Bart D. Ehrman

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Bart D. Ehrman in 2012

Bart D. Ehrman (born 5 October 1955) is an American New Testament scholar.


  • 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

The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture (1993)

  • My thesis can be stated simply: scribes occasionally altered the words of their sacred texts to make them more patently orthodox and to prevent their misuse by Christians who espoused aberrant views.
    • Introduction
  • 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

Lost Christianities: The Battles for Scripture and the Faiths We Never Knew (2003)

  • From the historians' perspective it is striking that all forms of early Christianity claimed authorization of their views by tracing their lineage back through the apostles to Jesus.
    • Ch. 4 (4:40:14 audiobook)

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.
    • Ch. 7: 'Jesus, Mary Magdalene, and Marriage'

also published as Whose Word Is It? (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?
  • 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? What good is it to say that the autographs (i.e., the originals) were inspired? We don't have the originals! We have only error-ridden copies, and the vast majority of these are centuries removed from the originals and different from them, evidently, in thousands of ways.
  • 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.
  • The only way to make sense of a text is to read it, and the only way to read it is by putting it in other words, and the only way to put it in other words is by having other words to put it into, and the only way you have other words to put it into is that you have a life, and the only way to have a life is by being filled with desires, longings, needs, wants, beliefs, perspectives, worldviews, opinions, likes, dislikes— and all the other things that make human beings human. And so to read a text is, necessarily, to change a text.
  • 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.
    • Conclusion

The Lost Gospel of Judas Iscariot (2006)

  • Judas's act of "betrayal" is in fact his faithful obedience to Jesus' will.
    • Ch. 6: 'The Gospel of Judas: An Overview'

God's Problem (2008)

  • 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.
    • Ch. 1, p. 3
Historians can establish only what probably happened in the past, but miracles, by their very nature, are always the least probable explanation for what happened.
  • 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'
  • I am not saying that churches should be mini-universities where pastors function as professors from the pulpit. But surely the ministry involves more than preaching the "good news" (however that is understood) every week. It also involves teaching. Most churches have adult education classes. Why aren’t adults being educated?
  • The argument based on Jesus as liar, lunatic, or Lord was predicated on the assumption that Jesus had called himself God. [...] I had come to realize that none of our earliest traditions indicates that Jesus said any such thing about himself. And surely if Jesus had really spent his days in Galilee and then Jerusalem calling himself God, all of our sources would be eager to report it. To put it differently, if Jesus claimed he was divine, it seemed very strange indeed that Matthew, Mark, and Luke all failed to say anything about it. Did they just forget to mention that part?
  • Miracles, by our very definition of the term, are virtually impossible events. [...] We would call a miracle an event that violates the way nature always, or almost always, works so as to make the event virtually, if not actually, impossible. The chances of a miracle occurring are infinitesimal. If that were not the case it would not be a miracle, just something weird that happened. And weird things happen all the time.
  • Historians can establish only what probably happened in the past, but miracles, by their very nature, are always the least probable explanation for what happened. This is true whether you are a believer or not. [...] If historians can only establish what probably happened, and miracles by their definition are the least probable occurrences, then more or less by definition, historians cannot establish that miracles have ever probably happened.
  • If the findings of historical criticism are right, then some kinds of theological claims are certainly to be judged as inadequate and wrong-headed. It would be impossible, I should think, to argue that the Bible is a unified whole, inerrant in all its parts, inspired by God in every way. It can’t be that. There are too many divergences, discrepancies, contradictions; too many alternative ways of looking at the same issue, alternatives that often are at odds with one another. The Bible is not a unity, it is a massive plurality. God did not write the Bible, people did.
  • 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. ... Historians can only establish what probably happened in the past, and by definition, miracles are the least probable of occurrences.
    • Ch. 5: 'Liar, Lunatic, or Lord? Finding the Historical Jesus'

Forged (2011)

The use of deception to promote the truth may well be considered one of the most unsettling ironies of the early Christian tradition.
  • One of the ironies of modern religion is that the absolute commitment to truth in some forms of evangelical and fundamentalist Christianity and the concomitant view that truth is objective and can be verified by any impartial observer have led many faithful souls to follow the truth wherever it leads— and where it leads is often away from evangelical or fundamentalist Christianity.
  • A storyteller who made up an account about Jesus in order to prove a point may well have known that he was passing off a fiction as a historical event. A scribe who wanted a text to say something other than what it did may well have changed the text for just that reason. In some cases it is hard to imagine how else the resultant deception could have come about. Whoever added the final twelve verses of Mark did not do so by a mere slip of the pen.
  • There were numerous ways to lie in and through literature in antiquity, and some Christians took advantage of the full panoply in their efforts to promote their view of the faith. It may seem odd to modern readers, or even counterintuitive, that a religion that built its reputation on possessing the truth had members who attempted to disseminate their understanding of the truth through deceptive means. But it is precisely what happened. The use of deception to promote the truth may well be considered one of the most unsettling ironies of the early Christian tradition.
  • 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'

How Jesus Became God (2014)

  • Even though Jesus may be the only miracleworking Son of God that people know about today, there were lots of people like this in the ancient world.
    • Ch. 1: 'Divine Humans in Ancient Greece and Rome'

The Triumph of Christianity (2018)

  • The very idea that society should serve the poor, the sick, and the marginalized became a distinctively Christian concern.
    • Introduction
  • Christianity may well have succeeded even if Constantine had not converted.
    • Introduction
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