Bart Ehrman’s Lost Christianities: A Critique (Part I)

[a note to readers: some of the most important comments in this essay are in the footnotes; it is highly recommended that each one be viewed]

“I hear that divisions exist among you, and in part I believe it.” –1 Corinthians 11:18

“What could be more diverse than this variegated phenomenon, Christianity in the modern world? In fact, there may be an answer: Christianity in the ancient world.” –Bart Ehrman

“If in western Asia Minor –the only area for which information is relevant, extensive, and early– no evidence can be found for a strong and early heretical element, that would be a considerable loss of support for a theory such as Bauer’s.” –Thomas A. Robinson

Were ideas once considered heterodox and heretical just as “Christian” as Christian orthodoxy? Should we, enlightened by recent scholarship and ancient discoveries, call such groups Christian? Was the Christian canon the creative invention of power-hungry clerics eager to buttress institutional religion and marginalize diversity? Could smothered fires of dissent have been the original “orthodoxy?” Is the Christian history of the book of Acts merely “history written by the winners” to deceptively create a patently false appearance of apostolic harmony between Peter, James, and Paul (Acts 15) which never in reality existed? Were Peter and Paul instead at extreme and irreconcilable doctrinal odds with one another over basic issues? Bart D. Ehrman says yes to all in Lost Christianities: the Battles for Scripture and Faiths We Never Knew (NY: OUP, 2003). This work contains little that can be called new; it is a popular treatment which was conveniently available in mass quantity just in time for the expected Da Vinci Code crowd. The subtitle is curious; Marcionism, Ebionitism, and Gnosticism hardly qualify as “faiths we never knew” (they have been known for centuries); these three are the primary so-called lost “Christianities” Ehrman has in mind. Neither is it still reasonable to refer to the Coptic Gnostic Nag Hammadi documents as “Scriptures we never knew.” This corpus was discovered half a century ago (in the late 1940’s); it is no more “unknown” than the first Apollo moon landing of the 1960’s. Ehrman’s bias show through plainly in this work, e.g. he refers to Gnostic writings as “precious systems of belief and practice” (ibid, p. 134), is openly hostile to traditional Christianity (p. 256), and often omits critical data.

For many centuries, and many very good reasons Marcionism, Gnosticism, and Ebionitism have been considered Christian “parasites” rather than potential “lost hosts.” There was no Marcionism before Cerdo. No Gnosticism as such is known before the second century. Palestinian Jewish Christians for the most part were in agreement with and absorbed into early orthodoxy (Ehrman’s “proto-orthodoxy,” i.e. pre-fourth century orthodoxy, what the lay folk rightly think of as “authentic apostolic Christianity”). Ebionitism was a geographically isolated minority position which evolved from the Judaizers described in the New Testament who insisted Gentile Christians (who appeared to have been accepted already by God) had to become full-blown Jews to be saved; according to the New Testament this position was repudiated by Peter, James and Paul, i.e. all branches of early apostolic Christianity; this will be explored more fully below). The common content of the variegated streams of the earliest preaching of Christianity within just a few short years of the resurrection is also well known to NT scholarship; it is called the apostolic kerygma; that its contours are to a significant degree historically demonstrable is affirmed by almost every serious investigator.[1]

[1] C. H. Dodd was the first to insist contra R. Bultmann’s existential “without content” kerygma that the contours of the apostolic kerygma could be deduced from comparing primitive speeches in Acts with the pre-Pauline hymns and creed fragments. Kerygmatic development and diversity, and least of all the existence of marginal academic diversity, does not obviate the firm conclusion of a coherent if flexible substratum which varied according to need, purpose, presentation, etc (for a comprehensive introduction, cf. Colin Brown, “The Structure and Content of the Early Kerygma” in Colin Brown, ed, DNTT, vol. III, pp. 57-68 and Bruce, F. F., “The Speeches in Acts-Thirty Years After” in R. Banks, ed., Reconciliation and Hope: New Testament Essays on Atonement and Eschatology Presented to L. L. Morris, 53-68. By way of example, Ehrman’s mentor, Bruce Manning Metzger, probably one of the greatest New Testament scholars of the past century (who is quite unlike his student as we will see in a later section) maintained the following minimal common core could be found in the earliest sermons of Peter, Paul, and other early preachers: (1) The promises of God made in Old Testament days have now been fulfilled, and the Messiah has come: (2) He is Jesus of Nazareth who (a) went about doing good and executing mighty works by the power of God; (b) was crucified according to the purpose of God; (c) was raised by God from the dead; (d) is exalted by God and given the name ‘Lord’’ (e) will come again for judgment and the restoration of all things” (Metzger, Bruce, The New Testament: its Background, Growth, and Content), p. 177). Cf. E. L. Allen, ‘The Lost Kerygma” NTS 3, 1956-57, 349-53; P. Althaus, The So-Called Kerygma and the Historical Jesus, 1959; W Baird, “What is the Kerygma? A Study of 1 Cor 15:3-8 and Gal1:11-17,” JBL 76, 1957, 181-91; W. Barclay, “A Comparison of Paul’s Missionary Preaching and Preaching to the Church,” in W. W. Gasque and R. P. Martin, eds., Apostolic History and the Gospel: Biblical and Historical Essays Presented to F. F. Bruce, 1970, 165-75; C. K Barrett, Biblical Problems and Biblical Preaching (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1964); ]. C. Beker, Paul the Apostle: The Triumph of God in Life and Thought, 1980; F. F. Bruce, The Speeches in the Acts of the Apostles, 1942; The Acts of the Apostles, 1953;; and Paul and Jesus, 1977; R. Bultmann, Theology of the. New Testament, 1, 1952,33-183,306-14; H. Conze1mann, “The Address of Paul on the Areopagus”, in L. E. Keck and J. L. Martyn, Studies in Luke-Acts: Essays Presented in Honor of Paul Schubert, 1968, 217-30; O. Cull­mann, The Earliest Christian Confessions, 1949; W. D. Davies, “Reflections on a Scandinavian Approach to ‘The Gospel Tradition’ “, in The Setting of the Sermon on the Mount, 1964,464-80; D. R. Carnegie, “The Kerygma in the Fourth Gospel”, Vox Evangelica 7, 1971,39-74; C. H. Dodd, The Apostolic Preaching and Its Developments, 1936; J. D. G. Dunn, Unity and Diver­sity in the New Testament, 2nd ed., 1990; C. F. Evans, “The Kerygma JTS 7,1956, 25-41; H. H. Farmer, The Servant of the Word, 1942; G. Friedrich, “Khrux ktl,” TDNT III.683-7I8; L. Goppelt, Theology of the New Testament (2 vols.,1982, 2.107­-18; J.I. H. MacDonald, Kerygma and Didache: The Articulation and Structure of the Earliest Christian Message,1980; O. Merk, khpussw ktl,” EDNTThe Essential Nature of New Testament Preaching, 1960; R. H. Mounce, “Preaching, Kerygma,” in G. F. Hawthorne, Ralph P. Martin, Daniel G. Reid, eds., DPL 1993, pp. 735-737; B. Reicke, “A Synopsis of Early Christian Preaching,” in The Root of the Vine, ed. A. Friedrichsen et al., 1953, 138-41; J. Reumann, Variety and Unity in New Testament Thought, 1991; G. N. Stanton, Jesus of Nazareth in New Testament Preaching, 1974; P. Stuhlmacher, ed., The Gospel and the Gospels, 1991, 149-72; H. G. Wood, “Didache, Keryg­ma and Euangelion,” in A.J. B. Higgins, ed., New Testament Essays: Studies in Memory of T. W Manson, 1959, 306-14. 2.288-92; R. H. Mounce,

It would seem foolish to maintain as Ehrman does that positions such as Marcion’s which are logically incompatible with the earlier vintage primitive apostolic kerygma have just as strong a claim to the label “Christianity” as early orthodoxy which is logically compatible with it.

Christianity, according to Ehrman, is a much more flexible word than is commonly believed. For Ehrman Christianity includes Gnosticism, Docetism, polytheism (ibid, p. 2), Ebionitism (ibid, pp. 99ff.), Marcionism (ibid, p. 103ff), Galatian Judaizers, Colossian angel worshipers, and the antinomian (lawless) libertines described in the epistle of James and the book of Revelation (ibid, p. 177). Even the false teachers castigated by Jude and 2 Peter are specifically called Christian by Ehrman, even though, as Ehrman admits, we don’t even know who they were or what they said (ibid). Here is the heart of Ehrman’s concept of what “Christian” means. It can mean anything, but actually means nothing at all.

All these groups are described by Ehrman as a part of early Christian diversity. Why? “I cannot emphasize enough that all of these opponents in all of these communities identify themselves as followers of Christ… what would all these groups of Christians have to say for themselves?” (ibid, p. 177). Ehrman seems to believe that anyone claiming a label deserves the benefit of doubt about it merely because they claim it. On this assumption, if Humpty Dumpty claims to be the legitimate Queen of England, we should believe him. Of course this presupposes that we know something about who or what the real Queen of England is supposed to be. If the antinomian (morally nihilistic) libertines cited by James and the book of Revelation claim to be Christians, who are we to deny it? (ibid, p.177). If Jewish mystics at Colossae who worshipped angels claim the label “Christian,” who are we to deny they were really Christians? (ibid, p.177).

If the reader will momentarily indulge the unmitigated audacity of the present author in using the phrase authentic Christianity as if there might actually be such a thing, in point of fact, if we don’t deny antinomians and angel-worshippers were a part of authentic Christianity we are in fact no better “scholars” than Humpty Dumpty is the Queen of England, whether we teach at Chapel Hill or not. Why? Because even on the most radical historical critical assumptions we can find, it is quite undeniable that Jesus and his disciples were monotheistic Jews [2]

[2] cf. L. W. Hurtado, One God, One Lord: Early Christian Devotion and Ancient Jewish Monotheism (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1988). Virtually all modern scholars acknowledge that Jesus and his disciples were traditional Jews (Ehrman, op cit, p. 96), which in and of itself is a major paradigm shift in biblical scholarship since, after the defeat of Hitler, anti-Semitic German Biblical scholarship (it was often overtly so from the 19th to the mid 20th century) which sought vigorously to minimize the influence of Judaism upon Christianity and to maximize the influence of Hellenism (Indo-European/Aryan), has been largely eclipsed. Today denial of the essential Jewish character of Jesus and his disciples is virtually unheard of.

Monotheistic Jews do not worship angels. Angel worshipers, then, cannot legitimately figure in, as Ehrman calls it, “A Modern Assessment of Early Christian Diversity” (at least not a good one). Another inextricable feature of both the historical Jesus and Primitive Christian message within the first decade of Christianity (the kerygma) is the ubiquitous call for repentance (see Colin Brown, ed., Dictionary of New Testament Theology, vol. 1, pp.353-362). Repentance is a turning away from sin and to God; antinomianism and libertinism are the precise opposite of this. If so, it would seem that no scholar worthy of the name could possibly affirm antinomianism and libertinism have any reasonable claim to be a part of “Early Christian Diversity,” yet that is precisely what Ehrman does affirm (op cit, p. 177).

Ehrman uses “differing weights and measures” when assessing NT documents as Scripture than he applies to his so-called lost Scriptures. Foremost is the question of canon (kanon: “rule,” here in the sense of “official list of writings”). Early Christians, he insists, had no Scripture because they had no canon (ibid, p. 2-3); yet so-called lost Christians who had no canon had “lots” of Scriptures! “What else might early Christians have been reading as Scripture? Lots of texts… (ibid, p. 28). Whereas Ehrman’s lost get the whole mine, early orthodoxy gets the shaft: Why did they not consult their Scriptures to see that there were not 365 gods… It is because there was no New Testament… they had not yet been gathered into a widely recognized and authoritative canon of Scripture” (ibid, pp 2-3). On the early existence of Scripture Ehrman clearly wants to have it both ways (“lots”/”none”) whenever it suits him. Ehrman’s suggestion that New Testament documents were not widely recognized as scripture before canonization is historically false, as every serious investigator knows. [3].

[3] 2 Pet 3:15f. evidently counts the apostolic writings of Paul on a par with the OT Scriptures; ‘So also our beloved brother Paul wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, speaking of this as he does in all his letters. There are some things in them hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures…” In 1 Tim 5:18, Deut 25:4 is cited first as ‘Scripture’, and there follows, connected only by kai. (“and”) a saying which is known as a saying of Jesus (Lk 10:7). Even if the second quotation were not meant to be included under the heading of Scripture, something new is nevertheless expressed in this connection by its place immediately after the citation. Here we may see the beginnings of a development, in the course of which the words of Jesus (“I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners” [Matt 9:13; Mk 2:17; Lk 5:32] cited in 2 Clem 2:4 as graphe (“cripture”), and then also the letters of Paul (2 Pet 3:16) became authoritative in their own right alongside the old holy writings. R. Mayer, “Scripture,” in Colin Brown, ed., DNTT, vol. III p. 492. As Gottlob Schrenk notes, the Johannine writings make a clear claim to be writing sacred literature: “When quoting the OT, John almost always uses the introductory gegrammenon, and in 20:31, when speaking of the aim of his own writing, i.e. to awaken faith, he can use a word which elsewhere he reserves for OT Scripture, namely gegraptai. Indeed, in the previous verse (v. 30) we already find the expression: ouk estin gegrammena en to biblio touto [“not written in this book”]. This solemn statement is striking… there is no less solemn emphasis on the testimony of writing in 1 Jn (Cf. if the hina statements in 1 Jn 1:4; 2:1; 5:13; and the repeated grapho and egrama).” Gottlob Schrenk, “Grapho, Graphe, Gramma, Eggrapho” in Gerhard Kittel, ed., TDNT, vol. I, p.745. “According to Col 4:16 and 1 Thess 5:27, Christian writings were also read in services… grapho is used frequently, and is great importance, in the book of Revelation… He who would not fail to attain what is promised must, therefore, read (aloud) and hear this writing without adding or taking away anything (Rev 1:3; 22:18f.) As far as the letters to the seven churches are concerned, they are dictated to the visionary by the Son of man himself (Rev 1:10 ff.; chs. 2 and 3)…” (R. Mayer, op cit). Early in the apostolic period “the sayings of the Lord came to be given the same authority as the OT (cf. the Sermon on the Mount, also 1 Cor 7:10; 9:14; 11:23)… the ‘I say unto you’ caused great changes in the whole concept of authority, especially in relation to the validity of Scripture” (Gottlob Schrenk, ibid, p. 757). “Clearly the words of Jesus are treasured [in the writings of the early apostolic fathers] as of supreme authority parallel to, and indeed exceeding the authority of the OT.” (D. A. Hagner, “Apostolic Fathers,” DLNTD, p. 87. I. Howard Marshall has observed that an overt stylistic similarity between the book of Acts and the Septuagint Scriptures suggests Luke was self-consciously writing Scripture in the book of Acts (cf. also the “Scriptural” beginning of Mk 1:1 with the arche (alluding to Genesis 1:1 (LXX ); “It seems that Matthew has developed an intentional parallel to the five books of Moses” (Howard Clark. Kee, What Can We Know About Jesus? (Cambridge University Press, 1990), p. 97, etc. Full treatment of this subject is beyond the scope of this brief essay). From the early second century the Apostolic Fathers referred to NT documents as scripture (Poly Phil 12.1; 1 Clem 2.4; Barn 4.14; Justin Dial.Tryph 100-103); there was considerable discussion about the term theopneustos (“God-breathed”; e.g. T. Flavinus Clemens Alexandrinus of Athens (Stromata VII, 16, 101, 62nd century, AD; c.f. many other examples are found in Gottlob Schrenk, op cit, pp. 742-773).

Did the “lost ones” convene a council to officiate their books? We know they did not. Yet after insisting that no canon means no scripture, Ehrman spends hundreds of pages talking about lost Scriptures. Perhaps Ehrman’s book can serve the reader as the moment of official canonization for all those lost Scriptures.

We have established early recognition as Scripture of NT documents (footnote 3). Were they not yet widely recognized? “Statistical studies of the frequency of citation (relative to length) of early Christian writings demonstrates that from the second century onward, the Gospels, and the principal Pauline letters were cited with very high frequency, that the other books eventually included in the canon were much less often called into service, and that books ultimately excluded from the canon were used very little (Stuhlhofer, Der Gebrauch der Bibel von Jesus bis Euseb: Eine statistisch Untersuchung zur Kanongeschichte (Wuppertal: Brockhaus, 1988)… Thus the NT canon that finally took shape appears fairly to reflect which writings had in the earlier period consistently claimed the attention of the church and proven most useful in sustaining and nurturing the faith and life of the Christian communities. To this extent the canonization of early Christian writings did not so much confer authority on them as recognize or ratify an authority that they had long enjoyed, making regulative what had previously been customary. The catalogs of the fourth and fifth centuries are for the most part articulations of a consensus of usage that had arisen through the practices of the preceding centuries, and they are aimed to exclude rather than to include” (H. Gamble, “Canonical Formation in the New Testament” in Craig A. Evans and Stanley E. Porter, Dictionary of New Testament Background (2000), p. 192).

Seeing as most of the NT documents were written from the middle to the very end of the first century, this clear evidence of broad second century usage seems pretty significant. While it is true that the New Testament documents “had not been gathered into a widely recognized and authoritative canon of Scripture” (ibid, p.3, emphasis mine), Ehrman’s implication that NT documents were not widely recognized as authoritative Scripture, long before their canonization is in the final analysis pretty shoddy scholarship if not intellectually dishonest (the latter seems more probable to this author as Ehrman certainly seems to have had proper academic training). It is also a historical falsehood for Ehrman to imply in any way that NT documents “had not been gathered” (ibid, p. 3), from the very start. [4]

[4] Paul himself ordered his letters circulated (Col 4:16; this assumes their relevance beyond initial recipients) and emphasized their divine authority (1 Cor 14:37-39; cf. 2 Thess 2:15, 3:14, etc).The Pauline letters were written in the mid first century; Pauline collections were almost certainly in existence by at least the late first century “for by the early second century Ignatius, Polycarp and the author of 2 Peter were all acquainted with multiple letters of Paul (DNTB, p. 185). Marcion’s edition of Paul’s writings appeared well after this, yet still early, circa 140 AD. From this time onward, Paul’s letters circulated as a collection rather than singly. The Chester Beatty Papyri (p46), dating c. 200 AD is a very early collection, which contains Romans, Hebrews, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Ephesians, Galatians, Philippians, Colossians, and 1 and 2 Thessalonians (cf. Metzger, The Text of the New Testament). As H. Gamble observes, this demonstrates “the Pauline letters had been collected and were widely valued prior to Marcion, and the dual authority of ‘the Lord and the apostles’ was already widely established. Gnostic groups appear to have valued most of the same literature as Christians at large but brought to them different hermeneutical assumptions and methods and so warranted their systems at the level of interpretation… While each of these movements accentuated questions about the appropriate resources, authorities, and limits of Christian teaching, there is no good evidence that they had significant, much less decisive, consequences for the development of Christian Scriptures, for the much later definition of the canon of those Scriptures, or for the structure or content of the NT canon… The catalogs of the fourth and fifth centuries are for the most part articulations of a consensus of usage that had arisen through the practices of the preceding centuries, and they aimed to exclude rather than to include” (H. Gamble, “Canonical Formation in the NT” in Craig A. Evans and Stanley E. Porter, Dictionary of New Testament Background (2000), p. 192). The words of Jesus were also widely held as normative in the first century AD. As Ehrman’s former instructor noted, “Presumably, as each Gospel was competed, it was approved (cf. John 21:24, “we know that his testimony is true”) and used for public reading, first in the place of its composition, then copied and circulated to other churches. The collecting of Paul’s letters must have begun early, in the apostle’s lifetime. He himself prescribed (Col 4:16) that two churches interchange two of his letters (making copies , naturally); from that it was a natural step to their collecting copies of his other letters as well. The book of Acts doubtless shared the circulation and acceptance of Luke’s earlier volume, the third Gospel” (Bruce Manning Metzger, NTBGC, 274).

To summarize, let us review Ehrman’s assertion one last time with these things in mind: “Why did they not consult their Scriptures to see that there were not 365 gods, or that the true God had created the world, or that Jesus had died? Why didn’t they just read the New Testament? It is because there was no New Testament. To be sure, the books that were eventually collected into the New Testament had been written by the early second century. But they had not yet been gathered into a widely recognized and authoritative canon of Scripture” (Ehrman, pp. 2-3). What on earth (or in heaven) would such Christians as these have been so willing to die for? To summarize our response to Ehrman’s inconceivably misleading assertion (which we trust has been sufficiently demonstrated): Early orthodox Christians could have consulted their Scriptures to see that that God had created the world; they could have consulted their Scriptures to see that Jesus had died (if they indeed needed a book for this!); they did hear and read New Testament documents they believed to be Scripture and they called them Scripture; such documents had been gathered from the start, and they were widely recognized from the start.

Early Christianity was not an absolute monolith –what movement ever was? And yet there was a broadly shared consensus [5], as witnesses too the broadly and bravely shed blood of their martyrs.

[5] “There was for example Hegesippus (a name which is evidently a Greek disguise for Joseph), who flourished in the middle of the second century; he was a convert from Palestinian Judaism, and one of the first Christians to conceive the idea that the true faith could be identified by ascertaining the consensus of belief in all the apostolic churches. In pursuit of this quest, he traveled from Palestine to Rome, questioning the churches which he visited on the way about the beliefs that they held, and recorded his findings in five books of Memoirs. His conclusion was that ‘in each [Episcopal] succession and in each city the faith is just as the law and the prophets and the Lord proclaim it’ [Eusebius, Hist. Eccl., IV, 23.2]. His Memoirs, long since, unfortunately, lost, contained many interesting items of ecclesiastical tradition from Jerusalem and the other churches with which he became acquainted; he was, in fact, one of the first Christian writers of the post-apostolic age who tried to support his theological belief on the basis of history” (F. F. Bruce, The Spreading Flame (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1979), p. 273).

Early Christianity was widely scattered geographically and travel and communication were not as rapid as they are today.  There was intermittent and serious political persecution. Still, a church literally exploded into world history which had a broad consensus on an amount of content that was in no way. After the death of the apostles there was initially nothing like what later developed into the medieval/modern form of papal supremacy, infallibility, Magisterium, or universal jurisdiction the kinds of universal pronouncements Ehrman alleges are significant by their absence are anachronistic suppositions from a later time. We do get an official canon until the 4th century -it was not regarded as necessary in earlier centuries.


The Scriptures Ehrman tries to lose were at least called Scripture by someone before (by millions and for millennia). Ehrman’s “lost Scriptures” include documents never known to have been called Scripture by anyone.

The present author has great admiration for Ehrman’s mentor [6],Bruce Manning Metzger of Princeton, who by any account must be numbered among the greatest New Testament scholars of the last century.

[6] Another of Ehrman’s books is dedicated to Metzger specifically as his mentor: “I have dedicated this book to my mentor and ‘Doctor Father’ Bruce M. Metzger, who taught me the field and continues to inspire my work” (Lost Scriptures, p. ix)
It is highly instructive to note some pivotal contrasts between Ehrman and Metzger:

Ehrman on Apocryphal Gospels, Apocryphal Acts, etc.: “…And there were other books written as well, with equally impressive pedigrees –other Gospels, Acts, Epistles, and Apocalypses claiming to be written by the earthly apostles of Jesus… Someone decided that four of these early Gospels, and no others, should be accepted as part of the canon –the collection of sacred books of Scripture. But how did they make their decisions? How can we be sure they were right?” And whatever happened to the other books…” (Ehrman, op cit, p. 3).

Metzger on Apocryphal Acts: “Of noncanonical Christian writings produced during the second and succeeding centuries, those known as apocryphal acts of the apostles (such as the Acts of Paul, the Acts of Peter, the Acts of John, the Acts of Thomas, and the Acts of Andrew) refer to persons and events in the apostolic church. It will be obvious, however, to anyone who reads these apocryphal acts that they are merely romanticized and legendary accounts which tell us far more about the interests and mentality of their unknown authors of the second and succeeding centuries than they do about the first century apostles whose deeds they purport to record” (Bruce Metzger, The New Testament: Its Background, Growth, and Content, p. 169).

Metzger on Apocryphal Gospels: “The chief thing that the historian can say about these and similar stories is that the apocryphal gospels presuppose the existence of the four canonical Gospels. Such stories tell us more about the mentality of the unknown Christians whose active imagination drew them up than they do about Jesus himself. Sometimes the apocryphal gospels are referred to as “excluded books of the Bible.” Even a casual acquaintance, however, of the apocryphal gospels and their credentials will prove that no one excluded them from the Bible; they excluded themselves” (Metzger, ibid, p. 101).

This is the diametric opposite of what Ehrman suggests! It is fascinating to see how far Ehrman’s portrayal of the “equally impressive pedigrees” of these documents has drifted from what his instructor taught on their credentials. Was Ehrman asleep in class?

If Metzger were alone in such affirmations [7], we might find Ehrman’s failure to give them fair hearing excusable. Such a procedure is more readily descriptive of propaganda than scholarship; cf. also Metzger, An Introduction to the Apocrypha and idem, “Literary Forgeries and Canonical Pseudepigrapha” in Journal of Biblical Literature, 91 (1972).

[7] Metzger is representative of the majority assessment of the almost complete lack of worth of the Apocryphal Gospels and Apocryphal Acts as regards both the historicity of their contents and their credentials. As Howard Kee observes, “Apart from stimulating pious curiosity and imagination, these writings add nothing to our historical knowledge about Jesus. Their implicit claim is that they supplement our knowledge of Jesus, but in fact they present a significantly different picture of him than is compatible with earlier sources… In our search for knowledge about Jesus, we are led, therefore, to the primary sources: the Gospels of our New Testament” (What Can We Know About Jesus? (Cambridge University Press, 1990), pp. 38-39). For bibliographical references and texts cf. especially J. K. Elliot, The Apocryphal NT (Oxford: Clarendon, 1993); also cf. W. Schneemelcher, ed., New Testament Apocrypha (1992); and James M. Robinson, ed., The Nag Hammadi Library in English (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1977).

Ehrman claims ad nauseum that such lost books were “marginalized,” but it would be more accurate to say that Ehrman is trying to mainstream them against a mountain of historical evidence to the contrary while trying to marginalize or relativize the New Testament documents, which are considerably more reliable for historical information than the many later and increasingly fanciful apocryphal works which themselves depend on NT documents as sources.

“When the New Testament was finally gathered together,” Ehrman tells us, “it included Acts, an account of the activities of the disciples after Jesus’ death. But there were other Acts written in the early years of the church; the Acts of Peter and of John, the Acts of Paul, the Acts of Paul’s female companion Thecla, and others. Why were these not included as parts of scripture?” We have already seen that most scholars think this question is easily and firmly answerable. What is more difficult to answer is why Ehrman camouflages the contours of scholarship that do not support his thesis. And why does he ask this question as if no one has made or could formulate a good answer to it when answers abound?! The apocryphal Acts cited above by Ehrman were composed in the late second century; many other apocryphal Acts were composed in subsequent centuries. The canonical book of Acts comes from the first century, when most of the persons described in it were still alive. Notice the phraseology Ehrman feeds his popular audience. “…there were other Acts written in the early years of the church.” In the “early years,” yes, but when? A century or so after the events they depict for the apocryphal Acts seems to make very little difference to Ehrman in the above quotation, but it makes a world of difference to historians.

The book of Acts has also been conclusively shown to have an extremely high degree of accuracy regarding many minute historical details [8]; no one makes such claims for the late apocryphal Acts which were primarily written for entertainment and didactic purposes in the tradition of historical fiction [9] well after the bodies of those whose stories they depict had turned to dust. It is interesting to note that Ehrman himself admits this later in his book: “It is probably safe to say that most of the Apocryphal Acts were written not to advance any particular theological agenda but for other reasons, for example, to provide entertaining tales of the heroes of the faith for some Christian light reading…” (Ehrman, p. 212). Evidently it did not occur to Ehrman that such considerations might explain his “puzzle” of why Christians did not admit these light reading materials into the canon; that is a real puzzle.

[8] See especially Martin Hengel, Acts and the History of Earliest Christianity (Philadelphia: Fortress Press 1979) and C. J. Hemer, The Book of Acts in the Setting of Hellenistic History, ed., C. H. Gump (Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen zum Neuen Testament 49; Tubingen: J. C. B. Mohr [Paul Siebeck], 1989). “Luke’s accuracy extends to trivial details of the sort that a writer would be hardly likely to research specifically… The conclusion to be drawn is that if Luke is right about the details of the story he is likely also to be right about the main episodes” (I. H. Marshall, Acts (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1984), p. 37).

[9] Much of this material was both intended and received as entertaining and instructive but fictional accounts of the exploits of revered figures of Christianity. Cf. R. J.Bauckham, “Apocryphal and Pseudepigraphal Writings” in Ralph P. Martin and Peter H. Davids, eds., Dictionary of the Later New Testament and its Developments (1997).

If we are to judge significance by the amount of space Ehrman devotes to a “lost work,” Ehrman’s most important example of apocryphal Acts he thinks should have been canonized are the Acts of Paul and Thecla (to this collective work he devotes the majority of chapter 2). The author of this material was as a matter of fact known personally by his contemporaries and removed as a presbyter specifically for making the work appear as if it was the work the name of Paul (the account is found in Tertullian, On Baptism 17). In direct contradiction to Ehrman, there is absolutely nothing mysterious, puzzling, or sinister about the rejection by the early church of these so-called “lost scriptures.”

The canonical book of Acts is of an entirely different genre than the later fictionalized accounts, in fact it was written in an earlier period before romance writing had been studied as an art. Ehrman’s bold statement that apocryphal Acts have “equally impressive pedigrees” (p. 3) to the canonical book of Acts is in the final analysis quite curious; it begs for some kind of explanation other than what is contained in his book. Whatever the explanation, it clearly has nothing to do with good scholarship.

A Matter of Time

One basic reason for the inferiority of the documents Ehrman wants to mainstream against NT documents he wishes to marginalize is the simple matter of dating. Compare Ehrman’s own dates which include many of the lost books he wishes to view on an equal plain with NT documents to dates for NT documents given below:

96AD: 1 Clement (Orthodox Christianity)

100 AD: The Didache (Orthodox Christianity)

Early 2nd century: Epistle of Barnabas

Early 2nd century: Gospel According to the Hebrews (Alexandria, Egypt)

Early 2nd century: Gospel of the Nazarenes (Ebionite version of the Gospel of Matthew with chapters 1-2 omitted))

Early 2nd century: Gospel of the Ebionites (presupposes canonical Gospels which it conflates)

Early 2nd century: Gospel of the Egyptians (asceticism)

Early 2nd century: Gospel of Peter

Early 2nd century: The Preaching of Peter (apology contra paganism; preserved only in quotations)

Early 2nd century: Gospel of Thomas (presupposes canonical Gospels; recast in a Gnosticizing direction)

Early 2nd century: Infancy Gospel of Thomas (Jesus’ early years)

Early 2nd century: Papyrus Egerton 2: (presupposes canonical Gospels)

Mid 2nd century: 2 Clement (Orthodox Christianity)

Mid 2nd century: Shepherd of Hermas (Orthodox Christianity)

Mid 2nd century: Century: Epistle of the Apostles (anti-Gnostic)

Mid 2nd century: Letter of Ptolemy to Flora (Gnostic)

Mid 2nd century: Gospel of Truth (Gnostic/Nag Hammadi)

Mid 2nd century: Secret Book of John (Gnostic/Nag Hammadi)

Mid 2nd century: Proto-Gospel of James (concerning Mary)

Mid 2nd century: Acts of Pilate (shows Pilate’s innocence)

Mid 2nd century: Apocalypse of Peter (orthodox work, in the tradition of Dante’s later work)

Late 2nd century: Acts of John

Late 2nd century: Treatise on the Resurrection (Gnostic)

Late 2nd century: Letter to the Laodiceans (anti-Marcionite)

Late 2nd century: Hymn of the Pearl

First Thought in Three Forms (Gnostic; Emanational Pantheism)

End 2nd century: Acts of Paul,/Acts of Thecla/ 3 Corinthians (bound together)

End 2nd century: Acts of Peter

Late 2nd century: Gospel of the Savior (fragmentary Coptic work)

2nd Century: Gospel of Mary

Early 3rd century: Letter of Peter to James (Ebionite)

3rd century: Pseudo-Clementine Literature (Ebionite)

3rd century: Coptic Apocalypse of Peter (Gnostic)

3rd century: Acts of Thomas

3rd century: Origin of the World (Gnostic)

3rd century: Second Treatise of the Great Seth (Gnostic)

3rd century: Gospel of Philip (Gnostic/ Nag Hammadi)

4th century: Correspondences of Paul and Seneca

4th century: Apocalypse of Paul (presupposes Apocalypse of Peter)

5th century: Gospel of Nicodemus

5th Century: Pseudo Titus (asceticism; anti-sex)

1958? 1758? 58? Secret Gospel of Mark (Morton Smith’s probable forgery; Jesus a homosexual magician).

Let us compare the fairly typical dating of NT documents provided by W. G. Kummel, INT, for NT  (more conservative than many German critics, more radical than many English-speaking scholars and critical conservative scholars):

50-51: I and II Thessalonians

53-6: Galatians, Philippians, I and II Corinthians, Romans

56-8: Colossians, Philemon

70: Mark

70-90: Luke

80-90: Acts, Hebrews

80-100: Matthew, Ephesians

90-5: I Peter, Revelation

90-100: John

90-110: 1-III John

-100: James

100: Jude

100+ : I and II Timothy, Titus

125-50: II Peter

Scholarship varies on many of the above dates which a careful investigation of the actual hard evidence, which is sometimes scanty, and/or ambiguous, allows. Yet Yet there is enough hard evidence that all scholars are faced with viable and limited ranges of dates rather than infinite possibilities. The very latest dates which are possible in light of what firm evidence we have still places almost all New Testament documents squarely in the first century when many original disciples of Jesus, members of the family of Jesus, and the apostles were still alive. [10]. If most of the NT documents undeniably date from the first century, almost all of Ehrman’s lost books undeniably do not.

[10] L. C. A Alexander, “Chronol­ogy of Paul,” Dictionary of Paul and His Letters, 115-23; W. R. Armstrong and J. Finegan, “Chronology of the NT” ISBE 1:686-­93; E. J. Bickerman, Chronology of the Ancient World (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1980); F. F. Bruce, The Acts of the Apostles: Greek Text with Introduction and Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990); idem, New Testament History (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1972); G. B. Caird, “Chronology of the NT,” IDB 1:599-607; K. P. Donfried, “Chronology: New Testament,” ABD 1:1011-22; J. Finegan, Handbook of Biblical Chronology .(Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1964); H. W. Hoehner, “Chronology,” DJG 118-22; R. Jewett, A Chronology of Paul’s Life (Philadelphia: For­tress, 1979); P. L. Mair, “Chronology” in DLNT, pp. 184-193; G. Ogg, The Chronology of the Life_of Paul (London: Epworth, 1968); B. Reicke, The New Testament Era (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1968); R Riesner, Paul’s Early Period: Chronology, Mission Strategy, Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1998); J. A. T. Robinson, Redating the New Testament (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1976); K M. Smallwood, The Jews Under Roman Rule (Leiden: Brill, 1976). Conservative critical scholarship places the span of the entire NT between AD 50-100 with the exception of II Peter; to the left, some practitioners of Redactionsgeschichte press some dates upwards according to the particular assumptions of development being advocated which may require more time than other scholars allow.

If the shoe were on the other foot, if writings which affirm traditional Christianity were unknown until the second century, and if Gnostic and Marcionite literature were well-attested in the first century, and even attested in the first decades after the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, we might fairly well suspect Ehrman would tell us this fact alone would prove traditional Christianity to be something less than equally credible to earlier alternatives. Instead, it is the late Gnostic and Marcionite depictions of Christian history which are frequently and demonstrably secondary (not on grounds of dating alone, a matter to which we shall return in part II), in spite of the wheelbarrows full of books currently in popular book stores which pontificate to the contrary, often for little more discernible reason than ignorance (e.g. Holy Blood, Holy Grail et al) or (often enough) sheer ideological bias. [11].

[11]That socio-political engineering is a principal concern of a great deal of biblical scholarship will be patently obvious to anyone casually perusing titles of the American Academy of Religion/Society of Biblical Literature Abstracts from the last few decades (for example, if example is needed).

Ehrman’s most important examples of “lost scripture” are each given their own chapter in his book. Chapter 1 is on the Gospel of Peter. Ehrman informs us that Serapion, appointed bishop of Antioch about 199 AD “learned that the church in Rhossus used as its sacred text a Gospel allegedly written by Simon Peter… When Serapion read the Gospel of Peter for himself, he realized that it could be used in support of a docetic Christology… Serapion concluded that because the book was potentially heretical, it must not have been written by Peter – operating under the dubious assumption that if a text disagreed with the truth as he and his fellow proto-orthodox Christians saw it, then it could not possibly be apostolic” (Ehrman, op cit, p. 15f.).

It is extremely difficult to understand why it would be a “dubious assumption” for anyone at anytime to reject something they believe to disagree with something else which they think on reasonable grounds to be true (cf. e.g. the very anti-docetic Gospel of John, cf. the “Rule of Faith,” early hymns, letters, liturgy, Hegesippus referenced above, etc.). Everyone does this. An epistemological criterion of coherence has formed a sine qua non for countless systems and modes of thought ancient and modern, philosophical, scientific, religious, and irreligious. The New Testament itself emphasis truths passed down (“traditioned”/cf. paradosis) and entrusted (Rom 6:17; 1 Cor 11:2, 23; 15:3; cf. 1 Jn 2:22-24; 4:1-3; 2 Jn 7, etc.). There is nothing “dubious” or illogical per se about placing a value on continuity with trusted sources. Every thinking human being does this.

From his 21st century ivory tower, Ehrman is quick to judge –rather harshly– Serapion’s rationality for questioning a novelty which appeared at odds with everything else he knew. But in the patristic age the logic of continuity was considerably compelling –yes, “rationally” (though with special reference to “God-bearing”/theophorous teachers, phronema, etc.; cf. Pelikan The Christian Tradition, vol. 2)– to not a few thoughtful minds. It is highly ethnocentric to proclaim as Ehrman does that a man such as Serapion was a mere uncritical fool. F. F. Bruce describes the early Christian epistemological milieu well:

“The doctrine maintained in Irenaeus’s day in a church of apostolic foundation might be safely assumed to be identical with what the founder-apostles had taught, further guaranteed as it was by the unbroken succession of bishops, unless it could be proved that at some point a change had been introduced – and the burden of proof rested on those who claimed that a change had in fact been introduced… Probably, too the first few names in Irenaeus’s succession-list represent colleagues on a board of presbyter-bishops rather than successive monarchial bishops. But it was a fact of experience that the faith held in Rome was held by the other apostolic churches – Antioch, Ephesus, Thessalonica, Corinth, and the rest. The same faith was held in Jerusalem – which, in view of its new and Gentile foundation after AD 135 could not now strictly be called an apostolic church, though it no doubt served itself heir to the primitive church of that city – and in Alexandria, where the Christian establishment was orthodox by Irenaeus’s time, whatever its doctrine may have been in earlier days… No matter how many languages the faith might be taught, ‘yet the force of the tradition is one and the same. For the churches planted in Germany have not believed or handed down anything different, nor yet the churches among the Iberians or the Celts, nor those in the east, nor yet in Egypt and Libya, nor those established in the center of the world’ (AH iii. 4.1; iv.53.1).”[12]

[12] F. . F. Bruce, Tradition, Old and New (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1970), p. 113.

Ehrman’s idea that Serapion was an uncritical dolt is quite unconvincing. But there are bigger problems than this with Ehrman’s handling of Serapion.

Serapion recorded his discovery in a book, Concerning the So-called Gospel of Peter. The original work is lost, but quotations are preserved in Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History(6.12). Ehrman tells us that Serapion “learned that the church in Rhossus used as its sacred text a Gospel allegedly written by Simon Peter…” (Ehrman, p. 15). But Eusebius’ account says nothing of the kind about the “church in Rhossus,” but only, and specifically, that “some in the church at Rhossus” had come to accept some Docetic views “by this work.” It is hardly self evident from this as Ehrman’s account suggests that the church as a whole at Rhossus, or even a majority in it, or even a group of significant size in it used the Gospel of Peter as a sacred text. (6.12). Ehrman tells us that Serapion “

Neither does Ehrman get it right on why Serapion rejected the Gospel of Peter. According to Ehrman, Serapion rejected the Gospel of Peter “under the dubious assumption that if [the] text disagreed with the truth as he and his fellow proto orthodox Christians saw it, then it could not possibly be apostolic” (ibid, p. 13). But Serapion’s criterion was not theology, but experience. “For our part, brethren, we receive both Peter and the other apostles as Christ, but the writings which falsely bear their names [Gk. pseudepigrapha] we reject, as men of experience, knowing that such were not handed down to us” ( H.E. 6.12.3). As John A. T. Robinson observes, “Though the motive of his condemnation of it was the Docetic heresy that he heard it was spreading, the criterion of his judgment , to which he brought the expertise in these matters that he claimed, was its genuineness as the work of the apostle” (J. A. T. Robinson, op cit, p. 188). Serapion’s point –hardly dubious– was essentially this: if Peter wrote this Gospel, why is it that no one who is keen about such matters has ever heard of the thing before?

We must pause here to recall Ehrman’s insistence that the mere fact that NT documents were read in the early churches and/or quoted by the apostolic fathers does not establish their nature as sacred texts. Yet Ehrman informs us the mere fact that the Gospel of Peter was read in a church is sufficient grounds for inferring it was a “sacred text.” This is special pleading, not scholarship. Ehrman’s appeal to Serapion ultimately fails to demonstrate that the Gospel of Peter was widely accepted even at Rhossus, much less in early Christianity as a whole. But Ehrman has provided us with another argument for this Gospel; for this we must turn our sights to ancient Egypt.

A Matter of Geography, Climate, Local Culture, and Evidence

Egypt’s dry climate has bequeathed to us many ancient documents which environments even slightly more humid would have long since destroyed. If we merely count physical fragments which survived the ravages of time, an Egyptian bias is inevitable. Ehrman appeals to thirty Gospel fragments discovered mostly in Egypt from the second and third centuries. One contains text from Mark, five contain unidentified texts, three are from the Gospel of Thomas, three from the Gospel of Peter, and two from a Gospel of Mary Magdalene. After relating this data, Ehrman asks us “Which Gospel was more popular in early Christianity, Mark or Peter? It is rather hard to say. But if the material remains are any gauge, one would have to give the palm to Peter, with three times as many surviving manuscript remains as Mark” (Ehrman, p. 23).

The manuscripts Ehrman appeals to here run as late as the third century (ibid, pp. 22ff.); his use of “early” is the first ambiguity. The manuscript fragments Ehrman cites, found “principally in the sands of Egypt” (ibid, p.22) are indeed not a reliable gauge gospel popularity in early Christianity in general as Ehrman suggests. As a matter of fact, we know little about early Christianity in Egypt, but we have mountains of data pertaining to early Christianity in other areas (Robinson, Thomas A. The Bauer Thesis Examined: The Geography of Heresy in the Early Christian Church, (Lewiston: Mellen Press, 1988), especially in Asia Minor; it is absurd to close our eyes to all this and go with Ehrman to Egypt alone to decide “which Gospel was more popular in early Christianity.” Ehrman is trying to wag the dog with its tail. What we know from those other areas overwhelmingly indicates there was no contest whatsoever in popularity between the canonical Gospels and their later apocryphal imitators; to the contrary! (Stuhlhofer, op cit). Extrapolating the nature of early Christianity in general from a marginal region for which we have meager data is illegitimate. As Thomas A. Robinson observes, Egypt and Edessa in particular were “not, even on a fairly generous reading of the evidence, primary centers of the early church, and even if they had been, early literature from these areas is too scarce to provide anything more than muted testimony to the character of the earliest Christianity there” (Robinson, Thomas A., The Geography of Heresy, p. 42). The writings of Clement of Alexandria show conclusively that Ehrman’s hidden presumption that the few physically surviving manuscript fragments of early Egypt are representative of even all the materials which were available to early Egyptian Christianity is absolutely false (cf. Robinson, Geography of Heresy, p. 62). Further, extrapolating from sample to population is illegitimate if the sample is known on independent grounds to be non-representative. Egypt is known to deviate significantly from the statistical norm in terms of its ideas; this alone excludes taking it as representative of Christian ideas generally (the very idea is an oxymoron). Egypt is also known to have been a special case where there was much more anti-Semitism than in many other areas [13], and much more syncretism and diversity of doctrine (especially before the establishment of a catechetical school by Pantaenus in Alexandria c. 170 AD), much of which is as likely (or more so) to be a function of the particularities of the culture there as to the nature of the Christianity that was brought there (it is not only Christianity which was considerably transmuted by Alexandrian intellectuals, e.g. Philo’s transformation of Judaism, etc.; that similar epistemological transformations account for gnosticism in particular will be examined further below).

[13] In AD 70, some 50,000 Jews were killed in Alexandria under Trajan. Alexandrian Anti-Semitism did not begin in AD 66-70, and it ran very deep there. Some illustrative highlights (selective): Aulus Avillius Flaccus, appointed prefect of Egypt in Alexandria circa 33 AD, adopted an anti-Jewish policy in exchange for the promise by leaders of the Alexandrian anti-Semitic movement to praise him to Roman Emperor Gaius if he would adopt their policies. In August of 38 AD, King Agrippa visited Alexandria en route to his new kingdom in Palestine. Alexandrian Jews then sought to lodge a complaint with Agrippa against Flaccus’ anti-Jewish policies while anti-Semites staged a riotous demonstration which publicly ridiculed Agrippa, with Flaccus’ approval, in spite of the danger of this extreme insult of the close friend of the Emperor. Flaccus proclaimed Jews as aliens with no civil rights. Their property was confiscated, Synagogues were looted and burned, and they were forced to reside in one section of the city. Images of Caligula were installed in Synagogues, the removal of which would be interpreted as treason against the Emperor. In September of the same year, during the Feast of Tabernacles, Flaccus was arrested by a special delegation of Roman soldiers and brought to Rome after which he was banished to the Aegean islands, where he was later executed. C. Vitrasius Pollo, then installed as the new prefect of Egypt, sent two delegations, one Greek, one Jewish, to testify before the Emperor concerning the Alexandrian riots which led to the deposition of Flaccus. Just a few years later is a Letter from Emperor Claudius to the Prefect of Egypt (Josephus Ant 19.5.2 and papyrus CPJ 153) which states “It is forbidden to the Jews to attract or invite other Jews to come [to Alexandria] by water from Syria or the rest of Egypt, for that would give me the gravest suspicion about them, as fomenting a sort of illness common to the whole universe.” (this allusion may, probably, refer to Jewish political-Messianic movements; some see a possible early reference to Christianity, but this is uncertain).

Extreme anti-Semitic feeling in Alexandria would have made it more difficult for Christians to attract Gentile converts to their Jewish Messiah. A Jewish Messiah in largely anti-Semitic Alexandria would generally be about as compellingly received as Krishna in modern day Tehran (T. Robinson observes the anti-Semitic bent of gnostic thought may have made it more palatable in such an environment). This certainly does not mean there was not a strong orthodox Christian presence in early Egypt, [14], but (as Ehrman says, but then proceeds to ignore) “it is rather hard to say.” There simply isn’t enough hard evidence in Egypt one way or another to reconstruct the nature of early Christianity even there [15](Robinson, Geography of Heresy, p. 42), much less (from Egyptian data) elsewhere.

[14] Cf. Eusebius’ mention that Mark undertook a mission to Egypt, founding a church at Alexandria, the leadership of which was given to Annianus in AD 62 (HE II, 15); this cannot be presently verified. Many scholars believe the book of Hebrews was probably composed in Alexandria and reflects early orthodoxy there; there is strong evidence for this, but unlike Ehrman we do not confuse every possible hypothesis with proof. Above all, the tragic events discussed in footnote thirteen must also be taken into account for the experience of any Christians living in the region.

[15] The obscurity of the early period of Christianity in Egypt is universally recognized, e.g. A. Pearson and James E. Goehring, The Roots of Egyptian Christianity (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1986) and Bowman, Alan L., Egypt After the Pharaohs: 332 BC-AD 642 (Berkley: University of California Press, 1986), pp 122-129; Koester also affirmed this.

There is a vast quantity other evidence besides extant documents from Egypt which simply must be taken into consideration to adequately gauge to the “popularity” of the various Gospels in early Christianity as a whole. If we were to consider as Ehrman does in his Egyptian manuscript calculation, material into the third century, but include citations of the Gospels in patristic literature, lectionaries, versions, inclusion in the various trajectories of the textual transmission of the New Testament, and perhaps throw in a bit of demographic and geographical evidence from principal areas of early Christianity where the data is the most abundant (just for starters), a considerably different picture than Ehrman’s would quickly and easily emerge [16] (deconstructionists notwithstanding!). It is not that Ehrman is unaware of this data; he is an incessant special pleader. He simply ignores the relevant evidence whenever it is convenient. Given the accidental nature of manuscript discoveries alone the assumption that a few manuscripts are a reliable index of popularity of a document or documents throughout one single entire region is bad enough (Robinson, Geography of Heresy, p. 61; cf. B. M. Metzger, The Early Versions of the New Testament (Oxford: Clarendon, 1977); cautions re. Egyptian mss. on pp. 101-103); the idea that it even might reliably tell us what was or wasn’t popular in early Christianity as a whole is virtually unthinkable.

[16] We should also recall that the later heterodox Gospels themselves tacitly attest the popularity of the earlier NT Gospels, for they used them as sources. Ehrman is aware of such data; his failure to bring it to bear on the question of “Gospel popularity in early Christianity” merely underscores his ever-present, almost cartoonish myopia.


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5 Responses to Bart Ehrman’s Lost Christianities: A Critique (Part I)

  1. wind from the East says:

    Very edifying stuff. Worthy of sharing and bookmarking.

  2. Immigration Lawyer says:

    I almost never comment, however i did some searching and wound up here at Bart Ehrman’s Lost Christianities: A Critique. Is it just me, or do some of these scholars’ comments come across as if written by brain dead individuals? 😛

    And, if you are posting at other sites, I’d like to follow everything new you have to post. Would you make a list of the complete urls of your public pages like your twitter feed, Facebook page or linkedin profile?

  3. Good work. It is unfortunate how such writings become popular, often amongst crows who do little more research than a single book.

  4. Pingback: The “Born Again” Narrative in John 3: An Aramaic Impossibility? Well, No! | katachriston

  5. Peter Herz says:

    Excellent work. Ehrman is everyone’s go-to guy because he fits the temper of the times. I’d take a page of Metzger, Bruce, or Hengel in exchange for everything Ehrman ever wrote.

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