Christian principles are engrained in American society, but the text in which those values are based is cluttered with mistakes, omissions and intentional changes, said scholar Bart D. Ehrman.
Ehrman, author of numerous best-sellers including “Misquoting Jesus” and “Jesus Interrupted,” will speak about the inadequacies of the Bible, particularly the New Testament, on Thursday at The Martin Woldson Theater at the Fox.
“We don’t have the original books of the New Testament, which sounds strange to some people. We have the books Matthew, Mark, Luke and John and others, but we don’t have the originals of these books. What we have are later copies made by scribes over the centuries. They’re copies, they have differences in them, and in some places we don’t know what it originally said, so I’ll be lecturing on that,” he said in a recent telephone interview.
His mission, he said, is to educate people, especially people of faith, about the realities of the Scriptures they hold sacred.
“My goal is not to de-convert anybody or to change anybody’s religious views, but if someone has a deep commitment to the Bible they ought to know all they can about the Bible,” he said. “The alternative to being an informed believer is being an ignorant believer, and who would prefer being ignorant to being informed?”
Ehrman, a professor of religious studies at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, was an evangelical Christian for many years. His views began to change when he was studying the Scriptures at Moody Bible Institute in the 1970s.
He thought the Bible was the inspired word of God, he said, but as he began diving deeper into his studies of the New Testament, found himself becoming skeptical. He said he developed into a liberal Christian, which he practiced for many years. Today, however, Ehrman considers himself an agnostic.
“How do you explain so much pain and suffering in the world if God is in control of that?” he said. “I was dissatisfied with all the answers I found … Even if you can’t have a satisfying answer as to why there’s suffering, you can have an appropriate response to it.”
Last year he launched The Bart Ehrman blog, which is locked behind a pay wall, where he shares his ideas, thoughts, interacts with readers and responds to critics. In just over a year the blog has raised $37,000, which Ehrman has donated to charities devoted to fighting homelessness and hunger.
“We have to try to relieve suffering whenever we can, however we can,” he said.
Although Ehrman isn’t a believer, he said he remains fascinated with Jesus and the Scriptures and continues to lecture and write about both.
“There’s never been a force as powerful in the Western world as the Christian church,” he said. “Jesus and the New Testament are what stand as the foundation of the Christian religion so anybody interested in history, culture or society should be interested in the New Testament and the historical Jesus, so I find it continually fascinating.”
His lecture, sponsored by Eastern Washington University and the Daniel and Margaret Carper Foundation, is free.