Peter J. Williams debates Bart Ehrman on his book “Misquoting Jesus”

Dr. Peter J. Williams, an expert on New Testament reliability
Dr. Peter J. Williams, an expert on New Testament reliability

I have to re-post this debate between Bart Ehrman and Peter J. Williams, because Dr. Williams just followed me on Twitter. I noticed that he had re-tweeted one of the two senators I follow on Twitter, so I re-tweeted him. I like Tom Cotton and Josh Hawley, and he re-tweeted Senator Hawley talking about free speech.

Bart Ehrman posted the debate audio on YouTube:

Details:

Bart Ehrman is the US author of the bestselling book “Misquoting Jesus” (In the UK “Whose word is it?”).  He calls into question the authority of the New Testament as scribal changes over time have changed the documents.

So can we trust the scripture? Bible scholar Peter Williams believes in the reliability of the New Testament and that Bart’s prognosis is far too pessimistic.

This post is a re-post from 2011. I have been listening to this lecture by Peter J. Williams on “Misquoting Jesus” this week, and it reminded me to re-post this debate. (I checked to make sure the MP3 link is still good, and it is)

Summary of the Williams-Ehrman debate:

Note: this summary is snarky. If you want an accurate view of the debate, then listen to it. My summary is meant to be humorous.

Ehrman:

  • I had a mystical experience in childhood and became an evangelical Christian
  • I went to Moody Bible Institute, and they told me that the Bible was inerrant
  • For a while, I was committed to the view that there are no mistakes in the Bible
  • At Princeton, I was taught and graded by professors who did not accept inerrancy
  • By a strange coincidence, I began to see that the Bible did have errors after all!
  • We don’t have the original documents written by the original authors, we only have thousands of copies
  • if the words of the Bible are not completely inerrant, then none of it is historical
  • if all of the words in all the copies of the Bible are not identical, then none of it is historical

Williams:

  • I would say the New and Old testaments are the Word of God
  • We don’t need to have the original Greek writings in order to believe in the authority of the Bible
  • I believe in inerrancy, but doesn’t mean there are no problems
  • the doctrine of inerrancy has always referred to the original Greek copies, not the translations

Moderator:

  • what are the main points of Misquoting Jesus?

Ehrman:

  • we don’t have the originals of any of the books of the New Testament
  • we have copies that are much later, sometimes even centuries later!!1!
  • the copies we have all differ from one another – they were changed by scribes!!1!
  • we have 5000 manuscripts in the original Greek language
  • there are hundreds of thousands of differences!!1!
  • most of the differences don’t matter
  • some differences are significant for meaning or doctrine
  • errors are propagated because the next scribe inherits the mistake of their source copy
  • a large gap between the time of writing and the first extant copy means more errors have crept in

Williams:

  • the reason we have so many variants is because the number of manuscripts is large

Angry Jesus or compassionate Jesus in Mark

Ehrman:

  • most manuscripts say that Jesus was compassionate when healing a leper, but one says he was angry
  • it makes a huge huge huge really really big difference if Jesus is compassionate or angry
  • the whole Bible needs to be thrown out because of this one word between different in one manuscript

Williams:

  • this variant is important for understanding the passage, but it has no great meaning
  • the change is probably just an accident – the two words are very similar visually in Greek
  • it’s just an accident – it emerged in one manuscript, and it impacted a few more
  • the tiny number of manuscripts that have the error are geographically isolated
  • I’m pretty sure that WK prefers the angry Jesus anyway – so who cares?

Ehrman:

  • no! someone changed it deliberately! it’s a conspiracy! you should buy my book! it’s a *big deal*!!!!!1!!1!one!!eleventy-one!

The woman caught in adultery in John

Ehrman:

  • it is isn’t in any of the earliest manuscripts
  • this is an apocryphical story that some scribe deliberately inserted into the text
  • most people don’t even know about this! it’s a cover-up! you need to buy my scandalous book!

Williams:

  • that’s right, it’s a late addition by some overzealous scribe
  • and it’s clearly marked as such in every modern Bible translation
  • the only people who don’t know about this are people who don’t read footnotes in their Bible
  • and in any case, this isn’t a loss of the original words of the New Testament – it’s an addition

Grace of God or apart from God in Hebrews

Ehrman:

  • well this is just a one word difference, but it makes a huge huge really really big difference!
  • the words are very similar, so it’s could be an accident I guess
  • but it wasn’t! this was a deliberate change! it’s a conspiracy! it’s a cover-up! scandal!
  • buy my book! It’s almost as good as Dan Brown!

Moderator:

  • hmmmn…. I kind of like “apart from God” – why is this such a big scandal again?

Ehrman:

  • you don’t care? how can you not care? it has to be inerrant! or the whole thing is false!
  • Moody Bible Institute says!

Williams:

  • yeah Bart is always saying that every change is deliberate but it’s just an accident
  • the words are very similar, just a few letters are different, this is clearly an accident
  • I have no problem with apart from God, or by the Grace of God
  • please move on and stop screaming and running around and knocking things over

Moderator:

  • but what if pastors try to use this passage in a sermon?

Williams:

  • well, one word doesn’t make a big different, the meaning that appears is fine for preaching
  • it’s only a problem for people who treat the Bible as a magic book with magical incantations
  • they get mad because if one word is out of place then the whole thing doesn’t work for their spell
  • then they try to cast happiness spells but the spells don’t work and they experience suffering
  • the suffering surprises them since they think that fundamentalism should guarantee them happiness
  • then they become apostates and get on TV where they look wide-eyed and talk crazy

Ehrman:

  • hey! are you talking about me? a lot of people buy my books! i am a big success!
  • it is very important that people don’t feel bad about their sinning you know!

Is Misquoting Jesus an attack?

Williams:

  • it’s rhetorically imbalanced and misleading
  • it tries to highlight change and instability and ignore the majority of the text that is stable
  • he makes a big deal out of 5 or so verses that are different from the mainstream text
  • he says that scribes deliberately changed the scriptures, but he doesn’t prove that
  • it’s just as likely that the differences are just scribal errors made by accident

Ehrman:

  • well, maybe the variants aren’t a big deal, but what about one angel vs. two angels?
  • that’s a significant issue! significant enough for me to become an apostate – a rich apostate
  • if one word is different because of an accident, then the whole Bible cannot be trusted
  • it has to be completely inerrant, so a one word difference means the whole thing is unreliable
  • we don’t even know if Jesus was even named Jesus, because of one angel vs two angels!!!1!
  • buy my book! you don’t have to read it, just put it on your shelf, then you’ll feel better about not having a relationships with God – because who’s to say what God really wants from you? Not the Bible!

13 thoughts on “Peter J. Williams debates Bart Ehrman on his book “Misquoting Jesus””

  1. Ehrman is such an odd duck; it isn’t as if there are not thousands of other experts in textual criticism who are sincerely orthodox Christians and who see no contradiction in it. I suspect that either A) he is a little bit on the spectrum or B) he lost his faith for other reasons and decided this was a handy excuse.

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    1. I understand that the problem of evil also played a big role in Bart Ehrman leaving the faith. You can see that in his debate with Dr. Michael Brown when they debated the problem of evil. That is one of my favorite debates on the issue. Whenever anyone leaves the faith (especially high profile Christians) it is never JUST because of an intellectual obstacle. Intellectual obstacles usually amplify underlying problems, in my opinion.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. The problem of evil was a huge factor in me converting FROM atheism TO Christianity actually. So, it definitely cuts both ways.

        Thanks for posting this.

        Like

  2. I think I might be dealing with this guy on Ruqqus. :D
    I keep coming across this person who insists that the NT is all false, Paul was a shyster and that if I only knew the TRUTH about how WRONG the KJV and subsequent variations were then I would completely change my mind about christianity, though they keep insisting they are a christian! Hrm.

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    1. You should tell them that you know a former atheist (me) who converted to Christianity BEFORE reading the Bible. I’m one of those weirdos who believes that the Bible is the Word of God because I follow Jesus as Lord, NOT the other way around. That’s why so-called Bible “difficulties” have absolutely no effect on me whatsoever. My Faith was not founded on the Bible, but on Christ.

      I think there is actually a famous German theologian that WK or WLC has mentioned who only believes that the Gospels are inerrant, not the rest of the Bible, but it doesn’t affect his faith in Christ at all either.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I’ve ascribed to, “The message is inerrant, even if the writing is not”. If someone wrote “thee” and then six hundred years later someone replaced it with “thou” that doesn’t change the message of redemption through Christ. Even some of the minor conflicts in gospels still don’t erase the message. Overall, however, I think the bible has been very well preserved, so much so that even as recent as a year or two ago they discovered additional scrolls of the gospels that proved the KJV was very, very accurate in its translation.

        Some people, however, just don’t care. They don’t care for God or christians and so no amount of proof or discussion will change their mind.

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        1. Yes, it’s amazing how many unbelievers will examine the Bible’s wording with a scanning electron microscope, yet they would never do that with a biography written by someone. If they saw something off in the wording, they would just chalk it up to poor editing or a different style and continue to enjoy the message of the biography – it wouldn’t discourage them at all from continuing to read it – if they found the subject of the biography compelling, that is.

          And that is what I think this all comes back to – it’s not really these minor issues but a matter of stubborn insubordination to the God they claim to not believe in.

          Liked by 1 person

  3. “I’m pretty sure that WK prefers the angry Jesus anyway – so who cares?”

    LOLOL! This cracks me up. You can definitely say that WGC prefers the angry Jesus! :-)

    In fact, somebody somewhere supposedly did an analysis of the moods of Jesus based on the Biblical accounts (obviously) and they found that the most prevalent emotion that Jesus demonstrated was anger – and not just with the Pharisees, but with the disciples, and everyday sinners too. That makes sense to me – God hates sin, and now “God with us” has physically placed Himself in the flesh in our depraved world. I guess He would be a little ticked that He lowered Himself to our level, and consistently so. Angry Love is a thing, I guess. Whatever the understanding of this is, you aren’t going to hear it in the easy believism, be nice and don’t talk about sin or Judgment, churches.

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    1. What’s funny is that I hear non-chritians claiming that the deity of Christ and the resurrection are challenged by variants. Then when the guy who wrote the book on variants is asked which of them affects doctrine, this is the list he comes up with. A list of 4 minor, minor things. Yet so many people think that the variants in manuscripts are deliberate fraud designed to reinvent doctrines.

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      1. Exactly! Talk about “much ado about nothing.”

        At least the LGBT trolls I engage with come up with something original – they claim that “Jesus was gay and John was His lover.”

        I mean, if you are going to attack the Bible, just go full blasphemy like the Alphabet Mafia and child sacrificers do!

        Like

  4. I would almost think ehrman skipped hebrew classes in seminary of he worries about exact words.

    I was surprised at first with how in hebrew when looking for root words you have to consider context and many factors to point you between a few possibilities sometimes. Because there are some words that could have different possible original rootw that can change the meaning which is why scholars look to context etc.

    It is no different from variant manuscript. If a difference occurs look to context and other factors to point to a more accurate view of what the original likely said

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