Take the 2-minute tour ×
Biblical Hermeneutics Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for professors, theologians, and those interested in exegetical analysis of biblical texts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

I found Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why troublesome to my understanding of the translation process of the bible. It has made me review my understanding of the bible. However, this is just one book of many from different authors. I am wondering if Dr. Ehrman is well respected in the study of biblical hermeneutics. I personally have little experience and understanding of the field.

share|improve this question
This question appears to be off-topic as per discussion in a related meta post –  Dan Jun 20 '14 at 15:49
Reopen discussion here –  The Freemason Jun 20 '14 at 17:29
@Freemason I reopened pending further discussion. –  Dan Jun 20 '14 at 18:18

2 Answers 2

up vote 26 down vote accepted

Professor Bart D. Ehrman's Curriculum Vitae reveals an academic with impeccable credentials. Perhaps the most important line is:

Ph.D. Princeton Theological Seminary (magna cum laude), 1985

His doctoral adviser was none other than Bruce Metzger, who wrote the book on textual criticism of the New Testament. Ehrman doesn't simply ride on the coattails of Dr. Metzger either—he's the co-author of the fifth edition of The Text of the New Testament.

Dr. Ehrman has written many academic papers on the topic of textual criticism, which are routinely cited by other scholars. When it comes to specific determinations of which textual variation is most likely authentic, other scholars often agree with him and usually admit that his arguments are sound. Daniel B. Wallace, who often disagrees with Ehrman's opinions, nevertheless lists him among many "heroes in textual criticism":

Obviously, I don’t agree with everyone on this list over everything, but each has made a significant contribution to the field.

As a scholar of textual criticism and history, his work has been widely and rightly praised.

But of course, Bart Ehrman is more than a scholar and teacher—he is easily the most famous textual critic who has ever lived. More than anyone else, Ehrman has brought the arcane sub-field of Biblical Hermeneutics into popular conciseness. Misquoting Jesus is likely the first and last book on the topic that anyone outside of the field will ever read on the topic. It's likely in this role that history will judge the man.

And the reviews are literally mixed. Daniel B. Wallace notes that the first 4 chapters of Misquoting Jesus are essentially "textual criticism 101". Besides being extremely readable, these chapters represent some of the very best scholarship available. Dr. Wallace notes some important omissions and a generally pessimistic attitude toward ancient scribes:

But these criticisms are minor quibbles. There is nothing really earth-shaking in the first four chapters of the book. Rather, it is in the introduction that we see Ehrman’s motive, and the last three chapters reveal his agenda. In these places he is especially provocative and given to overstatement and non sequitur. The remainder of our review will focus on this material.

Reading a number of reviews, it strikes me that Ehrman begins to get lost when he shifts from a critical examination of the texts to interpretation of what the textual variations mean and their impact on theology. In my own reading of the book, I was struck by Ehrman's argument that seems to run:

  1. If God created Scripture, He would have ensured that it was accurately preserved for later generations in every detail.

  2. The New Testament has not been accurately preserved because there are numerous variations. No one manuscript has preserved every word of the autograph originals.

  3. Therefore, the New Testament is not inspired by God.

Philosophically, this entire line of reasoning is flawed:

  1. God may have reasons that we are not privy to for allowing imperfect copies of His Scripture to be transmitted. We can only insist on this requirement if we know that it was a requirement. This point seems a strawman.

  2. Oddly enough, detective work by textual critics, such as Ehrman himself, have uncovered with a fair degree of certainty nearly every word found in the New Testament texts. It's also dissonant with the author's confidence in his own analysis of the textual variations. He's quite certain, for instance, that Jesus was angry.

  3. Even granting the premises, the conclusion does not follow if inerrancy is only granted to the autograph copies, which have been lost. In the unlikely event that those copies were to turn up, the argument would fall apart at the seams. Therefore, this is really an argument from the lack of evidence.

It's natural to assume that an expert in a very specialized field is also an expert in general. That's a mistaken assumption, however. Dr. Ehrman's work has been invaluable to me as a check to my particular prejudices, but I would not take any of it without critical examination. His style of writing in his popular books allows him to move very subtly from his considered opinions on the history of the text to his less reliable opinions on the consequences of that history. This unfortunate tactic prevents me from wholeheartedly recommending Bart Ehrman's books.


In his field, Bart Ehrman should be (and is) considered an expert textual critic. As an author of popular books (which are not peer-reviewed in advance), he should be considered a very interesting, but somewhat biased, proponent of a secular reading of the New Testament.

share|improve this answer
I appreciate the fair and balanced review. The important point here is to distinguish between textual criticism and theology of scripture. It appears that he is excellent with the former while letting his biases creep in to the latter. It also seems that he neglects to take care to delineate the two in his popular works, potentially misleading many readers. –  Ray Aug 14 '12 at 1:57
I will also agree that this is a good list of Ehrman's qualifications. Having said that, his bizarre opinions surrounding source criticism necessarily affect his text criticism. –  swasheck Aug 14 '12 at 4:28
Jon Ericson, God bless you! You are not only doing a good work you are doing exceedingly well. :) –  Matthew Miller May 6 '13 at 18:47

He is not respected by most conservatives when he slips into theology. Textual criticism, he is very good and knows what he is doing. However, I find him sloppy in his work if it pushes his agenda. What's worse is that he knows how to do the work, but since his faith lapsed, he misapplies and misquotes the rules of determining historicity. For example, one rule is "An event that is multiply attested is more likely to be actual than one that is only singly attested." Makes sense. However, Ehrman uses it as if it says "An event that is only singly attested is probably not actual." Completely different things.

He also fails this same test on the account of the resurrection. Even though it is attested by all four gospels, Acts, and several epistles, Ehrman concludes it can't have happened. Why not? It can't be because it lacks attestation.

Contending with Christianity's Critics has a chapter by conservative scholar Daniel Wallace that deals with Ehrman's claims in detail.

share|improve this answer
The concern is in his approach / ability not just his stance on Christianity? –  The Freemason Aug 13 '12 at 19:00
That is exactly what I (and Wallace) addressing. Not his stance, but his methods. –  Frank Luke Aug 14 '12 at 3:51
This is exactly the argument in an ongoing discussion with a friend - regardless of whether one's conclusion is "right" or not, if you arrive there via flawed methods then at the least you can't expect others to arrive at the same conclusion, and even more, you may want to re-evaluate your own conclusions. –  GalacticCowboy Aug 16 '12 at 22:42
If the ever living God is just that, living and thus changing, I wonder if the book attributed to him should be as well. Therefore, it's not the inerrant state of the text within the Bible but the infallibility of the morals of the stories. –  The Freemason Mar 11 '13 at 20:45
@FrankLuke Regarding the reserection, the true ending of Mark says nothing of it i.e Mark 16:8. Also, Ehrman's position is in regards to historically speaking, you can't prove the resurrection. Theologically you can believe it, but historically they look at what most likely happened, and someone being raised after death isn't historically probable. –  user1361315 Mar 27 '14 at 17:31

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.