Post Author: Bill Pratt
Agnostic New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman wrote in his book, Misquoting Jesus, that his Christian beliefs began to fall apart when he realized that there was a mistake, an error, in the Gospel of Mark. Now, I think that the alleged mistake is not a mistake, but let’s assume for a minute that we just don’t know for sure – maybe Mark made a mistake, and maybe he didn’t.
Is this any reason to jettison your belief in Christianity? That has not been my reaction when I’ve been faced with many of the same kinds of difficulties in the Bible. Why does Ehrman feel that he has to give up the whole show when he finds one error?
There are a few Christians who have been upset with me when I’ve talked about the fact that the 5,800 Greek manuscript copies of the New Testament differ from each other so that we are unsure of about 1% of the text in the New Testament. These verses have nothing to do with any major Christian doctrine, but nonetheless they believe it is unacceptable to have any uncertainty at all. Their faith is threatened by the science of textual criticism, even when textual criticism is practiced by conservative Christians.
Other Christians claim only the King James Version of the Bible is correct, that all the others are full of significant mistakes. They feel their faith threatened by the other versions.
What do these people all have in common? New Testament scholar Darrell Bock referred to these kinds of Christians as brittle fundamentalists. They are brittle because when one of their cherished beliefs are challenged, their faith either falls apart, like Ehrman, or they retreat deep into isolation so as not to deal with anyone who disagrees with them.
I have a deep concern for the brothers and sisters who hold these beliefs. They are majoring on the minors of Christianity. They are making secondary things primary things. There are certain teachings of the church that have always been recognized as the essentials, the things that form the core of our faith.
Holding on to the essentials, we need to make room for the findings of history, science, and philosophy that help us better understand our faith. We need to be willing to learn about our faith, and maybe even change some of our secondary beliefs. If your understanding of a Bible passage has never changed, if your understanding of a secondary doctrine has never changed, you are not growing and your Christianity may be brittle.
I have been studying the tough issues that face Christians for 7 years now, and I have had to modify several of my secondary and non-essential ideas about Christianity. It can be uncomfortable sometimes, but what has happened to me is that the core beliefs I hold have become stronger and stronger, the more I learn.
I hope the same will happen for you. We have nothing to fear. We really don’t.