Always Being Prepared

For me, though, this was a compelling problem. It was the words of Scripture themselves that God had inspired. Surely we have to know what those words were if we want to know how he had communicated to us, since the very words were his words, and having some other words (those inadvertently or intentionally created by scribes) didn’t help us much if we wanted to know His words. Misquoting Jesus (p. 5)

The Bible began to appear to me as a very human book. Just as human scribes had copied, and changed, the texts of scripture, so too had human authors originally written the texts of Scripture. This was a human book from beginning to end. It was written by different human authors at different times and in different places to address different needs. Misquoting Jesus (p. 11) Lindsey, like those of us at Moody, believed that the Bible was absolutely inerrant in its very words, to the extent that you could read the New Testament and know not only how God wanted you to live and what he wanted you to believe, but also what God himself was planning to do in the future and how he was going to do it. The world was heading for an apocalyptic crisis of catastrophic proportions, and the inerrant words of scripture could be read to show what, how, and when it would all happen. Misquoting Jesus (p. 12)

Sadly, Ehrman is not alone here in his thinking. It is quite common today, to be skeptical about everything: ideas, customs, values, the existence of God, and whether the Bible is the Word of God. In the last 20-30-years, there has been an all-out attack on the Bible, viewing it as nothing more than the word of man. Many seem to view it as out of date, or unconnected to our modern-day world. Few, who we might consider intellectuals, see the Bible as the Word of God. Bart Ehrman and other scholars would agree with James Barr, who wrote, “My account of the formation of the biblical tradition is an account of a human work. It is man’s statement of his beliefs.”[1]

Do you think the Bible is the Word of God or the word of man? Herein so far we have debunked many of the arguments made by one of the leading agnostic Bible scholars, Dr. Bart D. Ehrman. We have disclosed his mindset, and his desire to mislead by withholding certain evidence from lay audiences or manipulating the evidence, to make it seem more egregious than it is while being very honest when in front of scholars that would know better. Below, you will find more of the same, and at the end of this book, you will find some recommended books by leading authorities in textual studies that will help you defend against those that would seek to mislead you.

Ehrman views the authors of the Bible, as the final line, there is no Creator or heavenly Father that moved them to pen their books. After losing confidence in the Bible, especially the Gospels, Ehrman shipwrecked his faith and became an agnostic, and has now plummeted to the depths of turning on the Word of God. You have to wonder how Ehrman got through Moody Bible College and Wheaton College and failed to discover textual inconsistencies. One must also wonder why some seminary students are infected with doubt, while the far majority seems to see the same evidence and maintain their faith.

While I certainly cannot read Ehrman’s heart or mind, it is as though some doubts plagued him, because once he discovered them, he closed his eyes to the evidence and failed to reason from the evidence. Moreover, the moment he had one professor open the gate for him, by saying, ‘maybe Mark was just wrong,’ this opened the floodgates for Ehrman. He has continued to maintain his downward plummet because he has a mindset that the evidence is heavily in the extreme against inspiration, and thus he is looking through binoculars the opposite way, so the eyes are always focused narrowly.

For example, many of the Scriptures that Ehrman uses as his examples are solved quite easily and are not known in the textual community as even being significant, but more as insignificant. As Lightfoot put it in his enormously popular book, How We Got the Bible, there are “textual variations, classified in relation to their significance for our present New Testament text. He goes on to speak of “trivial variants which are of no consequence to the text. The great majority of variant readings in the manuscripts have to do with trivial matters, many of them so minute that they cannot be represented in translation.” (N. R. Lightfoot 1963, 1988, 2003, 96)

What Lightfoot meant by the latter part is that these “trivial variants” are so insignificant that they are not listed in the footnotes in your Bible translations. Of the hundreds of thousands of textual variants, the vast majority are differences in spelling that have no effect on the meaning of the text. With other examples that make up the more significant variety, you are looking at a handful of verse out of the 7,956 verses in the Greek New Testament. Even with this handful of verses that Ehrman continues to cite, the evidence is quite clear. Examples of this would be the woman caught in adultery, John 7:53-8:11. Another would be when Jesus is in prayer on the Mount of Olives, Luke 22:41-45. Another being the ending that was added to close off the Gospel of Mark, Mark 16:9-20. Ehrman has an obsessive-compulsive issue of over exaggerating the evidence.

Ehrman’s Misleading Views on Literacy Versus Illiteracy

. . . but for the most part, Christians came from the ranks of the illiterate. This is certainly true of the very earliest Christians, who would have been the apostles of Jesus. In the Gospel accounts, we find that most of Jesus’s disciples are simple peasants from Galilee—uneducated fishermen, for example. Two of them, Peter and John, are explicitly said to be “illiterate” in the book of Acts (4:13). The apostle Paul indicates to his Corinthian congregation that “not many of you were wise by human standards” (1 Cor. 1:27)—which might mean that some few were well educated, but not most. As we move into the second Christian century, things do not seem to change much. As I have indicated, some intellectuals converted to the faith, but most Christians were from the lower classes and uneducated. Misquoting Jesus (pp. 39-40).

We can start by clarifying that the level of literacy in the first century is quite subjective (based on opinions or feelings rather than on real facts or evidence), because of the limited evidence that is available. Let us take a moment to look at the historian today, as compared to the historian during the first few centuries of Christianity. Today, we are capable of covering almost anything that goes on in life, from the most insignificant, to the most noteworthy. We in the United States may watch live on CNN as some firefighters in New Zealand rescue a puppy that had been trapped in a storm drain. Then again, we can watch a 9.0 earthquake as it hits Japan, causing the deaths of over 15,000 people.

What about the first few centuries of our Common Era? The coverage of people, places, and events are not even remotely comparable. The coverage at that time was of the most prominent people, like the emperor of Rome, with very little press being given to the lower officials, let alone the lower class. We do not have much on Pontius Pilate at all, but what we do have is an exception to the rule.

History from antiquity, then, is recoverable but incomplete due to the limited extent and frequently tendentious nature of the sources. Ancient historiography, more than its modern counterpart, is to a greater degree approximate or provisional. A new discovery may alter previous perceptions. Until the discovery of Claudius’s Letter to the Alexandrians, written on his accession in 41 but lost until modern times, that emperor’s steely resolve could not have been guessed. In short, evidence from Greco-Roman antiquity is fragmentary, generally devoted to “important” people and events and its texts overtly “interpreted.” (Barnett 2005, 13)

Now let us offer some basic comments about the literacy level in the first century. Literacy in the first century was determined by being able to read, not write. The need for writing today is far greater than antiquity. Richards offers a great analogy in that ‘I am right handed, so to pen a long paper with my left hand would be quite difficult, and not very legible. The man of antiquity would write with the same difficulty because the need to write was so seldom.’ (Richards, Paul And First-Century Letter Writing: Secretaries, Composition and Collection 2004, 28) Like Ehrman, many argue that the lower class was almost all illiterate. However, this is not really the case, as literacy was more every day than they are suggesting.[2] However, let us give Ehrman the benefit of the doubt, and say that illiteracy was very high among the lower class, and even relatively high among the upper class, which might pay for that service.

What does that say about individual Christians throughout the Roman Empire? It is believed that more than 30–40 million people lived in the combined eastern and western Roman Empire (50–200 C.E.). Now, let us say that statistically, the literacy rate is low in a certain region, or in a certain city, like Rome. Does that mean that everyone is illiterate in that region or city? Do we equate the two? If we accept Ehrman’s belief that the lower class were likely to be illiterate, meaning they cannot write, or struggle to write; what does this really mean for Christianity? Nothing. Because if 40 million people are living throughout the Roman Empire, and only 400 thousand of them are Christian, we are only talking one percent of the population. There is no way to judge the level of literacy for this tiny selection, because of a statistic, in a time period when history focused on the prominent. If a person says anything about the lower class, this is only based on the sphere of who he knows or what he has seen in his life, which would be minuscule when compared to the whole. Even still, let us look at the texts that Ehrman cited.

Were Peter and John Uneducated?

Acts 4:13 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

13 Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated[3] and untrained men, they were astonished, and they recognized that they had been with Jesus.

How are we to understand the statement that Peter and John were uneducated? This did not necessarily mean that they could not read and write, as the letters that were penned by these apostles (or their secretary) testify that they could. What this means is that they were not educated in higher learning of the Hebrew schools, like studying under someone like Gamaliel. It was the same reason that the Jewish religious leaders were surprised by the extensive knowledge that Jesus had. They said of him, “How is it that this man has learning when he has never studied?” (John 7:15) This is a reference to not studying at the Hebrew schools.

Ehrman also points to secular historians like “Celsus, the first writer against Christianity, makes it a matter of mockery, that labourers, shoemakers, farmers, the most uninformed and clownish of men, should be zealous preachers of the Gospel.” (The History of the Christian Religion and Church, During the Three First Centuries, by Augustus Neander; translated from the German by Henry John Rose, 1848, p. 41) Paul explained it in this way: “For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong” (1 Corinthians 1:26-27).

First, Celsus was an enemy of Christianity. In addition, like was stated above, what Celsus observed is only within the sphere of his personal experiences. What did he know, a few dozen Christians out of almost a million at the time of his writing? Moreover, although not highly educated in schools, it need not be assumed that the most or all of the early Christians were illiterate, in that they could read and write (with difficulty).


Let us return to Peter and John. We will give Ehrman the benefit of the doubt one more time. We will accept that Peter and John were illiterate in the sense that he wishes it to be true. At the time of this statement in Acts about being “uneducated,” it was about 33 C.E. Peter would not pen his first letter for 30 more years. Throughout that 30 years, Peter progressed spiritually maturing into the position of being one of the leaders of the entire first-century Christian congregation. A few years later, Peter and John are viewed as maturing and growing into their new position, as leaders in the Jerusalem congregation, as Paul said of them, “when James and Cephas and John, who seemed to be pillars” of the community. John, on the other hand, did not pen his books until 60 years after Acts 4:13. Can we assume that he too had not grown in 60 years?

Would Ehrman want historians in 2150, to look back, and evaluate his literacy level, based on when he was 18-years-old? What about a person that never graduated from high school, such as the owner of Wendy’s restaurant franchise, Dave Thomas? As of March 2010, Wendy’s was the world’s third largest hamburger fast food chain with approximately 6,650 locations. Are we to look back on Dave Thomas (1932 – 2002), and evaluate his level of education at the age of 18 in 1940? Are we to assume that Dave Thomas was uneducated at the age of 68 in the year 2000? Hardly!

[1] The Bible in the Modern World, by James Barr, 1973, p. 120.

[2] Exler, Form. P. 126, warns “The papyri discovered in Egypt have shown that the art of writing was more widely, and more popularly, known in the past, than some scholars have been inclined to think.” For example, see PZen. 6, 66, POxy. 113,294, 394, 528, 530, 531 and especially 3057.

[3] Or unlettered (YLT) that is, not educated in the rabbinic schools; not meaning illiterate.