The problems with the Bible that New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman discussed in his bestseller Misquoting Jesus—and on The Daily Show with John Stewart. Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (And Why We Don’t Know About Them). By Bart D. Ehrman. Publisher. Please Pardon This Interruption Review of Jesus Interrupted by Bart Ehrman reviewed Biblical scholar Bart Ehrman has lately made a career out of brokering.
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Through the Westminster Confession. Jesus Interrupted By Bart D. One begins to wonder how many different ways this can be done by Ehrman. In Lost Christianities he challenged the Bible on the basis of theological diversity in the early church, in Lost Scriptures he challenged the Bible on the basis of the development of the canon, in Misquoting Jesus he challenged the Bible on the basis of textual transmission, and in God’s Problem he challenged the Bible on the basis of the problem of evil.
Regardless of the particular topic, the overall message of all these books is very much the same: Christians need to wake up to the fact that the Bible they so cherish is not to be trusted. Indeed, as Ehrman has sought to engage the lay public directly with this message it seems that his academic career at least in recent years has largely turned, well, non-academic. At times he has seemed more preacher than scholar.
With an impressive amount of evangelistic zeal, and frequent personal testimonies, he has preached his message with earnestness, persuasiveness, and urgency–hoping to convert any person in the pew who still refuses to accept the so-called scholarly consensus regarding the New Testament, or any who might dare to think the Jesus of the gospels might happen to look a lot like the Jesus of history, and certainly any who refuse to think that all views of Jesus must be regarded as equally valid.
Ehrman has told us his days as a Baptist preacher are over. Clearly the Baptist part is over. As for the preacher part, there are reasons to doubt. Ehrman’s crusade continues with his most recent book, Jesus, Interrupted: The core message is the same as the books above–when it comes to historical matters the Bible is a jumbled mess–but the particular vehicle for this message has changed.
Here Ehrman hones in on the question of internal contradictions within the text itself primarily in the gospelsarguing that the biblical writers disagree with each other both historically and theologically though he also addresses a number of other topics in later chapters.
Ehrman’s concern throughout the entire volume is that the average person in the pew knows little or nothing about modern historical criticism of the Bible because their pastors, for whatever reason, are refusing to tell them. There is a conspiratorial implication in all of this–your pastor really knows and believes these things and is keeping them a secret. It never seems to dawn on Ehrman or at least is not acknowledged that maybe some pastors are not telling these things to their congregations because they think they are not true.
Nevertheless, Ehrman presents himself as a bit of a liberator; he is the one with the courage to be honest with Bible-believing Christians and “let the cat out of the bag” 2.
Of course, there are substantial doubts about whether the cat is really still in the bag in the first place, but subtitles like “Revealing the Issues of the Bible Everyone Already Knows About” sell a lot fewer books.
We shall do our best to say a word about each of the chapters in Ehrman’s interrrupted, though space prohibits a lengthy discussion of any of them. Not surprisingly, the first chapter, “A Historical Assault on Faith,” sets the tone interrjpted the entire book as Ehrman labors to reassure the reader that all his opinions about the Bible are merely “standard fare” amongst modern scholars interruptec Thus begins his repeated appeals which continues throughout all the chapters to the unquestionable consensus of the academy, claiming these things are believed by “all my closest friends” 17are “widely taught in seminaries and divinity schools” 18and are “widely accepted among New Testament scholars” This type of academic bullying is actually quite an effective strategy for Ehrman.
It allows his own views, from the very start, to be seen as eminently sensible and objective after all, what lay reader is willing to go against all the world’s scholars?
Indeed, in this opening chapter he describes evangelicals in his university classes as those who “cover their ears and hum loudly so that they don’t have to hear anything that might cause them to doubt their cherished beliefs” Such ridicule forces the reader into a false but effective badt By framing the debate in such a way, the reader is forced to decide which way to go before any evidence is even examined.
It is not surprising, then, that the rest of the chapters in the book come off as more convincing to interrrupted average reader than they otherwise would–Ehrman’s strategy forces their hand from the very first page. For one who claims to be nothing but an unbiased historian, this is an odd place to begin a book.
Doctrines Inventions of Later Theologians
In addition, nowhere in this opening chapter does Ehrman present any evidence other interripted his own opinion that his views are representative of almost all seminaries. He fails to mention that of all the ATS-accredited seminaries in the United States, the top ten largest seminaries are all evangelical. These seminaries represent thousands and thousands of students, and hundreds and hundreds of professors. If virtually all seminary professors agree with Ehrman, then who are jess professors teaching at the ten largest US seminaries?
Apparently the only schools that count in Ehrman’s analysis of modern seminaries are the ones that already agree with him. It is not so difficult to prove your views are mainstream when you get to decide what is mainstream. In chapters 2 and 3, Ehrman enters into the bulk of his argument for internal contradictions both historical and theological.
Needless to say, there is not space to engage the list intrrrupted supposed contradictions directly, but there are a number of observations that need to be made.
When faced with the option to harmonize various accounts in the gospels even when the solution is relatively plausibleEhrman resists time and time again. His standard reason for resisting is because he believes that harmonization causes you “to create your own version of the Gospel, one different from both the ones you are reading” Similarly, he declares that harmonization would “create yet a third version of a scene, unlike either Mark or Luke” These objections are perplexing coming from a scholar like Ehrman.
After all, ancient historiography, by definition, has inherent limitations in what it can record; a writer cannot say everything about a particular event. So, when multiple historical sources for the same event are considered, of course they constitute a “third” story when they are combined. What does he expect?
There will always be the story of “what actually happened” that stands behind every historical account; this situation is inevitable when one recognizes that no single source is or can be exhaustive.
Incredibly, the very thing that historians are supposed to do–piece together “what actually happened” from the records available to us–is the very thing Ehrman refuses to do and even implies is scandalous. One is not surprised, then, when Ehrman concludes that the gospel stories cannot be harmonized. His methodology allows for no other option. In many of the examples of supposed contradictions, Ehrman seems unaware though he is clearly not of the manner in which ancient historiographical literature would record someone’s words, sayings, or teachings.
Or, at least he never bothers to discuss these issues with his readers. It is well known that the limitations inherent in historical accounts of speeches allow the author to summarize, condense, or paraphrase the words spoken e.
Moreover, the fact that Jesus most likely taught in Aramaic, suggests that we should expect an additional degree of variance as different writers translate his words into Greek in different ways. Nevertheless, Ehrman insists that differences in wording constitute real contradictions, such as when the centurion at the cross calls Jesus the “son of God” in Mark He doesn’t consider the fact that one’s righteous status is surely implied in the title “son of God,” making these terms fairly interchangeable depending on the emphasis desired by the author.
Given Mark’s preference for the “son of God” theme 1: But, Ehrman is unable to operate with such nuance–it is almost like he expects the gospels to be like a videotape, capturing exactly what happened in a very literal, wooden fashion.
But this is simply not how history works. Perhaps Ehrman thinks that the doctrine of inspiration requires that the gospels always record the very words ississima verba of Jesus or of whoever is talking. One could even imagine his objection, “How can you believe you have the word of God if you don’t really have Jesus’ words?
Don’t you think the very words matter? Ehrman’s inability to accept the natural verbal flexibility in ancient literature suggests that he ironically still may be reading the gospels in the same way he did in his fundamentalist days, placing modern expectations of precision and rigidness on the gospel texts that they were not meant to bear. Likewise, Ehrman also fails to appreciate that ancient historiographical literature does not necessarily stick to a wooden chronological order–events and aspects of those events are often arranged for thematic and topical reasons; and sometimes they are condensed and compressed.
For example, Ehrman complains that Luke’s gospel has the tearing of the veil before the death of Jesus However, it is clear that Luke has mentioned the tearing of the veil before the crucifixion simply so that he can list it alongside the other cosmic signs e. Luke is simply saying, “Here are the cosmic signs that happened at Jesus’ death” without insisting on their particular order the morning Jesus hung on the cross.
This type of chronological flexibility is not unusual in the gospels nor in other ancient literaturebut is surprisingly missed by Ehrman. If taken into account, it can go a long way towards explaining a number of the other supposed discrepancies he mentions: Perhaps the most frustrating portion of these chapters is when Ehrman attempts to argue for theological contradictions, as opposed to just historical ones. Here is where Ehrman enters into what is typically foreign territory for him: Although he is an expert in the area of textual criticism, his limited experience in these areas quickly becomes apparent.
For instance, one of Ehrman’s main examples of a theological contradiction is the difference between Matthew and Paul on the role of the OT law. Of course, discussions of the way the OT law applies in the NT can be notoriously complicated and require a good bit of nuance and distinction.
Jesus, Interrupted – Bart D Ehrman
Unfortunately, Ehrman’s discussion proves to be remarkably shallow and exhibits no awareness of the major issues or categories–no discussion of the different kinds of OT laws, no discussion of the three uses of the moral law of God, no nuance regarding the role of works as fruit of salvation versus grounds of salvation, no careful distinction between justification and sanctification, and no mention of how these issues have been understood historically.
Instead, Ehrman paints with a considerably broad brush and offers no detailed exegesis.
Thus, he makes statements that are demonstrably wrong such as, “Paul thought that followers of Jesus who tried to keep the law were in danger of losing their salvation” One wonders, then, how can Paul declare, “It is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law nesus will be justified” Rom 2: More precision is needed here.
Likewise, Ehrman claims that Matthew teaches one is saved by good works and that “salvation comes to those who have never even heard of Jesus” Again, one is perplexed by Ehrman’s exegesis given that in Matthew’s gospel Jesus declares, “No one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to who the Son chooses to reveal him” barh Moreover, what is the sense of the Great Commission to the ends of the earth if salvation comes apart from Jesus Matthew 28?
Or, if salvation comes by good works, why would Jesus utter, “This is my blood of the covenant which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins”? This sounds suspiciously like Jesus is saying his death is the basis for the forgiveness of sins, not good works.
One is also reminded of the parable of the laborers in the vineyard Matt And beyond all of this, if Jesus is irrelevant jedus salvation, why would Matthew even write a gospel about Jesus at all, particularly one that so dramatically focuses on his death and resurrection? Ehrman addresses none of these issues.
Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible & Why We Don’t Know About Them
In the end, his theological objections are similar to the kind one might read on an internet blog or web chat room; they may have a lot of zeal behind them, but stem from only a cursory reading of the biblical text and exhibit little real understanding of the issues. In chapter four, Ehrman discusses the authorship of the four gospels and argues that none of them were written by disciples or eyewitnesses, but by anonymous Christians in the late first century.
The arguments here interrulted nothing new, but what is new or at least noteworthy is the degree to which Ehrman simply ignores any scholars even critical ones who disagree with him. After confidently proclaiming that the titles of the gospels are late and irrelevanthe offers no discussion of Martin Hengel’s work on the gospel titles in his Studies in the Gospel of Mark where he argues that the titles must have been very early due to their remarkable jess amongst other reasons.
Likewise, Ehrman’s abrupt dismissal of the testimony of Papias is a remarkable thing to behold for anyone familiar with the development of early Christianity.