Bart Ehrman: The Authenticity of the Gospels

In another brazen statement designed to give a false impression, Professor Ehrman writes “Though it is evidently not the sort of thing pastors normally tell their congregations, for over a century there has been a broad consensus among scholars that many of the books of the New Testament were not written by the people whose names are attached to them” (Ehrman 2010, p 102).

The “broad consensus” is not as broad as Professor Ehrman would have us believe.  It is only the unbelieving liberals/Higher Critics who deny the authenticity of the New Testament.  There are multitudes of evangelical scholars, and many theological, bible and missionary colleges who/which have no doubt whatsoever of the authenticity and authority of the New Testament; and they believe it with good reason.  Professor Ehrman seems to imply that the evangelical view of the Bible is unscholarly and out of date, and that evangelical scholars, pastors and teachers are fuzzy because they teach as truth what is in fact myth; and deceitful because they keep their congregations and lay people from knowing the “truth” that he now espouses.

Bart Ehrman Moves the Goal Posts 

Some of the books he claims were not written by the people whose names are attached to them are the gospels.  Instead, he says, they were written by unknown authors from the second century, who were not native to Palestine; and therefore, they are not credible.  After stating that tradition had it that Matthew had written a gospel so the one that eventually came to be known as his was first attributed to him; that Mark was a companion of the apostle Peter and thus wrote Peter’s view of Jesus’ ministry; that Luke and Acts must have been written by a companion of Paul, so the authorship was attributed to Luke; and that the fourth gospel was attributed to John; Professor Ehrman writes “None of these attributions goes back to the authors themselves.  And none of the Gospels were written by a follower of Jesus, all of whom were lower-class Aramaic speakers from Galilee, not highly educated Greek-speaking Christians of a later generation…..They were written decades later by people who didn’t know Jesus, who lived in a different country or different countries from Jesus, and who spoke a different language from Jesus.  They are different from each other in part because they also didn’t know each other, to some extent they had different sources of information (although Matthew and Luke drew on Mark) and they modified their stories on the basis of their own understandings of who Jesus was” (Ehrman, 2010, 111-112).

Professor Ehrman ignores the fact that the Church has always accepted the Four Gospels as being written by those whose names are appended to them.  From the moment they first appeared, the Church recognised and accepted that Matthew, Mark, Luke and John wrote them.  There has never been any other name attached to them.  The Four Gospels have always been regarded as canonical, partly because of their authorship.  And there have never been any other names attached to these four Gospels which have challenged them; they have always and only ever been Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.  These gospels with these names attached to them have always been recognised and accepted by both East and West from the beginning.  Professor Ehrman sweeps all this aside as irrelevant – ignores the evidence and denies its legitimacy – and then has the hide to say there is no evidence.  Well of course there’s no evidence if he’s discarded it!

He does the same thing with all the books of the Bible – he removes the evidence.  He says “Of the twenty-seven books of the New Testament, only eight almost certainly go back to the author whose name they bear” (Ehrman 2101, p 112).  He uses terms such as “the seven undisputed letters of Paul”, “probably misattributed”, “almost certainly”, “church fathers came to think it was written by Paul”, “Later church fathers accepted the book (of James) as part of Scripture because they claimed that this James was the brother of Jesus”, “biblical scholars have argued for a long time that there are New Testament books whose authors knowingly claimed to be someone other than who they were” (Ehrman 2010, p112-113).  These are all negative terms which leave a question mark over the whole New Testament, and are designed to cause doubt.  He uses inconclusive words (“probably” etc.); and for authority, claims unnamed “biblical scholars”, as though the whole academic and theological world agrees.

Majority Rules

The fact is, the majority of biblical scholars accept the traditional authorship of the four gospels.  So he undermines the authority of scripture by casting doubt over it, and consequently claims that the whole Bible is fraudulent and unreliable.  He neglects to point out that the “biblical scholars” he claims as authorities are unbelievers (liberals or Higher Critics) who have rejected the Jesus revealed in the New Testament, and have consequently tried to find what they term as the “historical Jesus”.  This term implies that the Jesus of the New Testament is a myth, that he is not God, that he was far from the God whom Christians love and serve and, as Professor Ehrman claims, was just an extraordinarily good man – so good, in fact, that he is worthy of emulation because of the good example that he was.

These liberal scholars whom Professor Ehrman presents as authorities have no faith, and corrupt the plain sense of scripture by analysing and dissecting it until there’s nothing left.  Under their “academic” method, it has been “analysed” to within an inch of its life ever since the 19th century.  They have mistreated an ancient and historical text in a way that no other has ever been treated and probably never will be.  The Bible is more than just an ancient and historical text, but it is that, at least, and it has been treated appallingly and unprofessionally, and certainly without faith; which faith, I hasten to add, does not negate scholarship or academic ability.  Thus, Professor Ehrman brazenly claims that there are now only eight of the twenty-seven New Testament books that are undisputed.  However, I’m sure that before too much longer, the Higher Critics will have even “proven” them to be untrustworthy and/or fraudulent.

It is significant that Sir William Ramsay (1851-1939), became the greatest authority on the history of Asia Minor, and was a highly respected authority on the New Testament.  He was a brilliant and highly educated man, with numerous honorary doctorates, was an atheist and son of atheists, and adhered to the Higher Critical view of scripture.  He was knighted in 1906 for his contributions to scholarship.  He travelled to Asia Minor with the intention of disproving the book of Acts as an historical document.  Contrary to what he intended or expected, he discovered in his travels that Acts is absolutely accurate; that Luke is a historian of the first rank, equal to the greatest of historians, and his history unsurpassed in respect of its trustworthiness; and that all thirteen of the epistles attributed to Paul were authentic!  Perhaps Professor Ehrman should read his books.

Early Church and Heretics Witness to Earlier Testimony

And the Church has always accepted the Gospels, that there are four of them, that they were written by the men whose names are attributed to them, and with good reason.

“The Christian writers of the end of the second century accepted the Gospels just as we do.  So obvious was it, and so certain were they, that there were four, and only four, that they used curious mystical and allegorical comparisons.  St Irenaeus, writing little more than eighty years after the last Gospel was published, declared that there must be four Gospels, because there are four regions of the world to be evangelized, and four winds to carry the Gospel everywhere, since the Church is to spread throughout the world…..St Irenaeus knows of no doubt within the Church as to these four Gospels.  He writes as an elderly man, born and educated in the province of Asia, probably at Smyrna, and afterwards priest and then bishop at Lyons in Gaul; so he is witness for East and West….We can go back behind St Irenaeus. St Justin the philosopher, who lived near Jerusalem, was martyred at Rome about 165.  In his writings he quotes all the four Gospels…..Again, the Gnostic heresies of the Egyptian Valentinus and his followers arose between 120 and 130.  They used all our four Gospels, evidently finding them universally acknowledged.  One of them, Heracleon, wrote a commentary on St John’s Gospel during the reign of Hadrian, that is, before 138, and therefore less than forty years after the Gospel was written.  Without referring to any other evidence, the witnesses I have mentioned suffice to show us that our four Gospels were accepted in the first quarter of the second century.  Tradition, acceptance, implies many previous years of habitual use, and carries us back at the lowest computation to the historical date of the fourth Gospel – about 97-98.  Now the Gospel of John attests the other three Gospels.  It can be shown to quote them all three, when it occasionally touches the same events.  It is written to supplement them, and would have been unintelligible without them” (Chapman 1944, p1-2; emphases mine).

Professor Ehrman doesn’t deny that the gospels were known in the second century, but he does say that they weren’t written before that.  He doesn’t acknowledge that for the second century Church to have been using them, and that they were already known across the empire, they must have already been there and in use.  As Chapman states “Tradition, acceptance, implies many previous years of habitual use”.  If they weren’t written until the second century, they would not have been known over such a wide geographical area so quickly.  But Professor Ehrman ignores this obvious fact and isolates their origin to the second century, thus robbing them of authenticity and integrity.


The information presented in these articles on the authenticity of the gospels is considered sufficiently strong to be accepted as evidence in a court of law.  It is also regarded by the Church, both east and west, Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox, since the beginning of the Church, as being evidence that Matthew, Mark, Luke and John wrote the gospels attributed to them.

The gospels will always have critics who will do their best to neutralise them because they are the word of God; they are the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  As such, they require a response from all humanity.  The response of unbelievers is to reject them because they reject God.  Their cry is “We will not have this man to reign over us” (Lk 19:14).  And they think that if they can discredit the gospels, they make God disappear.  They try to get as many people as possible to shake their fists at God along with themselves and foolishly think that they are beyond accountability.  But the word of God still stands, and it remains a witness against them, pronouncing judgment on all who disobey.

Bart Ehrman is now in the vanguard of those who resist God and deny his word and his claims on them.  Like many others, he has been deceived by the attacks of the higher critics on the bible, and now he joins them, “deceiving, and being deceived” (2 Tim 3:13) and, like a dingo amongst Christ’s flock, is ripping out the throat of every sheep he can, leaving them to die a lonely death in the wilderness.

Bart Ehrman is a thief.  Jesus said “The thief cometh not, but for  only to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.  I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep” (Jn 10:10-11).  But Bart Ehrman says “I came to think of the Christian message about God, Christ, and the salvation he brings as a kind of religious “myth”, or group of myths….. Jesus’ death was not a myth, but the idea that it was a death that brought about salvation was a myth” (Ehrman 2010, p 275-276).

The contrast is clear, and vast.  Between the two is a great gulf which cannot be crossed.  It is the difference between life and death, heaven and hell.  Ehrman can call God a “never-dying eternal Nazi” if he likes (Ehrman 2010, p 276), but as far as eternity is concerned, God is the only friend he has; and if he rejects him and his offers of peace and joy, he must face God as an enemy, and an eternity without him.  


“Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (and Why We Don’t Know About Them)” 2010, by Bart Ehrman, publ. HarperCollins Publishers, NY.

“The Four Gospels” 1946, by Dom John Chapman, publ. Sheed and Ward, London, England.