wartick Says:

    Thanks for your look at this book. I think we need to continue to repeat the call to educate our youth… and get involved in doing so ourselves.

  2. Luther Says:

    //It is quite disappointing to find that Ehrman never really gives counters to his positions.// Good point

  3. Michel Says:

    I think there is a major problem that we also need to deal with, right next to the education problem: Fundamentalism. I think that is the major problem, indeed. All the other problems like the bad education and so on, do come from this way of thinking in the first place. I just realized that yesterday. I wrote a paper for a church, 19 pages long, about the bad education in Christianity. So…just yesterday I had a talk with a woman about this..and the conversation just went like this:

    she: I just read your paper and do you know what I asked myself? Do you have joy in the lord?

    me: What does this have to do with anything?

    she: I did not found anything positive in what you wrote…just negative.

    me: It´s critic afterall…

    she: You know, Jesus did not criticize…

    me: What are you talking about? Of course he did…

    she: No…

    me: Look at what he said to the pharisees. He always criticized them.

    she: That was not criticizing, that was telling the truth.

    me: Telling the truth and criticize are not opposites. You can tell the truth in criticizing. Indeed, that is what critic is meant to me.

    she: what you wrote is much to complex for me.

    me: It is not complex, if you think it is, you just not thinking enough.

    You see…..talking to a fundamentalist is like talking to a stubborn catholic. You just can not reach them. They can´t grasp it. They think in categories like X and Y and you are talking about A and G…so, I think you and me will not get anywhere with this, we just can´t reach the most of them, because the majority in christianity does have this thinking. What I´m trying to do now is to write a paper about this. I look around at christian internet sites and try to give some examples of this fundamentalism and critize it. I think we only can move on, when this thinking is changed, at least a bit.

  4. apologianick Says:

    Michel. You are absolutely right! This is a huge problem. It is Christians running into their safe little bubbles not wanting to interact with the world. Reality will not change simply because we deny it and fundamentalism I think is largely what creates a Bart Ehrman to begin with. It’s something also that enrages me about the Geisler controversy seeing as it’s an affront to good NT scholarship.

    I will be passing this on. Thank you.

    Btw, based on your email I see in my notification, are you a Dragonball fan?

  5. Michel Says:

    “It’s something also that enrages me about the Geisler controversy seeing as it’s an affront to good NT scholarship.”

    That is right, but I do wonder about Geisler as I read that he studied Philosophy…you kinda wonder then, why he makes this obvious fallacies. Sadly, but studying Philosophy doesn´t necessary make you a good thinker it seems. So I hope I get a little bit more out of it when I begin studying it this summer.

    “Btw, based on your email I see in my notification, are you a Dragonball fan?”

    I think you can say that, although I created the email years ago and haven´t watched much dragonball since then, but I like to see it whenever it is shown on tv. I like to get my hands on every good anime I can find.

  6. apologianick Says:

    I ask because my wife loves anime and Dragonball. Her favorite is Death Note.

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