Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Is Belief In The Bible Essential To Christian Faith?

In reference to the title question of this article, according to Professor Bart D. Ehrman Chair, Dept. of Religious Studies UNC Chapel Hill, belief in the bible is not essential to the Christian faith. In a very brief and fantasy laden article, published by the Washington Post Online on May 1st 2009, Professor Ehrman reflects on the criticisms leveled at him because of the claims of his new book 'Jesus Interrupted'. I am preparing a post to deal with Professor Ehrman's irresponsible biblical interpretations and will have it posted either here or at The Dunamis Word 2 for study, but I just wanted to look at a couple of his arguments in particular regarding the bible and biblical passages. Tracing the view of the authority of scripture to the Niagra Conference and 14 Point Creed, Professor Ehrman says this regarding the fundamental belief in the authority of the scripture:
  • "To make faith in the Bible the most important tenet of Christianity was a radical shift in thinking -- away, for example, from traditional statements of faith such as the Apostles Creed and the Nicene Creed, which say not a word about belief in the Bible."..."Here are the historical realities. Christianity existed before the Bible came into being: no one decided that our twenty-seven books of the New Testament should be "the" Christian Scripture until three hundred years after the death of the apostles. Since that time Christianity has existed in places where there were no Bibles to be found, where no one could read the Bible, where no one correctly understood the Bible. Yet it has existed. Christianity does not stand or fall with the Bible."

First of all Dr. Ehrman completely overlooks any church history before 1876 to 1897, such as The Westminster Confession and the doctrine of Sola Scriptura which happened to be made with the Bible in mind. Now for sure Dr. Ehrman makes statements based on factual transactional records. In other words the story that he tells did "fundamentally" transpire like he said, ONLY he leaves out important and specific information that places perspective and the right connotation on his commentary. This leads to the greatest point when reading ANYTHING by Dr. Ehrman:
  • Dr. Ehrman's ability to obscure certain truths are primary and even a priori's throughout his writings, This type of obfuscation is Dr. Ehrman's problem, HE IS A DECEIVER. This is why he wins the Anti-Christ Advocate Of The Decade Award from me.
To be sure, there are many examples of this type of deceit in Dr. Ehrman's writing. Let's just deal with a couple of them here and I'll get back to the point that he is so erroneously and carelessly making in the Washington Post article.
Example 1
Dr. Ehrman wrote a book called "Misquoting Jesus". In this book he claims that the bible has so many variants that no one could know the real meaning and wording of even the most minute text of the bible. Instead he sets forth arguments stating that Christianity is hopelessly lost because it is based upon the inability to know the exact texts because original autographas are missing. On this platform he makes an argument without presenting one verse or scriptural reference in which Jesus was misquoted. I mean wouldn't presenting misquotes from the followers of Jesus be the purpose of titling a work called "Misquoting Jesus"? In other words, if he is convinced that Jesus has been misquoted he would have either had to have seen the original autographa himself or come to conclusions that Jesus said something other than what is recorded based on current historical, literary criteria. Other than that there is no way he could make the judgement that Jesus has been somehow misquoted.
Once again this is a deception and at the very least an overstatement. Now to a layman, that sounds pretty convincing. Most critics say, "Well, we don't have originals then we're lost." There is nothing further from the truth. In fact most historical accounts are based on secondary and even tertiary sources, In dealing with historical reconstruction, the bible has more confirmation of the original texts, at earlier dates than almost any other writing of antiquity. I discuss that point in C.A.T. D.I.E.D. The type of literary attestation to the biblical text is unparalleled historically. Dr. Ehrman NEVER mentions those details and never makes and honest comparison between the bible and secular literature and underhandedly misrepresents factual information placing a spin on that information that would choke a horse. {By the way speaking of horses, MINE THAT BIRD baby! I've never seen a horse run that fast in my life.}
Example 2
Back to the topic...A second deception of Dr. Ehrman's is his statements regarding discrepancies and contradictions in the bible. In dealing with the cleansing of the temple that occurs in Mark 11 shortly before the passion of Jesus, and a prior cleansing found in John 2 at the beginning of Jesus's public ministry, Dr. Ehrman says this:
  • "Strictly speaking this difference is not a contradiction: if you are creative enough you can figure out a plausible explanation for both accounts being right. As I mentioned in a previous chapter, maybe Jesus cleansed the temple twice, once at the beginning and once at the end of his ministry. On the other hand this does seem a bit far fetched, as the question suggests itself: Why wasn't he arrested the first time?" ~ Dr Bart D. Ehrman, 'Jesus Interrupted' (2009 Harper One Books, pg. 22).
HOLD THE PHONE...You mean to tell me that a PROFESSOR, teaching and educating the next generation of scholars, pastors and ministry support personnel at one of the most prestigious universities in America, doesn't even know why Jesus was arrested to begin with? Not even the illiterate think the cleansing of the temple and overthrowing of the money changers, led to the arrest of Jesus. In fact in no narrative is overthrowing the money changers, even remotely mentioned as a charge from the Sanhedrin toward Jesus. What is this???
It's an overt suggestion that the bible is wrong and a rank deception...Further it's totally disingenuous scholarship. Dr. Ehrman...It's being an advocate for the DEVIL himself. That's why the critics say you want to destroy the Christian religion, because you use a position and place within Christianity to erroneously set forth false information and bear false witness.
Prov. 6:16-19 ~ "16-These six things doth the LORD hate: yea, seven are an abomination unto him: 17-A proud look, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, 18-An heart that deviseth wicked imaginations, feet that be swift in running to mischief, 19-A false witness that speaketh lies, and he that soweth discord among brethren."
Prov. 12:17 ~ "He that speaketh truth sheweth forth righteousness: but a false witness deceit."

Please keep in mind that Dr. Ehrman was trained and received his education in the same path that he now criticizes. He WAS a "right wing fundamentalist" in his views of the scripture and the bible. He now rejects fundamentalism but the strange thing is that he yet interprets history, historical events and the bible in a fundamentalist method and levies criticisms pertaining to Christianity based upon fundamentalist views. This is the problem. Dr. Ehrman is the "tail, wagging the dog"

Back to Dr. Ehrman's argument concerning the bible and biblical authority. Lets deal with each assertion to make the point clear:

1-"Christianity existed before the bible came into being" ~ Half True. The Old Testament on which the New Testament was based existed long before Christianity existed, so from that perspective his statements are at a minimum misrepresentitive of actual events. Christianity existed before the New Testament was placed together in the final construction that we have today. The initial proliferation of Christianity was based a Jewish mode of oral tradition which was not simply about telling a story, but was about a careful transmission of truth from teacher to student. Early church father Papias (Bishop of Hierapolis) said this:
  • "For I did not think that information from books would profit me as much as information from a living and surviving voice." (As found in: Eusebius, Hist. Eccl. 3.39.3-4)
In other words the value of hearing an individual that had actually received their teaching from Jesus himself (aka an Apostle) rather than in a writing of the same account was the preferred method of early biblical transmission. The "writings" of the New Testament, specifically of the gospels, existed within some 30 years of Jesus's death. In fact the earlier writings of Apostle Paul were in circulation even before the written version of the gospels. Christianity existed based upon a clear passage and acceptance of certain dogmas by which Christianity was defined. These concepts are also known as essentials. These essentials were accepted every place the gospel was preached and those who accepted those essentials were considered to be Christians. These codes were not isolated but were transferred to a written form of papyri at earls stages of development. As we can see Dr. Ehrman's statements need some serious qualification and texture. He provides none. That is called being irresponsible with information.

2-"no one decided that our twenty-seven books of the New Testament should be "the" Christian Scripture until three hundred years after the death of the apostles." ~ Here we have yet another overarching lie rooted in a factual event. The New Testament was canonized (Canon {Gk.~Kanon}meaning 'rule' or 'standard') in part approximately 393 (Augustine & The Synod Of Hippo) and 367 (Athanasius) with slight variation over years afterward and in between. In short there were 27 books that stood out. Peripheral books such as Revelation, Jude, 1, 2, and 3 John and 2 Peter were the only books that there was some discussion over. The other books, including the 4 Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John including the Epistles of Paul weren't in question as being authoritative.
Did those writers know that they were penning inspired scripture? Probably not. Did they know that what they had penned would be authoritative on certain issues pertaining to the Christian church and matters of faith? Most certainly. In fact most individuals associated with the Christian church acknowledged this authority or standard.

For example, one such individual who tried to pervert Christianity to a form of Gnosticism in approximately 140 AD, was Marcion who set forth his own version of official scripture. In his canon, known as the Marcion Canon, he rendered a mutilated version of the Gospel of Luke and 10 Pauline Epistles as works that should truly represent the Christian faith, belief and practice. Then there was the Muration Canon dated approximately 170 AD which is a fragment containing Matthew and Mark and claims Luke as the 3rd Gospel, and mentions John as the last Gospel, Acts and 9 Pauline letters to churches and 4 Pauline letters to individuals that we have today. This is what the late New testament scholar F.F. Bruce had to say about the subject:
  • "At a very early date it appears that the four gospels were united in one collection. They must have been brought together very soon after the writing of the Gospel according to John. This fourfold collection was known originally as "The Gospel" in the singular not the gospels in the plural; there was only one Gospel, narrated in four records, distinguished as according to Mark, and so on. About AD 115 Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch, refers to 'The Gospel' as an authoritive writing, and as we knew more than one of the four 'Gospels' it may be well that by 'The Gospel' sans phrase he means the fourfold collection that went by that name." ~ F. F. Bruce 'The New Testament Documents Are They Reliable' (InterVarsity Press 5th Edition) pg. 18
What does this tell us? It tells us that the Epistles and at least one Gospel was circulating prior to 140 AD and that these books were being hailed by both leaders of the Christian church and lay members as being authoritive on matters of faith. From additional scholarship we also learn that the Gospel of Mark was probably written and was circulating BEFORE, Luke. Then when we actually look at the grouping of the books Matthew, mark, Luke and John circulated together, very early, as to represent ONE Gospel message. So when one ratchets all of this backwards, the official declaration of the church of a canon of scripture may have came about in 4th century but the church had long held the authority of "the writings" as scripture as evidenced.

So far as the act of canonization, scholars say this regarding the issue:
  • "It is a simple truth to say that the New Testament books became canonical because no one could stop them doing so" ~ William Barclay 'The making Of The Bible' (London: Lutterworth, 1961 pg. 78)
Additionally the late and most foremost New Testament scholar Bruce Metzger states the following:

  • "The church did not create the canon, but came to recognize, accept, affirm and confirm the self-authenticating quality of certain documents that imposed themselves as such upon the Church." ~ Dr. Bruce Metzger 'Canon Of The New Testament: Its Origin Development And Significance' (Oxford: Clarendon, 1987 pg. 287)
3- "Since that time Christianity has existed in places where there were no Bibles to be found, where no one could read the Bible, where no one correctly understood the Bible. Yet it has existed. Christianity does not stand or fall with the Bible." ~ As we have noted that Christianity had a consistent set of information and ascriptions that history confirms was in every region that Christianity was found and being preached. What Dr. Ehrman refers to is two things. 1- The illiteracy of ANE cultures, which has proven to be a false concept, and 2- the incomplete text argument against the New Testament.

I'll deal with Dr. Ehrman's second claim. I think I've already provided enough ample evidence to show that the circulation of the biblical messages and papyri was done at early stages. Once again, on one hand his statements are correct in asserting that complete bibles were not found in every community where Christ was preached. It is true that in some regions complete sets or versions of the bible were reduced to what is called fragments. In other words, and in some cases complete books or letters in their entirety have either not been found or did not exist. However, in contrast to Dr. Ehrman's assertions, where Christianity was preached and found, we also find scriptural support for the message and teachings in the form of "fragments". Sometimes these fragments of what we call scripture today, represent nearly whole books with the exception of a few verses. One sometimes think that fragments are only one or two verses but quite the contrary is true.
So here we have it again. Dr. Ehrman correctly states that the bible (and when we think of that we think of a complete New and Old Testament) did not exist in may places and among many communities that were Christian and he is correct FUNDAMENTALLY....but INCORRECT because it is not true to make the further assumption that people were becoming Christians without the preached word that offered a consistent set of truths and those truths rooted in the written narratives which were received and circulated early among those same Christian communities.

So in essence what the Dr. does is try to add "shock value" to certain subjects while handling those subjects irresponsibly. This is the Lie of Ehrman and I feel for any student that has sat under his teaching and been exposed to his sort of deceit and been held captive because of a grade or personal advancement. I'll be the FIRST to tell any prospective religious studies student...UNC has an excellent basketball team but if you want to really enhance and learn the TRUTH about God and the bible, DON'T GO TO UNC CHAPEL HILL! The registrar can thank Dr. Ehrman for that!



  1. One thing is important to keep in mind...If we as Christian don't hold that the bible is an essential part of our faith, then we open the door to all kinds of subjective interpretations and underpinnings. In fact that is an exact step in the way of gnosticism.

    Not to mention the elimination of right living. In other words, undermine what the bible says, say that Christians didn't need it then, and you can easily assert that if they didn't need it, then I don't need it today...That's what this is all about.


  2. In the beginning was the Word. Not believing the Word is not believing Jesus. Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every Word. Everything in the Bible is value to the believer. It is the testimony of Jesus. That's why it angers me that men and women discount and/or remove sections of the Bible and don't study them out (especially Old Testament) because it doesn't suit their views. But when the word in James 1 talks about looking at yourself in the mirror and not knowing what type of person you are, and leaving in the same condition, it's because the entire Word was not the mirror. You can't fix your tie or shirt, or whatever with a mirror covered in the middle. You can't see yourself fully so something always is out of line as a result.

    Thank you for this post. I have enjoyed reading through many of these posts on this blog as well as at gcmwatch. I'm so tired of hearing the same watered down messages, and not witnessing the move of God as it ought to be in our churches. People are just not getting the full message of salvation and sanctification. I'm believing God for a special revival in the near future that restores his Truth and order before he returns.

    Stay on the wall, and continue to warn the people of God who want to hear the truth. God Bless.

  3. One more thought, I have to say this. Please all, don't stop using the KJV. These other counterfeits are eliminating the Truth of God's Word and replacing the Truth with men's knowledge and best-guesses. If you use different versions for a new presentation make sure it lines up. I know lots of people who are forfeiting the KJV for other translations and have told me those other ones are the most accurate when there are multiple indications that they are not telling the same story. And they are raising their children on these versions, so guess which version they think is the authority of God, and the real Word of God.

    Word replacements, removals, the list goes on. Don't be fooled. There are no short cuts to understanding. Use a dictionary, thesaurus, good sound commentary. Stop accepting part of the story because someone wanted to have a version that won't convict them of their mess and tell the truth of God.

    If grandma/granddad could barely read and know their KJV Bible cover to cover, then you can work through a few thees and thous with a college level education. Exercise the Holy Ghost that is supposed to be in you. Ask God for understanding. He won't hold anything back from you.

    God Bless

  4. Amen Bro. Burnett. The devil is a liar! Christ has made many referances in keeping his commandments. And his commandments are found in the Word of God. Look at John 1:1. The Word is God!


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