Bart Ehrman's book, Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why has received much attention. Those who have heard him speak know that he is articulate and intelligent with quite a sense of humor.
In the Introduction to the book Ehrman briefly recounts is spiritual pilgrimmage. He was raised in a family that went to church, but was not actively religious. In the church of his youth the Bible was not overly emphasized any more than the church's liturgy, tradition and, what Ehrman calls, common sense. While the Bible had "a revered place" in the Ehrman home, Bart saw no particular reason to spend time reading it on his own.
As a sophomore in High School all of that changed when Ehrman had a "born-again" experience, which seemed to fill an emptiness in his life and, in his own words, "started me on a lifelong journey of faith that has taken enormous twists and turns, ending up in a dead end that proved to be, in fact, a new path that I have since taken, now well over thirty years later" (3).
Ehrman's educational experience was quite challenging as his thinking began to change. First attending the quite conservative Moody Bible Institute, then at the less conservative, yet evangelical Wheaton College, and finally at the mailine Princeton Theological Seminary. Ehrman graciously acknowledges the significant influence of two of his teachers: Gerald Hawthorne, "...a committed evangelical Christian. But not afraid to ask tough questions of his faith," and Bruce Metzger, his mentor and "Doctor-Father."
His work in New Testament textual criticism (the discipline of comparing NT manuscripts highlighting the differences in order to discover, if possible, what the original actually stated) began to raise questions in his own mind over the reliability of the New Testament itself. He wondered how many in the evangelical world could argue that the Bible was inerrant in the original manuscripts when the church never had access to the originals in the first place? Does not failing to have such access make the notion of inspiration a doubtful and, at the very least, an unhelpful doctrine? If the Gospel manuscripts differ in little places, can they also not also have genuine differences that affect the heart of the Jesus story itself?
"In short," states Ehrman, "my study of the Greek New Testament, and my investigations into the manuscripts that contain it, led to a radical rethinking of my understanding of what the Bible is.... my faith had been based completely on a certain view of the Bible as the fully inspired, inerrant word of God. Now I no longer view the Bible that way. The Bible began to appear to me as a very human book" (11).
What is the purpose of Ehrman's book? "It is written for people who know nothing about textual criticism but who might like to learn something about how scribes were changing Scripture and about how we can recognize where they did so" (15).
Ehrman's book attempts to answer his questions; as I read through the book, I have some questions of my own that I hope he answers: 1) Knowing that the Bible is indeed a human book, why should that preclude the theological claim that it is also divine? 2) Does the necessary discipline of textual criticism actually raise significant questions about the reliability of the text(s) as we now have it (them)? 3) While there are certainly many in the evangelical world who retain the doctrine of biblical inerrancy, does one have to hold to inerrancy in order to believe the New Testament can be trusted to give us a reliable account of the life and work of Jesus? Is it not true that the best of current evangelical scholarship has moved beyond the so-called "doctrine" of inerrancy? 4) Is it the case that evangelical scholars familiar with the many and various texts of the New Testament and their variant readings (places where manuscripts of the same book of the NT disagree) are simply ignoring or refusing to admit the obvious: the New Testament as we have it cannot be trusted to give us an accurate portrayal of the story it tells?
Ehrman throws his voice into currently hot topic of the trustworthiness of Scripture, and we will see where his voice takes us. "Once more into the breach, dear friends!"