A Brief Reply to Bart Ehrman

"We don't have the originals of any of the books of the New Testament. ... There are places where we don’t know what the authors of the New Testament originally wrote."

This statement from Bart Ehrman is not controversial. Any pastor who has been to seminary should have acquired a critical edition of the Greek New Testament (NT) in which variant readings are listed in the footnotes, along with the most important manuscripts supporting each reading. Naturally, scholars frequently disagree about which variant preserves the oldest form of the text. (For more on this issue, see my previous post here.) Thus, while we are confident that our modern critical editions closely approximate the original wording of the NT, there are indeed many places where we do not know for sure which variant preserves the oldest form of the text.

Based on this fact, Ehrman proceeds to suggest that the NT is not the inspired word of God: "What does it mean to say that God inspired the words of the text if we don’t have the words? Moreover, why should one think that God performed the miracle of inspiring the words in the first place if he didn’t perform the miracle of preserving the words? If he meant to give us his very words, why didn’t he make sure we received them?"

We can demonstrate the error in Ehrman's theology with a simple thought experiment: suppose that the autographs (original NT documents) had actually survived. Suppose that since the earliest days of the church, the autographs had been preserved and handed down from one generation to the next.

Before the advent of the printing press or electronic reproduction, the vast majority of Christians would still be unable to directly access these documents. Thus, even if the autographs were preserved, the vast majority of Christians would remain dependent on fallible, handwritten copies. After the invention of the printing press, the vast majority of Christians would still be unable to read the autographs, which are of course in Greek. They would remain dependent on various translations, all of which are incapable of perfectly reproducing the original wording of the text. Thus Ehrman's requirements for the divine inspiration of Scripture would only be satisfied if God miraculously delivered a perfect copy of the Bible to every Christian in his or her own language. In other words, Ehrman is requiring Christianity to be something other than what it has always claimed to be: a religion rooted in history.

[The quotations from Bart Ehrman are from Robert B. Stewart, ed., The Reliability of the New Testament: Bart Ehrman and Daniel Wallace in Dialogue, Minneapolis, MN: Fortress: 2011, 14.]

Looking for a way to keep up your Greek or Hebrew? Daily Greek and Hebrew uses simple multiple-choice quizzes to guide you through the analysis and translation of one verse every day. Click on the image below to get started!