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Biblical Scholarship and Faith

A lot of lay people who come to biblical scholarship for the first time are surprised because biblical scholars say things about the Bible that these people have never heard before—that the apostle Paul didn’t really write all the letters in his name in the New Testament, that the Gospels are not historically accurate about the historical Jesus, that the sayings of Jesus in the Gospel of John are things that maybe Jesus didn’t actually say, that there are all sorts of historical problems with the New Testament—and one of the first questions people ask then, is how can I continue to believe?  If this book is riddled with historical problems, doesn’t that undercut my faith? 

There’s not an easy answer to that question.  Some biblical scholars who have found out that the Bible has these historical problems have given up the faith; they’ve left the faith all together.  But, I should say that not very many have done that.  In the majority of cases, biblical scholars may have shifted their understandings of the Bible and they may have shifted what they understand it to mean to believe, but they haven’t given up faith itself because they’ve come to see, most of them, that faith is not supposed to be in a book, that the Christian religion, the Jewish religions, they are religions of the Book in the extent that they’ve got sacred scriptures, but there not religions of the Book in the sense that the faith is about the Book. 

Faith in the Christian tradition, with which I’m most familiar, is supposed to be faith in God through Christ and whether the Bible has contradictions in it or not has very little to do with that question.  Whether Paul wrote the book of Ephesians or not has little to do with that question.  So, that these questions that historical scholars bring to the New Testament or to the Hebrew Bible, they might affect faith, but there is no reason that it has to dispel faith.

  • Bart D. Ehrman is the James A. Gray Distinguished Professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. His fields of scholarly expertise include the historical Jesus, the early Christian apocrypha, the apostolic fathers, and the manuscript tradition of the New Testament. He has published extensively in the fields of New Testament and Early Christianity, including four New York Times bestsellers: Jesus Interrupted (HarperOne), God’s Problem (HarperCollins), Misquoting Jesus (HarperCollins), and Forged (HarperCollins).