In this post I will give a few points where I agree with Ehrman (indicating areas where I diverge) and then point out a few other problems with the book.
At the end of this post I will give the links to Ben Witherington III's blog posts concerning this book. He is a brillilant New Testament scholar with more expertise in this area than I. His series is nothing short of brilliant. It is lengthy, but worth the time it takes. You don't even need to have read Ehrman's book to understand and learn from Witherington's posts.
Let me say that there are a few points where I agree with him. While I agree with him it does not mean they are new, insightful, or all that useful.
Points of Agreement with a little explanation:
- Every first year seminarian learns New Testament criticism, and it does challenge some. During my first year of seminary I was challenged by the issues presented by New Testament Criticism...until they offered all the views. I was able to evaluate them and found there are very plausible explanations which Ehrman either doesn't discuss or completely disregards without a full explanation.
Erhman does a great job of only presenting one (his) explanation as the only plausible one and giving just enough information about other views to make them seem ridiculous. It is easy to disregard some of the arguments because Ehrman himself starts with faulty assumptions. New Testament Criticism is a complex field and the scholars (despite Ehrman's "most scholars agree" comment) do not agree with his explanations.
- Very few pastors bring this stuff up. I don't want to misrepresent Ehrman or attempt to speak for him, but his writing leaves me with a bad impression. That impression is that Ehrman believes pastors are keeping this information from the people because they just don't want to deal with it, think their people won't be able to handle it either spiritually or intellectually, or they are purposely deceiving people.
Most of this is practical. Sharing the insights of New Testament Criticism would overwhelm many. It is a difficult subject that requires more than a Sunday morning sermon can provide. Many pastors do not fully understand the ins and outs of NT Criticism.
- The Historical-Critical method is a widely used and very reliable method of getting at the meaning of a Biblical passage and understanding. Ehrman is correct that to properly understand the Biblical message and interpret it properly we need to understand the time, place, situation, etc of the original writers and readers.
Unfortunately, Ehrman only abides by this principle when it is convenient.
In the section explaining Biblical contradictions...Ehrman fails to take into account Biblical genres (His understanding of Genesis and his explanation of the Psalms are just one example). He fails to understand why John would place the Temple Cleansing at the beginning of his book while other place it later...then says that it cannot be reconciled. If Ehrman understood the purpose of a Gospel genre he wouldn't have so much difficulty.
- There are variant views, textual differences, and the writers were usually anonymous (and not necessarily who's name was listed on the document). Again a simple understanding of the process would help. Ehrman just misses it. There are textual variations, the Biblical writers had slightly varying theologies (though, despite Ehrman's inferences, they all held to the same main principles), and there are some anonymous letters (but not forgeries or misrepresentations).
- I have as much problem with the fundamentalist view of inerrancy as Ehrman. I believe God spoke through human beings and allowed their personal writing styles, personalities, and idiosyncrasies to show through. The Scriptures were written by real human beings inspired by the Holy Spirit; not automatons. Variations occur, but this does not remove the presence of the Holy Spirit working and keeping the essential message of God's Word for us.
- The underlying assumption that nothing supernatural is occuring in the Scripture.
Buried within Ehrman's writing is the assumption that nothing supernatural is going on with the Bible. Obviously this is a difference of opinion as he would say that my faulty assumption is that I believe there is something supernatural going on. Once you start with a purely humanistic origin of the Bible and view its development as being separate from all Divine intervention...then I can see how some things seem illogical. However, I also think that God's working to bring us the Bible plays a big role in the discussion.
- Lack of scholarly insight and study. Bibliography for additional study? None! Footnotes to reference bold claims and "widespread acceptance" of his ideas? None! (Unless you count footnote references to his own work!) Interaction with alternative views as anything other than straw men? None! Plus there is nothing new about the ideas that are presented...some of which have been proven wrong and abandoned by liberal scholarship anyway.
Ben Witherington III does a great job of presenting the individual insights and argument against Ehrman's work. The posts are VERY lengthy, but well worth the read. Check them out here, here, here, here, and here.
Check out Bart Ehrman and Stephen Colbert here. You can also see the overall introduction post for this review here.
CNN has an article about Ehrman.