university of north carolina

Answers to Ehrman’s Bible quiz, part 1:

I posted bible scholar Bart Ehrman’s pop-quiz to undergraduates at UNC in this post, and he’s just come out with half the answers. Don’t look until you’ve taken it!


  1. How many books are in the NT? 27.  I tell them that this is an easy one.  Here’s why: if you think of the NT, you think about God, and specifically about the Christian God, and therefore specifically about the Trinity.  And what is 27?  3 to the 3rd power (3 x 3 x 3).   It’s a miracle!   (Also there are 3 letters in New and 9 in Testament so 3×9 = 27)
  1. In what language were they written? Yes, Greek.  But some of my students don’t know that.  A good number think the answer is Hebrew; some think it’s Aramaic; and only a very few think it’s English.  I’ve never understood the Hebrew thing, but I think it’s because whenever there’s a Jesus documentary on the History Channel or Discovery or whatever, they flash up Hebrew manuscripts as backdrop, and so people associate Hebrew with Jesus.  (Plus, he was a Jew; Hebrew is language of ancient Jews; and so on).  In any event,  I use this question to talk to them about Greek as the lingua franca of the Roman Empire even though the language of Rome was Latin, and this lets me say a few things about Alexander the Great and the significance of Hellenization in the Mediterranean.
  1. In what century were they written? Yes, some of you pointed out this is problematic.  For the answer I accept first century CE.  And I also accept first and (some) second century CE.  I use this answer to explain to them that we will not be using AD and BC  (and I tell them that if they *do* use them, AD needs to  precede the date – it’s AD 1984, not 1984 AD – and BC follows the date) (moreover AD does not mean “After Death” the way I learned in grade school!! If it *did*, we’d be missing 30 years somewhere….) but CE and BCE, and I explain why historians prefer these dates.  I also have a chance to explain why we have the calendar we have, who devised it (Diogenes Exiguus – a Latin name meaning “Dennis the Short” – in the 8th century CE), how it is that there was no year Zero, and sundry related things.
  1. Name the Gospels of the NT. This is the one every student gets right.  Good for them!  If I have time I explain that Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John were not actually written by people who called themselves Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, but that they are all anonymous, only later to be attributed to these people.  If I have a lot of time I tell them that the first one to make these attributions was Ireneus in 180 CE, and I say a few things about anonymity, pseudonymity, and so on.   But I do make the point that even though these (decades later) came to be attributed to apostles, they originally circulated without names attached to them.   Students haven’t heard that before!  (Although, as should be painfully obvious, they haven’t hear a lot of things before…  Or if they have, it passed right through them)
  1. Name three Gospels from outside the New Testament. Given the Zeitgeist, most students do know that there are other Gospels not found in the New Testament, though most of them are hardpressed to name any of them.  In this case some students were able to name the Gospel of Peter, the Gospel of Thomas, and the Gospel of Judas.  Occasionally someone will know the Gospel of Mary.  Someone this time suggested the Gospel of James, and I had to count it, since we have the Protevangelium Jacobi, the “Proto-Gospel of James.”
  1. What does the word “Gospel” mean? Some of the students knew this one:  “Good news.”   We get it from Old English gōd-spell (good tidings) itself a translation of the Greek (not sure through what avenues) “euanggelion” (eu = good; aggellion = news), the word from which we get “evangelist.”  And that’s why the four Gospel writers are sometimes known as the four Evangelist.  My students get all sorts of tidbits from this little quiz/discussion…..


How’d you do? I got 5/6 right in this section (I always forget what “gospel” means, even though that’s quite easy), but I have to say, I only know most of these because Ehrman’s books got me interested in historical Christianity.



Class is in session: Bart Ehrman’s biblical pop quiz to undergraduates…

Biblical scholar Bart Ehrman (Univ. North Carolina) is famous for giving a short introductory quiz to his undergraduates on their first day of class to test their knowledge of the New Testament. He’s always surprised by how few get more than half correct as they are fairly easy, particularly if you’ve gone to church with any frequency during your life  (he even sometimes offers to buy students a steak dinner if they get more than 8 right, but admits he doesn’t have to buy very often) .

Earlier today he actually posted his questions (you can visit his blog here), so now you can try yourself. I don’t know about you, but I’m curious to see if Erhman would be buying me a steak dinner. I’ll post the answers in the next few days. No cheating.

  1. How many books are in the NT?
  2. In what language were they written?
  3. In what century were they written?
  4. Name the Gospels of the NT
  5. Name three Gospels from outside the New Testament
  6. What does the word “Gospel” mean?
  7. According to the Gospels, who baptized Jesus?  Who carried his cross?  Who buried him?
  8. In about what year did Jesus die? What year was he born?
  9. The author of the Gospel of Luke wrote two books.  Name two of them.
  10. What is normally thought to have been the occupations of (a) Matthew and (b) Luke?
  11. Which of the following were Jews?  John the Baptist, Alexander the Great, Jesus, Pontius Pilate, Simon Peter, Tacitus, the Apostle Paul.
  12. What is the shortest verse in the New Testament?

Bart Ehrman – Making Biblical Scholarship Sexy

Bart Ehrman, Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Bart Ehrman, Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Biblical textual criticism probably doesn’t sound like the most interesting subject in the world, but Bart Ehrman, a historian and scholar at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, is somewhat of a rock-star at making it so.

In addition to his published scholarship on the Bible, Ehrman, currently the James A. Gray Distinguished Professor UNC, takes the time to write trade books for the rest of us. The most popular titles have been Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and WhyJesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (And Why We Don’t Know About Them), and God’s Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question — Why We Suffer, among others. If you have any interest in the Bible, no matter your religious affiliation or personal beliefs, then I couldn’t recommend these books highly enough. The titles are a bit controversial, but I think that is more or less an incentive to sex up a traditionally dry subject (see this blog post’s title) – Ehrman admits the majority of what he covers is consensus among Biblical scholars, and generally what has been taught in seminary for decades now (most ministers and pastors, however, fail to include these facts in their weekly sermons).

Ehrman’s personal trajectory is also of note, having moved from a Born-again fundamentalist Christian to a progressively more liberal Christian, renowned scholar, best-selling author (see interview on the Colbert Report here), and eventually agnostic. He is an expert on Greek and ancient languages, and, obviously, the Bible, which is why his debates are so interesting to watch (he also has somewhat of a temper).

Here he is debating Dinesh D’Souza, an intelligent but rather slimy and obnoxious apologist, who like most apologists, is great at rhetoric but not so great at logic. And unfortunately for D’Souza, he is up against someone who already knows all the arguments, and who knows the Bible much more intimately than he.

Finally, Ehrman’s personal website – – is notable for its philanthropic membership model. You pay a few bucks a month and you are provided access to his various blog postings during the week. All the money goes to charity. Quite novel, I think – at least I’ve not seen that anywhere else. I wonder if Joel Olsteen would do it?