My earlier post regarding Bart Ehrman was not meant to provoke in an outrageous way, although I suspected that it might distress some people. That post drew much more traffic than we are used to at the site, approximately 25,000 unique visitors in three days. It also pulled in more than 200 comments. I was intrigued by the nature of the comments, especially those comments written by people who ostensibly disapproved of Ehrman’s work or his conclusions. In fact, I did a small informal analysis based upon the comments posted by last night (I believe there were about 150 comments posted at that time).
I need to state at the outset that there were more than a few Believers among the commenters who appreciated and even applauded Ehrman’s work. Some of these Believers specifically stated that even if Ehrman was correct, they could still believe in God and Jesus, they could still be good Christians and they found that Ehrman’s work had enriched their understanding of the Bible. My criticism of the distressed commenters is not directed toward these people.
Approximately 35 of the comments were written by people who appeared to be distressed or dismayed by Ehrman’s work. Notably, only three of those commenters acknowledged the basic points made by Ehrman.
What were Ehrman’s basic points? That earlier manuscripts did not contain some information that was contained in some of the later manuscripts that were ultimately adopted part of “the Bible.” Therefore, the new material found in later writings was not written by the original authors of current Bible passages. Therefore, many current versions of the Bible contain errors in the sense that they contain information that was added to (not originally part of) the writings of the original authors, as far as we can discern those writings. Ehrman adds an important asterisk to the whole process. We don’t have the original writings. We only have copies of copies of copies of what might have been the original writings. Therefore, those who claim that the Bible is inerrant are ignoring powerful evidence to the contrary, as well as numerous red flags.
It was clear to me that Ehrman was not arguing that people shouldn’t or couldn’t believe in God or Jesus as a result of the Bible being an imperfect work of human beings. His target was the inerrancy crowd. Bible thumpers.
I thought Ehrman’s work was well-written and important. That’s why I wrote my “book report” regarding Misquoting Jesus. My post was essentially an invitation for people to take the time to read Ehrman’s book.
I can’t imagine that there could be any problem with Ehrman’s methodology. It was the same methodology that one can use today to determine that “under God” was not an original part of the Pledge of Allegiance. “Under God” was not inserted in the pledge until the 1950s. How can you tell this? Earlier versions of the Pledge of Allegiance did not include the phrase “under God.” Therefore, if someone were to state that the currently-used version of the Pledge of Allegiance were inerrant and faithful to the original writings, they would be wrong. The Bible has the same problem. The current version contains numerous discrepancies, compared to the original writings.
I found it surprising that dozens of people, almost all of them expressing a strong faith in God, felt so threatened by Ehrman’s work and conclusions. Yet I was even more distressed then they were that so many of these people were unwilling to acknowledge the basic points of Ehrman was making. Only a few people mentioned that they had actually read Ehrman’s work. Not that that stopped them from becoming upset with Ehrman’s work and criticizing it.
There is no better way to determine whether a person is being dishonest or deceitful in argument than to note whether he or she has the courage and integrity to put the opponent’s best foot forward before attacking the opponent. Almost none of the distressed commenters had the courage to put Ehrman’s best foot forward before attacking him.
What kinds of attacks were there, in lieu of legitimate critiques of his work? There were threats that Ehrman (and those of us who found sympathy with Ehrman) were going to go to hell. There were claims that Ehrman (and I, and other commenters sympathetic to Ehrman) were immoral nihilists. Ehrman was accused of simply regurgitating things that have been known for a long time, as though one who effectively restates previously known information is not doing a service. Ehrman’s religious beliefs were questioned, as though his methodology and competency depended upon his religious orientation. Some commenters called Ehrman misguided or wrong, without taking the time to explain any problem with his methodology or highly detailed work (much of which is set out in Misquoting Jesus). No one questioned Ehrman’s Greek proficiency.
I found this intense criticism of Ehrman puzzling in that Ehrman’s methodology was not rocket science. He took the time to master the Greek language, then meticulously compared and analyzed the content of biblical manuscripts. There was no need for any mathematical equations!
Several of the comments attacked Ehrman’s suggestion that there are conflicting passages with regard to the timing of the Crucifixion relative to the Passover. Fair enough, although I thought these attempts to harmonize this passage wrapped some of the commenters into the shapes of pretzels. I couldn’t help but notice that none of the commenters defended the biblical assertion that the mustard seed is “the smallest of all seeds.” That same passage additionally asserts that the mustard plant is “the largest of plants.” Neither of these assertions is true. The existence of this passage alone would appear to make the Bible errant.
I am aware there are people out there that will harmonize this passage by claiming that Jesus was talking to local people about it local botany. This is a classic tactic of people who are result-driven: switching from the general to the particular as it is serves to bolster one’s own arguments. Another common tactic (used by some of the commenters) is claiming that some words are merely poetry whenever they don’t make literal sense. Another tactic we saw in the comments was cranking up skepticism only when convenient. We also saw commenters arguing that a commonsense burden of proof should be reversed whenever convenient. People take these detours from truth gathering whenever they are motivated by results rather than the truth gathering process
Many commenters cajoled the skeptics to read passages of the Bible to prove that the Bible is completely true. I doubt that these same commenters would recognize the existence of any other self-approving book anywhere in the world. They make an exception for the Bible, providing it with what Daniel Dennett would term a “skyhook.”
I allowed the comments to take on a life of their own–they ran somewhat wild. I approved almost everything that wasn’t horrifically long, not because I planned to do it this way, but because I am new at moderating comments in a conversation this intense and unwieldy. I’ll need to rethink my approach to moderating comments to future vigorous debates to make sure that the comments are more often on point.
Despite these problems, I found this to be a fascinating discussion involving many people with a wide variety of personalities and backgrounds. To everyone who participated, thank you for participating. For those of you who were motivated by results rather than the truth-gathering process, you probably don’t know who you are (a topic for another day). That is the nature of result-driven argumentation. See no evil.
About the Author (Author Profile)Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich and his wife, Anne Jay, live in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where they are raising their two extraordinary daughters.
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