The question is then how can we decide what anybody in the ancient world said. We can't. We wish we could. It would be nice if we could. You would like to think that because you can go to the store and buy an edition of Plato that you are actually reading Plato, but the problem is that we just do not have the kind of evidence that we need in order to establish what ancient authors actually wrote.
"The Textual Reliability of the New Testament: A Dialogue between Bart Ehrman and Daniel Wallace" (April 4–5, 2008), in The Reliability of the New Testament (2011) edited by Robert Stewart, p. 47
Very few people who devote their lives to studying the historical Jesus actually want to find a Jesus who is completely removed from our own time. What people want ... is relevance.
Ch. 8: 'Jesus the Apocalyptic Prophet', p. 127
Some recent scholars have proposed that Jesus ... preached a "radically egalitarian society"—that is, that he set about to reform society by inventing a new set of rules to govern social relations ... There is little to suggest that Jesus was concerned with pushing social "reform" in any fundamental way in this evil age. In his view, present-day society and all its conventions were soon to come to a screeching halt, when the Son of Man arrived from heaven in judgment on the earth. Far from transforming society from within, Jesus was preparing people for the destruction of society. Only when God's Kingdom arrived would an entirely new order appear, in which peace, equality, and justice would reign supreme.
Ch. 11: 'Not in Word Only', p. 190
Truth and Fiction in The Da Vinci Code (2004)
Not a single one of our ancient sources indicates that Jesus was married, let alone married to Mary Magdalene. All such claims are part of modern fictional reconstructions of Jesus' life, not rooted in the surviving accounts themselves. The historical approach to our sources may not be as exciting and sensationalist as fictional claims about Jesus (he kept a lover! he had sex! he made babies!), but there's something to be said for knowing what really happened in history, even if it is not as titillating as what happens in novels.
It is one thing to say that the originals were inspired, but the reality is that we don't have the originals—so saying they were inspired doesn't help me much, unless I can reconstruct the originals. Moreover, the vast majority of Christians for the entire history of the church have not had access to the originals, making their inspiration something of a moot point. Not only do we not have the originals, we don't have the first copies of the originals. We don't even have copies of the copies of the originals, or copies of the copies of the copies of the originals. What we have are copies made later—much later. In most instances, they are copies made many centuries later. And these copies all differ from one another, in many thousands of places. As we will see later in this book, these copies differ from one another in so many places that we don't even know how many differences there are. Possibly it is easiest to put it in comparative terms: there are more differences among our manuscripts than there are words in the New Testament.
For the only reason (I came to think) for God to inspire the Bible would be so that his people would have his actual words; but if he really wanted to have his actual words, surely he would have miraculously preserved those words, just as he had miraculously inspired them in the first place.
Whose Word Is It?: The Story Behind Who Changed the New Testament and Why (2006)
How does it help us to say that the Bible is the inerrant word of God if in fact we don't have the words that God inerrantly inspired, but only the words copied by the scribes—sometimes correctly but sometimes (many times!) incorrectly?
If there is an all-powerful and loving God in this world, why is there so much excruciating pain and unspeakable suffering? The problem of suffering has haunted me for a very long time. It was what made me begin to think about religion when I was young, and it was what led me to question my faith when I was older. Ultimately, it was the reason I lost my faith.
Ch. 1: 'Suffering and a Crisis of Faith', p. 1
I could no longer reconcile the claims of faith with the facts of life. In particular, I could no longer explain how there can be a good and all-powerful God actively involved with this world, given the state of things. For many people who inhabit this planet, life is a cesspool of misery and suffering. I came to a point where I simply could not believe that there is a good and kindly disposed Ruler who is in charge of it.
One of the most amazing and perplexing features of mainstream Christianity is that seminarians who learn the historical-critical method in their Bible classes appear to forget all about it when it comes time for them to be pastors. They are taught critical approaches to Scripture, they learn about the discrepancies and contradictions, they discover all sorts of historical errors and mistakes, they come to realize that it is difficult to know whether Moses existed or what Jesus actually said and did, they find that there are other books that were at one time considered canonical but that ultimately did not become part of Scripture (for example, other Gospels and Apocalypses), they come to recognize that a good number of the books of the Bible are pseudonymous (for example, written in the name of an apostle by someone else), that in fact we don't have the original copies of any of the biblical books but only copies made centuries later, all of which have been altered. They learn all this, and yet when they enter church ministry they appear to put it back on the shelf.
Ch. 1: 'A Historical Assault on Faith'
Many Christians don't want to hear this, but the reality is that there are lots of other explanations for what happened to Jesus that are more probable than the explanation that he was raised from the dead. None of these explanations is very probable, but they are more probable, just looking at the matter historically, than the explanation of the resurrection.
Ch. 5: 'Liar, Lunatic, or Lord? Finding the Historical Jesus'
There are several points on which virtually all scholars of antiquity agree. Jesus was a Jewish man, known to be a preacher and teacher, who was crucified (a Roman form of execution) in Jerusalem during the reign of the Roman emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was the governor of Judea.
Ch. 1: 'An Introduction to the Mythical View of Jesus'
One could argue as well that Jesus is the most important person in the history of the West, looked at from a historical, social, or cultural perspective, quite apart from his religious significance.
Ch. 4: 'Evidence for Jesus from Outside the Gospels'