To Ehrman is Human…

I know.  That was bad.  But it’s early, I haven’t finished my tea yet, and it’s gloriously cloudy and misty-rainy outside whilst I languish in my office.  Bad puns are really the least of your worries at this point.

Case in point, this little stunning-sounding article on the latest anti-Bible book by former Christian and religion professor Bart Ehrman.  “Bible Writers Intended to Deceive, Ehrman Says”.  What a headline!  It’s awful, of course.  But about on par with the actual topic of the article, so I guess it has consistency going for it.  The article doesn’t even bother to mention the name of the book, which is: Forged: Writing in the Name of God – Why the Bible’s Authors are Not Who We Think They Are . The book is slated for release on March 22, so the usual publicity generating mechanisms and pre-release interviews and firecrackers are appearing.
Ehrman has made a name for himself in the last decade or two with provocative books that attack the reliability of Scripture.  This is, in itself, nothing new.  Critics of Christianity have long recognized that if you hope to weaken or discredit Christianity, you have to start with the Bible.  Since many Christians view the Bible as the inspired Word of God (with a broad variety of definitions of that term), if you can discredit the Bible as divinely inspired, there is no real basis for much of the rest of Christian belief.  This article indicates that Ehrman is attacking the integrity of the early Christian authors & their readers.  Accusing them of “forgery, fabrication, and character assasination”, the article indicates that Ehrman feels Christians are foolish to place such absolute trust in a document of so dubious a quality.
A couple of quick observations.  
Firstly, you will note that the article indicates that “most of these forgeries were not included in the New Testament.”  So the hullaballoo is over inflammatory documents alleging to be “gospels”, which the early Christian leaders understood were not on the same par as the documents that we now know as the New Testament.  If you’re going to get upset about “dishonest” writing, it’s only fair to use this as an attack on Christians if the Christians themselves accept the writing as authoritative.    It would be on a par with criticizing Christianity because some of the dreck on Christian television stations is popular.   Or criticizing history and historians because a lot of people still believe that George Washington had wooden teeth.  The early Christians charged with transmitting and protecting the faith clearly understood that these documents were not authoritative, regardless of how much the masses may have liked them.
Secondly, the assertion is made that “scholars” believe that certain books in the New Testament were written by someone other than the alleged author.  Some scholars do believe this, but certainly by no means do all scholars believe this.  Those who maintain this generally do so in contradiction to the earliest voices we have attesting to the authorship of some of these books.  Church fathers in the second century who vouch for the authorship of certain books are ignored because scholars today believe that they are better qualified to determine authorship than people who lived 1800 or so years ago.  Essentially, some modern scholars believe they can determine authorship (or disprove it) based on literary analysis – studying the structure of sentences, the grammar, the type of words used (or not used), the originality (or unoriginality) of certain phrases or ideas.  Even among those inclined to pursue this line of study and analysis, agreement is far from 100% on which books might not be written by the authors they are attributed to.  In the meantime, in more conservative scholarship circles, these debates are largely non-existent, or they are more convinced that the documents could have been written by the authors they are attributed to.  Conservative scholars tend to listen to the voice of history rather than insisting on drowning it out because it conflicts with their own agenda or theories.
Third, although the title of the book appears to be pretty inclusive of all of Scripture, it seems obvious from this poorly constructed article that the main emphasis is on some of the books of the New Testament.  But that sort of distinction is not nearly as catchy a title, I’m sure.
It’s unfortunate that many Christians will first be exposed to ideas and theories on the authorship and compilation of Biblical texts by someone who has repudiated the faith and made it his mission to destroy confidence in the Biblical texts – even if that means trumpeting commonplace situations as monumental, and seeking to impugn the reliability of the accepted texts of Scripture by associating them with other sorts of popular texts that, despite their popularity, don’t appear to have been seriously considered as authoritative or equivalent to the Biblical texts.  Pastors need to help their members understand the roots of the Bible – what we know of how it was authored, assembled, and transmitted as well as what we believe about the role of God in that process.  When this information is seen in proper perspective, the Bible becomes an even more amazing, more powerful, more reliable document than many Christians consider it to be in their ignorance.

One Response to “To Ehrman is Human…”

  1. LED Online Says:

    Charity is injurious unless it helps the recipient to become independent of it.

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