A Crisis of Faith

b>Misquoting Truth: A guide to the Fallacies of Bart Ehrman’s Misquoting Jesus
Timothy Paul Jones
InterVarsity Press, 2007

Dr. Jones is passionate about helping people understand that the New Testament’s writings are reliable. To explain that passion, Jones tells the story of his own crisis of faith and contrasts that event with the crisis of faith reported by Dr. Ehrman.

Shortly after Jones began Bible College in Kansas, he learned that the original biblical documents do not exist and that the stories of God’s interactions with the world are not unique to Judaism and Christianity. This information caused Jones to doubt all he knew of the Bible and even Christianity. In response to this doubt, he embarked on an extensive program of self-guided reading.

In the end, his questions were answered to his satisfaction. But he says, “I clearly recall the aching emptiness that knotted my stomach during those months of doubt. I remember the frustration I felt when I realized that the answers I heard in church simply weren’t enough. Most of all, I will never forget the joy that surged in my soul as the pattern of thoughtful trust replaced the blind faith I had embraced for too long.”

Dr. Ehrman’s crisis of faith apparently developed as he studied at Wheaton College. Erhman continued to struggle while studying at Princeton Theological Seminary. He wrote a paper discussing the difference between Mark’s account of an event taking place during the reign of the high priest Abiathar and an Old Testament reference placing the event during the reign of Ahimelech. Erhman’s professor commented at the end of the paper, “Maybe Mark just made a mistake.”

When Ehrman read this, he concluded that indeed a mistake had been made and that “maybe there were mistakes all over the place.” Later, as Erhman was teaching a course entitled “The Problem of Suffering in the Biblical Tradition,” he found he could no longer reconcile the Christian faith with his view of the world. He concluded that Christianity is not true.

Jones goes on to challenge Ehrman’s assumptions and conclusions. Jones claims that Erhman wants certitude. In Jones’s opinion, the Bible is a historical document that is trustworthy, but if you ask for a one-hundred percent certainty—then one is asking for too much.

Jones uses various methods to counter Erhman’s specific conclusions:

  • First, he changes the question. Rather than ask, “Does everything in Scripture and in biblical manuscripts agree word-for-word?” Jones proposes we ask, “Though they may be imperfectly copied at times and though different writers may have described the same events in different ways, do the biblical texts that are available to us provide a sufficient testimony for us to understand God’s inspired truth?”
  • Second, he looks more closely at the numbers. Jones challenges Ehrman’s conclusion that the 400,000 variants among known biblical texts means that we can not trust that the story of Christianity has been reliably related. Jones says that “none of the differences affects any central element of Christian faith.”
  • Third, he gives the reader additional historical information. Jones helps the reader understand the role of oral history in a society without the printing press or the Internet. “Important teachings were told and retold in rhythmic, repetitive patterns, so that students could memorize key truths.”

Jones addresses many of Ehrman’s points, using cogent arguments, personal examples, illustrations, and definitions and points for further reflection. InterVarsity press offers an online study guide. Even if one has not read Ehrman’s book, Dr. Jones presents a readable primer on historical biblical apologetics.