Dr. Bart D. Ehrman is the most well-known skeptical Bible scholar of our time. However, what many people do not realize is that, when pressed by knowledgeable professionals, he tempers his incendiary rhetoric against the Christian faith – and, in many cases, all but retracts it, at least insofar as the textual integrity of the New Testament text is concerned. Here are some examples:
According to Dr. Daniel B. Wallace, Ehrman was asked, “Why do you believe these core tenets of Christian orthodoxy to be in jeopardy based on the scribal errors you discovered in the biblical manuscripts? Ehrman’s answer was:
“Essential Christian beliefs are not affected by textual variants in the manuscript tradition of the New Testament.”
This is taken from a Wallace lecture on the reliability of the New Testament manuscripts (40:40 to 42:40), which says that this quote from Ehrman can be found in the back matter of the paperback of Misquoting Jesus, published a year after the hardback edition. This information from Wallace can also be found in this short clip of the relevant portion of the video.)
Wallace states in this radio interview on Nick Peters’ Deeper Waters podcast (at about 44:30) that he has presented Ehrman with this quote at the end of all three of the debates held between the two of them, and in all three cases Ehrman has acknowledged this quote and this point of agreement he has with Wallace, Bruce Metzger, and the rest of the believing scholarly community.
[Editorial Note January 8, 2015:] Here is the fuller quote as documented by Frank Turek:
Bruce Metzger is one of the great scholars of modern times, and I dedicated the book to him because he was both my inspiration for going into textual criticism and the person who trained me in the field. I have nothing but respect and admiration for him. And even though we may disagree on important religious questions – he is a firmly committed Christian and I am not – we are in complete agreement on a number of very important historical and textual questions. If he and I were put in a room and asked to hammer out a consensus statement on what we think the original text of the New Testament probably looked like, there would be very few points of disagreement – maybe one or two dozen places out of many thousands. The position I argue for in ‘Misquoting Jesus’ does not actually stand at odds with Prof. Metzger’s position that the essential Christian beliefs are not affected by textual variants in the manuscript tradition of the New Testament. (Source: Frank Turek’s CrossExamined.org blog post “Is the New Testament Reliable? Even Bart Ehrman Says Yes“)
Consistent with the Wallace report, and at the end (beginning at 1:45) of the short clip mentioned above, Ehrman was asked by UK radio host Justin Brierley, “But, at the same time, you wouldn’t say that your book is in some way suggesting that the fundamental doctrines of Christianity are in some way called into question by textual variations?” Ehrman’s answer was:
“No, I don’t argue that.”
Nick Peters in this episode of his Deeper Waters podcast (11:56 to 13:02) in which he was interviewing Craig Blomberg reads the following quotes from two different Ehrman books:
“If the primary purpose of this discipline [i.e. textual criticism] is to get back to the original texts [of the New Testament], we may as well admit either defeat or victory, depending on how one chooses to look at it, because we are not going to get much closer to the original texts than we already are. At this stage, our work on the original amounts to little more than tinkering. There is something about historical scholarship that refuses to concede that a major task has been accomplished, but there it is.”
“In spite of these remarkable textual differences, scholars are convinced that we can reconstruct the original words of the New Testament with reasonable, although probably not 100%, accuracy.”
Peters then says, “These are quotes from Bart Ehrman in his more scholarly works that aren’t written for a popular audience.” Blomberg responds, “That’s right, that’s right. He knows better than he sounds in his more passionate and polemical moments.” Blomberg goes on to point out (13:02 to 14:18) that Ehrman himself has written a book supporting the historicity of Jesus of Nazareth using the New Testament as a primary source. Of course, his is a selective use of the text. Nevertheless, even Bart Ehrman sees a degree of textual and historical reliability in the New Testament text worth defending.
We can see, therefore, that even the infamous Bart Ehrman sees the New Testament as a stable text.